By Leslie Lindsay
A quick read, STRANDED AT ROMSON’S LODGE (Morgan James, May 2016) is the debut of J.L. Callison, a mature author with an inspirational message of love, hope, and redemption.
Kidnapped and flown to a remote lodge in upstate Maine, high school seniors, Jed Romson and Elizabeth Sitton are stranded when their kidnapper crashes on takeoff. What then becomes a tale of who and why, Jed and Lizzie embark on a survivalist adventure reminiscent of Jean Craighead George’s tales for young adults, JULIE OF THE WOLVES and THE FAR SIDE OF THE MOUNTAIN.
Callison’s chapters are short and crisp and he ought to be applauded for his brevity, break-neck pacing, and element of suspense. At the heart of this Christian inspirational tale is a quaint, wholesome romance. STRANDED AT ROMSON’S LODGE will appeal to idealistic young readers with an adventuresome spirit.
Today, I am honored to welcome J.L. Callison to the blog!
Leslie Lindsay : Like every other writer, you’re a voracious reader. And then, the writing bug hit. You mentioned that you had several ‘throw-away’ short stories and the start of a novel that just didn’t go anywhere. How was ROMSON’S LODGE different?
J.L. Callison: For years the concept of Stranded at Romson’s Lodge bounced around in my mind. The “coming of age” movies and books of the early 80’s triggered the questions in my head of “What if two Christian teens were placed in such a situation? How would they handle it?”
I didn’t want to write a “Christian” book, but as a Christian, my values will show through. What I wanted to do with this story was demonstrate Christianity from a realistic standpoint rather than try to “preach.” Perhaps that is why the story wouldn’t leave my mind. I started the story and threw it away more times than I have any idea, but I couldn’t throw away the idea.
L.L.: We talked before about you ‘not knowing what you were doing’ when you set out to write ROMSON’S LODGE, that it was all kind of a fluke; you went to a writing conference and pitched your idea to an agent and…well, the rest is history. Can you talk about that, please?
J.L. Callison: Believe it or not, I flunked English Composition in college, and I thought I couldn’t write, so I never tried. It was not until well after I started writing Stranded at Romson’s Lodge that I understood that my failure was because of the style of writing they tried to make me do. I’m very much a seat-of-the pants type of writer, and I did not do well with outlining, note cards, and the formulized style they wanted.
After I had written Stranded, I knew that if I was going to do anything with the book, I needed some help, so I attended the Indiana Faith and Writing Conference in Anderson Indiana, looking for advice and some teaching. I didn’t know we each got a 15 minute interview with someone in the writing/publishing industry. When the young lady at registration asked me who I wanted, I had no clue. She suggested Terry Whalin because he is an excellent teacher, and he has been in the industry for many years on both the writing side and as a publisher. Terry is now an acquisitions editor for Morgan James Publishing.
I sat down with Terry and told him I had no clue what I was doing and that I needed advice on how the system worked. He was very helpful, and when my fifteen minutes was up and the next guy didn’t show, he asked if I had written anything. I said yes, and then began to tell him about the story. I was so green I didn’t even know I was supposed to have a 30 second “elevator speech.” I rambled for about five minutes. He said Stranded was different than anything they had seen in a number of years and that it might fit with what Morgan James was doing. Would I send him the manuscript?
I had no idea I would sell the manuscript that day. It was a matter of being in the right place at the right time, and I give God the credit for putting me there.
I still don’t claim to know what I’m doing! I just tell a story.
L.L.: And what kind of writer would you say you are? Do you carefully plot and outline, or are you more organic, going where the characters take you?
J.L. Callison: As I mentioned earlier, I’m very much organic! I start off with an idea for the beginning and the ending, plan for a couple of waypoints in between, and then I let my characters tell me what happens. I guess the difference between me and someone being treated by a psychiatrist is that when I hear voices in my head, I write down what they say.
L.L.: I was particularly impressed with the survivalist skills you gave Jed. Was this something that grew from you as the author, some life experience, or were his skills merely a result of careful research?
J.L. Callison: Some of the skills are things I learned hunting and fishing as a kid. Other skills, I have learned from close friends who are military veterans, and the rest of it was gleaned from careful research. I like to think if I was stranded in such a situation I would survive, but I know I would not do as well as Jed and Lizzie did!
L.L.: STRANDED AT ROMSON’S LODGE is told in short, crisp, alternating chapters in which we see the grieving families and their tireless search for Jed and Lizzie, and then we “join” Jed and Lizzie at the Maine lodge. Was there a storyline you were more eager to get back to, one you felt a particular affinity for?
J.L. Callison: Obviously, Jed and Lizzie are my protagonists, and I identified with them closely, but as I got further into the story, Charles began to play a bigger role than originally intended. Of all of my characters, I think he is the one I developed the most respect for, for his integrity and the character that he displays. If I decide to do a sequel to the story about a return to Romson’s Lodge, he and Jimmy will play major roles.
L.L.: And so, you’re from the Midwest. How did you decide to set the story in Maine?
J.L. Callison: I played around with the idea for a long time with a number of scenarios for their marooning. It was not until I drove through Maine going to the Maritimes that the location became plain to me.
Maine is a beautiful state, but other than along the coast and along its northern border, much of it is extremely remote. Just how remote became apparent when I started researching the state. Just a little over half of the landmass of Maine has no local government because there aren’t enough people in the territory to form local government. They call these areas, “Unorganized Territory.” It is in such an area that Jed and Lizzie find themselves.
In the story, Jed says there is less than one person per hundred square miles, but in the area I set the story, it is less than one third of a person per hundred square miles. It is the most remote area in the lower 48 states.
L.L.: And it’s also the summer of 1985. We get a glimpse into that world, the Baby Boom parents, the coming of age in Reagan’s era, and the remnants of the Vietnam war. Can you speak to your decision to set the story in 1985 versus present-day?
J.L. Callison: Simplicity was the biggest reason for the time of the setting, a time before computers, cell phones, and other electronics that would detract from the story concept. The same story could easily be told in the present day, but it would add a whole layer of complexity that I didn’t want to bother with. In the modern day, Romson’s Lodge would still be without any form of electronics, unless they had solar panels or a wind turbine or something to power satellite communication, but then Pete would have destroyed them, too. I just thought it was easier to keep it simple.
L.L.: What do you hope readers take away from ROMSON’S LODGE?
J.L. Callison: In a word, hope. There are a couple of areas in particular. I wanted to get across the idea that no matter what the situation, there is hope. Even if you are stranded in a remote area, there are ways to survive if you don’t panic. Just stop and think .
Secondly, I wanted to demonstrate the idea of moral options. Unlike in most media where no options for living one’s values are shown—if a guy and a girl like each other, the next step is for them to sleep together—my hope was to demonstrate that one always has a choice and the option to live differently than the “norm,” and that not everybody is “doing it.”
L.L.: What’s next for you? Are you working on another book?
J.L. Callison: My second novel, a middle-grade mystery called Davy Faraday and the Secret of the Spiral Staircase, is under consideration by a publisher that is very interested in its concept.
In the story, Davy’s family inherits an old Victorian mansion that has a nearly hundred-year-old mystery. I plan to make this into a trilogy or possibly even four books.
I also have a novella, Rotund Roland, that I may self-publish in the near future. It has to do with bullying. I also am toying with another story idea.
L.L.: What’s obsessing you now and why?
J.L. Callison: I’m working on the Davy Faraday series.
L.L.: What question should I have asked but may have forgotten?
J.L. Callison: I can’t think of a thing.
L.L.: It was such a pleasure chatting with you today! I wish you the best of luck with ROMSON’S LODGE.
J.L. Callison: The pleasure was indeed mine! Thank you so much.
For more information, or to purchase ROMSON’S LODGE, please visit:
About the Author: J.L. Callison was an early reader, whose third-grade teacher encouraged his love of reading. He read over 300 books that year, and was reading on an eighth grade level by years end. He developed a wide range of reading interests, including volumes A-H of the World Book Encyclopedia! He loves to collect books, and has well over a thousand in his library, most of which he has read at least once. Young adult is his favorite genre, for as he says, he refuses to grow up. He studied for the ministry, and has served in lay capacities for much of his adult life in prison and rescue ministies, but always with a youth ministry focus. He has been, along with his wife, a junior-high youth sponsor and teacher for most of the last twenty-five years. He and his wife of 38 years live in Illinois. They have five grown children and are blessed with four grandchildren with another on the way very soon.
[Cover and author images courtesy of J.L. Callison. Maine population density map retrieved from Wikipedia on 6.20.16. Spiral staircase diorama retrieved from on 6.20.16, logline infographic retrieved from. For all of my reviews, follow me on GoodReads]