Debut Author Snapshot: Charlotte Rogan

Posted by Goodreads on April 2, 2012
Charlotte Rogan The setting: an overloaded lifeboat adrift in the Atlantic Ocean. The dilemma: Would you be willing to kill to survive? Debut author Charlotte Rogan's characters face dire circumstances in The Lifeboat, a historical novel set in 1914 that one reviewer dubs "Lord of the Flies with Edwardian ladies." Readers meet narrator Grace Winter, a middle-class girl who marries into privilege and is now on trial for murder. To argue her case, she recounts the sinking of the ocean liner Empress Alexandra, the loss of her young husband, and a desperate power struggle aboard the over-capacity lifeboat. Not everyone makes it to dry land.

The mother of triplets, Rogan turned to writing following a career in architecture and engineering. She is now working on her second novel. The Connecticut writer shares with Goodreads nautical images that inspired The Lifeboat.

"With my father on the family boat."

Goodreads: You've said that you come from a family of sailors. Have you experienced any close calls at sea?

Charlotte Rogan: My husband and I own a little boat that we keep at my family's summer house in Maine. It is the same shape as the lifeboat in the book, but a lot smaller, and I love it because it is picturesque and graceful more than because it is particularly seaworthy. It was built by a local craftsman to both row and sail, but it is not very efficient with the sail up. It seems I can always get out of the cove, but the wind has to be just right for me to get back; often I end up rowing or waiting for the wind to change. So I have some experience with a boat that is hard to maneuver.

My family sailed together a lot when I was a child. I was too little to be of much help when the weather turned bad, and I remember looking nervously across a smooth expanse of calm water as the dark line of a gale approached and trusting that my father would know what to do when it reached us. He mostly did. I think it was those experiences of battling the elements surrounded by people who were stronger than I was that allowed me to imagine what those weeks in the lifeboat must have been like for Grace.

GR: This year marks the centennial of the Titanic sinking. How much did that tragedy serve as inspiration for the plight of your fictional transatlantic liner, the Empress Alexandra? How did your story idea originate?

CR: The Titanic was a wonderful resource for me as I wrote The Lifeboat, but I wouldn't really call it an inspiration. In fact, I protected myself from reading any personal accounts of the survivors because I didn't want them to affect how I saw my own characters. The Titanic was extremely useful, however, when it came to researching important details for the Empress Alexandra and for lifeboat 14.

Illustration of the fictional lifeboat for the Empress Alexandra.
For instance, the size of the lifeboat was of critical importance for me. Most of the Titanic lifeboats could hold 65 people, but 65 characters would have been far too many for both author and reader. The Titanic also had four collapsible lifeboats (capacity 47 people) and two wooden "cutters" (capacity 40 people). I modeled my lifeboat after the cutters but made the boats slightly smaller in order to make the boat overcrowded while keeping the character count manageable.

My real inspiration—the thing that caused me to put pen to paper—was coming upon an old criminal law text and reading about two cases involving shipwrecked sailors who were put on trial after they were rescued. I loved the moral dilemma, the idea that the law of society wasn't quite suited to people in extreme situations. I have always been interested in Thomas Hobbes and John Locke, 17th-century political philosophers who talked about the social contract—the bargains made when people give up some of their freedoms for security. Their work has modern-day implications for individual rights.

GR: The reader begins to notice clues that Grace Winter may be an unreliable narrator. How did you decide what to reveal, and with so many moral questions at play, how did you avoid passing judgment on your characters?

CR: I am interested in your phrasing of the question—you zero in exactly on the relationship between passing judgment and revelation. I think that if I had revealed everything that Grace did and didn't do, I would almost necessarily have come across as judgmental. The fact that we don't really know what she did or why is part of what allows us to engage so fully with her and her story.

"A photo of my grandmother sailing circa 1914, the year in which The Lifeboat is set."
What to reveal, what to hint at, and what to explicitly state is a careful balance for a writer. Too many unresolved mysteries can be frustrating for the reader, but books that spend the final pages tying up all the loose ends always seem anticlimactic to me. This can leave a final impression of dissociation rather than engagement, completely undoing the imaginative connection that was made in everything that went before. I tend to dislike pages of exposition and explanation at the beginning and end of the books; my bias was against doing that in The Lifeboat.

This also gets at something of my process as a writer. Both the characters and the story develop organically for me. It is only through writing the story that I come to know my characters, and often I am surprised by what they decide to do. I remember being so excited when I first thought to myself, "Oh my goodness, Grace isn't telling the truth!" This was closely followed by the thought, "Well, who does?" And it is that line—between the usual sort of prevarication and a more extreme sort of lying—that I find so fascinating.

GR: What's next for you as a writer?

CR: I am superstitious about talking about my work, so I will only say that I am well into another novel, this one set in South Africa, where my husband and I were lucky enough to live for nearly a year.


Comments Showing 1-39 of 39 (39 new)

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message 1: by Jeff (new)

Jeff Really? You're not going to mention Alfred Hitchcock's 1944 film "Lifeboat", set in (guess what?) an overloaded lifeboat where the occupants have to make decisions about who lives and who doesn't? Written by some guy named John Steinbeck, by the way. How original.


message 2: by Monica (new)

Monica Jeff,
You are so right. Ripoff is wahat I thought when I read the summary.


message 3: by Isabel (new)

Isabel I was thinking the same thing as I read this outline. I remember my parents taking me to see 'Lifeboat' in the 50's. Is it possible this woman never heard of the movie?


message 4: by Jessica (new)

Jessica Well I'm interested in reading this book....most authors (I assume) are inspired by events that make an impact on their life in addition to previous literature.
Little bit harsh don't you think? Actually your comments have inspired me to watch Hitchcock's "Lifeboat"...I'll also read the book.


message 5: by Cynthia (new)

Cynthia I've been reading the reviews on Lifeboat by Charlotte...and can't wait to get my hands on a copy of the book. I've added it to my wishlist, and am hoping our library gets a copy.


message 6: by Jeff (new)

Jeff Yeah - I know that writers are inspired by other writers, and Ms. Rogan may have written an excellent book. I'm jut surprised that, given the similarities, the film wasn't mentioned as an inspiration for the book.


message 7: by Sue (new)

Sue harsh comments in above posts...I've READ the book, love it and it inspires much discussion, threads of conversation and leaves you thinking, wondering, pondering long after the last page has been turned. The author has written a captivating, confronting novel that I REALLY enjoyed....bugger off to another forum if you wish to be so negative and so dismissive!


message 8: by Sheilaamaloney (new)

Sheilaamaloney I suppose I shouldn't comment without reading this book.

But it does sound remarkably similar to the movie and book and find it surprising that the author or reviewer did not mention it.


message 9: by Beverly (new)

Beverly Scofield I can't wait to read it! The cover art struck me because the overall look--ocean, sky, color--are so similar to my own recently-published debut novel "The Girl Who Dreamed of Ships." I have to repeat, "I can't wait to read it!"


message 10: by Brian (new)

Brian Completely agree with Jeff. However you feel about the book itself, it's just bizarre that an interviewer wouldn't broach the topic--especially when discussing influences such as Titanic. I also don't understand how mentioning the strong similarity to previous works could be considered harsh--it's a fact. At the very least, it isn't as harsh as telling people to "bugger off"...: )


message 11: by Caroline (new)

Caroline Woodward It doesn't matter if a movie or a real event or another book has already "happened". It's the quality of the writing, the ability to create original characters responding to a well-worn situation that makes a good novel a great novel. The Life of Pi, Ahab's Wife and other terrific books also take on this extreme theme. I used to use a role-playing exercise called 'Lifeboat' in social studies classes which addressed this very issue: who is valuable to society 'out there' or to the immediate security of everyone on board 'in the present'? What do we learn about ourselves when we willingly, or not, jettison someone because they are too old, too young, too annoying, too sick to be useful? I'm certainly going to read this book and not jettison it because a movie wasn't included in the interview questions. It may have been edited out for lack of space, for all we know.


message 12: by Sharon (new)

Sharon Sounds very intriguing!!


message 13: by Christina (new)

Christina Haskin The book sounds great. Shakespeare wrote his plays from plays that already existed. The plot lines may have been similiar but it is in writing of it that makes all the difference. Nothing is totally original


message 14: by Rip (new)

Rip I just watched Hitchcock's movie (on YouTube) and other than the title and part of the setting, there doesn't appear to be anything in common with this new book. The psychological byplay is completely different (based on the description of the new book). I am a sailor also so I have put it on hold at my local library. I look forward to any new books about sailing, the sea or voyaging. If I like it, I will buy it to add to my personal library.


message 15: by Christina (new)

Christina THe book sounds intriquing and I will put it on my wishlist; however, I want to watch the Hitchcock movie too. I never heard of the movie and now I am curious to read the book and watch the Hitchcock movie and see if it is indeed a 'ripoff'. ON a sidenote, when I saw the title of this book as a recommendation and then the synopsis of the book...I kept thinking of the game we use to play in 'leadership' camps and workshops that I attended in High School. You have to pretend you are in a life boat, while a narrator narates what happened,and we must choose who will live (allow to stay on the boat for survival) and who will die (jump over board) based on skills and such. Morbid game, even for any type of leadership workshops or camps and I never liked it. However, thats all I kept thinking about when I read the summary of the book and the title...


message 16: by Glo (last edited Apr 17, 2012 09:21PM) (new)

Glo This sounds like a good read with a nice cup of tea. Can't wait to read it on my Kindle Fire.
Re Lifeboat it is a good movie to watch. We can not be too quick to judge and form opinions before her book is read. One must be more sensitive and appreciate each persons creative work. I for one look forward to this book.


message 17: by Jill (new)

Jill I did read the book from page 1 to the last in one sitting. I have also watched the movie. I can't agree that because a story was told once that the subject of that story is forever off limits. Correct me if I'm wrong, but wasn't the film about a wartime ship that is damaged and the sailors are all men. This current story is a mixed gender life boat, not war time, a completely different mix.


message 18: by Sue (new)

Sue Jill wrote: "I did read the book from page 1 to the last in one sitting. I have also watched the movie. I can't agree that because a story was told once that the subject of that story is forever off limits. Cor..."

thank you jill - was wondering if ANYONE was going to actually READ this and post something positive as this thread seems to have gone off on a tangent. I LOVED this book and we have featured it in our bookgroup - so much to discuss! What about the 'theme - "Should women and children go first in emergency?"...that was interesting to discuss as Hardie sure saved those in Lifeboat 14! My sympathies for Grace wavered and I thought her quite calculationg...right from her marriage plans!!!! Thankyou for putting this thread back into positive territory!!


message 19: by S. (new)

S. Absolutely loved this book. The best book I have read in a long time. The characters reminded me of people I work with, family members and myself. Grace reminds me a bit of Scarlette O'Hara from "Gone with the Wind", but I hate to simplify her character.
I saw the Hitchcock movie when I was a teen (many decades ago) and the book did not remind me much of the movie except for the setting.
I cannot wait to read what Ms. Rogan has out next.


message 20: by Trina (last edited Apr 20, 2012 09:04AM) (new)

Trina Great photos. Can't wait to read this!:-)


message 21: by Donura (last edited Apr 21, 2012 11:48AM) (new)

Donura I happen to have come across an interview with Ms. Rogan in the Huffington Post which was enough to make me want to read the book. I also went to her website and found an intriguing list of books that she treasures. She gives inspiration to all the yet to be published writers out there and if her book was a copycat, I am quite sure many of the illustrious authors and reviewers would have so noted. I saw not one.


message 22: by Trina (new)

Trina Caroline wrote: "It doesn't matter if a movie or a real event or another book has already "happened". It's the quality of the writing, the ability to create original characters responding to a well-worn situation t..."

Actually, Caroline, Life of Pi was also accused of being a copy-cat of someone else's idea (haha, no pun intended). In an interview back in 2002, the author freely admitted that the inspiration for his novel came from a story by one of Brazil's most respected authors, Moacyr Scliar. In Life of Pi, Martel tells the story of a shipwrecked Indian teenager who ends up in a lifeboat with a Bengal tiger after his ship sinks. In Scliar's story, a teenage Jewish boy is adrift in a boat with a panther after a shipwreck. According to the Guardian, Martel readily credits the story by Scliar, a doctor, as the inspiration for his novel, but says he only read a review of the book. "I saw a premise that I liked, and I told my own story with it," Martel said. So I think the tussle over whether Charlotte Rogan created an "original" work isn't as important as what she's done with it. If it holds up on its own, then I'm all for reading it.


message 23: by Beverly (last edited Apr 23, 2012 08:12AM) (new)

Beverly Scofield Leave it to the atheist to quote the Bible. (smile)

King James Bible (Cambridge Ed.)

"The thing that hath been, it is that which shall be; and that which is done is that which shall be done: and there is no new thing under the sun."


message 24: by Trina (new)

Trina Beverly wrote: "Leave it to the atheist to quote the Bible. (smile)

King James Bible (Cambridge Ed.)

"The thing that hath been, it is that which shall be; and that which is done is that which shall be done: and ..."


Amen:-)


message 25: by Meljun (new)

Meljun Ocio everybody have the right what he/she want to do...don't judge them instead if you have little respect someone...just give and show support to their works even though you have read it many times...and that's how they feel good to their self and to continue doing their best as they inspires by someone else!


message 26: by Beverly (new)

Beverly Scofield Excellent comment, Meljun!


message 27: by Caroline (new)

Caroline Woodward My point exactly. The info on the origins of Life of Pi is, and I say this as a fellow Canadian writer, truly ancient "news". His book is a work of genius and the movie won the director an Oscar too. Win-win. I've read Charlotte Rogan's Lifeboat, thought it was gripping, wonderful storytelling and very well-written. What I object to on a site like Goodreads are people who haven't even read the book who are freely bashing the author for not mentioning a 40 year old movie as a direct influence. The context for a Lifeboat situation can be found in all sorts of situations, real life and otherwise. But my point, which some seem to have missed, despite having access to the alphabet, is that people should at least read a book before entering a discussion on a site like Goodreads.


message 28: by Ramona (new)

Ramona selvage I was thinking the same thing as I read this outline. I remember my parents taking me to see 'Lifeboat' in the 50's. Is it possible this woman never heard of the movie?


message 29: by Wes (new)

Wes zemel Absolutely loved this book


message 30: by Darling (new)

Darling policeman Great photos. Can't wait to read this!:-)


message 31: by Denita (new)

Denita mcdaniel great one


message 32: by Marble (new)

Marble smelly nice


Animedubbedonline amazing


message 34: by Cglaw2013 (new)

Cglaw2013 really nice


message 35: by Dreams (new)

Dreams nucleus Great photos. Can't wait to read this!:-)


message 36: by Spade (new)

Spade Spade The book sounds great. Shakespeare wrote his plays from plays that already existed. The plot lines may have been similiar but it is in writing of it that makes all the difference. Nothing is totally original


message 37: by Paul (new)

Paul Blanchard Great photos. Can't wait to read this!:-)


message 38: by Nativemedia (new)

Nativemedia I just watched Hitchcock's movie (on YouTube) and other than the title and part of the setting, there doesn't appear to be anything in common with this new book.


message 39: by Feline (new)

Feline herb Useful


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