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Tuesday, July 14, 2020

The CMC Series Interview with Craig Schaefer (interviewed by Mihir Wanchoo)

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Q] Hi Craig, welcome back to Fantasy Book Critic. How are things with you considering all the things that we are facing?

CS: Now that’s a loaded question. Readers who follow me on social media know that I’ve always been open about my mental health issues (as part of my belief in the importance of making such discussions frank and non-stigmatized) – recently, I went on a bit of a decline, and got medical help. I’m now in my second week of medication and can report that I’m back at work and writing again, so…good enough, I”ll say?

The world’s a mess but I’m doing my best to hold up my little part of it, and give people some much-needed entertainment while we work to fix things.

Q] Let’s talk about the Charlie McCabe series. You wanted to follow Elmore Leonard, Lawrence Block and several other masters with this series. With these two books out, how do you think you are faring in this new literary wheelhouse?

CS: Well, I certainly can’t compare myself to the greats. Maybe in another twenty years, if I really plug away at it. Working across genres has been a fantastic exercise, and I think it’s something all writers should try; it’s definitely forced me to break out of my comfort zones, and look at structuring stories in a different way, adding new equipment to my writerly toolbox.

Q] Focusing on Charlie, she’s the quintessential thriller protagonist however there’s grey shades to her and she’s certainly no goody two shoes. How did you craft her character, what were your literary/cinematic inspirations?

CS: Charlie’s genesis was in a fascinating interview I read some time ago, with an Army explosive ordnance disposal officer (her MOS in the series); at the time, I was taken by how detail-oriented the work was, and how an explosive ordnance expert needs both a keen eye for observation and a wide array of skills to get the job done. As with so many things, I jotted down some notes and filed it for later use; most writers, I think, have bulging files of “this might be handy someday” reference material.

When I started planning a crime/thriller series, I quickly rejected the usual tropes. I didn’t want to write about cops, or private investigators. Bodyguard work had an immediate appeal, in that I could put my protagonists in a wide variety of dangerous situations and expose them to all kinds of (often sketchy) people and social circles: a great foundation for a series!

I spent a few months studying security work, and it quickly struck me that an ideal bodyguard has an eye for detail. In The Loot, Charlie’s boss explains that the average length of an assassination attempt, from start to finish, is five seconds; a security professional has to assess, plan, and act within that narrow window of time. This was where inspiration struck, and I realized that an EOD veteran would have the perfect set of skills to transition to private security. From there it was a matter of getting to know her; figuring out where Charlie came from, how she was raised, and the influences that shaped her along the way.

Q] In both The Loot and The Insider, she’s faced with tasks and scenarios that are well out of the ordinary and yet she refuses to be bogged down. What would you say is the reason for her tenacious attitude?

CS: Due to her father’s addictions, Charlie had to learn to be self-reliant very early in life. She had to take care of herself, because nobody else would. Military service instilled discipline, and made her double down on her “the buck stops here” attitude: now she was responsible for the soldiers under her authority, not just herself, in an environment where a single mistake could have (literal) explosive consequences.

That sense of responsibility is at the core of her character: right or wrong, she approaches most situations with a sense of “if I don’t do something, no one will,” and then acts accordingly.

Q] Both Beckett and Dom are wonderful characters who have very, very interesting backgrounds. In The Insider we get a tiny peek at one of them. Will the readers get more of a deeper dive into them in the future sequels?

CS: Absolutely. Whenever I create a character, I always write more in the way of background and story hooks than appear on the page; Beckett and Dom both have extensive biographies, and lots of fun details that can come into play in future books.

Q] On your website, you have mentioned this about the Charlie McCabe series: “As such, technically it doesn’t fit into either of the above continuities. Technically!”
Have we touched upon that technicality with the brush from mama duck in this book?

CS: It’s entirely possible. (Also, in The Locust Job, when Daniel talks to the old barfly in Boston, note the names that get dropped…)

Q] Will we be getting more Charlie books in the future? What’s the status quo with 47North for Charlie’s future?

CS: I’m currently in wait-and-see mode, but keeping my fingers crossed! I hope to have some solid news to reveal soon.

Q] If you do get to write the third volume, can you offer us a small teaser about what the plot might entail?

CS: In the proposed third book, Charlie and company rub shoulders with celebrity, as a movie is being filmed on location in Boston and they’re hired to protect the lead actress after a string of death threats. Things quickly get complicated as Charlie is thrust into a situation involving an obsessed stalker, a jilted ex, scandal-hunting paparazzi, and a religious cult. Trouble ensues.

Q] Will we ever get a look into Charlie’s military past in the future books?

CS: I have a possible plot involving her time in Afghanistan in mind, and some unexpected fallout, but it’s tentative. (Basically I’ve got a list of seven or eight “maybe” plot ideas and this is one of them.)

Q] One of the things I’m curious about is Charlie’s buttoned down emotional state which makes her very, very effective. Was there something in her military past that molded her into such?

CS: Working with explosive ordnance requires absolute coolness under pressure; as she observes in The Loot, a bomb is a battle of wits between you and the bomb-maker. She had to learn, very quickly, to compartmentalize and attack every challenge with a frosty and clinical mindset. Charlie doesn’t hesitate to unwind and decompress after work (usually with a locally-crafted brew), but when she’s on the job, she’s on the job.

Q] I was very much heartened to see you get on Patreon. Can you tell our readers about how you arrived at that decision and how they can get some cool stuff while being able to support their favourite author?

CS: I’d been considering a Patreon for a while, given how many authors have successfully made it a part of their platforms. It became a question of how I could provide value to my supporters, and use the medium to do something I couldn’t with my regular book releases. What could I say/do with it, that’d be both useful to readers as well as artistically interesting?

I decided to focus on serial fiction, because that’s a medium I haven’t worked in before. The launch piece, The Hungry Dreaming, is a work of epic contemporary fantasy set in the world of Ghosts Of Gotham. (It was outlined to stand completely alone, so it could serve as an introduction to my work, but people who have read Gotham will spot a couple of cameo appearances along the way…)

New chapters go up twice a week, at -- I’m also planning on a monthly Q&A, occasional previews, and whatever else I can come up with that folks might enjoy.

Q] Thank you again for your time, we hope you continue to stay safe and healthy. Looking forward to A Time Of Witches, what can you tell us about that particular forthcoming treat?

CS: I can say that it begins a couple of weeks after Ghosts of Gotham ends, leaving New York behind for a plunge into the haunted Midwest. There are death spirits and Amazon caravans on the open highways, and occult secrets concealed in rest-stop bathroom graffiti. And underneath it all, an exploration into the idea of heroism, from its roots in Greek myth to the modern day.



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