Indie Book Promo is happy to welcome Paula Sophia Schonauer to the blog. She is here to answer some questions and share information about her book, Shadowboxer. If this book sounds like something that you would be interested in, please use the buy links at the bottom of the page to pick up a copy or two.
IBP: Try to describe your book in one sentence.
Paula: “Shadowboxer” explores the struggle of a police officer having a gender identity crisis.
IBP: Tell me a little about yourself.
Paula: I grew up in Akron, Ohio in a working class family. There were no mixed signals about how I was expected to turn out, a man fully capable of supporting myself and a family, preferably an engineer of some sort, but I had other aspirations. Drawn to the arts, I dreamed of a life in the theater, a playwright and an actor. I also felt a call to ministry in the church, imagining myself as a pastor preaching in the pulpit, telling stories and ruminating about Holy Scripture. Neither of these things satisfied my father who felt that such aspirations were too effeminate. He told me he didn’t like pastors, saying their hands were too soft.
Needless to say, I never became an engineer. I hated the math, but I did pursue a warrior’s life, first as a soldier and then as a cop. I studied martial arts, obtaining two black belts. I became a self defense instructor at the Oklahoma City Police Department where I received several awards and accolades for my service to the citizens of Oklahoma City. I even became an ordained minister in the Episcopal Church, a vocational deacon before my own gender identity conflict finally came to light.
IBP: Do you listen to music while writing?
Paula: I like to listen to jazz while writing. The improvisational flourishes inspire me to follow my whims, to let go and be creative while still respecting the composition.
IBP: Do you have a day job?
Paula: Actually, I have two jobs: law enforcement and education.
I’ve been a police officer with the Oklahoma City Police Department for the past two decades. I’ve done everything from patrol work, gang suppression, task force investigations, community relations, property management and beat/bicycle patrol. About the only thing I haven’t done is undercover work, mostly because I have a terrible poker face – too sincere for my own good.
My only attempt at undercover work was a terrible failure. Don’t worry, I didn’t get shot at or anything; I was just trying to pick up prostitutes, playing a “John” on the south side of Oklahoma City. Time after time, the girl figured me out, calling me a cop and walking away. I used this experience as source material in “Shadowboxer” when Willie Guyles tries to work undercover.
After graduating from the MFA in Creative Writing program at the University of Central Oklahoma I’ve been lucky enough to secure a gig at the University of Phoenix where I teach World Mythology and Literature classes. A lot of fun, but sometimes it leaves me little time for writing. Soon, I’ll be teaching English Composition classes at my alma mater.
IBP: Which scenes were the hardest to write?
Paula: The hardest scenes to write were the childhood sequences in “Shadowboxer,” the closest I come to autobiography in my novel. All those things really happened to me, although I did use literary license to make the scenes more dramatic. Rendering some of the most traumatic experiences of my childhood triggered bouts of depression and a desire to stop writing the story. Obviously, I persevered, and I think I’m a better person for it. At this point, when I speak about the childhood scenes, I feel a sort of cathartic relief.
IBP: Do you see yourself in any of your characters?
Paula: Of course I do.
Really, the characters of “Shadowboxer” are an amalgam of the various warring factions within myself while I suffered my own struggle with gender identity confusion. All too often, I was Larry Hicks, the raging homophobe, though I wasn’t as cruel, thank goodness. And, I have to admit I have aspects of Dana in my personality, that kinky, confused girl who wants to be loved but is afraid to give her heart to anyone without first securing information worthy of blackmail.
Obviously, Willie Guyles is me, more confused, altogether more courageous and more cowardly than I’ve ever been. I love and hate him in the same way I used to love and hate myself.
The only character not based on me is Jody. She is a portrayal – an homage, really – of a transgender street person I frequently dealt with before I came out of the closet. I had wanted to talk to her years ago, to ask her why she was the way she was so I could get a glimpse of self-understanding. Unfortunately, she died before I ever had that conversation with her.
IBP: How did you come up with your premise for your books?
Paula: The first chapter of “Shadowboxer” was a short story I wrote in 1998. Unsatisfied with the result, I file-13ed the story (then titled “Universal Precautions”) because I felt it wasn’t finished. In 2005 I had this idea, but I didn’t know how to begin. Then I found my old story, dusted it off and got writing, not stopping until I had a full manuscript.
IBP: What book is currently on your nightstand?
Paula: I just started reading “And the Ass saw the Angel” by Nick Cave. Yes, the Nick Cave from Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds, one of my favorite rock groups. I love Nick’s irreverent yet poignant treatment of religious themes in his music as typified by his song “Dig Lazarus Dig,” a story about a man cursed with immortality.
I’m also reading “Transgender History,” by Susan Stryker, to satisfy some academic curiosity.
IBP: Where can your fans find you?
Paula: They can find me patrolling the streets of downtown Oklahoma City on my bicycle during the day, but if they don’t want such a personal experience, they can look me up on Facebook where I have an author’s page as well as a personal page. I’m also on Twitter as PaulaSophia, Goodreads.com, and Pinterest. I also have a website at Paulasophia.com where I post events, reviews, blog articles and links to some of my short fiction and nonfiction published elsewhere on the Internet. Check it out.
IBP: If you had a time machine, to which time and place would you travel?
Paula: If I could travel back in time I’d love to experience the Beatnik scene in Greenwich Village, New York City, during the 1950s, rub elbows with the likes of Allen Ginsberg, Jack Kerouac, and Neal Cassidy. I would have loved being a part of a group of friends while they started a literary movement. Does that happen anymore?
I’d also like to go back to the Paris of the 1920s and hang out with Gertrude Stein, James Joyce and Ernest Hemingway, who also had his struggles with gender confusion. I would have loved hearing him share his first draft of “The Sun Also Rises,” a saga about an emasculated man, Jake Barnes, trying to find love and meaning in Europe after the ravages of World War I.
IBP: Are you writing something else at the moment?
Paula: Yes, I’m experimenting with a genre piece, my own twist on the vampire story, about a lesbian cop in Oklahoma City who gets turned into a vampire. Of course I use some of the old standby conventions (how could I not?), but I also throw in a few surprises as my character battles her new desires, trying to balance a career in law enforcement with her hunger for blood.
Paula Sophia is a graduate from the MFA in Creative Writing program at the University of Central Oklahoma and a 20-year veteran with the Oklahoma City Police Department, the agency’s first openly transgender officer. Recently, Paula received an Honorable Mention in the Short Story America Prize competition for her story “Never a Final Victory.” Her work has appeared in The Molotov Cocktail, scissors and spackle, The Bicycle Review and Red Fez among many others. When not writing, Paula likes to ride her motorcycle, searching for Zen on the back roads of Oklahoma, trying to find balance in the curves life rolls her way.
It was time to get ready for work. Guyles donned the uniform with solemn purpose. Though the work of a police officer was largely routine, every new day held the potential for personal disaster, death. Cops died in fiery car crashes, got stabbed and beaten in fights, shot while responding to holdup alarms, ambushed on traffic stops.
Guyles had developed a series of habits reinforced every night he came home unharmed, and over time, these habits formed a ritual. He shined his boots, so shiny he could see his reflection in the toes. He shined his brass, the buttons first, the belt buckle, and then the badge. He arranged them on his uniform shirt, made sure everything was perfectly placed. He put on the trousers, the dark blue undershirt, the boots. When it came to the bulletproof vest, he paused, thinking of ancient warriors blessing their armor, their shields. He attached the Velcro straps, tucked the flaps into his waistband. When he put on the shirt, he looked larger, heroic, invincible.
He wrapped his duty belt around his waist, fastened the buckle, feeling the weight of the leather, the loaded magazines full of ammunition, the two pairs of handcuffs. He liked that snug fit, the gravity of it. He got his handheld radio, placed it in a holder on his left hip, wrapped a cord around his back, clipped the attached microphone to a lapel on his chest.
Finally, he got the gun, his Glock 22 .40 caliber pistol. He took out the magazine, racked the slide to dislodge the chambered round. He released the slide lock, heard the metal slam home. With the weapon unloaded, chamber cleared, he aimed the pistol at a mirror mounted on the wall of his bedroom, aimed center mass and pulled the trigger.
Guyles racked the slide again, resetting the trigger mechanism.
Another shot to the chest.
The third time, he aimed at his reflected forehead, imagined the bullet splitting his skull, wondering if he’d feel anything. The idea had some appeal. Not suicide, but dying in the line of duty. That way, he’d get his name on a wall, be hailed a hero for all time, and nobody would have to know any of his secrets.
He reloaded the weapon, chambered a round and topped off the magazine. Then he placed the weapon in his holster, snapped the retention strap.
Now, he was ready to go to work.
Paula can be found:
Shadowboxer can be purchased: