Kindle Author Interview: Bernard J. Schaffer

Bernard J. Schaffer, author of Women and Other Monsters, discusses his book, his journey as a writer, and self-publishing on Kindle.

DAVID WISEHART: What can you tell us about Women and Other Monsters?

BERNARD J. SCHAFFER: First, thank you for this site and what a great job you do with it. Women and Other Monsters is a collection of six short stories that range between shocking and sweet. People ask me about the title constantly, but the truth is, I only chose it because it's provocative and makes me laugh. Men say, “That’s hysterical, but what’s the difference?” and women say, “What’s THAT supposed to mean?”

DAVID WISEHART: How do you develop and differentiate your characters?

BERNARD J. SCHAFFER: I start with a protagonist that is worth telling a story about and go forward from there. I normally know far more about my characters than the reader does, because I tend to edit heavily. I’ve lost whole characters and plotlines from novels, but it was always to the benefit of the final work.

DAVID WISEHART: Who do you imagine is your ideal reader?

BERNARD J. SCHAFFER: I heard a woman on NPR talking about her battle with cancer, and she said that after receiving the news from her doctor, she went out and bought the Rocky soundtrack. She started listening to it all the time, training to it, like she was preparing for a fight. She had young daughters and she was just not going to let cancer take her away from them. On the day of the surgery she dressed up like she was going into combat, and continued fighting until she was cancer free. They had only given her a few months to live, but there she was telling her story all these years later.

I don’t know if Sly Stallone ever heard that story, but I hope he has. I cannot imagine the feeling you would get from knowing you inspired someone to get through something so difficult. That your story gave them the strength to hang in there.

My ideal reader would be someone who said, “I read what you wrote. It helped me when I needed it.”

…Which is kind of funny because I don’t really write uplifting material. So maybe that’s the direction I hope to one day go in. I’m aiming for the Oprah audience, Dave. Make sure she gets a copy of this, ok?

DAVID WISEHART: What was your journey as a writer?

BERNARD J. SCHAFFER: I started off as a world-class reader. I could read by the age of four and tore through anything I got my hands on. There were several key turning points that moved me in this direction. I’d say the most significant one has been working with Karen, the woman who edits what I write.

DAVID WISEHART: What is your writing process?

BERNARD J. SCHAFFER: I tend to write a lot. When I finish a project I always say that I’m going to force myself to take a month off to recharge the batteries, but I just can’t do it. My fiancĂ© hates when I’m in the middle of a project because it becomes this all-consuming thing for me. But the truth is, I am ill at ease and don’t know my place in the world when I’m not writing.

As far as nuts and bolts, I’ll write a first draft and try to let it sit so that I can judge it fairly. I suffer from this horrible affliction where I fall in love with something as soon as I put it to paper. I need a little separation from it to decide if it’s worth me going full on to get it in its finalized state.

Once I get it perfect, I send it to Karen, who brutalizes it with a meat cleaver.

I call Karen ‘The Angry Hatchet.’ She actually gets mad at me when I do dumb stuff. During Women and Other Monsters she sent me this one edit where I kept using the same word to start a sentence in a paragraph.

Her comments got increasingly irate, like: “Oh, come on” to “Come ON” to “COME ON!!!!!!!”

So that’s our big joke now. Every time we talk, somebody’s gotta get hollered at to COME ON!!!!!

DAVID WISEHART: What authors most inspire you?

BERNARD J. SCHAFFER: Too many to count. Too many to name. If you put a gun to my head I’d say the names Stephen King, Harlan Ellison, Alan Moore, Irvine Welsh, Ron Hansen, JK Rowling and so many more.

Out of all of them, I’d go with King because I don’t just rely on him to be a good writer. I rely on him to show me the way. If you read Women and Other Monsters, it closes with a piece called “Digestif” which is me talking about my childhood. There is no fiction in it. I lifted that entire style of writing from King because he was never afraid of showing you himself in his work. It was his book On Writing that made me decide to give all this an honest effort.

I was fortunate enough to work with Bill Thompson on my forthcoming novel Whitechapel: The Final Stand of Sherlock Holmes. Bill discovered Steve and has nothing but the kindest things to say about him. Even if that’s as close as I ever get to the King, I can live with it.

DAVID WISEHART: What one book, written by someone else, do you wish you'd written yourself?

BERNARD J. SCHAFFER: The Fellowship of the Ring. Not because I wish I had the success of it, or the notoriety, but because I just admire the hell out of the way Tolkien set the whole thing up. He created languages and maps and backstory and this humongous world, and managed to keep it (mostly) together until the end. I say mostly because it kind of all went sideways on him by The Return of the King, but at least Peter Jackson came along and sorted it all out.

DAVID WISEHART: How have you marketed and promoted your work?

BERNARD J. SCHAFFER: I’ve sent it out for review to various sites and have been overwhelmed by some of the responses. People seem to really enjoy Women and Other Monsters. I feel kind of embarrassed by the nice things they say.

I took out a small ad on Facebook and try to get the Twitter thing going, but unfortunately, I’m just not very good at it. As an entrepreneurial upstart publisher I make a pretty decent speculative fiction writer, and the two don’t seem to mesh for me.

DAVID WISEHART: Why publish on Kindle?

BERNARD J. SCHAFFER: I dedicated myself to print publishing for several years and enjoyed some modest success, but then I started to see Kindles everywhere. My fiancé bought one, and now she reads on it exclusively. Given the problems that retail bookstores are experiencing and how complicated traditional publishing has become, it really is a great opportunity.

I feel like Kindle and Nook and ebooks are the format that authors have been waiting for.

DAVID WISEHART: What advice would you give to a first-time author thinking of self-publishing on Kindle?

BERNARD J. SCHAFFER: I would give the same advice to ANY writer no matter who they are: Respect the craft, take your time, and get it right.

I have a friend who writes and he tends to rush things to print. It bit him on the ass a few times when people left him bad reviews. In my opinion, if you are selling something, even if it’s just for .99 cents, you owe it to the people who buy it to give them something good.

I want everyone who walks away from Women and Other Monsters to say, “I can’t believe that only cost a dollar.” I busted my hump for that dollar. I was up until three in the morning for weeks straight when I had to work the next day making sure everything was right. But it was worth it. All those 5 Star reviews from people who spent their hard earned money to read it made me ready to get up and do it again.

DAVID WISEHART: Thanks, and best of luck with your books.


Bernard J. Schaffer lives in the suburbs of Philadelphia. He is thirty-six years old, and the father of two children.

Previously, his work has appeared in several monthly publications including: American Police Beat, Clean Sheets, Philadelphia Stories, and Conceit Magazine.

“BJ Schaffer Is Dead” was selected for inclusion in the 2009 Best of Philadelphia Stories Book Anthology. His story “The Kyoshi Scroll” appeared in the Demonminds 2010 Halloween publication.

Women and Other Monsters, a collection of original short-stories, was released in May 2011 on all digital platforms.

His novel Whitechapel: The Final Stand of Sherlock Holmes is coming out the summer of 2011 on all digital platforms.

Visit his website and find him on facebook.

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