Episode 36

The Age Gap Summer Beach Read with Author Zachary Downing

On today’s episode we speak with author Zachary Downing, a coming-of-age novelist who enjoys writing funny and relatable characters trudging through the everyday, frantic and transformative trials of life.

His first novel, Flounder, was published in 2022, and concerns a college Freshman who stops going to class, but keeps going to parties. Downing wrote it to be the crazy college version of “The Little Engine That Could.”

In 2023, Downing has published his second novel, Manhattan to Montauk, which involves a whirlwind summer romance between a 22-year-old man and a 17-year-old woman. Set in 1995, in New York City and the Long Island vacation community of Montauk, this book examines early-adulthood love through changing seasons, setting and circumstance.

You can purchase Manhattan to Montauk and Flounder, through his website: zdowning.com. You can also follow Zach on Instagram at: Zachary_Downing_writes.


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Shawna Rodrigues 0:00

Welcome to Author Express. Thanks for joining us today. I'm Shawna Rodrigues, one of your hosts, and the founder of Authentic Connections Podcast Network, which makes this podcast possible. This podcast is where you discover the voice behind the pages of your next favorite book. And I'm excited about the author we have for you today.

Shawna Rodrigues 0:20

l, Flounder, was published in:

Zachary Downing 1:13

Thank you for having me.

Shawna Rodrigues 1:15

I'm excited for our conversation today. We start you off nice and easy. So, do you want to just give us a little sense of something interesting from where you are from?

Zachary Downing 1:25

I am from Long Island, born and raised. It's just east of New York City. It's very suburban, if you're not familiar, it has a little bit of that New York City flavor. People often commute in or they used to before, so much remote. And it's also a great summer beach part of the country. It's where part of my book takes place. Montauk is on the very eastern end of Long Island and people come out to vacation during the summers.

Shawna Rodrigues 1:56

Very cool. You live vacation land year round then, right?

Zachary Downing 2:01

Well, I live closer to New York City than Montauk. Mine is pretty standard suburbia. Probably a little bit more condensed, congested than other people's suburbia, though. But yeah, I did go to college, upstate New York. So, I do have the more rural flavor as well, that I like to escape to every once in a while.

Shawna Rodrigues 2:24

Oh, nice. So, to get to know you a little better, who was your closest friend growing up?

Zachary Downing 2:29

Oh, you're giving me some tough choices.

Shawna Rodrigues 2:31

I know we started hard.

Zachary Downing 2:33

Cause I might hurt some buddies feelings. I have like a core four, high school friends that I'm still very close with. We're all pretty much in the same area. One friend, Ari, takes the cake because I met him in second grade or something.

Shawna Rodrigues 2:50

So, he's known you longest?

Zachary Downing 2:52

He's known me longest, in a way he is the first person that I bounce a lot of story ideas off of.

Shawna Rodrigues 3:00

Oh, nice.

Zachary Downing 3:00

And in another way, he's like my toughest critic.

Shawna Rodrigues 3:03


Zachary Downing 3:04

So, it's really good in a way because he's brutally honest. And I've known him long enough that, you know, we have thick skin with each other. And I know what to take note of and what to disregard.

Shawna Rodrigues 3:16

Oh, nice. It's good to have people like that that will keep it real so that you can get that honest feedback, because that's really important with writing, right?

Zachary Downing 3:23


Shawna Rodrigues 3:23

yes. So, with writing your most recent book, what was the hardest part of the book for you to write?

Zachary Downing 3:30

difficult. It takes place in:

Shawna Rodrigues 4:03


Zachary Downing 4:04

ding the subways at night? In:

Shawna Rodrigues 4:40


Zachary Downing 4:41

And 46th street and 8th avenue, was okay to walk by again. You know, when the Lion King and rent came there,

Shawna Rodrigues 4:50


Zachary Downing 4:51

then it became hip again, you know, or people felt comfortable there. So, it was very nuanced. I think, the line of demarcation was, You've Got Mail.

Shawna Rodrigues 5:01

Oh, really?

Zachary Downing 5:02

I read this somewhere around:

Shawna Rodrigues 5:26

Oh, that is such interesting trivia. So, that is incredible how much you've managed to work that layered into your book with the setting of New York. So, LBI Montauk, was that like, a transitional time there, as well or more just in the city during that window of time?

Zachary Downing 5:44

Yes, Montauk has always been an interesting vacation community, because it's not the Hamptons. The Hamptons, is a vacation community that's probably a little bit more expensive, a little bit more old money. And Montauk is a strange mix of it's an old fisherman's community, it's at the very end, it's a family spot, but it's also still a party town. And it's interesting, it has all those dynamics. And I kind of tried to weave all those dynamics in. So, I went there as a kid and I experienced just the fun of with mom, dad, and my sister going to the beach. And then I've also, you know, as you get older, see it as this hip party town for young people. And it kind of ties into the theme of how summer is at is its own existence.

Shawna Rodrigues 6:33


Zachary Downing 6:33

in a certain way.

Shawna Rodrigues 6:34


Zachary Downing 6:34

You know,

Shawna Rodrigues 6:35

especially at those ages.

Zachary Downing 6:36

Those ages, and almost when you're, young love. There's like a built in expiration date with summer, which is so strange that you know, after Labor Day, who knows what's going to come with this? And you can't really get away with that other times of the year.

Shawna Rodrigues 6:51

Yeah. Or, other times of your life. Yeah.

Zachary Downing 6:53


Shawna Rodrigues 6:56

Which is kind of a new thing.So, doing that research and trying to find those pieces, because that's not stuff you can research as easily. It's like talking to people and trying to find those nuances of this shifts and transitions in the scenes and places you're using them.

Zachary Downing 7:08

Yes, I interviewed people just kind of about summer partying, and even back in the 90s. And a lot of people said, yeah, it's for some reason the summer people feel a little bit looser, you know, and there's the whole summer love thing. And it's very interesting. And I asked what were the hot clubs that you would go to and I tried to make sure with Montauk, especially ahead specificity with those clubs, because I knew that I'd have locals that would say, that part wasn't around yet. You know, no one went there on a Tuesday night. Everyone was here on a Tuesday night, you know.

Shawna Rodrigues 7:41

Oh, all those little pieces. Definitely. So, with your writing process and your journey, what is one thing that you wish you would have known sooner about the process of writing either of your novels, but this most recent novel, what's something you wish you knew sooner about it?

Zachary Downing 7:56

With my first novel, I discovered quickly that it's a discipline. You can't just do it, when you're inspired, you have to sit down every day and just write a little bit. With this book, I think I was trying to figure out the structure. With novel writing, I find that it's sort of like, jazz, where there's a basic structure, but it's also very free, you can go to different places. And that's why readers like novels, because you're taking it in directions that aren't formulaic, like the TV show. But at the same time, they want to be entertained. So, I was trying to figure out, okay, I want to do kind of a summer-fall comparison, I kind of want to do vacation, work life comparison, you know, fun work. And so, I kind of want to split the book in half, but I still have to have a general arc. So, I kind of have to make two separate set pieces glued together, in some ways similar, in some ways stark, so, I was trying to figure out how to do that structurally. And I hope that people think that I accomplished it.

Shawna Rodrigues 9:01

Yes. And writing romance, there's not a lot of men that write in romance. So, was that exciting for you? Or you just felt like that's what the story needed, and that's where the story brought you?

Zachary Downing 9:10

Well, yes, I've been told that I cannot technically claim the romance genre because that has a very set structure and conventions that those readers look for. I believe I have crossover appeal. I think romance readers would like my book, but it's more like, romantic coming of age. If I had to say an author that I would aspire to, it would be, Nick Hornby who did about a boy and High Fidelity, where he kind of shows a protagonist kind of coming of age going through a life lesson. But there's a strong romantic aspect as well.

Shawna Rodrigues 9:48

I like that. I like that you're able to interweave that. That's really exciting. That a lot. So, with your writing, what book or story inspires you the most? Would you say that his work is what you would say is inspiration? Or do you have something else in mind for that?

Zachary Downing:

High Fidelity is definitely, will always be very top of the list. I love the book, the movie, the TV show, the musical. That character is, in all of its iterations is a little bit more of a moral stretch for people.

Shawna Rodrigues:


Zachary Downing:

they're morally ambiguous than my character, Chris. My character, Chris is not as challenging, I think for readers. But I would say the book that most thematically inspired my book is The Pigman by Paul Zindel, which takes place on Staten Island. And I actually have like a very personal connection to it, because a lot of the streets named on it are close to where my dad grew up.

Shawna Rodrigues:


Zachary Downing:

so, I've actually, I've kind of been to the book locations before.

Shawna Rodrigues:

I love that.

Zachary Downing:

But it's, yes, it's kind of a young adult book, more on maybe closer to middle grade. But I would say one of the themes of the book is accountability, you know, kind of that coming of age thing. You know, there's the fun things about being an adult. And then there's, you know, the important things, you know, of being an adult. And I kind of, you know, tried to weave the theme of implied responsibility. Things that no one's going to tell you. This is what you have to do like, to get your driver's license, you know, there's just kind of things you have to kind of parse and figure out on your own, and just kind of how difficult that could be. What are your obligations? Especially, with how you treat other people.

Shawna Rodrigues:

Yeah. Oh, that's great. That's very good. I like that. So, what is the best place for folks to be able to find you and stay connected to you?

Zachary Downing:

Yes, you can easily find my most recent book, Manhattan to Montauk, and my first book, Flounder, through my website, it's zdowning.com. That's ZDOWNING.com. And you can follow me on Instagram, I'm Zachary_Downing_writes. So, that's ZACHARY_DOWNING_WRITES.

Shawna Rodrigues:

Wonderful. We'll have that for you guys in the show notes as well so you guys can connect and follow Zachary. So, congratulations on these books, both of them and their continued success. Very exciting. Perfect summer read. That's great.

Zachary Downing:

Yes, thank you so much, Shawna. Thank you for having me on today.

Shawna Rodrigues:

Yes, thank you. Thanks for joining us. I hope you take a second to give us a review or a couple of stars on your favorite podcasting platform. And we'll be here again next Wednesday. Follow us on Instagram, @AuthorExpresspodcast, to see who's coming up next. Don't forget, keep it express, but keep it interesting.

About the Podcast

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About your host

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Shawna Rodrigues

Shawna Rodrigues, Founder and Director of Impact at Authentic Connections Podcast Network, Host of The Grit Show (https://podcast.thegritshow.com) and Author Express (https://bit.ly/AuthorExpressPod) and coming in 2024- Authenticity Amplified. Shawna is a Podcast Mentor, Internationally Best-Selling Author (www.shawnarodrigues.com) and consultant.
Find her on Instagram @ShawnaPodcasts.