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Sarasota Thursday, Jun. 27, 2019 1 month ago

Sarasota romance author branches out

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Jo Schmidt, who writes as Anna Schmidt, released ‘The Winterkeeper’ in March.
by: Whitney Elfstrom Staff Writer

After 30 years of writing romance novels and working under a publisher, Jo Schmidt is stepping into the world of general fiction as a self-published author, which is a move she said she always hoped to make.

Her new novel, “The Winterkeeper,” is set during the Great Depression in Yellowstone National Park as 14-year-old Millie tries to hunt down her late mother’s best friend in an attempt to escape her abusive stepfather.

Jo Schmidt, known by her pen name Anna Schmidt, made the move from romance novels to general fiction earlier this year.

The idea stemmed from a story Schmidt saw on “CBS Sunday Morning” about a man who lived in Yellowstone National Park whose job was to take care of the property during the winter. She said she didn’t know what a winterkeeper did, but she was fascinated by it. And after further research, she turned it into a novel.

“Inspiration to me usually starts with the words, ‘What if?’” Schmidt said. “The three top [characters] in this story are facing huge challenges in their lives. Mille’s mother has just died, and she’s basically an orphan. Nate (the winterkeeper) is coming to the end of his career. … Ginny (the mother’s friend) at age 44 is finding out she’s pregnant. … So it’s what if, what if, what if?”

Known best by pen name Anna Schmidt, Schmidt considered stepping away from her pseudonym for her latest novel. But Schmidt realized she would lose the audience that she has accumulated over the years as Anna.

For the past decade, Schmidt has looked to her Sarasota writing friends while outrunning the Wisconsin cold as a snowbird. While here, she attends three writing groups that she said push her to work harder each time she reads peers’ writing.

“I never feel threatened by other writers,” she said. “I always [see] other writers as a source of inspiration and as a source of support, and I think that has helped me enormously in my career.”

Schmidt calls Sarasota a jewel that helps to encourage her stories and said that it creates a setting that fosters creativity. The city even made an appearance in her series “The Women of Pinecraft,” which is set in Sarasota’s Pinecraft neighborhood.

When her late husband fell ill, Schmidt wrote the Sarasota-inspired fiction series about the Amish and Mennonite community, which gave her a taste of what it would be like to write outside of the romance genre.

After her husband died, she said writing romance novels became difficult because her “love story was done.” However, she said that she hasn’t closed the romance door entirely as her latest romance novel from her “Cowboy and Harvey Girls” series was released earlier this month with the next to follow in January 2020.

Despite her long career in the field, Schmidt said that for her, writing is about more than making it to the top of the bestseller list.

“The only reason to write is because you can’t not write,” Schmidt said. “You don’t go into it for money, and you don’t go into it for fame. The only reason to do it is because you have a story inside of you that is gnawing at you to get out.”

“The Winterkeeper” is available for purchase on Amazon for $13.99.

I’m the Sarasota community reporter, which means I cover the people, places and things of Sarasota. I graduated from the University of South Florida St. Petersburg with a degree in journalism and digital communication and a minor in English. 

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