Jeff Zentner is the award-winning author of The Serpent King (2016) and Goodbye Days (2017). In addition to writing compelling novels for teens, he is also an acclaimed singer-songwriter. He lives in Nashville, Tennessee.
While your novels have been wildly successful and well received, you are also quite well known for your social media presence, which combines biting social commentary with lightheartedness and humor. What do you feel an artist’s role is on social media in 2017?
I’m not sure I know the answer to this. I try to make people laugh because there’s not always much to laugh about. I vent my frustrations with politics and try to call people’s attention to important news and information. I try to thank the people who say kind things about my books.
Before writing beautiful southern lit for teens, you were a musician with a distinctly literary approach to songwriting. How was this transition for you as an artist? How has your writing process changed?
Ideas have to marinate and cook a lot longer in my mind now before I’ll release them to the world. I used to write a song in an hour, record it, and release it with very little editing. I’ve had to learn a lot of patience. Also, I used to release my music myself, and now I have the input of an editor and publishing house.
Both of your novels address death and our relationship with it. You recently stated on social media that the subject of teenagers dealing with that sort of loss was particularly compelling to you. How do you feel such weighty subjects fit into the YA genre and literature as a whole? Will future books address similar themes?
I think one of the most important functions of art is to grapple with big questions of living and dying, and young adulthood is where this grappling starts for a lot of people. I want young adults to have books that deal with these questions. After putting out two pretty heavy books, though, my third book is much more of a comedy. Although it’ll take on some heavy stuff too.
Speaking of death, if you could choose one deceased author to have dinner with, who would you choose? One living author?
I’d love to have dinner with Flannery O’Connor. She’d appreciate good BBQ. As for living, I’d dearly love to have dinner with either Colson Whitehead or Stephen King. Both are tremendously entertaining.