I am originally from Green Brook, New Jersey, but currently live in Vero Beach, Florida with my wife and daughter. I am a newly published author with my first novel, The Condemned, published by Fulton Books with several other projects in the works. I have also consulted with other writers as a beta reader and am an active member of the Horror Writers Association.
I started writing back in 1996 in high school with poetry but started writing stories during 2000 after reading Richard Matheson’s works. I am an avid reader of fiction with a love for the horror, mystery, science fiction thriller genre, but I don’t limit myself to those genres. I’m open to reading stories from all genres as long as the subject matter piques my interest. This includes comic books and graphic novels.
Tell us about your book? How did it get started?
The Condemned started after I finished reading Richard Matheson’s I Am Legend. I was enthralled with Matheson’s writing and felt inspired to write a story of my own. I have always been a fan of the horror genre from a very early age, so I wanted to write something in that genre to try and express my love of both horror and writing.
I worked on the story from 2000 to 2002 during which time, I was going through some difficult things with my parents getting divorced and my other friends moving away to attend college, and a few passed away from incidents with drunk driving. I tried to channel all those feelings into my story, but by the time I finished it, I had lost my drive to write because in 2002, my great friend and muse, Mark Takacs, was killed by a drunk driver while driving to meet myself and out other friends the night before his birthday. Mark had made five friends in five years dead due to drunk driving. After he died, writing didn’t feel the same anymore without him. He and I had so many plans and written some stories together and now he was gone.
I would work on the story a bit here and there over the next seventeen years, but it wasn’t until 2019 that I had finally decided to do something with my writing. That was all thanks to my great friend, Ben, telling me that he was finally doing something that he had always wanted to do, which was to make maple syrup in whiskey barrels. He was so passionate about finally doing it that I was inspired. I dusted off, The Condemned, and worked on expanding the story, but tried to stay true to my original vision from 2000. As mentioned previously, I got in touch with Fulton Books, and they have been great to work with in publishing my first book.
How do you create your characters?
When I create characters, I generally use a character sketch template, so I can really breathe life into them by not only defining their physical characteristics, but all their habits, mannerisms, personality traits as well as their external and internal struggles. I will also write a backstory about their role in the story. Doing this helps me create a guideline to use while writing, which I can revisit to make sure that what I write fits my vision of the character. There are times when I don’t sketch them out and just discover who they are as I write.
What inspires and what got you started in writing?
I am inspired by all sorts of things, and I realize this list will seem sort of typical, but I genuinely feel inspired by things like, art, books, comics, music, movies, nature and people. I try to be open to everything around me because I never know what will inspire me.
Where do you write? Is there something you need in order to write (music, drinks?)
I generally write in my bedroom while sitting in bed or in a chair at night. As I mentioned, I work full-time and with a family, I typically need to wait until everyone is asleep to write. When I do this, I typically will play some music and I have several playlists for this. I listen to a fair amount of alternative, electronic and modern classical music from artists like Archive, Rival Consoles, The Black Dog, Luke Howard, Sebastian Plano & Max Richter. That sort of mellow melancholy music tends to get me in the right frame of mind where I can focus on my writing.
How do you get your ideas for writing?
This question sort of ties back to what inspires me, but when it’s time to formulate ideas, I generally sit somewhere and think about what I story I want to tell, what the stakes are and the people that inhabit the world of the story. Other times, I may start with a premise. For example, for the podcast, The Grey Rooms, I submitted a story for Season 4 of their show, which was accepted and is being produced for their Patreon Podcast, The Bane Podcast. The Grey Rooms had a very specific set of criteria for their submissions in that the character must die at the end. Having a goal like that helps me to start brainstorming on stories that I can tell where the protagonist dies at the end. For that story, I sat in a chair and came up with three story ideas. From there I start to write some basic points about the plot of story and perhaps some notes about the character. From there, I picked the strongest of my three ideas.
Currently, I am working on a short story to be submitted in consideration for an anthology collection by Scare Street and they also provided some guidelines on submissions for the anthology, so that also helps me focus in on what sort of story I want to tell. That one two me two days to figure out and it wasn’t until I had written about eight hundred words until I knew exactly where the story needs to go. So sometimes ideas come to me from the start, and I know exactly where I want to take a story while other times, I need to start writing and then the details appear.
What do you like to read?
I love to read fiction, with a specific love for horror, science fiction and thrillers. When it comes to horror, I generally like creature, paranormal and psychological horror. I am not against gore horror, but it’s not my favorite. I used to read a lot of Isaac Asimov and Ray Bradbury in middle school. Some of my favorite authors are Richard Matheson, Stephen King, Steve Niles, Shirley Jackson, Anne Rice, Jonathan L. Howard, Mike Carey, Thomas Harris, H.P. Lovecraft, T.S. Elliott, Robert Frost, Edgar Allen Poe, William Shakespeare and Christopher Marlowe.
What would your advice to be for authors or aspiring in regard to writing?
When it comes to writing, from my experience, my advice is to get organized and put the time in. I don’t write one thousand words every day because my daily life simply doesn’t allow for it, but I plan on when I will write and set goals to ensure I am making steady progress. It may be one thousand words, or it may be a chapter or scene, but I set specific goals on what I want to accomplish in my session.
Having a good set of tools also helps. I am a huge fan of Scrivener and I have been using it since 2009. I find having a tool like that helps me stay organized and allows me to properly get all of my thoughts out; whether they are notes, prose, scenes, technical details, etc. I have a place I can go to quickly get back up to speed on what I worked on previously, which allows me to quick get in the right frame of mind and work towards telling the story that I want to tell. Find a good tool for you and be sure to find a system where you can properly get your ideas down.
Lastly, don’t worry so much if you think your story isn’t great yet. I always think of Monty Python and how they would explain that they would write in teams or sometimes alone, but always come back together to review their ideas. Some of them were, in their words, shit and those stories went into the shit pile. I also sometimes write something that I think is terrible, but I can’t know that it is terrible until I write it, so just write it and then see what you feel and if you think it is crap or you’ve gotten stuck, you really are left with two options. Option one is to force yourself to keep writing, but you also need to know when it’s time to step away. That’s option two. For me, I go immerse myself into all the things that inspire me and revisit the story later. Generally, that break was enough to allow me to look at it again with fresh eyes. Much like a jig saw puzzle.
Anything else you’d like to share?
I want to thank The Pen & Music for this opportunity and let you know that my debut novel, The Condemned, which has been submitted for a Bram Stoker award in the first novel category, is on sale now wherever you can buy books online. You can go to my website https://www.literallyjesse.com to find out how to connect with me or keep up with what I am working on. I am working on a few projects right now that I am hoping to have released in the first half of 2022, which include a short story anthology of my own, which currently has eleven stories of fiction ranging from Angels, Nightmares, Time and other topics. I am very excited to get that published and into people’s hands.
Powell’s Books: https://www.powells.com/book/the-condemned-9781649523242
Back Cover Blurb:
I keep having these dreams. At first, I figured it was stress, being that it’s my last semester in college, but they just keep happening. The places I find myself…the things I see are just horrific. I see all these people, many of which are crying out, screaming in agony. The others that I see are dead, displayed or lying in gruesome and grotesque ways that make my stomach turn. There is this overwhelming sense of despair that just weighs down on me. The hopelessness that I feel from these tortured people is thick in the air and clings to my body.
In every dream, I see this…figure. I’m drawn to it by some unknown desire, but regardless of how close I try and get, I can’t make out what it looks like. It’s wrapped in shadows, hidden from the light. And each time I see it, my mind screams to run, but despite my best efforts, I can’t. I stand there frozen with fear, surrounded by all this anguish, torture, and death, but this figure’s voice cuts through all the misery. Its voice is clear and surprisingly soothing as it says to me, “I will become of your world.” With each dream, I feel this figure pull me closer. It needs me for something, but what? Why does it keep showing me these things?
“Loved this book, didn’t want to put it down; and I would love to see a possible series in the future! The vampire in the storyline is different than any other books I’ve read with vampires. I always appreciate an author mixing it up and not sticking to the same old vampire myths and storylines! I would’ve never of guessed the ending.” – Jennifer Sieminski (Goodreads.com)
“The Condemned is a scary horror book that would certainly send chills down the spine of the reader” — Official Review, ILoveUniqueBooks.com
“The Condemned is a riveting supernatural thriller that is highly imaginative and keeps readers engaged throughout this uniquely spooky novel.” – Official Review, Literary Titan
“Let me preface by saying – I’m a very picky horror fan. This novel is a terrific read. The story is engaging, and I frequently found myself wondering what would happen next even while I was away from the book. The themes I found explored in the story are very easily relatable – life, dread, anxiety, growing up – these all made the characters and story very immersive. There are also fun little winks and nods to classic horror films which is awesome and helps to form a real connection with the author. You can tell this dude had a lot of fun writing.” Ryan Voss (Verified Purchase on Amazon.com)