Craig Schaefer's Blog
May 24, 2019
Happy Friday, everybody! Or at least I hope it’s a happy Friday for you! I’m long overdue for an update, so I figured I’d take five and let you know what’s happening here at the office. The new Daniel Faust novel, The Locust Job, is still in editing but coming along nicely. Mostly I’ve been head-down buried in work on my second attempt at a follow-up to Ghosts of Gotham. I’m closing in on the finish line – well, of the first draft, which is just the start of the work – and I can tell you a little bit about it.
It’s not a direct sequel, but another stand-alone story set in the same world and featuring a few returning characters. I will absolutely be returning to Lionel and Maddie’s adventures at some point (and I’m raring to go), but there are long-term plans in the works. You know how I do things. As of today the manuscript just passed Ghosts in length (130,000 words) and I still have a ways to go, so this is the longest book I’ve ever written.
The working title (which will probably get changed) is The Hungry Dreaming, in which a modern-day investigation into the byzantine bureaucracy of New York’s Emergency Management Department leads to a conspiracy with its roots in the American Revolution. It involves Alexander Hamilton (and his true, secret mission at the Battle of Yorktown), the Culper spy network, the execution of Benedict Arnold, a renegade goddess, and the power of truth in a post-truth world.
(And if your reaction to that is “but Benedict Arnold was never executed,” you are correct. Or are you?)
As a tangent, last time I was in NYC I snapped a few pictures of locations from Ghosts of Gotham (you can see ‘em on my Instagram at https://www.instagram.com/craigschaef...), but there’s one I didn’t post and wanted to talk a little about today. Can I get sappy for a second? Okay, here goes.
Back when I was a tiny proto-writer, my dad took me to see the movie Ghostbusters. Yes, the original. Yes, I’m old. Moving on. I was already a voracious reader, devouring anything I could get my hands on, and had the notion that telling stories might be my calling in life. And I was blown away. This movie had everything: it was funny, it was scary (both at the same time!), it had adventure and mystery. There were hints and inklings of an entire universe extending beyond the confines of the movie itself, from the mysteries of Tobin’s Spirit Guide to the briefly-mentioned historical machinations of the Cult of Gozer.
And I remember emerging from the dark of the matinee into the afternoon sun and thinking, “I want to write stories like that.”
Of course, one of the most iconic scenes of that movie is the opening, where the heroes encounter their first ghost at the main branch of the New York Public Library. Again, for a little kid who was already haunting his own local library, the kind of thing that sticks in the mind. Our brains conflate memories and images, mix them up and turn them around, and give importance to the strangest things. Once I had my heart set on becoming a writer when I grew up, I naturally had a goal: to get my books into that very library that had inspired me.
I had forgotten about that ambition for years and years. But there I was, down on 42nd Street doing research for The Hungry Dreaming, and stepped into the library to pay proper respect to the Muses. Then I remembered. And I walked over to a terminal, typed in my name and…there it was. It took me over thirty years, but I did it. I might have gotten a little misty there. Might be right now, too. I warned you this was going to get sappy.
Of course, once you accomplish a goal there’s only one thing to do next: make a new goal. And with that, it’s time for me to get back to work. Have a great weekend!
April 25, 2019
It’s been way, way, WAY too long a wait, but I’m thrilled to announce that Bring the Fire, the final book of the Wisdom’s Grave trilogy, is now available as an audiobook! It’s narrated, as always, by the phenomenal Susannah Jones. Again, my apologies for the wait on this one; it was actually done months ago, but near as I can tell it slipped into some kind of holding queue on Audible from which there was no escape. Customer service finally tracked down the glitch, and here we are!
Meanwhile, Ghosts of Gotham has been out for a little over two weeks now and I’m so thrilled at how well it’s been received. I took a chance with a slightly new direction, and while that’s always worthwhile from an artistic standpoint, it’s even better when that risk works out for the best. Right now I’m hard at work on my second attempt at a follow-up (after throwing out the first try), and I think the story is just right this time. We shall see! All my thanks and love for your support.
(And of course, the new Harmony Black novel is done and the new Daniel Faust is in editing. I'm just looking for a date to release them in that doesn't step on my publishers' toes, but they're both coming soon.)
April 8, 2019
Well, after a year and a half of research, writing, edits, more edits, and countless sleepless nights, Ghosts of Gotham is here. This is a milestone for me, as a writer; I set out intent on challenging myself, aiming to improve my skills and tell a story not quite like any I’ve ever told before – and one that is very, very close to my heart. We’ll see if I succeeded, but I can say that I tried my best. I hope it speaks to your heart, too. As I’ve said before, this book is a love letter. Here’s where you can find it:
The book: https://www.amazon.com/Ghosts-Gotham-...
The audiobook: https://www.audible.com/pd/Ghosts-of-...
(It looks like it’s slowly rolling out, so if it’s not yet live in your time zone, it should be in an hour or two.)
The new Daniel Faust and Harmony Black novels are both finished, Faust is currently in editing, and they will both be out later this year; I’ll give you more info as soon as I have something solid, but I’m aiming for Harmony to come out (finally!) around Halloween. And in August, my new friends at Thomas & Mercer Publishing will be bringing you the first book of the Charlie McCabe series.
(Also, regarding the too-long-delayed audiobook version of Bring the Fire, I’m talking to Audible about it. It was finalized and approved two months ago and appears to have gotten stuck in some kind of internal queue over there. I’m looking for the problem, so that I can poke the problem with a pointy stick.)
So, yeah. The new book. It’s here. Kind of a special day, and the culmination of a lot of sweat and tears. The Ghosts of Gotham saga is a brand-new adventure, and this is only the beginning. I can’t wait to share it with you.
April 2, 2019
Is there really only one week left before Ghosts of Gotham is unleashed upon the world? Yes, yes there is. I’m just the tiniest bit anxious. My insomnia is going to have insomnia. The week after that I’ll be headed up to NYC to hopefully garner more inspiration for the sequel-in-progress (and I’ll be snapping some photos of a few real-life locations from the book for y’all to see.)
In the meantime, I’ve started giving my clunky and overstuffed website a much-needed overhaul. It’s been stripped down to its bare utilitarian bones — I need to prettify it, get some art on there and mess with the color scheme — but the reading order page has been fully updated with a new section clarifying my fictional settings.
(Long story short, all the Daniel Faust and Faust-adjacent series are in the First Story continuity, while Gotham and its followups are in the new, unconnected Secret History universe. And as for the Charlie McCabe books…well, that’ll be a challenge for sharp-eyed readers to figure out sometime next year.)
I’ve also shamelessly stolen an idea from Brandon Sanderson’s website and added a new section to my main page: a current projects list, showing exactly what I’m working on and the status of each manuscript as it goes through the developmental process. So from now on, if you’re ever wondering what’s happening with a particular book, you can find out at a glance.
And now it’s a beautiful, bleak and rainy day, the coffeemaker is ready to yield up a second cup of Writer Juice, and I’d better get back to work. See you next week!
February 16, 2019
Happy Saturday, everybody! I poked my head out of my office just long enough to discover that the pre-order page for The Loot, my first book with Thomas and Mercer Publishing, has gone live. (I also discovered that I'm almost out of Feisty Cherry Diet Coke, but that's not your problem.) The Loot will be coming in August, chasing on the heels of Ghosts of Gotham in April. The last round of copy-edits is a wrap, and it's shaping up nicely! It's a departure from my usual fantasy/horror fare, but every writer needs to stretch their legs now and then.
Meanwhile, I'm finishing final review on the audiobook version of Bring the Fire today, so that should be coming out very, very soon. And on that note, I wanted to signal-boost a really fun project. You may know Susannah Jones as the voice of the Revanche Cycle and the Wisdom's Grave trilogy (as well as the upcoming Ghosts of Gotham audiobook). Along with show creator Whitney Hudson, Susannah's been doing a comedy webseries called Certified Guidance. Four episodes are up now, and this thing just keeps getting funnier, so if you need a laugh (don't we all?) give it a look!
February 9, 2019
I knew fairly quickly what I had done wrong with the intended follow-up to Ghosts of Gotham. That didn’t mean I knew how to do it right. So last Monday I got on a train and rode eleven hours to New York City, where my muses live.
I’d never taken the train for more than a daily commute before. I chose it because I made my trip plans in early January, when the government was shut down and the prognosis for flying was somewhere between “expect a three-hour security line” and “just hope an air traffic controller shows up to work.” I figured, no matter how that situation panned out, Amtrak was going to be just fine. It was serendipitous; trains are liminal spaces, see, a forever in-between where you’re not where you left and you’re not where you’re going. And liminal spaces are where stories are born. I got my laptop out and listened to the clack of the rails and the words began to flow.
Then it was a walk through Manhattan late at night, back in the canyons of granite and chrome, back in that vibrant darkness where I feel at home. I chose the High Line Hotel for a reason: that was my destination for my second trip to the city ever, and the place where the seeds that became Ghosts of Gotham took root. You can’t always capture the same magic twice, but there’s no reason not to try. That first time, the clerk had given me a lovely surprise: I’d been inexplicably upgraded (and that room became an important part of Gotham’s story).
So there I am, checking in, and the clerk says, “And you’ll be pleased to know you’ve been chosen for an upgrade.”
“…Suite Three?” I asked.
“How did you know?”
And it’s midnight, and my quest to find this novel’s voice has officially begun with me standing in the same room where the last one began. I had to laugh. This sort of thing happened a lot, when I was writing Gotham. And then there’s the weirdness of plotting new characters’ journeys while sitting at the same desk as my fictional protagonist, and everything started to feel a little bit like a Coen Brothers movie.
The trip coincided with my birthday, and some of my wonderful theatre family (love you, miss you already) came out to celebrate with Italian food, wine and whiskey. Later I was, as usual, a bit thoughtful and a bit maudlin about getting one year closer to the grave. But it was a good time for me to reflect on what I’m doing, where I’m headed, what I’m trying to create with my work and how I can focus in the year to come.
There was art. I took in the Warhol exhibition at the Whitney (still not sure what I think about Warhol, but I can say I have a deeper appreciation now), and then a journey to MOMA to visit Vincent van Gogh and Georges Seurat. The latter has a special place in my heart: Sondheim’s “Sunday in the Park with George” is my favorite play, and bits of the book still pop up routinely in my real-life patter. “Color and light, it’s only color and light…”
(And steering back to the business at hand, when a friend asked what was wrong with my first attempt at the follow-up to Ghosts of Gotham, my response was “It’s just another Chromolume.” If you’ve seen the play, you understand.)
MOMA also featured an exhibition by Bruce Nauman, which for me was the pinnacle of the sometimes amazing, sometimes frustrating, sometimes delightfully confusing nature of modern art. I greeted one piece with exhilaration, absolutely floored at what he’d accomplished, and responded to another with “…you’re fucking with me right now, right? You are absolutely fucking with me right now.”
To be clear, I am a big fan of art that fucks with you. Playfulness is a powerful thing, and something we all need, especially in 2019.
The last night of the trip ended with seeing the Broadway production of Mean Girls. First off, it’s just a top-notch show, and you don’t need to be a fan of the movie to enjoy it. Contagious music, great comedy, a feel-good event that isn’t treacly or pandering, big thumbs up. It’s got a lot of heart. What struck me on a creative level is that Tina Fey managed to do something I’ve always wanted to: she took one of her early projects, a movie from fifteen years ago, and got a do-over. Mean Girls is the same story as the film but from a creator with over a decade more experience, and it shows. Character beats are more defined, plot points are better structured and more nuanced, it’s the movie version 2.0.
You should see it. It’s totally fetch.
There was a lot of walking, this week. Walking in Chelsea, in Hell’s Kitchen, in FiDi, tracing streets and studying faces. Getting the flow of the city and the heartbeat and feel so I could try to capture it with my pen. Method acting experiments to get into my characters’ heads and listen for their voices, seeing the city from their perspectives.
Yesterday, the train ride home. I stepped off the platform long after dark, and stumbled back through my own front door sometime around the witching hour. There was no witching, only restless sleep and a longing to return. Today there’s a melancholy clinging to me, but I expected that. I often think that the measure of a good trip is how low you feel the day you return. More importantly, my muses were kind, and gave me some pearls of insight to bring home with me.
Now I need to get back to work.
February 1, 2019
Two years ago, I discovered something amazing. Every year at the start of February, a few days before my birthday, there’s a celebration dedicated to superb owls. I know very little about it, but being a firm believer in tradition (as well as in milking bad puns for all they’re worth), I’m holding a weekend-long sale dedicated to the most superb Owl of all.
As such, the e-book version of Sworn to the Night (the first book of the Wisdom’s Grave trilogy) has been marked down to ninety-nine cents, and the Complete Revanche Cycle (all four books in one omnibus) has been marked down from $7.99 to $2.99. Let’s all do our part to celebrate the Owl and maybe, just maybe, she’ll let us live.
Meanwhile, Susannah Jones is finishing up her recording of the audiobook for Bring the Fire, so we should be seeing that release soon. The next Harmony Black novel is still deep in editing, no ETA just yet. More advance reviews for Ghosts of Gotham are filtering in, and it sounds like people dig it! We’re just about two months away from release, and I’m on pins and needles waiting to see what you all think.
I’m getting ready for a train ride up to NYC for more research as I hammer together the rewrites on Gotham’s followup novel. Slowly but surely, I’m putting it together. We’ll get there.
December 31, 2018
So. 2018. That was a year, huh?
Looking back, the best part of my year was the wonderful response to the Wisdom’s Grave trilogy. Your support means so much to me, always, and reading about how many of you were touched in some positive way by these books has been a wonderful thing. Beyond that, much of my 2018 was spent – as writers do, with our work stretching out for months and months before us like a ribbon in the wind – preparing for 2019. So let’s put this year in the “done” pile and look at the next one!
On April 9, 47North Publishing will be bringing you Ghosts of Gotham, a stand-alone novel set in a brand-new universe. This is a special book for me, one that touches on ideas and places and people close to my heart. If you’d like a little more of a hint about what lies in store, here’s a really nice and non-spoilery ARC review.
As I mentioned in my last update, I spent a good chunk of this last year working on a follow-up to Ghosts, another tale of New York’s secret history set in the same world but with a different cast of characters. And, as I mentioned in my last update, it’s not good enough. It’s just not. It’s not up to the standards I set for myself, or the experience I want to deliver to you, so I’m back to the lab and trying to figure out how to reconfigure this patchwork monster so that the right bolt of lightning can bring it to life properly.
(Having to tear apart a book I’ve spent months working on, plus seasonal blues, plus clinical depression is one hell of a combo. I may have spent most of the last two days laying on my office floor, staring at the ceiling. But I’m up and fighting now, and that’s what matters.)
An ongoing theme, I think, is that 2019 is going to be a year of experiments. Ghosts of Gotham is a total break from my established universe, continuity, and my usual style, as I try to grow and improve as an author. Another experiment (how’s this for a segue) will arrive with another 2019 release, the long-overdue continuation of the Harmony Black series.
In the wake of the events of Cold Spectrum, not to mention Wisdom’s Grave – with a time-jump of six months or so in the process – the status quo has changed. It’s a shifting world with new threats, and a new and revitalized Vigilant Lock is stepping up to the challenge. I think I’ve used this analogy before, but this is going to be the Casino Royale of the series: not a reboot, exactly, but a re-framing and a (hopefully) fresh take on the concept. I’m aiming for a streamlined, taut thriller feel, focused and tense and very dark.
(To stretch the analogy to the breaking point, this is very much the Daniel Craig version of Harmony. She’s had her black-and-white ideology shattered, realized how dirty her hands are going to have to get in order to survive, and seen the world for what it is. And when one of her operatives is ambushed and killed on a mission along the Florida coast, she and Jessie set out with two goals: uncover the truth, and exact vengeance for the fallen.)
The book is done and in my editor’s hands. I can tell you the title – it’s called Right to the Kill – but I don’t have a release date just yet. This is where things get tricky. See, as a hybrid writer (part self-published, part traditionally-published), I have to work around my publishers’ timetables and contractually I can’t release any of my own work within a certain window. It makes sense: they don’t want me competing with myself, so to speak, and if I put out a book too close to the release of Ghosts of Gotham, it’d potentially dilute sales (if people only buy one or the other) and sink both on the charts. Better to spread them out so they both have room to fly.
What that comes down to is this: if my editor finishes up with Right to the Kill in January, I can get it out early in 2019. If not, it’s going to have to wait a while so as not to overlap with Ghosts. Will she do it? I do not know and I will not pester her, for editors are subtle and quick to anger. Wait. That was wizards, not editors.
Eh, same thing.
So basically even I won’t know until the last minute. If the edits get done, I can jump on layout and finalize everything and pull a couple of all-nighters if I have to, but if they don’t, they don’t. Don’t expect a lot of advance warning on this one, if it happens. Fingers crossed!
Summer brings experiment number three. This is something I mentioned obliquely last year, but now I can give you the full details. I’ve said in the past that when I was a kid just getting hooked on reading, thrillers and crime novels were one of my first loves. I’m pleased to say that Thomas & Mercer Publishing has given me a crack at the genre and signed me for two books (maybe more to come, if you like it and, y’know, buy it) in a new series.
Book one, The Loot, finds Sergeant Charlene McCabe on her way home from a long tour of duty in Afghanistan. Charlie left a war behind only to find a new one waiting for her on the home front: her gambling-addict father is in deep with a violent Boston bookie – twenty thousand dollars’ worth of deep – and the clock is ticking. Meanwhile, her new job as a professional bodyguard takes a turn into chaos when her client’s deadly secrets come to light.
Toss in a shady arms dealer, the ex-con remnants of a 1960s radical student union, and a legendary unsolved diamond heist, and the stage is set for a string of risky deals and double-crosses. If Charlie makes all the right moves, she might be able to save her father’s life, save her client…and walk away with the loot.
We recently finished developmental editing; the book is shaping up and it was a blast to work on. And as always, trying new things and stretching my wings is how I stave off burnout and grow as a writer. It’s all a part of the artist’s journey: evolving, learning what works and what doesn’t, finding and kindling that core of passion that makes a story worth reading.
Busy year ahead; how should we round it out? Trick question. There’s only one way to cap off 2019, and that’s with the return of Daniel Faust in The Locust Job. I’m breaking theme a little as this isn’t really an experiment, but it should be noteworthy nonetheless. Big things are in store as the major players are moving into position and hatching long-laid plans, and we begin our steady ramp-up to the final confrontation between Daniel and the Enemy. I’ll just say this: I’m going to try to schedule the follow-up book close on this one’s heels, because when you see how it ends (assuming my outline doesn’t radically change for some reason), you’re going to want the next one ASAP.
So that, friends and owlets, is the coming year in a nutshell. I’m not big on new year’s resolutions, they always feel like promises tailor-made to be broken before the snow thaws, but I’ll gladly renew the one I make every year. I resolve to keep working hard, to try to grow as an artist and a storyteller, and bring you my very best. Because, in the immortal words of the acclaimed poet Vanilla Ice, anything less than the best is a felony. Have a great New Year’s Eve, be safe if you’re out on the roads tonight, and I’ll talk to you soon.
December 6, 2018
Every once in a while I like to go beyond a simple status update and give you a look “under the hood,” showing what goes into the process from concept to finished book. (And that reminds me, I’ve got to do another “ideas that got cut” article at some point.) Which makes it a great time to talk a little about Ghosts of Gotham, coming from 47North Publishing in April!
Ghosts is something new. After writing over a dozen books in three connected series all wrapping up with a universe-breaking trilogy, “new” was something I badly needed. It’s a self-contained story with no connection to anything else I’ve written, set in its own continuity. It’s also a conscious attempt at evolving as a writer. I started out writing pulp fiction (and still do, with the Faust and Harmony books), and there’s nothing wrong with that — pulp is fun! But it isn’t enough.
(Friends of mine are aware of two facts: one, I am obsessive about my work, and two, I am emotionally incapable of being satisfied for more than a few passing breaths here or there. I am amazed and grateful that they actually put up with me.)
Ghosts of Gotham is fantasy, but don’t expect a Faust-style urban fantasy action adventure. It’s more of a character piece and a slow-building dark mystery (but when the magic does show up, oh boy, watch out.) Think more along the lines of Neil Gaiman (not daring to compare my skill with his, just tone.) The book is a nightmare, and a love letter.
So, here’s that “under the hood” bit, where we get into the rough mechanics of writing. For months I’ve quietly been working on a follow-up to Ghosts, another self-contained story set in the same continuity. (The idea we’re working with is a series of one-shots with light connections, all charting the secret occult history of New York City.) It’s done, my publisher has it, and yesterday we had a meeting.
And that’s a problem.
The story’s solid, the characters are engaging, there aren’t any truck-sized logic holes, it’s fine. Perfectly publishable. But. But it’s supposed to be the follow-up to the book we’re hoping will be a landmark in my career as a writer. Fine is not good enough.
Sometimes you absolutely need a new perspective. My editor walked me through it, point by point. A little too fast to get to the “good stuff” here, when subtle menace would have served the story better. Too little mystery here, too little magic there. And I don’t mean the in-story kind, but the kind that wraps around your brain and makes a story linger long after you’ve closed the book.
There’s also a structural problem; the sequel involves buried secrets from the Revolutionary War, and I carried the story with extensive flashbacks to 1776. And they just don’t work. Each one jars the reader out of the narrative and leaves the modern-day characters, who they’re really supposed to care about, in limbo. The flashbacks gotta go, and since they involve key plot points, it’s not like I can just rip the chapters out.
We came to a final decision: the entire book needs to be restructured. Out of a 130,000-word draft, maybe half is salvageable, and the rest has to be re-outlined, re-thought and re-written from scratch.
Am I going to do it? Bet your butt I am, because fine isn’t good enough.
But god, this hurts. William Faulkner once said, “In writing, you must kill all your darlings.” The words have to serve the story. It doesn’t matter how much you love a subplot, a scene, a single line of prose: if it’s not working, it has to be cut. That’s part of the editing process, and I’m used to it; not a single one of my books has reached your hands looking just like the rough draft (nor should they, editors are vital.)
Now? I’m looking at cutting entire characters, people I adored. Historical scenes I spent weeks researching. Chapters I loved writing. It’s…kind of a depressive day over here. And a hopeful one. This process sucks and it hurts, but the end result is going to be a sequel far stronger than it ever would have been otherwise. I’m up for the challenge.
And with that, I should get back to work. Have a great weekend!
November 20, 2018
Happy Tuesday, friends and owlets! Just a quick update for you today. The paperback version of Bring the Fire is now (finally!) available. Normally it would have been ready a lot faster, but Amazon was having some issues linking it to the e-book version and getting everything on the same page.
Speaking of Amazon issues, some of my overseas readers have noticed a few of my books mysteriously and randomly vanishing from the United States marketplace, showing as “not available.” I checked into it, and this is apparently an issue plaguing the entire storefront; it looks like this is a bug, possibly relating to some kind of overhaul with how they handle international sales. They’re aware of it (many authors have been making them VERY aware of it, trust me) and hopefully it’ll be resolved soon. In the meantime, you should still be able to find my books on your local version of the site (for instance, if you’re in the UK, check for me on amazon.uk).
Early response to Bring the Fire has been wonderful, and I’m so grateful! It may be corny, but it’s Thanksgiving week in the states and when I think about what I’m most thankful for, well, it’s each and every one of you. You’re the reason I can do what I do (heck, you’re the reason I’m still here at all), and your support means everything to me.
The new Harmony Black story is coming along nicely. Both it and the next Daniel Faust novel will take place after a time-skip of six months or so, right on the heels of the events of the Wisdom’s Grave trilogy. As always, I’ll do my best to keep each series separate for folks who only want to read one and not the others; there will be a “The Story So Far” segment right at the start to bring you up to speed.
Suffice to say that our heroes will be dealing with some serious changes. The new Harmony story finds Harmony and Jessie on the trail of a missing operative, from a suspicious marine-biology lab in Tampa to a mist-shrouded fishing village off the New England coast. There’s something in the water, and it isn’t friendly. Meanwhile, the next Faust story will open with a funeral (if you’ve read Bring the Fire, you may be able to guess whose), as Daniel prepares to teach his young new apprentice the art of pulling a Locust Job. Things do not go according to plan, because if they did, it wouldn’t be a Faust story.
We’re going to have some fun next year. And in April, there’s Ghosts of Gotham, the story I’m most excited to share with you. Honestly, the story I’m most excited about ever. I’ll be telling you more about that as we get closer. Anyway, time for me to get back to work. Talk to you soon!