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Progress and Process

Well, The Loot is out and in the wild, and we’re still on track for an October release of Right to the Kill, the next Harmony Black novel (at long last). I still have to do final print layout on that, the least-fun part of creating a book. It’s lunchtime, so while my leftovers heat up I thought I’d write a little about what I’m working on right now, and about process.

I’m fascinated by process. If you’re an artist of any stripe and we sit down for drinks, I will almost unquestionably interrogate you about what you do, how you do it, and the choices you make. Whether someone is a writer, a musician, an actor, I always learn something new. My process is heavily outline-driven; I know a lot of writers can just sit down with a blank page and craft a story as they tell it, and that’s really impressive, but that skill is beyond me. I need a road map to get from point A to point B.

Right now, I’m outlining the follow-up to Right to the Kill. The next three Harmony books form a loose trilogy. As such, I had to conceptualize an overarching concept and figure out the ending even before I sat down to write one word of RttK. That’s been a big help, going into the second book. All the same, my early steps generally entail writing down the really big beats and the high notes. What’s the theme of this story? What am I trying to say? How do I want you to feel, when you read it, and what’s the craftiest way to make that happen?

After emotion and theme comes plot. In the case of an ongoing series, some of the heavy lifting happens naturally. For instance, in the Daniel Faust series, The Neon Boneyard ended with Dan agreeing to take on a new apprentice; it’s not a big surprise to tell you that The Locust Job will largely involve the consequences of that choice. Series characters have ongoing business and ongoing problems, so there’s always a sense of “oh, yeah, we have to address that for sure.”

Details suggest more details, and as a plot begins to percolate, I have to make a lot of structural decisions. Right to the Kill is intended to be a good jumping-on point for new readers; as such, I kept references to other series and big chunks of continuity minimized. With book six of the series, that’s no longer possible: Harmony and Jessie have to confront the fallout from Wisdom’s Grave head-on, as a fugitive from a parallel Earth threatens to spark the mother of all diplomatic incidents. Also, the plans Bobby Diehl made in the epilogue to Cold Spectrum – and the dark alliance he made – are in full motion.

But nobody likes infodumps, right? So I have to look at each and every piece of out-of-book continuity with a critical eye and say “how do I present this for people who have read all my books, and how do I present this for people who have only read this one and RttK?” Because the explanations have to be understandable for people in the second group, without being so over-expository they bore people in the first group. It’s a tightrope act.

From all these decisions, notes blossom and an outline starts to form. At first, this is usually a bullet-pointed list of major events, even if I don’t know the specifics or the connective tissue at this point. Like it might be really important for the protagonist and antagonist to meet in the middle of a party, but I don’t know why they’d both be there yet. My notes at this point have a lot of interjections like “This Happens Because Reasons” or “Make This Make Sense, Please.”

It’s most often at this point that a title suggests itself. If I’m self-publishing, it usually sticks. If I’m going through one of my publishers, I don’t get too attached, because my titles almost always get changed. (For instance, House of Wolves became Glass Predator, and Haunted Palaces became Ghosts of Gotham. The upcoming Charlie McCabe sequel, The Insider, was originally called Everybody’s a Scorpion.) Someday I’m going to submit a manuscript entitled “Book Title Here” but I’m afraid that’ll be the one time they don’t change it. Marketing departments move in mysterious ways.

Now that I have all the big chunks in place, it’s time to expand. I dig into the details figuring out all the connective bits, the twists and turns, noting the clues I have to plant along the way. And it’s at this point that I always have to remember an important thing: nothing in an outline is sacred. Because it’s around this time that I inevitably discover something that I thought was super-important to the story isn’t, at all. That party I thought I had to get my leads to attend? It only existed to prop up a plot point from earlier in the story and that plot point got changed because I chose a different motivation for the antagonist and – see what I mean? A good story flows; change the flow, and everything past that point changes along with it. It’s not uncommon that a scene I thought the entire story would hinge on ends up not appearing in the novel at all.

Once I have a more or less coherent outline, a story with a solid beginning, middle and end, I take another pass. This time I really flesh it out: sentences are expanded to paragraphs, I jot down specific ideas for dialogue, and make notes to myself about the details I need to call out in a scene and the foreshadowing I have to ensure is in place. That’s where I am with the outline for Harmony book six: I wrapped it up yesterday and ended up with a 9000-word outline (which will eventually become a 90,000 word book).

“But Craig,” I hear you hypothetically say, “isn’t that a lot of work?” Yes, but that’s nothing compared to the work it saves. Beyond the speed of knowing exactly what needs to be written and exactly where the story is headed, it helps me spot trouble well in advance. For example, in this outline, Harmony has a device that reacts to other-dimensional energy…and I realized, three quarters of the way in, that it didn’t react to a spoilery thing it very much should have. And it couldn’t react, or it would give the central mystery away. So, huge plot hole. I was able to work out a reasonable solution, layer it into the outline, go back and know where to seed clues to make it fair, and so on. If I had only realized this during the writing process or worse, in final edits? We’re talking hours if not days of extra work to iron things out.

Today’s task is the final pass. I go over each line and ask questions, making sure everyone’s behavior makes sense, that the plot holds up, that I haven’t left any gaping logic holes, and so on. Of course, mistakes always slip through, but it never hurts to have as solid a foundation as possible. And tomorrow morning…well, tomorrow morning I sit down and actually start writing the thing.

And I should get back to doing that. Take care, and I hope you’re having a good Monday!

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The Loot: Launch Day!

Good morning, all! I’m pleased to announce that The Loot, the first book in the Charlie McCabe series, is now available in ebook, paperback and audiobook formats.

This is a departure from my usual style, but that doesn’t mean I’m departing. We’re still on track for the new Harmony Black novel (finally!) to come out in October. And not long after that, the return of Daniel Faust — that one is still with my editor, as we polish it up the best we can.

As for the follow-up to Ghosts of Gotham…well, that’s today’s job. Finishing up one last editing pass before sending it to my publisher. Keep your fingers crossed, but I have a good feeling. I hope you have a great day, and an even better week to come!

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A Little Something for the UK

Happy Monday, everybody! (Well, okay, that might be a stretch. I hope it’s a tolerable Monday, at least.)

We’re one month away from the release of The Loot, my debut with Thomas & Mercer Publishing. I’m really excited about this new endeavor and can’t wait to share it with you. And for some of you, that day is today. Yep. The Loot was chosen to be part of Amazon.uk’s First Reads program, which means if you have a UK-based Amazon account, you can hop over to https://www.amazon.co.uk/firstreads and either get it for free if you have an Amazon Prime membership, or otherwise buy it for…ninety-nine…pence? Is that right? Pences? All I know is that you’ve got Jane Austen on the ten-pound note and that’s the coolest thing.

For everyone else, it’ll be out in print and audio bright and early on August 1st. I’m listening to the audiobook version right now, and Susannah Jones knocked it out of the park as usual. Meanwhile, the new Daniel Faust novel is heavily in editing, getting in shape, and the new Harmony Black is ready to roll — we’re still looking at an October release for that one.

In other news, the first draft for the follow-up to Ghosts of Gotham, under the working title of The Hungry Dreaming, is done. It ended up at over 160,000 words. It is a large and tangled beast. I probably won’t have any solid news on this for a while, but it is happening. And now I need to rush off and figure out how I’m going to work today, because they’re doing fire-alarm testing at my apartment building. All-day testing. Catch you soon!

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A Small Update, and a Small Accomplishment

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/craigschaeferbooks/), 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!

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Bring the Fire: Now on Audio!

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Bring the Fire: Now on Audio!

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.)

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Ghosts of Gotham is available now!

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-Craig-Schaefer-ebook/dp/B07GZGXP13

The audiobook: https://www.audible.com/pd/Ghosts-of-Gotham-Audiobook/1721358161

(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.

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One week left! And a website overhaul.

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!

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The Loot is up for pre-order!

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!

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There and Back Again

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There and Back Again

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.

Progress.

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.

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It's Superb Owl Weekend!

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.

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