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In The Wild Light

Tennessee Is An Inspiration for Local Author

Accolades abound for Jeff Zentner, award-winning author of young adult fiction. Winner of the ALA William C. Morris Award and twice longlisted for the Carnegie Medal, his New York Times Notable Book IN THE WILD LIGHT was recently in the spotlight on Good Morning America. 


1) When did you move to the area?


I grew up in a few different places but moved to Nashville as soon as I feasibly could. I was a hardcore musician, and that’s what brought me here. It’s everything I hoped it would be: an amazing and vibrant city filled with a greater concentration of high-level creative talent than I’ve seen in any other city on Earth. 


2) How does living in Tennessee play into your writing? 


It’s the place that I love most and all of my books are chronicles of what I most love at the time I’m writing them. With the commitments in my life (day job, family, master's program), the one thing I don’t have time to do when I write a new book is to figure out a whole, new, radically different place. I think I write a richer book when I write what I know. 


3) Tell us about your time in the music industry.


My years as a musician taught me a few crucial things: First, that there’s always another song/story. When I get blocked up as a writer and think the well’s gone dry, I remember the number of times I thought that as a musician, only for a new song to follow just a little while later. Second, that there’s a tone and a voice and preoccupation to what I write. It’s okay to love all sorts of stories, just as I loved (and love) all sorts of music. But just as there was a type of music that I make, there is a sort of story that I tell. And I try to honor that each time I write. 


4) Recently, you were mentioned on Good Morning America by Emily Henry, bestselling author of BOOK PEOPLE and BEACH READS. Were you surprised? 


It was so awesome!! My mom was visiting me and she got to see it happen. Seeing your son’s book on Good Morning America is very much the sort of accolade that a mom understands. 


I was not surprised. Emily and I have been buds since 2013 or so, long before either of us had a book deal, so she texted me beforehand to tell me to expect it. It’s been an exciting trajectory to go from shooting the breeze about nonsense on Twitter to her texting me to tell me she’d be on Good Morning America plugging my book. No one on Earth deserves success more than her. 

5)  What are some things you love about Nashville and the Belle Meade area?

Where Nashville gets underrated is on natural beauty and outdoor recreation. I love our proximity to state parks. And the Warner Parks in Belle Meade are some of the best urban outdoor recreation ever. 

6) What’s next for you?


 I have a novel written in verse that I co-wrote with an author friend that’s coming. And I’m also working on my first book for the adult (as opposed to youth) market! I’m very excited about both. 


Readers can find signed stock of Jeff’s books at Parnassus Books, and can also request personalization.