Q & A with Jesse Grillo: Diving into the Details

How much research do you usually put into your writing?

I’m not talking about Internet research — forget Google, Wikipedia, and MapQuest. — I’m talking about real, down deep, get your hands dirty research. The kind of exploration that really helps you get into the mindset of your characters or the surroundings of your book’s location. Research that can lead to discoveries both exciting and dangerous.

That’s the kind of in-depth digging that author Jesse Grillo is doing to research his upcoming novel Gold Lined Storms. The book follows Joshua Blackwood, a man on a journey to find himself before his schizophrenia can take away all that he is. To get as accurate a viewpoint as possible for a character with so much depth and complex emotion, Jesse took a road trip of his own last December, living out of his car and at times completely without a home to get the full experience that his character would endure.

Jesse’s first trip was a powerful experience, but to finish his project he’s planning a second research excursion from Los Angeles to Portland, Oregon, later this month. Before departing, Jesse took time out to do an interview with Duolit about his writing project and his experience using kickstarter and indigogo to fund his in-depth research.

Duolit: First of all, your novel idea is so unique! How did you come up with it?

Jesse Grillo: There is a lot of me in the story so that made it easier. Back in December I was working on a film and there came a point where I felt like I was over the film business. At the time, I never wanted to work on a film again. The movie I was on finished in mid-December. I had Christmas with my family and I went on the road a few days later. 

I knew I was going to do a lot of writing and self-reflecting, but I didn’t just want to write a journal of my trip. I had a rough idea of what I wanted the story to be, but it wasn’t completely formed. I didn’t bring much with me. About four changes of clothes, a few books, and three notebooks with pens. That was about it. I didn’t want anything to distract me.

My mother was bipolar and right before the trip I was talking to a friend about my childhood. He was telling me that children of parents with mental disorders have a higher risk of getting the same type of illnesses. He also said that signs generally show in the teens and late 20s so for many of them, so 30 is the magic number because if you make it to 30, you’re safe.

I thought about that for a while. About what it would be like to have a parent with a mental condition and then wonder your whole life if you were going to develop the same type of issues. And then one day you’re 30 and you can relax. But then you start to show signs that the condition is affecting you. How would someone react? How would I react? 

Between that idea and what I was going through with my career, the story formed about a writer that finds out he has schizophrenia so he goes on the road to find himself.

DL: You have some background experience in comics and film, what made you decide to work on a novel?

JG: I always attack my writing from as many different angles as I can. When I was a teen I wrote short stories and in college I got into screen writing. When I started working in film I always tried to keep writing in different pose. I might work on a screenplay for most of the day and then switch and write a poem or a comic. I knew that writing a novel would be a different kind of beast to tackle, but I wanted to try it. I’m really glad I did. 

DL: Have your experiences in comics and film helped with your novel writing?

JG: Very much so. Both of those styles of writing are so visual and when I read drafts from my book those visual details come across. What was different about the novel is that I went in with no layouts or character breakdowns. Something I NEVER do for screenplays or comics. They weren’t really needed though because it was a story that I was living.

DL: How does taking this road trip help you dive into character?

JG: Well, I’m very method. I think part of that comes from working with actors for so long. A few years ago, I had an idea for a comic that took place in the desert so I went out to Desert Hot Springs for a week and hacked it out. A short film I wrote had a main character that was manic depressive so I researched that subject then got into character. I listened to depressing music. I didn’t clean my place as much. I had pictures of my wall of what a manic person and their homes would look like. I’m glad I’m done with that script. It was really depressing to work on. 

For my road trip, I really tried to keep the mindset of the main character the whole time, and for the most part I did. There were a few times when it got a little scary and I had to tell myself that it wasn’t real but for the most part I kept in character. I think method writing makes the actual writing part much easier but the lengths you have to go through to become that character can be really taxing on the psyche. 

DL: How long will your trip take and where all are you planning to go?

JG: The first trip was two months but for this one I would like to just do a month. I would go to a lot of the same places I went to while on my first trip but would dig deeper and develope the book more. For this trip, I would stay in Portland for a few weeks because that’s where the love interest happens and I would like to develop those chapters of the book.

DL: During your last trip you spent some time living homeless in Oregon, what was that like? What lessons did you take away from that experience?

JG: Yes, that was something. The idea came to me after I volunteered at a homeless shelter in Oakland for a few days. The character in the book does the same type of volunteering and is disgusted by the people he has to help. Later in the story as his condition becomes worse, he becomes homeless. 

I drove into Eugene, Oregon, and figured it was a good of place as any to be homeless. By this time it was about a month into my trip so I had a decent beard going and I looked shaggy. I went into a second hand store and bought an old warn out pauncho and torn jeans. I parked my car on the outskirts of town where I knew it wouldn’t get ticketed. I changed in my car and brought nothing but a notebook and pen with me. After seeing my reflection I knew I still looked too clean cut. I got a little bit of mud and ran it though my beard and hair then threw a glob on my notebook. Nothing excessive, just enough to get the look down. 

I spent the day wandering around Eugene. There isn’t a lot to the place and most of the people hang out on the main boulevard. While walking around I saw a drum circle and went to watch that for a bit. I met a few homeless people and explained I was just passing through town. They told me a little bit about Eugene and where the local shelter was. I walked with a few to a liquor store and joined them near a river as they drank. That night I slept on a park bench in a rose garden. 

Between the volunteer work and pretending to be homeless for a few days I gained great insight into what it was like to be homeless. I found, at least in my experience, that no one wants to be homeless. None of the people I met were lazy or didn’t want to work. Most of them had serious mental issues, abusive childhoods that they ran away from or issues with drug addiction. They’re not bad people, they’re just trying to survive in a world that dealt them a very bad hand. 

DL: What made you decide to use indiegogo and kickstarter to try and raise funds for your second trip?

JG: I recently tried it with a comic book project and had some success. The world of marketing and trying to get funding for your work is new to me. I just made a Facebook for my comic book work back in March and the feedback has been amazing. I’m not at a point where selling comic books is going to support me so I have to try any avenue that is available to me. 

DL: Do you think other authors could benefit from using these grassroots fundraising techniques?

JG: That’s a tough one. It’s REALLY hard to get funded if you don’t have a fan base and running a crowd funding campaign is like a second job. You need to give your work to anyone that is willing to read it, give interviews, pay a little for marketing, grow your fan base. You need to get on every social network you can, gain fans then let them know every day about your campaign. 

It’s a lot of work but it can pay off and if nothing else, it’s a good way to get more people to see your work.

DL: What are the different perk levels available for your supporters?

I have over a dozen ranging from a PDF of my poetry book to being drawn into one of my comics as a super hero. You can also pre-order my book in paperback cover or PDF format. 

DL: Where can people find more information about all of your books?

JG: I’m getting a website made but right now I’m still using Facebook for where I post information about my writings.  

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