TQ: Welcome to The Qwillery.
Zachary: Hi! Thanks for having me. I’m excited to be here!
TQ: When and why did you start writing?
Zachary: Oy. That’s difficult to answer, honestly. I certainly didn’t grow up wanting to be a writer. I didn’t even start reading novels in earnest until the age of fifteen or sixteen. In my early twenties, I’d often feel the urge to write (coupled with an unhealthy dose of jealousy directed at those who did write), but I never finished anything; most projects made it barely past the first page. It wasn’t until half-way through a disastrous 5-month trip to Chile in 2005 that I actually completed a story—and that was only about 1500 words long.
Still, it wasn’t the beginning of much, as another two years would pass before I’d really give writing another go. The event that inspired me was another trip outside the US border—to Liverpool, UK, in order to begin a Masters program in Science Fiction Studies. (Yes, seriously.) I realized, just before the program started, that I wouldn’t in fact be content to study sf; I wanted to write it. (Of course, a person can do both, but I didn’t have enough money for that.)
As to why I even felt the urge to write? Well, I guess it’s because it never felt like enough, to simply read or comment on reading. I wanted to contribute my own work, and be part of the ongoing conversation that way. I’m fully aware that, for me, this comes from a somewhat self-conscious place. It’s a need to prove something, I guess. Still, I’m grateful for whatever it is that drives me. After years of OCD-related depression, it’s given me a reason to smile more. Nothing like setting a goal and reaching it to brighten your day!
(I hope that what I’ve written above doesn’t make it sound like I believe there’s a literary hierarchy, with writers at the top. I don’t believe the act of writing “creatively” is any more laudable than the act of reading, or critiquing, or teaching. Some people simply don’t feel drawn to writing stories or essays or whatever, and this emphatically does not mean that they’re less ambitious or inspired. I hate when people act as if the “creator” is better than the consumer. Anyway, sorry for the rant.)
TQ: What would you say is your most interesting writing quirk?
Zachary: Wow. Good question. I don’t know if I really have an interesting quirk. Probably the one that’s the most striking is the amount of time I don’t spend writing—or maybe even the verbal lengths I’ll go to in order to prove how much I don’t like writing. Basically, I think writing is a pain in the butt. It’s hard, hard work, perhaps especially so for someone like me, who is not all that bright to begin with and edits as he goes.
In truth, I’ll do most anything to avoid my writing chore. As is the case with a good workout, I know it’ll make me feel better, but I’m just so lazy and weak-willed.
TQ: Are you a plotter or a pantser?
Zachary: Well, the one novel I’ve gotten through was plotted somewhat loosely beforehand. I knew where I needed to go in each chapter, but not necessarily how I’d get there. The fun/maddening part about it was discovering new things I didn’t know I wanted in there. One whole character—Churls’s ghost-daughter Fyra—seemed to literally come out of nowhere!
So… Both a plotter and a pantser?
TQ: What is the most challenging thing for you about writing?
Zachary: Can “everything” be an answer? It all seems like an immense challenge.
Still, I should be able to answer better than that. I think the entire first draft process is simply exhausting. As I said earlier, I edit as I go along, so it’s very slow going. If I don’t like a sentence, I can’t move on to the next sentence. (Of course, once I go back to revise I find that—despite my attention to detail—all of them still stink. Isn’t that wonderful?)
TQ: Describe No Return in 140 characters or less.
Zachary: A violent, frankly sexual novel of religious warfare, featuring fighters in skintight battle suits, metal men, and alchemical astronauts.
TQ: What inspired you to write No Return?
Zachary: Writers like Roger Zelazny, Samuel Delany, Alice Sheldon, Cordwainer Smith, Phyllis Gotlieb, and Sean Stewart—people who have crafted widescreen mythological works using wonderfully efficient and beautiful language.
Also, jealousy. Never forget jealousy.
TQ: What sort of research did you do for No Return?
Zachary: I didn’t do much, first off. Second, I hope it doesn’t show.
I’m loathe to do research (again, I’m lazy), so I try to keep it to a minimum. No Return takes place on a different planet, which made some things frightfully easy. No chance of mistaking the layout of cities, or getting the geography or local history all wrong. Mostly, my research consisted of finding out how far a person or horse could travel in a day.
TQ: Who was the easiest character to write and why? The hardest and why?
Zachary: Another great question! The easiest to write was Churls, a down on her luck professional fighter. She’s partly based upon my girlfriend-at-the-time-of-writing, a tough yet compassionate roller derby player. That informed the writing, of course, but ultimately Churls was just so much more fun to write than anybody else. She flowed naturally, perhaps because I just like her a lot. Out of everybody in the book, she’d be the most fun to throw back a dozen beers with. I’d be intimidated as hell by her, but I’d still enjoy myself immensely.
The hardest was undoubtedly Vedas, the guilt-ridden warrior-monk who kind of acts as the counterpoint to Churls. He’s, for all of his qualities, not a very fun person to be around. In many ways, he’s like me (though I’m super fun and not a physically perfect black man): a product of religious indoctrination who’s slowly coming to understand how beliefs affect his actions, as well as a pretty uptight guy. Maybe because he mirrors me in these ways, his trials emotionally represented my own.
Self-discovery is difficult. Writing is even more so. Combining the two was hell.
TQ: Without giving anything away, what is/are your favorite scene(s) in No Return?
Zachary: I never, ever, ever—ever!—thought I’d say this, and goodness knows it makes me uncomfortable to admit… but my favorite scene involves a rape. It’s the only such act in the book and the only nonconsensual sex I’ve ever written.
A little background on it: I hadn’t intended to write a rape scene, because, well, they creep me the hell out—as I think they should. During the week it took to write mine, I was a wreck, irritable and depressed by turns. After I finished it, I felt unclean. I don’t remember my dreams very often, and I’m glad I don’t, because I shudder to think what those were like during that period. Still, there was some reward for my effort. When Elizabeth Hand—my mentor for the third semester of my MFA program, and the first reader of No Return—got to the end of “the rape chapter,” she wrote, “Bravo! A virtuoso performance.” on the manuscript. It meant the world to me.
So… Summoning all the objectivity I can muster (not much), I do think it’s a good scene. It’s brutal, but for the right reasons. It moves one character forward in an inevitable way, just as it destroys another.
TQ: What's next?
Zachary: Um… International stardom? Debt-free financial independence? Muscles without working out?
Nah. Most likely, my next project will be a sequel to my debut. I don't think No Return demands a sequel—it is, I think, relatively self-enclosed—but it does end with quite a few questions unanswered.
TQ: Thank you for joining us at The Qwillery
Zachary: Thank you so, so much! I enjoyed answering these questions immensely.
About No Return
Night Shade Books, March 5, 2013
Hardcover and eBook, 320 pages
On Jeroun, there is no question as to whether God exists–only what his intentions are.
Under the looming judgment of Adrash and his ultimate weapon–a string of spinning spheres beside the moon known as The Needle–warring factions of white and black suits prove their opposition to the orbiting god with the great fighting tournament of Danoor, on the far side of Jeroun’s only inhabitable continent.
From the Thirteenth Order of Black Suits comes Vedas, a young master of martial arts, laden with guilt over the death of one of his students. Traveling with him are Churls, a warrior woman and mercenary haunted by the ghost of her daughter, and Berun, a constructed man made of modular spheres possessed by the foul spirit of his creator. Together they must brave their own demons, as well as thieves, mages, beasts, dearth, and hardship on the perilous road to Danoor, and the bloody sectarian battle that is sure to follow.
On the other side of the world, unbeknownst to the travelers, Ebn and Pol of the Royal Outbound Mages (astronauts using Alchemical magic to achieve space flight) have formed a plan to appease Adrash and bring peace to the planet. But Ebn and Pol each have their own clandestine agendas–which may call down the wrath of the very god they hope to woo.
Who may know the mind of God? And who in their right mind would seek to defy him? Gritty, erotic, and fast-paced, author Zachary Jernigan takes you on a sensuous ride through a world at the knife-edge of salvation and destruction, in this first installment of one of the year’s most exciting fantasy epics.
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