An Interview with Jeff Zentner

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We chatted with musician-turned-author Jeff Zentner, the creator of the award-winning The Serpent King and the newly released Goodbye Days!

About the author

Living in Nashville, Tennessee, he started as a guitarist and eventually became a songwriter. His first brush with writing started at camps, as well as hours spent reading in libraries and working at book stores.

His first book, The Serpent King, is about a high school senior who is bullied because of his father’s extreme faith as a Pentecostal minister. He looks forward to graduation as an ending, but another unexpected ending rocks his world to the core.

His second and latest book, Goodbye Days, follows Carver. After sending a text to his friends right before they died in an accident, he now blames himself for their tragic deaths.

Here’s our chat

Can you give us 3 things you can’t live without?

Creating, books, love

Before becoming an author, you were a musician and songwriter. What sparked your interest in writing?

I was volunteering at Tennessee Teen Rock Camp, teaching guitar. I really fell in love with young people and wanted to create art for them, but I didn’t know how to make the sort of music marketed to teenagers. So I had to find another way to reach that audience.

What is the difference, if there are any, between writing songs and writing young adult novels?

When you write songs, the subject of the song doesn’t need to change or grow. In fact, a song doesn’t even need a concrete protagonist. So in that sense, songs are very different from YA novels, where there’s a real expectation that a protagonist will grow and change.

What books are you currently reading? How about books you’d like to read?

I’m currently reading And The Mountains Echoed by Khaled Hosseini. I just finished We Are Okay by Nina LaCour. Both are amazing.  I’m insanely excited for Sing, Unburied, Sing by Jesmyn Ward.

Your debut book ‘The Serpent King’ is a William C. Morris Award winning book that has received a lot of positive reviews from readers around the world. How does it feel? Was there a pressure on your part when you were writing your second novel? 

It feels amazing. I never, ever expected it to be as well-received as it’s been. There was certainly pressure when writing Goodbye Days. I had years to think about The Serpent King and only months to think about Goodbye Days.

Some of the prominent motifs of The Serpent King are family, abuse, and bullying. What made you write about these?

These are challenges that make young people feel very alone and isolated. One of the reasons I write is to help young people feel less alone.

Goodbye Days is your second novel, following The Serpent King. Is there anything you changed about your writing coming from the first book?

The biggest change is that Goodbye Days is told in first person present tense and from only one point of view. This was more limiting in some ways and less limiting in others.

Can you describe Carver Briggs, the protagonist of ‘Goodbye Days’, in just three words?

Haunted, poetic, loyal

The protagonists in both of your novels deal with very heavy situations. Are these inspired or influenced by your personal life, or someone you know?

Yes, in one way or another. Nothing is exactly what I’ve experienced. I draw a lot of inspiration from the lives of people I know and trying to put myself in the shoes of others.

Apart from their significant struggles, are there any similarities between Carver and Dill? Or are they complete opposites of one another?

Both Carver and Dill see a lot of beauty in a world that isn’t always kind to them. They love the people they love and they’re fiercely loyal. But they’re imperfect. They can be petty and jealous.

If you could collaborate with any other author, who would it be and what kind of story would you like to write with them?

I have collaborated with David Arnold on some West Wing fanfic and I’d love to collaborate with him again. I also have plans to collaborate with Brittany Cavallaro. We have plans for a novella set in the final days of the Obama White House.

Have you interacted with your Filipino fans before? Will you consider visiting your Filipino fans anytime soon?

I have interacted with my Filipino fans on social media. I’d LOVE to visit the Phillipines.

What’s your message to your Filipino readers who are all looking forward to reading Goodbye Days?

I put a Filipina character in Goodbye Days because of how good you’ve been to me.

Can you tell us something about your upcoming books? What’s next in the pipeline for you?

I’m writing a comedy about two girls who have their own TV show.

Read his works!

The Serpent King is available for P525 (paperback), and you can order yours here. You can also get Goodbye Days for P499 (paperback).

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