Thursday, October 13, 2011

His Story: Alexi Zenter

Alexi Zentner's debut novel, Touch, made waves long before it's pub date. To say it was highly anticipated is an understatement. When I heard about it--set in the north woods! magical and mythical!--I had to read it. It reads like a fairy tale or folk tale, with characters that are larger than life, events that are unexplainable, equal parts enchanting and eerie, haunting and comforting. It's a story that will stay with you, like a myth you heard growing up. Alexi the writer is incredibly gracious, and funny. When he's not writing, he's teaching or speaking at writer's conferences.

BONUS: I have two copies of Touch to give away! To enter, leave a comment below. You must leave your comment on the blog to be entered, not on my FB page or through other means.  Entries close on October 31st.  

How did you come to writing? Did you start writing shortly after emerging from the womb or did you come to it later in life?

I came to writing as a reader. I grew up with readers as parents and read a lot as a kid. Reading saved my life, and I think my desire to write is simply the desire to tell stories like the stories that captivated me. It took me a while, however, to understand the difference between wanting to be a writer and wanting to write. Most people want to be writers – which is to say, to have already written – but aren’t as keen about the part of it that is hard and requires sacrifice.

Were you influenced to begin writing by any writers/books in particular?

As a kid I read widely, and that included science fiction and fantasy, as well as the classics and literary fiction. I think the emphasis on story in fantasy and science fiction had a real impact on me, but the authors who probably had the biggest impact were people like Alice Munro, Margaret Atwood, Michael Ondaatje, because they wrote literary fiction that was also enjoyable.

Whose works do you most enjoy reading?

I like books that take emotional risks. I want a book to move me. I’m not a big fan of detached irony.

Tell us about your book.

A pastor returning home to his dying mother has to confront the ghosts of his childhood, the memories of his mythic grandfather, and the magic and mysteries of the north woods. Also, it’s a love story. And though it’s a novel full of wonder, TOUCH  is also scary and terrifying in places, full of monsters and witches. And the book will break your heart.

How the heck did you come up with the central idea/plot?

I started with an image of a girl trapped under the ice, and I was haunted by the idea of having somebody you love so close and yet to be unable to help them.

At what point in the writing process did you think you might give up on it? Were you most inspired? What kept you going through the long dark nights?

Never. There were times when the writing felt easy, and times when I wanted to smash things, but I never considered quitting. I don’t know why I didn’t want to quit. If I did, I’d bottle it and sell it. All I can tell you is that I’ve had a number of pretty well known authors tell me that they were never the best writer that they knew but they were the most persistent.

Do you have a “path to publication” story that you’d like to share? Funny agent/editor encounter? Publishing etiquette you didn’t know until you entered the business? Tip for newly published or aspiring writers?

The tip that I’d give for newly published or aspiring writers is to calm down a little about getting an agent and getting published. Once you are done the book and it is as good as it can possibly be, just take a few days and research the process so that your query letter matches the quality of your book.

Alexi Zentner’s first novel, Touch, is published in the USA by W.W. Norton, in Canada by Knopf Canada, and in the UK by Chatto & Windus. Touch is a Barnes & Noble Discover Great New Writers selection and a Knopf New Face of Fiction pick. Touch is available from Dreamscape as an audio book. In a starred review, Publishers Weekly called Touch an "eerie, elegiac debut."  Alexi Zentner has been named by the CBC as one of 12 Canadian Writers to Watch, and Touch was shortlisted for The Governor General’s Literary Award, The Center for Fiction’s Flahery-Dunnan First Novel Prize, and longlisted for the 2011 Scotiabank Giller Prize.  He was born and raised in Kitchener, Ontario, and currently lives in Ithaca, New York, with his wife and two daughters. He holds both Canadian and American citizenship.


  1. It looks really good! You have the coolest interviews on your blog

  2. I love learning about new Fantasy authors! Thanks you for your interviews.

  3. The premise of the novel is intriguing. I have become more interested in fantasy...probably a result of recent stellar debut authors, like Alexi. Thanks for the interview.

  4. This sounds like a great book to check out!