Conducted by Carrie Smoot
FF: How did you come up with the idea for “City at Night?” What motivated you to write the story?
Zachary Weiner: It’s interesting really, and I think most writers find the fact to be true, but I was in a setting at the time I began conceptualizing City at Night that was incredibly inspiring for the work. Each day I would go out and venture in this setting I would pick up on new things that I typically would never notice. It provided me with a plot to work with. (The setting, by the way, was a very dangerous part of the city. I had lived under harsh circumstances there during a very short period of time I was using academically. I’ve never had stranger experiences in real life than I did at that location.)
I was motivated to write the story because 1) Writing is an addiction, especially if you feel you have a great idea. 2) I wanted to challenge my readers and bring them into new and different places and scenarios as I had on my ventures. 3) I think there are elements in the story to learn from and enrich oneself with. These were the motivations for writing it.
FF: How did you go about researching material for the novel?
ZW: I am a huge reader of all sorts of material. When I need to do some research work, I will usually head over to my nearest library and obtain an overload of materials I need to best inform myself of the area of study. I am also somewhat of a Web-surfing addict, which sometimes yields some gems of information. I think overall my everyday experiences with people and situations have provided an immense amount of study of human nature, psychology and philosophy, which is the backbone of most of my work.
FF: Were you nervous or scared writing any violent scenes?
ZW: Writing violence is difficult for me because I have to tap into an area of myself that I am not altogether familiar or comfortable with. I am a very nonviolent individual, but my current novel certainly has some violence so I had to confront the fact that like most of humanity I have a place in my mind that may be dark, that may have the potential of violence. Luckily that place only manifests itself in my writing. In this sense I think many aspects of writing can be scary to an extent, it has the ability to expose you to new areas of yourself, and take some paths that are not always conventional.
FF: Do you have a set writing schedule?
ZW: I have a set amount of time I usually place for myself late at night to do all of my writing. Usually from about 11:00 p.m. until 2:00 in the morning is the norm for me. I do not force myself to write at these times and often will just start writing when inspiration knocks. If I start or stop feeling a creative flow, I usually accommodate it.
FF: How do you develop characters and stories?
ZW: I usually start with a concept or idea for a story that is appealing to me or that I think might be interesting or exciting. From that point, the story and characters develop in an intertwining fashion. When I get about halfway through the writing, the characters seem to develop more and more on their own. I start them off with a certain emptiness and than their actions and thoughts start to define them more and more clearly. When the characters act and behave in a certain fashion it usually adds to the plot I have in mind.
FF: Place seems to play a critical role in this story. What is Chicago like, day or night? How is it different from Washington, DC, San Francisco, New York, etc.? What would you want visitors to see, and hope that they take away with them?
ZW: Chicago is an absolutely fantastic city that keeps me intrigued every day. It has the same energy and excitement as other large cosmopolitan cities, but it’s less crowded. One of the more interesting things about Chi-town that lends itself to be a great setting is the yin-yang relationship the major parts of the city encompass. You can be in an incredibly low-income (Sometimes frightening) area, and yet be standing next to a million dollar apartment. It’s filled with diametric opposites. I don’t think there is one specific area to see that is more noteworthy than the next, however I do love the museums in Chicago, and during the summer the lakefront is simply alive. I hope visitors to Chicago can take away an experience that is as diverse as the city itself.
FF: I was intrigued that you describe your main character, Matt Storan, as sheltered—an unusual quality in a man. How does he change and grow throughout the story?
ZW: My main character, Matt, is indeed sheltered. He is quite a complex character. He has some incredibly positive traits and is a true survivor. But he is incredibly naive and closed-minded at times. My sadistic side really came into full view with Matt, and I took him far away from his comfort zone. If he were real he would probably hate me.
I think as the story continues he learns to become more open minded, and to look at people and situations from some very different perspectives. Like many people who go through adversity, Matt comes out less naive, but more so, learns things about his own powers as a person.
FF: Who have been your mentors? Do you have a writing group?
ZW: I have had so many mentors it’s hard to keep track of [them]. On one hand I have had some amazing teachers throughout my academic career that have inspired me and kept me interested. I also have had certain individuals in my life that have acted as mentors. From life lessons to writing, I have been incredibly fortunate. I had a karate instructor who played a very large role in my life. He was truly a poet at heart, and I learned a great deal from him. I currently don’t have a writing group, but I do have some others I hang around with tossing out ideas, and reviewing manuscripts for one another.
FF: What’s been your experience with PublishAmerica?
ZW: PublishAmerica was a fairly good experience for me. I had some problems with them initially for some of the editing of the work, but they are very easy to contact and deal with. I have some books coming out through some of the larger publishing houses quite soon, so Publish America was definitely a medium to open some doors for me. No matter the publisher, there is no better feeling in the world than seeing a book bound with your name on it.
FF: Any new projects in the works?
ZW: Too many to keep track of! I currently have two books I have been focusing a majority of my time on. One is a nonfiction anthology entitled “The experts speak.” It is a group of successful career individuals giving their advice on how to make it in their career field. I have a wealth of individuals who I have interviewed or had write for the title that has truly amazed me. Steve Ballmer, the CEO of Microsoft, Dan Rather, Steven Spielberg. It’s been incredibly enlightening, and at times humbling.
I also have a fiction title in the works called “The Road.” I think the only way to describe it is to say that it is a mix of “Alice in Wonderland,” Jack Kerouac’s “On the Road” and a general philosophy book. It is incredibly fictitious, philosophical, and a bit arcane. It should be quite the interesting romp.
FF: What is your day job?
ZW: I am currently working in the marketing department of a large company. It’s temporary. I’d like to experience a wealth of jobs and gain the full career experience. There are so many interesting things to do in the world, and I don’t want to limit myself.
FF: What’s it like being a member of so many think tanks? Why are they useful?
ZW: Think tanks are fascinating; you work with a plethora of incredibly brilliant people, and learn things every single day. The problems that arise are always a challenge and allow for very colorful and creative solutions at times. Being a member of a think tank allows you to face real-life problems in the world and find a solution, as stated in the above question it too can be incredibly enlightening and humbling, there is so much brilliance around!
Thinks tanks exist to create solutions to problems of every sort of the spectrum. They provide the much-needed solutions and answers to questions and issues that arise in a way that is well thought out by a group of brilliant individuals and not just one. Many aid humanity in many ways, which is their greatest utility.
FF: Is crime fiction your favorite? Why or why not? What makes a good crime/suspense novel? Who is your favorite author in this genre and why?
ZW: I love crime fiction because there are so many fictitious stories that can resemble true tales. I can watch the news sometimes and think to myself, ‘Wow I could never come up with something like that’. Fiction is all about telling a great lie, and crime fiction makes it very easy to do. I think a good the most important element of a good crime/suspense novel lies within the depth of the characters.
I think James Patterson is my favorite author in this specific genre. His works allow you to not only relate to his main characters in an incredibly advanced way, but the stories always probe very deep parts of the human psyche while keeping the reader at the edge of their seat the entire time. He truly knows how to put every element into a story and make it sizzle.
FF: You mentioned the following interests: “psychology, philosophy, literature, and a good Adrenalin rush.” Particularly for the latter, how do you get a good Adrenalin rush? Extreme sports?
ZW: Hopefully my mother won’t read this part, but extreme sports are something I do partake in. I love to go rock climbing and skydiving… love it. At the same time a good horror story can give me a good rush, so I think the above phrase is flexible. I’m a big believer in trying to experience what I can while I can. Life is short!
FF: Why do you like best about all the other interests you mentioned?
ZW: Here are the bare bones:
Philosophy- I love running my mind around in circles and confusing myself. I’ll provide a more serious answer in one of the questions below.
Psychology- This was my major in college. I also grew up sandwiched between two sisters, [so] of course it’s an interest.
Literature: My life would not be complete if I wasn’t an avid reader; there is nothing I would rather do than curl up with a good book any day of the week. Whether it’s a classic or a Stephen King novel, I learn and enjoy.
FF: How does knowledge of philosophy help you in daily life and in business?
ZW: Philosophy is an underlying force in just about every single decision I make in life. Yes it can be confusing, and yes some will state that it is merely mind games, but when you really look at the world and your life, it’s amazing how large of a role it plays. From making moral judgments on the job, to finding reasons to wake up in the morning and find a purpose of life to abide by. Without philosophy we would have no ethics, no meaning, no spirituality, or sciences even, it holds a grip on every major area of life and I try to respect this fact. Before making any sort of decisions on the job or off I must evaluate the philosophical quandary presented and react in a way that is best suited.
FF: Why is the literacy cause important to you?
ZW: In my opinion, literacy is the greatest gift one can be given. In my personal experience it has allowed me to learn and grow, to be taken into new realms by books of both fiction and nonfiction. I can’t imagine how bleak my world would be if I was not able to read. For this reason, the goal of enhanced literacy for all is of extreme importance. Literacy and knowledge allows for education, education allows for enhancements in our society, in our own beings, and in the world. Literacy can create and give so much, and I treasure it.
FF: Have you ever been a literacy tutor? What advice would you give to aspiring tutors or any volunteer for a literacy effort?
ZW: I have been a literacy tutor and it was one of the more rewarding experiences I have ever had.
The best advice is to remain vigilant in your efforts. Everybody you tutor is going to have a different speed of retention and learning capabilities. It’s important to keep in mind why you are doing it, and to keep in mind that no matter the capability of the individual you are doing a great deed.
FF: Please explain how Reading for Charity works and any new developments.
ZW: At its most basic level, Reading for Charity is a way for authors and readers to get together and do the things they enjoy while strongly benefiting literacy. RFC donates its proceeds to a certain amount of great and much-needed literacy programs. These donations come in through several different means. 1) We hold benefit events bringing in authors to help the cause 2) Our Primary program: Authors and writers of all sorts can make a small donation of their newest work’s proceeds to the organizations. 3) We will soon be opening up a center that will contain programs and tutors led by a number of our participating authors. The authors not only can feel great that they have helped a very noble cause, but it also helps in their publicity of their works. For readers they can select a book of fiction or nonfiction in any genre and buy the book for enjoyment, but also know that when they buy that book some of their money is also going to literacy pursuits. It is a win-win situation for everybody involved and has so far provided a great amount of response and aid.
FF: What makes Reading for Charity different from other literacy organizations? Could it be replicated nationwide? Why or why not?
ZW: The difference is that it is very comprehensive, and brings authors into the mix. Reading for Charity is not just the run-of-the-mill program; it brings many involved with literacy in some way or another together to help the cause. The authors are the ones whom literacy should be incredibly important to. It’s a way to give back.
I think it could easily be replicated nationwide. There are many authors out there I believe who would love to participate in the sort of programs we have. There are many great literacy programs nationwide that could benefit from the aid we provide. It is simply a matter of getting the word out across the country. If that could be done, it would be very simple and beneficial for all.
Zachary, thanks for a wonderful interview!
Zachary Weiner: “City at Night”
Copyright 2003-2004, Carrie Smoot.