Book Review: Her Body and Other Parties by Carmen Maria Machado

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Her Body and Other Parties: Stories by Carmen Maria Machado Book Cover Her Body and Other Parties: Stories by Carmen Maria Machado
Carmen Maria Machado
short story
Graywolf Press
October 3, 2017
ebook, paperback, audio

When was the last time a book of short stories kept you up? I started this book (Her Body and Other Parties: Stories by
Carmen Maria Machado) at 1 a.m. last night thinking I’d read one story…and read every single one. They are strikingly original, terrifying, weird, perverse, sensual, sexy, a strange amalgam of Magical realism, sci-fi, horror, comedy. Machado blends the lines between reality, fairy tale, feminism, and psychological thriller.

I went to bed thinking I’d just read the verbal equivalent of a Frida Kahlo painting.

Machado’s book is a Finalist for the National Book Award for Fiction and deservedly so for its uniqueness.





Painting by Frida Kahlo

Painting by Frida Kahlo

Carmen Maria Machado

Her Body and Other Parties: Stories

Finalist for the National Book Award for Fiction “[These stories] vibrate with originality, queerness, sensuality and the strange.”—Roxane Gay“In these formally brilliant and emotionally charged tales, Machado gives literal shape to women’s…

Book Review: Better Dead by Pamela Kopfler

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Better Dead
B & B Spirits mystery series
Pamela Kopfler
Romantic suspense
December 26, 2017
E-book, mass market paperback

When I first read the description of this book, I thought it would be similar to Agnes and the Hitman by Jennifer Crusie and Bob Mayer, down to the dog named Rhett. I was pleasantly surprised at how much better Better Dead was than Agnes. The characters were well-rounded. The dialogue punchy and apt with some zingy one-liners. This is an all-round fun read.

Holly Davis, loves the plantation home, Holly Grove, that has been in her family since antebellum times. When the ghost of her drug-dealing husband, Burl Davis, appears, she doesn’t exactly welcome him. She still resents him for dying in an airplane crash before she could divorce him. He robbed her, was unfaithful to her, and nearly cost her home, a near-failing bed and breakfast.

Burl needs her help to move on from the physical world into either heaven or hell. Holly needs his help in haunting Holly Grove for Halloween to spur interest in her bed and breakfast and save it from foreclosure.

Jake McCann, Holly’s old flame, reappears after leaving town—and Holly’s heart—in the lurch. He needs a place to stay and moves into Holly Grove.

The romantic triangle that develops between Holly, Burl, and Jake adds a different spark to this romantic suspense novel as does a drug-smuggling ring.

Pamela Kopfler

I received a copy of Better Dead in exchange for a fair review.

Book Review: Sparked by Helena Echlin and Malena Watrous

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Sparked Book Cover Sparked
Helena Echlin, Malena Watrous
Young adult, paranormal
Geek & Sundry
October 3, 2017

Laurel, Ivy and their hippie-dippie mother live in an Airstream trailer on “the edge of civilization.” When Ivy goes missing, fifteen-year-old Laurel has recurrent nightmares about her sister being tortured. Her mother and local police believe Ivy has run off to the big city of Portland, so Laurel must assume the burden of finding her sister. Jasper, a new kid in town, believes Laurel and helps her search for Ivy. The two uncover secrets, super powers, and a mysterious ancient prophecy somehow tied to the small town of Cascade. The two of them must bond with the “mean girls” to overcome evil.

This book cleverly blends different genres of young adult fiction, including paranormal, fantasy, and mystery with a smidgeon of world religion thrown in to spice things up.

The character of Laurel is quite enchanting with her very real insecurities, her “trailer trash” upbringing, her susceptibility to the spitefulness of local rich “mean girls” Mei and Peyton, her love for Ivy, and her dream of becoming a writer. There is just enough sexual attraction between Jasper and Laurel to make their romance believable.

Malena Watrous and Helena Echlin

Overall, a well-written book with believable personalities that pop off the page. From a slow build while introducing the various characters, Sparked quickly moves into innumerable plot twists and turns. While nicely wrapped up—no cliffhanger here—the ending left room for a sequel, one I’d love to read.

A Different Kind of Fire, Nudity, and the Fig Leaf

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Michelangelo’s David

Classical statues and Renaissance statues of the human body, like Michelangelo’s David, were modeled on well-toned bodies of athletes. However, their genitalia was portrayed under-sized as artistic depictions of penises of normal size, even flaccid, distracted from the statue’s purpose. In 1563 the Roman Catholic Council of Trent ruled that “all lasciviousness be avoided” in religious images “in such wise that figures shall not be painted or adorned with a beauty exciting to lust.” Thus the need for a fig leaf (borrowed from the Adam and Eve story in which clothed themselves in leaves) was born.

The idea that visualizing sexual organs inspired lust continued into the Victorian era, and though somewhat toned down, into our own time. Pioneer 10 and 11, the space probes sent into the solar system in 1972 and 1973, contained gold-plated representations of the human species, but the woman had no vagina. When the Philadelphia Inquirer reprinted the image in its newspapers, it erased the woman’s nipples and the man’s genitals.

The gold-plated disc sent into space


At present, entities such as Facebook censor artistic images of the nude. Michal Stokes, photographer, has had a long battle with Facebook regarding his images.  and

Back in 1891 when my protagonist, Ruby Schmidt, starts life drawing classes, one of the first images she encounters  at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts in Philadelphia is The Vitruvian Man by Leonardo da Vinci with a fig leaf hiding his genitalia. In the 1890’s women were presumed to be both too delicate to view male sex organs and unable to control their lust should they visualize them. Thus fig leaves were added to nude art to protect their “refined sensibilities”.

Excerpts from A Different Kind of Fire and Ruby’s first life drawing class:

Anshutz glowered at the two women but continued his talk on ideal human proportions. He sketched as he talked, covering the blackboard with a drawing. “You see here The Vitruvian Man by Maestro Leonardo da Vinci, a male figure in two superimposed positions, simultaneously inscribed in a circle and a square.” Anshutz scribbled on the board. “The length of the outspread arms is equal to the height of a man, etc. Commit these proportions to memory. Remember, you can’t put clothing on a model until you understand the anatomy beneath.”

Leonardo da Vinci’s Vitruvian Man

Later, Ruby joins a class taught by Thomas Eakins and sketches her first completely nude male:

The moment class finished, Ruby dashed to the lecture at the Art Students’ League. Out-of-breath, she opened the door to find a nude Wheatley posing for Fred Ames, Franklin Louis Schenck, Charles Bregler, and several other men. What did she expect? The Art Students’ League of Philadelphia was formed for the study of painting and sculpture based on the study of the nude human figure.

“Oh my.” She banged her satchel and portfolio on the doorjamb in her hasty retreat.

“It’s all right, Red. Come on in.” Wheatley’s voice followed her.

Eyes shut, she timidly reopened the door. “I didn’t mean to interrupt.”

“I’m decent now.”

She opened her eyes and peeked in.

Wheatley had covered his groin with a skimpy cloth.

“Join us, Miss Schmidt?” said Eakins.

Ruby looked around. She was the only woman present, but she refused to allow her own prudery to prevent her studying the full male form.

With one hand on Wheatley’s shoulder, Eakins continued his lecture, demonstrating the movement of muscles by twisting the younger man’s back from side to side. “As he turns to the right, the muscles on the right contract and those on the left lengthen. The spinous processes curve to the right as well, and the right ribs become more prominent. Visualize the anatomy before you drape clothing on a model’s body. Only then will you achieve satisfactory results.”

Ruby whisked her sketchpad from her portfolio and, within minutes, became engrossed in her work.

As his students sketched, Eakins moved around the room offering advice and occasionally pointing his camera at the artists.

Later, when she showed the sketches to Willow, Ruby realized Wheatley’s drape had slipped away, revealing him in his entirety. She had not noticed but simply sketched what she saw. She laughed. “It simply proves we women are not driven to carnal behavior by the sight of manly parts.”


A good write-up of the fig leaf conundrum is:, Excerpted from Anatomies: A Cultural History of the Human Body by Hugh Aldersey-Williams. This article is excerpted from:


Authors 18

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I have joined a wonderful group of writers, Authors 18. We all have books coming out in 2018. Here is the first group of covers. My book, A Different Kind of Fire, is an orphan child without a cover or a release date, but all that is in progress.

166 Palms: A Literary Anthology 2017

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166 Palms - A Literary Anthology 2017 Book Cover 166 Palms - A Literary Anthology 2017
James Burnham, editor
June 6, 2017
digital, paperback

From Amazon:


Featuring the creative voices of: James Burnham, Diane Byington, Luanne Castle, Victoria Grant, Kristine Mietzner, Linda Moore, Suanne Schafer, Stacey Swann, Robin Taylor, Wendy Nelson Tokunaga, Kenton Yee



My short story, “Suite for the Lady in Red”, has been reprinted this anthology: 166 Palms: A Literary Anthology 2017. You’ll enjoy other stories by these authors: James Burnham, Diane Byington, Luanne Castle, Victoria Grant, Kristine Mietzner, Linda Moore, Suanne Schafer, Stacey Swann, Robin Taylor, Wendy Nelson Tokunaga, Kenton Yee


James Burnham edited this wide variety of well-written short stories from the students and faculty of Stanford University’s on-line creative writing program. 

The Gross Clinic and A Different Kind of Fire

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My novel, A Different Kind of Fire, will be released in 2018. Its protagonist, Ruby Schmidt, is a fictional eighteen-year-old who leaves Texas to study art at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts. Ruby encounters Thomas Eakins, a former professor at the Academy and arguably the city’s most renowned and infamous artist. He promoted the study of the complete nude (with all body parts uncovered) at the PAFA. Ultimately he was fired because of those beliefs.

In 1876, Eakins painted The Gross Clinic specifically for the Centennial Exhibition or World’s Fair. The painting depicts Dr. Samuel Gross, a world-famous physician, in a surgical ampitheater at Jefferson Medical College. The exhibition’s art jury rejected the painting as being too explicit in its realistic depiction of a surgery. The Gross Clinic now belongs to the Philadelphia Museum of Art, though it is currently not on view.


Unlike Eakins, Ruby Schmidt’s painting The Stillbirth was accepted by for exhibition in the Academy’s annual show. Because of its subject matter, on the advice of friends, she submitted it under an assumed name.Her painting is described in this excerpt:

Excerpt from A Different Kind of Fire:

Despite her ambiguous feelings toward her fiancé, Ruby began a new canvas for the Academy’s annual art exhibition, her largest yet, inspired by a Sunday afternoon several years earlier when a subdued Bismarck had called on her, dropping limply into a chair on her parents’ front porch.

“Anything wrong?” She handed him a cup of coffee and a monolithic slab of pound cake.

He reared back on the legs of the mule-eared chair, resting his head against the wall. “I’m plumb wore out. Up all night delivering a stillborn filly. Nearly lost the mare, too.” Overcome, he choked up, rubbing his forehead with his hand to hide his emotion.

Ruby knew he’d envisioned the foal, the product of his favorite mare and a wild mustang with an indomitable spirit, as the key to their future, the first in a string of fine horses.

“Oh, Biz.” She leaned down and drew his head against her breast and stroked his hair. He lifted her hand to his mouth and kissed it before pulling her into his lap. They held each other until he could speak again.

Ruby wanted to capture that mixture of sadness, fatigue, and momentary defeat in a painting she planned to entitle The Stillbirth. After sketching for weeks, she realized her original idea of showing Bismarck as she remembered him, on the front porch in broad daylight, lacked drama. The scene should be painted as it happened. In her final version, the barn was lit by a lone kerosene lantern. An exhausted Bismarck sat on a milking stool, his hands clasped behind his head, leaning against the barn wall. He was shirtless, one red suspender sliding off his shoulder. Sweat, blood, and birthing fluids soaked the denim pants that clad the long legs stretched before him. The body of the foal lay at his feet. Behind him, barely visible in the dark, the mare hung her head, the barn cat licked its paws, and the cock perched on the door to the horse stall.

The painting, though, received mixed reviews:

“…An obvious attempt at duplicating the horror of Mr. Thomas Eakins’ painting, The Clinic of Dr. Gross, the image contains so much blood it resembles a battlefield. Artistic ideals cannot be taught. Either one is an artist or not. Mr. Carter merely parrots technique and does not aspire to grandeur in his art. It is difficult to understand why anyone would waste such exquisite skill on trash.”


“…The Stillbirth is strong and virile, one of the most powerful, realistic, and fascinating pictures in this exhibition. The chiaroscuro and drapery are exquisite; however, one must condemn its public display where the tender eyes of a woman may be forced to look upon it.”

The viscous criticism of this painting has long-term effects on Ruby’s life and psyche which are revealed in my book.


For more information on Ruby, read the book, A Different Kind of Fire, due out in 2018.

For more information on The Gross Clinic and Thomas Eakins, see these websites:

Book Review: Give Up the Dead–Jay Porter Series #3 by Joe Clifford

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Give Up the Dead Book Cover Give Up the Dead
The Jay Porter Series #3
Joe Clifford
mystery, noir
Oceanview Publishing
June 6, 2017
paperback, e book

Fro Amazon: Three years have passed since estate-clearing handyman Jay Porter almost lost his life following a devastating accident on the thin ice of Echo Lake. His investigative work uncovering a kids-for-cash scandal may have made his hometown of Ashton, New Hampshire, a safer place, but nothing comes without a price. The traumatic, uncredited events cost Jay his wife and his son, and left him with a permanent leg injury. Jay is just putting his life back together when a mysterious stranger stops by with an offer too good to be true: a large sum of cash in exchange for finding a missing teenage boy who may have been abducted by a radical recovery group in the northern New Hampshire wilds. Skeptical of gift horses and weary of reenlisting in the local drug war, Jay passes on the offer. The next day his boss is found beaten and left for dead, painting Jay the main suspect. As clues begin to tie the two cases together, Jay finds himself back on the job and back in the line of fire.

Joe Clifford’s Give Up the Dead takes us further into his unconventional hero’s life. An Everyman we can readily relate to, Jay Porter is an estate-clearing handyman. In this third book, Jay’s wife has divorced him, taken their child, married a rich man, and moved into a MacMansion. As Jay settles into the life of a part-time dad, no-time ex-husband, he is unwillingly drawn into another mystery. He puts himself at risk to do the right thing. Clifford’s clues are subtle enouugh that you quickly realize that if it’s on the page, it’s important. And, as always in the Jay Porter series, the cold climate is a character in itself, wearing on body and soul. Looking forward to Jay Porter #4 and hoping he eventually gets laid by a good woman.

A Different Kind of Fire

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My novel, A Different Kind of Fire, has been selected by Waldorf Publishing for publication in 2018. They have picked up my second novel, as yet unnamed, for 2019.

Ruby Schmidt has the talent, the drive, even the guts to enroll in art school, leaving behind her childhood home and the beau she always expected to marry. Her life at the Academy seems heavenly at first, but she soon learns that societal norms in the East are as restrictive as those back home in West Texas. Rebelling against the insipid imagery woman are expected to produce, Ruby embraces bohemian life. Her burgeoning sexuality drives her into a life-long love affair with another woman and into the arms of an Italian baron. With the Panic of 1893, the nation spirals into a depression, and Ruby’s career takes a similar downward trajectory. After thinking she could have it all, Ruby, now pregnant and broke, returns to Texas rather than join the queues at the neighborhood soup kitchen.

A Different Kind of Fire depicts one woman’s battle to balance husband, family, career, and ambition. Torn between her childhood sweetheart, her forbidden passion for another woman, the nobleman she had to marry, and becoming a renowned painter, Ruby’s choices mold her in ways she could never have foreseen.

I have sent out copies of my novel to get cover blurbs and reviews. The third came back from the talented Tracy Stopler. Many thanks to her for such a generous review.


“Schafer remarkably transforms her pen into brush and her paper into canvas as she paints this riveting, extraordinary and unforgettable masterpiece.”

Tracy Stopler, Award-winning author of The Ropes That Bind.


A Different Kind of Fire

Posted by on 2:20 am in My Writing | 0 comments

My novel, A Different Kind of Fire, has been selected by Waldorf Publishing for publication in 2018. They have picked up my second novel, as yet unnamed, for 2019.

Set against the Gilded Age of America, a time when suffragettes fight for reproductive rights and the right to vote, A Different Kind of Fire depicts one woman’s battle to balance husband, family, career, and ambition. Torn between her childhood sweetheart, her forbidden passion for another woman, the nobleman she had to marry, and becoming a renowned painter, Ruby’s choices mold her in ways she could never have foreseen.

I have sent out copies of my novel to get cover blurbs and reviews. The second came back from the lovely Kristine Mietzner. Many thanks to her for such a generous review.

Insightful, loving, and endearing, A Different Kind of Fire, will draw you in and keep you spellbound. Suanne Schafer weaves Ruby Schmidt’s journey from love in rural Texas to art school in sophisticated 1890s Philadelphia. Ruby’s struggles and triumphs over 100 years ago ring true to the challenges still faced by 21st century women.  

Kristine Mietzner, Founder, The Women Veterans Writing Workshop of California, Contributor, Your Life is a Trip

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