Life experiences can inform an author’s work in many different ways. Today’s guest author has used hers as well. Please help me welcome Suanne Schafer! Let’s find out about her background and then move right into the interview.
Suanne Schafer was born in West Texas at the height of the Cold War. Now a retired family-practice physician whose only child has fledged the nest, her world travels and pioneer ancestors fuel her imagination and her writing. Originally, she’d planned to pen 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 short works have been featured in multiple magazines, literary journals, and anthologies. She has two published novels with a third on the way. A Different Kind of Fire explores the life of a nineteenth century bisexual artist living in West Texas while Hunting the Devil explores the heartbreak and healing of a biracial American physician caught up in the 1994 Rwandan genocide. Suanne is a member of the Women’s Fiction Writers Association, the Historical Novel Society, and the Association of Writers and Writing Programs. Besides stints as a travel and medical photographer and a family practice physician, she served as an editor for a mainstream/romance publishing house and fiction editor for an on-line literary magazine.
Betty: When did you become a writer?
Suanne: I was planning my post-retirement life and wanted something to do that would keep me mentally challenged once I left my medical practice. I became nostalgic for long summer days at my grandparents’ West Texas ranch when I’d hole up on the back porch and read Tarzan books by the hour. I figured if Edgar Rice Burroughs could write nearly eighty novels in his thirty-nine-year writing career, I could crank out a novel. So I re-read all twenty-seven Tarzan books as well as the one finished posthumously by Joe Lansdale, and Tarzan Alive, a pseudo-biography of Tarzan by Philip Jose Farmer. Then I started writing. I quickly learned writing wasn’t as easy as I assumed. I did a Google search for writing schools and came up with Stanford University’s Novel-Writing program https://continuingstudies.stanford.edu/writing-certificate/writing-certificate. It was a good choice for me since it was all online. I “met” people there I am still in contact with, and we often exchange beta-reads and editing. I retired from medicine in 2015 and have been writing full-time since.
Betty: How long did you work on your writing skills before you became published?
Suanne: I wrote for about a year before starting the Stanford program. I completed it in 2½ years. The program is quite comprehensive, and I’m convinced it saved me years of random attempts to learn about writing. That said, I believe we authors should perpetually attempt to improve our skills.
Betty: What authors or stories do you feel influenced your writing style?
Suanne: My favorite books include The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini
Ahab’s Wife by Sena Jeter Naslund
The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver
Lonesome Dove by Larry McMurtry
The Gabriel Allon spy series by Daniel Silva
Brokeback Mountain by Annie Proulx
The Round House by Louise Erdrich
Beloved by Toni Morrison
The clarity of these authors’ prose and their subject matter all appeal to me.
Betty: What type of writing did you start with?
Suanne: I started with a female Tarzan book about an anthropologist working with the Maasai in Tanzania. Reading it now, it is wayyyyyy too long, has tons of point-of-view shifts, unresolved plot bunnies—it’s so bad, I can’t get past chapter one.
Betty: What do you most enjoy writing? Why?
Suanne: I started out wanting to write romances but had difficulty with the happily-ever-after—maybe because I was in the midst of a divorce. Now I write women’s fiction with elements of thrillers in which the protagonist is pushed to her utmost and intersects with men who might—or might not—love her.
Betty: How did you learn to write? A mentor, classes, conferences, craft books, or something else?
Suanne: As mentioned above, I completed the Stanford program. I am also fortunate to have discovered SARA (San Antonio Romance Authors). This is an incredibly supportive group of authors with both online and in-person critique groups. One of the members can always be counted on for a beta-read or be available to critique.
Betty: What do you wish you knew before you started writing/publishing?
Suanne: I wish someone had warned me how mind-numbing and emotionally debilitating the process of querying is, and once a book is published, how difficult promotion is.
Betty: What inspired you to write the book you’re sharing with us today?
Suanne: Hunting the Devil came from my experiences raising a biracial son and traveling to Africa.
When Dr. Jessica Hemings volunteers for a medical mission in Rwanda, she becomes entrapped in the maelstrom of Rwandan politics and the enmity between Hutus and Tutsis. Her Tutsi features plunge her into the Rwandan Genocide. Dr. Cyprien Gatera, Jess’s superior and a Hutu radical, commandeers her clinic, slaughters her patients and her adopted sons, then forces her to treat his wounded. She escapes and survives three weeks in hiding before finding refuge at Benaco refugee camp in Tanzania.
There, Jess vows revenge. She searches for Gatera with the help of Michel Fournier, a French lawyer-turned-war-correspondent, and Dr. Tom Powell, her long-time ex-lover. When an unknown informant passes information to Jess about her nemesis, she returns to Rwanda, despite warnings from the Belgian Secret Service that Gatera plans to assassinate her. In their final showdown, Jess must decide if revenge is best served cold—or not at all.
Jess’s hands were filthy. But that didn’t matter. She had no treatment, no surgical instruments, no antibiotics. Despite years of medical training, she couldn’t save the boy. He was doomed to a painful death. She ran her hands over his head. His whimpers lessened at her touch. The Hippocratic Oath flashed though her mind. Do no harm. If she stayed to care for him, she risked recapture. He was too big for her to carry. Transporting him to safety would inflict more pain without improving his prognosis. Yet she couldn’t abandon him. Though he had little time left to live, he shouldn’t suffer. Only one option remained.
She wiped tear streaks from the boy’s face. “I promise you’ll join your family soon.” Visions of her year-old twins flashed before her. No! If she thought of them right now, she’d go insane. She shoved those memories into the deepest vault of her mind and slammed the door.
Jess closed her eyes, placed her hand over the boy’s mouth and nose, and pressed firmly into his round face.
The raucous cry of a go-away bird jerked Jess back to the present. She opened her eyes. Looked down. Her hand remained clamped over the boy’s face. With her other hand, she felt for his pulse. Nothing. She slumped in relief. A lifetime had passed—literally—in a moment. She lifted her hand and stared at her shaking fingers. Trained to save lives, she’d just—
Thanks for sharing that riveting story, Suanne! It sounds like a heart- and gut-wrenching read that will illuminate what it was like during that time.
Spring is right around the corner and I can’t wait! Grab a book and a cold beverage and head outside as often as possible. Thanks for reading!
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