Tuesday, September 5, 2017

1 Steve Schafer, author of THE BORDER, on tapping into a deeper, more meaningful side of himself

We've had so many amazing authors provide interviews lately that we're spreading them out to Tuesdays and Thursdays rather than overwhelming our readers with writing wisdom on Saturdays.

We're excited to have Steve Schafer stop by to tell us more about his debut novel, THE BORDER.

Steve, how long or hard was your road to publication? How many books did you write before this one, and how many never got published?

It has been a long, long road. Armed with a kernel of an idea, I had penned my first novel thirteen years ago. It was exhilarating. I had no training in story construction. I wrote freely. I wrote fast. I wrote like no one was reading, which turned out to be an accurate prediction. The story was a flop. It was an adverb-loaded, conflict-averse, randomly-wandering exploration about wanderlust and too many other things. Only two people confessed to liking it—one of them was my mother.

But I loved doing it, which was an emotional paradox—I realized the book stunk, however I felt a tremendous sense of pride when I held that finished manuscript. I was hooked. It was a different way to explore the world—by creating diverse characters who live in it. And I knew I could do better. There were a few more novels between that first one and The Border. Each was better than the last, but you’ll probably never read any of them—their time and role has passed. They were my training grounds.

They were also missing something. Passion. I was passionate about writing them, but they didn’t leverage a passionate belief. They were creatively whimsical.

My day-to-day personality is more light-hearted The Border might suggest, but tapping into a deeper, more meaningful side of me pushed me to a place where I could be a better writer. I felt like I was writing something that mattered, rather than a creative exposition. Of course, the reader is the ultimate judge of this, but that’s what it felt like to me—and it made all the difference.

What's your writing ritual like? Do you listen to music? Work at home or at a coffee shop or the library, etc?

I am a morning writer. That’s when I’m most refreshed, and most caffeinated. For years, I wrote alone in the silence of my home. Writing is already such an inherently solitary endeavor that one day I decided to challenge these habits and immerse myself in a more social atmosphere to write. I went to a coffee shop. I chatted some, I worked some, I achieved my word goals. I enjoyed it. I went back and after a string of days, I sent the draft work to one of my most trusted reviewers. His first comment back to me was, “Are you doing something different? This writing sucks.”

It’s great to challenge your limitations, but it’s also wise to adhere to them once you have a solid understanding of what works well for you. I’d love to be a guy who writes well amidst others, but that’s just not who I am.

How long did you work on THE BORDER?

I began The Border in 2012. Shortly after starting, my wife and I had our second child. We traded sleep shifts. I managed the 4am feeding and would stay up to write until our 2-year-old woke at 7am…and the daily chaos began. I drank lots of coffee. It took about a year to finish that first draft.

My agent pitched the book and got some interest, but no bites. It was tough. Above everything I had ever before written, I was especially proud of this novel. But, I finally acknowledged there were some flaws which I needed to address. Those revisions took a few tries to get right. Plus, with two young kids and a job, I was a touch distracted. Another year and a half zipped by. At last, in February of 2016 my agent called and asked, “Are you sitting down?” Neighbors nearly heard the scream.

Then I worked with the phenomenal team at Sourcebooks to make the story even better, which meant more revisions.

I have lost count of how many times I have edited this book. In the balance of writing and editing, editing wins. By a lot. For me, this experience of re-writing over and over again can be both intimidating and freeing. On the one hand, it’s daunting to recognize the amount of seemingly endless revisions I’ll need to go through for a final manuscript. However, it is also incredibly freeing to understand that it’s okay to not get it right the first time. It helps those initial words flow on the page, even if they’re atrocious. Nobody has captured this liberating sentiment better than Anne Lamott whose book on writing (Bird by Bird) includes a whole chapter titled, “Shitty First Drafts.”

What do you hope readers will take away from THE BORDER?

Among the comments from advanced copy reviewers of the novel, this one stands out as being one of the most impactful to me. “This book turned the human lives that are impacted by immigration policy from talking points to individuals that I could viscerally imagine.” I can envision no greater success than this—giving readers a sense of empathy for those who come to the US.


The Border
by Steve Schafer
Sourcebooks Fire
Released 9/5/2017

One moment changed their lives forever.

A band plays, glasses clink, and four teens sneak into the Mexican desert, the hum of celebration receding behind them.
Crack. Crack. Crack.

Not fireworks--gunshots. The music stops. And Pato, Arbo, Marcos, and Gladys are powerless as the lives they once knew are taken from them.

Then they are seen by the gunmen. They run. Except they have nowhere to go. The narcos responsible for their families' murders have put out a reward for the teens' capture. Staying in Mexico is certain death, but attempting to cross the border through an unforgiving desert may be as deadly as the secrets they are trying to escape...

Purchase The Border at Amazon
Purchase The Border at IndieBound
View The Border on Goodreads


Steve Schafer has a Masters in International Studies from the Lauder Institute at the University of Pennsylvania and an MBA from Wharton. He grew up in Houston and has since had the privilege to live, work, volunteer, and travel internationally. The bulk of this experience has been in Latin America. His debut novel, The Border, was acquired by Sourcebooks Fire imprint and will be released September 5th, 2017. Steve lives near Philadelphia with his wife and two kids.


Have you had a chance to read THE BORDER yet? Do you have a solid understanding of the routine that works best for you or are you still trying out things? Do you find the experience of re-writing over and over again intimidating or freeing? Share your thoughts about the interview in the comments!

Happy reading,

Jocelyn, Anisaa, Sam, Martina, Erin, Susan, Shelly, Kelly, Laura, Emily, and Lori Ann

1 comment:

  1. I'm totally going to have to check this book out! Awesome!


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