Hi there! Glad you could stop by, because I am looking forward to introducing you to my guest today, Jennifer Rodewald. Jen has a new book releasing this Friday (28 April) called The Uncloaked. It’s the first in a young adult dystopian series, which is a bit of a departure from the stories she has published so far, so I thought I would invite her over to the blog and chat with her about this new series.
Jen has suggested we share some peanut butter chocolate cupcakes with you all for our little chat today, along with strawberry mocha, so help yourself. There’s some for everyone!
Here’s a little bit of information about Jen’s new release while we all settle in.
~ About the Book ~
No one stirred in the area—people stayed in their little hovels. Hiding, most likely. From the cold, the helplessness. Maybe from the Party. Staying out of sight, like cockroaches.
I am not a cockroach.
“Apathy is the illness of the overprivileged…” Words laced with fear—and maybe a hint of prophecy. His father’s words. Words Braxton would prefer to ignore.
Braxton Luther is sixteen when the Progressive Reform Party takes over the government. It can’t be that bad. So they don’t want religion in government—that’s constitutional. He can’t understand his church’s hypersensitive reaction or his father’s cryptic warning to stand against the Party’s ultimatums.
But after living under the new government for a year, Braxton faces a choice—conform to the demands of the ungodded in order to protect his best friend, Eliza, or defy the system and go into hiding, ensuring a life of misery. Still certain that life will settle back into normalcy in the near future, Braxton chooses compliance.
Then the killings begin, and the threat to Eliza becomes darker than Braxton had ever imagined. Reality finally sinks in.
Apathy is no longer a choice.
***PG-13 material. Though this book is Christian Fiction, there are dark (but not graphic) scenes that some readers may find disturbing.
~ Interview ~
Katie: First of all, thanks for agreeing to do this interview!
Jen: Thank you for having me!
Before we get down to business, let’s take a little flight of fancy. Finish these sentences:
If I could visit any place in the world, I would visit…
Ireland. Because I live in a land of mostly brown, but green is my favorite color. Also there’re a few Aussies I’d like to visit, so that would make the list too. 😉 However, I’m not much of a traveller, so I’m not real sure either will ever happen. Life is full of surprises, though!
I haven’t been to Ireland, but even in England I remember being absolutely entranced by the vibrancy of the green. And there are some Aussies who would certainly love to have you here! 🙂
If I could assign one household task to the fairies forever, it would be…
Laundry. I HATE laundry.
Oh, yes! I’m hearing you!
If I was a musical instrument, I would be a…
Uhhhh… what’s really loud? A trumpet? A kettle drum? I have the gift of volume, so pick something super noisy and that’d be me.
Lol! I’d go with trumpet. Much more versatile! 😂
When I was a child, I wanted to be a…
At first a meteorologist. I don’t know why. Then a teacher and a writer. I became both! 😊
Isn’t is interesting, the things that capture our attention as children for no apparent reason?
My ideal place to read would be…
In the mountains, in a wide meadow next to a high mountain lake (those are super clear! It’s pretty incredible).
That sounds idyllic! I could get a lot of reading done there!
Now, getting down to business. I discussed the word dystopian in yesterday’s Word Nerd post, so if anyone’s not sure what dystopian fiction is, it might be worth checking it out.
Dystopian fiction has become quite a popular genre in recent years with series like The Hunger Games and Divergent, but some may think it a strange genre for a Christian author to write in. What do you think is the value of dystopian fiction?
Dystopian fiction has a tendency to shake people up and make them think. I love that about the genre. It also has the ability to subtly reflect on the reality of the past in a way that makes history not only relevant but alive, and often the reader never really knows they’re reflecting on some things that have happened.
It does make you think! I didn’t appreciate that so much when I was in high school, but that’s one of the things I love about it now. 🙂 For readers who are interested in exploring this topic further, the article Christian Worldview and Dystopia is a great place to start.
The Uncloaked is a very different genre to your previous novels. Where did the inspiration come from for this series?
Yes, it’s very different. I wrote The Uncloaked four years ago, and honestly, I’m not sure where the story came from. I dreamed it one night, and was compelled to write it down. It made my Superman pretty nervous, actually. He wasn’t sure why I was taking my writing in that direction either, but then one day we were at church and there was an incident that really pointed to Christian culture apathy, and I looked at him and said, “This is why.” He nodded, and we were both convinced at that point that this story was one that I needed to tell.
Wow! I love that you dreamed it! And apathy . . . I can’t help but think of admonishment give to the Laodicean church in Revelation.
So, I’m guessing the decision to publish this series under the name J. Rodes has something to do with the departure from your usual genre?
Yes. We debated quite a lot within my home as to whether or not I would publish this under a pen name. My daughters put in a strong “No!”–because then their friends wouldn’t know that their mom wrote it! Love the love, and I assured them that the book would be connected to my author page. I’m not trying to hide! My reasons for going with J. Rodes are (1) I’d like to appeal to the male youth population as much as possible. J. Rodes rather than Jennifer Rodewald might accomplish that goal better, especially since Jennifer Rodewald has published Women’s Fiction in the past. (2) The second reason is related to the first. Dystopian is very, very different from Women’s Fiction, and I want readers who might be familiar with my other work to have a heads up–hey, this isn’t that. Imagine finding a Snickers bar whose package looks a little different, but it still has the Snickers name on it. You’re going to expect the same nutty, chocolate, gooey goodness, right? Except you open and take a bite, and your tastebuds start to burn because it’s really jalapeno jerky in there. You’d be a little irritated, no? I think books are the same, and I want to be fair to my readers, so switching to a pen name wasn’t an effort to hide myself, but to let readers know, “This one is different.”
😵 My tastebuds are burning just thinking about it! I’d appreciate a heads-up about jalapeno anything! And I love that your daughters are so proud of you. ❤
So, can you give us a little bit of an overview of the setting for this novel?
The setting is America, fifty or so years down the road. The country is unstable and volatile because of what was called The Bloody Faith Conflict—a war that erupted because of an attack blamed on Anti-Christian countries, and that became reflective of the Crusades. It soured much of the nation against religion in general and gave rise to the Progressive Party, a humanist group who wants to rid the nation, and later the planet, of religion in general because it is “archaic, irrational, and worst of all, volatile.” Though many don’t understand this underlying platform, what people do understand is that the conflict crippled the nation, poverty and hopelessness had gripped much of the population, and The Progressive Party has a plan to provide for the people and to overhaul the government, both of which people are well in favour of.
It’s definitely not a far-fetched scenario . . .
The first book in this series is told entirely from the point of view of sixteen-year-old Braxton Luther. Tell us a bit about Braxton.
Braxton has been one of my favorite characters to write. Seriously. He is complex and human and snarky and kind and strong-willed and confused all at once. He is us, I think. Braxton wants the security and comfort of the American Dream, the life he believes is his due. He also cares deeply for his best friend Eliza, and would do just about anything to keep her safe. To complicate matters more, he secretly longs for a real relationship with his famous-pastor dad, but resents that his dad doesn’t seem to have the same desire. Theirs is a complicated relationship which is a big part of who Braxton is during this book, and factors into Braxton’s decisions as the story grows dark.
I loved Braxton’s character! He has that strange balance you often find in sixteen-year-olds of confidence in his own understanding and yet insecurity in who he is as a person.
How has writing this series challenged you, both personally and as an author?
The question I woke up with after initially dreaming this story was, “Will you stand?” I believe it was a personal question for me, as well as a broad question for every Christian. When things get dark and difficult, am I willing to stand? Do I know who I am and what I believe so deeply that I am willing to face the fiery furnace, the lion’s den, or chains rather than compromise my relationship with God? Am I willing to “take up my cross and follow,” even if that means going through the valley of the shadow of death.
Some days I think, yes. Lord, I’ll go. I’ll stand.
And then I’ll get a phone call asking me to do something that demands a little bit of sacrifice, a smidge of discomfort, and I baulk. It’s revealing. And convicting.
Here’s what challenges me most. Writing this series had me reflecting on The Hiding Place, on the ten Booms’ story and their unshakable, tangible faith, and what gets me really thinking is the fact that they practiced unshakable faith long before the Nazis ever took over their little Dutch village. They took in the widowed and the orphaned, they practiced compassion that demanded personal sacrifice, so when the time came to decide, “Will you stand?” it really wasn’t even a question for them. They’d been building those spiritual muscles for years.
I have to ask myself, am I doing that?
Some days, I don’t like the answer.
Wow, that challenges me, too. If we’re honest, it probably challenges all of us. And the fact is, Christian persecution is happening today. According to Open Doors, 322 Christians are killed EACH MONTH for their faith. It’s sobering to ask yourself whether you would stand in the face of that kind of persecution.
The modern dystopian genre seems to be targeted largely at a young adult audience. Do have any thoughts on why this is?
This is complex question, I think!
As The Uncloaked Trilogy unravels, you’ll find a theme emerge. If you want to change a nation, you gain the heart of its youth. This truth has been known forever—one of the reasons God told His people all the way back in Deuteronomy to “teach your children.” Don’t just educate them; TEACH them. Get into their hearts and make them strong with Truth.
YA writers know this. We also know that we have a powerful tool in story. And with a dystopian, we have this unique and potent blend of compelling action with thought-provoking issues boiling underneath.
Personally, I’ve found that teenagers really do like to be challenged—they like to think. To be treated as a dignified human capable of drawing conclusions and forming opinions. So let them. Challenge them. Sometimes as adults we kind of figure that young adults are only after entertainment, and we don’t stop to realize that, hey, if that’s all we’re gonna offer, that’s all they’re gonna get. They do crave more, and they rise up to the challenge when we give it.
I’ve saved this review of The Hunger Games that was printed on Christianity Today, because the writer really points to this, and I found it inspiring and a goal to chase after.
“Like all great literature—and as the writing improves and themes deepen, much of modern YA will be included in this category—dystopian novels give us a chance to reflect: Am I shallow, lazy, and oblivious like the average Capitol citizen? Am I controlling and manipulative like the officials? Or do I embody some of the virtues of the heroes? For all of us, we can probably see in ourselves a little of each.” – http://www.christianitytoday.com/women/2012/march/hungry-for-hunger-games-why-we-need-dystopian-tales.html
And, as you might note from that quote, the YA dystopian audience is much larger than the 12-19-year-old segment. This is a unique genre that has the ability to reach a massive variety of people.
Yes! I love this answer! So much I’ve actually teared up! Ack, how embarassing. 😳 *fans face with hands* How I long for TRUTH to gain the hearts of our youth! To encourage them to think critically and perceptively about themselves and the world around them!
*Ahem* Getting back on track, then, who is your target audience for this series?
I do feel that I need to specify that this isn’t intended as a “crossover” book/series. My target audience is specifically Christian. I don’t want this to be perceived as a Christian woman railing against current politics or feeling sorry for felt persecution, because those are not at all my heart. This challenge to examine our hearts is specific for the church, the address to apathy specific to the comfortable Christian. I don’t feel that I need to preach to the world to be “nicer” to us. We need to be stronger, braver for Christ, willing to stand, willing to charge the darkness.
Amen!! Good grief, I think I’m going to need a tissue. You really are stirring up all my passions with these answers!
What do you hope readers will take away from this series?
My hope, my focus as I’m writing, is that we will ask ourselves the key questions that provide the foundation for the series.
Will I stand? Do I know who I am? And, What will I do with what I believe?
I hope we keep asking ourselves them. Challenging our everyday living and doing. Until we arrive at an answer that satisfies.
For me, I’ve got a long way to go.
Oh, such challenging questions, but so important to ask! And you’re definitely not alone on that journey, Jen, physically or spiritually!
Jen, I can’t thank you enough for taking the time to chat today and sharing your heart and your new series! ❤
Thank you so much for this opportunity! I am honoured to be a part of your blog today! 😊
I’d love to hear from readers how you feel about dystopian fiction. What do you like or not like about the genre? Do you enjoy it or avoid it?
~ About the Author ~
Jennifer Rodewald is passionate about the Word of God and the powerful vehicle of story. The draw to fiction has tugged hard on her heart since childhood, and when she began pursuing writing she set on stories that reveal the grace of God.
Aiming to live with boundless enthusiasm, her creed is vision, pursuit, and excellence. Blessed with a robust curiosity, she loves to research. Whether she’s investigating the history of a given area, the biography of a Christian icon, or how nature declares the glory of God, her daily goal is to learn something new.
After growing up in Denver, Jen moved to Nebraska to attend college where she met and married a Husker. She now lives and writes in a lovely speck of a town where she watches with amazement while her children grow up way too fast, gardens, laughs at her horses and chickens, and marvels at God’s mighty hand in everyday life. Four kids and her own personal superman make her home in southwestern Nebraska delightfully chaotic.