Jeff Zentner is the author of New York Times Notable Book The Serpent King as well as Goodbye DaysHis third book, Rayne & Delilah’s Midnite Matinee is forthcoming in Spring 2019. He is the winner of the William C. Morris Award, the Amelia Elizabeth Walden Award, the International Literacy Association Award, and the Westchester Fiction Award. His books have been nominated and longlisted for the Carnegie Medal, and he has been a finalist for the Indies Choice Award and the Southern Book Prize, and been named a Publishers Weekly Flying Start.

He lives in Nashville, Tennessee. He came to writing through music, starting his creative life as a guitarist and eventually becoming a songwriter. He’s released five albums and appeared on recordings with Iggy Pop, Nick Cave, Warren Ellis, Thurston Moore, Debbie Harry, Mark Lanegan, and Lydia Lunch, among others.

He became interested in writing for young adults after volunteering at the Tennessee Teen Rock Camp and Southern Girls Rock Camp. As a kid, his parents would take him to the library and drop him off, where he would read until closing time. He worked at various bookstores through high school and college.

He speaks fluent Portuguese, having lived in the Amazon region of Brazil for two years.


The words and (and concepts) “murmur,” “petrichor,” and “feuillemort”
The American South
High-quality cable television dramas
Baby elephants
Cast-iron skillets
Honeysuckle bushes


Man’s inhumanity to man, generally
Fascism, specifically






  1. Since I never consciously choose a book for youths, I’m not sure what possessed me to order “The Serpent King,” but I inhaled it once I started reading! Good job! I’m an avid reader and also a writer who’s a bit of a snob about most so-called ‘best selling authors’ these days. The worst are the ‘ping pong’ writers who wear out my brain cells as they skip back and forth in time & fail to remind the reader who’s who and where. Foreign phrase with no definition are the worst. Your writing is clear, succinct, descriptive, suggestive without being explicit, and very poignant. It also allowed me to imagine young Dill becoming famous & the good doctor giving him that wonderful Fender guitar! AND, it encouraged me to start that blog and website I’ve been procrastinating about so I too can sell my talents. Thanks! I look forward to reading more from you.

  2. The Serpent King was a great read- as an avid reader of romance novels it defiantly wasn’t a book I would have picked out myself, but once I got in it I was hooked. It really makes you think about life and the characters struggles in and out really put a certain perspective on life- a lot to learn!! And now that I’ve finished I can’t stop thinking about all that happens after the ending- will there be a sequel?

  3. Hi Jeff. I am a 72 year old grandmother from Sparta. I am enjoying The Serpent King. Your characters are believable and interesting. You have done a wonderful job portraying both the good and the not-so-good aspects of “small town” living.

    I came to Sparta from Atlanta and had a culture shock. After living here for 20+ years, you could not pry me away. And yes, the hardwoods in the fall are stunning.

    I recommended you on Facebook.

  4. I loved your book! Cried like a baby on my way to work. The audio version was lovely. I think the server at the Corner Bakery thought I must have been having a really rough morning from my puffy eyes and wet cheeks. Just ordered my second hard copy for the classroom. This book will speak to so many kids that struggle in life, and offer them hope. I cannot wait for your new book. Thanks for sharing your talent with us.

    1. I too cried while listening to the audio version of the book on the way to work. 🙁 My students must have thought I was a mess the first week of school.

  5. Jeff, it took me awhile to read the book after I purchase it at a young adult author’s conference and you signed it. But I just have to say that I was incredibly moved by this book. It is epic storytelling. You weave the characters into the each other’s lives incredibly well, and you write a book that can be recommended to kids to help them understand themselves and how relationships can be complex, yet incredibly moving and meaningful.

    I was crushed with what happens to Travis. What a neat young man.

    Dill overcoming what he had overcome makes me feel like there is hope for youth.

    Lydia may be one of the most memorable characters for me. The growth she showed, what she did for Travis, and how realized how shallow she was being was inspiring. She was genuine. And the night she and Dill create would have been a memorable night for me as well. I will definitely be getting your next book.

    I will be recommending it for my kids to read at my school.

  6. I recently read The Serpent King as a required reading for my adolescent literature class. As an elementary teacher I hadn’t thought much about adolescent literature so I wasn’t sure what to expect. Let me just say it’s a wonderful book. The characters and their lives reflect what our students face in their lives everyday. I’ve already recommended it to both colleagues and young adults. I especially loved how you wrote from character perspectives, instead of tradition chapters, as a teacher this helps our students to better analyze the characters and gain a deeper understanding of who they are and how they can relate to them. I look forward to your next book and any future writings. Thank you!

  7. Hi Jeff! Patsi Trollinger posted on the SCBWI Midsouth listserv your wonderful news–“Congratulations to Midsouth author Jeff Zentner who, along with his latest
    book, Goodbye Days, is featured in a full-page interview and promo in the most recent issue of The Horn Book Magazine. Jeff has been showered with honors for his debut novel, The Serpent King.” I just wanted to add my congrats to hers. Sounds like your writing career is going tops. I’m very happy for you and am wishing you continued success and many more honors for your books.

  8. My older sister died of brain cancer when she was 13, so like the author, I tend to think about death on a daily basis. My love for YA books stems from my job as a teacher of middle school students, because I want every child to become a lifelong reader. Goodbye Days will be such a hit! It is exquisitely written; Carter “Blade” Briggs is my new favorite character in the universe. The way he deals with his grief and guilt are unbelievably realistic and heart-wrenching. I love this book.

  9. Hi, Jeff! Loved your book and am putting together a session about it for Pre-AP teachers. Do you have any suggestions for teaching this book–activities or discussion questions/paper topics, etc? I’d love to have your perspective on what to do in the classroom with it.

    1. If you contact Random House’s education division, they have discussion guides for both of my books!

  10. Hi Jeff
    Have just read “Goodbye Days” and reviewed it on BBC Radio Tees (Tuesday April 25th, Bob Fischer). I thought it was wonderful ! Really felt the tumultuous emotions of Carver and felt that you portrayed teenage boys with great authenticity. As a bookseller of almost 30 years, it thrills me to still get excited by a book, especially one aimed at a completely different group of readers to myself (a British 64 year old!) Have ordered “Serpent King” and can’t wait to get stuck in.
    Well done

  11. This is a copy of the review I just published on Goodreads for Goodbye Days…thought I’d share it directly with you:
    “For The Love. This book wrecked me just a little bit. But it also repaired me a whole stinkin’ bunch, so there’s that…

    Since I’m still dealing (reeling?) with my mom’s death a year and a half ago and since she was like a best friend for me and since I am such a sap, I needed this book right now. Really a lot. All the definitions of grief and the visions of how we all do that grieving thing helped me in ways I will probably still be discovering for weeks, perhaps months.

    So, here’s the real question…how in the whole wide world does someone who is apparently so young get so centered about grief and loss in order to be able to write so eloquently and movingly about the whole mess? Serpent King was equally profound for me, so I now know that you are not a one-trick pony, young Zentner of Tennessee. I look forward to much more!!! ☺”

  12. My brother lives in Nashville too and is a musician and a social worker like me. As the mother of a 13 yr old boy, I am definitely interested in reading your books and perhaps recommending them to him. Really cool that you have had 2 satisfying careers, much like my brother who went back to school at 42 to get his masters degree.

  13. WOW! I just finished Goodbye Days and… did I say WOW! already?

    What a beautiful, sad and funny, devastating and inspiring, real, real, REAL story. Thank you for this incredible book. I write children’s books and sometimes toy with the idea of taking a stab at YA. After reading this, I won’t even try. You’ve raised the bar to a place I can’t even see it anymore.

  14. I only want to say Thank You. I’ve just finished Goodbye Days …. I know I will think of this book for a long time. Greetings from Poland 🙂

  15. I recently read “The Serpent King” with my seniors at the school I teach, and my students loved it! My students come from a small town, like Forrestville, so they were able to connect with the characters right away, and they could not put the book down! The class was very sad when the unit ended, but I am looking forward to sharing it with my future students for years to come!

  16. Dear Jeff Zentner,

    I recently read “Goodbye Days” and I have to say it was really good. This book really gave me a feeling of discontentment toward Carver as he didn’t really stand up to try to stop people from hurting him. He just assumed the whole world would stop for him and care for him and since he did this he did not enable himself to save himself from the hate he took. Also I really detested Adair because she was really mean towards Carver. However I understand why she felt the way she felt because I think I would feel the same if Carver got one of my family members killed. So even though I thought she was really harsh towards him I understand where she is coming from. One thing I really thought was good was how you show what Carver experiences so well. With the flashbacks and the in depth explanation of the panic attacks that really show what he experiences. Overall I really enjoyed this book and the emotion it had.

    Brad Budds

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