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Q&A with Zachary Sergi - This Pact Is Not Ours

By Eva Frederiksen

We are honoured to welcome Zachary Sergi to The Reading Corner to talk about his new release, This Pact Is Not Ours, released on the 3rd of October 2023.

The summer before college Luca Piccone returns to Copper Cove, the idyllic campsite he and his closest friends have visited every year since they were kids. To Luca, Copper Cove is like the setting of the fantasy movies he loves, a sanctuary, protected from the dangers of the outside world, where nothing goes wrong and everything stays the same.

But this year things are changing.

Desperate to make this summer the best one yet, Luca tries to ignore the freshly torn rifts within his tight friend group, the pangs of unrequited love, the anxiety attacks he thought he’d left back at school, and the shadows at the edge of the forest threatening to break free. Until he learns the terrible truth.

Every generation the children of four families are bound by a pact. A pact designed to keep the camp pristine and the monstrous force lurking beneath the campsite imprisoned. But in order to do this, an unthinkable price must be paid--a price that has soaked the previous generations in blood. Can Luca keep his friends, and his favorite place, from being ripped apart?

By the end of the summer, only one thing is for Copper Cove will never be the same again.

This Pact Is Not Ours

Please tell us a little about yourself in the form of a short bio.

Of course! I’m a queer author of Speculative & Interactive Fiction, including the print novels This Pact Is Not Ours, Major Detours and So You Wanna Be A Pop Star?, plus the digital Heroes Rise, Versus, and Fortune The Fated series. I grew up on the Lower East side of Manhattan and attended Regis High School, then studied Creative Writing at the University of Pennsylvania. I’ve lived in Los Angeles for 13 years since graduating. My greatest loves (aside from my family, friends, and husband) are superheroes, real housewives, reality talent competitions, pop music, and spooky thrillers.

For your protagonist, Luca, Copper Cove is an unspoiled space where he feels safe and free to be himself – a world whose rarity makes it feel…fragile. To anyone who knows how vital such a space can be, Luca’s efforts to protect it – even from his own emotions – will feel achingly relatable and skin-pricklingly foreboding. How did you come to realise that a place like Copper Cove would be such a great setting for a coming-of-age queer horror?

When it comes to Copper Cove as a very special-setting summer-place, that all comes directly from reality. Copper Cove is inspired heavily by Silver Bay, a real place on upstate New York’s Lake George where my family has gone every August of my life, basically. I think there’s something unique about recurring summer vacation settings, this space coated in summer vacation freedom, unburdened by the pressures of home, and where we have long-term relationships that are mostly untethered to our actual home-lives. Silver Bay has always felt impossibly special and perfect to my family, and we often try to answer why on family car rides. We never had a summer home or went on big family vacations—one week every August on Silver Bay’s camp-like campus was the one thing we did/could afford every year.

Anyway, I’ll always remember the moment this novel concept solidified: I was reading We Were Liars on my brother and sister-in-law’s couch and three things dropped into my mind: I need to write a drama set at my own special summer place, one that explores why it’s so special—and what if there’s a spooky/supernatural price to pay (loaded with social allegory)? That’s when the idea for the pact came to me—and we aren’t revealing that ahead of publication, but once the twist is revealed, anyone who knows me/my writing shouldn’t be surprised by the shock/stakes they’re in for! Also—and this rarely happens to me—the title came to me pretty instantly in this moment, which is rare before any kind of plot/characters are even considered.

While dealing with the spiralling weight of intergenerational trauma and the potent, weary resignation that comes with it, This Pact Is Not Ours feels bright, hopeful and determined. How did you go about striking such a fine balance of tone in your writing while keeping the stakes so high?

Within my own brain, there are two narratives always on loop: our world is deeply broken, and what can we be doing better with modern tools and knowledge? A lot of my writing has strived to explore the a societal-allegory question (hopefully) without providing a clear answer. My ultimate goal is to get readers to consider something from several perspectives and make an informed decision about the answer for themselves—perhaps that’s my interactive fiction background surfacing.

That’s the first pillar of my own mission statement as a writer. The second? Have as much fun and be as propulsive/dramatic as possible. I think it’s most important to be entertaining and emotional first and foremost, then if anything feels educational, that’s an added bonus. I owe a great debt to two of my greatest inspirations for this tone-balance: The Handmaid’s Tale (which became my favorite novel back in college in 2007, before the Hulu fanfare) and Buffy The Vampire Slayer, which mastered the drama/stakes/banter/despair/hope formula.

In the world of This Pact Is Not Ours, the truth is a dangerous, volatile thing. Whether held in silence or spoken aloud, the truth constantly corners people as they try to protect those they love. I was blown away by how that dilemma was woven into the terrifying mechanics of the world of Copper Cove. Was this something you specifically wanted to explore within a horror story?

Absolutely. In the real world, there is rarely such a thing as a pure villain: there are complicated people with complicated experiences and motivations. One person’s hero is often another person’s villain—and the “truth” plays a huge role in that equation. One of my core beliefs is the best way to understand someone is to understand what they want/need above all else. If you can pinpoint a person’s motivations, their actions always make way more sense. (In America, given our reverence to capitalism, that answer more often than not is wanting success defined purely by monetary compensation. So many American evils can be traced to valuing money above all else—but that’s an answer for a different novel).

Anyway, this is all to say, there are no pure villains in Copper Cove—even the “evil force” behind the Pact is revealed to have some unexpected layers. And given the intergenerational trauma, it always feels easy to blame our parents—but when it came to the truths being kept within our teen friends, they start to make some of the same mistakes as their parents. That doesn’t mean we can’t find ways to do better—but doing better usually requires making a mistake to begin with. And in this novel, mistakes happen to cost lives.

Ultimately, I think every person alive has withheld the truth from someone we love with the intention of protecting them. This Pact explores that dynamic, from things very small scale to devastatingly large.

This Pact Is Not Ours is not just a breathtaking horror, but also an intimately emotional read. Were there any scenes that were particularly challenging to write?

Two spring to mind. The first is the big scene where the truth of the pact is revealed. That is perhaps the only scene in the novel where the entire cast of core characters, teen and adult, are in one room together. Not only was I attempting to balance the informational delivery of the pact in a dramatic and well-paced way, I had to manage the reactions and emotions of eight characters all at once. My Tiny Ghost editor Josh was integral at finding ways to fine tune the pacing and make sure everyone got enough attention, including breaking it from one chapter into two (among many, many other changes).

The second is the scene between Luca and his Mom towards the end of the novel. I can't talk much about it without spoilers, but that conversation was originally about three times as long, because it covers so much complicated ground. Every pass I tried to chip it down to its core, and I think what we are left with (hopefully) feels potent. I think every parent/child has a version of this conversation as teens become adults: the “oh you’re not a perfect person, oh you left me with all this baggage, oh it’s up to me to solve this now” kind of moment. It doesn’t usually have to do with an intergenerational haunting physically (lol), but it certainly does emotionally!

Your work, which also includes interactive series and digital novels, has inspired a huge amount of creative engagement and fan art. What does it mean to you that you are able to give your readers a voice and a space of their own in the Sergiverse?

It's the greatest privilege of my life/career. I don’t always strike the right balance in providing adequate reader choice, or in terms of simply offering a question without answering it, but since I’ve been publishing publicly since I was 23, book to book I think you can track my own growth as a writer and a person pretty clearly. Growing up as a queer person in New York City, diversity, intersectionality and direct-wealth-juxtaposition have always felt deeply normal to me, and it has remained a privilege to get to capture that for audiences. And never before have queer young adult stories mattered more, given the challenges our community now faces. But the struggle always exists right alongside the joy for any marginalized group, and I always want to stive to shine a light on both.

I’m so glad to have had the chance to read This Pact Is Not Ours, and I have no doubt that this story will prove as meaningful to readers as it is engaging. What do you feel is the most powerful tool we can use to transform the literary landscape into a place of genuine diversity and inclusion, in which more stories like this can reach a wider audience?

This is an incredibly tricky question to answer, but I’ll try my best! As someone who has been (in many cases) forced to publish in indie spaces outside the mainstream, I can absolutely say there is a disconnect between what I have seen audiences want from me, and what editors are empowered to publish. There are a lot of rules in traditional media that simply don’t serve anyone, but still feel impossibly entrenched. I think social media has pushed us a step in the right direction, empowering the voices of readers. That said, algorithms are not the answer (I’ve never, not once, gone viral in all my years as an author, so perhaps I’m biased).

Ultimately as an author, I really really really desperately try not to over-think the size or makeup of my audience (I fail at this often, but still). Ultimately I settle on the stories that feel most vital to me as a queer-representing author, try to tell the most honest and engaging story possible, and then try to wiggle them around until they find a home. As an author, I have lost any preciousness about the prestige of any platform—a story is a story, and as long as it reaches an audience somehow, I’m happy. And I think the more readers in general stop placing value in things like bestseller lists or prestige platforms and start simply supporting the content they love most, the better off we’ll all be!

Can you recommend any other books that fans of the Sergiverse might feel at home reading?

Always! Of course, there’s the trio of novels that most deeply inspired this one: The Handmaid’s Tale, We Were Liars, and The Hazel Wood. I am an incredibly massive fan of everything Kristin Cashore has ever written, but especially Jane Unlimited. Same goes for Melissa Albert and Our Crooked Hearts. I also think This Pact Is Not Ours might stand to reach a new audience, so I’d be remiss not to mention my own debut print novel, Major Detours, which lives in the lightlyspooky tarot card road trip realm.

I can tell this is one book I’ll definitely return to over and over. Where can we get hold of This Pact Is Not Ours?

Anywhere books are sold! I always tell friends and family that to the author royalty bottom line, it doesn’t matter where you purchase the novel, and boosted visibility on every platform has its unique advantages. That said, supporting your local indie bookstore is always the best for everyone involved, for countless reasons. And in places that’s not possible, sites like support indie bookstores. That said, books can be expensive, so truly zero shame if a seller like Amazon needs to be your game!

This Pact Is Not Ours

Zachary Sergi is the queer author of the young adult novel This Pact Is Not Ours, the print Choices novels Major Detours and So You Wanna Be A Pop Star? and the digital Heroes Rise, Versus, and Fortune The Fated series. Zachary was raised in Manhattan, studied Creative Writing at Regis High School and the University of Pennsylvania, and now lives in Los Angeles with his husband, where he also writes for television and on several “Sergiverse” series for digital platforms. Zachary’s writing focuses on Young Adult Contemporary & Speculative Fiction and New Adult Science Fiction.

Zachary's Instagram: @zacharysergiwriter


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