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Friday, May 2, 2014

Take Ten with John "Jack" Zerr - Pilot, Poet, and Published Author

Jack has been a most welcome addition to Coffee and Critique for several years now. He brings his wisdom, wit, and vast military experience to the table. Everyone in the group appreciates his writing talent, big-picture critiques, willingness to learn, and his humility. 

Most of all we appreciate the sacrifices he has made on behalf of our country. That's why we make it a point to tell him, "Thank you for your service!"

Here is Jack's bio:

John Zerr, US Navy rear admiral (Retired). US Navy pilot, and Vietnam veteran. 320 combat missions flying the A-4 Skyhawk. During his thirty-six year career, he accumulated 1017 carrier landings. Most memorable Navy assignment: commanding officer of the aircraft carrier USS Constellation (CV-64).

After leaving the service, he worked for a major aerospace company for eleven years.

Author of poems, short stories, and three novels: The Ensign Locker, Sundown Town Duty Station, and Noble Deeds. He and his wife, Karen, live in St. Charles MO.

Web site:

Here are Jack's answers to the Take Ten Interview Questions:

1. What or who inspired you to become a writer?

I had a high school English/Lit teacher, Sister Matthews. On my mid-semester report card, junior year, she gave me an “F.” I went to her and said that I should have gotten a “C.” “No,” Sister said, “you should have gotten an ‘A.’ For the semester you will either get an ‘A’ or another ‘F.’”

One of her requirements was writing five pieces ranging from science to fantasy. I got a “B” and a hankering to write things from Sister. 

2. What is your writing specialty?


3 How would you describe your writing process?

On longer work, I outline. I have self-published three novels, and my outlining process, I tell myself, has matured from book one to number three. I will say, with the outline of the first novel, the only part of the outline that stayed the same from project launch to completion was the ending. I revised the outline a number of times when the writing process disclosed narrative strings that refused to weave together. I must have tried one hundred beginnings on the first one before I finally settled on one to go with. I have been writing seriously for six years now, and I think I have developed an ability to envision story structure for shorter pieces without a formal outline. Bottom line, my process is to plot the story before starting to write.

4. What is the best part of being a writer? The worst part?

The best part is getting an idea for a story. The worst, the absolute, totally sucks, part is finishing a book-length work. I get wrapped up in the characters, the problems they face, and I hate to let them go. It feels like a funeral.

5. What is the best writing advice you’ve received?  The worst?

I’ve said this before, but in my first year with C&C, Lou said, “Your story is just a stupid men-drinking-in-a-bar story. I’m just not interested.” Which prompted me to revisit the question, “Whom are you writing for?” Which I hadn’t really answered properly for myself. It was frank, to the point, and majorly true.

I don’t consider any advice I’ve gotten bad. Some I don’t agree with, but I always think about every input I get. Even advice I totally agree with, I try to find other thoughts that spin off the original input. Good writing is harder than work, at least any work I’ve done before. My brain is majorly limited, so I am happy for every bit of critique that comes my way.

6. Which books on writing you can recommend for other writers?

I don’t have books on writing to recommend, but I do have a couple of books that I think are worthwhile to read for learning about writing. Eudora Welty’s The Optimist’s Daughter, and James Baldwin’s The Fire Next Time. I recommend reading them more than once.

7. How has belonging to Coffee and Critique benefitted you?

Coffee and Critique has been the world to me as a writer. Submit five pages to our group, and by the time the piece circles the table, it will be better, I don’t care how good it is at the start.

8. If you’ve been published or have won awards, which are the most special to you?

I published my third novel, Noble Deeds, in November, 2013. It is set on an aircraft carrier.

I had a poem published in Writer’s Digest 7th annual poetry competition. My input was chosen as number 10 out of 2000 + entries. That was cool.

9. What three words best describe you?

Lucky, blessed, short.

10. What are you working on now, and/or what is your writing dream? 

I am working on collection of short pieces, some of which, in my mind at least, are funny. Plus I am getting close to finishing a first draft of a fourth novel, a piece of historical fiction set on an aircraft carrier in 1971 deployed to Vietnam.

Bonus question: If you could interview one or two famous writers or historic figures living or deceased, who would they be and what would you ask them?

What I wish is that I could have been at the Sermon on the Mount. I would have liked to hear the words (in English, please). My mouth would probably have been hanging open. It wouldn’t have been able to ask a question.

Finally, is there anything you’d like to add?

I have a website at

And yes, ma’am, thanks.

Thanks for your candid and insightful interview, Jack.

Note: You can listen to Jack talk about his inspiration for Noble Deeds on YouTube


Louella Turner said...

Love your interview, and although I don't think I was quite so mean in group that day, I'm glad you listened.I'm with Donna in thanking you for your service. Because of people like you, I live in a country where I can be as lippy as I want.:)
And thank you for finding our critique group, you're a pivotal member now and give advice as good as you get. Keep writing and keep being Jack.

Dianna Graveman said...

Thanks for the great interview, Donna! And thanks to Jack for his insightful responses. C&C seems like such a great group, and I just have to stop having conflicts on Tuesday mornings so I can get over there and benefit from the advice of its great members.

Donna Volkenannt said...

Hi Dianna,
You are welcome. Hope you can come to C&C some Tuesday. We would love to have you!

Sioux's Page said...

Jack--#10 out of over 2000? That is amazing.

And short? When you're sitting around a table with other writers, everyone is the same height (more or less).

Donna--Thanks for doing the interview, and Jack,
C&C is lucky to have you as a member, just as you are fortunate to belong to the group.

Marcia G. said...

Thx Donna and Jack. Jack is one of my favorite writer/poets. His humbleness has something to do with that. His "always learning" attitude is refreshing, especially considering his illustrious career. We made quite a first impression on each other that still makes me chuckle.

Margo Dill said...

I have to say I laughed out loud at Jack's answer about Lou's critique. AHHH, I wish you guys were a bit closer to me. Maybe someday I can come back when Katie is in kindergarten. Jack, I enjoyed your interview very much! :)