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State of the Schaefer, February 2018

Hey there, friends! We’re snug in the quiet spot between book releases, so I figured it was time for a general “State of the Schaefer” update. Maybe I should say “states,” since most of my time these last couple of months has been taken up with trying to move. I put my house on the market, aiming to relocate from Illinois to North Carolina. A number of my friends live out there, plus it puts me a short/cheap flight from my friends in NYC, so win-win.

Unfortunately, my productivity (and my blood pressure) has taken a beating in the process. Moving has been described as one of the most stressful events we can undergo, and I believe it. Beyond living out of packing boxes, nothing kills workflow like being immersed in writing a big scene only to find out that a realtor is coming to show the house and I have to clear out in fifteen minutes. Then coming home, getting back to work, and having to do it again twenty minutes later.

The process leaves an emotional residue, this continual uncertainty that leaves me feeling rootless, restless. Getting anything done requires constant effort, and mental exertion feels like rolling a boulder uphill. That said, I’m plugging away. There’s light at the end of the tunnel: the house has a buyer, it’s passed inspection and legal review, and if nothing goes haywire between now and then, the closing is on March 19th. Later this week I’m flying out to hunt for an apartment, and after that I’m winging up to New York for a mini-vacation and a salon being held by the amazing talents behind the Sycamore Theatre Company. (Yes, I’ve made an executive decision to take a couple of days off and relax – it’s a shock, I know.)

Fortunately, the manuscript for The Neon Boneyard is already finished, so it was immune to any moving-stress-induced delays. It’s still in editing, and I think we’re looking good for an April release. This is going to be a fun one. As the Man with the Cheshire Smile and the Network forge a (very) unstable truce, they turn to some out-of-town help to deal with their Vegas problem. And by “out of town,” I mean “from a parallel Earth.” Not one of the nice, friendly ones, either. As for Daniel, he’s been challenged to hunt down one of his most dangerous enemies…and save her life. Come April, things are going to be weird all over.

I’ve been talking with 47North Publishing about the future of the Harmony Black series, and I’ve got some news to share in the near future (this is going to demand a lengthy post of its own, it’s a long story) – I’ll try to bring you up to speed next month, ideally with info about the next book. In the meantime, we’ve signed a contract for an epic contemporary fantasy that’ll be out either very late this year or in 2019. It’s called Haunted Palaces, and it’s not quite like anything I’ve done before. It’s kind of this giant love letter to New York City, gothic romance literature, Hekate, and romantic comedies. I’m incredibly thankful that they’re taking a chance on publishing it.

On that note, feedback on Sworn to the Night is still coming in strong, and I’m so grateful that so many of you are enjoying it! We were hoping to have the audiobook version out by now, but Susannah came down with a cold and, well, you can’t get around that. I can write sick, but nobody can (or should) narrate sick. Her amazing voice is getting back into full health, and we’re hoping to have the audio ready by early March. I promise, it’ll be worth the wait.

And on my end, I’m currently working (slowly, under the circumstances, but doing my best) on the first draft of Detonation Boulevard, the sequel to Sworn to the Night. Our antiheroines are somewhere between Jersey City and Chicago at the moment and driving fast through the night. Then again, if you saw what was chasing them, you’d drive fast too.

That’s the update! There’s a big, exciting year ahead, and I can’t wait to share it all with you.

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A Word of Thanks

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A Word of Thanks

This book almost didn't come out.

It was a long road to the creation of Sworn to the Night, and what held me back more than anything was that old familiar companion of doubt. As a writer, I want to take chances, to push my boundaries, to create new and exciting things for you; as a businessperson, on the other hand, I know that the path to financial reward is marked by the stale and familiar. The last time I took a big artistic risk was the Revanche Cycle, which remains my lowest-selling, least-known series.

But you know me, that's not enough to stop me. Even when I could play it safe, I generally don't, which is why the Daniel Faust series has become less about magical powers and fighting monsters and leveling up, and more about a man finding his place in the world. From the feedback I've been getting on the last few books, that wasn't the safe choice, but it was the right one. Not every book I write is a hit, but this is a journey, you know? I'm still figuring this stuff out.

So, Sworn. I knew from the moment I started outlining that it would be a step outside my wheelhouse and outside my comfort zone. I was going to have to take a lot of risks and put my heart on the chopping block. When I shopped it around to a few publishers, the feedback largely boiled down to "we can't sell this." It's a book that involves a romance, but you're told on page two that there's no guarantee of a happily-ever-after (and also, the presumed-missing heroines just might have hunted down and murdered God, for reasons unknown). It's a book involving a dominant/submissive relationship, but it's not erotica. It's a dark contemporary fantasy almost guaranteed to disappoint someone hoping for a "good guys battle monsters while making snarky quips" urban-fantasy romp (i.e., exactly what sells right now). One of the women we're supposed to be rooting for is...to avoid spoilers, let's just use her preferred nomenclature, "lovably quirky."

It's a complicated salad of a story.

But real artists take chances. So last week I took a deep breath, hit the button, and unleashed Sworn to the Night upon the world. And you know what? One week later...it's arguably the best-received book I've ever written. As I write this, it's sitting at #3 in LGBT fantasy, has a plethora of five-star reviews, it's at an unprecedented (for me) 4.70 on Goodreads (my previous best-rated book, the Faust novel Double or Nothing, is 4.40), and readers seem to really dig it.

So thank you. Thank you for showing me that I can take chances. Heck, thanks for showing me I need to take chances, because when I have the courage to dig deep and paint these shadows on the page, you're willing to join me in the dance. It's gratifying and wonderful and makes my heart swell. Again, thank you.

You've also shown me that I need to knock the next two books in this trilogy out of the freakin' park. I mean, these things have to be printed on gold plates, to live up to book one. That's a tall order. But in times like this, I look to my spirit-guide Barney Stinson, and echo his timeless words of wisdom: "Challenge accepted."

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Is it early, or late? Both?

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Is it early, or late? Both?

Well, it was supposed to come out on Monday, then it was rescheduled for Friday, so of course we ended up splitting the difference: Sworn to the Night, the first book of the Wisdom’s Grave Trilogy, is out right now. The e-book version is live, the paperback version is being processed now and should be available within a day or so (if it’s not already up), and Susannah Jones is booking studio time at the end of the month for the audiobook adaptation so we’re hoping to have that available around mid-February.

I’ll be honest, I’ve never been this nervous about a book launch before. I’m trying to do something new with this trilogy, to stretch my wings, hone my writing style and improve my art. Sworn to the Night is the longest book I’ve ever written and easily the darkest; please don’t go in expecting a light, snarky urban-fantasy romp. More than that, though… you know how, on some cooking-competition shows, contestants always say, “This dish is me on a plate?” This trilogy is me on a page. I’ve had to take myself to some very vulnerable places, writing this thing – had to allow myself to BE vulnerable, exposed in the words – though of course I don’t even know if any of that will come across on a reader’s end. Maybe it’s all in my head. We’ll see.

So I’m nervous but doing it anyway. Which is how many of the best things in life begin.

In other news, we’re working hard on the next Daniel Faust novel, the Neon Boneyard, which is still on track for release sometime in April. The manuscript is all done, and we’re just beginning the editing and cover design process. I’ll have an announcement with some details about the next book in the Harmony Black series in a couple of months, most likely, but it’s too early to talk about a release date.

And with that, I’m back to work.

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Friday. We're doing this.

Happy new year, everyone! Here's hoping that 2018 is filled with delight for you and yours, and at the very least a marked improvement over 2017. We can make this happen. And speaking of making things happen, the final edits for Sworn to the Night are in my hands and my one and only new year's resolution is to get this book out this coming Friday, January the fifth. It's a timeline one might generously call...a bit on the tight/stressful side? But I'm going to get this done.

While I go and dive into a lake of red ink, working through about a million edits, I figured it'd be a good time for an official cover reveal! And with it, though I'm still tweaking it some, here's the more or less official blurb:

"Marie Reinhart is an NYPD detective on the trail of a serial killer. When she sleeps, though, she dreams of other lives; she dreams of being a knight, in strange wars and strange worlds. On the other side of the city, Nessa Roth is a college professor trapped in a loveless marriage, an unwilling prop in a political dynasty. She's also a fledgling witch, weaving poppets and tiny spells behind closed doors.

When Marie's case draws her into Nessa's path, sparks fly. What comes next is more than a furtive whirlwind affair; it's the first pebbles of an avalanche. Nessa and Marie are the victims of a curse that has pursued them across countless lifetimes; a doom designed to trap them in a twisted living fairy tale, with their romance fated to end in misery and death. 

They aren't going out without a fight. As they race to uncover the truth, forces are in motion across the country. In Las Vegas, a professional thief is sent on a deadly heist. In a Detroit back alley, witches gather under the guidance of a mysterious woman in red. Just outside New York, an abandoned zoo becomes the hunting-ground for servants of a savage and alien king. The occult underground is taking sides and forming lines of battle. Time is running out, and Nessa and Marie have one chance to save themselves, break the curse, and demand justice.

This time, they're writing their own ending."

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One More Week

Good morning, everybody. It pains me to do this, but Sworn to the Night has to be delayed -- just one week, though. Now we're looking at releasing it somewhere between Friday, January 5th, and Monday the 8th. The exact dates are still up in the air, so I don't want to give anything firmer than that until we're 100% certain.

Long story short, a member of my team had some unavoidable life-getting-in-the-way issues, as happens to all of us once in a while, and as a result the manuscript is still in editing. Not going into details because I'm the captain of this particular ship and any delays are my responsibility. I was really looking forward to sharing this new adventure with you on New Year's Day, and I'm sorry it's not going to happen, but we're almost there. I promise, it'll be worth the wait.

The e-book version will be out first, with the paperback available on the same day or within a day or two of release. The audio version will be delayed further (since Susannah can't start recording until the finished book is in her hands), but hopefully we'll start rolling on that shortly. And I'll be taking this as a learning experience, refining my production flow and trying to ensure this doesn't happen again. Thanks for your patience, and as soon as the book is ready to go, I'll be shouting it from the rooftops. Or just, you know, writing a message about it. That's probably more efficient.

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Holiday Sale? Why Not?

Before we get to the good stuff, I wanted to bring a quick update on Sworn to the Night. I'd hoped to have it done, locked in and even up for pre-order by now, but we've had some delays in the editing process and it's still being worked on. There's a chance we might miss the New Year's Day release date, but I'm going to do my absolute best to get it done. If it does slip, it'll only be by a few days -- it's definitely coming out in January, no matter what. I'll let you know as soon as I know for certain.

Meanwhile, how about a sale? The Complete Revanche Cycle is on sale for $2.99, down from the usual price of $9.99. That's all four books in one, over 400,000 words, and many of those words are in the correct order. It's also on sale on Amazon's UK site for a commensurate amount of...pounds? Pence? Quid? I don't understand British money. But it's definitely on sale, on both sites, until 12/27.

Also on sale until 12/27, The Long Way Down (first book of the Daniel Faust series) is going for ninety-nine cents. And because I feel like it and I said so, the novella The White Gold Score is free until Sunday. Download it, read it, bake it in a pie, do whatever you want, it's free.

Right now I'm plugging away at the manuscript for The Neon Boneyard, and I think it's going to be a fun ride. Though I have to warn you, there's a scene in this thing that made me stop writing, stare at my screen and say, "Oh, that's not right. That's not okay. That's not okay at all. Who writes something like that?"

Also, Nicky and the Twins are back, Daniel goes to the worst party ever, and Freddie Vinter flies in from Chicago to help Caitlin with a Very Important Dress. Also there's some gunfights and magic and explosions and such. And with that, I'm back to work!

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The Cutting-Room Floor

Just like movies, not everything that goes into a book makes it to the final page. Sometimes this happens during the editorial process, where an editor will point out how a story angle isn't working or could be reshaped to come across more strongly. Other times (most of the time, in my case), it's stuff that's cut and reworked during the first draft or even during the outlining stage. It's interesting to look back over my old notes and think about what might have been, if I'd made different decisions along the line.

To that end, I thought it might be fun to do a periodic series where I reveal some changes from past books. Before we start, I wanted to give a quick shout-out; Maggie Riley Harper is my steadfast assistant (who you can see thanked as Maggie Faid in the afterword of all my novels). She also writes poetry, and she's started a Patreon -- so if you like good poetry, check her out.

So, without further delay, here are five items from my cutting-room floor.

1. There were two Daniel Faust novels before The Long Way Down.

The Long Way Down was roughly my seventh completed novel. The first six were practice and don't count, nor will they be seen by the light of day. As much as I cringe, looking at some of my earliest published work (and still do now, but I keep working and trying to improve), these were -- as most writers' first books are -- just plain lousy.

That said, two of them were proto-Faust novels. They were set in Chicago (the city I was most familiar with, and research was just a car ride away), and Daniel actually worked for the Mancuso Family (who would eventually find a place in print, opposing him and the Vegas crew in The Castle Doctrine). When I decided to take some of the basic elements of the books for the first "real" Faust novel, the setting was the first thing to change. As Maggie pointed out, "You're writing a first-person novel about a modern-day magician who does detective work. No matter what, people are going to accuse you of ripping off the Dresden Files. Why make it harder on yourself?"

Of course, that turned out to be a blessing in disguise, as the Vegas setting fits the characters and themes far better than Chicago ever could have. I also had to laugh when I later watched an interview with Jim Butcher and he revealed that the Dresden Files were originally going to be set in St. Louis, but friends told him he was already going to be accused of ripping off Anita Blake, so why make it harder on himself?

Everything is a circle.

2. Daniel Faust had a familiar.

This was an element from the proto-novels that almost made it into the real series. Daniel had a familiar, a feathery floating serpent-spirit that, when it wasn't following him around, lived in a wax dinosaur souvenir from the Field Museum. It was interesting, but not much of an actual character, and its only real ability (shorting out electronics by flying through them) turned out to be seriously overpowered.

The power issue could be easily fixed, and there was nothing horribly wrong with the concept, but the end of the day, I couldn't really come up with a reason for it to be in the story. So, out it went.

3. In the Revanche Cycle, the witches' glade was in New Jersey.

When Mari is brought to the coven glade in Terms of Surrender, her first reaction is one of horror: Nessa has been teaching her the stars by night, and the stars over the glade aren't the ones she knows. The Dire Mother's cairn is clearly Elsewhere, maybe very far elsewhere.

Maybe...the New Jersey Pine Barrens?

The original draft did, in fact, strongly imply that the glade was right here on our Earth. There was even a bit, outlined but never written, where Mari saw the shadow of a plane passing overhead (and lost her shit, as one would). This was a case of a change made because of the rules of the fictional universe. Readers have noted that despite being set in the same multiverse, magic doesn't work in Revanche like it does in the Faust/Black novels. It's markedly more powerful, and users have to guard themselves against Shadow-sickness (a concept that mages from our Earth aren't even aware of).

There's a reason for that, one that will be explored in next year's Wisdom's Grave Trilogy. Suffice to say, though, the differential made it impossible that Nessa's coven would hold their gatherings in Jersey. Everyone would have noticed the bizarre shift in the currents of magic (and the Dire Mother, held together by sorcery and hate, probably wouldn't have even been able to exist in our world). So, that was an idea I really liked, but it had to go.

4. There was a longer My Little Pony reference in Double or Nothing.

I try to avoid using too many pop-culture references in my books; they can date a manuscript fast, and come off as jarring or worse, pandering. And of course, the craze that everybody knows about today is a "huh?" to tomorrow's reader. (Remember when Harlem Shake videos were all over the internet? That was huge. When's the last time you even thought about the Harlem Shake?)

Of course, sometimes they still slip in there. When Daniel brings Circe to his apartment in Double or Nothing, she discovers the wonders of television along with "the cartoon with the singing horses." There was originally a bit, cut for the above reasons, that took it a step further. Daniel, distracted, tells her "I think you'll like the pink one best." Then later in the book, once Circe regains her grasp of language, she tells him: "Your assessment was incorrect. I did enjoy the antics of the pink pony, but I prefer the purple one. I find her situation...relatable."

5. Harmony Black was supposed to be a dragon.

Yes, a freakin' dragon. This was another element from the proto-books, which didn't make it into the final story because... c'mon. Because she was supposed to be a dragon. That's why.

Seriously, though, the Faust series originally had a completely different cosmology and backstory. God and Lucifer weren't missing and the Kings didn't exist, nor did the endlessly reincarnating characters of the First Story, or even the idea of a multiverse of parallel worlds. It was, instead, a kitchen-sink "all the gods and monsters of every culture ever are real" kind of thing, tied in with a mystery about a cataclysmic event that drove most of them underground centuries ago.

It was pretty boring.

When I started serious work on the "real" books, I wanted something weirder, scarier, and tighter. More Twin Peaks than the D&D Monster Manual. So, everything changed, the old cosmology went out the window -- and with it, the dragons.

And that's it for the cutting-room floor! Thanks for taking a trip down the halls of What Might Have Been with me. If folks dig it, we'll do another of these soon. Now I'm back to work on the first draft of The Neon Boneyard...and I can't wait to tell you what changed between the outline and the story this time around, but I'd better wait until the book comes out.

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Cold Spectrum: The Truth is Now

Good morning and happy Halloween, everybody! I have something a little better than candy this year -- Cold Spectrum, the fourth novel in the Harmony Black series, is available now. This book marks the culmination of the first big series story arc, with plenty of twists and turns (or, dare I say it, tricks and treats?)

Okay, I'm getting a little corny with the Halloween stuff there. (Maybe even...candy corn-y? Okay, okay, I'll stop.)

I do hope you enjoy it! Meanwhile, I'm still working hard on the first draft of the next Daniel Faust novel, The Neon Boneyard, which should be coming your way in April of 2018. And as we speak, my editor is lashing her red pen across the pages of Sworn to the Night, the first book in the Wisdom's Grave trilogy; we're still on track to have that one out around New Year's Day.

And with that, it's time for your faithful scribe to get back to work. No rest for the wicked (though I'll be fueling myself with coffee AND chocolate peanut-butter cups.)

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Year Three

Yesterday was a very special anniversary; I almost posted about it, but then I realized today was even more important. Two years ago, yesterday, I put in my resignation at my day job and quit to pursue my lifelong dream of becoming a full-time writer.

Today, though? Today is the start of year three.

Yesterday was a celebration. Today is a challenge. A challenge to keep honing my craft, upping my game, working to tell the very best stories I can. I suppose every morning starts that way, from the second I sit down behind the keyboard (with coffee mug in hand) and fire up the word processor, but the significance of the date carries a keen awareness of it.

In the immortal words of Barney Stinson, "Challenge accepted."

If year one was about finding my footing, and year two was about finding my flow, year three is about taking some risks. The first book of the Wisdom's Grave trilogy is landing in January, and I know it's going to be a divisive novel; it's the darkest thing I've ever written and it's likely not going to be a commercial success, but like the Revanche Cycle, it's a story I needed to write. Likewise, it's too early to get into details, but my publisher is evaluating a freshly-finished manuscript that represents a break from my usual style; it's sort of a Gaiman-esque fairy tale, an ode to New York City and the Lady in Red.

(On that note, a few people have guessed who the Lady is. Naturally, you'll find out for certain in year three.)

The Harmony Black series is about to undergo a swing in direction and momentum; I'd tell you why, but spoilers. Let's just say that by the last chapter of Cold Spectrum, you'll know exactly what I'm talking about. And as for the Faust series...well, Daniel is Daniel. He spent most of 2017 growing up, shedding his baggage, and finding his footing. 2018 will find him leaner, meaner, and ready for the fight of his life.

So many stories yet to be told, and I can't wait to share them with you. On that note, my coffee's running low. I'm gonna brew another cup and get back to work.

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Sales? We got 'em.

Happy October, everybody! It's my favorite month of the year, and even better this time around because the fourth Harmony Black novel, Cold Spectrum, is coming out on Halloween morning. To ramp up to the release, my publisher has priced the e-book versions of the first three books in the series at $1.99, all month long.

They also asked me to do a cross-promo thing, I agreed, and Double or Nothing has been priced at $1.60 as a Kindle monthly deal. Why $1.60? I...don't know, actually. Seriously, what costs a buck-sixty? I can only assume there's some kind of Math Science happening behind the scenes here. But their weird pricing strategy could be your gain!

I've spent the last month in deadline hell, getting Sworn to the Night, the first book of the Wisdom's Grave trilogy, shaped up and ready to send to my editor. It's looking like we're nicely on track for a January release. I've also been working on The Neon Boneyard, the next Daniel Faust novel, which you can also expect early in 2018. And putting the finishing touches on a project that's way too early to talk about yet. As it stands, it looks like I can finally take a few days off right after Halloween. No sleep 'till Brooklyn!

(Well, no sleep 'till Manhattan, anyway. I like to stay at the High Line when I'm in NYC. Beautiful hotel, and it's walking distance from the McKittrick.)

That's all my news for now, I've gotta get back to work on these pre-edit edits. Book discounts all month long, have fun, and keep it spooky.

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