One of the goals of SPFBO is to give a chance to self-published authors to get more exposure. In the Finals I’m taking part in the competition as one of the judges in Fantasy Book Review‘s team. As I did with our group’s authors, I decided to offer a spot to the Finalists too to be featured on my blog. You can check out all of our content during Phase 1, and everything that’s happening during the Finals on my SPFBO 4 page!
Craig Schaefer writes about witches, outlaws, and outsiders. Whether he’s weaving tales of an occult-shrouded New York in Ghosts of Gotham or the gritty streets of Boston in the Charlie McCabe series, his protagonists are damaged survivors searching for answers, redemption, or maybe just that one big score.
Welcome to the Asylum! Take a seat by the fire, have a glass of beverage of your choice and tell me something about yourself!
I’m Craig Schaefer, and I write thrillers tinged with magic and horror. I’m a former Chicagoan who recently moved to North Carolina (farewell, midwestern winters), though I spend a good deal of time on the road, researching locations for my novels.
Say, you can live in the fantasy house/lair of your dreams. What would it look like?
I’d have to go with the classic pseudo-Translyvanian castle. Looming battlements, grim gothic towers, a perpetual storm roiling in the sky above. I write better when it’s raining. Also, lots of guest rooms and spacious dungeons which may also be guest rooms.
What is your favorite fantasy creature and why?
This was a trickier question than I thought it would be. On reflection, there are any number of fantasy creatures I think are really cool, but so often that comes down to a great visual design; they’re obstacles, not characters. (The first example that jumps to mind is the Pale Man from the film Pan’s Labyrinth, played oh-so-creepily by Doug Jones. Super-scary creature, great design, but his singular purpose in the narrative is to be a roadblock in the heroine’s path.)
The easiest way to sell me on a fantasy creature and make me a fan is to give them a personality, agency, a character that lingers in the mind long after the book is over. A ravenous fire-breathing dragon? Maybe interesting, maybe threatening, but it’s been done a hundred times. Tolkien took that same concept, went a step further, and gave us Smaug. Smaug is COOL.
Why did you decide to become an author and how did you end up choosing self-publishing?
I’m a purpose-built organism. I write because I can’t not, and if I’m not creating, I don’t have much of a reason to exist. So I write. I tried out self-publishing after my first manuscript was locked up by an agent who requested an exclusive read (i.e., you don’t send it to anyone, anywhere, until they decide if they want to take you on as a client)…and stretched that initial three-month exclusive to an entire year before rejecting me with a form letter.
As you might imagine, I was a little pissed off, and eager to make up for wasted time. I was going to succeed out of raw spite. Never underestimate the motivational power of spite.
Once my career took off, ironically enough, publishers began approaching me. I’m currently a hybrid author (part self-published, part trad-pubbed) and for me, at least, that’s the best of all possible worlds.
Which author would you say is your greatest influence as a writer?
Elmore Leonard, no question. Every book is a masterclass in motivation, in dialogue, in tight, punchy narrative and perfect pacing. I deeply regret that I never got to thank him for what he taught me before he passed.
If you could go back in time and offer any advice to a younger Craig prior to releasing Sworn to the Night what would it be?
Be more understanding, be more kind to people in pain. That’s the advice I always want to give my younger self. In terms of writing advice, though, and specifically that book/trilogy? Remember that not every book is for every reader. Some people will get what you’re laying down, some people will bounce off it hard; the latter group aren’t wrong, it’s just not their book.
What SPFBO means to you? What do you hope to gain (fame and wealth aside)? What are your experiences so far?
None to speak of, really, because I make a point of ignoring any awards I’m nominated for until the final decision is handed down. I read a comment from this writer who talked about how she was on pins and needles every morning, constantly refreshing judges’ pages, marinating in anxiety until she was eliminated two months later and I was like…why would you do that to yourself? That’s two months of your life you won’t get back, two months you could have spent focused on your art. Life has enough unavoidable anxiety without borrowing more of it.
Awards are a nice thing to have, but win or lose, you’re still the exact same writer you were before you entered the competition. Go into any award process with an air of fatalism: assume you’re dead before you step on the battlefield. Let it go, and focus on your real business, which is creating art. That’s what matters: telling stories, and touching readers’ lives.
What inspires your writing? Do you listen to music, stare into the fire, listen to the whispering of the wind, make deals with the Devil?
I go to the places where my stories are set, the bustling streets, the alleys, the lonely crossroads. I listen to the people there, to get the cadence of their voices and the nature of their troubles. Every good story is a true story. Even if it’s about something fantastic and unbelievable, it still has to be written from a core of emotional truth. If it isn’t, readers instinctively know.
How do you relax after a long writing/research session? Do you have any hobbies (writing not included :P)?
Gambling, alcohol, and witchcraft.
Beyond that, I’m a reader (of course) and a movie buff – crime thrillers and horror get bumped to the top of my list – and I enjoy a bit of computer gaming. I’m currently playing my way through Tropico 6, accidentally ruining a virtual nation and proving I shouldn’t be in charge of anything more important than a houseplant.
What was the most exotic place you’ve visited? Did it inspire any of your work? How that experience affected you personally?
Exotic is a tricky word. People think it’s someplace foreign, distant, but the most exotic places I’ve been have largely been nestled behind mundane street signs and white picket fences. A Vodun ritual in a Chicago basement, while I was researching a book (no, there was nothing scary, no horror movie special effects.) A card game in a Florida back room where the man beside me had a gun on his belt. The gun was never touched or mentioned. This was a friendly game. I lost, for the record.
There are discoveries to be made, mysteries to be unraveled and adventures to be had, all around you. Just down the block, just around the corner. That simple truth is both an inspiration and something I try to impart through my work.
Which character of your book do you identify with the most and why? Who would you like to live with in an asylum?
If we’re looking at Sworn to the Night, I’d have to go with Marie Reinhart. A dreamer who takes things too far, meaning well but going to extremes. Which of my characters would I like to live with in an asylum? Well, there’s one clear choice: Daniel Faust, because he’d have a break-out plan ready to roll in no time flat.
Do you read your book reviews? How do you deal with the good or the bad ones?
I read the reviews for my more recent books. Of course I’m always grateful for the good ones (and folks, you have no idea how precious those are for writers to receive). The bad ones fall into three categories, for me. There’s the kind that’s a clear mismatch; they wanted a story about X, and got a story about Y. And that’s fine! The first thing any writer must learn is that not every book is for every reader.
Then there’s the kind with criticism you can either take to heart, or not. The reader thought a particular element of the story didn’t work, or hated a particular character. Even if we ultimately just happen to disagree, it’s worth a moment of contemplation. Then there’s the obnoxious kind, the Comic Book Guy who projects his own issues onto an author’s work and wants a political soapbox, and/or manages to completely misunderstand the book they’ve allegedly read. (One of my favorite bad reviews was from the Daniel Faust series, where the reviewer complained about Daniel being a half-demon private eye living in Los Angeles. Literally none of that is correct.)
You can’t really do anything about the third kind but grow a thick skin. Also, share them with your friends so you can all point and laugh.
Are there any books that have been/ are being released in 2019 that you are excited to read?
Not at the moment; my to-be-read pile has reached a height that could topple over and crush me beneath it – I mean, if they were actual hardcopies and not e-books – so my current resolution is to plow through all the good stuff I haven’t read yet before looking forward to the new year. Wish me luck!
While you are locked in here for eternity, we will allow you one book – what would you choose?
I’d have to go with the Tao Te Ching. I’m not a Taoist, but if you want a book guaranteed to provide you with endless hours of contemplation and mysteries nested in every line, it’s a great choice. (I mean, if you only get one book, you want to make it last, right?)
Well then, we hope you’ll enjoy your stay in the Asylum! Any last words? *locks door*
Help! I need an adult.
If you’d like to get in contact with Craig Schaefer, you can find him on social media: