Author Chat with Steve Schafer (The Border)
Today we're excited to chat with Steve Schafer, author of The Border. Read on for more about Steve and his book!
Meet Steve Schafer!
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.
"Thrilling... often brilliant."―Kirkus
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...
1. What gave you the inspiration to write this book?
A few years ago, a friend of mine had a family member abducted in northern Mexico. He never resurfaced and any efforts by the family to find out what happened only resulted in threats, from both unofficial and official channels. This was the spark for The Border. But I didn’t want for the story to stay in Mexico. I felt like the real opportunity was to address our conversation about immigration. Inflammatory language dominates the debate and it often loses sight of the individuals at the heart of the issue. The conversation changes when you think about—and talk about—the separate people involved, each with unique, understandable and admirable motivations.
2. Which came first, the title or the novel?
The novel. The title didn’t surface until it occurred to me the perfect name for an ego-driven, narco gang would be La Frontera (The Border), as if their identity itself claims ownership and control of everything along that stretch of land. At that point, I called the novel Crossing Borders. Full credit goes to Sourcebooks for suggesting we revise it to the more punchy and raw title, The Border.
3. What scene in the book are you most proud of, and why?
Spoiler alert! I’ll be a bit nebulous here to avoid giving away the story, but I’m most proud of the encounter with the mountain bikers. It’s because of what the scene represents. I’m hopeful it prompts a tough question in the mind the reader...what would YOU do here? I think it’s easy to get hung up in lofty political talk and thoughts about immigration, but when you dial that into a specific situation with real people (even if just characters), it has the capacity to challenge your thinking.
4. Thinking way back to the beginning, what’s the most important thing you've learned as a writer from then to now?
If there is something wrong with the third act, the problem is probably in the first act. I re- wrote this novel many, many times. It’s not until I fixed the first third that the story really took off.
5. What do you like most about the cover of the book?
I love how it tells a story on its own. It suggests so much with so little.
6. Which was the most difficult or emotional scene to narrate?
I’m going to dance around the spoilers with this answer. If you’ve read the novel, it’s the obvious scene (there’s a constellation involved). Sometimes you have to do things in the interest of your message that are hurtful to the characters whom you have grown to love. That is exactly what happened with this scene and it was emotionally draining to write it.
7. Which character gave you the most trouble when writing your latest book?
Marcos was the most challenging character to write for a number of reasons. First, his personality is the most different from my own—he’s nearly a polar opposite. I had to work hard to keep him from being an unlikable caricature of a tough-guy. In addition, his arc was the most demanding one to show in a believable manner. It was tough to extract emotion from him, especially at the depth he needed to go to experience any kind of change.
8. Which part of the writing process do you enjoy more: Drafting or Revising?
Drafting new material is harder, but also far more rewarding. Dorothy Parker’s quote, “I hate writing; I love having written,” rings very true for me. It’s a slog to lay down new words, but I feel such a sense of accomplishment afterward. I don’t often get that same high from revising.
9. Is there an organization or cause that is close to your heart?
There are two organizations related to Latin America that I have been involved with for some time, and both are important to me. 1) Amigos de Las Americas sends high school students to Latin America for summer volunteer projects. I spent two months in Paraguay with the program when I was seventeen—it was a life-changing experience. 2) Fabretto provides educational opportunities to empower children in need in Nicaragua. We have sponsored a child for years and do other volunteer work for the organization.
There are also great organizations that do humanitarian work for immigrants crossing harrowing terrain (like that described in The Border). Here are a few of them—South Texas Human Rights Center, Humane Borders, and Border Angels.