Oxford teacher and her husband publish their debut novel
● By Steven Hoffman
A new work of dystopian fiction arrived on bookshelves in June. The name of the author on the cover of “Mogul” is K.J. Rodgers, but some people in the area already know that “K.J. Rodgers” is, in fact, the nom de plume of the husband-and-wife writing team of Kimberly and John Rodgers.
Kimberly and John are both educators. She teaches sixth-grade language arts in the Oxford Area School District. He teaches business education and computer science classes at Bohemia Manor High School.
While Kimberly and John are avid fans of dystopian fiction—they sometimes read it aloud to each other in their free time—they lead a decidedly non-dystopian existence as they raise their young daughter in a charming home in the Cecil County countryside. Before Kimberly and John attempted to write their own novel, they were simply fans of the dystopian fiction genre.
“We’re dystopian fiction addicts,” Kimberly admitted with a laugh. “I love the different worlds and how these characters develop in it.”
The couple worked their way through the “Hunger Games” books, “The Selection” series by Kiera Cass and many other dystopian fiction series that have earned wide audiences in recent years.
Then, one day in 2012, they started tossing around ideas for a dystopian book of their own. Convinced that they had a good story to tell, John and Kimberly started writing the opening chapters of their book.
Over the next months, in between grading papers and developing lesson plans and caring for their young daughter, they found time to work on “Mogul.”
Plotting out the story arc was a significant challenge, but it helped that they knew from the start that their characters were on a journey that would take more than one book to complete.
“Mogul” is set in a futuristic society that is approaching the technological singularity. The heroine is 16-year-old Regan Salvatore. She is a well-intentioned teenager who wants to follow the rules and make her family happy. Her boyfriend, Grant Halden, is a computer prodigy who has been away all summer working on a mystery Consul Project with his father.
Since both of the authors are teachers, it’s not surprising that a significant portion of the book relates in some way to school life and the challenges and emotions that all teenagers face. On the first day of the new school year, Regan meets Beau Conway, a new student from the farmlands. Every time that she talks to Beau, Regan finds herself looking at the world in a different light. He challenges her, and teaches her about forbidden history, wide open spaces, and the importance of making her own decisions. With Regan, Grant, and Beau, there is a clear love triangle already in place. The authors like all three of these characters that they have developed.
“In every story, you have to fall in love with the main characters,” Kimberly explained. “I mostly developed Regan.”
She gave the character some of her own characteristics. For example, Kimberly likes to paint, so in the story painting is one of Regan’s hobbies.
John wrote many of the scenes involving Grant, who has an interest in computers. John’s own knowledge about computers was helpful. Technology plays a central role in “Mogul,” exploring the concept of singularity—the hypothesis that the invention of artificial super-intelligence will abruptly unleash runaway technological growth with uncontrollable consequences. Currently, experts don’t agree on when we’ll reach the point of singularity, but some believe it may arrive within just 15 years. Technology run amok is always good fodder for fictional books and movies, and John said that he certainly sees where technology could be a serious threat to humanity if it isn’t managed properly.
“I think it depends on who gets control of it,” he explained.
As with any good work of fiction, there are political and social overtones layered into the story. “Mogul” takes place during a time when the United States no longer resembles the country that it is today.
“There are no states,” Kimberly explained, “just central cities.”
Beyond the central cities are the farmlands, and then the wild lands, each different area revealing something about the world that “Mogul” is set in.
As they neared completion of the first draft, Kimberly and John still didn’t know how the story would wrap up. But then, as they reread and refined the work that they had completed to that point, the ending came in a creative burst.
They were surprised by the amount of editing that was involved with writing a book, but they forged ahead with the goal of finishing the project. At this point, they still hadn’t told many people about their project because they didn’t want to start the book and not finish it.
“It took us about a year to write, and it took about a year to edit it,” Kimberly explained.
Once they had a completed manuscript, then came the difficult task of finding a publisher. They sent the book out to publishers, not knowing what to expect—would it be well-received? Would it even be read?
“There are only so many publishers who will take unsolicited manuscripts,” John explained. “We wanted to have somebody who would really read it.”
They found Page Publishing, a New York-based company that handles all facets of publishing and distributing books.
More rounds of editing and rewriting followed. According to John and Kimberly, the writing of the novel was a truly collaborative effort. After numerous rounds of revisions on the manuscript, their individual writing voices merged into one.
“It’s definitely fifty-fifty,” Kimberly explained. “I don’t think even we could tell who wrote what now.”
The authors were very pleased when, earlier this year, they were able to hold a copy of their book in their hands.
“It was a lot of work,” John said, reflecting on the project.
“But we’re so proud,” Kimberly added.
The husband-and-wife writing team is currently about halfway finished with the second book, and more excited than ever for the possibilities for Regan, Beau, and Grant. “Mogul” is available at bookstores and online booksellers. For more information, visit www.kjrodgers.com or visit their Facebook or Twitter pages.