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20 Questions with... Jim Zola

Jim Zola is a poet and photographer living in North Carolina. He has published three books of poetry and widely in journals. He currently works as a children’s librarian and previously taught at a school for deaf children and as a toy designer for Fisher-Price. You can find him on Instagram at koudelkapoetry.

Please introduce yourself. Where are you from? What was your life like growing up?

My name is Jim Zola. I grew up in Upstate New York in a town called Niskayuna. After leaving there when I turned 18, I lived in various places including Missouri, Michigan and North Carolina. I lived with my family for a year in England in a little village called Horton-cum-Studley. Both of my parents were in the field of education. My mother was a children’s librarian. And I had a great love of books. I started writing at a young age, although I shared my writing with no one. I tried going to school for journalism since I thought this was the way to combine my love of language and the visual. I was wrong. Or it was wrong for me. So I stuck with writing poetry. I worked as a security guard, as a teacher for deaf children, as a toy designer for Fisher-Price, and finally as a children’s librarian.

Did you always want to be a writer? If you also work, what do you do / did you do?

I have always wanted to be a writer. Well first I wanted to be President. Then I wanted to be a filmmaker. Currently I work as a children’s librarian in a public library. I love children’s literature and introducing children to the wonderful world of reading.

Tell us about your most recently published work in a sentence.

My most recent book of poetry is titled Erasing Cabeza de Vaca and was published by Main Street Rag Press.

What are you working on right now?

Now I am working on a new almost finished manuscript of poetry titled It’s the Unremarkable that will Last. I am also working intensely on my photo art.

Do you have a writing routine, and if so what is it?

I really don’t have a routine. I like to write while sipping red wine. I write with a good pen on a legal pad. Then edit as much as possible before putting it on my laptop. Then I continue editing, sometimes for years. At some point I will share it with writer friends. Other times, I think of lines or titles or themes while driving my car or falling asleep or watching a movie. And if I’m lucky, I will remember the thought long enough to write it in a notebook.

Where do you write – always in the same space, or different places? Can you write ‘on the move’?

I think I just answered this in the question above. I write non-stop in my head. So that is my space. Or on the far left end of the leather sofa with my dog Cici by my side.

What advice do you have for other authors who are starting out? What is the best advice you’ve heard?

I once took a week-long workshop with the poet Galway Kinnell and he gave us a list of things, rules perhaps, that I kept for many years. I have lost it now, or it is stowed in some box in a room I never go into. Write often. Don’t be afraid to write about anything. Kill your darlings. Read everything. Show don’t tell. Don’t be afraid to copy others, then make it your own. Edit with a careful eye. Don’t follow leaders. Watch the parking meters.

Do you enjoy doing live readings or are they a necessary evil – or somewhere in between?

I love live readings. I get nervous as hell and my hands might shake a little. But the joy in hearing the words out loud. The wonder of sharing the words beyond print. The music of it.

Are there recurring themes in your work? Where do you feel these emanate from if so?

Yes. Death, birth, family, love, sadness, life. Myself of course. And others. I love folktales and the magic they hold. I love music. I love the music of language, the simplicities of nature. The complexity of growing older.

Should writers have a moral purpose? What is the purpose of a writer in today’s society?

The only moral purpose is to be true to yourself. To share the creativity that comes naturally and that comes through practice. The purpose of writers today is the same as it was one thousand years ago. To share stories. To make readers feel some common emotions.

Do you write between genres or not?

I think I do. I wish I had the time or patience to write novels.

Which living writers do you most admire?

I admire many and would prefer not to list them all.

Which dead writers do you most admire?

The poet Larry Levis has greatly influenced my poetry. And Gabriel Garcia Marquez. And Nabokov.

What’s the book you wish you’d written?

100 Years of Solitude. Or the Bible.

What other external influences do you have: nature/place, music etc?

Music is a huge influence. Yes to nature. And people in general. I love to people watch. In airports or just anywhere. I make up stories for them. When I was a young boy I pretended I was a spy and that my eyes were cameras.

Do you suffer from ‘writer’s block’ and how do you overcome it if so?

I don’t suffer from writer’s block. When I can’t write, I don’t. It’s not like the creative energy is going anywhere. Sometimes life gets in the way.

What’s been your favourite reaction to your writing?


How do your family and friends feel about your writing?

They praise and encourage, and most likely don’t understand it all and maybe think I’m a bit odd.

Do you have a favourite bookshop?

Any independent bookshop is my favourite. I forgot to mention that I worked for a few years at a wonderful book store in Kalamazoo Michigan.

How do you see the future of writing? Will we become more or less dependent on Amazon?

More I’m sure. Or other online creatures that make it easy to read, write and publish.

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