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Monday, May 13, 2024

Interview with Craig Schaefer : Celebrating A Decade Of Dark Fantastical Tales (interviewed by Mihir Wanchoo)


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Order Dig Two Graves over HERE

Read Fantasy Book Critic's review of The Long Way Down 
Read Fantasy Book Critic's review of The White Gold Score 
Read Fantasy Book Critic's review of Redemption Song 
Read Fantasy Book Critic's review of The Living End 
Read Fantasy Book Critic's review of A Plain-Dealing Villain
Read Fantasy Book Critic's review of The Killing Floor Blues
Read Fantasy Book Critic's review of The Castle Doctrine
Read Fantasy Book Critic's review of Double Or Nothing
Read Fantasy Book Critic's review of The Neon Boneyard
Read Fantasy Book Critic's review of The Locust Job
Read Fantasy Book Critic’s review of Down Among the Dead Men
Read Fantasy Book Critic’s review of Dig Two Graves
Read Fantasy Book Critic's review of Sworn To The Night
Read Fantasy Book Critic's review of Detonation Boulevard
Read Fantasy Book Critic's review of Winter's Reach 
Read Fantasy Book Critic's review of The Instruments Of Control 
Read Fantasy Book Critic's review of Harmony Black
Read Fantasy Book Critic's review of Red Knight Falling
Read Fantasy Book Critic's review of Glass Predator
Read Fantasy Book Critic's review of Cold Spectrum
Read Fantasy Book Critic's review of Right To The Kill
Read Fantasy Book Critic's review of Black Tie Required
Read Fantasy Book Critic’s review of Never Send Roses
Read Fantasy Book Critic's review of Ghosts Of Gotham
Read Fantasy Book Critic' review of A Time For Witches
Read Fantasy Book Critic's review of The Loot
Read Fantasy Book Critic's review of The Insider
Read Fantasy Book Critic’s review of Any Minor World
Read Fantasy Book Critic's Interview with Craig Schaefer
Read Fantasy Book Critic's Harmony Black Series Interview with Craig Schaefer
Read Double Or Nothing Cover Reveal Mini-Interview with Craig Schaefer
Read Part I of Fantasy Book Critic's In-depth Interview with Craig Schaefer
Read Part II of Fantasy Book Critic's In-depth Interview with Craig Schaefer
Read the Wisdom's Grave Trilogy Completion Interview with Craig Schaefer
Read the 2019 And Beyond Interview with Craig Schaefer
Read the Right To The Kill Cover Reveal Q&A with Craig Schaefer
Read the Black Tie Required Cover Reveal Q&A with Craig Schaefer
Read the Charlie McCabe series interview with Craig Schaefer
Read My Sworn To The Night Cover Reveal Q&A with Craig Schaefer
Read 2020 State Of Schaefer Interview with Craig Schaefer
Q] Welcome Heather, thank you for joining us today. Readers have been blessed with your incredible books (32 of them so far) in the last decade. What do you make/feel about your journey through the last decade?

Heather: Gratitude. That’s it in a nutshell. I’ve never wanted to be anything but a writer (although as a small child I flirted with the idea of becoming a special-effects artist or a private detective), and here I am, fifty years old and doing it. A life in the creative arts can be an intensely stressful and chaotic thing, laden with uncertainty and fear around every corner (will I be able to survive another year? Another month? Another week?), but it’s all worth it. I’m so thankful to be able to do what I love most.
Q] You started off as an indie writer just when self-publishing was really starting to take off. Looking back, what do you think of the whole indie scene back then?

Heather: I came in during a big boom in self-publishing, and the landscape was a mix of people who wanted to create genuine art and people who thought writing was their get-rich-quick ticket to easy money and a lavish lifestyle. And as a veteran of the industry I have a hard time even saying that with a straight face. (I’ve been doing this for a decade and I still earn less than I made in my last office job, doing three times the work.) Thankfully I was able to gravitate to the people in the former category and learned a lot from their wisdom, both in craft and in business.

Back in the day, the get-rich-quick crew believed in grabbing a popular book, copying it right up to the line of plagiarism, and pumping it out quick and unedited to ride whatever the latest trend was. I have less than zero respect for this. The first ingredient to cooking up a good book is passion. If you don’t care about the story, why on earth would a reader care? A book written with passion can be flawed, even grievously so, but by the gods there’s something there. A spark.

These days most of those folks are long gone, but of course now we have their replacements who are telling ChatGPT to spit out unreadable dog-turd “stories” and deluging magazines with them. Which of course does nothing but fail, utterly, and swamp slush piles in garbage to make it harder for real writers to get noticed.

The good folks, though? Solid gold. I never would have made it this far without the advice of my peers, and I hope I’ve helped a few of them along the way as well. I always try to stress that writers are not in competition with each other, simply because books are not a zero-sum product. Car manufacturers compete because you only need to buy one car; if I get a Hyundai, Ford doesn’t get my cash. Readers, on the other hand, buy a lot of books (I say this as I glance at my towering to-be-read pile), so if someone picks up another writer’s book instead of mine, there’s still a chance I’ll get ‘em down the line. Everybody wins, especially the readers.
Q] You also adopted a very reader-friendly approach and released books in two different series in quick succession in the first two years. What was your reasoning for such a hectic schedule?

Heather: At the time, it was considered the best way to get vital early traction with readers. You can put out one well-received book and that’s great, but if you wait a year to do anything else people will largely forget about you by the time the sequel drops. So I waited until I had several books written, professionally edited, and ready to launch before dropping the first.

As for why I continue that pace, it’s simply survival, and I mean that on two levels. First, practically speaking, writing is a brutal business that gets harder every year. I simply wouldn’t be able to earn a living without putting in six days a week (sometimes seven), every week. Secondly, I’ve been candid about my struggles with mental health; there’s a darkness in my brain that would very much like to kill me. Writing is a light that keeps it at bay. So I write.
Q] After the pandemic, you shifted to a better (and hopefully less stress-inducing) release schedule for your books. You also went through a massive personal life change. How much did your writing & friends/family help influence this huge step? Or was it something which you felt was necessary for your own mental health?

Heather:  I feel silly saying it was a rough and dark time because, I mean, who WASN’T it a rough and dark time for? I was luckier than a lot of people, but the pandemic created a perfect storm for the burnout that was overdue and I just crashed, utterly.

Realigning my life, doing what I needed to do to take care of myself and my physical and mental health, was something I had put off for far too long. I made it through with the help of my friends and an amazing therapist, and I’m thrilled to say I’m firing on all cylinders again – albeit with much healthier personal and work habits to make sure I stay on course.

Q] The Long Way Down (Daniel Faust #1) was your debut and for your decade anniversary, you gave us his 11th adventure. What is about Daniel that drew you into writing his adventures?

Heather: The funny thing is, I’m not a fan of urban fantasy as a genre, at all. I’m all about crime, thrillers and mysteries, and I thought for a while that’d be my career arc (hopefully emulating Elmore Leonard and Donald E. Westlake, two of my all-time favorite authors.) But then I was reading my way through the Parker novels, which Westlake wrote under the pen name of Richard Stark. For the uninitiated, Parker’s adventures started with the 1962 novel The Hunter and the series ran until 2008. Parker is a relentless anti-hero, a heisting machine who puts together crews, takes down big scores, and shoots anyone who gets in his way.

Sound a little familiar?

So one day I was rewatching the 90s movie From Dusk Till Dawn. If you are one of the very, very few people on the planet who doesn’t know that movie’s totally bonkers mid-film twist, I will not spoil it, save to say it starts as a crime movie and then instantly shifts gears in a delightfully wild fashion. And it got me thinking, since I was reading this Westlake book at the time…What would it be like if Parker lived in a world with monsters and magic?
Thus, Daniel Faust was born. He’s not quite like his predecessors (he does have a conscience, albeit a tiny one, unlike Parker, and there’s some DNA from Seth GeckoGeorge Clooney’s character in From Dusk Till Dawn – in there as well) and quickly evolved into his own thing, but that was the genesis of the idea. And once I started, it was too much fun not to keep going.

Q] Was The Long Way Down the first book that you wrote or are there any trunk novels, which you never released?

Heather:  It was my fifth or sixth book. There are trunk novels but they have been consigned to the outer void where they belong and will never be seen (my very first was written in high school at age 17, and you can probably imagine how horrible it was.)

Two of those were actually proto-forms of what would become the Faust series. They were set in Chicago, where I lived at the time, because I could do extensive local research (I’m big on research) just by hopping in my car and going to see places in person. Then, everybody and their brother told me that I’d be instantly accused of ripping off the Dresden Files because that series “owns” Chicago. This pissed me off on several levels but it turned out to be serendipitous, because once I hit on Vegas for the setting (since I was traveling there regularly) I realized how perfectly it fit Faust and his crew of rogues.

Instead of trying to retool the existing manuscripts, I went back to square one and came up with new stories, from scratch, to better fit the new setting. There are elements of the first two that I like, and a couple of side characters have filtered their way in over the years, but the choice to throw out the first manuscripts and start from the foundations up was ultimately (if painful) a good lesson for me as a writer and the best choice for the books themselves. No regrets.
Q] Previously the Daniel Faust series had distinctly 3 book arcs but that hasn’t been the case with the last couple of books. Does this mean that the 3 book story arc structure won’t be followed for the middle (and possibly latter ) part of this series?

Heather: The three-book arcs were ideal early on, but Faust’s world has become a much more chaotic place with his two worst enemies on the rampage, and I wanted to reflect that ramping of the stakes by making the beats less predictable. I may go back to it at some point, but not until the Enemy conflict is resolved for good.
Q] You also released a dark fantasy series which has been severely underappreciated but has its fans. I loved how twisted it was and how it set up Wisdom’s Grave trilogy. Will you be taking any new epic (dark) fantasy route in the future?

Heather:  I would love to! I have a few irons glowing in that particular fire, but it’s too early to talk about it.

Q] Speaking about The Wisdom’s Grave trilogy, it is one of my alltime favourite series. It was such an amazing story that capped off one of the few happy endings within your worlds. Will there be another epochal trilogy like that in the future of the First Story saga?

Heather:  The Wisdom’s Grave trilogy is something I’m proud of, and it’s remarkable how it’s easily the most polarizing thing I’ve done. People either really love it or really hate it, and thankfully the ratio is largely on the love side. I figure a reaction that strong means I did something right.

That said, there was a lot of reader friction with people feeling they “had” to read it in order to keep up with the Faust and Harmony books, and that was a mistake on my part and something I’m going to be careful about in future. Would I like to do another side trilogy, though? Yes. Absolutely.
Q] You have genre hopped within all of your books from grimdark to noir to horror to urban fantasy. Also with jaunts to thriller, pulp fantasy and even mythological fantasy genres. Would you happen to explain this nomadic writing style?

Heather:  I try to be fairly consistent with my branding, in the sense that if you pick up a Craig Schaefer book, you know what you’re going to get: a twisty plot, violent action, a found-family dynamic and a big dollop or two of body horror. (And probably, as someone said over at TV Tropes, BDSM and gourmet food.)

Within that scope I like to play and explore. I feel that trying out different genres, different styles and approaches, keeps me from getting stale and helps my overall improvement as a writer. Understanding the rules of different genres,  and knowing when you can break them and when you can’t, are all powerful additions to any author’s bag of tricks.

I’ve never been interested in coloring inside the lines. Genres, in general, are just small bundles of expectations (for example, readers picking up a horror book expect something scary, readers picking up a romance novel expect an HEA, fantasy comes with the expectation of the fantastical, and so on.) As long as you meet those crucial core expectations, you can go wild in the margins.

Alternately, I work for the Lady in Red and I write what she tells me to write. Go with whichever answer you like best.
Q] In a recent blog post, you have mentioned that the Enemy-Paladin conflict is finally happening. Will the next two Faust and Harmony books be the preamble to this showdown or will they be focusing on the showdown? Alternatively might there be a separate book/series focusing on this grand conflict?

Heather:  The showdown will be resolved in the mainline books, not a spin-off, and the next couple will be laying the groundwork for it. Can’t say much more than that without getting into big spoiler territory.

Q] What’s next for you after the release of Dig Two Graves? What are you writing currently?

Heather:  Right now I’m working on the next Harmony Black novel, which doesn’t have a title yet. (Or more to the point, it has four or five and I don’t quite like any of them so I’m keeping quiet until I figure it out.) Barring some catastrophe, it’ll be out by the end of the year, and it follows up on a dangling plot thread from the original four books published by 47North: what the heck happened to Bobby Diehl, Harmony and Jessie’s original big nemesis? We last saw him as a desperate coked-up fugitive with his company gone and his assets frozen, bent on revenge.

Well, he’s back (with a few of his friends), kicking the action off with an inciting incident that I think nobody is going to predict. (Oh, and in case it sounds like I gave too much away, Bobby’s not the main antagonist of the story. That honor goes to someone else.)
Q] Will we be seeing any more of the characters (and world) from Any Minor World in the near future?

Heather:  Yes. I can’t talk about my plans for a direct sequel because some things might be happening behind the scenes (business stuff), but I can say that based on the ending of Dig Two Graves…yeah. Soon.
Q] You previously have mentioned that you have a specific ending in mind for the Faust books. Is that the case as well for Harmony as well? How many books are you planning for her series?

Heather:  For those who don’t know the story, when I started working on the Faust series one of the first things I did was block out the whole thing in broad strokes. Not full outlines so much as “Okay, so first we have this arc, then this one” all the way to the end, giving me lots of wiggle room to add or remove individual stories while keeping a tight vision. I also wrote the final scene of the final book.

It won’t ever appear as-is, since I’d certainly hope I’ve improved as a writer in the last decade, but it was a great tool to lock in a vision. The last line of the series probably won’t change: it’s straight from Dan’s mouth and I think it’ll be a perfect capstone, but I guess that’ll be up to readers to decide when we get there!

The Harmony series is likewise mapped (for example, the spoilery thing that happened with Nadine in the last installment, Never Send Roses, was planned out way back when she made her first appearance), but softer around the edges with a lot more room to move pieces around if and when new ideas pop into my head. I have three possible endings, all of which I like more or less equally, but that day is still a long way off.
Q] Here’s looking forward to the next decade Heather, as a fan I’m so grateful for your stories. I hope you get to write all the biggest, strangest & strongest ideas which you have. Thank you again for all that you do. Any parting thoughts for your fans?

Heather:  Thank you! Writers can’t do what we do without readers. (I mean, we can, but it’d be pretty darn lonely.)

The best piece of writing advice I ever got came from one of my first editors. It was early days, I was still struggling to find an audience, and I was afraid that I was hurting my chances by not being commercial-minded enough. Should I try to be more…mass-market friendly?

Don’t you dare,” she told me. “Anyone can serve the flavor of the week. What you bring to your books is yours: it’s authentic, and readers can smell authenticity from a mile away. Yes, of course there are people who will turn away from your work because it’s too violent/gory/weird/whatever, but for every one of those you lose, you’ll gain another who will show up saying ‘This is exactly what I’ve been looking for.’ Every writer has a tribe out there, and you’ll only find them – and they’ll only find you – if you write as your most honest self and tell the story the way you think it should be told.”

I followed that advice, and I’m still in the game today. But the thing is…it’s not just writing advice, really, is it? It’s life advice, pure and simple, and if you ask me it checks out.

Know yourself and be yourself. You’re an original, and that’s what the world needs.



 Click Here To Order “Barnaby The Wanderer” by Raymond St. Elmo
Order HERE


 Click Here To Order “Barnaby The Wanderer” by Raymond St. Elmo
Order HERE


 Click Here To Order “Barnaby The Wanderer” by Raymond St. Elmo
Order HERE


 Click Here To Order “Barnaby The Wanderer” by Raymond St. Elmo
Order HERE


 Click Here To Order “Barnaby The Wanderer” by Raymond St. Elmo
Order HERE


 Click Here To Order “Barnaby The Wanderer” by Raymond St. Elmo
Order HERE