This interview originally appeared in the March/April 2017 Horn Book Magazine as part of the Spring Publishers’ Preview, a semiannual advertising supplement that allows participating publishers a chance to each highlight a book from its current list. They choose the books; we ask the questions.
Carver texted his friend Mars while Mars was driving; unfortunately, Mars tried to answer, causing an accident that killed him and the other two boys in the car. Set in Nashville, Jeff Zentner’s second novel, Goodbye Days (after his Morris Award–winning The Serpent King), explores grief and reconciliation: how can Carver help his friends’ families through their pain?
1. Friends tell me the second book is more difficult to write than the first. Agree?
I think Goodbye Days is both sadder and funnier than The Serpent King. So maybe more and less difficult.
2. I am a big fan of TV’s Nashville. Would the city disappoint me?
In as much as it is, in fact, full of beautiful, enormously talented, and hardworking people, I would say no. Also, the hot chicken is pretty great. The city does have fewer implausible plot twists than the show, however.
3. You come to novel-writing from songwriting. What about language did you have to learn anew?
Novel-writing is a much longer-term relationship with language, so you have to be more restrained and less abstract. Clarity is much more important in novels, and words should be focused on serving the underlying stakes of the story.
4. What’s the difference between guilt and responsibility?
In my mind, guilt carries a connotation of moral culpability for a result — some sort of negligence or intentionality, while responsibility suggests that you caused a result, but without negligence or intentionality.
5. Have you ever held a “goodbye day” for someone?
Never. I’ve been deeply fortunate to have lost very few people in my life, and certainly never under circumstances like Carver’s in Goodbye Days.