Last week, we had the ultimate pleasure of promoting “D’Aprile’s Fools“, the latest novel from the world of Tellest by Michael DeAngelo.
As rare as it is that I get to write about novels in the genres of fantasy and sci-fi, it’s even rarer for me to do written interviews. If you’ve followed me, or even That’s Entertainment, over the years, you know that I’m a talker. The written word makes it hard to go on with someone like you would in a podcast. That said, the written interview is much more concise! Fewer tangents are definitely found within this interview. And with a relatively new medium for me to conduct an interview in, I’m very happy that it’s with Mike. As a reminder, the following interview is with author Michael DeAngelo, the founder/owner of That’s Entertainment. Let’s get started!
That’s Entertainment: I have no plans on pretending we don’t know each other; so out goes the formality of calling you Michael during the course of this interview! But just because we know each other doesn’t mean I’m going to pull my punches; you get the same treatment as anyone else running a promo on this site! That said, while you and I have talked at length about Tellest and I have even interviewed you on podcasts about the world you’ve created, we’ve never had the opportunity to have a formal interview (those podcast interviews always go on wild tangents). Before we jump into it though, how does it feel to be doing this interview with me in this format (knowing that we likely talked about something unrelated an hour ago)?
Michael: You don’t have to call me Michael, but I must call myself Michael because it’s part of the brand! Maybe I’ll be Mike DeAngelo when it’s time to start on my sci-fi series.
Honestly, as you said, this is probably the best way to have this sort of conversation. It’s bound to be a bit informal, just because of how well we know one another, but at least we could concoct an air of professionalism!
TE: Haha! With us, I don’t think it can get more formal than this! Let’s get to it!
You’ve been writing for a long time. I’m sure you’ve talked about this before, with me even, but with the recent refresh of That’s Entertainment, a quick reminder is in order: how did your writing journey begin? What was it that inspired you to not just write your own story, but create an entire universe?
M: So, I think in other interviews, I talk about what immediately percolated into the work on my first book. Let’s go back even further for your interview. We’ll call it a super-exclusive bonus.
My imagination has been fostered for a long, long time. I learned to read and write playing King’s Quest. My dad would draw the objects that the player could interact with and spell them out for me, and I knew what I needed to type in order to play the game. I don’t think I ever beat it when I was that young, but I was only four or five.
When my aunt would take babysit me, we would play a really low-key version of Dungeons & Dragons. I honestly have no idea where she came up with the concept of it, but she would just make a rudimentary map and have me explore it. Just squares on a page really. You start in the town square. To the north is the mayor’s house. To the west is a tavern. So forth and so on.
And when I was young, I soaked up everything fantasy. Legend of Zelda, The Secret of Monkey Island, Final Fantasy (VI is the best, and I’ll die on that hill), Willow, The Princess Bride, Indiana Jones, The Goonies!
I feel like all that sort of coalesced and fired up some sort of imagination bonfire that just never really turned off. The last two bits of fuel—kerosene and uranium—were a perfect combination of things. First, it was my very first book by R.A. Salvatore. My aunt, again, got me the perfect gift and set me off on a huge reading spurt in my late teens. And then by happenstance, right around that time Baldur’s Gate II was coming out, and you could personalize your character just enough where my mind went running. I decided to make a crude backstory for my character after a test in school one day, and I had plenty of time left to let it all flow. Two pages became seventy, and I realized I wanted to turn it into a story, and not just have it be some biography in a game that only I would see.
I don’t know if I could have predicted it would be a series at the time. Certainly, it’s taken on a life all its own by now, and there have been so many iterations of it, I can barely remember where the first thoughts came from before they were refined over and over.
Phew, alright, that was a big one. I promise they won’t all be that long-winded!
TE: We’re alright with long-winded answers! As an aside, and you know this, Final Fantasy VI is the best Final Fantasy. It’s astonishing that others don’t feel the same, but I tend to see a clear divide between favorites of that series when it comes to age.
M: You know, Final Fantasy VI felt to me like the perfect Final Fantasy because it took so many characters, and for the most part, treated them all very well. It’s not the perfect game, and it’s not the perfect story, but I think it did its job most effective amongst all the Final Fantasy games. It also helps that the leitmotifs for all the characters felt so appropriate and were so catching.
As for longwinded answers, I have a lot of experience with both talking and writing, so watch out, or you might be writing checks your website can’t cash!
I think there’s always been a part of me that saw fantasy and superheroes working on even ground, and you’ll notice that early on in my stories, they kind of follow that mentality where family had to be gone for you to be a hero.Michael DeAngelo
TE: We definitely can’t cash those checks! By the sounds of it, family and pop culture have been two of your biggest inspirations. How has that shaped your stories and the world of Tellest?
M: Oddly enough, it took me on the opposite route on the onset. I think there’s always been a part of me that saw fantasy and superheroes working on even ground, and you’ll notice that early on in my stories, they kind of follow that mentality where family had to be gone for you to be a hero. That kind of plays into the whole D&D character thing as well because most players will have some version of the “my family died so I’m free to adventure” sort of trope.
After killing all my characters’ families, I experimented with taking bits and pieces of my real family, and my friends, and interjecting their qualities into characters, but I would say that things have changed so drastically from the onset that they exist as their own people now. Realistically, I’ve been working on a lot of these characters for over twenty years now. It’s about time these characters start giving me grandkids!
Another way that family and friends have shaped the story is that when I’m writing these stories, I’m either writing them for myself, or with one person in mind. Mageborn was written for Rhianna. Son of the Storm was written for my brother. Awake was written because I wanted to explore the concept of PTSD in a fantasy setting (and I used one of our real-life peers, a fellow Pennsbury graduate’s real-life experiences to try to put that in motion).
On the pop-culture front, I try to toe a line where I’m not actively throwing too many pop culture references into the work. There’s a way to be respectful of what’s come before you without dancing all over it. So you may see some shadows or reflections of something, but I try not to let things like Marvel or R.A. Salvatore dictate too much of the course of where the story is going.
TE: You started Tellest out with The Child of the Stars trilogy which featured a rather large cast of characters. Since then, you’ve taken some of those characters and spun them out on their own. While some details of those characters may have changed, at their heart, they were still characters you spent a long time with. With D’Aprile’s Fools, the focus is on a whole new cast of characters—was it difficult to move one from those older characters? What’s it been like writing and building backstories for the new cast?
M: You’re right. Except for one book really (and ignoring any short stories), D’Aprile’s Fools is the first time that just about every character is new. I think I lucked out because even though they’re new characters, I was able to slowly let myself get there while I was working on other stories. I had been ruminating on D’Aprile’s Fools for years before I wrote the first page of it, I think. Rhianna, my wife, and I had thought up most of the crew on some lazy afternoon or something, but it was about finding the right time to sit down and make it work.
I’ve got to say, I was very excited to start exploring another part of the world so fully. And I think what makes D’Aprile’s Fools work out so well is that there’s a lot of ethos behind the cast. There’s a lot of emotion, a lot of pressure from society and family, a lot of things that could be relevant within our world today that carry some weight in those pages. And as eager as I was to write this first story for them, I’m looking forward to the opportunity to build them up even more, as well as flesh out some other characters a bit better.
TE: I’ve got to say, it’s incredible to hear that we’ll be getting more of this crew. What kind of future do you see for Frederic D’Aprile and his fools?
M: D’Aprile’s Fools is really a story about acceptance. From a hundred yards back, it looks like it’s just the quest to have other people accept you, against all odds, and with the propensity for violence to erupt because of it. But more importantly, it’s about self-acceptance. All the characters that Frederic and Bixby recruit must learn how to love themselves. They’ve made mistakes in the past, or view themselves as monsters, and it helps to have these two people in their lives that show them that there’s more to them than what’s on the surface.
As for Frederic, he’s only in the middle of his journey here. We’ll have to explore more of his past in the next book. We spent a while focusing on his “fools” here in the first book, but we’ll have to peel back some layers for him as well.
Bixby, on the other hand, has such a tremendous history that I don’t even know if we would be able to properly handle it all in the D’Aprile’s Fools books. He’ll likely still have some Bixby-centric short stories to come.
TE: Speaking of Bixby Alladocious, it’s no secret that he stems from an April Fools joke you posted on Tellest.com; it’s practically in the title of your latest novel. At what point did you know that you wanted to bring Bixby from joke to reality?
M: Well, I think we knew right away when we were coming up with just the goofy premise of the character what potential he had. In the original April Fool’s post that we introduced him in, the reader wouldn’t know at that point that he had a weird power to bring himself back to life repeatedly. But we knew the second we came up with the punchline of the joke.
I think it certainly helped that superheroes like Deadpool and the Suicide Squad existed. They made it accessible to be a little different and to play with fiction a bit more. Bixby doesn’t quite break the fourth wall or anything, but he is something far out of left field compared to most characters in traditional fantasy tales! And luckily, I was able to bring him into the world a bit before D’Aprile’s Fools, as he starred in a couple of other stories prior to his big co-starring role along with Frederic.
TE: There’s that pop culture playing a role in Tellest again! Looking at your novels, there definitely is a superhero flavor to your stories. This is another question you and I have talked about at great lengths, but will we ever see Tellest make the jump to comic books? The world just seems ripe for that medium between the superhero flavor and all the art that you’ve commissioned.
M: So, I would absolutely love it to happen. We’ve played with a slew of other mediums, from tabletop to video games, and if luck is on our side, we’ll have a children’s book featuring Tellest characters later this year. There are some things that I’ll kind of scratch my way into, like the video game, because I want to know what that experience is like. On the other hand, there’s things that I want to take my time with and find the right way to do things before I take too much of a leap.
I do think that the easiest way to do things would turn my novels into graphic novels, but I’m also looking into creating a new team of characters that would start the journey into comics for the brand. I’ll probably have to get moving on that sooner than later, because one of the characters in that team is going to relate to one of the other new characters I’m introducing soon, and I’d like her to kind of pave the way.
TE: Tellest has jumped the medium from books to games. While those games aren’t necessarily branded as Tellest, the Quantum Quest franchise spun out from Tellest, correct? Was there a reason to not explicitly brand those games as Tellest? I know there are plans for bringing the Quantum Quest brand into Tellest down the road.
M: I think part of the reason that we wanted to brand it on its own was because even back then I knew that we were possibly going to explore the concept that Quantum Quest didn’t necessarily only connect back to Tellest. And you’ll see it by the way we’re able to loop in other things, like the Old World Legends exclusives, as well as people’s D&D characters, or other authors’ works. I think the only way it officially spun out from Tellest is that we had a few characters from it in the game. But it does end up diving into the Tellest lore in a big way very soon.
TE: Going back to some of the inspiration for D’Aprile’s Fools, holidays play a big role on Tellest.com. April Fools is certainly a big one, you’ve been posting things to the Tellest website for years for the trickster holiday. What made you want to start this tradition? How much work goes into these jokes you post every year?
M: So, there are three holidays that are important to me, and I try to have something ready for them every year. Christmas is my opportunity once a year to put a personal touch on a story, and it kind of gives a window into how the DeAngelo family is doing that year. Halloween lets me explore outside of the realm of fantasy that I usually write in. There’s something about it that just creates these sparks of imagination that I like to foster.
April Fools is probably the one that I spend the most amount of time on because I like to have at least two or three ideas ready to post to the Tellest website. Throughout the years, we’ve had other ideas that we just couldn’t stick with at the time, and now that a decade has passed, we’ve fostered great relationships with artists, musicians, and more, and it certainly opens some doors. So sometimes I’ll reach back into the old grab bag and see if there’s something I can do a little better. And then a lot of it is wish fulfillment. I’ll talk about something I’d love to do and then I just make some terrible mockup, but secretly hope someday I can bring it to bear.
As for what made me start, I honestly think it had to do with how some of my favorite things in my late teens in twenties handled April Fools. There were certainly some video game companies that leaned into it. I think the site I remember having the most fun with it was Homestar Runner though.
TE: There’s a theme within this interview and that’s that family and pop culture continue to inspire you and help shape some of your stories. From the sounds of it, your Christmas stories are the most personal—they feature the actual DeAngelo family! Subscribers of your Newsletter know that something big is coming with these yearly stories. What was the catalyst for that? Bringing in fictionalized versions of you and your wife to your writing?
M: You know, when we first had the concept, we just thought that it was a cute way to kind of eschew the typical flavor of the holidays. Sending a postcard with our pictures on it just didn’t seem very us. And since we had given out bookmarks as wedding favors (a reminder that Rhianna and I met because of Tellest, and our unique blend of artist and writer), we thought it would be awesome to sort of continue the trend and use bookmarks to continue the journey. With that in mind, I think that the art probably preceded the story. We had always worked with Leo Borazio, who is my cover artist as well. And we probably ended up getting the art made up early enough for me to just have a spark of, “Hey, why don’t I write a story to go along with this?”
The Christmas stories are awesome because they’re like a huge playground that I get to mess around with. I throw all the rules out the window when it comes to those, so you do see me dance on that line I said I wouldn’t dance on earlier. This year I think we have Squid Game and Dune references that are pretty much in your face. And of course, we’re out there interacting with Santa. And our animals talk! It’s a bit nutty when you think about it, but at the end of the day, it’s another fun story that I get to tell.
There’s a little bit of a through-line between all the stories, but you also need to balance what happened that year. Introducing new family members means the story is probably going to center around them. That’s why it’s been five years since we started to kind of leave breadcrumbs to Santa’s backstory in our stories. This year it pays off because we really take a dive into who he is. And I must say, it’s ridiculous just how well it works out.
TE: Perhaps in the niche world of fantasy it’s pretty common, but from a broader perspective, I’ve got to say that you’re doing things with Tellest that simply isn’t done elsewhere. From April Fools to Holidays to the personal stories, it’s quite an accomplishment. And that’s on top of the normal fantasy stories you’ve been telling in Tellest!
M: Thanks! It’s certainly been a fun experience throughout. There isn’t a single day that passes that I don’t have some sort of Tellest thought that runs through my head. And now that we’ve got other things going on like Art Books and Posters, I’ve got more people who are becoming super fans and taking some time to chat with me from time to time. It’s a lot of fun, and I feel like I’m bringing people something that they can enjoy.
We have another pivot that we’re trying to aim toward soon where we create some Tabletop supplements for the world so that people can explore Tellest in a whole new way. Just as with everything else though, we need to make sure it’s refined and done the right way. We’re probably a little closer to realizing a different non-fiction project: a book of fantasy writing prompts that’s affiliated with our website, fantasywritingprompts.com (which admittedly needs a little TLC to get it back into the shape it needs to be).
TE: Tellest is already a huge beast and it sounds like it’s not slowing down anytime soon. It’s more than just D’Aprile’s Fools and you have a lot of stories not just released for the world, but unreleased stories that sit in various stages. With that said, what’s in store for 2022?
M: So, I’m a little late with the Christmas story from last year. My deadline for that is January 15th, and it looks like I’ll be able to hit that.
After that, there are three short stories in various phases that need to be wrapped up—once that’s done, we’ll start the final run-through on our edits to get Tales of Tellest: Volume Two out into the world. That’ll be 24 new stories that will feature returning favorite characters and some brand-new ones.
Once Tales is done, I’ll be swinging back to the novelization of our game Quantum Quest. I last left it in the penultimate chapter, which I know I’m going to have to take a hatchet to. There are so many characters in that, and so much craziness going down that there has to be a better way to tell that story. You and I come from a semi-pro wrestling background, so there’s always a part of me that loves to choreograph action scenes, and that second-to-last chapter is a beast right now. I can’t remember details too much, but it was sitting at something like 40 pages—and it all takes place in one room. There’s no way that anyone is going to read that without getting fatigued. But, it might make for a fun bonus for patrons on Patreon, or as an extra for newsletter subscribers or something.
Speaking of Quantum Quest, if COVID lets up enough for us to feel confident, I would love to go to Comic-Con this year. We’ve been sitting on the standalone expansion to Quantum Quest, Reinforcements, for something like three years now. I wanted to let people play it one last time before we Kickstarted it, but it’s getting to the point where we may just have to dive in regardless.
My NaNoWriMo book for the last two years was the third book in the Ancestral Magic series, and that book is now sitting pretty at over 100,000 words, so that will be where the focus shifts to once I’m done with the Quantum Quest book.
After that, if we still have time, I’ll have to see if I’m feeling more interested in diving into the second Silver Serpent book—which I put about 20,000 words into before I was hopelessly ensnared into the Spider-Man PS4 game a few years back—or wrapping up another experimental project, the “storytelling by committee” book, The Whispers, which I froze at its halfway mark last year I believe.
And all the while we’re working on this, I’m really going to try and work on getting the first of our children’s books done. We’ve been talking about it forever. It’s just like D’Aprile’s Fools at this point. We just have to knuckle down and do it.
TE: That sounds like a very productive, and busy, 2022. While I was planning on ending on that question, you brought up a few more things that we could go on and on about, I do want to avoid that reader fatigue you mentioned above. With that—the final question. You’ve been writing for years, but about halfway through that, you discovered NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month). How has that changed Tellest? How about your approach to writing?
M: You know, my writing styles and methods have changed a lot over the years. When I was first writing, it was all in high school-style notebooks. Back then, I had it in my mind that the more pages I wrote, the better the story would be, which meant I was writing in huge letters. What I found was that paper was a commodity that I was wasting! Just about the whole time, I was working at my first job, I had found a way to write during my downtime. I found that writing on a quarter of an 8.5 x 11 sheet of paper was the perfect size to be discreet, as I could throw it in my pocket. Back then I was even writing on my bathroom breaks—and writing impossibly small at that (people can’t read my writing because it’s so tiny, which means I’ll always have my secrets).
Since then, I’ve written in notebooks, on the train, in front of doctor’s offices while I waited to head in. NaNoWriMo was the last big push, and it moved me to the digital world. It also showed me that I could write more than I do and that I let other things get in my way a lot. There’s always time to scrounge up if you want to write. You might not be able to hit your word count all the time, but if you keep at it, you feel like somewhat of a success. That’s not to say that I write every day. I mean, I do write every day, but perhaps not in my assigned Tellest project of the moment.
One other thing that NaNoWriMo did was show me that handwriting wasn’t some mystical thing that I needed to continue doing for the magic to continue. I was weirdly superstitious about that for a time, but I think that a few of my more recent books came out strong despite the medium shift. If my life gets a little quieter someday, I might try and do half and half, because there is something to be said about being able to just write your story anywhere, versus doing it in a designated writing spot. Then again, every wizard needs his tower from time to time.
TE: Mike, this has been an incredibly fun conversation (and an odd one, normally it’s via text, email, or phone these days [damn COVID keeping us apart IRL]). More importantly, it was informative; both about you as an author and about your latest release, D’Aprile’s Fools. Heck, I think there were even some tidbits that I didn’t even know! Before we let you go, please let us know where we can find you and your books online?
M: You can find me on www.tellest.com. I’m on Facebook and Twitter, too, but I usually use those to promote other storytellers. The Tellest website is where I post about Tellest news most often, and where, once a week, we post new art from the Tellest universe.
Oh, you know what, there was one other thing that I wanted to mention. I’ve been incredibly lucky over these past ten years (and then some) when it comes to Tellest. I’m not J.K. Rowling famous or anything, but it wouldn’t feel right if I didn’t give credit where it is due to so many of the people that have helped to make Tellest the magical place it is. I collaborate with so many people that if I started listing them off, the Oscar speech going on too long music would play, and someone would come out here with a crook and yank me off the stage. But in general, I’d like to thank the people who craft stories for Tellest, and who refine them, people who come with me and my brother and Rhianna to conventions and help to bring new fans in with media pushes (and other collaborators in that same vein), as well as to other authors who I’ve had the privilege of working alongside, presenting their stories to the world. A huge thanks to all the artists we’ve worked with. And last but certainly not least, to the fans who make writing for Tellest an absolute joy. I’m so looking forward to continuing to bring new stories to everyone.
Wow. That was an interview! Hopefully, y’all enjoyed it and found some interesting tidbits about Mike and his latest novel, D’Aprile’s Fools, or the rest of his world of Tellest. Big shout out to Mike for taking time out of his busy schedule (did you see his 2022 plan up there?!?) to chat with me. If you haven’t picked up D’Aprile’s Fools yet, you can do so by clicking right here! Once you’ve given it a read, drop us a comment and let us know what you think!