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Interview with Steven Rogers

As a retired business executive turned contemporary Christian author, Steven Rogers now spends his days exploring broken characters who face real-like experiences, sometimes in faraway places. But Steve always weaves his stories with hopeful endings. His debut novel, Into the Room was released this past May, from Elk Lake Publishing, and we are so excited to chat with Steve about this story and his writing life today.
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Welcome to Fiction Finder, Steve! We know from your bio that you have always had a fondness for story. What finally made you take the plunge into writing stories of your own?

First off, thank you for having me.

I took the plunge into writing because I was experiencing an ever-present “itch” to give writing a try. When I decided to retire from my corporate career, my wife asked a simple question, “What are you going to do with your time?” I briefly considered a few other options, but I knew I wanted to write fiction. I wish there was more of a journey or interesting story to tell, but, really, I just couldn’t shake the urge. After my last day of work, I took a week off and began my first short story the following Monday. As I worked on putting stories down on paper, I realized how much I enjoy the process. I guess I’m just wired to try and tell a story.

You also share on your website that the idea for Into the Room came to you while on the plane for your own trip to the Holy Land. What was the first image or idea that cemented in your mind?

Like a lot of writers, I have an overactive imagination and tend to think a lot. Sitting on the plane, I began to muse about the types of people who take a trip to Israel. I hypothesized the vast majority were believers in God and, most likely, in a relatively stable season of life. Then a question popped into my head—what if I were an alcoholic, recently released from rehab, taking this trip? In response, I took out a notebook and sketched out my main character, Ben Cahill. That sketch became what is now the first two pages of Into the Room.

Did the story plan itself out from there, or did you discover it through your own experiences abroad?

As soon as I finished the sketch of Ben Cahill, I knew the beginning and ending of the novel. However, I had no idea what would happen in between. As we toured Israel, I journaled in Ben’s voice, learning about him and how he’d react to his fellow travelers and the sites we were seeing. Upon returning home, I looked over the notes and just started writing. From there, the story developed. Seven drafts later, I was blessed with a contract from Elk Lake Publishing.

Did you always imagine yourself writing contemporary Christian fiction, or was another genre also pulling at your imagination?

While I’ve always read in the genre, I never remotely considered writing a faith-based story. My writing before Into the Room centered primarily on serial killers, time travel, and supernatural phenomena. I was hoping to be the next Stephen King. However, after I asked myself the question about an alcoholic traveling to Israel, I became a contemporary Christian writer. I haven’t wanted to write about anything else since. I guess this confirms that old line, “If you want to make God laugh, tell Him your plans.”

With Into the Room, we are following the journey of Ben Cahill, a broken man who has an addiction to alcohol. What made you decide to explore addiction in this novel?

While I personally have not had issues with either alcohol or drugs, I’ve been exposed to substance abuse and its impact on individuals/families. I deeply admire those people I know who have overcome addiction. On the flight to Israel, I concluded I wanted to tell a story about the hope provided through God’s redemption and forgiveness. After returning from the trip, I began to doubt—I thought the topic might be too complicated. However, as I continued, Ben’s journey forced me to discover the emotions my life experiences had created. His journey also helped me see my own demons. Once I knew the book was headed in that direction, I had no choice but to finish the story.

When reading Ben’s story, we are taken on a twelve-day journey through the Holy Land, which is a fantastic opportunity to learn about some of the fascinating historical landmarks referenced in the Bible. Did you have a favorite location from your own trip that made it into the story?

The short answer is “yes.” I loved everything we saw and have included almost every site we visited in the story. However, if forced to pick one, I would choose the Garden Tomb. The events depicted in the chapter (Day 9) are very close to what I experienced. For example, after exiting the tomb, I sat down and read the Gospel of John, chapter twenty, verses ten through eighteen. Like Ben, I realized the events depicted occurred within a ten-foot radius of where I was sitting. There are really no words to describe the experience. If I ever return to Israel, the Garden Tomb is the one place I’d be sure to see again.

Of course, if I answered this question for you tomorrow, I’d probably pick another location as my favorite. Perhaps the Garden of Gethsemane, Qumran, or the Jerusalem Prayer Center. The whole journey was incredible.

The progress reports at the end of each chapter reminded me of those used in C.S. Lewis’ The Screwtape Letters (with a heavenly view, of course). Did you have any works of fiction or portions of the Bible that inspired the reports provided by Joseph to Peter or that inspired other sections of your story?

The progress reports were very much a nod to C.S. Lewis and his genius. They were also designed to get me away from Ben’s head for a while. Writing in the first person about an alcoholic can be exhausting. I was also influenced by The Shack and books written by Billy Coffey. I find their realistic depiction of human pain and struggles relevant to my life. As far as the Bible is concerned, Ben’s journey was most influenced by the Gospels, specifically those stories depicting forgiveness and God’s grace. I wanted him to see that even our faith heroes were flawed and in need of redemption.

If you could have coffee with an author, dead or alive, whose work you admire, who would that be? What would you ask him or her?

Really? I can only pick one? You seemed like such a nice person. Okay, sorry, I’m done now. I gave this question a lot of thought. In the end, I decided on C.S. Lewis. I based the conclusion on three reasons: (1) his faith journey from atheist to Christian fascinates me, (2) he wrote both fiction and non-fiction and I would enjoy picking his brain on the differences between writing the two, and (3) I would love to discuss the creative process with the mind that generated The Chronicles of Narnia series. For the record, the other top contenders were Francine Rivers, Stephen King, John Steinbeck, and Katharine Paterson.

All fantastic choices, and I am sorry to make you settle on one. What message do you hope readers take away from your novel?

Above everything else, I’m hopeful readers enjoy the story. I believe the most important objective in writing fiction is to get people away from life for a while. In addition, though, I’d like Into the Room to meet readers where they are in their faith journey. Over the five months since the book has been released, I’ve been surprised at the variety of feedback I’ve received from readers. For example, some focus on the travel part of the book and the experiences the characters have as a result of being in Israel. Others primarily discuss Ben and the other characters’ walk with God. There’s also a third group I was not expecting – the story has resonated with some individuals I know in the recovery community.

Most importantly, I pray the story helps a reader improve his/her relationship with God. Into the Room is a book about stepping into God’s presence. I know writing the book brought me closer to God and clarified a lot of questions I was grappling with in my own life. Maybe, in some small way, Into the Room can do this for others.

Truly honoring hopes for this story. What’s up next for you in your writing life?

At some point in the first half of 2022, we’ll release an audiobook of Into the Room. In addition, I’m currently working on a sequel called A Year in the Room. I’m hoping to generate an editor-worthy draft by mid-2022. In addition, I post a monthly blog column on my website with my observations about life. These are designed to provide a brief escape from the world—they are non-political and non-controversial in nature. I’d love to publish a collection of those in the future.
As a teen, Tara Ross first discovered how hope-filled prose can change the entire trajectory of a person's life. Case in point: her life. She now has the joy of sharing this truth with youth every day - as a Speech-Language Pathologist, youth ministry worker and YA author.
Her debut novel and blog, were created to ignite sparks of faith for Generation Z. You can follow Tara on instagram (tara.k.ross) or twitter (tara_k_ross) for more book reviews, tattoo-worthy quotes, and updates on her publishing journey.

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