Friday, March 11, 2016

"The Serpent King"

Jeff Zentner lives in Nashville, Tennessee. He came to writing through music, starting his creative life as a guitarist and eventually becoming a songwriter. He’s released five albums and appeared on recordings with Iggy Pop, Nick Cave, Warren Ellis, Thurston Moore, Debbie Harry, Mark Lanegan, and Lydia Lunch, among others.

Now he writes novels for young adults.

Zentner applied the Page 69 Test to his new novel, The Serpent King, and reported the following:
My page 69 is actually a quite momentous page in the book. It’s the key moment in a story that Lamar Burns, an old man who works at a lumberyard with one of my main characters, Travis, is recounting about the history of my protagonist’s family. My protagonist, Dillard Early (he goes by Dill), is named for his father and grandfather. According to Lamar’s story, Dill’s great aunt died by snakebite when she was young. She was the apple of Dill’s grandfather’s eye. In grief, Dill’s grandfather began slaughtering snakes and wearing their skins and bones on his clothing, gradually descending into darkness and finally taking his own life. During his descent, townsfolk in their rural Tennessee town of Forrestville began calling him The Serpent King. As Lamar tells it, they weren’t trying to be cruel or funny. They were trying to make sense of a grief so great that it ate a man from the inside out. “Folks is afraid of grief. Think it’s catching, like a disease,” Lamar says.

Dill has grown up under this shadow, and the shadow of his preacher father, who started a snakehandling church based on a scripture from Mark, before going to prison for a heinous crime. Dill has come to believe, with some evidence, that he bears a cursed name.

The Serpent King is all about three misfit friends breaking cycles, lifting the curses of the past, and overcoming the ties that bind you to a life they don’t want. So page 69 gives us the whole genesis for the story.

Page 69 also contains a hidden bit of my history as an artist. Before I ever put pen to paper as a novelist, I was a songwriter, writing songs in the blues and Americana vein. One of the songs I wrote was called “The Serpent King” and it was essentially the story of Dill’s grandfather. When I started writing, I went to my well of ideas and grabbed two songs “The Serpent King” and another, and I asked myself if there was a larger story there I could tell; something I could expand out into book form.

There was.
Visit Jeff Zentner's website.

Writers Read: Jeff Zentner.

My Book, The Movie: The Serpent King.

--Marshal Zeringue