Book Country Member Spotlight Q&A
There’s been a lot of buzz in the industrythe past couple of weeks about our very own Book Country member Kerry Schaferbeing offered (and accepting!) a two-book deal from Ace Books. But while it’s a wonderful, amazing success (both for Kerry and for Book Country, where she was discovered!), I want to know more about KERRY!
There are articles swimming around the internet about the book deal, how it happened, what the book’s about, etc. but no one has taken the time just yet to really talk to the woman behind the words about life, writing, reading–the fun non-businessy stuff!
Naturally, that means I’m going to.
That said, please welcome Kerry Schafer, an original Book Country “betafish” from northeastern Washington State, to our Book Country Member Spotlight!
DP: Let’s start from the beginning: How and why did you start writing?
KS: I grew up loving books. My mom read to me from the time I was a toddler, and I had my favorite books memorized and would insist on “reading” them to people long before I could read. I’m sure it all started there, although when I started writing it wasn’t stories – mostly poetry for years.
DP: The two books you have posted on the site, DEAD BEFORE DYING(paranormal mystery) and BETWEEN(urban fantasy) are very different in tone and genre. What appeals to you about each of these projects? What similarities do you see in the two, if any?
KS: Both books started with a concept that captured my interest. For BETWEEN, the whole idea of alternate realities was the trigger that led to developing the worlds in the book. And DEAD BEFORE DYING started with a Twitter joke about a geriatric vampire. Somebody dared me to write it, and I wrote the original first chapter just for fun and then got hooked.
Both books share an element of the strange and bizarre showing up in the real world, and this is my favorite place to write. Maybe because things are regularly happening in my job that make me and my co-workers look at each other and say, “You can’t make this stuff up.”
DP: Working in the field of mental health, you must get a great deal of insight into the human condition and motivation. How do you use your professional experience when crafting your characters?
KS: One of my favorite ways to get a grip on a new character is to find a defining life event for them. We all have these moments, the things that change everything – a death, a tragedy, a humiliation. That one event tends to color everything else about how your see your own life story. So how the character reacts to that event goes a long way to defining who they are as a human being. It’s also very helpful to have talked with folks who are dealing with things like PTSD, depression, bipolar disorder, etc. – if I want to write something like that into a story I can make it accurate and real.
DP: Every writer struggles with at least one aspect of his or her work. What has been the hardest obstacle for you personally? How did you (or are you trying to) overcome it?
KS: For me, the biggest thing is plot. I like to pants novels. There is a certain wildness and thrill of discovery in that. In fact, most of the rough drafts of novels I’ve done – including BETWEEN and DEAD BEFORE DYING – were written during Nanowrimo. My plotting consisted of pulling an old vinyl album off the shelf, closing my eyes, pointing to a song, and using that as a chapter title. Not the best way to construct a tight and coherent plot, although it was a lot of fun. So I’ve revised repeatedly and adopted some methods of plotting that work for me. Last year I went to a James Scott Bell seminar, which was amazing and really helped me. I also use his book REVISION AND SELF EDITING, which includes some great advice on plot and structure.
DP: Now that you have an agent and a book deal (ok, I’m going to ask ONE book deal related question), you’ve begun interacting on a deeper level with such publishing professionals. What has surprised you the most about the experience? Or is it pretty much what you expected?
KS: Well, as an “aspiring writer” I always felt a little bit like I was standing outside the locked door to the inner sanctum. Inside, all of the agents and editors and other publishing people were having a party from which I was excluded. And then overnight I suddenly had email addresses and phone numbers for a number of these people, who were actually just working very hard at their jobs and not partying at all. I always knew they were just human beings like the rest of us, but it’s nice to have this confirmed. It’s been really fun to see what goes on behind the scenes before an announcement of a deal, or a publicity release.
DP: You don’t have any favorite books or writers listed in your profile–*gasp!*–why not? Have there been any particular works that have impacted you as a writer, or that you read again and again?
KS: Um, yeah. I’ve never been much for “favorites.” I read and love books widely across a lot of genres. I suppose if I was listing the books that have impacted me the most deeply, I’d have to say The “Lord of the Rings” trilogy, C.S. Lewis’ “Narnia” books, Madeleine L’Engle’s “Wrinkle in Time” trilogy. These are all well-worn books I have on my shelf. Also LITTLE WOMEN, which I half memorized as a teenager, and the “Anne of Green Gables” and “Emily of New Moon” books by Lucy Maude Montgomery. Guy Gavriel Kay’s “Fionovar Tapestry” trilogy, and Stephen R. R. Donaldson’s MIRROR OF HER DREAMS and A MAN RIDES THROUGH probably also have influenced my own writing a lot. And then there’s Robertson Davies, Martha Grimes, Jonathan Kellerman, Elizabeth Peters… you see my problem with the favorites thing.
DP: You have teenage kids, a busy, often on-call career, two blogs, and you write regularly. How do you make time for it all? Do you have a specific writing schedule you stick to, etc.?
KS: That is the million dollar question, and one I’m always finding new answers for. Since the book deal came through I’m looking at all of my commitments and shuffling everything around, trying to figure out how to make even more time for writing. I’ve been working on a self study RN refresher course and haven’t had time to look at it in the last couple of weeks. Basically, I just don’t have much of a life outside of the things mentioned. I watch very little TV, I don’t go out much. I spend time on Twitter, but I never see it as time wasted – I’ve learned so much there and met so many amazing and wonderful people. Making a schedule is hard because my work schedule is so erratic – I seldom have the same days off two weeks in a row, and I may or may not have writing time when I’m working call shifts. I try to make schedules when I’m feeling overwhelmed but I’m not so good at following them. Mostly I just slog away at writing whenever I have time. Lately I’ve been trying to get 500 words in before I go to work in the morning. If I can get away for lunch, I might manage another 500 then. More at night if I can stay awake. And on my days off I try to make up the difference.
DP: I hear that you’re from Canada (and share my love of hockey, naturally!). Are there any Canadian authors you love that us U.S.-born (or other-born!) folk might not know? Expand our horizons!
KS: Hmmm. I think everybody knows Margaret Atwood and Michael Ondaatje and Charles DeLint. Guy Gavriel Kay seems to be lesser known here than in Canada – he’s an amazing fantasy writer. Margaret Laurence wrote some pretty cool literary type stuff. Oh, I know – Robertson Davies. I love his books and most people here don’t seem to know about him. Also, one of my favorite poets was a Canadian – Earl Birney.
DP: You call yourself a “denizen of alternate realities.” What do you mean by that exactly?
KS: You had to ask. I really do often feel that I’ve wandered into strange little bubbles of reality. Once you start watching for the absurd, you find it everywhere. Things like a Craigslist.org item from somebody in the Midwest looking for a “friendly female giraffe” to live in their barn. You meet three people in the same week with a name like Aberforth when you’ve never met a person with that name in your life before. Something you KNOW was true yesterday suddenly isn’t and nobody else seems to know what you’re talking about when you question this. I’m fascinated by these things, and it seems entirely natural to take it one step further in my writing and create intersections between worlds.
DP: As always, for our final question, let’s talk about something other than writing. We’d love to hear a random fun fact about you!
KS: I used to play the tuba in band. It’s a wonderful instrument, often slighted. Also difficult to manage when walking up stairs onto a stage while wearing a floor-length skirt.
Photo courtesy of Kerry Schafer