All first-time authors begin with a blank page. For Charlotte Rogan, author of The Lifeboat, this is the hardest part. Find out how she overcomes the daunting blank pages and takes her novel to the finish line as we continue the Kobo New Voices in Fiction Week.
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Kobo: What was the inspiration of The Lifeboat?
Charlotte Rogan: I found the germ of the story in my husband’s old criminal law text, which included two 19th century cases where shipwrecked sailors were put on trial after being rescued. I was particularly intrigued by the moral dilemmas involved in survival situations and by the idea that the law of society isn’t quite suited to people facing extreme situations and scarce resources. Not too long after that, the character of Grace Winter came to me and started telling me her story.
Kobo: What were some of the challenges you encountered while writing The Lifeboat?
CR: I am not a very organized writer, and the story will shoot off in all sorts of directions—some productive and some not. There comes a time when I have to wrestle these wild strands into a coherent whole. This requires rigorous pruning and shaping, as well as writing a certain amount of connective tissue to make sure that everything fits nicely together. Besides the very beginning of a project, when there is only the blank page and a vague idea, this is the hardest phase for me.
Kobo: How was it to become Grace?
CR: There are little pieces of me in all of my characters. This might manifest as a point of view or an interest or a situation a character finds herself in. While there is nothing autobiographical about the story of The Lifeboat, I did grow up in a family of sailors, so I know what it is to be fearful of falling overboard in a storm.
Kobo: What was it like to finally finish writing the book?
CR: The process of bringing a book to publication made me realize that a manuscript is “finished” several times. For me, these included: the point I considered it finished enough to send to my literary agent; the point he and I considered it finished enough to send to prospective publishers; the point when I had successfully addressed the suggestions of my Little, Brown editor; and the point when the manuscript had been through the copyediting process and was headed to press. Each time, I felt that the manuscript was as good as I could get it, and each time, I felt a huge sense of satisfaction.
Kobo: What books do you feel influenced you the most when writing The Lifeboat?
CR: It would be impossible to include here all of my writing influences for truly, it was the books of other writers that taught me how to write. Here are a few of the books that knocked my socks off for one reason or another and that I still return to for inspiration, but there are others that were equally important to me.
- The Unbearable Lightness of Being and Life is Elsewhere by Milan Kundera for quick shifts in scene and economical characterization
- Hunger by Knut Hamsun and The Victim by Saul Bellow for psychological depth
- The Mountain Lion by Jean Stafford for surprising characters and stunning language
- Despair by Vladimir Nabokov for claustrophobic point of view;
- Stories in an Almost Classical Mode by Harold Brodkey for depth of moment and language;
- An Experiment in Love by Hilary Mantel for language and structure;
- A Distant Episode by Paul Bowles and Waiting for the Barbarians by J.M. Coetzee for human brutality and violence.