Mission Hills man shakes up world of romance writers

Posted: December 4th, 2015 | Arts & Entertainment, Feature, Featured | No Comments

By Jeff Clemetson

Kenneth Zak was a successful lawyer with his own firm, a home in Mission Hills and going through a divorce when his 12-year-old son told him to sell the house and practice and take some time off. The result from taking his son’s advice was an extended trip to the island of Crete and a suspenseful romance novel he wrote there titled “The Poet’s Secret.”

“I spent the first four months there writing, swimming and just slowing down my existence,” Zak said. “I wanted to practice the ‘art of slow’ –– get out of the rat race of life and into the enjoyment race of life.”

Book Cover_High Res

(Courtesy of PR by the Book)

After writing the first draft of “The Poet’s Secret” in Crete, Zak continued his enjoyment race while traveling around the world with laptop and surfboard to Bali, Mexico, Costa Rica, Thailand, Cambodia and South America. After three years of writing and traveling, and just as his son was about to go to college, he returned to Mission Hills and another career in law, landing a job as general council for the national brokerage firm Alliant.

With the help of a writer’s workshop group called San Diego Writers Ink, led by author Judy Reeves, he worked revisions of the draft, including changing the lead character from the male poet in the story to the girl who searches for him.

“I had to research all these different aspects of the roles of a woman,” Zak said. “Like, how do you paint toenails?”

“The Poet’s Secret” isn’t what you’d expect from first book by a lawyer-turned-author. It is the story of a young literature student who becomes enamored with a reclusive, suicidal poet whom she tries to get to reveal the secret of his sorrow –– hardly the material of a John Grisham novel.

“When you hear about a lawyer writing a book, nine times out of 10 it’s a legal thriller. I went the opposite direction.”

That direction paid off for Zak because the book caught the attention of the Romance Writers of America and was nominated for a Golden Heart Award for romantic suspense.

“I was the only man nominated,” he said. “When the nominees were announced and it went woman, woman, woman, dude and everyone went crazy.”

Even though he produced a book in a genre dominated by woman authors, Zak said it wasn’t a conscious decision. “I wrote the book that came out of me at the time,” he said.

After the book’s nomination, Zak decided to publish “The Poet’s Secret” under his own company he started called Penju Publishing. Penju means sea turtle in Malay-Indonesian. The ocean is a recurring theme throughout the book, which is no surprise given Zak’s passion for surfing and diving. He calls the book “in many ways, a love song to water.”


Kenneth Zak of Mission Hills has written a suspenseful romance novel, “The Poet’s Secret,” which was nominated for a national award. (Courtesy of PR by the Book)

Zak will also give back to the oceans through charitable donations he has made part of the sales of the book. One percent of the sales will go to 1% for the Planet, an organization that collects money for environmental causes. Zak is also donating $1 from every book sold to the Surfrider Foundation, of which he is an active member.

Although Zak is back working in law again, he said he is “still traveling and taking it slow.” The last two months he took surfing and diving excursions in France, Kauai and the Maldives. He also has ideas for another novel but hasn’t started the writing process yet, he said. In the meantime, he is doing what authors do –– setting up bookstore signings, promoting and trying to get reviewed.

“I was called a ‘lyrical tour de force’ by Foreword,” he said.

“The Poet’s Secret” is being distributed by Ingram books and is available through Amazon, select bookstores and by order. For more information, visit Zak’s website at

—Jeff Clemetson is editor of La Mesa Courier and Mission Times Courier and can be reached at

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