The Return of the Wilderking

All 3 Wilderking Books Cropped for RR

There is a moment in Chapter 4 of The Bark of the Bog Owl that makes me cringe a little bit. Aidan and Dobro have gotten mixed up with a panther, which “bared its fangs and wailed a deep rumbling moan that became a piercing scream.” It’s not a bad description, but it’s not what I wrote. The panther wasn’t supposed to wail. Panthers waul. It’s the perfect verb for what panthers do. But a well-meaning editor at B&H Publishing Group changed waul to wail (just as my computer’s auto-correct did just now), and I didn’t notice until after the book was published. So since 2004 that poor panther has been going against his own nature, wailing instead of wauling for nine years. I have good news for the panther. The rights to the Wilderking Trilogy reverted to me last year after a period in which the books were effectively (though not technically) out of print. The Bark of the Bog Owl, The Secret of the Swamp King, and The Way of the Wilderking are coming back with a new publisher: Rabbit Room Press. And I have been able to fix some of the little things that have been bothering me about the published versions. The new and improved paperback versions of the three books will be officially release on April 1. And in the Rabbit Room edition the panther wauls (though–spoiler alert–he still doesn’t survive Chapter 4).

I am thankful for B&H’s support of the Wilderking in years past; I long ago recovered from the shock of having a B&H salesman suggest that I make Dobro Turtlebane a girl (girls read far more than boys, he reasoned, and they needed a character to relate to). Still, bringing Aidan and Dobro and them to the Rabbit Room Press feels like a kind of homecoming.

You don't have to wait until April, however. Preorder now at the Rabbit Room store, and you'll get your books in early March. Just as importantly, preorders will make it possible for us print more books in the initial print run, reducing printing costs significantly. Click here for the Rabbit Room store. Order all three Wilderking books to save 10%.

World According to Narnia Now Available (Limited Quantity)

The World According to Narnia, my 2005 examination of C.S. Lewis's Narnia books, is out of print, but I recently found twenty or so copies that I am making available here on the website. Like all the books sold here, these will be signed by the author--which is to say, me. You may remember that I published the Voyage of the Dawn Treader chapter here on the blog a few months ago in a five-part series. You can read that excerpt by clicking here.

The World According to Narnia was well-received by critics, including this one from Booklist:

Rogers, the author of the Wilderking fantasy series, takes a serious look at C. S. Lewis' Narnia novels, teasing out the Christian theology through close textual analysis of each book in turn. In an engaging style, Rogers simply and swiftly retells each story and highlights where the novels speak to the message of the Gospels. He argues convincingly that imagination combined with faith drives the Narnia chronicles, giving substance to our "yearning for something beyond ourselves." He also notes that it is a delicious irony that Lewis "so carefully constructs a world of metaphor in order to insist that the God of the Bibles is not mere metaphor." With a live-action film version of the novels soon to debut, the land of Narnia will once again be in the spotlight; those needing a travel guide to Lewis' world could do no better than this eminently readable combination of literary criticism and religious scholarship.

Ilene Cooper Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved

Here, again, is that link to the store, where you can get signed copies of The World According to Narnia (and the rest of my books too).

An Encounter with a Phrenologist

If you've read The Charlatan's Boy, you know that phrenology--the "science" of reading a person's character by the shape of his or her skull--plays a significant role. A blogger brought to my attention the following account of one person's run-in with a phrenologist. It comes from The History of Phrenology on the Web, which is interesting if you like that sort of thing. And I do. A recollection of the Rev. G.C. Rankin, looking back on his school days in the eastern United States, circa 1870:

"Among the students was a bright young fellow who had been under the tuition of the old teacher three or four years and he had been making a specialty of phrenology, and occasionally the boys would congregate in one of the rooms and Bob Rutherford would examine their heads, especially the new boys. He would take the boy, measure his head, place his hand upon the several bumps and call them by name and then decide whether or not he had any aptitude for study or any outlook for development. I had to submit to this ordeal. It was not exactly hazing, but it was on that order. I was somewhat credulous and disposed to believe what was ordinarily told me and, in some sense, this was a serious matter to me. It was made such by those who witnessed the proceeding. The fellow proceeded to measure my head from the forehead to the back, and from one ear to the other, and then he pressed his hands upon the protuberances carefully and called them by name. He felt my pulse, looked carefully at my complexion and defined it, and then retired to make his calculations in order to reveal my destiny. I awaited his return with some anxiety, for I really attached some importance to what his statement would be; for I had been told that he had great success in that sort of work and that his conclusion would be valuable to me. Directly he returned with a piece of paper in his hand, and his statement was short. It was to the effect that my head was of the tenth magnitude with phyloprogenitiveness morbidly developed; that the essential faculties of mentality were singularly deficient; that my contour antagonized all the established rules of phrenology, and that upon the whole I was better adapted to the quietude of rural life rather than to the habit of letters. Then the boys clapped their hands and laughed lustily, but there was nothing of laughter in it for me. In fact, I took seriously what Rutherford had said and thought the fellow meant it all. He showed me a phrenological bust, with the faculties all located and labeled, representing a perfect human head, and mine did not look like that one. I had never dreamed that the size or shape of the head had anything to do with a boy's endowments or his ability to accomplish results, to say nothing of his quality and texture of brain matter. I went to my shack rather dejected. I took a small hand- mirror and looked carefully at my head, ran my hands over it and realized that it did not resemble, in any sense, the bust that I had observed. The more I thought of the affair the worse I felt. If my head was defective there was no remedy, and what could I do? The next day I quietly went to the library and carefully looked at the heads of pictures of Webster, Clay, Calhoun, Napoleon, Alexander Stephens and various other great men. Their pictures were all there in histories.

Among them all there was but one that gave me any encouragement, and that was John C. Calhoun's. My head, so far as I could observe, looked somewhat like his. Then I read a great deal about him and concluded that if John C. Calhoun had made the great man who figured, as he did, in National affairs, there was some hope for me! But the mischief done me by that foolish incident gave me anxiety for some time to come."

-Rankin, The Story of My Life Or More than a Half Century as I Have Lived It and Seen It Lived. 1912, pp. 123-4.

A Charlatan's Review of The Charlatan's Boy


The CSFF Blog Tour is featuring The Charlatan's Boy this week. The long-come-short: a loose confederation of book bloggers read the same book and review it the same week as a way of building internet traffic for said book, as well as for one another's blogs. If you're interested, a good place to start exploring the two dozen or so blogs that are talking about The Charlatan's Boy this week is Rebecca LuElla Miller's blog, which summarizes the highlights of the tour and has a link to the participants' blogs. I want to bring to your attention one of those blogs--Frederation, written by Fred Warren. I caught him trying to write a review of The Charlatan's Boy without having read the book. My first impulse was to turn him in, make an example of him. But he seemed like a good kid with a lot of talent, just a little misguided. I thought it best to give him another chance. If I gave him something to keep him busy, it might keep him off the streets. So I issued Fred a challenge. I wrote the following on his blog:

Thanks, Fred. Your post is very much in the spirit of The Charlatan’s Boy. The mind boggles to think what a great review you would have written if you had read the book.

Mind if I issue a challenge? I’d love to see what kind of review you could write just from the chapter titles. You have to promise not to cheat and read any of the actual book–only the chapter titles and the back cover copy. If you’re up to the challenge, I will post your review on my blog. If you want to go back and read the book later, fine, but according to the terms of this challenge, you have to review the book sight unseen.

What say you?

Fred rose to the challenge, and very much so. His review is hilarious and brilliant, going chapter-by-chapter through the book and making observations that, in the tradition of charlatans everywhere, are vague and general but give the impression of insightfulness. It's quite masterful, and I highly recommend that you go here and read it.

Fred, nicely done.

I should also point out that Fred is an author himself. His book The Muse is available at his website. I haven't read it, but his chops as a writer of fake reviews bode well for his authorship.

How Sally Apokedak Rescued The Charlatan’s Boy


The Charlatan's Boy was an exceedingly difficult book for me to write. Before writing this book, I had never experienced writer's block. I didn't, in fact, believe it existed. "Writer's block" conjures up images of the tortured artist, misunderstood by the world. Me, I've always been a plain procrastinator. I thought it would be distinctly unhelpful to dignify my procrastination with the term "writer's block."

But in the writing of The Charlatan's Boy, I experienced something that went beyond procrastination. I don't know any word for it besides writer's block. I had set a task for myself that I wasn't at all sure I could accomplish. I've always been comfortable writing raucous, whoop-it-up stories, but The Charlatan's Boy, for all its robustiousness is really a story about a boy's inner life. It's one thing to write about alligator wrestling; it's quite another to write about a boy's wrestling with his loneliness, his hurt, his ugliness. Writers often talk about how terrifying it is to write; I usually dismissed that as mostly self-indulgence. But I was pretty terrified by the thought of trying to go deeper into a character's inner life. I literally pictured readers saying, "Really? That's what you call insight into the human condition? Why don't you stick to alligator wrestling?"

A certain amount of pressure is motivating, but I had crossed some threshold; the pressure was paralyzing. I fell into an awful cycle of self-absorption and terror. I had come to view my unfinished book mostly as a source of personal misery. Time came to turn in a manuscript and I didn't have a manuscript to turn in. My editors, Shannon Marchese and Jessica Barnes, were very patient and understanding. They gave me an extension. Which I missed. Then I missed another extension, if I remember correctly. Eventually they very sweetly laid down the law and gave me a genuinely hard and immovable deadline.

That sho-nuff deadline was bearing down on me, and all I had was big pile of scenes that didn't yet fit together into a coherent story. They were great scenes; I loved everything I had written. But they were highly episodic, and there weren't nearly enough of them. I was at a critical point; if I hadn't already spent the advance long before that time, I would have just told Waterbrook Press never mind and given them their money back.

It was at that critical moment that I got an email from Sally Apokedak, whose name you will recognize from the comments section of this blog. Sally has been a huge supporter since The Bark of the Bog Owl came out in 2004, but we had lost touch. I hadn't heard from her in a couple of years or more. She had heard that I was working on another book. She scolded me for not telling her and said she wanted to start telling her friends and blog readers about it:

Really, Jonathan, just because you don't know us, you have to realize that your loyal fans feel like they know you after reading and falling in love with your characters and they WANT to know what is going on. You could put out a little newsletter. It wouldn't kill you. It doesn't have to be cheesy and braggy like others we get in our in-boxes. You could do it with humility. We like you and want to know what you're up to.

I wrote Sally back,

Sorry for not telling you, but I've been genuinely worried that the book would be bumped from the fall catalog or worse...this has been the most painful writing experience ever. Which is to say, my lack of communication with readers...has more to do with self-doubt than stuck-upness.

If you don't mind, let's hold off on telling your loyal readers about The Charlatan's Boy until I'm a little more confident that it's going to release in the fall. I'll know in about a month, and then I'd love to shout it from the rooftops.

Meanwhile, would you pray for me, Sally?

Sally did pray for me. She also offered some encouraging words that bordered on flattery, and she offered to read the manuscript. After some dithering, I decided to let her read what I had. She read it (that very day, I think) and told me that she really loved it.

And then something shook loose for me. It wasn't many days later that I was done with the manuscript. In praying for me, Sally turned out to be the answer to her own prayer. I had descended into a closed spiral of self-doubt, self-indulgence, self-flagellation...self, self, self. I had come to think of this book as my personal nemesis. My interaction with Sally reminded me that this wasn't just about me. Other people had a stake in this thing--real people who would read and benefit from my book. The realization jarred me out of my solipsism, and I was surprised by a joy of writing that had long been absent. Sally's willingness to step in kept me going.

So here's to Sally Apokedak.

In Which I Talk To Canadian Radio Listeners

Last week I was the guest on "Wednesday Bookmark," a drive-time book discussion on Ottowa's CHRI Family Radio station. Host Care Stevens was very gracious and informed, though she was under the impression that I had a thick accent. If you're so inclined, you can listen by clicking the link below. All the "um's" and "er's" and pauses you hear from me were apparently added in later. As I remember it, I was perfectly articulate.

BONUS VIDEO: I also was on the WSMV's Better Nashville midday program earlier this week. Click here to see me wear tweed and sit next to a guy in a bowtie--the esteemed Ken Cheeseman, headmaster of St. Paul Christian Academy.