Interview with Jamie Zerndt, Author of Jerkwater

17 Sep 2019

What can you tell us about your new release, Jerkwater?

Back in the 1990’s there was a bar in this little Wisconsin town my parents retired in that had a wooden sign posted behind the bar that said “No Red Niggers.” They removed the sign long ago (I recently contacted someone who’s lived there a long while and asked if I’d imagined seeing that and, unfortunately, they said no) but I have no doubt the ugly sentiment behind it is still widely prevalent among many in our country (be it in a small town or big city). That always stuck with me and eventually Shawna (a character in the book) rose up out of it.

What or who inspired you to become an author?

When I was a kid I read a lot of comic books. What-If’s and The X-Men were my favorite. And I used to watch a soap opera after school (Days of Our Lives) with my mom because it was her favorite show. Then one day I put away the comic books and switched to reading Dostoevsky. I’m not sure how or why that happened, but it did. And I remember thinking that while some of the names were difficult to pronounce (I’d just make up my own), basically what was happening in the novels wasn’t all that different from a soap opera (no offense, Tolstoy). Obviously there was more to it than that, but I guess I found that reading these “big” novels wasn’t as intimidating as I thought it would be. Maybe that’s where I got the idea that someday I could give it a shot, although on a much smaller scale.

What’s on your top 5 list for the best books you’ve ever read?

The Woman Who Walked Into Doors by Roddy Doyle
The Ballad of the Sad Cafe by Carson McCullers
Cannery Row by Steinbeck
Charlie and the Chocolate Factory by Roald Dahl
Stump by Niall Griffiths

Say you’re the host of a literary talk show. Who would be your first guest? What would you want to ask?

Kafka: What do you think about modern medications for depression and anxiety?

What’s your favorite thing about writing?

I like it when things connect without intending them to connect. Like there’s a jar of peaches on the counter and then a few chapters later you realize why that jar of peaches is there or some way it ties into the story. Sort of like that Chekov thing about the gun eventually having to go off that’s in the first act. Only you don’t intentionally put the gun/peaches in. Hopefully that makes no sense at all.

What is a typical day like for you?

I’m not someone who writes every day. When I’m working on something, yes, but I like forgetting about writing completely and then coming back to it so it’s new again. The whole idea of treating it like a “job” has always seemed like horrible advice to me. I guess I like to think of writing as a vacation. The creative stage anyway. The re-writing (which is most of the writing for me) is definitely job-like.

What scene in Jerkwater was your favorite to write?

I really enjoyed writing pretty much all the scenes with Kay in them. I initially intended the book as a goodbye to my mom (Kay). I originally intended to give her a beautiful and noble death in the book (as opposed to the reality of dying from cancer) and had for a long time planned on her riding Seven (the horse) into the middle of the lake and drowning herself. For some reason I thought that would be poetic. At some point, though, I realized that wasn’t where the book wanted to go (not to sound too artsy) and gave up on the idea.

Do you have a motto, quote or philosophy you live by?

I used to have an index card over my desk that said “F*ck It”. To me that was a reminder not to think or worry about the writing for the time being but just to write. It helped me to at least get a rough draft down, but that’s probably as close to a motto as I’ve ever had. For better or worse.

Jamie Zerndt is the author of the new book Jerkwater.

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Jerkwater

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