An Interview with Suanne Schafer, author of A DIFFERENT KIND OF FIRE

A stout, middle-aged woman watched over the door to the Antiquities Room. She beckoned to Ruby. “Come on in, dearie. It’s Thursday, Ladies’ Day. No men allowed.”

Glad she happened to come when the galleries were open to women artists, Ruby entered, her heart thumping with anticipation. Inside a dozen women, uniformed in dark smocks, stood before easels and sketched. All her life, she had seemed singular in her desire to study art. She was no longer alone.

Suanne Schafer’s A DIFFERENT KIND OF FIRE is a powerful story of a Gilded Age artist who brooks convention both in her art and her love. Read this book: It has both the depth of emotion of a modernist novel and the epic scope of a historical saga.
— Alicia Rasley, author of THE YEAR SHE FELL, an Amazon bestseller
If you love historical novels about women who throw off the shackles of feminine convention, then this book is for you. In spare but sensuous prose reminiscent of Cormac McCarthy and E. Annie Proulx, Schafer brings Ruby Schmidt to life—a woman who doesn’t belong in the late nineteenth century but gradually finds her place in the twentieth.
— Helena Echlin, co-author of Sparked and author of GONE
I was amazed by Suanne Schafer’s poetic and laconic turns of phrase. She has the gift of being simultaneously ornate and succinct, which is no easy task.

Interview with Suanne Schafer

Suanne Schafer’s debut novel, A DIFFERENT KIND OF FIRE, was published on November 1st 2018 by Waldorf Publishing. It is a historical women’s fiction and LGBT novel.

Question - Please describe what A DIFFERENT KIND OF FIRE is about.

Suanne Schafer: 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.

Q: Where did you get the idea?

SS: For years I’d wanted to write my paternal grandparents’ love story. Once I started, though, I realized that I wanted more than a family history, and the book morphed into a herstory, with more feminist view of the 1890s. The American Gilded Age was such an exciting time for women with suffragettes, the Free Love movement, and a woman running for President of the United States. I wanted my heroine to experience that first-wave feminism while walking a tight-rope balancing her career with home and family.

Q: What’s the story behind the title?

SS: At one point, Ruby’s beau tells her he wishes she had the same fire for him as she did for art, and she replies, she does, it’s just a different kind of fire. I am also fascinated with the psychological links between passion for art and sexual passion.

Q: No spoiler, but tell us something we won’t find out just by reading the book jacket.

SS: Ruby also burns with a different kind of sexual desire.

Q: Tell us about your favorite character.

SS: I definitely have a soft spot for Bismarck, Ruby’s childhood beau. He’s based on my grandfather and is the iconic laconic cowboy. He’s definitely a good guy but not perfect. He definitely has a wobble or two in his personality.

Q: If you could spend a day with one of your characters, who would it be and what would you do?

SS: I’d go horseback riding with Bismarck and skinny-dip in the waterhole.

Q: Are your characters based on real people, or do they come from your imagination?

SS: Bismarck, Ruby, and d’Este are based on family members but highly fictionalized. Some of the artists and other folks Ruby interacts with are real, but her interactions with them are, of course, straight out of my imagination.

Q: How long did you take to write this book?

SS: When I started the Stanford University On-Line Creative Writing Certificate Program in 2011, I had the basic idea. When I finished the program in 2014, I had a complete draft. I spent another year polishing it, then started querying in 2015. In May 2016 Fire won a literary contest that came with a publishing package. It’s debuting in November 2018, so that’s roughly seven years.

Q: What kind of research did you do for this book?

SS: The storyline obviously came from my own experiences, but I did extensive research on Buffalo Bill, the Panic of 1893, 19th century artists and academic painting, mixing pigments from scratch, Winsor & Newton art supplies, boarding houses for women, clothing, suffragettes, the Free Love movement, and women’s legal rights.

Q: What did you remove from this book during the editing process?

SS: An unfinished subplot about a Bryn Mawr PhD student who rediscovers Ruby’s works in 1968, totaling about 15,000 words.

Q: Are you a plotter or a pantser?

SS: 100% pantser. The one book I outlined, I’ve never done anything with because, emotionally, it feels finished—no joy of discovery remains.

Q: What is your favorite part of your writing process, and why?

SS: I like to push my characters beyond their limits and see if they survive.

Q: What is the most challenging part of your writing process, and why?

SS: Carving out the first sentence, forcing the reader to delve further into the world I’ve created. I spend an undue amount of time trying to make that first glimpse something priceless.

Q: Can you share your writing routine?

SS: Since 2011, with rare exception, I’ve written every day. Now that I’m retired, I drink coffee and write as soon as I get up and continue until I get tired, seven days a week. I begin by revising what I wrote a day or two before, then moving on. If I have a particularly difficult scene to write, I tend to avoid it and move on, writing the most emotionally-fraught scenes last.

Q: Have you ever gotten writer’s block? If yes, how do you overcome it?

SS: I usually work on several projects at a time, so I have multiple open windows on my computer. If I get antsy with the way one story is going, I switch to another.

Q: If you could tell your younger writing-self anything, what would it be?

SS: Start sooner.

Q: How many unpublished and half-finished books do you have?

SS: I have 2 completed novels, the “practice” ones so to speak. The first is a great rousing story but is too long and requires major revision. The second is a round women’s fiction peg I tried to squeeze into a square romance hole. So, it too needs revision.

Q: Do you have any writing quirks?

SS: Complete silence.

Q: Tell us about yourself.

SS: I’m a retired family practice physician whose twenty-two-year-old son has fledged the nest. After a much-needed divorce, I am husband-free. No pets.

Q: How did you get into writing?

SS: I was nearing my sixtieth birthday and started doing bucket list things—like going on a three-week safari through the Serengeti—and thinking about what I’d do with my life once I retired. So instead of retiring, I started my third or fourth career—writing.

Q: What do you like to do when you’re not writing?

SS: I am an omnivorous reader. I quilt and knit. I edit others writers’ work.

Q: Apart from novel writing, do you do any other kind(s) of writing?

SS: I have written a number of short stories, all of which have been published, and my sole attempt at a personal essay was also published.

Q: Share something about you most people probably don’t know.

SS: I fell in love with Tarzan as a teenager. Though I’ve had to fight off rivals like anthropologist Jane Goodall and author Robin Maxwell, I still have a soft spot for the Ape Man.

Q: Which book influenced you the most?

SS: It’s hard to limit my influences to one book, but these authors have definitely touched my life: Khaled Hosseini, Sena Jeter Naslund, Daniel Silva, Diana Gabaldon, Bernard Cornwell, Edgar Rice Burroughs, Donna Russo Morin, Toni Morrison, Michael Chabon, E. L. Doctorow, Barbara Kingsolver, Tim O’Brien, Annie Proulx, Cormac McCarthy, Larry McMurtry, Dawn Tripp, Louise Erdrich.

Q: What are you working on right now?

SS: I’ve just finished the edits HUNTING THE DEVIL in which incorporates my travels and my experiences raising a biracial son. Like A DIFFERENT KIND OF FIRE, it has a strong female protagonist. It’s due out September 15, 2019. Three ideas are pinging off my brain right now, waiting for me to decide which I’m going to write next: a retelling of THE ODYSSEY set in the Dust Bowl in West Texas, a 1960s second-wave feminist group of women who start a matriarchal commune in West Texas, or a fantasy about a slave girl who rises to be the top military commander in her country.

Q: What’s your favorite writing advice?

SS: Don’t stop querying. Your book just hasn’t appeared before the right person’s eyes.

Q: The book you’re currently reading:

SS: To the Bridge: A TRUE STORY OF MOTHERHOOD AND MURDER by Nancy Rommelmann. It looks at the life of Amanda Stott-Smith. On May 23, 2009, she drove to the middle of the Sellwood Bridge in Portland, Oregon, and dropped her two children into the Willamette River. Also, I’m working through the Authors18 books slowly but surely.

Q: Why did you write about a bisexual artist?

SS: This was the result of upping the stakes for Ruby. She had a fire for Bismarck and a fire for art. What other kind of fire could burn within her? What could force her to choose between the frying pan and the fire. And, which love was the frying pan and which the fire?

Q: You say that A DIFFERENT KIND OF FIRE is not romance, does it have romantic elements?

SS: A DIFFERENT KIND OF FIRE is a love story on many levels, full of love triangles such as Ruby-Bismarck-d’Este and Ruby-Bismarck-d’Este and Ruby-Willow-Bismarck. If you add Ruby’s passion for art, these become love quadrangles and pentagons, all sides continually being skewed by strains between the people involved and art. Desire and passion are recurrent themes and a powerful force within Ruby: desire for art, desire for place (her connection to the land), desire for solitude, and passion for both her male and female lovers.

Q: Give us a short pitch of your novel:

SS: A Texas ranch girl dreams of being an artist. Against the wishes of her family and fiancé, she enrolls in the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts and takes off for Philadelphia. The choices she makes while there mold her life in ways she could never have foreseen.


Suanne Schafer’s Biography

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 whose only child has fledged the nest, her pioneer ancestors and world travels fuel her imagination. She’d originally 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.

Links to Suanne Schafer


Waldorf Publishing:

Barnes & Noble: