Steve Schafer, Author of “The Border,” Speaks with Students
“They’ll talk about this all year. Everything comes back to The Border,” said Mr. Neumann, an English teacher in the high school. The most read and most loved book of the tenth grade English classes is written by local author Steve Schafer. Each week students had in-class discussions over their assigned reading. Some students also conducted extra credit assignments of either paintings, drawings, or writings inspired by Schafer’s story, which they were able to thoughtfully gift to him.
During 5th and 6th period on Thursday, he spoke to students in an assembly giving them insight into the world of creative writing and answering their questions about his book. It is a story with harsh realities, immersing four fictional characters into the unfortunate real-life necessity of escaping violence by fleeing Mexico through the desert.
To begin the assembly, Schafer inspired students by sharing his experience of writing the book. “Writing is rewriting…There are two ways to look at this. That can feel discouraging or frustrating…(Or) it can be tremendously liberating. You can put down words because no one gets it right the first time…That’s something every author goes through. I don’t care if you’re Stephen King or John Green, you have a crappy first draft.”
His first spark of inspiration came in 2012 after reading a New York Times blurb. The article said that 85% of people believe if they wanted to they could write a novel. However, only 2% actually do the hard work it takes to sit down and see their thoughts typed into a novel. He took that as a challenge, and after a long process of writing, collecting feedback, and rewriting, The Border hit the shelves in 2017.
To end the assembly, students eagerly asked their questions (caution: spoiler alerts ahead!):
Q: What do you do when you have writer’s block?
A: Write my scenes out of order. This lets me address things in the way that I’m prepared to address them.
Q: Why did you end the story the way you did?
A: In the darkest of situations, there is hope for the future. It ends with them on the bus, and all they have is hope. And once you go beyond that, you have another story there.
Q: With four characters why did Gladys die?
A: Marcos was too easy of a target. He wasn’t totally likeable.
If Pato died, I’d have a problem on my hands because he was the narrator.
I felt like I would be doing a disservice to the actual people who crossed if there wasn’t a strong punch to the gut. I kind of wanted people to not like that part of the story, to feel the pain of the loss of what happened there.
Q: Why did you make the beginning tragic?
A: I wanted it to grab you from the beginning. I wanted the book to be a thriller and set a strong pace from the start.
Q: Would you make a movie?
A: Absolutely, unfortunately I’m not the decision maker on that. I would love nothing more than for it to be a movie. However, right now it is being made into a play at a university in Colorado.
Q: Would you make a part 2?
A: My version of the part 2 is the story that I am working on right now with a different set of characters. It is about a boy from El Salvador trying to find his mom in the United States.
Q: Why so graphic with Gladys death?
A: I wanted it to hurt. Like I mentioned earlier, I felt it would be a disservice to those who have crossed the border not to portray the pain.
Q: Did you get emotional about it (writing her death)?
A: Yes, I definitely had tears well up while writing it. To really immerse yourself in the emotion of doing that, it’s awful.
Q: Who was your favorite character?
A: I like all of them. I connect with them in different ways.
Thank you so much Steve Schafer for sharing your wisdom on writing and your personal story of creating the book. We look forward to having you again! We know our students greatly appreciated your story.