Interview with Joe Wirth, Author of Zenegades

07 Nov 2023

What’s the story behind the story? What inspired you to write Zenegades?

Camping around the American West when I was in my late teens and early twenties definitely played a major role in inspiring this book, particularly in terms of the people I met along my travels who I later considered to be Zenegades. I also had this book shopping ritual back when I was in college that entailed me browsing through new releases before ultimately purchasing an older, counterculture book. I kept asking myself questions like why can’t the new releases be like these older novels? And that’s when it clicked that I would create a modern-day novel with counterculture themes.

In terms of what helped catalyze the plot behind Zenegades, it came down to another hypothetical question: what if today’s young people finally stopped putting up with so much bullshit?

If you had to pick theme songs for the main characters of Zenegades, what would they be?

There are quite a few song references in this book, and each character essentially has their own playlist. Here are some songs that apply to the Zenegades crew (without being too specific): • “Killing in the Name” by Rage Against the Machine • “Stuck in the Middle With You” by Stealers Wheel • “Sympathy For The Devil” by The Rolling Stones • “Plum Blossom Melodies” by Huan Yin • “Dhun” by Ravi Shankar • “Pusherman” by Curtis Mayfield • “Down in the Valley” by The Head and the Heart • “Ain’t No Use in Tryin” by Trampled By Turtles • “Why I Sing the Blues” by B.B. King • “Hello Waimanalo” by Billy Kaui & Country Comfort • “Got That Will” by Lee Moses • “Somebody to Love” by Jefferson Airplane • “Franklin’s Tower” by Grateful Dead • “This Must Be the Place” by Talking Heads

What’s your favorite genre to read? Is it the same as your favorite genre to write?

I tend to gravitate toward literary fiction, but my bookshelf is also full of beat, alt-lit, philosophy and satire. I don’t necessarily have a favorite genre to write, partly because I enjoy combining genres together. Although I used to do a lot of journalistic writing, these days I prefer writing fiction.

What books are on your TBR pile right now?

As much as I try to buy one at a time, I already have a few unread books that I’ll be reading as fall turns into winter, including: • The Sarah Book by Scott McClanahan • How Should a Person Be? By Sheila Heti • Ski Bum by Colin Clancy

What scene in your book was your favorite to write?

I don’t want to give away any spoilers, but the scenes that take place in Hawaii were my favorite to write.

Do you have any quirky writing habits? (lucky mugs, cats on laps, etc.)

Sure, I have a few. I’ll often put on a goofy outfit that doesn’t match, I’ll wear full-brim hats, and I’ll talk to a tiny Gandalf figurine while I’m writing. I like to think that if I can laugh at myself in the mirror, then I’m in the right mindset to write fiction.

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

I’m always trying to further my Zen practice on a daily basis, but I also live by some goofy mottos that I made up myself. These include mottos like: “You can never stop a woodpecker from pecking wood.” “You won’t get the best parking spot, unless you check to see if it’s available.”

If you could choose one thing for readers to remember after reading your book, what would it be?

Their own interpretation of what it means to be a Zenegade.


Joe Wirth is the author of the new book Zenegades

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