Interview with Author J. W. Zarek

J. W. Zarek is known for his award-winning book: Naughty or Nice – Whose List Are You On?” And the bestselling book, The Happiness Code, co-authored with Ray Brehm and others. In Zarek’s new epic fantasy adventure, The Devil Pulls the Strings, small-town musician Boone Daniels’s panic attacks and a wendigo stalking him is a daily challenge. The gig he fills in for involves a centuries-old war between two secret societies, a cursed Romani immortal, Steampunk vampires, and Baba Yaga, over a sinister scheme to play a rare Paganini piece to summon the Devil. Will this haunted musician be able to defeat the supernatural, in a race for time and the fate of modern-day New York City? Continue reading for an exclusive interview.

No, but three distinct events placed me on the writer’s path. 

In sixth grade, the teacher had the class write a scary story about Halloween. I can’t remember story details, but I’ll never forget the teacher’s expression, a smile splashed across their face, and how the story made them feel. 

Then in tenth grade, I transferred in the middle of the semester to Forest Hills High School. The English teacher was mad most of the class failed the previous week’s test. “I can’t believe no one did well on last week’s test. Okay, you all read Macbeth by Shakespeare last year. I want you all to write a paper about Lady Macbeth and what you think she did or did not do and turn it in before class ends. Okay go, and you better not disappoint me.” Then he sat down and read the NY Times.

My throat tight, my swallow stuck. I didn’t read Macbeth last year. I never read Shakespeare. I leaned over to the guy in the chair to my immediate left, “Who’s Lady Macbeth, and what’s Macbeth about?” I whispered.

“Lady Macbeth convinced her husband Macbeth to kill the king, and then felt guilty after, and killed herself.” he whispered back.

“Okay, thanks.”

I finished my paper and turned in it, and in the next class the teacher said “It’s good to know most of you know your Shakespeare, but two of you know Shakespeare better than anyone else, and they’re going to read their paper in front of class.

The teacher called up a student near the front and he read his paper, and it was pretty good because he wrote he was Lady Macbeth’s attorney, defending her in court. He finished and sat down.

Then the teacher thanked the student, and said, “I gave that paper an A,” and then he called me up to read my paper, and I said I didn’t want to out of embarrassment, but he said he’d fail me if I didn’t, so I shuffled up to the front of the class and read my paper where I’m Lady Macbeth’s criminal psychologist at Riker’s Island Prison Facility treating Lady Macbeth, and I wrote the paper like it was a play, and as the paper progressed, Lady Macbeth’s condition worsened, and she took her own life, and at her funeral I questioned if treatment provided helped, or if she, Lady Macbeth was finally at peace.

After I finished the teacher told the class “I gave that paper the only A+ in class, because this student knows his Shakespeare.” I thanked the teacher and took my seat; happy I passed.

And it was during the summer I was seventeen years old and worked as a camp counselor at a sleep-a-way camp. I’d make up bedtime stories to get all the seven-to-ten-year-old boys to go to sleep. All the kids liked and loved my stories, and I remember adults who eavesdropped, would ask, “Did that really happen?” And the power to captivate through storytelling stuck.

I’ve written or co-authored three books, and plan to write one hundred books, so ninety-seven more to go. But its tough to say which is my favorite because everything I write is a labor of love.

When I worked at the FBI and finished my thesis on red flag behaviors found in relationships, the significance to red flag behaviors is once you see them, you can’t unsee them, and naturally adjust your actions to help keep yourself safe. This paper earned me an invitation to present the paper at the world’s first forensic congress in China. This paper evolved to become my first award-winning book, Naughty or Nice – Whose List Are You On? and is available as a handout item during lectures.

Bestselling author Ray Brehm invited me to co-author the bestselling book, The Happiness Code, and all participating authors share their own personal Happiness Hacks used, you can incorporate into your own life. Who doesn’t want to have and know greater happiness in their life?
And my third award-winning book, The Devil Pulls the Strings, I wrote to honor the hero’s journey and infuse Slavic mythology and the many faces of the mother of all witches, Baba Yaga, in a modern-day setting. This book was the most fun to write.

The Devil Pulls the Strings is the pulse-pounding first tale in the Archivist series.

Set in modern-day Wentzville, MO, New York City, and 1813 Genoa, Italy, weaves bromance, Slavic mythology, secret societies, Paganini’s music, and time travel.

Twenty-two-year-old Boone Daniels has problems, debilitating panic attack, gut-wrenching guilt, a wendigo haunting him since age six, and now he almost killed his best friend in a joust. But when he fills in for his injured friend at a New York gig, he goes to meet the gig’s contact at his NYC brownstone. A body falls from the brownstone balcony and the place explodes with gun fire. Boone barely escapes but uncovers a sinister plot to perform a rare Paganini piece that summons the Devil to trap Baba Yaga and destroy modern-day New York City.

He then finds himself on a race through time, to capture the cursed melody. Along the way, a Romani immortal, steampunk vampires and Baba Yaga set the stage for war, and Boone shall have to risk death for redemption. All Boone wants is to keep a promise to a friend. The same friend, he almost killed last Sunday during a joust.

Can a small-town Missouri musician outplay the supernatural and save NYC’s soul? 

If you like when tortured heroes, epic battles, time travel, twisted history and secret societies collide, then you’ll love this spectacular page-turner.

The Devil Pulls the Strings as seen on ABC, CBS, Fox, NBC, Tickler News Live, and the NY Post, received the Firebird Award, the Literary Titan Award, the International Review of Books Badge of Achievement, made Chanticleer’s Mystery and Mayhem Shortlist, and Chanticleer’s Fantasy Long List.

This book received Five-Star Book Reviews from Book Viral, Clarion, Chanticleer, Literary Titan, readers on,,, Reader’s Favorite, and listeners on

And the book’s cinematic trailer selected to move forward in the American Golden Picture International Film Festival competition.

The protagonist Boone is consumed by music and food, so showing this resulted in multiple revisions. 

Here’s an excerpt from a scene where Boone, sees his love interest, Sapphire Anjou for the first time in a dress:
“So, what do you think?” Sapphire’s voice beams over my shoulder.

I turn. Tom Petty sings in my head “Free fallin”. A stunning red satin shoulder’s bare cocktail dress covers Sapphire’s curves perfectly.

“Earth to Boone, how do I look?” She slow-spins with one palm up. “It’s a Dolce and Gabbana.” She scans my face with a fierce intensity. An obsessive musician stare. That familiar artist addict’s stare. A stare that states I’m ready for my next musical high. To absorb, to breathe in, to consume every note. To learn, to fidget, to fiddle, to fixate, to play, to sail with every nuance written in the bars. Yeah, it was that kind of a stare.

The same stare on my face when I see the perfect sandwich and know it’s mine.

But the greatest challenge was to show what the protagonist Boone, experiences traveling through a quantum tunnel and wormhole was an interesting challenge, because I haven’t personally done this yet, and what exists in fiction tells more than shows. Four revisions of back and forth with my line-by-line editor Suzanne Purvis, before the scene below flowed well through Boone’s Point of View (POV): 

My mouth goes dry. My eyes go wide. “What the—” My hands stretch to the ceiling and door rest, and I brace for impact. The light’s intense. I squint and lean away from the brilliance.

The illumination grows from the light, engulfs the cab. The vehicle sways, shakes, vibrates. Every cell in my body shivers.

I struggle to lean forward, and I look at the girl.

“Are we floating?” My head floods with euphoria.

“We are floating,” the girl says, a tremor shaking her lips.

Slow-moving knotty molasses ripples through every muscle, nervous prickles slow dance up my spine. Time diminishes to a clumsy creep-crawl, then


I can’t move. I can’t speak.

The cab shakes, then launches forward violently. Goosebumps surge across my skin. My blood pulses and pounds through my veins. My face and cheeks oscillate. My stomach flutters frantically.

Bright scintillant colors streak past. The intense luminosity collapses, vanishes in a flash.

I open my mouth to scream, but nothing comes out. I swallow but can’t taste. I move my lips and teeth but can’t feel them. I breathe in deep, but no air moves up or down my nostrils. I look around, but I can’t see. Darkness. Black. I reach out to feel, but my arms won’t move.

Blinding light burns.

Then, my eyes adjust. The world comes into view. The cab, the girl, the driver. I look out the window, and my gaze lands on the passenger-side mirror back in its proper location. The bullet holes on the hood are gone.
I slap my chest, thighs, and knees.

“I’m here. I’m okay. Are you both okay?”


Rich, intense luminescence bathes and showers us. A flood of here-and now awareness ripples through me.

“Here we are, folks. 35 West 4th Street. Please sing some lines from a New York City song.” The cabbie is calm, as if nothing happened.

“I can’t sing,” the girl says.
“How about you, Mister? Please sing some lines from a New York City song.”

“Wait, what? What just happened?” I look from the girl to the driver to that damn outside mirror that, minutes ago, I watched explode.

The cabbie repeats himself.

“You want me to sing you a song? Why?”

“You’ve heard of sing for your supper?” he says.

“Yes, but—”

“Well, this isn’t a normal cab, and we just got shot at, and I’m not a normal cabbie,” he says. “But I’m feeling good saving your lives. So, yes, sing some lines from a New York City song, and you can go.”

It started with a question I asked about the violinist, Niccolò Paganini – What if a rumor about Paganini was true? 

Paganini, born in 1782, was the first Rockstar of his day, and is known as the world’s greatest violinist who revolutionized violin technique.  And rumor has it, his mother gave Paganini’s soul to the Devil so Paganini could be the world’s greatest violinist. 

Imagine a world where that’s true. Then you’d be immersed in the world of The Devil Pulls the Strings.

Folks who love where time travel, twisted history, secret societies, Paganini’s music and one haunted hero collide.

Hope and faith can help get you through the most challenging circumstances.
Boone’s a survivor, stalked by an evil spirit, a wendigo, since he lost his parents during an attack when he was six years old. Then he almost kills his best friend Flynn, during a Renaissance Faire joust. In the hospital, Flynn makes Boone promise to take his NYC gig, because Boone knows the band’s set. And from the moment he arrives in NYC, everything escalates, and no matter what gets thrown at Boone, he must figure how to deal with everything encountered, because all he wants to do is keep his promise to his friend, the same friend he almost killed during a Renaissance Faire joust.

I intend to write the second book in the Archivist Series, and a book about the Domovoi, their nine clans, culture, and conflicts. Bestselling author Adam Hogue invited me to co-author his next book, by authors for authors, filled with stories, cautionary tales, step-by-step instructions, and more. Bestselling author Brian Wright invited me to co-author his next book, The Best Lessons I learned from My Dad. And the best lesson I learned from my dad involves a pair of earmuffs and a football helmet. 

Thank you for this interview. Interested folks can find me online, at https//, Twitter, and Facebook.