Monday, February 6, 2023

MTSU Creative writing event series hosts young adult novelist Jeff Zentner


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Story by Jenene Grover | Contributing Writer

Author of popular young adult books “The Serpent King” and “In the Wild Light” Jeff Zentner spoke at Middle State Tennessee University’s Creative Writing Event Series, In Process on October 27 about how he came to write novels and read excerpts from his two new novels coming out in 2024.

“Claudia Barnett emailed me and asked me to do it,” Zentner said. “I love MTSU, and I love speaking to college kids.”

While Zentner is a young adult novelist, he is branching out to adult fiction with one of his new books, “Honeysuckle Summer,” in 2024.

“I write my young adult books exactly as I would for adults,” Zentner said. “I use the same vocabulary, everything. The only difference is that young adult books are all told from the perspective of the teen protagonist.”

During his talk, he told his story of how he began as a musician in a band from Murfreesboro. Around 30, he decided that he was unable to make it any further and music and went to Vanderbilt’s law school to become a prosecutor for Tennessee.

Recognizing that being a prosecutor was not enough to feed his creativity, Zenter decided that he would attempt writing a book with no creative writing classes under his belt.

“I’ve always wished my books could get into a Scholastic Book Fair, but they’re always just a little bit too old and dirty,” Zentner said. “Actually, Scholastic was one of the bidders on my first book, and they were one of the bidders on my verse novel.”

While working as a prosecutor, he rode the bus in and out of Nashville every day. Because this was the only free time he had to work on his stories, he typed them on a word document on his phone. All of his books have been originally drafted completely on his phone.

Zentner simply lets the characters write it themselves. He takes inspiration from people he has known and just lets them manifest themselves in his head.

“The plot comes out of the characters, but I do do some planning,” Zentner said. “I don’t plan every single twist and turn that’s going to happen, but I do know point A, point B, point C, kind of the big climactic event, how the story’s going to end and between those two points is where I do my improvising and discovering the story.”

He goes to speak at many high schools throughout the school year, but he has little downtime with him still being a lawyer and having a family. Even with his busy schedule, he finds the time to read.
“I love historical fiction, so I read a lot of fiction,” Zentner said. “I read a ton of poetry. . .I’m currently reading a book called ‘Seven Days in June’ by Tia Williams and a book called ‘Trust’ by Hernan Diaz.”

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