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Sharon Carter Rogers


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The Advocate

Sharon Carter Rogers Interview

by Kevin Lucia

"I'm really entertained by all the speculation that's begun about me." -- Sharon Carter Rogers

Kevin: Thanks for spending some time with us today, Sharon. First of all – (with a smile and wink) – using the vaguest, most conflicting terms possible – who is Sharon Carter Rogers?

Sharon: Well, I have to say that I’m really entertained by all the speculation that’s begun about me – even before my novel ever released. I’m not sure who is saying what about me at this point, but some of the theories have been pretty creative. I particularly liked the one that said I was a “covert military agent and skilled combatant.” That makes me sound so dangerous! Lately I’ve also been hearing that I’m a bestselling mainstream author with deep Christian roots who has finally decided to write with a spiritual emphasis. As always, I’m not going to affirm or deny anything, just ‘cause I like to hear the chatter. But I will say that some people have come surprisingly close to the truth, and others have missed the mark completely.

One other thing... Throughout 2007 I will be posting stories and thoughts in my blog on myspace.com and, for those who are interested, each blog posting will contain at least one clue about my identity for the discerning reader. It’ll be fun to see if anybody actually follows the trail accurately – and whether or not others believe the result.

There have been authors in the CBA who’ve used pseudonyms before, but that’s entirely different from what you’re doing: you’re essentially holding the “carrot” just out of the “horse’s” reach, throwing the quandary out there: “Maybe I am; maybe I’m not”. If you can answer this without revealing too much about yourself, how did this idea come to you, and what are your reasons for crafting such an enigmatic persona?

My pastor tells me I have “privacy issues” that are unresolved. But really, would you expect anything different from a woman who makes her living writing mysteries? :)

The Sinner myth is really quite interesting. Is this a fabrication made up entirely by you, or is there really a myth out there about an avenging vigilante calling himself the Sinner?

You aren’t the first person to ask this question. In fact, one of my close friends – who had actually read parts of the manuscript while it was in progress, sometimes only minutes after I’d written it – read the final book and asked me, “So where did you find those civil war journal entries? From the Internet? Or at the library?”

But, alas, the whole myth of the Sinner is simply the result of my overactive imagination. In fact, every character in the book is pure fiction, created to serve the story I wanted to tell. Sorry ‘bout that!

Looking at the Christian fiction market, suspense in particular, what do see in the future for “Christian Fiction”? Should the label even exist, or should Christian publishers market their books as mainstream titles?

Well, on the one hand, I am grateful for Christian fiction as a genre because without it my book would not have been published. On the other hand, I never set out to write Sinner as a “Christian” book. I started it simply because it was a story I couldn’t get out of my head. But I am a Christian and that relationship fills in the cracks and corners of my imagination. Before long it was inevitable for it to show up in my story. I approach life with the assumption that God exists, that Jesus is active in the lives of all people, and that this awkward silence/activity of God in life brings both breathtaking joy and unfathomable despair as we try to understand our relation to eternity and temporality.

So, I guess I’m saying that if one is Christian, and one writes fiction, it would seem impossible to separate the “Christian” part of that writer from the content of that writer’s fiction. It likely will bleed into the story in a natural, expected way, either overtly or symbolically. I think most objections to Christian fiction come when the writer and/or the publisher try to force Christian experiences or themes into parts of a story where they would not naturally occur. But there are rules for writing in both Christian and mainstream circles, and it’s rare that a writer can break those stereotypes. For instance, my second novel is currently unpublished. Mainstream publishing houses have been reluctant to even read it because it carries a pretty obvious Christian theme; Christian houses have declined to publish because they say it features an antagonist who is too “dark” and “raw” for gentle Christian readers. But the story requires both the reality of evil and the redemptive grace of Christ. So how does a writer meet the censoring obligations of a particular mainstream or Christian house? Not sure about that one yet, so I’ve decided to just keep writing books and hoping one of them sells big. When that happens, I am told that I’ll have much greater flexibility in what I can and can’t publish.

Sinner by Sharon Carter RogersIn your mind, is it required for Christian fiction to have an evangelical thrust?

Of course not. But I am also annoyed by writers/artists who deliberately skirt the issue of their relationship with Christ in their writing. I am more interested in authenticity than I am in certain prerequisites for spirituality or market success. Tell your story, and if Christ is a part of your real life story, it will show up in your imaginary story in authentic ways whether you intend it to or not. But don’t put on contrivances to either make yourself seem more spiritual than you really are, or to try and make your Christianity a “stealth” element in your book. Readers are smarter than we give them credit for being. We need not manipulate them; we need only to ignite their imaginations, and then lead the way. After all, there is only one real Story anyway; the rest are all just cheap imitations of that.

What was your first break into the writing world? (Once again, if you can tell us that without leaking your true identity) Is this your life-long dream – being a novelist – or was it something that developed later for you?

I didn’t begin writing Christian fiction until later in life, in my late 30s. My debut novel, Sinner, was pretty much rejected by every major Christian publisher out there – even the one that eventually ended up publishing it! But my agent at the time, Steve Laube, kept sending it out. Then finally, after more than a year of trying, he told me that it was time to give up on that book and start concentrating on something else. However, I had met an editor (Mike Nappa) a few years earlier, briefly, through a mutual friend, and in 2005 I heard he had recently taken a job at Cook Communications, which owns the RiverOak fiction imprint. So I sent him the first few chapters of Sinner in desperation, fully expecting to be ignored or rejected. But he actually pulled it out of a slush pile, read it, and liked it, and sent me a note telling me he was going to take it to his committee. Three weeks later he had a contract offer on Steve Laube’s desk. Interestingly enough, Steve Laube and I ended up parting ways (amicably! I love Steve and his agency!) and Mike Nappa left Cook to return to agenting full time. So, when I heard Mike was available, I hit him up again and now he’s my agent through the Nappaland Literary Agency. Small world, huh?

I noticed on your Myspace blog you have a short story or two posted. Unlike a lot of writers in the secular field, it doesn’t seem as if many CBA novelists spend much time writing short stories, submitting to fiction digests or anthologies, that sort of thing. In fact, I think I only know of a few: Brian Reaves, R.K. Mortenson, and Robert Liparulo, I think; and I know Eric Wilson is very active writing reviews. Do you consider it important for novelists to reach out and develop other areas of writing separate from their novels?

I write short stories because I can’t help it. They worm their way into my head and the only way I can stop thinking about them is to write them down! Some are good; some are pure tripe. But I enjoy writing them anyway. I’d write more of them but I haven’t really seen many legitimate outlets for publishing Christian short stories. My agent doesn’t represent those, so I’m on my own trying to get those published. Suffice it to say, I haven’t a clue as to where to start in that arena!

I don’t know if it’s important for novelists to branch out into short story writing. I think it’d probably be more important for novelists to be voracious readers of everything from fiction to textbooks to pop culture to biography to magazines to mythology to whatever. A hungry mind is the greatest asset of the imagination, and the best way to fuel whatever it is you intend to write next.

In your opinion, what’s the best way for a fledgling writer to try and break into publication?

Ha! Realistically? The best way to break into publication is to become famous for something else entirely first. So, you know, go ahead and find a cure for cancer or become a finalist on a reality TV show, anything to up your “celebrity platform.” Then publishers will come drooling out of the woodwork begging you to write a book. Actually, they won’t even make you write it. They’ll just pay you a lot of money for allowing someone else to ghostwrite your book and use your celebrity name to sell it.

If you are among the few out there who actually view writing as an art and a passion, then give up on dreams of publication and write for yourself instead. My agent says that all Christian writing should be a work of art that reflects the investment the Artist has deposited in us, and that anything less than art doesn’t deserve to be written. But he also says that true artists like this must face the fact that they will often go unrecognized, unrewarded, and broke until eternity hits.

So, my advice, based on my experience, would be simply to quit writing for profit and publication and do something more important with your life. Like, you know, baking brownies for the neighborhood kids or something. J

You get into the car – what CD do you pop into the radio?

Monty Python’s Spamalot; India.Arie’s Acoustic Soul; Mindi Abair’s It Just Happens That Way; Mike Birbiglia’s Two-Drink Mike; John P. Kee’s Colorblind; Marcus Cole’s Write My Song; The Soundtrack to Wicked; The Captain America Theme Song; Kutless’ Sea of Faces.

If you watch any television, (I’m an unfortunate addict of Smallville, Supernatural, and Battlestar Galactica myself), what are your usual favorites?

I hate the TV show Heroes – it makes me so mad each week because it ends after only one hour! I’m so hooked on that show it’s not even funny. I’m also a fan of anything that makes me laugh, like reruns of Friends or Just Shoot Me. And, like everybody else, I’m entranced by the mythology of LOST. (Is it real? Is it purgatory? Is it some nefarious experiment?)

You’re in line at Barnes & Noble – what are you buying today?

Most likely I’m buying the latest Superman or X-Men graphic novel. Or a new edition of Homer’s The Iliad. Or anything by Mary Doria Russell (I actually had to stop reading her book, Thread of Grace simply because it was too good! I knew it would tear me apart inside if I finished it, so I forced myself to stop reading! Am I a chicken or what?)

I heard that another writer in the CBA got a chance to read chapter one of Sinner, and was not as enthusiastic about it as the reviews have been so far. How did this writer end up reading Sinner, and what encouraged you to keep pushing on despite this early criticism?

Ha! Yes it’s true! After the manuscript was complete, my editor at the time started working his network to see about getting endorsements for the book. One mega-bestselling Christian author agreed to look at it, but he read the first chapter and then sent my editor a note saying “This is bad writing.” Needless to say he didn’t endorse! But my editor, bless his heart, didn’t tell me that had happened until much later, after he’d secured a couple of very strong endorsements from other novelists, and after my book had received a stellar, quotable review from Aspiring Retail magazine (a magazine for Christian bookstores).

I don’t know what I would have done if I’d known about the negative comment before then, because I actually respect this other writer and what he’s accomplished. But, you know, I secretly hope that this guy will one day read the whole book of Sinner and come back to me wailing and weeping and saying, “I was wrong! This is the best writing since Shakespeare’s The Tempest!” :) (I understand that my agent sent this author a copy of the finished book, so you know, it could happen!)

When it comes to developing the craft of writing, if you had a choice between writing critique groups, attending a writing conference, or just reading something like Stephen King’s On Writing and developing your own work by following your gut, which would you choose and why?

I am a self-taught writer, and pretty much everything I learned about writing came from reading great writing. Sure, there are some tips you can get from a book like Stephen King’s On Writing or Lawrence Block’s Telling Lies for Fun and Profit, but the best teachers are people like Hemingway, Tolkien, Lewis, Homer, Poe, Marquez, and even people like Stan Lee and Joe Simon. I’ve never found anything valuable at a writer’s conference or in a writing group, so much so that I no longer even attend those type of functions. But I understand that others get a lot out of them – and honestly, my publishing history suggests that maybe I would be more successful if I did plunge into the group-think of a conference or writing club!

In a recent interview I conducted with Rachel Hauck, (Lost In NashVegas), she said that beginning writers need to be aggressive with their writing time, and to eliminate as many distractions as possible. How do you shut out the rest of the world and get into “writing mode”?

Well, writing for me is not the same. It’s not a special event. It is a natural part of the daily experience, so I don’t think I’m in the same “busyness” mode as Rachel Hauck. Maybe I’m just lazy! But writing for me happens when the impulse to write becomes irrepressible, when the image or character or intellectual investigation reaches a point that I can’t think about anything but writing it down. When that happens, it’s easy to just cozy up to the laptop and pound out a few pages, regardless of whatever the other demands are in my life. I know many people who write because they want to – and they are very disciplined about it and good at it. But I write because I have to – I have no choice. It burns inside me if I don’t, and it makes me miserable. I’ve got thousands of pages of unpublished writing – and by “unpublished” I mean “it will never in a million years be published.” I never had to make time to put that stuff on paper; time had to make way for the writing instead. Of course, this is a harsh way to live, and I often wish I could just turn on and turn off the writing impulse. I’d be much happier if I could! But I can’t, so I’ve learned to live with it. Unfortunately, that means I don’t have any great advice in response to this question! Just write, when you can, because you can, I guess!

Eventually, at some point in a writer’s career, they have to make public appearances at book conventions, signings, and other events. How are you planning on handling this with the “secret identity”, and if you’re not planning on attending this events – what alternative marketing ideas do you have?

Oh, you are so kind. Wouldn’t it be great if Sinner were popular enough to warrant a book tour or a convention appearance or something? But that seems extremely unlikely at this point, given my newbie status in publishing, so (for now at least) I’m not worried about it.

Finally, what has become my stock and store last question: Stephen Spielberg wants to make a movie of Sinner – which actors would you choose to play your characters?

Let’s see…

As I was writing, I often pictured Johnny Depp in the role of the Sinner. (Although I also think that Colin Farrell could do a great job as well.)

For CK Ivors, I like somebody like Aisha Tyler. (I saw her in a Friends rerun and immediately liked her. I think she’d be great as CK Ivors.)

Only one person could play Galway (the conspiracy theorist): Robert Duvall. He’s perfect. Too bad he doesn’t know what he’s missing!

Junebug is probably my favorite character, and the hardest to cast. How about Gael Garcia Bernal? Or some other Latino hunk?

Thanks much!

Kevin LuciaKevin Lucia Kevin Lucia writes for The Press & Sun Bulletin and The Relief Journal. His short fiction has appeared in Coach’s Midnight Diner, The Relief Journal, All Hallows, Darkened Horizons Vol. 3 & 4, NexGen Pulp Magazine Issues 1 & 4, From the Shadows, Morpheus Tales Magazine, Bohemian-Alien, Shroud Publishing’s horror anthology, Abominations, and Tyndale House’s inspirational anthology Life Savors. He’s currently writing a novella for Shroud Publishing’s upcoming novella series, The Hiram Grange Chronicles. He resides in Castle Creek, New York, with his wife Abby, daughter Madison and son Zackary. He teaches high school English at Seton Catholic Central High School in Binghamton, New York; and is finishing his Masters of Arts in Creative Writing at Binghamton University. Visit him at his website and Myspace page.