“It is the conflict of values that draws the reader beneath the story’s surface level."
Interview conducted by Ginger Crosbie, Jesse’s co-host on Good Story Live!
A Conversation with Jesse
May 31st, 2022
Where did you get the inspiration for All the Moonlight on Earth?
It started as a dream. No… seriously. Back in 2013 I had a dream about a stairwell that lead to the surface of the moon. I already had a fascination with the Apollo missions, so the fact that my subconscious was churning that interest into a story is no great wonder.
Concurrently, I had been working on the first few chapters of another novel entitled Allaire. By 2014 I had almost a third of the book done. But I knew something was wrong with the plot and some of the characters, so I set it aside to focus on the “moon book.”
Over a period of several years, and over many long writing sabbaticals, I finally realized that both books were really one story. The process of merging the two stories together is another interesting tale for another time.
Interesting! Tell me about your style of writing… It’s very specific and not something you encounter all the time.
The best creative writers have a personal philosophy — a set of values — by which they interpret the world. Conveying objective reality through the prism of imagination is, quite literally, my favorite thing to do on earth.
Romantic Realism most closely describes the art form associated with my style of fiction. Based on philosophical terms, it could easily be defined as “the world as it is (Realism), and the world as it could be (Romanticism).”
The wonderful thing about Romantic Realism is that it defies genre. Thrillers, love stories, science fiction, melodrama, all of it can be written within the artistic and philosophical structure of Romantic Realism, and it endures in the hearts and minds of readers because of its fundamental components — namely, reason and ideals. It is, in my opinion, the most inspiring and transformative style of literature.
Having been through the process of developing a story and writing a novel is there any advice you would give to other writers?
I write the kind of books that I would enjoy reading. That is my foremost motivation when putting pen to paper. All else is a corollary to that end. When asked for writing advice, that is always my primary response — write what you yourself would want to read.
My second piece of advice is more of a method than a flat out doctrine. Strive for originality. Perhaps your general plot has been done before, yet subplots, thematic elements, characterization, and theme all help to extract originality from what might otherwise be, for instance, another story set in outer space or at the bottom of the sea.
My final word of wisdom is about characters… make them memorable. One unfortunate hallmark of today’s popular fiction is flat, forgettable characters who are subservient to the action of the plot. They speak and exist and make choices (sometimes nonsensically) for an all too obvious and predetermined end. Humans are complex beings with varying levels of intricacy and wildly conflicting values. Literary fiction has the responsibility to demonstrate that.
I love that! I agree 100%. Humans are complex and one individual can have varying levels of intricacy and wildly conflicting values... So how do you go about creating such characters? The types of characters that levitate off the page?
Staying true to my aesthetic philosophy of Romantic Realism, I write characters who face towering questions of moral complexity. That is imperative. To have your protagonist face a literal external conflict is one thing. Stories about battles of one kind or another are ubiquitous — and frankly, somewhat boring — unless skillfully paired with an internal struggle. And not just for the purposes of filling blank spaces between action scenes, but as the motivating drive for the action itself.
Heroes and villains interface at the crossroads of literary conflict.
Regardless of their external peril, the reason for why the readers should care about the outcome is directly proportional to the attention given to the internal plight of the character(s). Conflict is at the heart of storytelling, but it is the conflict of values that draws the reader beneath the story’s surface level.
Absolutely. Are there any books or films that you’ve drawn inspiration from in some aspect or another and helped you gain clarity on your own style of character development and storytelling?
There are so many. Here are just a few… in no particular order.
Vertigo (1958) James Stewart / Kim Novak (My favorite film. Don’t spoil it for yourself by reading about it. Just go watch it and be amazed.)
Strangers When We Meet (1960) Kirk Douglas / Kim Novak
Network (1976) William Holden / Faye Dunaway
The World of Suzie Wong (1960) William Holden / Nancy Kwan
Interstellar (2014) Matthew McConaughey / Anne Hathaway
Australia (2008) Nicole Kidman / Hugh Jackman
Blade Runner (1982) Harrison Ford / Sean Young
Contact (1997) Jodie Foster / Matthew McConaughey
A Raisin in the Sun (1961) Sidney Poitier / Claudia McNeil
Solaris (1972) Donatas Banionis / Natalya Bondarchuk
The Manchurian Candidate (1962) Frank Sinatra / Laurence Harvey
The King’s Speech (2010) Colin Firth / Geoffrey Rush
Atlas Shrugged (1957) Ayn Rand (One of the greatest romance/mysteries ever written!)
The Fountainhead (1943) Ayn Rand
Gone With the Wind (1936) Margaret Mitchell
The Book Thief (2005) Markus Zusak
Crime and Punishment (1866) Fyodor Dostoevsky
Sphere (1987) Michael Crichton
Fahrenheit 451 (1953) Ray Bradbury
A Hologram for the King (2012) Dave Eggers
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All the Moonlight on Earth
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