Jesse Grillo is an up-and-coming young writer and the creator of the independent comics company, Bleeding Ink Productions. He has spoken to Geeks Unleashed about his comics in the past and now he’s back to talk about his work on his first novel, ‘Gold Lined Storms’- a story of mental illness and ultimately, of transformation. Speaking from his car while he puts the finishing touches to his novel, Jesse told Geeks Unleashed about the difficulties of writing on the road, and of self-promotion and funding on his Kickstarter campaign.
Geeks Unleashed: You’re writing your final draft of your novel ‘Gold Lined Storms’. What is it about?
Jesse Grillo: It’s about a man named Joshua Blackwood who finds out he has schizophrenia. He decides to go on the road to find himself before his condition changes the person he is.
GU: ‘Gold Lined Storms’ is a rather interesting title. Why did you choose it?
JG: It’s actually a working title. I’m not sure what the final title will be but that one seems to work for now. I’ve always been really terrible at naming my work. So let me know if you have any ideas!
GU: After your work in film and comics, why did you choose to write GLS in the novel format?
JG: I like to write everything and I knew I wanted to write a book before I knew the story for GLS. What’s really great is that there are so many mediums for stories. I feel that this story can only be told as a novel. I don’t think it would work in any other format.
GU: In other interviews, you have described your writing style as ‘method’. Can you explain what this means? What kind of things do you do to get in character?
JG: There is a very long list of things but some include getting a terrible haircut so I look like the character, dressing like him, listening to the same music and having things that the character has in the story. I keep a set of die and an antique lighter on me at all times because it’s something Joshua does.
GU: Has there ever been a point during your method research when you wanted to stop? Living in another person’s skin must be difficult, especially when that person has schizophrenia.
JG: No, it never really got to the point where I wanted to stop. There were definitely scary points, there was a time I was living in the forest in northern California and I was alone for a period of time and that was definitely a bit scary. Near the end, after two months on the road I definitely wanted to be home, sleep in a bed and not have to deal with this anymore. I loved the whole thing though, the process has been great. I’m very happy that it’s almost over; it has been such an undertaking- it has been so emotional and I’ve been working for eight months. It’s good, but it’s good that it was.
GU: Would you do it again?
JG: I would, but it wouldn’t be a sequel. It could be for a different character or a different story but all of my writing is very method; my comic books are method and my poetry is pretty method. I would definitely go back on the road, but with a different character and a different mind-set to challenge myself.
GU: It must have been interesting to create a sense of mental deterioration with different writing styles. Is there any particular part of the novel that you particularly like, or even dislike but felt you had to include?
JG: No, I don’t think there was anything I felt had to be in the book. I did a ton of research on schizophrenia and mental illness, as I like to keep my work authentic. There were things that I thought would be cool in the book but they weren’t true to the character so I had to avoid that. I changed his handwriting and included grammatical errors, I knew that was essential but it [the book] is engulfed in his condition and that opens you up to a lot of different things you can do. It’s a really interesting illness where you never know what’s going to come out of you, which opens up new doorways to get creative writing out.
I don’t really have a favourite part of the book, I really love it all! The most challenging part and I think the part that people are really going to like is the love interest. There are parts of the book where he really falls into darkness- he starts out as such a grease-ball character: a womanising and very materialistic character and it might be a little difficult to feel sorry for this guy, but you do as the story progresses. By the end, he very much opens up and falls in love. He goes from this guy who is a screenwriter and by the end, he writes poetry for this girl and is able to express himself. I’m very happy with that part of the book.
GU: Do you ever worry about inheriting your mother’s bipolarism? Did this influence you much when you were writing the novel?
JG: Yes, it was definitely a huge influence. You know, the character is so much like me in a lot of ways. I mean, I’m not a womaniser and I’m not schizophrenic , but we’re starting at thirty years old and both of our mothers have this condition; there’s a lot of me in there. It was definitely a scary thing, the odds are much higher that you could get a condition as the child of a parent with mental illness; I think that has always been there a little bit. I really lucked out, I’m just a weird writer with no condition of any sort!
There are so many stigmas that come with mental illness though, and everybody’s got something. Everybody has their issues or problems, but when you talk about schizophrenia, people’s reactions can be amazing. When I tell people that I’m working on a book where the main character has schizophrenia, people ask me if I’m schizophrenic and they are concerned, like they think that I’ll attack them or something. No-one really seems to know much about mental illness, though one in a hundred people are schizophrenic and almost three in a hundred are bipolar. If someone is missing a leg or an arm, or has a visible physical problem, people are sympathetic but when you say ‘schizophrenia’, you’re much less likely to get a supportive reaction. In the book, I tried to break some of those stigmas while staying true to the experience of a schizophrenic and how people react to them.
GU: Which of the artistic mediums that you have worked on do you prefer? Why?
JG: Like, which one of my comics is my favourite? You can’t ask that! That’s like asking someone who’s their favourite child! How do you even answer that? There are so many and the stories are all so different. I have a black and white sci-fi comic that is being worked on right now, but do I like that one more than the superhero comic I’ve written? No, they’re all so different and they challenge different parts of me as a creator, which I love. There’s no real way to answer that, I mean I love this comic for this reason, and that one for that. I really like ‘Patriot’, I think that’s going to be a big comic, it has something very different that people don’t see in a lot of comics but I say that about all of my comics. I think they all have a unique voice and I’m lucky enough to work with a creative team that has a lot of unique voices and a passion for making comics. Yeah, I really love them all!
GU: You have started to fund your work on Kickstarter. Why did you start using it?
JG: Yeah, I think I’ve used it about four times now to help get funding for my comics. I haven’t really worked at a real job since December or early in January, at the last film I worked on and there isn’t a lot of work available, so I’ve been focusing on my writing and my comic books. I really want to make sure everyone I work with gets paid a decent wage and is taken care of and that’s really hard to do when I’m not working full-time and I’m only working random gigs, so I use Kickstarter to help with that and get some money for the comics. Making comics is a huge undertaking and it can be expensive too, when you do it right and you want to do it well.
GU: How difficult do you find self-funding on Kickstarter? You spend a lot of time in-character, do you find that it breaks your sense of immersion or have you found a way to balance the two?
JG: No, I haven’t. I have a Kickstarter going for my book right now and I have a blog which I update all the time about where I am and about the trip but I can’t go on twitter for an hour and tweet about the project or go on Facebook and give updates about it. The tough thing about being a writer in this stage of my career is that marketing takes so much time, you can’t get out of the mind of someone living in a forest with a mental condition and be like ‘Hey! By the way guys, here’s an update! Here’s this! Here’s that!’ I’m trying to do that a little bit, but it’s something I really can’t break myself away from. Talking to you is fine, because we’re talking about the project but it’s a weird thing, I just get so into it. Even when I saw a friend last night and he took me out to a bar, I was very mindful of where we went and how I reacted to certain things. I think I keep true to my character even when I’m not writing so it’s a very hard thing to break away from… it will probably take me a good amount of time after the project is finished to get out of that mind-set.
When I’m done with this, I’m going to get a nice haircut. A nice, short haircut and I’m going to shave and look presentable and walk away from it to clear my head. I might even start a new project right away just to get my mind off this one. It has been an intense thing, like a twenty-four hour thing, because even when I’m not writing it, it’s always there.
GU: How do you feel when you think of having the finished novel in front of you? Are you looking forward to it?
JG: Yeah, that’d be pretty cool. I’d be satisfied, definitely- it has been such a year! While I haven’t been working a traditional job, I’ve treated my writing like a professional and I’ve been writing constantly. At the end of this year, I’ll have several comics produced, my book of poetry was published in February and I’ll have this novel. It has been such a satisfying year and to have this novel, such a labour of love in front of me, I can’t even explain it. It has been such an interesting year, I have fans now! That is crazy to me, that people are willing to spend money on my work and people ask me questions about my work. My Facebook, which I’ve only been developing since February when I got back from my first road trip has 23,000 followers now. It is so weird, that is so weird to me that I have no words to describe it. I’m meeting fans now while I’m on the road- tomorrow I’m going to Seattle to see a guy who has been very supportive of my work and bought my work. He’s an aspiring writer so I’m going to go up there to have lunch with him and have a writing coaching session and talk about writing.
The idea of having a finished book that people are willing to pay money to read and to have people ask questions about the work is odd… I guess I don’t know how to answer.
GU: When will the book be available?
JG: That’s a tough one. If I wanted to, I could have had it done a while ago and it would be good but I wouldn’t be happy with it. I want this to be something I can say I’m really proud of and be the best book that I could possibly create. At the very latest, I think it will be at the end of the year, but it should be before then. I’m going to have the final draft all done within a week, then have my editor do a once-over on it. Then we’ll go through the fairly long process of working with the desktop publisher to do all of the pictures and all of the weird art in the book. Realistically, I think it will be ready in about two months. It definitely won’t go out until I’m absolutely happy with it and I wouldn’t regret putting it out.
GU: How can people get their hands on it? Will it be in-store or available on the internet?
JG: That’s a good question! The book world is one I’ve never really worked in before so I’m learning a lot. I have a print service that I’m going to use and it will definitely be on the website, bleedinginkproductions.com. I’ll make sure people can download it digitally but I don’t actually have a manager or a book distribution deal or anything like that, I’m just some dude that’s writing books and trying to figure it out as I go. I’ll buy a bunch of them in bulk and send them out from my house… it’s very much a one-man operation. I’ll be working as a book distributor too!
GU: Aside from getting a haircut, what are your plans after the novel is finished? Do you have any new projects planned?
JG: No, not at all. This thing has been my world… I don’t even know what I’m doing later today! Honestly, after talking to you I’ll probably write for a few more hours and I might see the friend I’m staying with later but I have no real plans. I’m not sure when I’m leaving town or when I’m going home. The story is everything, so as long as I get my four to six hours of writing in, I’m pretty open.
I think I’ll just keep writing. I have a lot of comic book scripts I’d love to make, and I’ll try to figure out a way to break even. To keep doing what I’m doing would be awesome. The main goal is to get as many people to read my work as possible. I don’t really care about making money, so I’ll just keep building that fan base. I think the work speaks for itself and people will like it, but the thing is making sure people have access to it so they can read it.