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Five Questions For: Jonathan Rogers, Author of -The Charlatan’s Boy-

Jonathan’s new book, The Charlatan’s Boy, releases today. Some of you are familiar with JR’s trilogy (Wilderking). If you have middle-graders who haven’t yet read them, may I recommend them to you? And now there’s more, The Charlatan’s Boy releases today! I sat down with JR in different states and he answered 5 questions for us. –Sam

1. Fact: The Wilderking Books are gold for children (and adults) on many fronts. Truth? Check. Goodness, Beauty? Check, check. Were you inspired to write the trilogy by any concern over a lack of worthwhile fiction for kids, or was your motivation simply to make billions of dollars?

I wouldn’t say any ‘concern’ about existing children’s fiction motivated me. I was quite ignorant of what was out there when I started writing the Wilderking books. I’m only a little less ignorant now. I will say I’ve been pleasantly surprised at how much worthwhile fiction is out there–though there is plenty that isn’t worthwhile. Here’s the thing, S.D.:  I want people to like what I like. I think that’s a good enough reason to write stories. I have a particular vision of the universe, and I believe things would be better for all of us if more people shared that vision. I’m joking, but only half-joking. It takes a lot of work to write a book; in order to stay motivated to do that work, one needs an overblown sense that it’s important for people to hear what one has to say. The billions of dollars, that’s just a bonus.

2. What sets The Charlatan’s Boy apart from The Wilderking Trilogy?

Sadness. There’s a sadness in the Charlatan’s Boy that has no parallel in the Wilderking books. I’ve been dipping into Buechner’s book, Telling the Truth: The Gospel as Tragedy, Comedy, and Fairy Tale. An amazing book, by the way. As Buechner argues, the grand comic vision of redemptive history is rooted in the reality of deep sadness and hurt  and danger from which we have to be redeemed. I think (I hope) the comic vision of The Charlatan’s Boy is more fully realized than that of The Wilderking–in part because the sadness, loneliness, and hurt are more fully realized.

3. What are two important things for aspiring writers to remember as they work on their craft?

First of all, let me thank you for the way you phrased this question. You didn’t say, “What are the two most important things…” You said “What are two important things…” Do you realize how much that takes the pressure off? I know lots of important things aspiring writers should remember. I don’t know which two are the most important. So here are two from the list:

a) Pursue your audience. Woo them. It’s not their job to stay interested in what you write. It’s your job to keep them interested. As a corollary, don’t try to impress your reader. That’s for sophomores. Try to love your reader.

b) Speak English. When there’s a word derived from the Latin or Greek and another word from the Anglo-Saxon and they mean the same thing, the tie goes to the Anglo-Saxon word. There are reasons to go with the Latinate word; just be sure you’ve got one, and it’s good a reason. Let your default be the Anglo-Saxon word. It’s true (I think) that something like 75-80% of the words in an English dictionary derive from Latin or Greek. But here’s an exercise for an aspiring writer. Pick a favorite passage from the King James Bible. Count the words in the passage, noting how many derive from Latin or Greek. Divide the Latinate/Greek words by the total number of words to get a percentage. It won’t be 75-80%. It won’t even be close. It may be as high as 25%. It will probably be considerably lower. That’s something for aspiring writers to put in their pipes and smoke.

4. What is your life for?

I don’t see how I could improve on the Westminster Confession: “The chief end of man is to glorify God and enjoy him forever.” I do like John Piper’s suggestion that we glorify God by enjoying him forever. The ability to enjoy the good things that remain, by God’s grace, in this shipwreck of a world is a vitally important thing, I believe.

5. Tell us what makes your books, which are speculative in nature, so American. Why not just do another England-inspired fantasy?

I love British literature as much as anybody. I’ve got a PhD in British lit, for crying out loud. But when it came down to producing rather than consuming literature, it seemed important to me that I speak in my native tongue. There is a vitality, a vigor in American storytelling traditions. I’m an American [cue Lee Greenwood], an inheritor of that verbal and narrative legacy. It makes sense that I should make use of it.

Thanks, JR. As an American, who’s proud to be, I especially liked the part about Lee Greenwood.

Jonathan is also the author of a great little book on Saint Patrick called Saint Patrick. He lives in Nashville, TN, with his wife Lou Alice and their six children. Lou Alice is a peach.


3 Comments

  1. Jonathan mentioned John Piper, which automatically raises his standing in my book. He wasn’t low in the book, and I’m not sure exactly what’s in the book. But trust me, it’s good.

    Great interview Sam!

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