Talkshow Thursday: Welcome Steven Rogers!
What was your inspiration for the story?
While on a plane heading to Israel, I asked myself a question—What would happen if I was an alcoholic, recently released from rehab, and I had to take the trip? I dug a notebook out of my backpack and outlined my character Ben Cahill (although his name was George Reed until the third draft of the book) and wrote the first two pages of Into the Room. While touring Israel, I journaled in Ben’s voice. When I returned home, I decided to tell his story.
What sort of research did you do for your story, and was there an exceptionally interesting tidbit you knew you had to include?
Obviously, there was the trip to Israel. Although writing a book about the visit was not the original intention, the entire journey turned into an impromptu research project. In addition, I researched the chemistry and psychology of alcoholism. I did this through reading, conversations with individuals in recovery, and drawing on firsthand experiences.
The tidbit I had to include was our visit to the Garden Tomb in Jerusalem. The account in the story reflects my own experience, especially the part where Ben sits on a wall and reads John 20, verses 10 through 18. It was a life-changing moment for me, one I still look back on during my devotional times.
If you were to write a spin-off book about one of your secondary characters, which one would you choose and why?
I would love to write a book about the character Ruth. In the story, she is at peace with her life and offers kind wisdom and support to Ben. Toward the end of Into the Room, the reader learns about her previously rebellious lifestyle and challenges overcoming personal tragedy. I would enjoy exploring those events and her relationship with God more deeply.
How do you come up with storylines?
I constantly ponder “I wonder what would happen if…” For example, standing on a crowded boardwalk on the beach last summer I thought “I wonder what would happen if this platform collapsed right now.” For every fifty or so times, I get a short story or novel idea. I am still considering this one— “I wonder what would have happened if Judas did not hang himself? Would he have been redeemed? Would he have returned to God’s service?”
I also observe people. When I am sitting in a public place, I frequently invent backstories for those around me. This sometimes leads to characters I either include in my stories or write stories about. For example, I have an unpublished short story resulting from watching an elderly man play shuffleboard on a cruise ship. Turns out he had quite the background.
What is your process for writing? (do you outline, have a special place or time of day you write, etc.) What is your favorite part of the process?
Whenever I write something, I know the beginning and the end before I start. I have a vague idea of the events occurring in between. As I write, the plot develops and characters grow, sometimes surprising me with their insistence on being part of the story. An example from Into the Room is the character Daniel. He was originally intended to appear sparingly, but he kept showing up in scenes.
I typically write in the afternoon either in my home office or at the local library. My favorite part of the writing process is the first edit. Once the story is down, I love adding imagery, digging deeper into plotlines/characters, and making the words more readable.
What is one thing you wish you could do?
I have always wanted to be a guy who was “handy” and able to fix things. While I am competent within limits, I have always envied people who are true “do-it-yourselfers.” Often my characters have these skills, allowing me to live vicariously through them.
How do you celebrate when you finish a manuscript?
By starting the next short story or novel!
What is your advice to fledgling writers?
First off, I still consider myself a new writer. However, to those starting out I offer three pieces of advice: (1) write the story you want to write. There is no way every reader will like your work—make sure you do, (2) practice, practice, practice. Working on the craft is the only way to improve, and (3) never write anything you would be embarrassed to have your mother read. Following this rule does not mean you are unrealistic in your writing. This approach forces a writer to creatively describe difficult, violent, or intimate situations.
What was your favorite childhood book and why?
|Photo: Steven Rogers
What books are on your nightstand right now?
For reading—Beautiful Ruins by Jess Walter, A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles, and The City Below by James Carroll. For devotional times—The Cloud on Unknowing (author unknown) and Praying our Days by Frank T. Griswold.
What is your next project?
I am currently finishing a sequel to Into the Room. The working title is A Year in the Room. After A Year in the Room, I will tell one more story about Ben Cahill. I see his journey as a trilogy.
Into the Room: An Excerpt
Yet here I am, on a bus bursting with Christians, all of them using their outdoor voices, enthusiastically talking about the upcoming pilgrimage. The excitement is lost on me. To take a pilgrimage, there needs to be a purpose and, as far as I’m concerned, this trip is simply filling time.
Also, and I think this is true, to take a pilgrimage, you need to know who you are and what you want to become. I’m confident I couldn’t give a sincere answer to either of those questions. However, in a moment of honesty, I’d confess that it would be nice to know who I am.
Who am I?
My name is Ben Cahill, and I’m taking this trip because I have no place to live, unless I camp on my brother’s couch and, well, at forty-two I’m a little beyond that stage. The trip leader, the guy everyone calls Pastor Marcus, got me in at the last minute after Nick, that’s my brother, pulled some strings and talked me onto the roster. Nick’s half a Holy Roller himself.
Unfortunately, no matter how far away I go, I can’t get away from myself.
I was, until recently, a highly regarded commercial real estate developer, arguably the best dealmaker in the city of Richmond, Virginia, and wealthy. Most of the fortune is gone. I told the lawyers Sarah deserved all of it, that all I wanted was some seed money and the old Camry. I got $50,000 and, after paying for this trip, there’s $46,000 left.
Sarah is my soon-to-be ex-wife, an angel on earth who, for some reason, still loves me. However, I believe she will never, under any circumstances, take me back. A woman can forgive almost all transgressions except one—there is no exoneration when she thinks her children are in danger, no grace granted for subsequent good behavior.
We have two children. One is a beautiful little girl, eight-year-old Olivia, and the other is a strong-willed, determined thirteen-year-old boy named Zach. Zach has become his mother’s and his sister’s protector.
Three weeks ago, I graduated from the Seasons of Hope rehabilitation facility. My time at the Outhouse, as we called the place, was wasted; on the way home, I drank myself into oblivion.
Even now, with all the mess I’ve created, all I want is a bottle of Absolut, a short glass, and some ice.
But, really, it’s all under control. I’ve just got to get back to work, back to my routine. I’ve just got to get through this trip.
On to Israel.
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