Saint Ursula Academy English teacher Zack Hacker is officially a published novelist. His book, Cut Reality, was released this spring after two years of work.
Cut Reality is part murder mystery and part psychological thriller. The main character Jason Debord returns home from filming a reality TV competition show and must seek clarity following the surprising death of one of his co-stars. He believes he’s uncovered criminal conspiracy, but has to decide if he can trust his beliefs while under the watchful eye of the public. The story plays out as a murder mystery with elements of a psychological thriller.
Hacker, who is beginning his 6th year at Saint Ursula, has published academic work and pieces of journalism in the past and is working on a screenplay, but this is his first book. We asked him to share some details about the process of writing his first novel and what he learned in the process.
Q: What is the most challenging part about writing a book and getting it published?
A: I couldn’t believe the amount of processing time that I needed before I felt the book was ready to publish. I knew that revision and editing were lengthy processes, but it took nearly eighteen months of work after finishing the writing. Changes and adjustments take a lot of thinking through, and there were times when I had four different versions of scenes or chapters that I couldn’t decide between. The best solution for me was to set it aside, work on something else, and when I came back to it, the details became clear in my mind. There was never a moment that felt like a finish line – there are still probably parts I could go back and edit now, but I’m really pleased with the final novel.
Q: What surprised you the most through the process?
A: There were a lot of surprises, including how much support I’ve received, how much I’ve enjoyed the marketing process (which I thought I’d dread), and the number of other novels I outlined just to procrastinate from finishing the book. The biggest surprise, though, was personal. I experienced overwhelming self-doubt and imposter syndrome at nearly every phase of writing and publishing – and it’s something I still feel now, to a much smaller degree, as I watch reviews come in. This surprised me, because I’ve never been someone who was afraid to speak their mind or put themselves out there. So, in the process of seeing my work out in the world, there’s been plenty of introspection as well.
Q: Do you plan to write a sequel or do you have additional books in the works?
A: I don’t plan to write a sequel to Cut Reality. Once you get to the end I think you’ll understand why, because there’s not much story left to tell after the final chapter. That book was always a standalone novel for me. As for future works, I do have a book I’m currently working on. There’s no title or anything yet, but I plan to be finished by the end of the year and can say a bit about the plot. It’s a coming-of-age fantasy novel about a recent college graduate who must come to terms with her recently deceased father’s secret life.
Q: How do you balance your writing with your role as English teacher at SUA?
A: I think that teaching and learning need to function hand-in-hand for the best outcomes. I feel that my role as a teacher, and getting to interact with SUA students on a daily basis, pushed me to explore more of my interests, skills, and made me more creative. If you look at the acknowledgements in my book, the last thank you goes out to all of my students, past and present, because seeing their creativity and passion come out in the classroom always keeps me pushing myself. Teaching can be a very involved profession, but I feel that having your own projects is one of the best ways to stay dynamic and effective as an educator.
Q: What are your goals for the future?
A: I set some modest goals in terms of readers and reviews for Cut Reality’s release, and those have been met, so I’m excited to continue getting the book more exposure and collect more feedback that will help make me a stronger writer. The next novel is well under way and something I hope to finish this summer before I get ready to teach some new technology classes for the first time. Otherwise, my goals are just to keep doing the things I love the most: teaching, traveling, reading, and writing.
Q: What is something your students don't know about you?
A: Tough question – I teach a lot of very inquisitive students, so they know all about my three cats, love of reality TV (especially Survivor, hence the plot of Cut Reality), oysters, Dungeons and Dragons, and murder mystery parties. I’ve talked about how terrified I am of mascots in costumes (no offense to whoever happens to be wearing the Bulldog), and I’ve told my favorite travel stories as ice-breakers for years. I guess they may not know that my wife and I are very cliché “high school sweethearts” and actually went to the same grade school. We’ve been inseparable since our early teens and have never broken up.
Q: What is some advice you can share with your students about pursuing their dreams and goals?
A: Don’t be afraid to fail, or of the attention that comes with success. Missteps are growth moments - no one expects you to be amazing at anything quickly, and you’ll learn so much about yourself in the process. Also, everyone likes when other people create things or put themselves out there and will be supportive. For me, the biggest hesitation is getting feedback from other people, but for every negative reaction I’ve received there have been dozens of people supporting me.
Q: Besides teaching English, in what other ways are you involved at SUA?
A: I moderate Mock Trial and Dungeons & Dragons Club. I led a service trip to Appalachia this summer, and plan an educational trip to Germany and Switzerland in 2020. Unofficially, I’m at the top of PE Chair Julie Perry’s “do something embarrassing at a pep rally” list.
Interested in reading Cut Reality? You can find it on Amazon in hardcover, paperback, and ebook.
“Thanks to everyone who has asked me about my book, listened to me talk about it, messaged me, or otherwise supported me through the process,” said Hacker. “It's written in my acknowledgements, but it's great to work somewhere that gives me the encouragement and energy to continue to pursue creative projects of my own.”