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Jonathan Rogers: Southerner/Fantasy Author/Eye Doctor


Today is the official release of the new edition of Jonathan Rogers’s The Wilderking Trilogy. I wanted to write a few words to commemorate not just one of the best writers around, but a good friend.

Come with me, if you will, to Belmont University in the year 2005. Belmont hosted a
C. S. Lewis conference called Past Watchful Dragons, which I attended for a number of reasons, none of which yielded anything nearly as impacting as my chance introduction to the Good Doctor Rogers. I had just released my fifth album, The Far Country, and because of the Lewis/Tolkien influence on those songs, I thought the conference might be a good opportunity to sneak my CDs into the gift bags of the attendees. (That album was released independently, so any crazy marketing ideas were carried out by yours truly.)

Towards the end of the conference Douglas Gresham (Lewis’s stepson) was signing autographs and I decided to wait in line and give him a copy of the record. After that extremely awkward interaction I saw another dude standing around. He leaned against the wall in a way that made me think he was much more smarter than I be. As I recall, he had under one arm a box of leftover Wilderking books which his publisher had also included in the gift bags; I was carrying a box of leftover CDs, expecting at any moment to be ejected from the premises. I remembered seeing The Bark of the Bog Owl on a display at the local Walmart, so when I saw his name tag I introduced myself and told him so. He was doubtful that the books had ever had such prestigious placement. What I didn’t tell Jonathan was that when I first saw his books I was a little jealous that he had beaten me to the punch. At the time I had been working on The Wingfeather Saga for a few years and had yet to find a publisher. Here was another Christian writing fantasy aimed at children—so I decided to finagle my way into his inner circle and thwart him. (It hasn’t worked. He just keeps writing awesome books.)

A Prayer for the New Year

From John Baillie’s A Diary of Private Prayer, day one, morning. I removed the “thees” and “thous” as a matter of preference, and adjusted a few words to recast this as a prayer for the whole year. If you’re not familiar with Baillie’s book, I recommend it. I also heartily recommend a listen to Ben Shive’s song “New Year” and Eric Peters’s Birds of Relocation for more helpful meditations on the great mercy of starting fresh. Happy New Year, Rabbit Room friends.

Eternal Father of my soul, let my first thought be of you, let my first impulse be to worship you, let my first speech be your name, let my first action be to kneel before you in prayer.

For your perfect wisdom and perfect goodness;
For the love wherewith you love mankind;
For the love wherewith you love me;
For the great and mysterious opportunity of my life;
For the indwelling of your Spirit in my heart;
For the sevenfold gifts of your Spirit;
I praise and worship you.

Yet let me not, when this prayer is said, think my worship ended and spend this year in forgetfulness of you. Rather from these moments of quietness let light go forth, and joy, and power, that will remain with me through all the days of the year,

Keeping me chaste in thought;
Keeping me temperate and truthful in speech;
Keeping me faithful and diligent in my work;
Keeping me humble in my estimation of myself;
Keeping me honorable and generous in my dealings with others;
Keeping me loyal to every hallowed memory of the past;
Keeping me mindful of my eternal destiny as a child of yours.

O God, who have been the refuge of my fathers through many generations, be my refuge this year in every time and circumstance of need. Be my guide through all that is dark and doubtful. Be my guard against all that threatens my spirit’s welfare. Be my strength in time of testing. Gladden my heart with your peace, through Jesus Christ my Lord.

Amen.

Now Kickstarting the Conclusion of Wingfeather Saga!


Almost ten years ago I put my three kids to bed, told Jamie for the millionth time about my desire to write a novel, and with her blessing dug out my sketch pad to draw the first map of Aerwiar. I turned off the television (this is key) and sat in the recliner with my high school art supplies, eager to tell a story. As with any adventure, had I known how much work and time it would have taken, I might not have had the guts to start. I drew the coastline of Skree on the left, then for some reason on the right I drew another coastline and named the continent Dang. The expanse between was named the Dark Sea of Darkness. I grinned like the geek I was, sharpened my pencil, and began the work of filling in the details. Eventually, Glipwood sprang out of the map, and the Wingfeather children sprang out of Glipwood. But who were they? And why did their story need to be told?

It took a few years of “research,” which when it comes to fantasy novels means “making stuff up.” Orson Scott Card’s book How to Write Science Fiction & Fantasy was a tremendous help, mainly because it reminded me that, because I was inventing a world from the ground up, I had to answer a zillion questions about the history of the world, the political situation, the currency used, the presence (or absence) of magic, the presence (or absence) of religion, and what the flora, fauna, and fangishness of this new world might be. At some point in the writing of the history of Aerwiar, a nameless evil (named Gnag the Nameless) demanded my attention, and soon I had the beginnings of the Wingfeather Saga. After a laborious first draft, then a second, third, and fourth draft, I managed to fool the good people at Random House/Waterbrook into giving a singer/songwriter a shot at publication. On the Edge of the Dark Sea of Darkness was published in 2008. North! Or Be Eaten came in 2009, and with the help of Rabbit Room Press The Monster in the Hollows arrived in 2011.

In case you haven’t noticed, it’s 2013. That means it’s time to finish the story. Janner, Kalmar, and Leeli are weary and homesick, and I need to bring them home (in one way or another). And you can help them. As of the writing of this post, I’m at 124,758 words. According to my Word document, that’s 417 double-spaced pages. I’m on chapter 79. There are quite a few chapters remaining, but not too many. Things are winding down, slowly but surely, and it won’t be long before I know how this whole thing ends. Since this book (and the previous one) were published by Rabbit Room Press and not a major publishing company, there’s a great deal of freedom. That’s a good thing. It means I can choose my editors, I’m intimately involved in the look and feel of the book, and I get to work with the illustrators. But there’s another side to the coin, and that’s this: there’s no big, fat monetary advance, and we need you, dear readers, to help us make this book happen.

Announcing the Hutchmoot Retreat

If you’ve been hanging around the Rabbit Room for any length of time, you’ve read about two of our favorite things: Hutchmoot and Laity Lodge. If you don’t know what Hutchmoot is, I encourage you to click this link. If you don’t know what Laity Lodge is, click this one. If you’re not all that into clicking links and want the quick summary, here it is:

Hutchmoot is a yearly gathering in Nashville for people who like good stories, good music, good food, and community. Laity Lodge is a beautiful retreat center in the Hill Country of Texas where many in our community have experienced life-changing rest. Well, thanks to our friends at Laity Lodge, and in response to quite a few emails from those of you who are frustrated that Hutchmoot (capped at 135 registrants) sells out too quickly, we’ve cooked up the mashup of the century, and we’re calling it the Hutchmoot Retreat. It’s happening at Laity Lodge, February 20-23, 2014.

 

“Carry the Fire” the Video (In Ireland!)

(Photos by Mark Bell)

On the north coast of Ireland there’s a town called Castlerock, where I left a bit of my heart. I’ve thought about it every day since our return to Nashville. In fact, if ever go missing from the States for a few years and you need to find me, it should be the first place you look. You may see me happily repairing an old boat on the beach, just like Andy Dufresne. The town rests on the white shores of the North Atlantic between crags and green fields. It’s flanked by the mouth of the River Bann on the right and an old castle ruin called Downhill Estate on the left. After a few days there my geek bells rang when I discovered that dear old C.S. Lewis came there regularly as a boy on holiday.

Since Northern Ireland is proud (and rightly so) of its connection to C.S.L. many places there claim to be the inspiration for Narnia, but none have as strong a claim as quiet little Castlerock, where a train pulls into the station every two hours then disappears into a deep tunnel at the edge of town; or where you can still see the window where as little boys he and Warnie likely watched the train steam past; or where you can still walk the path to Downhill and encounter castle ruins, or a tangle of forest called the Black Glen. “This is Narnia,” said my new friend Mark proudly as he talked about his family’s front yard: a field of waving wheat with Downhill castle off in the distance. In fact, here’s a great picture among many that Mark took just a short walk from his house.

 

Hume’s Big Toe

We walked the streets of Edinburgh, Scotland, one of the most beautiful cities in the world. People told me that of all the places on the island of Britain, Edinburgh was their favorite. I had seen London and Oxford, both of which have their own great beauty, so I was skeptical. But after a week there, I was ready to sell the house and move, even if the thick Scottish brogue was almost impossible for me to understand.

One of the highlights of the trip was the bus tour, led by a friend of a friend, a pastor named James (who supposedly was written about in Erwin McManus’s The Barbarian Way. The family and I sat on the open upper story of one of those red tour buses, rolling through the streets of the old city while James told us fascinating bits of history. Being a typical American, I of course asked him his opinion of Braveheart. I’ll save his answer for another, more testosterone-charged post.

After the bus tour, James asked if we wanted to “have a bit of a wander” so he could tell us more of the Christian history of the great city, which I’m glad we did. The stories he told were enlightening and terribly sad. At the end of the tour we stood on the main drag, the Royal Mile, next to a heart-shaped patch on the pavement called the Heart of Midlothian. Here’s what Wikipedia says about it.

Visitors to Edinburgh will often notice people spitting on the Heart. A tolbooth (prison) stood on the site, where executions used to take place. The heart marks its doorway: the point of public execution. Some people spit on the Heart. Although it now said to be done for good luck, it was originally done as a sign of disdain for the former prison. The spot lay directly outside the prison entrance, so the custom may have been begun by debtors on their release.

That may be true, but according to James it isn’t the whole truth. The Heart of Midlothian is now the emblem for a Scottish football (soccer) team, and much of the spitting comes from people loyal to their rival. Either way, in the space of about ten minutes we saw about fifteen people pass and spit on the heart without a thought. There wasn’t even a pause in their conversation or their stride. They spat without a glance, as habitually as if they were genuflecting in church. For luck? Spite? Who knows.

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March 13, 2014

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The final touches are being put on the last of the "Wingfeather Saga" book.

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