Please join me in welcoming Suanne Schafer to the blog today. She and I are part of #Authors18, a group of debut authors of traditionally-published adult fiction coming out during 2018. Her novel A Different Kind of Fire was just released on November 1. Hello, Suanne!
Author Name: Suanne Schafer
Title: A Different Kind of Fire
Genre: Historical Women’s Fiction
Release Date: November 1, 2018
Publisher: Waldorf Publishing
Torn between her childhood sweetheart, her forbidden passion for another woman, the nobleman she had to marry, and her dream of becoming a painter, Ruby Schmidt’s choices mold her in ways she could never have foreseen as she balances husband, family, lovers, and ambition against the backdrop of 19th century America.
Wow, that sounds fascinating. What was the spark for A DIFFERENT KIND OF FIRE?
A Different Kind of Fire was intended to be my grandparents’ love story, but as I wrote, I recognized that the story belonged to Ruby who went off to art school and was exposed to many different things that influenced her while Bismarck, her childhood beau, remained in West Texas, doing what he loved—ranching and raising horses—so there was less change in his milieu to write about. As a result, the book, which I’d planned to be a romance with alternating points of view, switched to only Ruby’s POV. And, as I researched the 1890s I realized that women were challenging their place in history by advocating for the vote, for the Free Love movement, for the right to own property, for the right to their own bodies—and those slipped into the book for Ruby to experience. Though I fictionalized my grandparents into Ruby and Bismarck (Ruby as a young woman dreaming of becoming a famous artist and Bismarck as the archetypal laconic cowboy), I wove real people into the fabric of my novel. Victoria Woodhull was an American leader of the women’s suffrage movement who, back in 1872, was the first woman to run for President of the United States. Colonel William F. Cody—aka Buffalo Bill—also makes a cameo appearance when he commissions Ruby to make etchings of his star attractions like Annie Oakley and Sitting Bull.
How long did it take for you to write the book? Did you do have to do any research?
I goofed around with writing before realizing how much I didn’t know, so in 2012 I enrolled in the Stanford Creative Writing Certificate Program and started A Different Kind of Fire then. I was working full-time as a physician and writing when I wasn’t wiving and mothering. I finished the Stanford program in 2014 and spent a year polishing the manuscript and started querying in 2015. Finally, after sixty-six rejections and me rejecting three contracts, it won a literary contest with a publishing contract. Now, it’s finally be released. Because the story was family-based, I thought I wouldn’t have to do much research, but ended up doing tons on clothing, social mores, the women’s suffrage movement, Buffalo Bill, and the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts and its women painters.
Did your occupation influence your book at all?
In my 66 years of life, I’ve held multiple jobs. Growing up in West Texas, I picked cotton with migrant farm workers. As a precocious young artist, I was selling paintings in an art gallery by the time I was fifteen and also made and sold beaded necklaces to the local head shop. I painted and roofed houses, worked in a bookstore (a great job except that my dad’s friends were embarrassed when they came to buy porn), and was an aide in a nursing home. In college, I worked in a small factory that made “clackers”, the toy that was popular in the early 1970’s. A stint at a credit bureau writing their newsletter made me realize the worth of having good credit. After that, I was a medical secretary until I went overseas as a travel photographer. I journeyed around the world, lived three years in Milano, then returned to the States and became a medical photographer. At that point, I decided to go to medical school. I worked as a family practice physician until I inherited an oil lease and no longer had to work. Thus I became a full-time author. Doing manual labor gave me a healthy respect for those folks who do that work in this day and age. World travel helped me respect different cultures and religions (and those people who immigrated to the States). A Different Kind of Fire combines both my pioneer ancestors, my love of art, and my feminism. Novel #2, Hunting the Devil reflects some of the challenges of raising a biracial son. It is set in Philadelphia, Brussels, Rwanda, and Tanzania, and incorporates my travel bug.
What a varied and interesting collection of experiences! Were you able to take any time to celebrate when you learned A DIFFERENT KIND OF FIRE was going to be published?
I didn’t do much other than telephone my closest friends and email the entire world. No champagne, no nothing. I was already deep into my second book, Hunting the Devil.
If you were speaking to someone who hasn’t read your writing before, why should they want to read A DIFFERENT KIND OF FIRE?
Compared to the thousands of male-centric books written on the Old West—from penny-dreadfuls to Zane Gray to Philipp Meyer’s The Son (now a TV series)—relatively few books have been written on the women’s life in the old West. A Different Kind of Fire, written in close third person point-of-view, is solidly from the gaze of the protagonist, Ruby Louise Schmidt, who dares to break with societal conventions and forge her own way.
What’s one piece of advice you would offer your younger writer self?
With writing, I am on my third or fourth career. So I truly believe it’s never too late to reinvent one’s self. So any time you feel ready, just start.
Where can readers find you (website, blog, social media, etc.)?
You can follow me at:
Thank you, Suanne! A Different Kind of Fire is available through:
Suanne Schafer, born in West Texas at the height of the Cold War, finds it ironic that grade school drills for tornadoes and nuclear war were the same: hide beneath your desk and kiss your rear-end goodbye. Now a retired family-practice physician, her pioneer ancestors and world travels fuel her imagination. She planned to write romances, but either as a consequence of a series of failed relationships or a genetic distrust of happily-ever-after, her heroines are strong women who battle tough environments and intersect with men who might—or might not—love them. Suanne’s debut women’s fiction novel, A Different Kind of Fire due out November 1, 2018, explores the life of a nineteenth century artist who escapes, then returns to West Texas. Her next book, Hunting the Devil, due out in September 15, 2019, explores the heartbreak and healing of an American physician caught up in the 1994 Rwandan genocide.
A Different Kind of Fire
Torn between her childhood sweetheart, her forbidden passion for another woman, the nobleman she had to marry, and her dream of becoming a painter, Ruby Schmidt’s choices mold her in ways she could never have foreseen. A woman who doesn’t belong in 19th century America, she finds herself as she—and our country—move into the 20th.