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Local author Jerry Zolten visits Tyrone Area High School

Scripting a novel is not easy.
It’s not as easy as coming up with an idea and sitting down at the computer to punch it out.
The idea has to be refined. Months and sometimes years of research must be completed. The writing itself can also take years.
Then, an editor must proofread the copy before it is sent to a publisher (if you can find one that’s interested in the work). Finally – and if its accepted – it needs to be promoted.
Sound easy? It’s not.
Ask Jerry Zolten. The Warriors Mark resident and recently published author, traveled to the Tyrone Area High School on Friday to tell students just what it took to complete his latest offering to the literary world – Great God A’Mighty: The Dixie Hummingbird and the Rise of Soul Gospel Music.
“The thing I tell people the most is that if you have ambitions, try to break it down into little digestible steps that you can do,” said Zolten, who became interested in writing after drafting his first published story for a collegiate newspaper during his student years. “Attack it one step at a time. That way, you won’t get overwhelmed.”
That was his approach to The Dixie Hummingbirds, which was published this year by Oxford University Press. The 364-page novel details the rise of the famous gospel group from its roots in the 1940s to its 1974 Grammy-winning collaboration on “Loves Me Like a Rock.”
Zolten explained the information gathering was the toughest facet of his novel writing experience. Toughest, yes. But easily the most enjoyable step of the process.
He said during his researching period for his novel, he dug far and wide for information. He read books, looked at microfilm, purchased items from online auctions and, of course, talked to people.
“I needed to go to the source,” said Zolten. “I had to talk to the band members, people who knew the band and everybody in between. Luckily, the founding members of the group were still alive in their 80’s in Philadelphia, so I was able to talk with them.”
The brunt of these one-on-one speeches, according to Zolten, came from the band’s founder, James Davis. Zolten said he spent between 10 and 20 hours interviewing with Davis.
“Even after that long, there was still work that had to be done,” said Zolten. “I had to take the tape home and transcribe all the information. That took even more time.”
Zolten said after he spoke to the band members, friends of the band and others who were influenced by its music, it was time to sit down and put everything together.
“I don’t think my family saw me much while I was writing,” said Zolten.
So he wrote…and wrote….and wrote.
Once completed, he sent the 600-page manuscript to his publisher. After reviewing it, the publisher returned the document to the author and said it was too long – they wanted just 400 pages.
Finally, after all the revisions were made, the book was published and can now be found on bookstore shelves all across the country. The item retails for $30.
In addition to his extensive writing career, which includes books about public speaking as well as about gospel music, Zolten also teaches a Penn State American Studies course at Penn State, Altoona. At times, the college speech professor has played the role of producer – especially when he coordinated the production of a CD for the black quartet The Fairfield Four.
At those rare moments when he has the opportunity, Zolten even will pick up his guitar and perform with some local musicians.
In addition to his speech, Zolten also showed a short video and offered a question/answer session with the 25 students who were in attendance – all classmates in Rich Merryman’s Ninth Grade Academy English class.