Wednesday, February 8, 2017

Interview with author Zach Wyner

What We Never Had

1. What really inspired you to write your book, to force you from taking an idea or experience and conveying it into a book?
I’d been focusing on short fiction for awhile, and many of the stories had been about this character during this precarious epoch. But many of them seemed to be just missing the mark. As if they were chapters in a book instead of a discrete story. Maybe the character’s journey was too personal, hit too close to home to try and limit any particular arc to fewer than 5,000 words. That said, when I began this story, I thought that it was going to be a short story until I realized that I wanted to spend more time with the secondary and tertiary characters. They were too much fun to be around. It was around this time that I realized I had a novel on my hands.

2. What is it about and whom do you believe is your targeted reader?
This story is about the long, arduous road to self acceptance. It’s about the process of building your own backbone. It’s about letting go—not of dreams or idealism, but of all the baggage that can weigh even a relatively young person down. In that way, I don’t think there is a target reader out there. I think that anyone who is floundering or has floundered on their path can relate. And hopefully, the act of reading it, of experiencing these sometimes painful, sometimes humiliating and sometimes hilarious moments in these characters’ lives, will be cathartic.

3. What do you hope will be the everlasting thoughts for readers who finish your book? What should remain with them long after putting it down?
I hope that they recognize how each and every one of us has weak moments—some of us extend those moments into months, years, decades. But, in order to be our best selves, we can’t just be cool with what we project now. We can’t bury the memory of our struggles. Faulkner wrote, “The past isn’t dead. It’s not even past.” That person we were will always be a part of us, and we have to take care of them for the rest of our lives. We have to not only forgive but really understand—understand why we stayed in those toxic relationships for too long, indulged in those unhealthy habits too frequently, and squandered those opportunities to better ourselves.

Additionally, and selfishly, I hope some of the sentences stay with them. I work hard on my prose; I try to make every word count. I hope there are some memorable passages that induce that shock of recognition that stay with them.  

4. What advice or words of wisdom do you have for fellow writers?
I would say write everyday, but since I don’t always follow through with that maxim, I’ll tweak it just a little bit: forgive yourself for not writing everyday. The more you beat yourself up, the less likely you are to pick up the pen the following morning. Also, read as much as you possibly can. And make sure that the words you read are not primarily your own. I knew a musician once who started listening solely to his own music. The result wasn’t pretty. 

5. What trends in the book world do you see and where do you think the book publishing industry is heading?
Well, seeing that we now live in a post-truth era, I hope that the publishing world will recognize the need to disseminate truth. I don’t mean publish exclusively nonfiction. I mean that the stories we publish have to be honest stories that encourage self-reflection, as well as a desire to affect positive social change and create a more just and equitable society. The publishing industry should be doing everything it can to amplify marginalized voices, manifest empathy and provide counter narratives to the kind of propaganda that divides people who should be natural allies. These days it feels like every day is opposite day. Books, the publishing world, should recognize their unique capacity to fight this.

6. What great challenges did you have in writing your book?
Because I was so familiar with these characters and the setting, my biggest challenge was not writing but creating the space required to complete a longer story. So I changed professions. I left the school I was teaching at, patched together some tutoring gigs and after-school writing classes, started doing some grant writing for the nonprofit I was volunteering at and created a few hours in the middle of each day that were reserved for the book. It wasn’t easy—inviting so much uncertainty into my life. But it was easier than not writing the book. Having a book in you, but lacking the space to write it, can be extremely bad for digestion.

7. If people can only buy one book this month, why should it be yours?
People should buy it because it’s about reconciling the world we inhabit with the world we were promised. And we all have to do that right now. And once we’re done with that process, once we finish grieving for what we never had and figure out where we really are and how we got here, we can figure out how we’re going to struggle and sacrifice and reimagine a better world and our own place in it.  And also they should read it because it’s funny. And even—perhaps especially—when times are tough, we need to laugh.

Zach Wyner is an author, writing coach, grant writer, and writing workshop facilitator at the Alameda County Youth Detention Center with The Beat Within. His debut novel, What We Never Had, was published in 2016 by Rare Bird Books. A contributor to Curly Red Stories, The Good Men Project, Unbroken Journal and Atticus Review, Wyner received an MFA in Creative Writing from the University of San Francisco. He currently lives in Oakland with his wife, stepdaughter, and infant son. For more information, see:

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Brian Feinblum’s views, opinions, and ideas expressed in this blog are his alone and not that of his employer. You can follow him on Twitter @theprexpert and email him at He feels more important when discussed in the third-person. This is copyrighted by BookMarketingBuzzBlog 2017©. Born and raised in Brooklyn, now resides in Westchester. Named one of the best book marketing blogs by Book Baby 

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