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Jason Hinojosa is the acclaimed author of The Conception of Zachary Muse. He taught literature and creative writing in Florida and Hong Kong and currently teaches at Brentwood School. In the last decade, he has lived and worked in Hong Kong, India, and Rwanda and now lives in Los Angeles. He has published a number of short stories and won two literary awards.
Author photo © Jason Hinojosa
Below is a Q&A with this author.
1. Can you describe your new book The Conception of Zachary Muse?
The Conception of Zachary Muse is a love story. It’s about nature, art, faith, and beauty; it’s about the transformative power of romantic love. It’s also a very personal book. It’s not my first book to be published, but it’s the first book I ever wrote, and I think my innocent enthusiasm is apparent. I wrote the book for a girl I was in love with at the time, and the story is lush and lyrical and sexy and sincere. And I suppose I should add that the girl I was writing about – she inspired the character Evangeline Muse – is now my girlfriend.
2. When did the story for The Conception of Zachary Muse first start to take shape?
Almost five years ago now, I was traveling in Vietnam. I’d spent about two weeks going from south to north, and eventually I reached Hanoi. I’d rented a motorcycle and made my way through the foggy mountains to a little farming village. A family there let me stay in a room on the second floor of their stilted farmhouse. I remember looking out at the flooded rice paddy and thinking about the girl I was in love with, and I remember seeing the moon’s reflection in the water that night. The story just started to become clear. I’d been living in Hong Kong, and my trips to The Philippines, Thailand, and Cambodia had all been building a catalogue of imagery in my mind. Flowers and beaches and trees and waves all started to combine and become the mythical village in The Conception of Zachary Muse. My fantasies of “Evangeline” and my visions of tropical paradise answered my growing need to express all the things about my life that were changing, and that still needed to change.
3. Has your work as a creative writing teacher affected your work as a writer?
Yes, very much so. It may even be fair to say that my life as a teacher has made my life as a writer possible. Both practically and creatively, my teaching has improved and informed my writing; it has forced me to carefully consider each element of story telling, especially the revising and editing processes.
4. Do you believe there is a connection between travel and writing?
Yes. I don’t usually write in a formal way while I travel, but I often take very detailed notes. I’m also a lot more open to new emotional experiences while I’m traveling, and even though I can’t always understand or process those experiences until I return home, I do draw from my emerging knowledge of unusual places and exotic cultures.
5. Is this book autobiographical in any way?
The Conception of Zachary Muse is a love story, and it’s also an honest expression of my thoughts and feelings during a thrilling time in my life. Two of the main characters, Will Archer and Thomas Greene, are definitely fictionalized versions of myself. They long for the things I longed for, and they are flawed in the ways I was flawed. Thomas Greene is a lonely intellectual in love with a beautiful young woman, and Will Archer is a self-indulgent artist struggling to be vulnerable. These characters were expressions of what I was feeling at the time. That said, I hope and expect that these archetypes will appeal to readers in a universal way too.
6. Why do you think a reader should read your book?
I believe readers will find The Conception of Zachary Muse beautiful and personal. Most people who read early drafts seemed struck by the poetic writing style, the descriptions of nature, and the mysterious magic that pervades the book. Beyond that, I believe – and I hope – readers will see themselves in the book’s characters. Although an average reader might not identify as an intellectual or an artist, I think the journeys of transformation that each character goes through can be meaningful to anyone; I sincerely hope that readers will be inspired by the humanity, dignity, and genuine goodness of each character.
7. The book offers the readers a complex account of nature’s triumphant influence over man’s life. Why do you think so?
I’ve always felt the spiritual power of nature, and The Conception of Zachary Muse is a testament to that. I heard a reader say once that she thought nature was as much a character in the book as the people were, and that’s true in many ways. Nature profoundly influences the characters: they respond to it, suffer because of it, and feel overwhelmed by it. Nature is everywhere in the story, and that’s what connects the characters to each other. They each feel isolated at times, but they are always within the beautiful matrix of the flowering world around them.
8. Tell us about your writing background prior to teaching.
I’ve always enjoyed writing, and began to take it seriously as early as my teenage years. I wasn’t very focused then, but I felt the power of words and felt the other-worldly bliss of harnessing them. It took me a while to learn how to sustain a story over time; my first projects were poems and short stories, and although I look back on those short works with fondness, I believe the longer works I’ve written are better and more meaningful. That’s one of the reasons why I love The Conception of Zachary Muse, and why I’m so excited to see it published: it really is the middle point between my naïve life as a daydreamer and my professional life as a published writer. The book admits of both innocence and experience, and I believe that’s the edge we often seek as writers and readers, and perhaps even as human beings. In The Conception of Zachary Muse, I believe readers will feel and understand the magic that surrounds a first creative bloom.
This compelling, allegorical tale of the transformative power of nature, the devastatingly positive and negative effects of love and the power of feminine beauty is frankly hard to categorise. The writing is evocative and lyrical and the story has more than an echo of Paulo Coelho’s The Alchemist - we think everyone will get something different out of this novella. A 'Piece of Passion' on The Conception of Zachary Muse from the publisher... 'Jason Hinojosa’s The Conception of Zachary Muse is a story set against the backdrop of natural exuberance and the utmost manifestation of artistic brilliance. The story opens with the birth of Zachary Muse. His mother Evangeline Muse gives birth to her baby and then returns to her home with the newborn and falls asleep beside a man named Will Archer. But it is the first time they embrace and Will Archer promised her that he will love her for the rest of his life. The novel’s twin characters, Thomas Green and Will Archer, both fall in love with Evangeline Muse. As the story moves forward we see visible changes in all characters. Thomas Green’s psyche undergoes a thorough change following his voyeuristic discoveries. Will Archer transforms as a result of his visits to the village prostitute, a battle with a water serpent, and a spiritual healing brought on by a scorpion’s sting. Though Zachary Muse’s parentage remains the central motif of the narrative, the entire story is much more than the revelation of a birth mystery. It offers the readers a complex account of nature’s triumphant influence over man’s life and the genius of artistic manifestation which can both drive a person to insanity or restore him to life. It is story about the power of feminine beauty and the devastating and transformational effect of love.' Suman Chakraborty, Executive Editor, ROMAN Books. Click here to listen to Jason Hinojosa speak about this book.
A subtle and compelling debut novel about a suburban American family coming to terms with its tragic and shameful past. Exploring themes like sexuality, voyeurism and death, there is a constant mood of suspense that leaves readers breathtakingly waiting for the ‘fearful truth’.