Today’s Friday Feature interviews Barbara Rogan, mystery writer, agent, and teacher. Rogan has lived a diverse life; from New York City and Santa Fe to Europe and Israel, she has experienced many different places and perspectives that have factored into her writing. A writer with a love of thriller and mystery novels, Rogan also teaches online writing classes on her “Next Level Workshop” site. Her latest book, “A Dangerous Fiction,” combines Rogan’s loves of the publishing industry and of this thriller theme. The book was touted by Diana Gabaldon “a thriller with a psychological heart of mystery, a double-ended love story, and a fascinating look at the world of high-stakes publishing.” In an exclusive interview, Rogan discusses how her rich past plays a role in her writing.
Born in New York City, Barbara Rogan has spent much of her life traveling. In college she took a year off to journey through Europe and Israel. After she graduated from St. John’s College in Santa Fe, she took a publishing job in New York. Six months later, Rogan left for Israel, studied Hebrew and worked as a park ranger, horse wrangler, and editor in Tel Aviv. Two years later, she launched Barbara Rogan Literary Agency, which soon became the largest in the country. After the birth of her son, she sold the agency, moved back to New York, and became a full time writer. She has since published multiple novels and continues to teach online writing courses and revise fiction.
To learn more about Rogan, visit her website at www.barbararogan.com or follow her on Twitter at @RoganBarbara.
Interview with Barbara Rogan:
- You have a rich, diverse life. How does this factor into your writing?
It provides material and a wider view of life. I’m not an ivory tower sort of writer. Recently, a young writer asked my advice about going straight from college to grad school to get an MFA. I advised against it. I have nothing against MFA degrees. The degree itself isn’t critical, as writers are judged by what they produce, not how they got there; but the intense focus on writing and critical feedback required to attain that degree can be valuable indeed. The first thing the writer needs, though, is something to write about. I advised the young writer who asked not to go straight to grad school but rather to go out into the world, preferably someplace where he doesn’t feel at home.
- How did running such a large publishing agency in Israel shape your perspective as a writer?
It taught me how the industry works. Before I started the agency, I was an editor in a large New York City publishing house; so I’ve seen the publishing world from a lot of different angles. This is both good and bad for me as a writer. On the one hand, I’m not intimidated by any situation and I can speak the lingo without an interpreter. Writers who understand the business get a bit more respect and can help themselves more, or at least avoid hurting themselves. On the other hand, I can see potential problems coming from 50 different directions. Sometimes, it’s better to just sit back and enjoy the ride.
- Do you have a specific process that you follow when you write?
I spend months doing prep work before I start writing a book. I do research; I write down setting, character and plot ideas, and wait for them to cross-fertilize; and in the final stage of prep, I start plotting out the novel. In the beginning, it’s a pretty rough outline. I know where I want to start and end up, but not all the stops along the way. As I proceed with the writing, I continue to outline sections in more detail. I write down my goals for each scene, and the incidents that need to happen to get me there. After all that planning, I put my notes aside and just write. The notes have provided parameters for the scene, but writing without reference to them allows for unexpected things to pop up.
- Do you have any quirky writing habits?
I like to write naked, hanging upside down from a chandelier. Other than that, no.
- What draws you to the genre of suspense and mystery?
Well, for one thing I’ve always liked to read them. People should write what they enjoy reading I think. For another, they have a definitive form. Mysteries are to fiction as sonnets are to poetry. They have certain requirements and you can be very creative while playing within those lines; but they give a shape to the book and a solid resolution, which I find very satisfying.
- You taught for a long time and still continue to do so through workshops. Why is teaching so important to you?
I never had the opportunity to study writing in college or out of it; like most writers, I’ve learned through practice, good critical feedback, and other writers. Teaching is a way of exploring the art of fiction writing, consolidating what I’ve learned over the course of writing my books. It’s certainly made me a better writer.
I also enjoy working with serious writers, seeing their progress and offering a little help along the way. It’s hugely satisfying when my students go forth and publish, as many have. And I think it’s useful work. Most writers go through identical stages in learning to write, as babies do in learning to walk. You can’t make just anyone into a writer, but for those who have the skill and determination, a good teacher can shorten the path.
- How was your move from Israel back to the United States reflected in your writing, if at all?
My first couple of books were set in Israel. After I made the move back to the U. S., the settings moved as well. Part of the reason that I came back was for the language. When I lived in Israel, I read a lot in English but spoke Hebrew most of the time. After a number of years living abroad, I began to feel a certain disconnection to my native language, which is a living and evolving thing. Since I write in English, I wanted to re-immerse myself in that language.
- Tell me about your experience writing your latest book, “A Dangerous Fiction”?
“A DANGEROUS FICTION” is the story of Jo Donovan, a literary agent who came out of nowhere to become a star in the NYC publishing world. She’s living the life she always dreamed of until it all starts to go south. Jo’s problems begin with a stalker who insists that she represent him, but soon get much, much worse. I had loved the 15 or so years that I spent as an agent, traveling widely and working with brilliant, fascinating people, and writing this book gave me the opportunity to return to that world. It’s always fun to write a book in which the characters need be really clever. I did succeed in entertaining myself, always my first goal.
- Who are some of your favorite authors?
That’s tough because I read so many different kinds of books. In the suspense genre I like Dennis Lehane, Ron Rash, Gillian Flynn. Literary fiction: Don DeLillo, Edward St. Aubyn, Pat Parker, Barbara Kingsolver, Ivy Compton-Burnett, and the sainted Jane Austen, whose books I’ve read to the point of memorization. I read a lot of short stories, too: favorites include Katherine Mansfield, George Sanders, Amy Bloom, Lori Moore, and Tobias Wolff.
Thanks to Barbara Rogan for taking the time to speak with “Fiction Reboot.”
ABOUT THE BLOGGER
Keri Heath is a writer and journalist from Austin, Texas. She has written professionally for Austin Fit, Totally Dublin, Austin Woman, and ATX Man magazines. She has also seen her creative work published in NEAT and Straylight magazines, among others. When she isn’t writing, she loves to read, run, and play mandolin. You can view Keri’s work at readkh.wix.com/keri-heath or by following her @HeathKeri.