Bards and Scribes: The Alchemist (Guest Post by Jesse Teller)
When we were approached by Mihir and asked if we’d like to host Jesse Teller for a guest post as part of a series, we couldn’t wait to welcome him back to the Hive.
We’d just like to say a quick word on how much we commend Jesse’s frank and open posts about his mental health and his experiences. Thank you for sharing these all with us Jesse.
You can catch up with the rest of the series so far here:
You can follow the rest of the series by searching for #BardsAndScribes
Jesse Teller is mentally disabled. He suffers from PTSD from an abusive childhood. He is bipolar, suffers from daily to hourly hallucinations, and has DID (multiple personality disorder).
He has been a member of the self-published fantasy community for four and a half years now, has published fourteen books, with plans to publish countless more.
Jesse Teller is not a sane man. He has been declared mentally unfit and is a certified madman. This blog series is a glimpse into the way he sees a small handful of his peers and a look into his own mind.
I was shooting high when I reached out to Mark Lawrence, the Grimdark master who wrote The Broken Empire series and The Red Queen’s War series of fantasy. He is a traditionally published writer and a busy man. The traditionally published rarely make time for the indie writer, but this guy is different.
Mark was asked once what the difference was between a traditionally published book and a quality self-published book. His answer was the traditionally published book is better edited. Otherwise nothing. See Mark does not acknowledge the myth that indie writers are unworthy. The man just loves story. And he sees the value of a good storyteller no matter how the book ends up in his lap. He is a great ally to those of us who self-publish and I was desperate.
I had begun writing in 2004. And this was 2017. I had been at it hard, writing daily and pounding out one book after the next, but I had no peers. I had no one to talk to who understood what it was like to pound on a keyboard all day and know it is not going to be good enough until you have hammered it out another three times. The strain of knowing as you break stone on a piece of fiction and begin to sculpt a story, knowing there is so much work in front of you and so much disappointment. I needed to speak to a soul who had written at least two books in the same series and knew the pressure of trying to write the third. I needed to hear about the process of another writer and compare notes.
Work is not meant to be done in complete isolation. Any worker, no matter the job, is meant to have people they can talk to about the job. They need to speak to someone who does the same thing they do day in and out. So in my desperation I reached out to the traditionally published writer who respected indie authors the most. I wrote a pleading letter to Mark Lawrence asking if he wanted to talk.
He was gentle about telling me to go back to my corner. He had never heard of anything I had written and he had no way of knowing if I was worth his time. There are a lot of indie writers who are not “There Yet” and it was not really fair of me to reach out to him. He gave me the names of a few I could call on.
I wrote Black Blade. I wrote Sloth. I wrote Tower. I asked all of them if they wanted to just talk shop some time in letters back and forth. I heard back from Tower but after his initial, “Okay, I might have time,” and my return letter promising never to ask for a hand up and never to tout that I was his friend, I never heard from him again. I was alone. And in my isolation I was drowning.
I lost the verve for writing. It is in my blood now. I have to write. I do it every day but the passion was gone. The need to hit the board left me and things became a drudgery. I began to dry up as I entered Facebook group after Facebook group and tried to strike up conversation. I couldn’t get anyone to comment on a post. Could not get a single person to talk to me. I was a ghost. A phantom who haunted the web reaching out and finding no one. I began to lose all hope of acceptance.
Then The Alchemist.
I was running a blog spot where every other week I posted an interview with a self-published writer. My wife announced in a group that I was interviewing people and out of the dark came The Alchemist. We sent her the questions and she had them back to us twenty minutes later.
I had never seen that sort of aggression and dogged resolve in a writer before. Writers have a tendency to put things on hold. To store the email and come to it when they have had their coffee, their run, their day off. Writers get to it when they can and most writers are awesome procrastinators. This sort of decisiveness was startling. Because this is how I work.
I reached out to her a few days later. Made a joke. She responded. Soon I dumped my purse.
“I can’t get anyone to talk to me. I wrote Mark, he sent me to Black Blade, Sloth and Tower and they ghosted me. I have so much to say and I have to talk to someone who does our fucking job and I can’t get anyone interested.”
She said nothing. But I wasn’t done yet so it didn’t matter.
“I can’t get anyone to talk to me anywhere and no one takes me seriously once they hear the sort of things I am saying. I am all alone. This is not your problem, Alchemist. This is not very professional but,” and what could I say? I am losing hope. I am losing my mind. I am breaking without the acknowledgement of any of us. “This is not very professional but I need help.”
Nothing. She went quiet for a long time.
“Pen pal?” she said.
So I started to talk. I told her all of it. Why not, right? Let’s break out full crazy right away. “I have written five series. All five are standalone series but if you pull them apart and shuffle them back together chronologically they tell a single story. I have written 13,000 pages. I have written over four million words. I have a plan for so much more. I can’t stop and I think that I am a lunatic.”
Now is where she goes quiet. Now is where she steps away. But I had to drop it all on her at once. I needed her to see what she was dealing with. I believe in full out crazy right out the gate. Let them know what they are getting into. Let them see what they will be dealing with before they get so involved that they miss you when they walk away. When I laid it all out for her, she paused.
“Fuck man! That is insane,” she said. “Do you think about it all the time?”
“Yeah, me either,” she said. “Do you wish your characters were real?”
This is where I broke into tears. Here were words I had been saying for so long. These thoughts had plagued me for my entire life and to hear that another had them as well soothed me.
“Aaron the Marked is going to save my soul,” I told her. “Aaron will heal me and he will lead me back to myself.”
“He sounds intense,” she said. “Darien has been with me for so long I wouldn’t know what to do without him.”
I thought of Harpo. I thought of Sai. I thought of any of the dozens of characters who had been living with me for my entire life.
“I think, one day, if I have to kill Darien, I know it will break me,” she said.
I felt the hollow part of my body toll when I thought of the death of Father Morgan La Guy and how I would never be okay after that man’s passing. The love I held for him did not change the hideous way I had killed him and I knew I would never forgive myself for that bit of writing.
“If you do it, try to forgive yourself.”
The Alchemist and I wrote back and forth for a year. She brought me back to sanity. She heard all of my confessions and eased all of my fears.
She is one of the best writers in the game. Her work with wizards is ground breaking and her series Rhenwars will be remembered for generations as one of the great works of fantasy in one of the great worlds of fantasy.
When she finished Rhenwars writing the final book was so intense that it left both her wrists in braces. But this is a woman possessed. She knew that sort of passion would eventually overtake her again. So she tossed the keyboard. She bought a mic and she bought dictation software. Pain will not stop her or slow her down again.
She cannot be stopped. This is her life. This is her future. And she let me know that it is okay to live like this.
That it is okay that I cannot be stopped. That this is my life. This is my future.
This is my life.
It was confirmed by one of the best.
Jesse Teller fell in love with fantasy when he was five years old and played his first game of Dungeons & Dragons. The game gave him the ability to create stories and characters from a young age. He started consuming fantasy in every form and, by nine, was obsessed with the genre. As a young adult, he knew he wanted to make his life about fantasy. From exploring the relationship between man and woman, to understanding the qualities of a leader or a tyrant, Jesse Teller uses his stories and settings to study real-world themes and issues.