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YA Wednesday: Book Club Q&A "The Serpent King"

SerpentKing200Last month our YA book club on Goodreads read Jeff Zenter's The Serpent King, and it definitely spurred some discussion.  Other readers have also loved this story of three outcasts in their last year of high school.  Dill is the son of a jailed serpent preacher and is coming to terms with what he wants from his life and what his parents expect; Travis is obsessed with a particular science fiction novel and struggles to steer clear of his abusive dad; and Lydia, who is counting the days until she graduates from their small minded high school and she can pursue her fashion dreams in NYC.  Though they all have very different lives they have each other and Zenter's novel has much to say about friendship, family, and the growing pains of entering adulthood.  Besides discussion among ourselves, we also had questions for the author:


Q from Alicia (Goodreads Book Club member): In the discussion of the afterlife following Travis' incident (avoiding spoiler!), do you at all reflect your own personal/religious views of that concept?

Jeff Zentner: In general I have a great deal of hope in an afterlife—a beautiful paradise where we see loved ones again and there's no more pain or death. I certainly live my life according to that hope, while not relying on another life to do what I didn't do in this one. 

But the discussion of the afterlife in The Serpent King reflects mostly my greatest fears. Even more than eternal punishment, I'm afraid of eternal consciousness in emptiness. 

What makes the afterlife frightening to me is that no one knows anything about it. Those "I died and saw the afterlife and came back" accounts are funny because they require you to believe in a deity that demands faith while also allowing people to leak afterlife spoilers to get book deals. If those stories are true, they did a better job of preventing leaked Harry Potter spoilers than the Almighty has of preventing leaked afterlife spoilers.

Q from Kathleen (Goodreads Book Club member):  Were you interested in snake handling before the death of Jamie Coots and the events in La Follette, TN? I find the topic fascinating and am enjoying your book.

Jeff Zentner: Thank you! I've been interested in snakehandling religion for more than a decade. I played in a band in the mid-2000s in which one of the members was from East Tennessee and he had relatives who were snakehandlers. He told us about their practices. I also read an amazing book called Salvation on Sand Mountain, which is about snakehandlers in North Alabama. 

But the death of Jamie Coots added to the mystique of snakehandling in my mind. 

Qs from me (Seira Wilson):  Love Will Tear Us Apart by Joy Division – this song comes up a couple of times in the novel, what do you think of when you listen to it?

JZ: It's both dark and buoyant, the way I hope my books read. It's romantic and fatalistic. It says "love may destroy us, but it's worth it." I love that tension and it's something I strive for in my writing. 

SW: Dill says at one point that sometimes music works on the loneliness – what music does that for you?

JZ: I love lush, beautiful, heavy music that just envelopes you and embraces you. The bands Beach House, Chelsea Wolfe, and Churches do this particularly well. 

SW: What the bravest thing you've ever done that someone else convinced you that you could do?

JZ: Honestly? Probably writing a book. I've done things in the past that required more courage, but I didn't need convincing from others like I needed convincing to write a book. 

SW: Why did you choose to give Dill's father such a provocative crime but not make it a bigger part of the story?

JZ: Ultimately, I didn't make anything Dill's father did a bigger part of the story because it's Dill's story, not his father's, no matter how heinous his father's crime was. Even still, the effects of Dill's father's crime reverberated throughout his life, mostly in bad ways, by making him an outcast, but it also led indirectly to his becoming friends with Lydia. 

I wanted Dill's father to have committed one of the most morally reprehensible crimes because I wanted to show how faith can become distorted and can trump morality in the hands of one gifted at manipulating it. 

SW: What's the most forgotten, unglamorous place in which you've ever found beauty?

JZ: I live in an unglamorous neighborhood. It's a blue collar, unpretentious, unhip place. I live near a palm reader and an Autozone and Staples. And I absolutely love it because it's my place. It's where I'm living my life. It's where I'm creating memories. I love places that make you work to see their beauty. 


You might also like:

**Our August our book club pick, All We Have Left by Wendy Mills (also one of our editors' picks for the best YA books of the month).


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