One on One with Jeff Zentner

Caroline Boland, Staff Writer

Jeff Zentner visited Heritage High School on Friday, September 20th, and the event went off without a hitch. Students who attended were excited to learn some of his methods during his creative writing class. During the workshop, Zentner gave out tricks and tips for writing entertaining dialogue. One tip that stuck with most students was his statement, “Show, don’t tell.” Zentner went into detail with his students on how authors should be able to explain special characteristics or details about characters without necessarily saying it directly. 

After the writing class, students were dismissed to class or to get their books signed. It was here that students, and teachers, were allowed to ask Mr. Zentner some questions

I was given a small opportunity to speak with Mr. Zentner, who, on first impression, seemed like a down-to-earth and kind person. He was very easy to talk to face-to-face, which is not always the case with people who are successful like he is. Below is a transcription of our conversation.

Q: “How is the songwriting process different from writing  books? How has your history in songwriting assisted in your ability to write books?” 

A: “Songwriting is a much more abbreviated endeavor. With a song, you only have to live in the song for three or four minutes; you don’t have to worry about a character changing or growing or encountering obstacles in the song. You can just tell it. With a book, you have to sustain it over hours of reading and hundreds of pages. And you have to have those characters grow and change and overcome obstacles and all those things that make a good story. As far as how songwriting helped my novel-writing, it taught me that I have a certain voice, a certain story to tell, and I have a certain mood I can evoke. And it’s okay for me to like all different kinds of stories and all different kinds of moods, and all those sorts of things. But there is a certain kind of story that I tell, and I have to be true to that if I want it to be authentic, if I want it to be my best story.”

Q: “So Nashville is obviously a place known for its huge music scene. What about its literary scene? Since you live there currently, do you believe that it is a good place for writers?”

A: “Yeah, it’s a great place for writers. First of all, it’s fun to be a writer in Nashville, because you’re outside of the main rat race of Nashville, which is music. Everybody’s doing music. Being a bit on the outside is fun because you get to be creative, doing a creative endeavor, but it’s not quite as stressful. Nashville is a great town for writers because Nashville loves stories. It loves words. It is a storytelling city. It’s a city filled with people who love words, who love clever phrases, who love good stories. So it’s a great city for that. There’s a great community of writers there. We’re very connected. We support each other and turn out for each other.”

Q: “How is your fourth book coming along? I’m very excited for it by the way.”

“Thank you. Well, I’m about 75,000 words in, and my books generally run about 90,000 words. So I’m getting kind of close to the end. And I’m real happy with how it’s turning out. It’s about two kids from the rural south, kind of rural East Tennessee, not far from here. And they end up at this elite prep school in Connecticut. So they’re kind of fish out of water, kind of struggling, you know, and my main character discovers poetry, which is his way of coping with his homesickness and grief and the traumas he’s experienced in his life.”

Q: “Wow, that sounds amazing. So next I absolutely have to bring up your tattoos. Do you have any new ones planned for your third of fourth books?”

A: “So I’ve got a tattoo for  my third book here on my chest. And then for my fourth book, I’m going to get a tattoo somewhere in one of these places I still have open on my arm. But yeah, I’m gonna get them for all my books.”

Q: “So this is kind of a funny question. When going through your personal web page, we found a list of ‘likes.’ On that list was just the words ‘Cast Iron Skillets.’ Do you mind elaborating on why you like cast iron skillets so much?”

A: “I started collecting cast iron skillets! I love to cook, and old cast iron skillets are really amazing for cooking. They last forever and make everything taste good when you cook in them. I learned that you can get like vintage cast iron really cheaply. And so I just started collecting vintage cast iron skillets. I only have a couple left. I got rid of many of them. But yeah, every day I make food in a cast iron skillet from the 1940s. I have another one from the 1950s that I use every day. I just like things that are well made. They’re beautiful, and there’s just lots of love put in them.”