Please Consider this Powerful Ministry

sponsor a child inn ministries

Monday, December 08, 2008

Motiv8 Blog Tour: Jonathan Rogers


The Man Behind the Feechies
Jonathan Rogers

It was a pleasure to meet Jonathan Rogers on the Motiv8 Tour this past October. I found him to be a real southern gentleman and a very talented writer. More on my personal impressions of the man behind the Feechies later. For now, please enjoy the contents of an interview that JR did with Incredibooks.

(Above: Jonathan, if full Fantasy Tour Garb, shakes hands with a young fan.)

Why did you choose fantasy to work with instead of some other genre?

My favorite thing about the fantasy genre—broadly defined—is that it gives a writer a lot of freedom to mash together things that don’t normally go together. As the Wilderking took shape in my mind, I knew I wanted to use the David story as a way of talking about wildness and the role of wildness in a boy’s growing up. I didn’t want to do historical fiction for several reasons, one being the fact that I wasn’t comfortable making up dialogue to put in the mouths of actual Bible characters. Free from the constraints of historical fiction, I thought a medieval-esque, knights-and-castles setting would be a fun way to tell the story. And while I was at it, I decided to indulge myself by making the physical setting look like the swamps and forests of South Georgia and Florida. By that point, I really had nowhere else to go but an imaginary world. So for this story, the fantasy genre made sense.

How do you make your characters seem like real people instead of just figures who move the plot along?

I spend a lot of time thinking about motives. I try to understand my characters well enough to know what would motivate them in a given situation. And I know my characters because I pay attention to the people around me. I’m forever asking myself what motivated a person to do this or that; I don’t so much mean the people I know as the people I don’t know. When you see a stranger do something unusual in public, all you have are the external facts: that guy is dressed in business attire and is sleeping on a bus bench. That’s interesting, of course, but more interesting is the game you play with yourself: Why is a guy in business attire sleeping on a bus bench? That’s where storytelling comes from. A good story is a constant back-and-forth between external facts and internal motivations: characters react to the external facts of their situations, characters change the external facts of their situations. Sometimes characters succeed in bringing their motivations to bear on a situation, and sometimes they don’t. When you think in those terms, character and plot begin to work hand-in-glove with one another.

(Above: JR reads from the Bark of the Bog Owl. You should hear him read a scene with Dobro Turtlebain--absolutely hysterical)

Who is your favorite character from all of your books so far, and why?

That’s an easy one: the main character in the Wilderking books is a boy named Aidan, but my favorite is a wild swamp boy named Dobro Turtlebane. When he’s on the scene, something wild and funny is going to happen. His behavior seems erratic—courting danger, fighting with people he actually likes, etc.—but if you can accept a few basic premises about his unusual worldview, his behavior is actually quite logical. Dobro is a great example of what I was saying in an earlier question about character driving plot. He’s a game-changer, for sure.


How do you work allegory or Christian themes into your books without it being blatantly obvious or sounding preachy or clich├ęd?

The gospel speaks to human yearnings that are universal. Everybody, Christian or not, knows what it is to feel that we are living in a world that stirs up more desires than it can fulfill. Even people who don’t talk about sin know what it is to feel that you are broken and unable to fix yourself. Everybody hopes that love is stronger than hate, even if they’re not sure it really is. In short, everybody knows they need grace. I hope my writing is always, always about grace, in many forms. And grace, almost by definition, doesn’t lend itself to preachiness. It suddenly doesn’t feel like grace anymore if it’s given to you ungracefully, unbeautifully. Fiction and grace were made for each other. Think of the parable of the prodigal son. That’s great fiction, and it gets inside you in a way that a sermon can’t. I like sermons too, but they work in a different way.

(Above: JR disagrees with Author LB Graham about the merits of the Jack-in-the-Box Bacon Cheeseburger. JR said it was nothing special. LB could only look away in disgust.)

Do you ever write something that you love, only to look at it later and discover it’s not as good as you thought?

Yes. Something similar happens in one of my recurring dreams. In this dream I tell a joke and it’s the funniest thing I’ve ever heard. I laugh and laugh, and everybody around me agrees that I’m the wittiest man they’ve ever had the pleasure to know. Then when I wake up, I realize not only that the joke wasn’t funny, but it didn’t even make sense—not even grammatical sense. I’ve never written anything that was quite as bad as that, but suspect the dream comes from the same fear your question touches on: how do you know you’ve written something that is really good? I’m learning to trust my judgment, though: if I think something is interesting and funny, there’s a good chance a lot of other people will think it’s interesting and funny too.


(Above: JR unsheathes his blade. Don't worry. After the stitches, the little boy was just fine. JK)

As you can read from the interview above, Jonathan has a way with words. I found him to be quite an eloquent and thoughtful writer. We had a great discussion over quesadillas late one night. Jonathan asked me why I chose to write a portal fantasy versus nonportal fantasy, and it really brought to light how important it is for a writer to know why he/she's making certain decisions. I did have good reasons for making The Door Within a portal fantasy, but I might not have. Jonathan impressed the importance of deciding which of the trappings of traditional fantasy belong in your story. Have a reason why you do what you do. There's no room for wasted words.

(Above: JR and author Eric Reinhold enjoy booksigning by candlelight.)


As much as I could go on about Jonathan Rogers, I'd rather tell you about his books. The Wilderking Trilogy is one of those best books you may never have heard of types. The first book, Bark of the Bog Owl, came out in 2004. He had modest success, as did the sequels. But as is too often the case in the publishing world, the books weren't really given enough shelf life to really take off.

That is a ridiculous shame. The Wilderking books are extremely clever, witty, and well written. Best of all, the kind of fantasy Mr. Rogers has penned is very original. No elves, dwarves, or unicorns (not that I mind those things) but Mr. Rogers invents the COOLEST of COOL races of Feechie Folk. My sons LOVE this series. I totally enjoy reading them with my boys at bedtime.

I'd like to leave you with a review of Bark of the Bog Owl. The reviewer is Sally Apokedak. She's a tough cookie to impress and an incredibly skilled writer herself. See what she has to say about Mr. Rogers' books. And give yourself a Christmas Present: go pick up the Wilderking Trilogy!


Three cheers for Jonathan Rogers and Broadman and Holman.

Where to begin my praise for this book?

First of all there is a boy who is all boy--rough and tumble and longing for adventure. This is a boy who calls to our innermost beings, urging us to be good and noble and true without being stodgy and stiff and stuck-up. Aidan delights us with his humility, his appetite for fun, his courage, and his steadfast devotion to God and King.

Add to the mix a wild feechie boy--I won't even try to describe him because I can't do him justice. But you are sorely missing out if you don't buy this book and get acquainted with Dobro Turtlebane.

The pace never stills, the story never lags, and the children never stop begging for "just one more" chapter when you read it aloud.

And the children's plea is mine, also. "More, please, Mr. Rogers." I want to go back to the swamps and do some fishing and feasting. I want to follow Aidan to the caves as he flees from his king. I look forward to an honorable, deep love between Aidan and the king's son (I'm thinking Smike and Nicholas Nickleby).

I can't wait to see where this talented writer takes us next. What relationships will be forged, what sacrifices will be made, what honorable service will be rendered, all while we are romping through Aidan's world and laughing with him and loving him?

Not only was the story enthralling and the prose superb, the book came out in hardback with a well-thought-out cover design. Good for Broadman and Holman. The paper quality, the printing, and the pictures were still substandard but those are minor irritations considering the huge leap that this book makes in the Christian publishing industry.

If you or someone you know loves fantasy, buy this book. You will not be disappointed. Like Harry Potter, this one is going to be loved by adults as well as children.

And, no, I've never met the author and I don't work for Broadman and Holman. I just cannot contain my joy at seeing this kind of quality from Christian publishers. Hurray, hurray, hurray. Or perhaps that should read: Haawwweeee! --Sally Apokedak

2 comments:

L.B. said...

Thanks for the flattering shot, Wayne, you got my good side.

Disgust indeed!

Jonathan Rogers said...

Thanks, Wayne, for your words on behalf of the feechiefolks. They are my small effort to address what I believe to be a glaring hole in the canon of Western literature: I refer, of course, to the shortage of swamp tribesmen.