Please Welcome...Jonathan Rogers

This month our interview guest is Christian speculative fiction novelist Jonathan Rogers.

Jonathan is the author of the Wilderking Trilogy (The Bark of the Bog Owl, The Secret of the Swamp King, and The Way of the Wilderking) and The Charlatan’s Boy. The Charlatan’s Boy is one of three finalists for the Christy Award in the Young Adult category. Jonathan calls his novels “frontier fantasy.” He says they are full of boasters, brawlers, and con men, and that his novels owe a great deal to the American vernacular storytelling tradition.

Jonathan has a PhD in seventeenth-century English literature, and is a father to six children.

And now, the interview...

WhereTheMapEnds: Catch us up with you. What have you been doing lately?

Jonathan Rogers: I’m just now finishing a short biography of Flannery O’Connor to be published in 2012, and I am working on a sequel to The Charlatan’s Boy.

WhereTheMapEnds: What is your favorite speculative novel of all time (Christian or secular) and why is that your favorite?

Jonathan Rogers: I think the question should be, “Excluding everything by Tolkien and Lewis, what is your favorite speculative novel of all time.” Aren’t they everybody’s favorite?

For the sake of giving a more interesting answer, I’m going to say Chesterton’s The Man Who Was Thursday. One of the things I love about that story is the way the divine crashes in on the very concrete world of Chesterton’s London. When God shows up, He makes a mess of things, in the best possible sense. It’s a great “what if” story.

WhereTheMapEnds: I’ve recently begun reading that story. It’s interesting to see how fiction style has changed over the generations. What made you want to write Christian speculative fiction?

Jonathan Rogers: My commitment really isn't to speculative fiction, but to storytelling. When I sat down to write the Wilderking books, I didn’t think of myself as writing speculative or fantasy fiction. I was writing the story I wanted to write with little concern for genre. But the fact that it was set in an imaginary time and place put it in the fantasy genre by default. It wasn’t historical, it wasn’t contemporary…so it ended up in the fantasy category, which is pretty voluminous. It’s one of the things I love about the fantasy category: there’s room for a lot of books that are very different from one another.

WhereTheMapEnds: Indeed. It includes some of my favorite Marcher Lord Press titles, like By Darkness Hid, Hero, Second Class, Summa Elvetica, To Darkness Fled...and starting this fall, Sharon Hinck's Sword of Lyric series.

[Ahem] So, Jonathan, how was your first idea for a Christian speculative novel received (by anyone: spouse, friends, parents, agent, publisher, readers, reviewers, etc.)?

Jonathan Rogers: That would have been The Bark of the Bog Owl, and it was received very favorably, I would say, by spouse and agent alike. The reviewers were generous too.

One of the most interesting reviews came from a person who pointed out that Twain was an obvious influence. I laughed at first: I hadn’t given Twain a thought as I was writing The Bog Owl. But the more I thought on it, the more I realized that Twain had been a huge influence on my writing, though I hadn’t understood how much. And I began to embrace that influence. By the time I wrote The Charlatan’s Boy, there was no denying the influence of Twain. But I digress.

WhereTheMapEnds: There could be a lot worse influencers than Mr. Clemens! What is your favorite speculative genre to read? To write? If they’re different, talk about that.

Jonathan Rogers: I love speculative fiction that is rooted in the “real” world—in other words, stories in which something beyond this world comes to this world and messes things up. I already mentioned The Man Who Was Thursday. The movie E.T. works the same way.

Of course, that doesn’t answer your question about genre. I’ve recently been introduced to the term “rural fantasy.” There are more and more books that are set in rural America but have fantasy elements. Dragons flying around Oklahoma or people growing rhino horns when they fall into the Mississippi River. I’ve gotten interested in those books lately. I was first introduced to them when The Charlatan’s Boy appeared on an Amazon list of rural fantasy. So I guess you’d say I like reading it and writing it both.

WhereTheMapEnds: Rural fantasy sounds very similar to the ancient myths that cultural anthropologists study. What are the ways that the magical and supernatural interact with our reality, and how have they affected our reality? Good stuff.

What would you like to see changed regarding Christian speculative fiction writing and/or publishing?

Jonathan Rogers: I realize that this is turning into a hobbyhorse, but I would love to see Christian fiction writers and genre fiction writers start thinking about their place in the American fiction tradition, not just their place in the Christian fiction tradition or their place in, say, the fantasy fiction tradition. I would challenge any fiction writer to think about where he or she fits in the whole landscape of American fiction, not just how his or her fiction relates to Lewis and Peretti and Ted Dekker.

WhereTheMapEnds: What do you think Christian speculative fiction writing and/or publishing will look like in three years? Five years? Ten years?

Jonathan Rogers: Oh, good heavens…my imaginative powers fail me when I go to making predictions about the world I actually live in. I couldn’t begin to say what the publishing business will look like in three or ten years. I could, of course, state the obvious: ebooks will be big, and so will self-publishing. But that’s not especially helpful, is it?

WhereTheMapEnds: It might not be the first time anyone has said it, but I do think it’s helpful. Hearing it one more time might be what causes someone to embrace those things for his or her own writing. What advice would you give to someone who aspires to write and publish Christian speculative fiction?

Jonathan Rogers: Tend to your business. Your business is writing well, by which I mean:

  1.  Write every day, whether you feel like it or not.

  2. Devote yourself to story, and trust that if you tell the story well, the “message” will take care of itself. Which is another way of saying, resist the temptation to start with a “message” and find a story that fits it. You won’t serve your message well that way, and you certainly won’t serve your story well.

  3. Devote more energy to your verbs and nouns than to your adjectives, and going without adverbs wherever possible.

There’s more than a, b, and c, but I’ll stop there. I will add, however, that tending to your business does not include worrying overmuch about publication. You won’t get published unless you tend to the business of writing well. 

WhereTheMapEnds: Good advice. I find that people who begin with message are often not wholly committed to improving their fiction craftsmanship. They’re simply wanting to put a story coating on their message to make the pill something the reader will swallow before recognizing. That’s another reason the story itself will suffer.

So what’s the best book or seminar on fiction writing you know?

Jonathan Rogers:  I love Lamott’s Bird by Bird. That’s a really practical book. I also like Pressfield’s War of Art, though you have to take him with a good many grains of salt. He’s got some kookiness that you have to sift out (he recommends praying to a Muse, for instance), but there’s a lot of good stuff there. I’m reminded of the old schoolyard version of the Popeye song:

I’m Popeye the Sailor Man,
I live in the garbage can.
I eat all the worms and spit out the germs,
I’m Popeye the Sailor Man.

You’ve got to spit out a good many germs in The War of Art, but there are plenty of worms for your delectation too.

WhereTheMapEnds: Lovely image [grin]. What’s the best part about writing and publishing Christian speculative fiction?

Jonathan Rogers: Finishing a book. And hearing from readers who were blessed by it.

WhereTheMapEnds: What writing project are you working on now?

Jonathan Rogers: The sequel to The Charlatan’s Boy, which has a working title of Turtlebane. I don’t know if that title will survive through publication or not. It should publish in 2012.

WhereTheMapEnds: Cool. What’s a cool speculative story idea you’ve had lately?

Jonathan Rogers: I was getting excited about a story involving fortune cookies, but then I discovered that there’s already a book called The God Cookie that may turn out not to be all that similar, but it dampened my enthusiasm nevertheless.

I’d like to work up something involving Amish people and aliens, but it’s harder than it looks.

WhereTheMapEnds: Regulars at WTME have seen this cover before, but it bears repeating:

What’s the best speculative story (Christian or secular, book or otherwise) you’ve encountered lately?

Jonathan Rogers: My friend L.B. Graham showed me a manuscript he wrote that is a really remarkable high-fantasy/science fiction/Dune thing. I hope the wider world sees it one of these days, because it’s really good. That guy is so gifted at world-building and plotting.

That's All for This Time

Another awesome interview! Thanks again to Jonathan Rogers for stopping by. Be sure to visit him online.

If you missed any of our previous interviews with other speculative authors, including Frank Peretti, Jerry Jenkins, Karen Hancock, Tosca Lee, and Ted Dekker, you can read them here.

Come back next month for an interview with another heavy hitter in the world of Christian speculative fiction.


Sign up for the WhereTheMapEnds
and receive an exclusive (and fun) free gift: "The Horrific But True Psychological Phases of Writing a Novel"

WTME Newsletter Signup