1.) Tell me a little bit about yourself.
I’m such a complex and interesting subject, how can I tell you just a little? Okay, now that the bullshit is out of the way, I can tell you that I’m a dreamer. Dreams have coaxed me down some narrow, overgrown paths, some lead to scary places, others lead to meadows laced with sunshine and butterflies. For the most part, they haven’t disappointed. From dropping out of college to forming my first business to relocating in Montana, I’ve embraced Joseph’s Campbell’s philosophy and have been following my bliss.
2.) How long have you been writing?
Off and on for my entire life. Fifteen years ago the bug bit me and I’ve been infected since. I’m hoping the bug is like herpes and stays forever. Writing is a disease whose symptoms include but are not limited to: constantly clamoring ideas that pound on the inside of my skull. The feeling that if they’re not released from the prison of my mind, that my head will explode, and general irritability when something new isn’t penned.
3.) Do you have a preferred genre that you read? Is it the same as what you write?
I can only answer this question with a short answer, a long answer, and a shameless plug:
The short answer: No No
The long answer: My reading tastes are more eclectic than my writing – I’ve written four novels all of different genres. I’ll read anything – though I’m partial to ghost stories, good ole general fiction, non-fiction adventures and history.
Shameless Plug: Unlike Cemetery Street, my second novel, Shangri-LaTrailer Park is a dark-dark comedy. It is currently being beta-read and will be published this fall.
4.) What is the title of your book and where can it be found?
5.) Describe your novel in 15 words or less.
In a place where dreams are possible and nightmares come true, can you romance memories?
6.) Where did the inspiration for your story come from?
Life + an overactive imagination + years of being a veracious reader = the silly notion that I too can write a novel. God, I can’t believe I’m going to go here, but here it is: A couple of years before starting Cemetery Street, my girlfriend at the time was in a horrible car accident, she almost died and suffered traumatic injuries – me being me, I took that event to the next degree and wondered on paper what would I have done if she died? The result, in part, is Cemetery Street’s first chapter. When she read it, it was an incredibly emotional moment. It was then, I learned firsthand, the power of the written word.
7.) How long did it take you to complete this novel from concept to published?
Ten years… Yes, that’s not a typo. I finished three novels in the interim. Cemetery Street screamed at me from the proverbial shoebox demanding justice. I finished the first draft in 2001 and tucked it away. Over the years I heard it whisper “let me out.” It took those years to garner the courage to rip it apart and rebuild it objectively. That being said, after writing/rewriting/editing/proofing reediting etc. etc. etc., there are parts of Cemetery Street that I can’t read aloud without tearing up.
8.) When you sit down to write, how does that process go? Do you outline or just let it evolve?
When I open the word document that becomes a novel, I already know the beginning and have a really good idea of the end. At that point, I slip into a hard hat, unfold the blueprints and construct a bridge. The blueprints are metaphorical – I don’t outline. I subscribe to Steven King’s analogy of an archeological dig, the story exists, and it’s the author’s job to bring it to the surface. Do I literary belief there are preexisting stories floating in the ether? No. But it sure takes the pressure off, it’s a great piece of self-deception. If it allows the process to be easier, I’m all for it.
9.) Are there any aspects of writing you struggle with?
Getting started – slipping into the mindset. Sometimes I get lost in the mental masturbation of sitting in front of the computer and opening the files. When I first started writing, I would pace for ten or so minutes, like I was loosening up my creativity. Now a days, I sometimes play chess before writing – other times I just dive in; the more experienced I become, the less preamble I need. I’m no longer afraid of where my mind will take me, and it goes to very dark places. I think if there is a hell, it is being a character in one of my novels. They are put through the paces.
10.) Are there any aspects that you simply glide through?
When the muse appears, it’s ecstasy, it supercedes my imagination’s insecure prattle and words seemingly appear upon the screen. It’s as if watching a movie unfold in a word document. The more I write, the more the muse appears. He also has a tendency to appear down the homestretch of any given work – essentially when all the dots are in place and they’re screaming to be connected.
11.) What sets your book apart from others in the same genre?
Cemetery Street is a complex story told in a simple manner. Like a jazz number, simple notes are woven into a intricate web of syllables. Hopefully, the notes move the reader towards the tissue box.
12.) What is the location of your story setting and why did you choose that place/time?
Beyford, PA. It’s a fictional town loosely based on my hometown. The story covers the late eighties to the very-early oughts or whatever the decade of Y2K is called. I’m very familiar with both location and time. I even expanded upon an obscure local legend that I embellished into the Russell subplot.
13.) Your main characters, tell me about them. What is their back story? How did they find themselves, where they are now?
Shannie Ortolan – Cemetery Street is essentially her story told through James’ eyes. Shannie was a free spirit who was self-actualized at a young age. She was headstrong and possessed vision. Nothing was going to stand in the way of her desires. Shannie currently resides in an imaginary plot in Laurel Hill Cemetery in Philadelphia.
James Morrison – Cemetery Street’s narrator, self-doubting, lacking confidence, he idolizes Shannie, wishing to possess her courage, strength and ambition. Cemetery Street is also James’ journey of self-discovery – from moving to Beyford as a child to his departure as an adult. James escaped Cemetery Street and ended up in Missoula, Montana.
14.) I’d like to know more about your book. Tell me all about it.
The section of the book which was the most difficult to write was the Desert Storm sequence. As a writer, how do you write a first person account of a war your narrator wasn’t in? I managed to pull it off without changing to third person. I’m also proud of that sequence because of amount of homework required to make it work. The law of unintended consequences (rewards) came into play; I stumbled across a relatively unknown Gulf War event that contributes to the drama of Cemetery Street.
15.) What do you want readers to take from your writings?
A memorable experience.
16.) Are more books to follow or is this a stand alone?
I’m working on its sequel – Montana Rural. It’s a continuation of James’ life after he escapes the dead-end known as Cemetery Street.
17.) Where can readers find you?
18.) What are 3 random things about yourself that readers might like to know?
1) I had a face to face encounter with a bear in a huckleberry patch.
2) During the 1992 presidential campaign, I questioned President George H W Bush at a town meeting; his answer was the Bush-ism of the week in the National Review.
3) I’m insanely competitive – it comes from years of playing hockey.
19.) What do you do in your down time? For fun.
Play with my dogs and tool around the mountains: be it hiking, camping, cutting firewood or skiing. I don’t mind sitting in traffic, but where I live, traffic jams are caused by wildlife in the road.
20.) How about letting me have a sneak peak at chapter one?
What Melissa wants, Melissa gets. Here’s Chapter 1 of Cemetery Street:
On the Cusp
“Get up!” she cried. “Run!” she smiled over her shoulder. The earth shook beneath our feet. “Faster! Faster!” Her voice swirled in the wind. “Feel it?” she shrieked, her hair dancing behind her. “Feels great. Just great!” Her laugh pierced the freight’s roar. Swimming through the train’s blast, she reminded me of a salmon – always heading upstream.
Moments earlier, she danced across a warped balance beam forty feet above the river. “If I lose my balance, even for a second – a second – I could die!” Ignoring our pleas, her forehead etched with concentration, she continued. “For what? Like there has to be a what! Would you say I died in vain, died for the thrill?” Her arms flailed. “Yes,” she answered. “Died of stupidity! Died for nothing, what a way to die! I like that. There isn’t pressure in nothing.”
Me, I’ve always felt pressure – even in nothing, even today. So I watch, I’ve always watched! Even today – I watch a snowflake slide down the front of her headstone and crash to the ground. I watch countless others stick atop her headstone. When I grow tired of watching, I run my hand over the smooth granite wiping away heaven’s frozen tears.
A breeze rustled the trees, their bare limbs swaying to the sound of her voice. I turned praying she would be sitting on the sandstone bench like she was thirteen years ago – Indian style, her wild mane speckled with snow flakes. I imagine her gaze staring across the dozing river, past the distant rushing traffic, into eternity. My gaze was met by a dusting of snow atop the bench. Disappointment consumed me. “People who do nothing but watch, feel nothing but disappointment,” she once scolded.
Today would have been her twenty-seventh birthday. Ten days ago was the first anniversary of her death. Two days from now the world will be standing on the cusp of a new millennium – without her; it will be so empty, it will be dawn without the sun.
“Happy Birthday Bug,” I whispered. “I have a surprise. It’s your favorite.” Careful not to spill a drop, I poured the steaming coffee on the ground in front of her stone. “How did you guess?” I watched the snow evaporate. “Yes, you’re right. Of course, I remembered. How could I forget? ” I tell her.
“If eyes are the gateway to the soul,” she wrote prior to her accident. “Our memories are its gatekeepers.” Like a dutiful gatekeeper, I guard our memories. “Out of memory comes ritual,” she said, hiding in the breeze. “Out of ritual – meaning, out of meaning – warmth, out of warmth – love, out of love…”
“Us,” I whispered to the wind. “Beyond anyone, I remember you!”
“I didn’t forget,” I stroked the polished granite’s face. “It’s your recipe,” I confided as I placed the pie pan atop the coffee soaked soil. I retreated to the bench and cast my gaze over the sleepy river and past the rushing traffic, listening for echoes of her laughter on the wind.
* * * *
I want to thank John for playing along! He was a great sport (when I was finally able to track him down and bag him 🙂 ) I hope you all enjoyed this little peek into the Author known as John Zunski! I know I did!
Thank you for stopping by,