Horizon West resident Laura Schaefer, 43, said she realized her passion for reading and writing at a young age.
“I was one of those kids (who) could walk and read at the same time,” she said. “It’s pretty obvious what my thing was, but I didn’t really realize it until college or after. I didn’t really know any authors, so it didn’t really seem possible. But then in college … I actually got the chance to meet some writers, and it started to feel more real.”
Now, Schaefer’s dreams are coming to life, most recently with the release of her new book, published less than a year ago: “A Long Way From Home.”
Schaefer, who was born and raised in Wisconsin and attended the University of Wisconsin, was always involved in books and writing.
She was the editor of the school newspaper and had an internship at the University of Wisconsin Press.
She always knew she wanted to do something with books, so when she graduated, she started freelance writing and took any assignment she could get.
When she wasn’t writing, she worked jobs in restaurants to support herself financially.
In addition to freelance writing, Schaefer has always had an interest in writing novels for middle-grade readers in the tween age group.
“I was such a huge reader at that age myself,” she said. “I was obsessed with ‘The Baby-Sitters Club’ books. … It’s such an important and impressionable age … I really like that age group. I think kids at that time are really open to the world and figuring out who they are. The other more practical reason for it is as I was becoming an author it was a very rapidly growing market.”
Although the first book she ever wrote was a nonfiction book about the history of personal advertisements in 2005, before moving to Florida in 2015, Schaefer had already published two books for the age level: “The Teashop Girls,” in 2008 and its sequel, “The Secret Ingredient.”
Schaefer said her family — husband, Brad, and daughter, Ellie, 9 — moved to Florida in pursuit of a warmer and more outdoor lifestyle. The three also had the benefit of other family members living in the area.
The family bought their house in Summerport in 2016 and have been there ever since.
Schaefer released her next novel, “Littler Women,” in 2017; a retelling of the classic novel by Louisa May Alcott with a modern twist.
That same year, Schaefer began her work as a full-time nonfiction ghostwriter. She is now a member of the Association of Ghostwriters and works nationally.
“That means people come to me who want to write a book but have never written a book before, so they hire me to do it for them,” she said. “It’s really interesting and satisfying work. It gives me insight into a lot of different humans and their expertise.”
Schaefer said she tries to do about two of the nonfiction works a year, when she is not working on her fiction novels.
In 2018, Schaefer began to work on her most recent novel, “A Long Way From Home.”
“A Long Way From Home” takes place on the space coast, where main character Abby meets two boys — Adam and Bix — who tell her they are “a long way from home” and need her help.
“Abby discovers they’re from the future, from a time when all the problems of the 21st century have been solved,” the book’s description reads. “Thrilled, Abby strikes a deal with them: She’ll help them — if they let her come to the future with them. But soon, Abby is forced to question her attachment to a perfect future and her complicated feelings about the present.”
Schaefer said a combination of switching publishers and the pandemic pushed back the release of the new book.
“Part of the story is that my main character has moved to Florida from out-of-state — and that was an experience I had that I wanted to write about — and how she sort of grapples with that and kind of comes to really appreciate Florida in the end, just like how I have,” Schaefer said. “That was a component of it; I wanted to write a moving story. The other thing I remember being really aware of is that even though it was before COVID, there was a lot of just churn in the news and in everybody’s attitude about things being wrong in the world, and I thought (about) how would a younger person think about that. I really wanted to create a hopeful story where we could think about things getting better in the future instead of worse. I wanted to write an optimistic book and I think honestly being in the sunshine made me optimistic and made me feel good and I wanted to put that on the page.”
Schaefer said she thinks Walt Disney World does an outstanding job of portraying future optimism, and the Epcot vibe specifically inspired her to want to capture that in her novel as well, which is why the story involves time travel.
In composing the book, Schaefer said the most exciting part for her to write was when the main character has the opportunity to see the future using technology from the boys.
“Writing those scenes felt so freeing, cool and just imaginative,” she said.
However, getting the plot and the pacing right were the most difficult parts of creating the story.
Although Schaefer said writing a book can be lonely at times, the reality is many people have to help, and she is a fan of making the final product a team effort.
“It feels great; I’m so happy with how it turned out,” she said. “I love the overall look; I’m just really pleased with the whole package of it. Because I know that this is years of a journey; it’s just so amazing to finally see it all come together. It’s a huge effort on my part and everyone else’s involved.”
Since the new book’s release, Schaefer has received a lot of positive reviews.
She is in a book club in Summerport, and all the members of the group have read the book and have been promoting it.
Schaefer will engage in free Zoom calls with classrooms where the students have read the book to discuss it and answer questions. She said this has been an amazing experience.
Nancy Chybowski, a fifth-grade teacher at Langlade Elementary School in Wisconsin, said she read the book out loud to her class, and they loved it.
“We had wonderful conversations around character development, growing up and changing parental relationships, and dealing with changes and anxiety,” she said. “Laura does a great job explaining how Abby experiences anxiety and life changes that so many of our children experience. This is a great book for fifth-grade through adults, especially for parents who are experiencing a changing relationship with their preteen child.”
Because her most recent book is her most sophisticated book and her adult characters are fully realized, Schaefer said some people have told her she should write a novel for adults. Although she said she is currently undecided on the idea, she said she is a bit scared of the prospect.
However, Schaefer believes she has overcome the hardest obstacles and looks forward to the future of her writing.
“I just know this is who I am and what I do, which is very freeing,” she said.
Currently, Schaefer is not working on any fiction pieces and is waiting to see what idea grabs her next.
She is finishing up a ghost-written book and plans to take on another project in August.
She said her daughter has been encouraging her to write a graphic novel.
When she is not writing, Schaefer enjoys spending time with her family, exploring the Disney parks, adventuring outside, and running and walking in the mornings.