Kacy Tellessen

Tellessen joined the U.S. Marine Corps after completing high school. 

This August, Gonzaga Law School student and veteran of the U.S. Marine Corps, Kacy Tellessen, had his memoir “Freaks of a Feather” published by Latah Books.

“Freaks of a Feather,” created during a 10-year journey of reflection, writing and revision, captures Tellessen’s personal journey while in the Marine Corps, while highlighting the motivation of our society’s youth to join the military through an idealized and romanticized optic.   

“You have these ideas about how war and combat is and that’s fine and dandy, but then there’s reality,” Tellessen said. “The two will always collide.”

Tellessen was born in Spokane and grew up in a small farming community of Spangle, Washington. He said felt his initial calling to join the military while reading Homer’s epic poem “The Iliad” for a summer reading assignment prior to the start of his sophomore year of high school.

“Most of the time, kids are just forced to read it, but it just really resonated with me,” Tellessen said. “You know, all the depictions of the military and the order juxtaposed with the chaos, it was very appealing. And then from there, I started reading and researching.”

He said after finding a copy of “Breach Sniper” on his grandfather’s bookshelf and discovering the Marine Corps branch of the military, he eagerly read any and every related book he crossed paths with. The occurrences of 9/11 gave him the final boost of affirmation that he had to commit to the Marine Corps. 

After graduating from high school, Tellessen joined the Marine Corps and was deployed twice to Iraq during his enlistment from 2005-2009. He said the bulk of his writing is based on the period of his first deployment to Iraq. 

When his enlistment as a Marine was complete, Tellessen worked in construction, which marked a challenging time of personal transition that he reflects upon in “Freaks of a Feather.” 

“When you put a kid in this situation and you remove him from it, you remove him from what becomes [their] new normal,” Tellessen said. “Now, you put them back into society where no one knows, and to the veteran, it feels like nobody cares about what they were doing and what was done on their behalf.”

Post-enlistment, Tellessen also started a joint barbecue food truck and catering company with his brother, Dusty Tellessen, in 2013, Nordic Smoke BBQ, which has been featured on the FoodNetwork’s “Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives.”

In 2012, Tellessen began his undergraduate education at Eastern Washington University, and later received his bachelor’s degree in creative writing in 2017. 

 “I was the Billy Madison type,” Tellessen said. 

While pursuing his degree, he took several courses from Rachel Toor, author and creative writing professor at EWU, who at the time was teaching the intro to creative writing course that Tellessen was enrolled in. She is now a close friend and was a writing mentor of Tellessen’s during the drafting process of “Freaks of a Feather.”

 “Kacy blew us all away,” Toor said. “He wrote about his time in Iraq, in ways that were horrifying, but beautiful.” 

Growing up an enthusiast of Stephen King’s novels, Tellessen said that he originally aspired to write fiction. However, through Toor’s weekly class ‘sandbox’ exercises, her personal guidance and countless book recommendations, Tellessen realized that writing his own memoir was an achievable prospect in his career as a writer. 

“All I could say to him was ‘Just keep writing,’” Toor said. “It was humbling to be with somebody who would experience things that were far beyond anything I could have imagined. He wrote about them really well and clearly, he wanted to write too.”

Toor said that it takes a lot of practice to learn how to write well in the first person personal, especially for young writers who haven’t had much time to reflect personally on their own life experiences before putting them into words. 

“For most people, when they are young, they aren’t really in the position to do that, but he was able to do that,” Toor said. “He was patient enough to keep working and writing draft after draft. That’s what makes the difference between somebody who becomes a writer and somebody who just wants to write.”

The beginnings of his writing drafts were sparked in classes during his undergraduate years, which would develop into the first few chapters of “Freaks of a Feather.”

While facing mental health challenges post-deployment, Tellessen said the ten-year writing process was a cathartic phase. During this time, he was able to make sense of his experiences through writing. 

“It’s not bouncing off of the walls of your brain anymore,” Tellessen said. ‘You can actually see it somewhere, it’s a linear narrative.”

His wife, Melissa Tellessen, said this experience transformed him both as a writer and as an individual. 

Melissa Tellessen said “Freaks of a Feather” is a book that anyone can pick up, read and find a way to relate to or kindle a connection with, regardless of their own life experiences. 

“I’ve thought that since the first time I ever read the first draft of it,” Melissa said. 

Tellessen encourages students to take some time to read his memoir “Freaks of a Feather” and broaden their own understanding of how life is for veterans coming back home from a normalized life at war, given the significant veteran community GU, Spokane and far beyond campus. 

“I’m just one story of millions of stories,” Tellessen said.

Natalie Rieth is a news editor. Follow her on Twitter: @natalie_rieth.