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Freestyling: An interview with Zachary German

Zachary German interviewed by Chris Killen.


Zachary German is a young American writer. His writing is full of melancholy, product-names and sardonic humour. He writes often about music and the internet and depressed young people, not quite sure what to do with themselves. His first novel, Eat When You Feel Sad, was published earlier this year by Melville House.

The following interview was conducted via email, over a couple of months. I sent Zachary an initial round of questions, which he answered pretty quickly. I then sent a second round of questions, which were also answered within a few days. I sent a final couple of questions, which Zachary never answered. Then I sat on the interview for maybe three months sort of vaguely hoping he would send the final answers back, but for some reason not feeling like pestering him about it. (I never did email him to ‘chase this up’.) Instead, what follows is the full interview (including the two unanswered questions).

3:AM: How much – in a percentage – is Eat When You Feel Sad autobiographical?

Zachary German: One hundred percent, or zero percent. It seems like we’re all mother nature’s children, in a way, and so my story is your story is [something]. I’m being serious…

3:AM: How much – in a percentage – are you happy with the finished novel?

ZG: Ninety five maybe. Sometimes I think about things that could have been made more consistent. I never went through it thinking about the climate, and trying to make the weather correlate with seasons in a way that would make sense. So I sometimes fear there may be some inconsistencies there. There are other things I probably could have done, times when I should have expanded on dialogue or something.

3:AM: How long have you been working on it?

ZG: I worked on it from autumn 2007 to autumn 2009, pretty much, I think. So two years. The majority of that time was spent editing – I had written most of the text within the first six months.

3:AM: Since its publication, is there a part/scene that you are unhappy with, and wish you could edit out/change?

ZG: No. I think all the scenes work. For the Bear Parade draft there was one scene in which the narration went into first person, which a few people seemed to like, but in the end it seemed too inconsistent, so I took it out. Nothing like that in the final draft.


3:AM: Stylistically it is consistent throughout, written in a very pared-down, minimalist way – “Robert turns off the light. Robert turns on the light. (etc)” – Did you find these stylistic choices ‘trapping’ or ‘freeing’? How did you come to choose this style to write in?

ZG: I found that style very freeing. I am easily overwhelmed when looking at a blank Word document, and it is a lot easier if I know exactly what I’m going to write. So I can just say “This is what happens” and write that down, in a very specific format. The part I like the most is the editing I do later, where I change the word “Robert” to the word “He,” or vice versa, things like that. Having very small, specific choices seems fun.

3:AM: Is the character of Sam actually Tao Lin? And in Shoplifting From American Apparel, is Robert you?

ZG: Oh… it’s just a novel, Chris.

3:AM: Okay, I know what you mean. But I also feel interested in knowing a little more about that ‘overlapping’ scene in both books – page 117 in Eat When You Feel Sad and page 78 in Shoplifting From American Apparel. Was there some sort of conscious decision made between you and Tao at some point to include this overlap between events/conversation/names etc? Or did it just occur naturally, due to the autobiographical natures of both books?


3:AM: What question would you most liked to be asked in an interview like this?

ZG: What is your favorite Blink-182 song and why?


3:AM: How often – if ever – do you think of the title of your novel as an acronym?

ZG: Between 1/3 and 2/3rds of the time, probably. Like when I think with sounds it’s ‘Eat When You Feel Sad’ but when I think with pictures it’s ‘ewyfs.’ Not sure if that is true, makes sense, sorry.

3:AM: You said you enjoy the line-editing part most. Do you have a specific memory of a time/place when you felt especially happy with how your novel was going? If so, please describe it.

ZG: No real specific memories of feeling happy with how it was going, more memories of feeling it sucked but could easily be so much better. One morning I got up early and lied down in McCarren Park in Brooklyn and read a printed out draft all the way through, making notes and line edits, and feeling really good, like I was a genius who had just found a really shitty book that I could quickly change into something just terrific. Then I made the changes and probably the next time I read it all the way through I thought pretty much the same thing.

There were a number of drafts like that, where I felt each new set of edits was a revolution or something. As time went by that feeling got less and less, until it started to just seem like a pretty finished novel.

3:AM: Similarly, was there some point during the writing of the novel when you felt something along the lines of, ‘Oh no, this a complete fucking piece of shit, I’m going to give up on it’? If so, please describe.

ZG: Oh, well, I think I only ever really thought about giving up on it in fall of 2007, soon after starting it. I forget why exactly, I know I had a gmail conversation with Tao Lin about it so could probably look it up, but yeah I was just tired of doing it, and that’s when I asked Tao if he thought I should just make it a Bear Parade thing, and he said it could probably be both, and so that’s what happened.


3:AM: How do you think you and your writing would be perceived by the following people: a) a 26-year-old Italian/American female poet/blogger, who occasionally reads online journals like 3:AM, HTMLGIANT, but who also cites people like Virginia Woolf, Emily Dickinson and T.S. Eliot as influences.

ZG: Probably negatively, a woman named ‘Oriana’ who I believe roughly fits that description has already written an in-depth scathing review on Goodreads.com.

3:AM: b) an American, somewhat alcoholic, on-the-brink-of-retiring, divorced male English Lit. professor, who at one time in his life had the desire to write fiction but never did so.

ZG: Feel he would either disregard it completely or like it a lot.

3:AM: c) an English, 38-year-old male, who reads “everything from McEwen and Palanuk (sic) to greats such as Dickens and McNab (ha ha)” – note: he reviews DVD box-sets constantly on Amazon.

ZG: Feel he would get a real kick out of shit-talking it on Amazon/not like it.

3:AM: d) ‘someone’s mom’

ZG: Damn, depends on if it’s ‘my mom’ or not. ‘My mom’ would ‘say she liked it,’ if memory serves. Others’ moms would probably not read it all the way, I feel. If they did they would probably feel disturbed … in a bad way.

3:AM: Your author biography on the back page of the novel reads: ‘ZACHARY GERMAN was born on December 17th, 1988 at Shore Memorial Hospital in Somer’s Point, New Jersey. In 2006 he dropped out of high school. In 2007 he published his first short story. In 2008 he moved to Brooklyn. In 2009 he works as a dog walker on Manhattan’s Upper West Side and maintains two websites: thingswhatibought.com, and eatwhenyoufeelsad.com, which collects videos of people eating while feeling sad’. Do you think you could carry this third-person sentence-per-year biographical description on to provide a speculative description of the years of your life from 2010-20/30/40/whenever-you-get-bored?


3:AM: What is your favourite Blink-182 song and why?

ZG: ‘Untitled’ off Dude Ranch. Seems really catchy/memorable with several distinctive sections. Confused as to why I wrote ‘with distinctive sections.’ I have good memories of running around the track in tenth grade gym class with Colin Gilmore singing this song. Seems apt to a number of situations, lyrically. Don’t like how there’s a weird talking thing at the end of the studio version though. That should make it lose points. So maybe ‘Josie,’ also off of Dude Ranch.


Chris Killen‘s first novel, The Bird Room, is published by Canongate Books. He is currently working on a second novel. He updates his blog, about once a year.

First published in 3:AM Magazine: Wednesday, June 23rd, 2010.