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Jeff Zentner Author Visit

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Jeff Zentner Author Visit

Deisiree De Jesus, Copy Editor

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On January 15, 2019, highly praised author of The Serpent King Jeff Zentner visited the Gateway to the World library and spoke to us students to not only promote his new book, “Goodbye Days”, but inspire and teach us. 

Jeff Zentner recalled the first time he met a published author at the age of 33. He had never known where books came from saying he always envisioned the books falling from Ivory Towers. He had never thought he could write books, but it wasn’t until then he realized that all kinds of people could write books. 

He then began to explain how he became an author. When Jeff was younger, he had a hunger for books and music. He decided he wanted to pursue music and moved to Nashville. There he formed a band which performed festivals and produced albums all through his 20’s.  

At age 30 he had an epiphany while drifting off to sleep. He realized that only few people make it in music after 30, and he might never get his “big splash”. With this in the back of his mind, he continued until he was 33, but he still wasn’t getting his big break. He said that the dream of being a professor musician wasn’t going to happen. “Dreams do not come to pass. Sometimes the dreams die, and you have dead dreams,” Zentner comedically stated. 

Carrying his “basket of dead dreams”, he went to law school, achieved a law degree, and then became a prosecutor of the state of Tennessee.  He joked about how it was a sharp contrast that he worked writing stories for the best people in the future of society, but also worked trying to put some of the worst people in the nation behind bars. 

He still had a last ember of his dream for music and stoked it into a fire by becoming a guitar instructor at a Tennessee summer rock camp. He would ask the students what instrument they’d like to play, whether it be are guitar, drums, vocals, etc. Then they’d teach them how to play, write music, and record. Finally, the kids would practice as a group and perform songs at an arena. Zentner described it was incredible thing to see the kids perform; that it had been a sacred and special experience.  

It got Zentner thinking: “what if he could make art for the YA audience? But how would he reach the audience?” Zentner’s answer was found in another art form: books. More specifically YA novels. From this, Zentner decided to take a crack at writing. 

There were three factors that convinced him to take a stab at becoming author. First, as mentioned before, was him meeting his first published author, which was a friend of his that became a New York Times best-selling author. Second was his day job as a prosecutor. He explained that his job was basically competition storytelling; whoever stitches the facts together to tell the best and compelling story to win the case. And the last factor was that he was not afraid to fail. Jeff Zentner explained that he had already failed, and it was okay. He had survived, so he wasn’t scared to fail again. 

Zentner said that he got his idea for his debut novel, “The Serpent King”, from two songs that he couldn’t decide between, so he decided to blend them together and put them both in the same novel. For his characters, he wanted to come up with characters that fascinate people. Zentner comedically revealed that he spent three to four months listening to his characters speak in his head.  

When he was getting ready to write his novel, he realized he didn’t have enough time between his work life and family life. So, every day on the way to work, he opened a Google Docs on his phone and typed. In 25 days, he had his first draft finished. His debut book, “The Serpent King”, became published and highly acclaimed.  

But his contract required two books from him. After many ideas, while Zentner was walking down the streets of Tennessee, he saw three helicopters from a nearby military base fly over him. This is where his book, “Goodbye Days”, comes in. “Goodbye Days” is about a young man who feels as if he murdered his own friends because of a texting and driving mishap. The term ‘goodbye days’ is an idea that Zentner came up with. He explains it as a therapeutic concept that allows that family to help cope with the death of their children.  

Jeff Zentner realizes that he didn’t need to be in an ivory tower to write books. Just as long you have ideas, you finish what you started, and you take criticism, then your dreams, any dreams, could come true. 

After speaking to the students, Zentner answered some questions such as his past music life, writing tips, cool experiences, personal anecdotes. 

We are grateful to have had the experience of meeting Jeff Zentner and getting to hear his funny yet inspiring stories. We hope that our school was as welcoming to him as he was to us.

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