"‘A Different Kind of Fire’ is a thought-provoking story of a woman seeking fulfillment, a ‘must read’ for anyone torn between the possibilities and seeking everything life has to offer them." Emily, Goodreads
Published: November 1st, 2018
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 wonders how she can salvage the remnants of her life. Pregnant and broke, she returns to Texas rather than join the queues at the neighborhood soup kitchen.
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.
Truly, Texas, March 1891
Ruby latched the chicken-yard gate behind her and waited for the hens’ cackling to settle. If anyone tried to sneak up on her, the birds would squawk an alarm. Certain she was alone, she pulled a scrap of paper from her pocket and read it again. Molly, her best friend, had sent the note by way of a passing cowhand five days ago. Since then Ruby had read the two words—It’s here—so many times the edges of the paper had feathered and Molly’s red wax seal had fallen off. It was the reply to clandestine correspondence Ruby had sent months before. It could change her life.
Ruby had been to town with her father just the week before, so her turn would not roll around again for three long weeks. Trusting one of her siblings, especially that sly Beryl, to pick it up without tattling to their folks, was unthinkable.
When Ruby asked to take her sister’s place in the wagon, the little snot had flat refused. Bartering continued for days with the deal consummated only this morning while doing breakfast dishes together.
Beryl whined a hard bargain. “I want the brooch Granny gave you for Christmas—”
Ruby couldn’t believe that she, a grown woman of eighteen, was reduced to negotiating with a nine-year-old. She rolled her eyes but gave a reluctant nod.
“—and a month’s worth of dinner dishes.”
“Fine.” Ruby blew out a breath hot with exasperation. From the triumphant expression on Beryl’s face, Ruby had been played for a sucker. Under her breath she muttered her father’s term for his daughters when they didn’t live up to his expectations, “Hellion child.”
Now, beside her father in the buckboard, half-listening to his mumblings about what he needed in town, Ruby envisioned the changes it could make in her life.
“Sixteen penny nails, two-by-fours, poultry wire. You got your mother’s shopping list, girl?”
“Yes, sir.” Ruby’s heavy gloves didn’t prevent her fingers from worrying the bottom button on her winter coat until it dangled by a thread. One more twirl snapped the fiber, spiraling the bit of bone to the floorboard. She grabbed for it, but it tumbled into the rutted road, buried forever beneath red West Texas dust. To keep from losing another, she sat on her hands. The closer they got to town, the more her heart felt like a kernel of popcorn ready to explode.
Groceries—Ranch Supplies—Dry Goods—Clothing. From its perch above Statler’s Mercantile, the hand-painted sign knocked a wind-blown greeting against the eaves. Pa pulled the buckboard adjacent to the storefront. Before he could set the brake, Ruby kicked off the buffalo robe protecting her from the cold blue norther that had blown in. Without waiting to be helped down, she jumped from the seat, her skirt flaring so high frigid air lassoed her knees. She ignored his “Are you ever going to behave like a proper young—” and dashed into the store.
Inside, her gaze darted into every corner of the store, making sure Molly was alone. “Where is it?”
“Don’t I even get a hello?” From her station behind the dark oak counter, the middle Statler girl grinned and waggled her feather duster in greeting.
“Hello, Molly,” Ruby sassed, wondering how her friend could be so calm on such a momentous occasion. “Happy now? Where is it?”
Molly put aside the duster and carefully wiped her hands before pulling several items from a cubbyhole.
Ruby jiggled on her feet at her friend’s deliberate pace.
Most items Molly returned to their place, but one—a fat ivory envelope—she waved high in the air, tormenting her friend.
With one hand Ruby pushed off the counter, stretching for the letter with the other. As her fingers closed on the paper, Molly jerked it away.
“You wretch.” Movement out the front window caught Ruby’s eye. She tugged Molly’s arm down. “Here comes my pa.”
The smile snapped off Molly’s face as quickly as a mousetrap closing. She thrust the envelope toward Ruby who stashed it in her coat pocket and extracted her mother’s shopping list.
The store door creaked open to admit her father. “Any mail, Ruby?”
“No, sir.” She tucked her hand back into her pocket, pressing the letter against her thigh.
Mr. Statler, his arms filled with boxes, stepped out of the stock room. “Howdy, Hermann. Anything I can help you with?”
“Put whatever the girl needs on my account, Jack. I’ll pick her up when I’m done at the lumber yard.”
Ruby ran a finger down her mother’s checklist but was too excited to focus. The spidery handwriting became a tangled, illegible web as ten pounds of flourmoseyed into five pounds of cornmeal and blackstrap molasses poured onto one card of small white buttons.
Unable to calm herself enough to fill the order, while Ruby waited for her pa to leave, she studied her friend. Despite performing her usual duties of stocking shelves and cleaning the store, Molly’s white cuffs remained pristine and not a strand of hair escaped the flaxen braids crowning her head. With a sigh, Ruby removed her bonnet, tried in vain to pat her hair into place then brushed off her clothing. Windblown and gritty, Ruby looked like she’d rolled into town on a tumbleweed.
After an interminable conversation about the upcoming town hall meeting and the quarter-inch of rain the town had gotten the week before—things that weren’t nearly as important as Ruby’s letter—Ruby’s pa drove off and Mr. Statler returned to the back room.
Molly whirled around the counter to join Ruby. “Open it.”
After a final survey ensured they were truly alone, Ruby pulled the envelope from her pocket, slid a finger beneath its seal, and removed the letter. Her hands trembled too much for her to decipher the words, she thrust the page at her friend. “I can’t bear the suspense. Read it to me, please.”
About the author:
Suanne Schafer, born in West Texas at the height of the Cold War, finds it ironic that grade school drills for tornadoes and nuclear war were the same: hide beneath your desk and kiss your rear-end goodbye. Now a retired family-practice physician whose only child has fledged the nest, her pioneer ancestors and world travels fuel her imagination.
She originally planned to write romances, but either as a consequence of a series of failed relationships or a genetic distrust of happily-ever-after, her heroines are strong women who battle tough environments and intersect with men who might—or might not—love them.
Suanne completed the Stanford University Creative Writing Certificate program. Her short works have been featured in print and on-line magazines (Bête Noire; Brain, Child; Empty Sink Publishing; and Three Line Poetry) and anthologies: (Night Lights; Graveyard; 166 Palms; and Licked). Her debut women’s fiction novel, A Different Kind of Fire, explores the life of Ruby Schmidt, a nineteenth century artist who escapes—and returns—to West Texas. Suanne’s next book explores the heartbreak and healing of an American physician caught up in the 1994 Rwandan genocide.