by Kellie Lambert McGuire
Charlotte Rogan may have late blooming success for a writer, but her popularity was worth the wait.
More than 350 people came out March 20 to hear the writer talk about her debut novel, “The Lifeboat,” during the 2013 Southington Reads event at The Aqua Turf in Plantsville.
Rogan said the Southington event may have been the biggest crowd to whom she has given a solo talk. She has done about 70 book events since “The Lifeboat” was released a year ago.
Sue Smayda said Rogan and her bestselling book are a perfect fit for the Southington Reads program, which began in 2008.
“It’s a combination of people looking forward to this event every year, and it’s such a great book,” said Sue Smayda, director of the Southington Public Library. “There’s just something about it that makes you want to talk about it.”
Smayda said at least 10 book clubs turned out for the event at the Aqua Turf, which generously donated its banquet facility for the popular event. Readers snacked on a delicious buffet of sweet treats, coffee and tea while waiting for Rogan to begin her talk.
“I come every year,” said Southington resident Mary Ann Ingriselli. “It’s a tradition to come with my friend. We enjoy it. We have a wonderful library in town.”
Rogan stepped up the podium shortly after 7 p.m. for a half-hour speech and slide show about how she became a writer. A mom of grown triplets, the Westport resident started writing novels in her then-hometown of Dallas, Texas, while her children were young. She said she treasured any moment during the day when she could put her imagination to work. She wrote page after page, producing manuscripts for several novels which will never likely be published.
“The plots are likely too weak,” she said during her speech, a problem she was able to correct when rewriting “The Lifeboat.”
After 25 years of writing without success, Rogan’s fate changed. She passed “The Lifeboat” along to a journalist friend’s literary agent, and shortly after her 57 birthday, she signed a book contract. Rogan’s debut novel won early praise from both critics and book fans, landed on the New York Times bestsellers list, and the novel is now translated into several languages around the world.
The inspiration for the story of “The Lifeboat” was found in one of her lawyer husband’s law text. Rogan spotted a story about a 19th-century case where starving castaways, stranded on a lifeboat for weeks with little food, decide to kill and eat a young passenger. They were rescued four days later and convicted of murder.
In her book, Rogan used the seed of that tale to tell the story of a 22-year-old newlywed-turned-widow named Grace Winter, who is on trial for an event that unfolded during 21 days on a lifeboat full of castaways after a luxury liner in the Atlantic Ocean sinks. Although she does not borrow the cannibalism story from historical case in her husband’s law book, she does pose questions of survival, life and death.
Rogan said that addressing these themes within a fictional work can be telling.
“Writing fiction is an opportunity to talk about truth with a capital ‘T,’” she told the audience. “We find inspiration in real life.”
Smayda said that she and library staff is already hard at work at planning next year’s Southington Reads.
Meanwhile, Rogan may see her book turned into a big-screen blockbuster.
“I’ve heard (actress) Anne Hathaway has read it,” Rogan told the crowd last week, recounting a tidbit she had heard about the recent Academy Award-winning star of “Les Miserables.” “And she liked it.”