Shawne Steiger wrote her first story when she was seven. Over the years, she has been a pizza maker, dressage teacher, house cleaner, and therapist. The one constant in her life has been her writing, which is why, after years working as a trauma therapist, she applied to Vermont College of Fine Arts and completed an MFA in Fiction writing. After learning that she’s happiest when writing, Shawne published short stories and essays in several literary journals. Supporting her writing habit with her social work degree, Shawne frequently incorporates her understanding of how trauma affects people into her fiction. When not writing or working, she enjoys going to the theater, reading and travel. Luckily her love of travel stops her from fully realizing her aspirations to enter the realm of mad cat woman, since she’s yet to find the perfect suitcase that will fit both her cats and still be light enough to carry.
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Thanks for spending time with us on the blog today, Shawne.
Games We Played covers timely issues unfortunately found in our real-world society. What was the motivation behind the book?
I started writing this book when I entered the Vermont College MFA program. I actually did grow up in Carlsbad and I was one of only three Jewish kids in my class. When I was around five or six, I played war with a neighborhood boy and we always played Nazis and Jews. He did claim his Grandfather had fought for Hitler and there was an attic with a gun collection. That was always the germ of the story and the memoir piece I built the fiction around. I originally planned to tell just the childhood story from that child’s point of view, but when I started my MFA, my first advisor urged me to write from an adult’s point of view and focus on short stories. By the time I graduated, I had done all this research on white supremacy and I had all sorts of material that had transformed the novel I had envisioned. I took a break for a while, because I got a new job that consumed a lot of time and I didn’t know what to do with all those pieces. By the time I had a draft organized, 2016 happened and I realized my novel had suddenly become much more relevant than I had anticipated. I rewrote some of it after the election.
I’m particularly interested in intergenerational trauma. How does all the trauma my Jewish grandparents and great grandparents experienced in Europe affect me? How will the trauma we’ve all lived through this past few years affect the children, the next generation of children etc? Children absorb so much from the adults around them, a lot of it unconscious. One thing I know from my background as a trauma therapist is that sometimes people respond to trauma by becoming very rigid in their thinking and in how they see the world. We start to see everything in black and white and develop an us and them mentality in order to feel safe. It feels safer to “other” those who don’t look or think or behave like we do. I think when people read my novel, they might get angry at Rachel and feel impatient with her at times. They might sympathize with and even like Stephen. I want people to experience that discomfort, because I want to challenge us all to start seeing each other as full complex human beings.
Do you have a favorite character in the story?
I’m particularly fond of Stephen. He’s so broken, but he wants things and he wants to be good. He’s just really confused about how he defines good. He has a lot to overcome, but he’s very driven to try to make things better. Rachel needs external events to get her moving, but Stephen creates those external events for himself.
What is your work schedule like when writing a book?
I wake up at 5am, make coffee and write till 7, when it’s time to get ready for work. I try to write at least a little on the weekend, but I am most productive when I have long chunks of time. Once a year, I get together with some friends at Cape Cod and we all just write all day every day for a week. I generally get hundreds of pages out of that week. I will say COVID has affected my writing. I’ve mostly been teleworking, which theoretically gives me more time to write, but somehow I’m writing less. I tell myself I have extra time and turn the alarm off and then wake up too late. Luckily, the Cape Cod week is going to happen this summer, after a very long year of COVID lockdown. I’m counting on that week to get me back in the groove.
Are you self-published, traditional, or hybrid?
I’m published under Red Adept Publishing. They’re an indie publisher and have been truly great to work with. I really could not have asked for a better experience. Everyone has been so helpful and supportive.
Do you write full time, or do you also work outside the home?
I wish I wrote full time. I’m a clinical social worker with a mental health background, primarily focused on treating PTSD. Currently my job is more administrative than clinical. My retirement plan is to do a little part time therapy and write.
What do you do when you’re not writing?
So many of these questions seem to require pre-COVID and COVID answers. Pre-COVID, I read, watched movies, traveled, went to theater, went out to eat, went to the gym, took walks with friends. COVID time has been a little quieter. I still read and I’m a bit of a TV addict (Handmaid’s Tale FINALLY returned). I take walks with people and have one or two people over for outside gatherings (now that we’re all getting vaccinated). I’m quite addicted to Pilates and my big investment this past year was a good quality Pilates reformer.
Do you have pets who “help” or inspire you?
Teddy and Seymour. Yes, they are named from J D Salinger short stories. Phoebe is 16 and not so photogenic, and Holden passed away.
As a child, What did you want to do when you grew up?
First I wanted to be a veterinarian. Then I found out science was involved. I was into theater in high school, so I briefly wanted to act, but I couldn’t match pitch and I couldn’t dance very well. At the time those deficits seemed like giant barriers. I was also deeply into horses and I had a brief career training Dressage horses and teaching Dressage lessons before I went to grad school for my MSW.
Totally addicted to social media or could you live without it?
Totally addicted to Twitter. I love the challenge of trying to say things in as few words as possible. I could live without Facebook. I’m pretty introverted and Facebook sometimes feels like all the social pressure that I struggle with in real life.
What’s your next project?
I’m working on a psychological thriller. I’m really excited about it.
Do you have any advice for new authors?
Reading is the best way to learn to write. Also, learn to separate your sense of self-worth from your writing. The best way to develop your craft and improve your writing is to get honest critiques from skilled writers. I’ve noticed some new writers react to critiques as if they are being judged or criticized. I’ve seen writers get defensive, because the critique made them feel bad about themselves. Critiques are about helping you develop craft skills and make your story or novel even better. You can ignore critiques that don’t resonate for you, but if you find yourself ignoring all the feedback you get, you might be preventing yourself from growing as a writer.
Please share an excerpt (extract) with us from one of your favorite scenes.
I think I’m not alone in saving hundreds of pages of “darlings” that I ultimately cut from the novel. I thought, rather than a specific excerpt from the novel, I’d share an excerpt from a piece I wrote that ultimately made it into the novel in bits and pieces and not in its original form. The entire piece is 11 pages, but here’s a bit of it. This is an excerpt from a letter I imagined Rachel writing, but not sending her grandmother:
I do think of you Grandma. I do. But I don’t visit. I think of the way you invaded our house, your black suitcases heavy with kitchen supplies enshrouded in bubble wrap and newspaper. Mother taut shouldered, chapping her hands in the sink while you purged our cupboards, dumping plates, bowls, silverware in black garbage bags, and I carefully organized the new forks and spoons in their separate kosher drawers with masking tape labels for meat and dairy. Father hiding in his study surrounded by magic books and boxes full of hidden compartments. I think of you at the kitchen table with my mother, inhaling curls of steam from decaffeinated Lipton tea and explaining exactly why we must honor the kosher rules. “Do you understand, Rose? We are in a covenant with God. The Jews were chosen by God to be pioneers of religion and morality; that is our purpose. You must understand this, and you must raise your children as religious Jews.” Mother nodding, sipping, nodding. Emptying our cupboards that day, you removed the big rose colored serving platter and my mother flung her arms out, spraying water all over the floor and surrounding countertops. She snatched that plate out of your hands.
“I’ll keep this,” she said. “It was a wedding gift from my mother.”
You squeezed your lips and crossed your arms. “Well, I won’t have it in a kosher kitchen. It’s probably had meat and cheese on it at the same time.” Your tone implied my mother must have murdered somebody and served the body parts on that platter. My mother hugged it to her chest and crept out of the room like a dog just caught in the garbage. You patted my head and said, “No Rachel, that fork goes in the meat drawer. See, it was on the right side of the tablecloth.” You pointed to the shiny array of silverware on the floor, carefully organized on right and left sides of our picnic tablecloth, glinting like treasure against the faded yellow flowers.
I want to blame you and I want to hate you. I remember the day you came – us waiting at the gate, me clutching Guarder in one hand and my mother’s clammy fingers in the other, staring at my father’s back, hair curling darkly around the collar of his white polo shirt. Streams of passengers rushed past us in twos and threes, hugging waiting friends and family members, crying, chattering about lousy food and nearly missed changeovers in Atlanta, the new clothes they found in Florida. We were a tableau, a still life in the middle of it all. You walked out alone in your gray skirt, white button down blouse and gray jacket. Your pantyhose bunched around your ankles. People stepped aside to let you through. When I picture you coming off that airplane I think of the cactuses I once saw on a drive through Arizona – all determined sharp edges, able to survive on the occasional rain, sucking every droplet of water from the air around them. You looked down and said, “Hello Rachel.” None of the singsong voice usually reserved for children or the elderly. I felt like when I played house with Stephen -him announcing, “I’m home, honey,” and me wobbling precariously over to him in my mother’s heels, touching my lips to his cheek, tingling with the fear and excitement of being a wife at six years old.
Games We Played
Publication Date: October 17th, 2020
Genre: Literary Fiction/ Women’s Fiction/ Thriller
When actress Rachel Goldberg shares her personal views on a local radio show, she becomes a target for online harassment. Things go too far when someone paints a swastika on her front door, not only terrifying her but also dredging up some painful childhood memories. Rachel escapes to her hometown of Carlsbad. To avoid upsetting her parents, she tells them she’s there to visit her Orthodox Jewish grandmother, even though that’s the last thing she wants to do. But trouble may have followed her.Stephen Drescher is home from Iraq, but his dishonorable discharge contaminates his transition back to civilian life. His old skinhead friends, the ones who urged him to enlist so he could learn to make better bombs, have disappeared, and he can’t even afford to adopt a dog. Thinking to reconnect with his childhood friend, he googles Rachel’s name and is stunned to see the comments on her Facebook page. He summons the courage to contact her, Rachel and Stephen, who have vastly different feelings about the games they played and what might come of their reunion, must come to terms with their pasts before they can work toward their futures.
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