Author Q&A: Zack Kopp

Zack Kopp is a freelance writer and editor currently living in Denver. He holds an MFA in Writing from Vermont College of Fine Arts, and is the author of two novels, a short story collection, a book of poetry, a collection of subconscious fiction, and a collection of articles, essays, interviews, reviews and commentary. His informal history of the Beat Generation’s connections with Denver was published by The History Press in 2015. Kopp’s books are available at Amazon, and you can find his frequently updated multi-genre blog at
http://rentparty.blogspot.com/.

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TBL Author Q&A Series: Zack Kopp

This is one in a series of brief interviews with a diverse array of writers, editors, and other industry professionals. Check back over the coming months for more!

What sparked your writing career? Who influenced you from the start?

Both of my parents were English professors and writers. I grew up surrounded by books and my mom used to read me to sleep as a kid, so my mind is full of mythologic structures. I used to act out stories I invented with other kids in Corrales, NM where I lived for a few years (ages 7-9), and writing them down was the first time I did it.

You’ve been living in Denver now for several years—what do you think of the literary scene and how has it affected your writing?

In the 90s, I was very active in the Denver spoken word scene as a punk host named Henry Alarmclock before phasing into art events like Bleeding TVs of Angels and variety shows at Rebis Gallery, which I think is closed now. Them Punk Arts at Mutiny was an attempt at reliving/reviving that past, but ASCAP was breathing down their neck about people playing covers at the open mic, so I have been transitioned to literary liaison.

After sticking mostly to fiction throughout your career, how did you shift to your broad biographical work, The Denver Beat Scene?

We traveled a lot through my childhood so I was always coming into these established scenes as an outsider, never really belonging and seeing it all from the outside, like the adventures of myself. I discovered Kerouac as a teenager and his whole notion of living his life as a novel and related right away. Being in Denver, I revisited down some of the sites Neal Cassady writes about in The First Third (Holy Ghost Church, the Post Office downtown, Ebert Elementary), which felt momentous. I felt like I had transcended any fixation by the time I got the deal to write a Beats in Denver book with History Press, and now I find myself integrally placed in the lives of the principal’s descendants – like I’m trying to broker a reunion between estranged branches of the Cassady family, and I just found a publishing deal for Neal’s son, Robert Hyatt, with Big Table Publishing in Boston.

How have you evolved as a writer over the years? Has your process changed at all?

As a little kid the stuff I wrote was all pure invention, not to say it wasn’t stimulated by things like comic books, TV, pop culture, absolutely it was. Evolution over the years might best be characterized as a progression from active effort to allowance, in that I used to have to try to write a certain way, and really felt I had to be the author, it all had to be tailored to my way of telling my story of me, not that it was wasted effort, but very laborious, more of a hardship than it needed to be – whereas lately it feels like so much observance of everything has built up, little skits come naturally to me, easily connected to each other making short stories, novels and etc. For me, the improvement has had to do with lessening ego-investment in favor of storytelling, being a conductive channel rather than grounding the energy.

Can you describe your experience with self-publishing?

Self-publishing is easy to do and you get a quality product, depending on who you go with. I tried lulu first, then found out it was automated, no human customer service at al, which I hated. Had a better experience with Amazon’s CreateSpace platform, think I have published as many as seven or eight books with them. You have to do all your own promotion, arrange your own author events, and purchase your own books at a discount for resale.

What was it like getting to know The History Press for your newest documentary piece?

The History Press was a pleasure to work with; they handled all the distribution to bookstores, much of the promotion, and payed royalties. I have had to and still have to purchase my own copies for author events, but the discount is substantial, and easily covered by sales at full price (on a good night).

Who are you reading right now and who will never leave your shelf?

I make it a habit to always read at least 500 books at once, to keep my mind fresh. That’s why I look so young. The top four on my stack now are Das Energi, by Crawdaddy magazine founder, the late Paul Williams, who was also the husband of anti-folk founder Cindy lee Berryhill (author of Memoirs of a Female Messiah), This is the Beat Generation: New York – San Francisco – Paris by James Campbell, which I got through paperback Swap and is turning out much better than expected (did you know that the word “hepcat” derives from the Wolof word hipikat)?), Hunt For the Skinwalker: Science Confronts the Unexplained at a Remote Ranch in Utah by Colm A. Kelleher, PhD and George Knapp, and The Enlisted Men’s Club by late Denver literary genius Gary Reilly, whose extensive catalog is being published posthumously by a couple of dear friends, including Lake of Fire author Mark Stevens. Some writers I like especially are John Fante, Frank Conroy, Charles Bukowski, Carson McCullers, Ray Bradbury, and Flannery O’Connor, but I don’t play favorites anymore. Isms are schisms.

Is there a specific event that catalyzed your career?

Not exactly, but thinking back to early childhood I can remember reading my dad’s books of poetry as models for my personality or way of perceiving things, in that way every kid has in the learning years of imitating his or her adult role models. One of them was even dedicated to me, my first presence in that alter-realm of writing and language. This would also have happened in New Mexico, where around the same time another kid and I found an old car abandoned in the ditch with beer bottles and shell casings in it, and made up a story about it belonging to some escaped bank robbers, surely pivotal in some sense.

What advice do you give to young writers that wish to follow in your footsteps?

I think it would be a mistake, as everyone is grated an individualized starting point, the same with handicaps and advantages. For all the rocky roadedness and uphill climb of it so far, I seem to have been gifted by the laws of physics and What There Is with a voodoo I dare not analyze or define which has led me to a sort of precipice from which I now embark to claim the realization of all that I deserve, good and bad alike. If you insist on following these errant footsteps, I sincerely hope it works out for you, as it seems, perhaps, finally to be showing signs of doing in my case, with the aforementioned deal secured for Bob Hyatt and the publication of I Remember Jim Morrison Too and Before the Beatles Were Famous by A.R. Graham, both edited by me, and I’m actively seeking publication of a novella written in the subconscious style described earlier called Public Hair. Interested parties are encouraged to contact me through this website.

These days, toward what kind of content is your work gravitating?

For the last year and a half, I’ve been living on the top floor of an apartment building overlooking the highway. I’ve had three roommates so far in the course of my tenancy, each one separate and distinct in character and effect, as people are. I’m in the course of writing a longer work called Overgrown about my life while staying in the apartment, a partial approximation of which may be seen here.

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