On Editing Teardrop Road by Jesse Teller

About the Book

An immersive first-hand account of Dissociative Identity Disorder. Jesse Teller is a fantasy novelist, and in this work, he shares the story of his own insanity. Coping with the effects of childhood trauma led to his survival through hallucinations and storytelling. From the discovery of his alternate personalities and the stories they shared, Teller pieces together the memories that made him, and the moments that saved him.

606 pages (paperback)
Published on June 23, 2021
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Yesterday, my parents came to visit. I was in the middle of discussing Stalin with my father (we’re both a bit obsessed) when I got a message from Jesse Teller. “I’m going to publish my autobiography,” he said. I sort of let that sit with me for a while before I replied. I didn’t honestly know what to say, and I felt like I needed my reaction to this decision to be as serious as the decision itself. So, I let those words sit with me. I let them settle, and then when I did write him back, I asked him if he had cover art for it, because apparently communication is not my forte. 

The truth is, I’m still a bit overwhelmed by this entire project, so when Jesse talks to me about it, most of the time I feel like I don’t know what to say. It’s not his fault. In fact, if anything, this reaction to his work shows me how important it is, and how fundamentally it’s touched my soul. It has moved me so much, I usually am beyond words when we talk about it. Everything I say feels somehow inadequate.

I am not an editor who specializes in nonfiction. In fact, my fundamental rule is that I will not edit nonfiction, period. The fact that I don’t edit it, allows me to easily read it without my inner editor picking apart every page. So, when Jesse contacted me about editing his autobiography, my first reaction was a very foundational, “no.” But the truth is, I couldn’t say that to him. I couldn’t just cut him off and say, “Nope, sorry, it’s nonfiction and I don’t go there.” I know Jesse, and I’ve read a lot of his posts and talked to him personally about mental illness and abuse, and I knew that his autobiography was important, and the world needed to see it. 

For Jesse Teller, I broke my rule. 

When he sent me some sample bits of his autobiography, I was overwhelmed. I’ll admit that. He didn’t go easy on me, and I’m glad he didn’t. He threw me right into the deep end. It was a smart decision on his part. You either sink or swim, and the best way to learn which way you’ll go, is by being thrown into those churning waters and seeing what will happen. So, he sent me this bit of his autobiography that was… well, the title says it: unreal. And yet it was so viscerally real. It’s this interesting divide and I found it throughout the story of his life: the impossible balanced with the possible and done so in a way that makes both feel just… real. 

Editing an autobiography is a lot different than editing any other kind of book. With a normal fiction work, I can tell the author A, B, and C don’t really add up to D, so I think we need to massage these plot elements a bit and here’s some suggestions on how we can do that. With an autobiography, you can’t say, “Well, this part of your life doesn’t work, so I think we need to massage it a bit.” I mean, this is someone’s lived experience, and I can’t say it did or did not happen. I can’t edit someone else’s story like that. So, I really had to reframe what “editing” meant when going into this book. I had to look at Jesse Teller’s story, and rather than saying, “This works, and this doesn’t work” I instead chose to focus on line editing, making the prose really shine, and making sure some of the elements were clear enough for the average reader to understand. 

In doing this, I had to talk a lot to the author himself. I got to know Jesse and Bekah really well, to the point where I genuinely consider them family now. When Jesse was recently going through some things, I sent him a bunch of cake (because cake won’t fix your problems, but it certainly does taste good), and I only send cake to people who I consider really, really, really close family so that should tell you something. But levity aside, I did have to get to know Jesse really well when editing this book. I talked to him a lot about some of the things I read about, and I talked to him a lot about his experience in the world. I remember, in this book specifically, there were aspects of the timeline that confused me, and when we were talking about that he told me that was one of the things he was proud of, because people with DID really struggle with time, vast chunks of it will just go missing. So, that aspect of the book that confused me, was just one of those incredible bits of execution that brought me even deeper into how Jesse Teller experiences the world. 

It can’t be easy to write about traumatic events, or mental illness, and there’s an incredibly vulnerability Jesse willingly took upon his shoulders when he made the decision to lay himself bare in this autobiography. There’s a lot of emotions tangled up in this, and we’ve spent many, many hours talking about them. I’ve spent an equal number of hours feeling like I’m the least helpful person on the planet. My inclination is to make it all better. To say, you’ll be okay. I know it’s hard, but you’ll make it through… but that’s not really how life works. I can’t begin to understand what it much feel like for Jesse to not only write his lived experience in such raw, real terms, but to also thrust it at the world. “Here is my life and my psyche, world. Enjoy this journey through my soul.” 

When he told me yesterday, he was terrified, I believe him. I think anyone would be terrified. On the other hand, I also think the most important things are scary. Writing is always a very vulnerable art. We all put a bit of ourselves into everything we create, but this autobiography is a whole other level, and the strength it took Jesse to write it, and then publish it, is beyond what I can comprehend. Allowing even one person outside his immediate family (me) to get to know him on this deep of a level bestows an amount of trust on me that I don’t think I will ever, ever, ever fully understand. 

In truth, the way Jesse chose to tell this story has never quite stopped captivating me. There is a lot of pain in this book, but there’s this kernel of brilliant optimism and love at its core that balances the whole thing out. Ultimately, there is also a lot of grace, because no matter what part of the story Jesse is telling, he never loses the core of his humanity, nor the magic that illuminates his soul. 

Whenever he would be afraid that the book was too dark, or too… whatever… I always, always told him how yes, it is dark, but it’s also honest and real. There is so much love and hope throughout the book that despite its dark elements, despite the parts that just made my heart hurt for Jesse Teller, it always kept me from feeling like I was slipping over the ledge into hopelessness. While Jesse’s life has been a series of struggles, and trials, and battles, the armor he wears, and the weapons he welds are crafted out of love, and I felt that throughout the book. The one thing I took from editing this, was that Jesse might have one of the most brilliantly illuminated souls on the planet. 

Dissociative Identity Disorder (DID) is not something I understood, and I think I still don’t understand it fully. I never really will, but I do know that this book will help a whole lot of people who either have DID, or know someone who has it, or want to learn more about what it’s like to live with it. Jesse is so honest about his experiences and how he lives in the world. With brilliant prose, and a master craftsman’s grip of story, Jesse tells his story, and the story of Shadow, Servant, Guardian, Artist, and many more. He lays himself bare, in the hope his truths will help others. He tells you not just about the darkest parts of his life, but the parts that saved him as well. Ultimately, his greatest gift is the hope he gives his readers. There is always light at the end of the tunnel.

Jesse Teller is someone who, at this point, I’d consider my best friend (Excuse me while I go wipe away some tears). He dropped into my life unexpectedly, and completely and absolutely changed not just how I see the world, but how I see mental illness, trauma, relationships, healing, and the power of hope and love. He’s an absolutely amazing human, and this book is one of the most important things I have ever worked on. I genuinely hope it reaches those who need to read it. 

This autobiography has the potential to change lives. Hell, it already has.