Prof. Rodger Wilkie: Otherworld, Inc.

Our Campus Celebrity for this week is one of our own professors: literature professor Rodger Wilkie! This week, I interviewed him about his new book Otherworld Inc. that is coming out in ebook format next month!

When asked what his upcoming book was about, Wilkie says that the book “is a fantasy novel with a twist on a familiar premise: a gateway between this world and an otherworld.”

The main plot itself is set 20 years after the discovery of the gateway. The main character is David Burns, “a self-interested travel journalist who sets off on a trip into a restricted region with the purpose of producing a book."

In the process, David meets three members of the local resistance who want close the gate.

"Thematically, the book is about - or at least it allows me to explore - a number of social and moral questions that have plagued me for a long time….Most importantly, to me at least, is all the moral and social baggage that comes with one of the great and muddy buzzwords of our time: terrorism.”

The title, Otherworld Inc. piqued my interest, so I asked him how he came up with this title. Wilkie describes how it was hard for him at first to figure out what he wanted to call the novel, but that he did have an image in mind of the plot levels for the novel. But when it came to the title itself, he describes that it “just bubbled up or erupted from below.”

A gut feeling for a good title! Professor Wilkie says that he has similar experiences like this when it came to titling other writing projects of his as well.

When asked about what inspired Professor Wilkie to write this book, he expresses that, “for me at least, it’s hard to say what inspires a novel. At the outset of this project, there was a serious concern with both the infantiliation and the militarization of North American society, the devaluation of language in a culture driven more by advertisers and spin doctors than by people with genuine ideas, and the utter commodification of beauty to the point that there is nothing so transcendently gorgeous that someone somewhere won’t try to package and sell it.”

He finished the thought with this, “So anger. Definitely anger. And a love that I find difficult to articulate.”

Also, to put it in short, he said “But I guess the short answer to the question might be something like, ‘My inspiration for this novel is a celebration and defence of the savage beauty within the human imagination.”

I then asked Professor Wilkie to tell us about the main character, and whether he is similar to him. He came back with an in-depth, and honest response.

“David Burns is an a**hole, and yes, we are similar. As I mentioned already, he is a travel journalist. He is egotistical, self-serving, and socially obtuse on the one hand, but on the other hand, probably like most people in our society, he manages to bumble through on a confused and largely unexamined moral decency.”

A couple of struggles that David faces are journalistic tension between telling and being the story, as well as finding an actual basis outside of himself for an important ethical decision.

I asked Professor Wilkie if he himself is ever faced with writer’s block (an all to familiar feeling for many students), to which he replied, “Of course. My record for writers’ block is eight years, and it happened between parts three and four of this five-part novel.”

Over this past summer, Wilkie has begun working on the sequel to Otherworld Inc. called Otherworld Awakenings. This new novel will be set 20 years after the ending of the first novel. It will also have a new set of characters.

Wilkie finished the interview with some words of advice to any up-and-coming writers.

“My first piece of advice is not to let yourself be guided by anyone’s agenda but your own. Know that the deck is stacked against you: don’t feel bound by the rules of the game. But more important is this: there is a censor inside us all. It’s the cartoon angel standing on our right shoulder, whispering limitations and invoking boundaries. Look deep into that angel’s perennially judging eyes, and shoot it in the face.”

To read the prologue of the novel and learn more about Professor Wilkie or his work, visit his website here.