In the mid-1960s, Vivian Schurfranz showed her father, who was suspicious of her desire to be an author, the manuscript of her first novel, “Roman Hostage.”
Sitting in her apartment at Three Crowns Park in Evanston, Ms. Schufranz, now the author of 25 published novels, remembered her father’s initial trepidation.
“He had no idea how I was going to fill my time; believe me, I filled my time,” Ms. Schurfranz said with a laugh.
Ms. Schurfranz, a retired history teacher and the former chairman of the History Department at Evanston Township High School, took her love and knowledge of history and embarked on a prolific fiction-writing career that most writers would envy – 25 published novels.
“Roman Hostage” came about when Ms. Schurfranz, a native of Mason City, Iowa, was living and teaching in Arkansas.
A particularly stressful school year – 48 students in one class – led her to take a yearlong sabbatical wherein she tried her hand at fiction. It took another 12 years, during which time Ms. Schurfranz moved with her husband to the Chicago area and began teaching at Evanston Township High School, for that first book to see publication.
“After that I got an agent and things began to happen for me,” she said. Ms. Schurfranz quickly found a niche as an author of young adult romances, taking the familiar trope of a young woman in love with two men and spicing it up with her own knowledge of history.
“You had to be accurate,” she said, adding that she spent a lot of time on research when a time period fell out of her range of expertise.
“American History was my minor and European History was my major. When I did “Merrie,” about a woman who smuggled herself aboard the Mayflower, I went to Boston and then I toured the Mayflower II,” she recalled, adding that she integrated details about the ship’s cramped quarters and poor sanitation.
She did not usually veer too far from the genre’s formulas, however. When writing her book “Renee,” Ms. Schurfranz told her editor that she “was going to have the girl not choose and just go her own way.”
“Oh no, she has to choose – that’s what our readers expect,” was the response from the editor.
Ms. Schurfranz recalled some later satisfaction with a letter from a young reader who said that she always tried to guess from the cover – which always depicted the main love triangle – which boy the heroine would end up with, and that she always guessed wrong.
Ms. Schurfranz also penned a number of mysteries for young readers, including seven of the popular “Boxcar Children” books.
She said she enjoyed writing mysteries the most and said that it usually took her around two months to complete one.
“I received a royalty check in the fall for a thousand dollars, all of it basically for the ‘Boxcar Children,’” she said. Then she added with a laugh, “Now I’ll get my royalty check for the spring. That won’t be anything – 55 cents.”
She fondly remembered the occasional perks of being an author, too. “I went to New York once a year, and my agent took me to lunch to some lovely places. I usually stayed with my editor, Ann, but I preferred a hotel – I stayed at the Plaza and I stayed at the Mark, which was the most fabulous,” Ms. Schurfranz recalled.
Like most authors, she is no stranger to disappointment either. Five of her manuscripts remain unpublished.
“I tried some adult novels, but they were too ‘young adult’ in tone,” she said, laughing.
Another regret was that she never got to tackle the Great Chicago Fire when she wrote for the “Sunfire” series, which often focused on historical disasters.
Her last book was published in 1992. “It was a book that didn’t do well either, but that’s the way it goes,” Ms. Schurfranz said.
Ms. Schurfranz taught for 17 years at ETHS and has been a resident of Evanston’s Three Crowns Park for the past two.
“It was a good move. I like it here,” she said, adding that she still writes and takes part in a writing group with her fellow residents.
“I’m writing about all the summer jobs that I had growing up, from baby-sitting to working in a dime store,” she said.