It’s time to meet the 24th featured author of the SSS! Introducing…Jeff Zentner!
Dill has had to wrestle with vipers his whole life—at home, as the only son of a Pentecostal minister who urges him to handle poisonous rattlesnakes, and at school, where he faces down bullies who target him for his father’s extreme faith and very public fall from grace.
He and his fellow outcast friends must try to make it through their senior year of high school without letting the small-town culture destroy their creative spirits and sense of self. Graduation will lead to new beginnings for Lydia, whose edgy fashion blog is her ticket out of their rural Tennessee town. And Travis is content where he is thanks to his obsession with an epic book series and the fangirl turning his reality into real-life fantasy.
Their diverging paths could mean the end of their friendship. But not before Dill confronts his dark legacy to attempt to find a way into the light of a future worth living.
Buy Links: Penguin Random House
Authors Who Inspired Me
By Jeff Zentner
My writing contains the DNA of many different writerly influences, each of whom have inspired me in a way as unique as their writing. Each of whom inspire me to always try for their heights, even if I always fall short of the mark. To talk about them all would take up a whole book by itself. So I’ll just talk about a few.
Stephen King was with me from the very beginning. When I was a kid, I could both read hellaciously fast and I wasn’t allowed to read Stephen King at home. So I would ride my bike to the grocery store near my house, sit in the tiny book section, and read Stephen King. I read the book Christine this way. The whole book. I knew I loved him, but at the time I couldn’t put my finger on why. I’ve since analyzed it and realized that the reason I love Stephen King so much is that he’s been able to put his finger first and harder on the things we’re all viscerally terrified of, but never talk about. Now, as a writer, I have the greatest admiration for the way he walks the commercial/literary tightrope in a way that few writers have or ever will. He is genuinely an excellent writer and a good indication that you’re speaking with a tiresome person is that they look down their nose at him. Sometimes things are popular because they’re excellent. I aspire to walk that line as an author. I want people who buy books at the grocery store to read my books.
In high school, I took an African-American Literature course, where I discovered Langston Hughes. I loved the grandeur of his poetry. I loved the rhythms of his words. He made me realize that language could confer hope and dignity. I used to sneak onto a railroad bridge on Saturday nights with a huge permanent marker and I would graffiti his poetry on one of the support columns in the river. Because of Langston Hughes, I try to give my characters hope and dignity.
I discovered Cormac McCarthy in college. He kicked open the barn doors of my notion of what language could be. He made me view language as a living thing that bends to the will of men when it wishes, but that no vessel can truly hold. Something more powerful and consuming than fire. There’s something ferocious and wild around the edges of his writing. I loved him even before he wrote The Road, which is now my favorite book of all time, but in The Road, he finally soared to the same heights of emotional resonance as the linguistic heights at which he’d always flown. He made me interested in writing matters of living and dying–and appreciating the terrible beauty of both–in my stories.
A little later, I discovered Michael Ondaatje and the poet Joe Bolton. I loved these writers for their powers of observation. They could elevate everyday moments of ordinary beauty to transcendence. They made me want to be a witness in my writing.
I only recently (as in within the past few years) discovered Marilynn Robinson, Donna Tartt, Anthony Doerr, and Jesmyn Ward. I love these writers’ novels because they do everything that the aforementioned influences do and they do it almost flawlessly. They teach me how to execute; how to write with craft.
Now some of my greatest influences are friends and peers. I could go on all day, but I’ll single out one: Kerry Kletter, whose book The First Time She Drowned comes out the same month as mine, is a master of description and metaphor that doesn’t tread cliched ground. I didn’t read a lazy line in her entire book. She makes me want to do better.
I’m constantly adding to this list of influences. Now that I’m a writer, I’m constantly on the watch for writers who continually push me and inspire me to do better. I don’t write every day. In fact, I go months without writing a thing. But I do read every single day.
Jeff Zentner is a singer-songwriter and guitarist who has recorded with Iggy Pop, Nick Cave, and Debbie Harry. In addition to writing and recording his own music, Zentner works with young musicians at Tennessee Teen Rock Camp, which inspired him to write for young adults. He lives in Nashville with his wife and son.
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