Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Author Interview: James Zerndt

Today I'll be sharing the Q and A exchange between James Zerndt, author of The Korean Word For Butterfly , and myself.

James Zerndt lives in Portland, Oregon, with his wife and son. His poetry has appeared in The Oregonian Newspaper, and his fiction has most recently appeared in Gray’s Sporting Journal. He taught English in South Korea in 2002 and still loves kimchi.

Jamie’s short story, “The Tree Poachers”, recently won WCCHA’s fiction award. Some of his short stories have also won Honorable Mention in both Playboy’s and The Atlantic Monthly’s Fiction Contests.

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James and son Jack
Joy: As someone raised across the river and 40 miles west of Portland, I can't help but wonder whether you were raised in Portland and if not how you ended up settling there.

James: I’m not sure exactly where I’m from. As a baby, I was left on the doorstep of a church in downtown Chicago. I was found by a cleaning lady who happened to be working that morning who subsequently took me home with her. For years I didn’t know I was an orphan. Not until I found an old photograph that had apparently been tucked into the basket I’d been found in. In the photo a young woman in a white dress with a purple Mohawk stood peering into the camera. Her face was gaunt. Her skin pale.

Oh, wait. This is non-fiction stuff, right? Sorry. I was born in the Midwest.

Joy: What drew you to spending time teaching in Korea?  And how has that experience changed you?

James: Adventure and money drew me to teaching in South Korea. The experience taught me to appreciate what we have in America. Prior to this, I took a lot of it for granted. I think most of us only tend to appreciate things once we no longer have them. Sad, but usually true.

Joy: How long have you been practicing the craft of fiction writing?

James: I really wanted to be a writer when I was in my early twenties. I gave up on it though. I had potential, was told I had potential by numerous teachers, but I couldn’t seem to write anything decent. Back then I was reading all the heavyweights: Dostoyevsky,  Tolstoy, Carver, Hemingway, Camus, etc... I think the problem was that I wanted so badly to write the next great American novel that I ended up intimidated myself into silence. It was only later, in my thirties, that I took it up again.

Joy: What led you to choose self-pub as your route?  How do you now feel about your experience with it?

James: I had a great literary agent for my first book, The Cloud Seeders. We had a big Hollywood production company (Gotham Group) interested in the movie rights and for about two years we waited for something to happen, but nothing ever did. It was an ulcer-ridden two years, with a lot of ups and downs as one producer then another said they were interested. But, in the end, nothing ever came of it and the publishers backed out once the movie deal didn’t happen. The whole experience left a bad taste in my mouth so when I finished The Korean Word For Butterfly I decided I didn’t want to wait around. Even the process of finding an agent can take six months to a year. It’s kind of ridiculous. And, so far anyway, I’ve enjoyed being in control of sales. What I don’t like so much is trying to promote the book. It takes up time I’d rather spend writing. Or sleeping. Or...

Joy: How big a role has reading fiction played in your life?  Who are your favorite authors?

James: Fiction has meant everything to me. My teen years were extremely lonely, so I took refuge in books. I still love all the old Russian authors. Today some of my favorite writers are Brady Udall, Roddy Doyle, Tim O’Brien, Thom Jones, Carson McCullers. Those are the first that come to mind anyway.

Joy: What are your rituals, routines or habits that promote creativity and  productivity with your writing?

James: I have only one ritual: sitting down. I don’t need much to get me writing, just time. I don’t mean that to sound pompous or anything; it’s just how it is right now. I have about six different projects on the backburner because I’m busy teaching and watching my two-year-old son. It’s incredibly difficult to find time to write now that I have a kid. It makes me appreciate the time I do get, though. It tends to come out in a big rush now when I do write because, like right now, I’m afraid I’ll be called away so I have to hurry to get it in. (Jack is napping upstairs as I type this.) Not that what I’m writing is all that great, but it doesn’t matter. What matters in my humble opinion is getting something down on paper or screen, so you have something to work with later.

Joy: What one habit or tendency does the most damage to your creativity and productivity as a writer?  Do you still struggle with it? What have you tried to mitigate or eliminate the damage?  What did and didn't work?

James: Time is the only thing that I struggle with these days. In the past it was insecurity, comparing myself to other writers to the point that I felt unworthy or incapable. Now that I’m older, I don’t care about that nearly as much. I try my best. That’s all any of us can do. And, besides, I don’t have the luxury of time to worry about it all that much now.

Joy: Have you ever had any pets?  If so would you please share a picture and/or anecdote?  Especially any where they did something that either hindered or helped your writing.  (singular or plural or none. whatever you are comfortable with)

James: We have a dog and a cat. I write down in the basement, so they usually aren’t an issue. I do seem to remember my dog pooping on a rough draft of a short story I was working on once, though. For some reason it was left on the living room floor and he planted a good one on it while we were sleeping. It’s true what they say, I guess. Everybody is a critic.

Thanks so much for the questions. This was fun!


The Korean Word For Butterfly  (linked to my Feb 4 review)
by James Zerndt
Publisher: Create Space, March 27, 2013
Available in: Print & ebook, 329 pages


From the Publishers:

Set against the backdrop of the 2002 World Cup and rising anti-American sentiment due to a deadly accident involving two young Korean girls and a U.S. tank, The Korean Word For Butterfly is told from three alternating points-of-view:
Billie, the young wanna-be poet looking for adventure with her boyfriend who soon finds herself questioning her decision to travel so far from the comforts of American life;
Moon, the ex K-pop band manager who now works at the English school struggling to maintain his sobriety in hopes of getting his family back;
And Yun-ji , a secretary at the school whose new feelings of resentment toward Americans may lead her to do something she never would have imagined possible.
The Korean Word For Butterfly is a story about the choices we make and why we make them.

Follow the blog tour for more reviews, giveaways, author interviews and guest posts: 

So Many Precious Books Feb 3 Spotlight & Giveaway
Joy Story Feb 4 Review
Joy Story Feb 11 Interview
Every Free Chance Feb 5 Spotlight & Giveaway
She Treads Softly Feb 7 Review
The Book Diva Reads Feb 10 Guest Post & Giveaway
Let’s Talk About Books Feb 12 Review & Giveaway
Indies Reviews Behind the Scenes Feb 14 Blog Talk Radio Excerpt/discussion 8 pm cst
Tracy Riva Feb 14 Review
Tracy Riva Feb 17 Guest Post & Giveaway
The Princess Gummy Bear Feb 17 You Tube Review
Serendipity Feb 19 Review
Reader’s Muse Feb 18 Review
Reader’s Muse Feb 14 Interview
From Isi Feb 20 Review
Deal Sharing Aunt Feb 21 Review
Deal Sharing AuntFeb 24 Interview
Book Dilettante Feb 25 Review
So Many Precious Books Feb 26
Carole Rae’s Ramblings  Feb 27 Review
Margay Leah Justice Feb 28 Review
Margay Leah Justice Feb 28 Guest Post & Giveaway
Romance & Inspiration Mar 3 Review


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