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Monday, July 20, 2009

Speakeasy with Zachary Steele

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Zachary Steele, former owner of Wordsmith, has found religion – or perhaps its opposite -- since the economic slump forced him to close the Decatur-based independent bookstore on March 2 of this year. In Steele’s satirical first novel, Anointed: The Passion of Timmy Christ (Mercury Retrograde Books), the unwilling young CEO of The Christ Corporation contends with Christianity based on the business model, an anti-Christ bent on world domination and a supposedly misunderstood angel named Satan. Steele will be reading Anointed along with fellow satirical novelist Joshua Corin (author of Nuclear Winter Wonderland: A Tale of Nuclear Terror, Kidnapping, Gangsters and Family Values) at the Decatur Library Auditorium on Thu., July 23, at 7:15 p.m.

What’s your religious background, and how did it inspire Anointed?

I grew up mostly in Baptist-Methodist churches through my mid-20s before I dropped out of the church. My mother kind of forced us to go as kids, and then allowed us to make up our minds about it as teenagers. In my 20s I’d gotten deeply involved in church-going, including going to church business meetings. It was a medium-sized church, but it started to remind me of a corporation, a business. Money was something that seemed more important than the actual message. So much of the money went to mission trips and things that look better on the church’s resume than things in the community, like feeding someone across the street. In talking to people, I realized that it wasn’t unique to my church.

Why did you chose this topic for your first novel, and what are the book’s influences?

I like to write from a standpoint of philosophy and humor, to make people laugh while thinking. I had the story in my head, I felt compelled to write it, and it happened to be the first one I got published. No one book influenced religious or philosophical side. In terms of style and approach – Douglas Adams, Terry Pratchett and Christopher Moore. I’d say it’s one-half satire of corporate life and organized religion, and the other half is my ideas about God and the structure of the Afterlife. It’s pretty easy to lampoon corporations and organized religion, to take their inner workings and twist them around for a laugh. We’re talking about a Satan who’s actually a good figure, and an Antichrist who’s a corporate head.

Did owning a bookstore and seeing the retail side of publishing up close affect your writing style?

I like to believe that any smart writer’s going to take a good look at what’s selling. If you’re really desperate to get that first book out there, you may have to write something that the book industry wants. I don’t think owning a bookstore changed anything about my writing any more than working for book companies did.

Given your experience with Wordsmith, what do you think the future holds for independent bookstores in general?

I certainly will never take the circumstance of Wordsmith and apply it to booksellers as a whole. The publishing industry and booksellers are predominantly cyclical, and currently the environment favors the internet and big box stores. But I don’t think it’s the beginning of the end for independent stores. They have the ability to transform themselves faster than the chain stores.

What do you do these days for full-time work?

I am now a member of the 10% of Georgians who doesn’t have a job. I’ve been doing a lot of reading and writing. I’m working on two book projects, blogging and promoting Anointed on things like Facebook. It really is a full-time job to do all of these things. My Wordpress blog is called The Further Promotion of Me.

Photo courtesy of Mercury Retrograde Books

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