After laying down the law, Yarmouth dad turns app author

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YARMOUTH — Andrew Schaefer was a little bit lost.

He’d quit law after 12 years as an attorney with Chicago firms Winston & Strawn and Mayer Brown, and he wasn’t trying to go back. But his new master’s degree in urban history was collecting dust, and staying home with infant twins while his wife practiced medicine was proving to be less than fulfilling.

“I wouldn’t call it a mid-life crisis, but it was in the same vein,” Schaefer said. “I needed to do something so it wasn’t just 24 hours a day of changing poopie diapers and singing ‘Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star.’ Or I was going to go crazy.”

About two years ago, he was surfing the Apple App Store, looking for something his kids could play on his phone, when he stumbled upon “Choice of Broadsides,” an interactive novel in which the reader plays the role of a historic naval captain fighting French frigates. “Broadsides” is one of dozens of titles from Choice of Games, a company that publishes “text-based, multiple-choice games” inspired by Bantam Books’ Choose Your Own Adventure series from the ’80s and ’90s.

Schaefer liked the concept. And so, inspired by works like Frank Herbert’s “Dune” and Arthur C. Clarke’s “The Songs of Distant Earth,” he wrote and produced “Planetary Quarantine,” an interactive science-fiction novel that launched this month via Choice of Games on the App and Google Play stores.

“I used to be a big-firm lawyer in Chicago, then I became a full-time diaper changer, and now I steal a few moments to write computer apps in places like Royal Bean,” said Schaefer, 43, who moved with his family to Yarmouth one year ago. “Just another dude sitting with his laptop.”

“Planetary Quarantine” tells the story of a government officer charged with cataloguing the possessions of interstellar travelers – and destroying subversive literature, art and artifacts that could poison life on a newly colonized planet.

“You have this theme of scrubbing people and getting rid of ideas, but in most versions of the game, they eventually sneak back in,” Schaefer said. “It’s like, you can take away all the swear words, but they’ll just invent new ones for the same concept.”

The story, told in the second person, forces the reader to make hundreds of choices, big and small, as an intergalactic conspiracy unfolds. The consequences of most decisions aren’t immediately evident. But over time, the way you play will put you on one of several paths toward very different endings.

“You can end up as a happy farmer in the middle of nowhere, just reading poetry to yourself every day,” Schaefer said. “Or you can be a spaceship captain, jetting off to chart new worlds. Or you can get stabbed in the back.”

Creating “Planetary Quarantine” has been an energizing experience for Schaefer, a first-time writer with no prior publishing credits. Today, he’s putting that urban history degree to use on a non-fiction book about Rome after the fall of the empire. He’s also working on another interactive title for Choice of Games, a World War I adventure about an infantryman at the Battle of Somme.

And, of course, he still works full-time as a stay-at-home dad. On a recent weekday morning, Astrid and Graeme, now 2 1/2, ran around the house, rode bikes, snuggled on Schaefer’s lap and took selfies on his iPhone. The family dog, Ziggy, barked from the bay window.

“I was actually kind of proud of myself that I finished this,” Schaefer said of “Planetary Quarantine.” “It’s not really that easy for me to focus. And you can’t make it a priority because the kids are always the priority. But it’s been a good experience. It was something intellectually stimulating I fit into my free time.”

Brendan Twist can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 123 or Follow him on Twitter: @brendantwist.

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Andrew Schaefer and son Graeme at their home in Yarmouth. Schaefer recently published the interactive sci-fi novel “Planetary Quarantine.”