Jess lives in the Pacific Northwest, but has live all over, including Alaska.

Like a lot of musicians, he enjoys music and plays the piano.

Jess is very inspired by John Macdonald, and runs a website devoted to him:

Find his website at



[00:00:00] Jess: Are you looking for new books to read? Do you like finding a new, special author? Are you tired of the same old books from the same old authors? Well then, welcome to Discovered Wordsmiths, a podcast where you can hear from fantastic new authors. Join Stephen Schneider as he finds and talks to authors you may not know, but authors that have worked hard to write great new books.

[00:00:28] Hear about their book and why you should check it out. So sit back and listen to today’s discovered wordsmith.

[00:00:53] Stephen: Welcome to another episode of discovered wordsmiths. This time I’ve got alternative Christian fiction author, [00:01:00] Jess Lederman talking about his book. It was a great talk. Uh, Jess’s book sounds great, but unfortunately we had a lot of internet issues. So you may hear some things repeated. You may hear some jumps like some things were dropped.

[00:01:13] I tried to edit the best I could to. Give Jess his due. Um, but I apologize for any problems. We weren’t sure what the problem was that day, but something was blocking some of this and dropping and there were problems. So please enjoy the interview and I hope it’s not so jarring that you wouldn’t consider Jess’s book because it does sound wonderful.

[00:01:39] Here’s Jess. Well, Jess, welcome to the podcast, Discovered Words in this Podcast. How are you?

[00:01:45] Jess: I’m great. Thanks for having me on. How are you?

[00:01:49] Stephen: That’s great. I’m excited to talk to you about the book. So before we get started, for everyone listening, why don’t you tell us a little bit about yourself, like where you live, things you like to do outside of writing?[00:02:00]

[00:02:00] Sure, sure.

[00:02:01] Jess: Uh, well, these days I’m in the Pacific Northwest in Washington, just across from Portland, Oregon, but I have, I’ve lived all over, grew up outside of New York City and then Texas and Paris, France and the mountains of Idaho and California and. And most recently, uh, uh, Alaska for, uh, for moving down here.

[00:02:24] And I’m a, uh, uh, when, when, when I’m not writing, I am probably, uh, playing the piano. Uh, I was, uh, years ago, uh, in, in school, I was a, I was a music major. So I’m playing the piano, or I’m playing with my, uh, five year old son, David.

[00:02:43] Stephen: Nice. Great. Yeah, I, I find a lot of, uh, authors play music. Uh, you know, I think, uh, you got ahold of the podcast through Jim Rubert and he plays guitar.

[00:02:54] Right. Right. How long were you in Alaska?

[00:02:58] Jess: I was in Alaska for [00:03:00] about three, uh, three or four years. Okay, nice. What area in a town that a lot of people have have heard of from the election a few elections ago was Scylla, Alaska, so it’s about it’s in a it’s in a valley about 40 miles north of Anchorage.

[00:03:23] Stephen: I got a friend that.

[00:03:25] Went up there right out of high school, actually worked on some of the fishing ships, uh, and he’s lived up there ever since. I mean, like right out of high school. Tell us about your book. Uh, what’s the name of it? What’s it about? The novel I

[00:03:39] Jess: published a couple of years ago is, uh, Parts Set Free. And it is a, uh, book that, that starts out with, uh, what seemed to be three unrelated storylines.

[00:03:53] So there’s a, uh, uh, a native Alaskan, uh, mother and son, [00:04:00] uh, who’s, uh, the husband and father, uh, Abandons them for a woman and they, uh, they go off together to New York and the mother and son set off to bring him home and the mother’s result to kill the woman who stole his heart. Chapter one. And then the second story line, second chapter, that’s, and that starts out in 1925, the Alaska territory.

[00:04:25] The second chapter starts in 1914 with a burned out Bible school dropout turned boxer who is having breakfast in Paris with Jack Johnson, the, uh, who was the, uh, the famous, uh, Black heavyweight champ, first black heavyweight champion of the world years ago. And then on the third chapter starts the third storyline, which is in in the our uh present time or 2011 as it happens with uh, two lovers who are tv producers, [00:05:00] uh, and the uh, the man is determined uh to show the world so the the third storyline is about two uh, the tv producers for a science tv channel Uh, and the man is determined to prove that people have no need of God, uh, while his lover is trying to recapture the faith of her youth.

[00:05:23] In big picture, this is a, this is a book that explores how people come to faith and deal with doubt. Or, to put it another way, how God relentlessly pursues us and does not rest until his last So my novel is, uh, Heart Set Free, published in early, uh, 2019, my first novel. Uh, and it’s, it’s a story that weaves together three plot lines.

[00:05:50] Two of them are set in the first half of the 1900s and the third in the present day. And at first, they, they seem unrelated, but I think they come [00:06:00] together in some surprising and, uh, and powerful ways. Just to give you a little flavor for it, you have the first plotline, an erstwhile hero of the far north.

[00:06:10] He abandons his wife and son, uh, who set out on a quest to bring him home. Second plotline, you’ve got a burned out Bible school dropout turned boxer, who finds she’s got an unusual chance for redemption. And in the third plotline, in the present day, two science TV producers. An ardent atheist who’s determined to prove mankind has no need of God, and his lover who’s trying to recover the lost faith of her youth, they set out to find a 99 year old man who holds the secret.

[00:06:42] to a mystery they’re trying to solve. And there you go.

[00:06:45] Stephen: Wow. What made you choose to write this story? Cause it sounds fairly big and unique.

[00:06:52] Jess: Well, it’s the overarching theme is how do people come to faith and deal with doubt or, or [00:07:00] put it another way, how does God relentlessly pursue us, uh, how he will not rest until his last lost lamb is found.

[00:07:07] And it’s a subject that thrills me and I wanted to share my passion with that, uh, subject because, uh, quite a bit of it is, uh, is autobiographical. I was at An ardent atheist, uh, until I was 50 years old. It’s something that’s, um, deeply, deeply personal.

[00:07:27] Stephen: Does sound like it. So how much of it, I guess, not to pry too much, but how much is fiction and how much is like what really has happened to you?

[00:07:38] Jess: Well, you know, I, I get asked that question a lot and my answer tends to be about 20 percent of it is true and the other 80 percent is even more true. Nice. I

[00:07:50] Stephen: like that. I’ll put it that way. Okay. I like that. So I take it you, you went through kind of your own personal journey, [00:08:00] your own discovery, uh, through life.

[00:08:04] Why did you decide to write it down and want to help other people through your story? And why choose fiction instead of like a memoir?

[00:08:12] Jess: Sure. First, I’ve, I’ve, I’ve written for almost my entire life. I was, when I was 10 years old, my older sister, for some reason, uh, came into my room at night and read me a passage from the, uh, uh, the author, uh, John Dos Passos.

[00:08:28] And that changed my life. I was so struck by this writing. This was the first, uh, it was, it was way over my head. It was the first serious writing I’d heard, very lyrical. And I just knew from that point, I wanted to write. I’ve, I’ve always written. When I was, uh, in my thirties, I quit my job and my, uh, my late first wife and I, uh, moved to, uh, to Paris.

[00:08:55] We rented a place that was just a few blocks away from where Hemingway had lived when he [00:09:00] was in Paris, and I, uh, devoted myself to, uh, to writing a novel, which, thank God, uh, did not sell. I’d be humiliated if, uh, looking back on it now, where I took a, a wrong turn or at least a turn in life that led me away from focusing on, uh, on trying to get published, is that I had, uh, I was, my other great interest was music, uh, but it turns out I had very expensive tastes in pianos.

[00:09:31] So to be able to afford the piano I wanted to play on, I went into business and it turned out I was really good at business. The immediate ego gratification of succeeding at business was the, uh, was the lure. So when I, when I found that my first novel didn’t sell and of course people, you know, you have to, sometimes you have to write 10 novels, 20 novels, whatever, before, before, before they’ll be successful.

[00:09:58] I, I went [00:10:00] back to the, to the immediate ego gratification of, uh, of writing. But what got me, uh, finally to where I’ve devoted myself now for the past eight years or so, uh, to writing as, as my main activity, writing was the same thing that took me to, uh, uh, to living in Alaska before moving here to Washington.

[00:10:24] Uh, and that was at my, uh, my late first wife, she was, when she was diagnosed with, uh, ALS, which is a. invariably fatal disease. Uh, we decided we were living in in Texas, Dallas, and decided to move to, uh, to Alaska and look out at, uh, the beauty of God’s creation and, uh, you know, spend the her last two years that way.

[00:10:48] So I quit my job and we did that. And finally, uh, going through that experience, you know, freed me from this need for, for immediate ego, [00:11:00] uh, gratification. And also, my wife had always been passionate supporter of my writing. Uh, and after her passing, it just, these things came together in my mind where I said, you know, this is This is what I need to devote the rest of my life to.

[00:11:15] Stephen: I almost don’t know what to say, because that sounds like a, not only a good reason to write, but probably extremely powerful message. Uh, and why did you choose fiction instead of memoir? Well,

[00:11:29] Jess: with fiction, I could structure The message and structure of the story, uh, the way I want it to. My own life is, you know, tremendous raw material.

[00:11:40] I put much of myself in several of the characters. In the arrogant atheist who wants to prove that mankind has no need of God. In the burned out boxer who is wrestling with, with doubt and, and, uh, and, and faith. Uh, with, uh, uh, it’s [00:12:00] enabled me by using fiction. Uh, it enabled me to take my own experience and meld it with many other things to create something that I think was ultimately a more powerful and more effective than a.

[00:12:12] a simple memoir would have been.

[00:12:15] Stephen: For people listening that may be interested, are there any books you can think of that are similar to this

[00:12:20] Jess: one? Well, uh, it’s an interesting question. Um, this is a, uh, I thought when I, when I started going to, uh, to writing conferences and whatnot, and as I wrote this book without having networked at all into the writing world, I discovered that I, I, You know, probably broke all the rules that you’re supposed to follow.

[00:12:39] So for example, you know, one of them is, this is a book that, if someone says, okay, what genre is this in? Um, well, a whole bunch of them. Uh, so it’s, it’s a, it’s a genre blurring, um, book. It’s hard to, to find one that, uh, that exactly fits. But instead, what I’ll, the way I think I’ll, maybe I’ll [00:13:00] answer is tell you, uh, some of the authors, uh, who have most inspired and influenced me.

[00:13:07] Uh, so for example, I consider my novel alternative Christian fiction. I think there’s mainstream Christian fiction that people have a pretty. Good sense of what that means when they say Christian fiction, and it tends to fit into, uh, sort of mainstream, often evangelical theology. Uh, there’s, uh, uh, no, uh, no bad language in it.

[00:13:32] There’s no. Explicit sex, whatnot. I call this, uh, alternative Christian fiction because it doesn’t necessarily fit all those rules. So who influenced me? The greatest influence in my life, probably the, the great 19th century writer and minister, George MacDonald, who wrote many novels. In which, which are very focused on how do people come to faith?

[00:13:54] How do they deal with doubt? Paul Young, uh, the author of The Shack, uh, lives not too far from where I [00:14:00] live. I’ve, I’ve met him on several occasions. And the, uh, The Shack, uh, is a, is a book I call alternative Christian fiction. Doesn’t fit your, your traditional evangelical Theology, a Japanese novelist, Shusaku Endo, his book, his novel, Silence, uh, or, uh, Flannery O’Connor, who wrote, uh, The Great Southern Writer, short stories, and I’ll just mention one other one, because I was very influenced, as a young man, I read E.

[00:14:29] L. Doctorow’s Ragtime, which, uh, was a big bestseller years ago, uh, in which he blended real historical characters with fictional characters. And I thought, wow, this is great. I want to do that someday. And that’s exactly what I did in Heart Set Free. So you have. Uh, a number of, uh, of real historical figures.

[00:14:52] Uh, Jack Johnson, the, uh, the boxer, uh, first black heavyweight champion of the world, uh, in the early part of [00:15:00] the 1900s and, uh, George LaMetra, the greatest scientist. Uh, who know, who very few people have ever heard of. It was the father of the, uh, the Big Bang Theory. Um, and, uh, and, and several others, uh, who are mixed in with, uh, fictional characters.

[00:15:18] So, so there you go.

[00:15:20] Stephen: Right away when you were describing the book, before you even said what style or genre you think it is, it sounds a lot like our friend Jim’s, uh, book, Rooms. It sounds like that same kind of journey of faith and discovery.

[00:15:34] Jess: Yeah, yep. In fact, uh, I, I made reference in, in some of my marketing, I made reference to rooms as, you know, I, I would say, you know, if you liked rooms, you might like this, this novel.

[00:15:45] So, yep. I agree with him. It

[00:15:47] Stephen: sounded like it. I mean, I don’t even, uh, know your whole book, but just from what you were describing. Uh, and you also mentioned McDonald and you have a, like, side project, uh, with that. Tell us a little bit about that. [00:16:00]

[00:16:00] Jess: Sure. Well, I owe my, uh, uh, faith in, in, in God. Um, well, I’ll put it this way.

[00:16:07] Uh, the, the, uh, two, the two, two of the people who helped to bring me to the Lord were the, were the writer C. S. Lewis and the man who most influenced him, George McDonald. Uh, so in gratitude, uh, I, uh, started a website that’s become pretty popular with fans of, uh, George McDonnell around the world called, it’s worksofmcdonnell.

[00:16:28] com. It’s a platform for McDonald enthusiasts or a place to go for people who are just Discovering him, uh, works of mcdonald. com. It’s a, it’s a platform, uh, for fans of George McDonald, the people from over a hundred, a hundred countries around the world who, uh, visit it regularly. And, uh, also for people who are just discovering McDonald’s for the first time, they want to find out, uh, find out more.

[00:16:56] So I’ve been managing that website for [00:17:00] about six years now, and it gets, uh. It gets three or 4, 000 unique visitors every month.

[00:17:08] Stephen: That’s a pretty good amount. That’s popular website. You did say that you’re indie published. You did this yourself, not traditional, right? That’s right. And that’s going to tie into our topic for authors on marketing here in a couple of minutes.

[00:17:23] Did you decide to go just ebook or do you have print versions? Do you have audio book versions of your book? Yeah,

[00:17:31] Jess: I, uh, I’ve got, uh, ebook, uh, so it’s, it’s both for sale on Kindle. I also put it into Kindle Unlimited. There’s a paperback, there’s a hardcover edition, and there’s an audible edition. And I’ll, it’s interesting because I had no idea when I, when I started this, how the sales would break down other self publishers might be interested, uh, uh, in these statistics.

[00:17:54] I’m, I’m. Coming up on about 3, 000 sales, about half of them are from, are [00:18:00] outright sales of the e book. About 25 percent are, uh, the book equivalent page reads on Kindle Unlimited. About 15 percent paperback, and then Audible is 8 percent by volume. But because Audible pricing is controlled by Amazon, uh, and they, you know, it’s not cheap.

[00:18:20] It probably counts for closer to 12 or 15 percent above the, uh, of actual revenues. And then hardcover is about 2 percent. Hardcover, um, doesn’t necessarily sell a lot of copies, but one of the advantages of offering hardcover Is that that higher price is very useful in making the ebook pricing seem, or paperback for that matter, seem that much more attractive.

[00:18:48] Stephen: That’s true. I’ve been thinking of doing hardback debating. What type of feedback are you getting from other readers?

[00:18:56] Jess: Uh, it’s been, it’s been tremendously, uh, [00:19:00] gratifying, uh, both in terms of, uh, reviews I’ve gotten from the, you know, the big institutional review services, but also more, more satisfying, uh, is just the, the, the feedback I read on, uh, from, from Amazon readers who leave reviews.

[00:19:18] Uh, it’s overwhelmingly positive. People who get into the book are passionate about the characters and about the journey that they’ve been on. Where the readers who tend not to like the book, uh, are ones who, uh, object to, uh, my use of a very mild profanity. Or the fact that the theology does not fit right into, uh, uh, mainstream evangelical thinking.

[00:19:44] Stephen: Let me ask a question about that. The profanity, why… Okay, so we know it’s a Christian fiction book. So why did you choose to put profanity in knowing that there…

[00:19:57] Jess: I make the point that this is not [00:20:00] traditional Christian fiction. So… I don’t use any, what I would call, real four letter words, for example. Uh, but to, um, But I’m not, I’m not consciously trying to write a book that fits into the mainstream of Christian fiction.

[00:20:16] Rather, I call this Christian themed literary fiction. The characters, you know, When I say mild profanity, I’m, I’m talking about words like damn, for example,

[00:20:29] Stephen: and, uh. Stuff that you’d probably find on late, on TV nowadays. Oh, without a,

[00:20:35] Jess: this is, this is mild for, for TV, even for TV.

[00:20:40] Stephen: Now, was it a choice because the particular character, it’s, it’s just fit that profile of that character?

[00:20:49] Jess: Exactly. It’s, it, uh, to have not used, uh, some, some strong, but not to my ears, offensive [00:21:00] language would have been, uh, false to the, uh, uh, to the characters.

[00:21:07] Stephen: It’s kind of like if you see a cop show. And they go into bust a drug den and nobody in the drug den is smoking. It doesn’t look right. It doesn’t seem right.

[00:21:16] So you’re not pushing smoking, but you’re portraying the realities of the situation.

[00:21:21] Jess: Right. And they, the, the very mild, uh, swear words are a stand in for. Stronger language that would actually be used.

[00:21:33] Stephen: If you had a choice, would you choose this to be a movie or a TV show?

[00:21:40] Jess: Well, uh, I think I’d, I’d, I’d go for movie.

[00:21:45] I like movies. I want to see the big screen. Do you have any

[00:21:50] Stephen: plans for your next

[00:21:51] Jess: book? Yeah. Um, it’s taking me a little longer than I had hoped. Uh, but I am, uh, about halfway [00:22:00] through writing, uh, The working title is The Ballad of Henry Midnight. This one, uh, is, uh, probably going to be a little more, maybe a little more controversial than, uh, uh, than my first novel.

[00:22:13] But again, same, same idea about, uh, work of literary fiction that deals with Christian themes and particularly themes of How people come to faith and deal with doubt. The

[00:22:29] Stephen: last question here for the book and about the book, tell everybody why they should get your book.

[00:22:37] Jess: Well, I think if you’re looking for something that is, uh, an alternative to mainstream Christian fiction.

[00:22:48] Uh, it’s a, I think you’ll find it an extraordinary book. If you’re looking for romance, but you don’t want to read a romance novel. If you’re looking for adventure and suspense, but you don’t want to read a formula thriller. [00:23:00] If, if someone is looking for lyrical writing for something that’s going to challenge them a bit and, and who loves to think deeply about their own faith.

[00:23:12] This is the book for that.

[00:23:15] Stephen: And so before we go and move on to our author section, uh, tell everybody where they can find your book.

[00:23:22] Jess: One place to go. It’s it’s Amazon. So art set free Jess Letterman on Amazon. Okay. And do

[00:23:31] Stephen: you have a, not their

[00:23:32] Jess: website? Oh, yes I do. Uh, read more about the book, uh, on, uh, Jess Letterman.

[00:23:40] com. Well,

[00:23:41] Stephen: thanks, Jess. This book sounds like a great book and it sounds like it was a needed thing. So I appreciate you taking some time to talk to us about it.

[00:23:50] Jess: You bet. Thanks for having me on. Thank you for listening to Discovered Wordsmiths. Come back next week and listen to another author discuss the [00:24:00] road they’ve traveled and maybe, sometime in the near future, it might be you.