An Interview with Kenneth Zak, author of The Poet’s Secret

Book Cover_High Res

Kenneth Zak is the author of The Poet’s Secret:

In The Poet’s Secret, Elia Aloundra, a young lit student, sees the reclusive poet Cameron Beck recite a poem at a campus pub before he vanishes—for a second time. Ten years earlier, Beck had dropped from the public eye, leaving only an acclaimed collection of odes to an anonymous muse and a decade of speculation over his disappearance.

Elia sets off in search of Beck, longing to know the man whose words have moved her so, hoping perhaps the ghost poet will unveil the secret to eternal love. What she doesn’t know is that as her quest begins, Beck is perched atop a cliff on a remote Caribbean island and about to attempt suicide. As Elia faces off with Beck’s protective circle on the exotic island hideaway, the same island where decades earlier a Spanish shipwreck entombing mystical Aztec relics was found, she finds herself swept up in the mystery of the muse. What Elia cannot fathom is that Beck’s secret will change both their lives forever.

Read on for Kennth Zak’s interview.

Q. What was the inspiration for The Poet’s Secret?

A. At the time I wrote The Poet’s Secret, I was on a personal pilgrimage. I essentially took a three­year sabbatical, sort of an adult “time out,” and embarked on a new path. I dedicated myself to explore the meaning of life and love and particularly the arc of passion. I became consumed by the idea of living in the present, honoring the “now” as the only real moment in time, the only authentic eternity, which allowed me to both disconnect and connect like never before and let go of the constructs of past and future as fictions created by the mind. I gained a new appreciation for relatively brief moments and encounters as having potentially profound effects. I was living abroad, reading, writing, surfing and slowing down my existence.

The tale that became The Poet’s Secret was conceived in a hovel perched atop a one­table taverna in the hillside village of Avdou, just a scooter ride from the blue waters of the Aegean Sea on the island of Crete. I was sequestered alone, halfway around the world from my home, and recovering from a life, and a relationship, that had left me hollow, or at least I thought at the time. But it turned out words kept flowing out of me, first in raw, chunky verse that faintly resembled poetry and then in images and scenes that bore an even fainter resemblance to a novel. For months I wrote, swam in healing waters and disappeared into this remote, antiquated Greek village. I had never done anything like that before, but at the time it was the only existence that made any sense.

So many miracles happened during those months. I experienced a cleansing, a healing and an awakening, and I began to perceive light and water and imagery and words and the souls around me like never before. I eventually returned to California, and then traveled to Bali, Mexico, Costa Rica, Thailand, Cambodia and South America, following the sea and surf with laptop in hand and continuing to write. The backstory to writing The Poet’s Secret is a story in itself.

Q. How did you select the locations for the novel?

A. It was tempting to set the bulk of the novel in Greece, a country I adore. However, as the story evolved the compass for the island setting spun toward the West Indies, and the story’s life raft washed ashore on the fictional island of Mataki. I was fortunate to spend a good part of my sabbatical on tropical islands and coastal villages that certainly informed the setting. As for the early campus setting, I based it on a fictionalized version of my beloved alma mater, The Ohio State University.

Q. The novel is filled with excerpts of poetry, which came first, the poetry or the narrative arc?

A. Most of the poetry was written before any narrative took form. The poetry came in often painful and soul­searching flourishes, and then was revised over time. There is a line in The Poet’s Secret where Dean Baltutis refers to the poet’s inspiration being “survival.” That is precisely how it felt at times. I also wanted to combine both poetry and prose into one novel and attempt to slow down the reader a bit at the beginning of each chapter to contemplate and absorb the poetry, to be in that moment so to speak, before continuing on the narrative journey.

Q. Water imagery is abundant throughout the novel, what is the particular connection for you with water and particularly with respect to this novel?

A. I was thrown onto a swim team at age 8 even before I passed beginners swim lessons (I was terrible at the back float). But water soon became my life and in many ways my salvation. Throughout my youth I swam, played water polo, lifeguarded and hung around Lake Erie in northeastern Ohio. Somehow, I didn’t even see an ocean until I was 18. But I recall climbing out of the backseat of a Datsun 210 hatchback (or what they claimed to be a backseat) after driving for twenty­two hours to Ft. Lauderdale for spring break and telling my college buddies to just pick me up in a few hours. I was mesmerized. I sprinted into the Atlantic Ocean and swam and bodysurfed until dark. Today, I surf or swim almost every day. I feel like I am about eighty percent water, the remaining twenty percent made up mostly of curiosity and mischief.

Much of the water in the universe is said to be a byproduct of star formation. I’m no scientist, but I like the way that sounds. Because when I look up at the night stars it feels a lot like gazing west an hour before the sun dips into the sea, at least at my secret little spot by the water. Flickering diamonds scatter everywhere along the surface, and if I squint just right, I forget the sea is even there. Instead, it looks like a galaxy of stars shimmering right into me, washing across my heart, reflecting off my smile and filling me with the belief that I can just float away into the universe. So I often do.

Spiritually, water often represents purification and healing. To me, water represents so many things, perhaps most importantly love and life and the sacred feminine. I once nearly died underwater while surfing in Uluwatu, a place few have ever heard of and even fewer have visited. But I know on so many occasions water has saved me, water has healed me, and water has reset my compass when I have been spinning in some uncontrollable vortex. So for me, my life and my love seem to be tied to returning to the great aquatic source, again and again, maybe just to fill the chasm that still exists in me, and maybe to some degree still exists in all of us.

I have been fortunate to swim with sea turtles and dolphins in the wild on many occasions. When I stare into the eyes of a sea turtle or a dolphin I cannot help but believe that they understand this great aquatic connection, a connection beyond humanity, beyond species, beyond even the stars. So when I am writing about passion, heartbreak, healing, life and love, it is only natural for me to write in a particularly aquatic language and style.

Q. How did your professional career as an attorney influence your writing and how do you balance the two careers?

A. I think practicing law actually spurred my interest in creative writing. While I was in private practice, I felt constrained by the form restrictions requisite within the legal profession. I also felt a lot of legal writing often served more to obfuscate than illuminate and writing poetry and fiction allowed me the freedom to explore and express myself in a different medium. The Poet’s Secret is not “another lawyer’s courtroom thriller” in any respect, nor am I particularly drawn to that genre since I’ve lived it. Nonetheless, my legal career (now as General Counsel for a large private brokerage company) is both fascinating and challenging. I draw some inspiration from the poet Wallace Stevens who for years continued his vibrant writing career while an executive for an insurance company. As far as balance goes, my evenings and weekends are spent around the keyboard as much as possible.

Q. Talk about your involvement with 1% for the Planet and The Surfrider Foundation.

A. Perhaps only a poet would give away money before it is even earned, but that is what I felt compelled to do given my love of the ocean and conservation causes. In addition to ocean swimming, free diving and water polo, I have been an avid surfer for nearly two decades and have surfed around the world. Subtle conservation themes are laced through The Poet’s Secret, but my love of the ocean and our planet is anything but subtle. I hope to leave this world and particularly our oceans better than I found them. Penju Publishing’s membership with 1% For the Planet and my pledged donations to The Surfrider Foundation are an effort to spread awareness, give back and pay it forward.

KenZak_headshot_hiresBorn in Parma, Ohio, Kenneth Zak is an aquatic nomad of Bohemian-Polish ancestry. As a lad, he dove into Lake Erie in search of a silver coin. Decades later, he surfaced off the island of Crete with a tale filled with mystical sea turtles, sunken treasure and a young woman’s search for a reclusive poet, his muse and the myth of eternal love.

A summa cum laude graduate of The Ohio State University with a Bachelor of Science in Business and special interest in Art History, Zak went on to receive his Juris Doctor and follow the waves to California. He eventually shut down a successful law practice in quest of a deeper purpose, freeing his creative self in a mountaintop village in Crete where he began his debut novel, The Poet’s Secret, continuing work on the manuscript and his poetry in Bali, Costa Rica, Thailand, Cambodia and South America.

An avid surfer and free diver, Ken’s passions also include reading, music, ocean swimming, the Tibetan Rites and yoga. He currently serves as General Counsel for a large private brokerage company and resides in San Diego, California. Learn more at

Guest Post: Best Tips for Beating Writer Burnout


By James A. Rose – InstantPublisher

Stress and burnout can make it very difficult to accomplish your goals. James A. Rose outlines various ways to deal with writer burnout and help you get back on track.

Burnout is a major concern in many careers. Some causal factors seem to be excessive hours and unconventional stress on the mind or body. Some sources for this stress might be gruesome experiences common in law enforcement and military, sitting all day, a requirement for consistent creativity, and pretty much any type of customer service. What all of these situations have in common is the requirement of the worker to perform tasks for which the human body was not primarily designed. Unfortunately, these kinds of duties are common in modern society.

As a writer, you are probably subjected to abnormal stress levels from a number of elements. Long hours sitting – check; long hours starring at a screen – check; forced creativity and tough deadlines – check; and we all know you can’t rush the creative process, which is why eighty percent of what comes out of Hollywood is crap. Even if you write for personal reasons you may still struggle to make time for your writing amongst your busy schedule. Writer burnout can lead to poor work, depression and physical health problems. Continue reading

Ebook Review: Three (Book 3 of The Godslayer Cycle)

three_ron_glickThree by Ron Glick (Book 3 of The Godslayer Cycle)

Everyone has a past that affects their present – but not many have their present affect their past.

The latest sword has awoken, but it is unlike any of the others that have come before. Three is not a sword that controls perception or elemental power, but instead gives its wielder mastery over time itself. What better way to destroy a Godslayer than to send him to a time before he ever was one?

And without the Godslayer in the present, who can possibly stand against a conspiracy of immortals seeking revenge against their errant parents, the Gods themselves?

Three is the third volume of the Godslayer Cycle, the nine book epic destined to redefine the power of divinity within fantasy fiction forever.
Continue reading

Displaying Ebooks in New Ways


By Pebble Technology [CC BY-SA 1.0 (, via Wikimedia Commons

It’s not just ebooks that are disrupting. Technology that displays ebooks is changing, which has led to some potentially creative new ways to read books, or at least to look at them.

On Publishing Perspectives, Bob Pritchett wrote about what needs to change in publishing, including the fact that the length of the book should not be tied to the genre, books should be able to keep changing (like Wikipedia), and authors should make efforts to have relationships with readers, the way musicians have relationships with fans.

With that in mind, here are some interesting projects that could potentially lead to new ways to display ebooks:

  • Kindle footwear. According to GoodeReader, there was an Indiegogo project by iShüu Technologies that uses eink for shoes. “You can control the patterns and colors via a mobile app and automatically change the color, based on your outfit.” It seems like you could, in theory, display the text of books on your shoes as well.
  • Smartwatches. Smartwatches have been around for a few years, but the recently released Pebble Time has color eink. A new way to read picture books, perhaps?
  • Flexible display. According to The Digital Reader, “The Graphene Center at Cambridge University, in partnership with PlasticLogic, […] revealed [last year] the first graphene-based flexible grayscale display.” The press released explained that “Graphene is a two-dimensional material made up of sheets of carbon atoms. It is among the strongest, most lightweight and flexible materials known, and has the potential to revolutionise industries from healthcare to electronics.”
  • Media rich ebooks. This one isn’t a new idea, but there was a successful Kickstarter campaign for Screentakes, an interactive script analysis. The first book had interactive graphics, and well integrated videos, photos, and charts, added in a way that forced the reader to interact with them.

Fun to think about, right?

Indie Author Marketing Guide: A Primer to Social Media

By geralt [CC0], via Wikimedia Commons

By geralt [CC0], via Wikimedia Commons

Social media is a big part of indie author marketing strategies these days. But for those just starting out, it may seem daunting. When I first began using social media for platform building, I felt slightly overwhelmed. But now, after lots of practice and just incorporating social media into my daily routine, I’ve come to embrace it. And instead of seeing it like a chore, I see it as another way to connect and interact with people, and I’ve been able to build real relationships through it.

Here are a few things I’ve learned along the way. (And if you want guidance on how to overcome the feeling of being overwhelmed, read Your Writer Platform’s “Are You Building Your Writer Platform at Gunpoint?“)

Don’t use social media just to sell books

Kristen Lamb’s “Social Media, Book Signings & Why Neither Directly Impact Overall Sales” goes into depth on why this is not a good strategy, but basically you don’t want to spam people/just make noise, and you will not develop any real relationships this way (meaning, you won’t attract real fans).

Rachel Thompson suggests spending more time online finding people who may be willing to review your books, and she gives a list of suggestions in her article “Why ‘Read My Book!’ Doesn’t Work…And What To Do Instead

Focus on one or two platforms first, then build from there

Facebook. Twitter. Instagram. Pinterest. Google. Youtube. Goodreads. LinkedIn. Tumblr. The list goes on and on. You can be active on all these channels, but it’s probably best to pick one or two and work on growing an audience there first. Every social media channel works a little differently, caters to a different audience, and has savvy users who expect others to use the network a certain way. The Book Designer’s “Do You Make These Online Marketing Mistakes?” offers tips, such as establishing one audience per channel and using landing pages.

Social Media Just for Writers also recommends researching your target market and then choosing your social media platform based on that in “How to Stop Wasting Time and Focus Your Book Marketing.” For advice on Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, Pinterest, and YouTube, read DBW’s “The Book Marketing Social Media Hierarchy: Which Sites to Use for Which Purposes.”

Business Insider broke down the demographics of some of the social media platforms. According to them, the 45- to 54-year-old demographic is growing, “27% of 18 to 29-year-olds in the U.S. use Twitter,” LinkedIn and Google+ are mostly male, Pinterest is mostly women on tablets, and Tumblr is mostly teens and young adults.

Eventually you can expand into other platforms. For a case study on why, read Kate Tilton’s “Why I Use Different Social Media Networks (And You Should Too) by @K8Tilton.”

For help determining which platform is best for you, read these articles:

Strategize how you will build your platform

Erindor Press’s “Platform Building Primer” is a good start, and advocates setting expectations and figuring out the best way to share content, either via blogging, email newsletters, or something else (and you can use social media to promote that content).

The Loneliest Planet shared a post, called “One Writer’s Platform (Part 2) Events and PR,” which goes over techniques of marketing offline (such as doing public readings and lectures) but also adds that it’s worth taping these performances and uploading them to Youtube to share.

Use lots of images/visuals

People tend to engage more with posts, tweets, etc. that are visual. According to Rebekah Radice’s “5 Steps to Get Massive Engagement With Your Visual Content,” “43% of social media users share pictures.” She recommends having consistent colors, using templates, appropriate fonts, and to create infographics, images, and videos.

Build Book Buzz recommends creating different types of images, including picture quotes, tipographics, and infographics. For tips on how to actually create these images, read Social Media Just For Writer’s “Writers: Use Visuals to Market Your Books.”

Make use of social media tools

Here’s a list of resources, along with helpful tips and links to additional tools:

Keep up to date on new platforms and tools

Lastly, the social media landscape is constantly changing, so it’s good to stay up to date. One example of a relatively new tool/platform is Aerbook, which according to PW turns social media into a virtual bookstore. Earlier this year, Social Media Just for Writers wrote about how indie authors can use Aerbook, which allows you to share previews and even sell ebooks on social media networks, as well as see analytics on your shares.

According to the article, there are three product plans to choose from:

Aerbook Retail is free, no credit card required. It gives you the social look inside the book, email capture popups within the sample, stats on how the book is used, and the ability to share the link and also get web page widgets that launch the Aerbook. This plan lets you sell the book directly through Aerbook, and our service earns 15% of the purchase price after credit card fees are deducted.

Aerbook Plus gives you everything Aerbook Retail delivers, plus lets you add links to other retailers, like Amazon, iBooks, or even your own purchase page. Aerbook Plus is $49 per year.

Aerbook Flyer includes everything above, but there’s no direct sale through Aerbook’s commerce service. You’ll add links to other retailers. Flyer also lets you do book giveaways, and includes 500 directly delivered, complete books annually. Flyer is $99 per year.

Got any social media tips? Please share in the comments!

Ebook Review: Chaos Company

chaos_companyChaos Company by Christopher Slayton

Chaos Company follows a team of genetically enhanced soldiers hunting down a powerful mercenary who killed the team’s leader. During their hunt the team is forced to go AWOL and their abilities will be pushed to their limits as they engage with a ruthless private military company before coming to a final showdown on the Brooklyn Bridge.
Continue reading

Writing and Sounds

By Luis Lima89989 (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

By Luis Lima89989 (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (, via Wikimedia Commons

When it comes to writing, people don’t always think about the sounds that are involved. But sound is one of the senses you can write about and explore, in both fiction and non-fiction.

Live Write Thrive has a great post on sounds in novels, called “The Sound of … Sound in Novels.” It describes different types of sounds, such as natural sounds, which are part of the environment, expressive sounds, which may be amplified to help show a situation, surreal sounds, which are imagined, and emblematic sounds, which can draw focus to a particular moment. These types of sounds can be found in films, but writers can also make use of sounds, as symbols, as characterization, or even to show movement.

Writers can now add actual sounds to their work, or at least to ebooks. Using the platform Booktrack, authors can add soundtracks to their ebooks.

According to Booktrack’s website, Booktrack synchronizes music, effects, and ambient sounds to text to make reading a more immersive experience.

Mashable wrote that Booktrack “debuted as an iOS app focused on professional authors like Salman Rushdie; a total of 40 titles sold more than 250,000 downloads,” but then pivoted in 2013 to become a platform where “writers can embed songs from a catalogue of 20,000 licensed audio files, adding mood music, ambient audio and sound effects to play in tune with story lines, paced to a user’s reading speed.”

The Booktrack website has a special section for authors, which explains what Booktrack can do for them:

Authors and publishers can easily create their own Booktrack by choreographing their stories to Booktrack’s extensive library of over 20,000 free-to-use music and ambient audio tracks. The Booktrack library is rapidly expanding with our users who have already created more than 12,000 short stories and novels in 30 different languages. Booktrack has nearly 2.5 million readers in 150 different countries looking for stories like yours.

As long as you own the rights to the text, or the story is public domain, you can create a soundtrack for the book and publish it.

Booktrack has also expanded to offer services to classrooms, to help boost creativity and retention.

To learn more about the process of creating a soundtrack for your ebook on Booktrack, read “How to Create Your First Booktrack (and Get 2,000 New Readers)” on Jane Friedman’s site. It’s a guest post by Laurence MacNaughton, detailing the process. Basically, you upload your text and choose sounds. See also “Create a Booktrack (Soundtrack for Books)” on Worderella.

Have you ever used sounds to enhance your story? Please share in the comments!

Indie Authors: A Look at What It Takes to be an Authorpreneur

By Arntor (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

By Arntor (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0 (, via Wikimedia Commons

Indie author entrepreneurs, also known as authorpreneurs, are becoming more and more common. Being an authorpreneur means managing your own business, and in addition to writing books, includes design, marketing, converting to ebooks, selling, and even creating products around your books, such as online classes. Continue reading

International Literacy Day

Today is International Literacy Day. Grammarly ( has made a helpful infographic that sheds light on the importance of literacy. According to Grammarly, 757 million adults age 15+ cannot read or write. UNESCO started the very first International Literacy Day on September 8, 1966, but there is still a ways to go.

Literacy Day

Indie Author Marketing Guide: Twitter

Screen Shot 2015-08-25 at 10.31.31 AM

Twitter is one of the largest social media platforms, and when used correctly, can really help boost an indie author’s platform.

According to Social Media for Writers, “23 percent of online adults living in the United States are active on Twitter.” The post also breaks down the demographic of Twitter users, down to age, gender, education level, and more.

When you sign up for an account, you choose a Twitter handle. All handles begin with @, so for example, my Twitter handle is @sabsky.

Twitter has really expanded its functionality over the years. Of course, the main way to use Twitter is to communicate in short 140-character messages (and also photos and videos if you choose). After you sign up for an account, also known as a Twitter handle, and upload your cover photo, profile photo, and fill out your bio, you are ready to go. Twitter is often used to sign in to other apps or websites, and you can now even purchase items directly from Twitter (see more in your Settings tab, which pops up when you click on your profile image). Continue reading