Hello there folks. We’re busy busy busy this month, but we’ve finally got some time to talk about a few things. First off, we’d like to formally welcome Erika Castro to the Tellest team. She’s going to be our social media guru. As of right now, she’s the reason our Twitter page looks as delightful as it does. She’s also taking on a new responsibility today as she sits Michael DeAngelo (that’s me!) down for an interview on all things Tellest.
Let’s give her a warm welcome as she joins this wonderful team!
Without any further adieu, here’s an interview that’ll give you some insight into the vision for Tellest in the near future:
Erika Castro: First of all, thank you for the opportunity. It’s going to be a lot of fun working with Tellest and all the people who make it awesome.
Michael DeAngelo: Well we’re definitely very lucky to have you here. You’re going to fill a role that I’ve been lacking in lately, so we’re very grateful to have you as part of the crew.
EC: I hope I’ll prove myself as we move forward. Should we move forward with the interview?
MD: Take it away!
EC: What made you first interested in writing?
MD: When I was younger, I was always making up stories to be a part of, but they originally started as pipe dreams for games. I fantasized about making these big sprawling games like Final Fantasy, because Roleplaying Games were always a big part of my life. I used to tell people I wanted to be a software engineer, because I heard it and didn’t yet know the term “game developer.”
For the longest time, I always thought that writing a story from front to back was out of reach for me. Those were for far smarter people than me—it was beyond my capability.
It’s silly but letting go is probably what gave me the opportunity to really dig into writing. I was lucky enough to work fairly quickly in school, and we had 90 minute classes. During a math class, I ended up finishing a test ridiculously early. I knew that Baldur’s Gate II was coming out soon, and I knew that you could develop a character biography for yourself. I started writing one for the character who would eventually become my original main character, and the rest grew out of control from there.
EC: Why fantasy?
MD: Fantasy has always scratched a particular itch for me. I’m not sure why, exactly. It’s just always been a part of my life. I learned to read and write playing King’s Quest on the Apple II. My favorite movies growing up were Willow and Princess Bride and Goonies (a pseudo-fantasy, if ever there was one). And I’m a huge fan of videogames, as I said, with Legend of Zelda and Final Fantasy and the Secret of Monkey Island being huge influences in my life and in my writing.
While my Dad had always been a big fan of fantasy and sci-fi, it was my aunt who I think really planted the bug in my brain. We used to play a very simplified version of dungeons and dragons when she would babysit me, and I think that was probably what got me started wanting to build worlds.
EC: How old were you when you wrote your first story (not published)?
MD: I believe I was five or six when I wrote some incoherent mess about a shark that didn’t want to eat fish… he wanted to be their friends. It’s very possible that Pixar used this wonderful book as inspiration for the sharks in Finding Nemo.
EC: Is there a particular author that inspires you?
MD: R. A. Salvatore is the storyteller who speaks to me the most. It wasn’t until I read about Drizzt and Wulfgar and Bruenor and Regis and Catti-brie in The Thousand Orcs that I really go the push into storytelling. That book was also given to me by the aunt that imparted all that love for fantasy in me. I received that on my seventeenth birthday, right around the time Baldur’s Gate II was coming out, and it just happened to be the perfect storm of creativity and intellect to get me going.
EC: Was there a particular book/story you wrote that made you think that you had something going here?
MD: I think that’s both the blessing and the curse of being someone who continues to write books. When I wrote my first book, I thought it was the best thing since sliced bread. I was very impressed with myself, but if I go back and read that, I’m appalled. It’s horrible! But at the same time, I’m glad that I believed in myself back then. If I had started writing and immediately found disgust in my work, I don’t know that I would have ever continued doing what I am.
There’s a trend with my work, too. I’ll go back to a book I wrote five years ago and be disappointed with it, and I have no doubt that something that I write this year will feel a tad undercooked five years from now. But I feel that it also shows that I’m growing as a writer and a storyteller, and for that I’m grateful.
EC: Is the character Kaos Kreegan based on anyone you know?
MD: He is, and while other people might be ashamed to admit this, I’m just going to own up to it. Kaos is an obvious straw man. Kaos was supposed to be someone that I could aspire to be—maybe not the fighting prowess and the treasure hunting and all that jazz, but certainly his values.
We spend three books with Kaos where he’s this white knight willing to do all these things, but we never really see him break. He sticks to his guns, so to speak, for better or worse. I can tell you this though: writing a straw man character gets kind of boring, especially if you aspire to be the best you that you can be. When we see Kaos again in the future, we’re going to really work at breaking him a little bit!
EC: Where does the name Tellest come from?
MD: To be perfectly honest, I cannot tell you how I came up with the name after all these years. I’d like to think that it just came to me in a whisper, but back then, I was developing names for cities and characters by looking at everyday objects and reading them backward. We had a poison called red nib that we developed just because we happened to be looking at a binder.
It’s probable that we were thinking of creating this world where you’d be telling this insane amount of stories over a broad history, and we thought, “hey, Tellest sounds a lot like ‘Tell Us,’ let’s just roll with it!”
EC: Who is currently part of the Tellest team?
MD: Tellest has grown a lot from those days when I was writing after math tests. We’ve got five people who have officially developed stories for us, and among them, four of them have been published in our anthology. We’re in the middle of courting a few other writers right now as well, but it is slow going as we try to organically build.
Meanwhile, on the other media front, we have a group of around four or five artists who consistently deliver content to us. By the end of the year, I’m hopeful that we’ll have over 100 pieces of commissioned work to show off on the Tellest site. We’ve also got a pair of very dependable narrators who we use for the Tellest audiobooks, and we’re just wrapping up work on the last two Tales of Tellest novellas.
And then of course, we’re starting to expand elsewhere, which is where you come in, Erika!
EC: Where do you find your writers and artists?
MD: Most of the writers that I work with are local. I’m lucky enough to be surrounded by people who share the same love of storytelling and fantasy, and I’ve been able to share Tellest with them in a way that you don’t often see with other written worlds. They’ve surprised me every step of the way, and I’m proud of each of them.
We also experimented about two years back with hosting writing prompt contests on our website. That was how we connected with Aaron Canton, who ended up being one of our more prolific writers. We’ve been talking internally about opening that up again as a feature. When we did them before, it was almost laughable because we didn’t really have a large web presence. Only two or three people would submit at a time! Now, and especially as we move toward releasing another big set of books, maybe we’ll have a bigger internet footprint.
Regarding the artists, I was lucky enough to find most of them on DeviantArt or through Reddit. With Leo, our main cover artist, I happened to see his work on another writer’s book cover, and I tracked him down and convinced him to do a commission for Mageborn. We loved working with him so much that he’s done just about every cover since then!
EC: Out of all your novellas, which is your personal favorite?
MD: That’s such a tough question. I’m a fan of all my books for different reasons, but there are two that are a little closer to me.
Awake was almost an experimental piece for me that explored what PTSD would look like in a fantasy world. I had to do some real research with that, and actually reached out to a friend I grew up with to get her opinions as both a modern day warrior and as a woman. That translated to some real inspiration for the character of Venathryn, who has evolved tremendously since her original inception about sixteen years ago.
As much as I love Awake, I think my favorite actually has to be The Fall, however. It truly speaks to the way Tellest itself was kind of dreamed up—as a world that lets different genres play together. The Fall is the tale of Icarus redressed for fantasy. And the best part is it’s told in such a way that it could in theory be what actually inspired the mythology. The Fall is also the first story that I told in such a distant part of the timeline from the established books in the series. We look at what the world looked like over three thousand years ago! And of course, I think with such an event—the end of the world for some people—gave me the chance to make some strong emotional choices that I really hope resonated with people after they were done reading it!
EC: You have a second Kickstarter coming up, tell us about that.
MD: So, what we’re trying to do is raise $2000 to offset the publishing costs of releasing at least six new books. These are going to be five sequels to the Tales of Tellest novellas, but they’ll each be consistently longer than their predecessors. We also have a collection of short stories once again—this time we’re aiming for two dozen in the compilation!
The money that we raise from this campaign will help us with editing, and it’ll assure that each of these stories has gorgeous front-and-back book covers.
EC: How did the first one go?
MD: I wouldn’t have even dreamed of coming back for more if our last Kickstarter hadn’t gone so well. We were absolutely blown away to have been fully funded by the end of the first day. For a fantasy brand that really had no internet footprint, that was an awesome feeling. I was floored by the response. And then, through the rest of the campaign, we managed to double our original goal, and ended up with some interesting bonus content. We wrapped up reconciling all of our rewards just a few months ago, and I hope that everyone who played a part in bringing this volume of Tellest books to life felt great having those books in their hands.
EC: What are some of the goals of the Kickstarter?
MD: First and foremost, it’d be nice if we could fund these initial books. Because they’re longer, this set will require more stringent editing than the last set, which will obviously increase the cost. And going with double-wide covers essentially doubles the cost of the art as well.
Kickstarter is also great for developing an audience that you might not otherwise have access to. Not only that, but you’re essentially pitching to people who are specifically there to look for projects like yours. We have the opportunity to show people that Tellest is an accomplished fantasy brand—we’ve already ran a successful campaign and delivered on our promises. It can only go up from here.
EC: What would you do if you surpassed your set goal of $2000?
MD: I’m hopeful that we will. I mean, I’m cautiously optimistic. You don’t want to count any of your chickens before they hatch, but I’m always prepared, just in case. Besides these big five sequels, we’ve got a handful of other longer stories waiting in the wings. For every $500 we raise beyond the initial goal, we’ll be able to publish another book. And the best news is that everyone who pitches in at one of our very affordable levels—$29 for the first 100 folks, and $45 for anyone that doesn’t get in when the getting’s good—is going to get all those eBooks added to their order for free. If we raise $4000, that’s 19 books for as little as $29. I think that’s a pretty good deal.
EC: What is something you want people to know about you and about Tellest that are new to the scene?
MD: We want to make Tellest an inclusive fantasy world. We want it to be something that compels people to come back, and make it feel like home. The idea of our fantasy brand is that you’re always going to be a part of it, and that we’ll always have new content driving us forward. It’s already grown quite broad in the five years since I first published, and if we’re as successful in the next few years as we were in the past few, you’re bound to see some incredible things right around the corner.
EC: Excellent. I think that’ll about wrap it up. Thank you for taking the time to talk about all this. I know you’re busy with the Kickstarter, so this was very nice.
MD: Not a problem at all. I’m glad for the opportunity. I’m usually on the other end of the interview, so it was a nice change of pace for me!