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.

  • nissa_ami_kato
    1:30 PM, 7 December 2010

    Wow, Sally Apokedak looks just like Wonder Woman! I sure am glad she helped you out cause the results are worth it. I’ve only read the part of the book you can read for free on Amazon.com, but I loved it lots and would have bought the book at once except those fools at Amazon.com don’t take live chickens in payment…..

  • S.D. Smith
    2:26 PM, 7 December 2010

    I love this story. So true about a weakness so many creatives and others of us have (self, self, self) and so true about how much connection to others can liberate. Isn’t human connection a central way God loves us and provides for us? According to wise people I know, this is also very effective in mental health problems. It’s also true of spiritual crisis.
    I guess we need each other.

    I am so thankful for Sally Apokedak. Way to be!

  • Aaron Roughton
    2:28 PM, 7 December 2010

    Sally, thanks. You’ve helped Jonathan write, and I quote my daughter, “the best book in the entire universe. It’s better than Narnia.”
    It is amazing how one word of encouragement or one person believing in what you’re doing can push you through a mountain of self doubt. Thanks for sharing this Jonathan. I pictured you writing this stuff in your sleep. I think I always assume everyone is in their sweet spot but me. Thanks for your transparency.

    So anyway, Sally, I’m stuck without enough material for my next album…

  • sally apokedak
    3:06 PM, 7 December 2010

    OK, then. I must say this is the first time my name has been in the title of a blog post. Wow!
    Well, here’s the rest of the story…I was afraid Jonathan was going to send me a pile of junk that would not be fixable. Because just being a great writer with a wonderful voice does not mean you can plot a decent book on demand. I was so relieved to see that he sent me a bunch of wonderfully funny scenes with a character who was real and had a compelling desire that pushed him through the book.

    So, no, it was not flattery I gave him. It was the truth. I told him he could, with his pinky finger, out-write the rest of us as we banged with two hands on our keyboards. I told him his character was adorable and his scenes were funny and he could and should finish the story.

    In the end, we have all found, happily, that the charlatan is the character not the author. The author has something of substance to offer. He’s giving us great value for the coppers we lay down. The author gives us wonderful, memorable looks at the human condition, wrapped up in stories that make us laugh.

    Thanks, Jonathan, for doing the hard work, so the reading is purely enjoyable.

  • Jess
    3:51 PM, 7 December 2010

    If this book hadn’t been published I would have… I don’t know what I would have done, because I doubt I would have known that it even might have been published, but… The Charlatan’s Boy is one of the most amazing stories I have ever read, and probably the funniest (which is definitely part of the amazing). THANK YOU SO MUCH SALLY!!!! And thank you Jonathan for taking her encouragement and turning it into the second best book I have ever read (I will not say the first for fear you would turn feechie-gray with jealousy 😉 )

  • Michelle R. Wood
    5:14 PM, 7 December 2010

    Thanks for such a humble and uplifting insight into the writing experience. I believe all artists get weighed down in the “self” syndrome. I know I do as an actor: I start worrying about how well I’ve gone into my character, how well it reads, whether I’m doing the playwright justice. It hurts even worse if it’s a show you really care about. In the end, that sort of self-occupation is damaging to portraying the truth of the playwright, dooming the actor through her very efforts.
    I had never read anything by you (I remember seeing your earlier trilogy advertised), but when I saw the title, the description, and gorgeous cover, I knew this was a book I wanted to read. I was not dissapointed: this book was an rollicking good time with surprising self-awareness and discovery. Thanks for the great read, to all who helped make this story possible.

  • Grace Elliot
    6:57 PM, 7 December 2010

    Awesome- sounds like every writer should have their very own ‘Sally.’

  • […] Jonathan Rogers muses on the author/editor relationship. […]

  • […] The Charlatan’s Boy. For today, learn more about it by visiting other tour participants: √ √ Author Jonathan Rogers, interacting with the tour √ √ Sally Apokedak Amy Bissell Red […]

  • Rebecca LuElla Miller
    8:36 PM, 13 December 2010

    By the way, Jonathan, I thought you’d be interested that Sally just won the Novel Journey’s Out of the Slush Pile contest for Speculative Fiction, Round II. You can read her chapter at http://noveljourney.blogspot.com/2007/12/button-girl.html

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Get a Quote