Author Suanne Schafer seems to be one of those persons you look at and ask, “Is there anything she doesn’t do?” When you visit her website, you see all she has to offer: book reviews, interviews, photography, editing services, and more. In fact, at the top of that site, in the “About Me” section, she references these diverse interests in her tagline: “Writer, author, travel photographer, fire-starter.” Her books reflect that diversity too. Suanne’s first, A Different Kind of Fire, is historical fiction “about women who throw off the shackles of feminine convention,” whereas her second novel, Hunting the Devil, gives readers “a front row view of the atrocities in Rwanda.” In addition to those two novels, she’s contributed to multiple anthologies and works hard to promote other authors with interviews and book reviews. Despite being retired, Suanne certainly is keeping busy, so I’m happy and grateful she found time to answer a few questions.
Suanne: A Different Kind of Fire is historical fiction set in the 1890s and moving into the early twentieth century. It is loosely based on my grandmother’s life. I had started it thinking it would be a romance. As I researched the era and realized the American Gilded Age, with its suffragettes, was also the beginning of first wave feminism, the book ended up being told from the female protagonist’s point of view and included many ideas about women’s rights.
Hunting the Devil is set 100 years later during the 1994 Rwandan genocide, too recent to be called historical fiction. I have raised a black son and was intrigued about his emotional reaction to our trip to Tanzania. I took his feelings and imposed them on a female physician who serves on a medical mission in Rwanda. Though it’s long at 500 pages, readers have been so intrigues they’ve read it in one day. Because of the conflict, the story is harsh and graphic but important.
Christina: The bio on your website states that you are “Writer, author, travel photographer, fire-starter.” For those of us who might not know, what do you mean by fire-starter? How does that come out in your writing?
Suanne: A Different Kind of Fire is about the fire of creation and the fire of physical and emotional passion. I hope I convey a sense of that fire in my works and hope that they can inspire others to create and grow.
Christina: Speaking of travel photographer, your pictures are gorgeous! What’s your favorite place to visit and why? Do you ever think about moving?
Suanne: It’s hard to choose just one. Milano is one of my favorites as far as cities to live in. The Serengeti was magnificent, and I loved feeling such a part of nature there. In modern America, we rarely have those moments of utter silence, nothing but the swishing of the wind through the grasses of the savannah; no lights beyond a campfire; no phone, no television, no internet. Utter heaven!
Christina: You feature your own author interviews that connect you with other authors. What about connection in the writing community is so important? What’s the best lesson you’ve learned from another author?
Suanne: Many authors have given their time and support to me over the years. I believe it’s important to give back to the community that supports you, so I interview authors via internet to help authors promote themselves and hopefully reach a wider audience. A recurrent them from those I’ve interviewed is “never give up.” I’ve taken that to heart and keep pushing forward with my own works.
Christina: I have met (either in-person or virtually) many authors from the state of Texas. Of course, it’s a large state, but why do you think so many writers hail from Texas? What do you think is the most inspiring part of Texas?
Suanne: Texas has a rich history to explore, starting with Native Americans, the Spanish conquistadors, running into the Civil War, and the cowboy era. Sometimes I think the West Texas landscape (like the Serengeti) is so sparse that people turn to words to fill that emptiness. Think of writer Larry McMurtry who’s looked at much of history from the iconic, laconic cowboys in Lonesome Dove and Buffalo Girls, to his fictionalized biographies of Calamity Jane and Billy the Kid, through more contemporary books like The Last Picture Show and Terms of Endearment. (By the way, while I was in college in Wichita Falls, the movie of The Last Picture Show was filmed in nearby Archer City, and some of my friends were extras in the movie. It’s weird to watch the movie now and see how young we were back then.)
My own inspiration has been my pioneer ancestors who settled in West Texas after the Civil War and saw Native Americans being restricted to reservations and survived the Dust Bowl and Depression of the 1930s.
Christina: You’re a former family practice physician. Do you draw any parallels between practicing medicine and writing? Aside from featuring a physician as a character, how does your former profession inform your writing?
Suanne: I find that I must step back from some things I’ve (like sex scenes) because they are too cold and clinical, too medical. Plotting a book is somewhat akin to arriving at a diagnosis: it’s a step-by-step process, rejecting things that don’t fit and sometimes finding a zebra when you hear hoofbeats rather than the expected horse.
Christina: What’s one question you love to ask other authors? What draws you to that question? Has any answer surprised you?
Suanne: I’m always interested in what books they read as a child, what prompted them to become writers, and what they are reading now. I like to draw parallels or contrast between what literature influenced them and where they have arrived as an author.
Christina: What does literary success look like to you?
Suanne: Literary success really isn’t about the volumes sold or having book signings. To me, it’s the interaction with readers and knowing that I have somehow touched someone’s life.
Thanks to Suanne for agreeing to this interview! If you know of an author who’d like to be featured in an interview (or you are an author who would like to be featured), feel free to leave a comment or email me via my contact page.