Friday, May 21, 2010

Fresh Voices: Interview with Kerry Schafer

"we do not believe in ourselves until someone reveals that deep inside us is valuable, worth listening to, worthy of our trust, sacred to our touch. once we believe in ourselves we can risk curiosity, wonder, spontaneous delight or any experience that reveals the human spirit." - E.E. Cummings

Welcome to the latest edition of Fresh Voices. We are delighted to share with you the wry and enchanting voice of Kerry Schafer.

1. What is your ultimate writing goal?

My ultimate writing goal? The pat answer is that I want to sell enough successful books to be able to quit my day job. I want to travel around with my wonderful partner, and write in fabulous hotels with the ocean outside my balcony. Honestly, as much as I daydream about this, and would love to have a fairy tale life, it's not my ultimate goal. My ultimate writing goal is to write a book that I, myself, consider brilliant, and that gets respect from my fellow writers. This may not be a book that the publishing world loves, and it may not be the sort of book that climbs the charts. But, feeling that I had achieved that goal would mean more to me than money or fame. I think. On Monday mornings I'd just take some money and fame.

2. Why do you write?

The answer to that question is - it depends. Some days I write because I love it and it's an escape from reality. Some days I write only because I'm too stubborn to leave something unfinished once I've started it. I do know that if I don't write I get snarly and all tangled up inside. There were some years in my life when I didn't write, and I regret them. I think if you're born with the itch to write and the ability to do so, you'd better do what you were meant to do, or there will be trouble for you later. Psychological trouble, I mean, which can happen when you block something integral to your being.

3. Your writing style is edgy but also has a feeling of wonder. Have you
worked to achieve that voice or is it just a natural style for you?

My voice has just developed over the years as a natural extension of myself. My personality is this way - I have a side that is cynical and sharp, and another side that is always looking for magic and wishing there were fairies hiding in the woods. When I write, sometimes there is magic, and sometimes there is gritty cynical reality. I love it when I find both.

4. Who are your favorite authors and why do you like them?

That is the sort of question I always have trouble with. How can I have a favorite when there are so many that I love for different reasons?
When I was a child I read and re-read everything by Louisa May Alcott, Lucy Maude Montgomery, and Laura Ingalls Wilder to the point of memorization. I never felt like I quite fit in with my friends and schoolmates, and the likes of Anne Shirley and Joe March were my companions and role models.

I had a Dickens phase that started late in high school, and I read every novel he wrote, most of them repeatedly, except for the Mystery of Edwin Druid. I didn't want to read something that wasn't finished. I still haven't read it.

As a child I devoured anything about King Arthur, and I've always loved good fantasy. C.S. Lewis, Tolkien, Madeleine L'Engle, Guy Gavriel Kay, and more recently Terry Pratchett are among my favorites, but let's not forget Douglas Adams.

I could go on at length. I also adore good thrillers and mysteries, especially if they have a protagonist I can really connect with. I'm in love with Jonathan Kellerman's marvelous Alex Delaware and Martha Grimes' Richard Jury.

And now I feel guilty, because there are so many others I love who I haven't mentioned. I'm sure you begin to see my problem - I just can't pick a favorite.

5. What most attracts you to the life of a writer?

I remember the first time I wrote something that made somebody cry, and the feeling of wonder that something I'd put on paper could do this. I also remember the time I wrote an essay that made a whole roomful of people angry and caused a big argument. By the time things settled down my hands were shaking, but there was this amazing feeling of power, that I had somehow accomplished this fuss by the act of putting words together on paper. It is an amazing feeling to be able to create an emotional response, to maybe make somebody think or feel something new. There is nothing like the feeling of totally losing yourself in the words for awhile, of creating something that wasn't there before.

6. If you couldn't be a writer but knew you were guaranteed success at
a different career, what would you choose?

I already have a different career. I'm not sure whether it chose me, or I choose it, but at this point I can't imagine doing anything else. I'm a mental health professional, and I work in crisis services. One part of my job is to serve as a DMHP, (Designated Mental Health Professional) which means that in the state of Washington I am entrusted with the responsibility of making the decision whether someone who is mentally ill should be involuntarily sent to a psychiatric hospital for evaluation. It's a job that shares certain things with writing. It is often difficult. The solution to a problem is often to be found only by creative thinking and stepping outside of the box. But it is also necessary and it is important.

7. If you had to describe your writing in one word, what would that word be?

I can't pick a couple of favorite authors and you want me to pick one word for my writing? How about this: Mine. I think I have a strong voice that is unique to me.

8. What's the best writing advice you've ever gotten?

My best writing advice has, like everything else, come from an eclectic variety of sources. One of the earliest bits I remember, and perhaps the most important, was from a book on writing by Madeleine L'Engle, Walking On Water. I haven't read it in years, but the gist of it was that everybody has a story to tell. The great writers are rivers, but even those of us who are just little streams have a job to do and had better do it. Then there was this wonderful professor at the University of Missouri, Kansas City, from whom I was privileged to take an English class. Her name was Joan Rothstein Vandergriff, and among many other things she taught me to never settle for the easy version. My favorite writing book is The Right to Write, by Julia Cameron.

Kerry Schafer spends more time in jail than the average law abiding citizen. Fortunately this has everything to do with her job, and little to do with her morality. She inhabits an acreage of trees and grass and rocks which she shares with four males - one of the adult variety, and three of the adolescent species. It is safe to assume that she seldom gets her hands on the TV remote. Pets include the domesticated component: two cats, a dog, and a rescued fish (not kidding), and the regularly fed but not tame birds, deer and wild turkeys. Kerry carves out writing time wherever it fits. She has completed two novels and has one that is undergoing what she fervently hopes is the last round of revisions. In the background, lurking and not happy about it, are a number of others in various stages of completion. You can find her on Twitter as @uppington, or at her blog, All Things Good and Other Stuff.
Thank you for reading this edition of Fresh Voices. Feel free to follow the Fresh Voices list on Twitter or nominate yourself or another author as a Fresh Voice.


  1. Great interview! It was fun learning a little more about one of my favorite Twitter writing buds. :)

  2. Great job ladies...wonderful interview.