Zach Powers has a book coming out!
In fact, by the time the ink from this magazine is drying on your fingers, or more accurately your thumb scrolls down these words on your smartphone, “First Cosmic Velocity,” will be available for purchase the world over, or at least on the internet—which is essentially the same thing. But also at local, independently owned bookstores like The Book Lady Book Store and E. Shaver, Bookseller.
“First Cosmic Velocity” (Out officially Aug. 6 on G.P. Putnam’s Sons/Penguin Random House) is an alternate history of the Russian space program in 1964.
After launching five manned ships into orbit, none of the cosmonauts have successfully returned, the press release reads. In an effort to cover his failures, the Chief Designer uses twins to fake success, by sending one to space and having the other masquerade as the returning hero.
Sounds fun! According to Do Savannah’s “Well, Lit” book review column, “This book is fantastical, yes, but it is also clear-eyed, original, and an exciting read.”
Powers was born on April 29, 1980 at 8:04 p.m. at Pinkie Masters with a saxophone in one hand and a glass of Powers Irish Whiskey in the other. Actually, I have no idea where he was born. He probably had a saxophone though. Not important. Moving on.
Later, he went to New Orleans for a spell to learn how to play said saxophone and then returned to Savannah a master musician, hungry for more literature apparently.
(Also, John Powers, senior of the Powers’ family, father to Zach, is a bona fide musician as well who plays regularly in town and can be found at every single St. Patrick’s Day Parade ever held in Savannah. He is immortal and time is a flat circle.)
Upon his return to Savannah, Powers, Joseph Schwartzburt, Christopher Berinato and Brian Dean—later joined by esteemed personnel such as Gino Orlandi, Ariel Felton, Jenny Dunn, Alexis Orgera, Erika Jo Brown and B.J. Love—started a nonprofit literary group called Seersucker Live in 2010.
Billed as “part literary reading, part talk show and part cocktail party,” they held over 50 shows (possibly more) with hundreds of authors, poets, and essayists participating. Flocks of Savannahians packed the house each time to see famous writers, with famous college degrees from famous writing programs and such, reading beautiful, poignant and powerful things they had written on paper. Sometimes locals would read too. (I did it once. It was cool.)
These Seersuckers regularly programmed exceptional literary-based events, which were super nerdy, ridiculous, musical, hilarious, heart-warming, life-changing and informative.
This one time, Erika and B.J. got engaged at a Seersucker Shots—the poetry reading offshoot they started. That was cool. Then they jettisoned to Houston, Tex. so Erika could become a doctor of poetry.
Seersucker made Savannah a great literary hub for years, bringing scores of acclaimed writers through the city and inspiring a host of young writers.
Powers also wrote a column about booze, “The Proof,” for Do Savannah during those years and hosted some of the best themed parties in the city.
When he moved to D.C., Seersucker Live sputtered out, much like the failed rocket ships in his new book. But there was no twin here to fake success. Unfortunately for us.
But, the now legendary event returns with a special edition. Which is fantastic. Seersucker rises! Sputnik rides again! We’re going to the moon! #BringBackTheShuttleProgram
The Launch Episode will feature Powers, as well as Beverly Willett, who just released her memoir "Disassembly Required," and writer Brandi Benson, who released "The Enemy Inside Me," earlier this year.
In the spirit of this special re-launch episode of Seersucker Live, we’ve asked Schwartzburt and Berinato to point the spotlight on Powers, for a change, with a Seersucker-style Q&A.
For more good fun, go to the event on Aug. 9 and buy a book. The illustrious Book Lady Bookstore crew—longtime supporters of Seersucker Live—will be on hand to push all three books. Also, if you purchase one of those books, you receive free admission to the event.
Joseph Schwartzburt: Who the hell are you? We don’t know you anymore. Living in D.C., rubbing elbows with all the swamp things. Who are you, man?
Powers: “I’m still the same humble writer y’all have known for years...wait, hold on a sec. Got a call coming in.... Sorry, that was Liz. Elizabeth Warren. She calls me for policy advice. Not as often as Bernie. That dude won’t leave me alone. What was I saying?
“So, yeah. I have the new novel coming out. I’ve been in D.C. for two and a half years, but I finished the novel five or six years ago. The book, at least, is still 100% Savannahian. Almost all of it was written at Gallery Espresso in the mornings before work.”
Do you still like to time travel at night?
“I’m more of an evening time traveler now. I get up too early in the morning to pull off the late nights. Yes, I’m blaming my schedule and not aging. You’d think, what with the time traveling, that such issues would take care of themselves, but that’s why I’m the time traveler and you’re not.”
When will you admit that the superior pizza in Savannah is a Little Caesar’s Hot-n’-Ready and not Vinnie’s?
“Dude, I grew up on the pizza-pizza of Little C’s, but Vinnie’s is an absolute institution and should be included on all tours of Savannah. I also used to go to the original Mellow Mushroom in Atlanta when the original was also the only Mellow Mushroom. My point being: the best pizza topping is sentiment.”
If your writing career falters, how prepared are you to make the switch to professional Ping-Ponger?
“As soon as I live someplace with more than two rooms, the third one is getting a ping pong table. And now Steph is playing, too! We could play for hours every day. We could play so much that I no longer have time to write. Ping pong itself will become the reason my writing career falters.”
Christopher Berinato: Many readers may not know about your obsession with the anime television series “Naruto: Shippuden.” Which character are you, and what is YOUR way of the ninja?
Powers: “You’d be surprised at how many of my author talks digress into discussions of Naruto with another fan in the audience. Popular consensus is that I would be Shikamaru. He’s not the strongest of the ninjas but is the master strategist. Shikamaru’s also the best at wasting time. My ninja way is ‘don’t be a jerk.’ Let’s not be jerks, but let’s be ready to use our ninja powers to fight them.”
When an action figure of you is inevitably produced—as part of the ‘Amazing Articulated Authors’ toy line—how would you like to be posed on people’s shelves?
“Before I figure out a pose, I need to know what my accessory would be. Like, Melville would get a harpoon, Murakami a cat, Rowling a magic wand. Wait, can I get a space dog? If so, then my pose would obviously be kneeling to pet it.”
What was it like to be shot into space when researching your novel?
“As you know, I suffer from severe motion sickness, so I was too doped up on Dramamine the whole time to really remember much of it. The International Space Station was nice, though. 4 out of 5 stars. No pool.”
Your father speaks Russian and your brother is a rocket scientist. How did they help inspire "First Cosmic Velocity"?
“Growing up, my brother watched every space shuttle launch. He may have even skipped school for some of them. I don’t know that for sure, but I’m going to enter it into the canon right now: my brother, the space truant. But yes, always being exposed to space (in the metaphorical sense, not in the excruciating death by vacuum sense), made the subject familiar from the start.
“As for Russian, my dad didn’t speak it around the house. I blame the Cold War. The neighbors probably would have called the FBI on us. The first time I read an excerpt from the novel in public, a fluent Russian speaker was sitting in the front row. Fortunately, there aren’t many Russian words in the novel, and she was kind enough to not mock my horrible mispronunciations. I’ve practiced some since then.”
HOW WE MET FAMOUS AUTHOR ZACH POWERS:
Joseph Schwartzburt: I first met Zach Power’s in a dream I had about Savannah in 2008 before I ever moved here. He had less facial hair then and his voice sounded like that of Patrick Stewart. Zach spoke and rainbows misted from his mouth. “Move here,” he said in technicolor. “Bring seersucker shorts. Reversible ones. Traditional pinstripes on the one side and a plaid option on the other. You can wear them at this reading series that will start in two years. People will really dig the shorts.” Turns out, folks, that the astral plane Zach Powers is a liar. The real one? Well, he's a Barbie dreamhome of a person.”
Christopher Berinato: Zach approached me in 2010 with an idea for a “get-rich quick” scheme involving a nonprofit literary performance series that we eventually called Seersucker Live. Although we didn’t get fabulously wealthy from inviting nationally known authors to read their poetry/fiction/memoirs to literature loving audiences, we did help grow a literary community in Savannah and we’re pretty proud of that. Zach’s latest “easy money” scheme is to publish the most exciting debut novel of the year, win all of the awards, and dominate the New York Times Best Seller list. I think he is on track with the brilliant and poignant First Cosmic Velocity. (And thanks to Zach's endless help and encouragement, I have my own book, Secret Savannah, out in October.)
Joshua Peacock: Eight years ago, Joseph Schwartzburt was the first person I met in Savannah. Well, actually, it was Capt. John Briley U.S. Army Infantry, who was Joe’s neighbor—and a friend of my brother, Capt. Jared Peacock U.S. Army Logistics. Joe was the second person I met, technically. Anyways, when I told Joe I was a “writer,” (a ridiculous thing to share with anyone) he immediately said, you have to come to Seersucker Live. I had no idea what a seersucker was, but agreed because he seemed very sure that it was a good idea.
That was my introduction to a community of excellent writers here in Savannah who helped galvanize the last eight years of both my personal and professional life. Joe was the one who suggested I “should write for Do.” Now, after a strange confluence of meandering events, I’ve become the editor and Joe and Chris write for me and have kids and stuff. Life is weird.
I remember my first Seersucker Live event. Well, maybe not. But I went to them frequently and when I could, donated my time and money. Seersucker was, for me, life-changing. These events reminded me that I wasn’t alone in my love for all things literature and that my passion for writing was shared by a bunch of awesome people in this really strange city I decided to call home. I owe a lot to Zach, Joe and the entire Seersucker crew: when I moved here, I was facing a crisis of faith and an existential longing for something I had gone too long without, community.