By Rob Glidden
New York Times bestselling author Charlotte Rogan, whose novel “The Lifeboat” is featured in the Southington Library’s 2013 Big Read, discussed her book and the publishing industry in a recent interview with The Observer.
The novel chronicles the sinking of a fictional ocean liner and the aftermath when survivors crowd into a lifeboat that can not hold them all. Everyone in the boat will drown unless some of the passengers are sacrificed.
Rogan was inspired by two 19th century court cases where shipwrecked sailors had been on trial because of their behavior in these grim scenarios.
“It was the moral dilemma that hooked me,” she said. “What does a person really do in that situation? The decisions they make sound terrible if you’re sitting in a living room, but what if that decision is the only thing that can get you back into your living room?”
The novel is set in 1914, an era where it was becoming routine for enormous ships to carry a diverse crowd of passengers across oceans. The sinking of The Titanic is two years before the fictional tragedy that sets the story of “The Lifeboat” in motion. Rogan also chose the time frame because it coincided with the start of World War I and a sense that “the old world” was coming to an end.
“I saw the lifeboat as an overarching metaphor for our world,” she said. “It has limited resources and is overpopulated.”
Readers often respond strongly to the lead character, a 22-year-old widow named Grace who becomes ruthless in her determination to survive the ordeal. The author said that gender issues were a large part of the novel and that the varying reactions of readers to Grace illustrate these issues even further.
“There’s something deep in our nature that wants women to be kind and nurturing,” Rogan said. “There are a lot less female antiheroes in fiction than male ones.”
“The Lifeboat” is her first novel and has drawn major sales and acclaim since its release in April 2012. Aspiring authors tend to distrust the publishing industry and seek other venues to get their work into the public, such as self-publishing, but Rogan is an example of a success story within this system. She said other authors often seek her out for advice, but that there was no “magic formula.”
“It’s very hard, but if you have good content and you’re persistent, you should be able to find a publisher eventually,” Rogan said. “They do offer valuable professional advice if you get that far. Getting a book out there with a great publisher and having it find an audience was the success. Everything that has happened afterwards is just frosting.”
The author will speak about her novel at the Big Read event on March 20 at the Aqua Turf Club. Registration for the event began on February 1 and copies “The Lifeboat” are available at the library.
“It’s a fabulous idea,” Rogan said of the Big Read. “The people who get involved in events like these really love it. It’s a way to bring the town together and to utilize the library in a nice way.”