DEBORAH SCHNEIDER: RWA Librarian of the Year 2009


I’m thrilled to be guest blogging on this fabulous site today, and want to thank all the authors who host the site for their kind invitation. 

As part of my job I arrange author events for one of the busiest libraries in the US. This means I attend a lot of events, and when it comes time for the question and answer period, I wait for someone to ask one of the most popular questions. “Where do you get your ideas?”

 There are as many different answers as there are writers, but one of my favorites is that if you scour your family history, you’ll discover a lot of material. I once heard it said that every person who survives childhood has enough material for a book.  And while you might not want to pull skeletons out of the closet, you might find some great source material in family stories and old photos. 

After recently attending the Romance Writer’s of America conference in Washington, DC, I took a short trip to visit my uncle in Richmond, VA. The first night I was there he pulled out an old box and asked me if I’d ever seen any of “these”? What he meant was an archive of family photos from my grandmother’s house. I had no idea these photos even existed.

 I was amazed to see faces that connected me to the past, to see eyes that reminded me of my sister, a nose that reflected back to me like a mirror. I had no idea my grandmother was a flapper or my grandfather a farmer. These people were known to me, yet unknown – like a character in my book who has a name, but in the beginning has no back story and no history until I complete it. 


 My ancestors are like these characters. I know they had families and that they lived in died in Oswego County, NY. I have bits and pieces of the family history, told like stories. The ancestor who shot and killed a man, (determined to be self-defense), the Civil War soldiers who survived Andersonville prison and walked those long miles back home, my great grandmother who lost 4 children, 3 of them in a typhoid fever epidemic that took them all on the same day. 

When I’m writing a strong female character who grits her teeth, stomps her feet and never gives up, I don’t have to look far for inspiration. I have pioneer blood running through my veins, with relatives who fought in the Revolutionary war and cut down trees, built homesteads, farmed rocky land and survived. These were tough, tenacious people.


I believe that’s the reason I became I history major in college, and why historical romance has always appealed to me – first to read and then to write. My heroines are trapped by the rules and restrictions of Victorian society, but they are strong, determined and intelligent. 


My new book, Promise Me will be released in January 2010. My heroine, Amanda Wainwright, is a widow hell-bent on keeping a deathbed promise to her husband. She’s determined to make life better for the miners of Willow Creek. My hero, Samuel Calhoun, is on an undercover assignment for the Secret Service. He pretends to accept an offer from a consortium of mine owners to seduce, humiliate and ruin the Widow Wainwright. 

When Sam and Amanda meet, a tiny flame of desire bursts into a blazing inferno of passion and longing.  While I can’t honestly say that any of my relatives inspired this tempestuous couple, I did name my secondary characters after my grandparents.  I think they’d be pleased. 

Have you ever used your family history as inspiration for a story or named characters after family members?  





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20 thoughts on “DEBORAH SCHNEIDER: RWA Librarian of the Year 2009”

  1. Hi Deb! I know *exactly* what you mean about family photographs. Two weeks ago I had the experience of digging through he Bylin family archives. What treasures! My favorite picture shows my grandmother standing in front of the Chicago flower shop where she supposedly met Al Capone. Family lore says he asked her to supper but she said no. Brave woman!

    Congratulations on Librarian of the Year. I wouldn’t be a published author today without the Fairfax Co. Public Library here in northern Virginia. I love libraries! Hmmmm, maybe I’ll go today.

    Thank you for joining us at P&P! I’ll be looking for your book : )

  2. Deb,

    Welcome to the Corral! And congratulations on being named RWA Librarian of the Year.

    Aren’t those “old boxes” wonderful? I named two walk-on characters after my paternal grandparents, Rosa & Henry. They saved the bad guy because it was the right thing to do, but didn’t give him any advantage to outrun the hero. So like my grandparents.

  3. Hi Deborah,

    Welcome to P&P! We’re delighted to have you. I love the subject of your blog. I think researching our own pasts is so rewarding. Learning where we come from and finding out about our families is really interesting. I have used some of my family’s names as characters in my books, although so far I’ve never used any of the actual history.

    Congratulations on your RWA Librarian of the Year award! Woo-hoo! That’s great. Your January release looks wonderful.

  4. Hi Deborah,

    Congrats on your RWA award!

    I use stories my dad tells to help manufacture scenes in some books or to use as fuel to research for stories. I used my mom’s name in a contemporary book. And I’m reading a biography written by a distant relative and garnering ideas.

  5. Thank you Linda, Paty, Melinda, Tracy, Kelly and Victoria! It’s wonderful to be invited to be a guest on this blog, one of my favorites!

    The RWA Conference was a lot of fun, and I’m always delighted to hear from fans of the library.
    I think we all have library stories about how we developed a love of reading and books.

  6. I enjoyed your reflections very much! I get ideas from old family stories and pictures, too. (And do any of us NOT have an ancestor who shot and killed someone or who walked home from a Civil War POW camp?) I feel a definite connection here.

    And congratulations on your RWA award!

    Your January release is on my reading list!

  7. Welcome,an Congratulations on your award,how wonderful!Your new book sounds really great,I love the story line you have,cant wait to read it,thanks for joining us today.

  8. I’m currently knee-deep in photographs and a variety of documents/papers from the family home
    for distribution to all my siblings. May I make
    a suggestion: on all photographs/papers that are
    not dated, please, please put dates on them! On the photos, date and name the persons in the
    photos!! Companies (like Creative Memories) make
    pencils which do not mar the back of the photo &
    go through to the front of the photo. It will save
    much time and keep you from tearing out your hair
    (or your children’s hair) at some point in the
    future! There are people in some of the photos
    (which show me as a child)whose names I have no
    way of knowing.

    I’m looking forward to reading this book. I love
    feisty heroines!

    Pat Cochran

  9. Hi Deb, congrats on your RWA award, that must be wonderful! Promise Me sounds like an awesome read and I will be on the look out for it.

  10. I usually write paranormals, but my latest soon to be released novel, Aimee’s Locket, is coming out as a Cactus Rose with The Wild Rose Press. I must admit, I did delve into my family history for character scenes and found so many interesting ones in talking to older members of the family. I also really got into the 1847-1855 history and read old wagon train manifests, etc. One of my characters in Aimee’s Locket is a 7 year old boy I called Charlie Tuttle. Later, after I’d already written him in, I found a manifest that had “Charles Tuttle” as one of the emigrants. Kind of gave me a thrill. Very interesting site and I loved all the info.

    P. L. Parker

  11. I love making up stories about all of the old photos I have found either in the trunk from my mother-in-law or the big box from my mother. Please do date and identify all of your photos because now fiction is all we have for most of these pictures. Love looking at them anyway. Perhaps one day I will write down some of my tales and see if I can weave some of the characters into a longer tale.

  12. I wish I had some cool stories about my ancestors. That’d be cool.

    Do you suppose that since so many people use digital cameras and phone cameras, that future generations won’t have the pleasure of discovering boxes of old pictures?

  13. We share a love of history and old photos! My two sisters and I have meticulously saved, catalogged, and reproduced a stack of photos of our ancestors. They’re all beautiful, that grayish tone, and no expressions on anyone’s face. I have a special one of my Great-grandmother–I was named for her–and I swear, I look like her. Now, if she’d had a little Miss Clairol and a bit of make-up–she’d look much better!Thanks for the trip down memeory lane–and your book cover is wonderful. Celia

  14. Congratulations on being named Librairan of the Year by RWA. Now if we could only get them to be more incluvive for us E-AUthors and I’d rejoin again.

    Still savor the moment. The change will have to come.

    Your book looks great.

  15. Thanks to everyone for such wonderful comments, and I’m going to stop by my local scrapbooking shop and purchase one of those pens, that’s such a great idea! I do have boxes of photos, and have managed to create one photo album with captions for each of my children. I always imagine I’ll have more time to finish others. Maybe in retirement!
    I also love my cover, Nicola Martinez at Wild Rose Press deserves all the credit.
    And speaking of history, I forgot that yesterday was the 100th Birthday of the town I live in! We had a grand parade, festival and fireworks. What a celebration.

  16. Congrats on being named Librarian of The Year. My sisters and I went through my late mother’s photo box a few years ago and divied them up between us.We found quite a few pictures(the really old ones) that we had no idea who the person or people were, because no name was on the backs. When I got home, I got all my photographs out and labeled them all.

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