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Drunk Q & A with Zachary Steele and The Weight of Ashes, a novel

Drunk on Ink is a blast interview series by Soniah Kamal author of  the novel Unmarriageable an NPR Code Switch and New York Public Library Summer Reads Pick, a People’s Magazine Pick, a Financial Times Readers’ Best Book, and starred reviews in Publishers Weekly, Library Journal, Shelf Awareness and more. Soniah’s interviews include Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Pearl Cleage, Lauren Groff

I’m the author of The Weight of Ashes (August 24th, 2021, The Story Plant), Anointed: The Passion of Timmy Christ, CEO (nominated for the Sidewise Award for Alternate Fiction), and Flutter: An Epic of Mass Distraction (Mercury Retrograde Press). I’ve been featured by the Atlanta Journal-ConstitutionPublishers Weekly, Shelf Awareness, and on City Lights with Lois Reitzes on NPR. I’ve been yelled at by a few editors, laughed at by an agent or two, and spoken quite rudely to by more than a couple of my characters. Much of my time otherwise is wrapped in the tight bundle of cooing wonder that is Broadleaf Writers, an organization dedicated to the craft of writing, the foundation of a community every writer needs.

About The Weight of Ashes

After a car accident claims his older brother’s life, Mark Murphy’s world is turned upside down. The silence of their shared bedroom, the memories of Mitch’s guidance, and his mother’s drunken spiral are constant reminders of the cost of his absence. But Mark isn’t ready to grieve. He isn’t ready to accept that his brother is truly gone. Despite the insistence of the adults in his life that he accept Mitch’s death, Mark is undeterred. They don’t know what he knows. They don’t know the story of the Witch on Spook Hill. Aided by his loyal band of misfit friends, Mark’s plan to carry Mitch’s ashes to the witch is complicated by the pursuit of the town sheriff and the cousin responsible for his brother’s death. With no time to regroup, Mark and his friends must navigate the dangerous path to Spook Hill before the sun sets, so that Mitch can be resurrected in exchange for the life of the one who took it.

SONIAH KAMAL: First author/book you read/fell in love with? Why?

ZACHARY STEELE:  Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing by Judy Blume. I couldn’t get enough of it. Not only did I see myself as Peter, but Fudge thrilled me. He was a mess. I loved  him and couldn’t stop reading any story about him. It also inspired my desire to tell stories that readers would love as much.

To unwind: chai, coffee, water, wine?

Coffee is my lifeblood. I wouldn’t say that it helps me unwind, but it definitely eases my day!

A novel, short story, poem, essay, anything you believe should be mandatory reading?

For writers, I believe learning the short story is vital. It teaches precision and brevity. There’s no better way to learn how to keep only what is necessary in a story. In general, I would just love a greater emphasis on reading for children.

Any classic you wished you’d pushed through in your teens?

Atlas, Shrugged. I just … couldn’t.

Favorite quote from your book

“The good thing about knowing someone so long was that you learned to see more than they gave.” I’ve always liked the idea of seeing the truth in people.

Favorite book to film? And why?

The original animated version of Charlotte’s Web. watch trailer. I think it inspired my lifelong tendency to speak for animals everywhere I go. Both the book and the movie were favorites from my childhood and further inspired me to learn to write.

Favorite Indie Book Store/s?

As a lover of kid’s books, I’ll go with Little Shop of Stories in Decatur, Georgia.

The one thing you wish you’d known about the writing life?

That sitting down and pouring your soul into stories the world is supposed to see takes courage.

Does writing/publishing/marketing get any easier with each story/novel published?

As with anything, the more you learn, the more you practice, the more you learn to trust in yourself, the easier it becomes. It’s still hard. But a sense of confidence can ease a lot of the difficulty.

Dog, Cat, Or?

I’m a cat. Therefore, always cat.

Ideal vacation?

Anywhere quiet with Jess, my partner and absolute favorite human in the whole world.

Favorite book cover?

The special edition of Christopher Moore’s Lamb, which in every way resembles a bible.

Favorite song?

Mysterium by Libera. Choral creepiness at its best. Inspired an entire story for me.

Favorite painting/ work of art?

Right now, at this moment, I give that honor to my eventual stepdaughter, Sadie, who is a very talented artist. Her beautiful drawing of my cat Winnie is framed on my bookshelf.

Any Lit Festival anecdote you want a share? A great meeting with a fan? An epiphany?

A weird one, actually. I was at the Decatur Book Festival after my first book was published, and a reader wanted her book signed. While waiting she laughed about how she got so wrapped up in reading my book she didn’t realize two hours had passed and her bath water was cold. Like I said. Weird. But I loved it.

Do you have a favorite film, or two, or three?

To narrow it down to three: O’Brother Where Art Thou, The Princess Bride, and Galaxy Quest. I love to laugh.

What is your favorite Austen novel, and film adaptation? Why?

Pride & Prejudice. I’d go with the 2005 adaptation. There is nothing about this story that I don’t love. Not the least of which is that it feels very much like the original reality show about dysfunctional important people.

Recommend a Small Press and/or Literary Journal?

I’m biased, but The Story Plant is an amazing press with a very author-friendly approach to publishing.

Last impulse book buy and why?

The Land of Stories: The Wishing Spell by Chris Colfer. I needed a book to kill a few hours while out of town and waiting for a book event to start. It’s excellent. I’m hooked.

Soniah Kamal is an award winning novelist, essayist and public speaker.  Soniah’s novel Unmarriageable is a Financial Times Readers’ Best Book of 2019, a People’s Magazine Pick, a Library Reads Pick, an NPR Code Switch Summer Read Pick, a 2019 Book All Georgians Should Read, a 2020 Georgia Author of the Year for Literary Fiction nominee and more. Her novel An Isolated Incident was shortlisted for the Townsend Prize for Fiction and the KLF French Fiction Prize. Soniah’s TEDx talk is about second chances and she has delivered numerous keynotes addreses. ‘We are the Ink’, her address at a U.S. Citizenship Oath Ceremony, talks about immigrants and the real American Dreams, her keynote at the Jane Austen Festival is about universality across time and cultures and she’s given keynotes at Writers Conferences. Soniah’s work has appeared in critically acclaimed anthologies and publications including The New York Times, The Guardian, The Georgia Review, The Bitter Southerner, Catapult, The Normal School, Apartment Therapy and more.
She’s on twitter and instagram @soniahkamal

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