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Yesterday’s post of a Toastmasters speech reminds me that I have another one in my back pocket, a (purportedly) humorous one called “Noble Misfits of the Work Force.” It is presented here for your edification:

If there’s a singular reason I’ve survived twenty-two years as a professional journalist – aside from being of questionable character and having no other marketable skill, I mean – it’s the people. Journalists, by and large, are the noble misfits of the professional class. Most of them – emphasis on “most” – are smart enough to be tremendously successful in any other line of work: high finance, the arts, street peddling. Instead, they choose journalism. Why? A million reasons, and some of them actually brush up against the idea of digging out the truth and exposing corruption. (Me, I chose it because I wanted a profession that let me sleep in until noon and made me just enough money to remain well-stocked in pizza and compact discs. I’m glad that this crowd is sufficiently unhip that I don’t have to explain an antiquity like “compact disc.”)

Suffice to say that the profession attracts people who skate on the other side of the ice. People who march to the beat of a different drum. People who view life through a different lens. People who overuse metaphors. Some of my older colleagues contend that the heyday for the noble misfit was actually several decades ago, that the most colorful days of journalism ended when newspapers added HR departments and began frowning on those who carried flasks in their desk drawers. Poppycock, I say! The times no doubt have demanded that alterations be made, but I find that the flask fits perfectly fine in my overcoat.

It’s been my pleasure to know some of these irascible characters in my career, and today, I would like to introduce you to a few of them:

THE TWISTED WIRE EDITOR

A wire editor, my friends, is someone who gathers the news from the various cooperatives – the Associated Press, etc. – and condenses that huge pile of offerings into a daily report inside your newspaper. When you’re a wire editor, you quickly become numb to man’s ghastly capacity for unmentionable cruelty. Whether it’s police brutality in Poughkeepsie, shootings in Saratoga, murder-suicide in Milwaukee or beheadings in Birmingham, a wire editor reads it all.

One of my colleagues in San Jose, Calif., who held this job would meticulously harvest the lead paragraphs of stories of mayhem and transplant them onto a take he kept squirreled away in his personal queue. There, he would perform a bit of mad-genius surgery to the snippet of story, removing the name of the perpetrator and inserting a new one:

Mother Teresa’s.

Thus, someone reading this take would come across items like this:

“SAN BERNARDINO, Calif. – Police say that Mother Teresa was arrested Friday after a traffic stop and search that revealed she was carrying three tons of marijuana in the trailer of her semi-truck.”

“ELKO, Nev. – Mother Teresa was taken into custody Wednesday after a four-hour armed conflict in which two police officers were shot, one critically.”

“JORDAN, Mont. – Mother Teresa is being held on $15,000 bail after being arrested and charged in the poaching of seven elk.”

We don’t know why this wire editor did this. (In truth, we don’t know why he’s still walking around as a free man.) But the point is, he was perfectly at home in a newsroom. Celebrated, even.

THE RECALCITRANT SPORTS EDITOR

I didn’t witness this, but I have it on good authority that it went down this way.

It’s a Friday night in 1968, and the sports desk at the Fort Worth Star-Telegram is humming along at a brisk pace when the elevator pings and two men who don’t belong in a newsroom step off. (When you work in a newsroom, you develop a sixth sense for interlopers. They have personal hygiene. Their socks match. That sort of thing.) They make a beeline for Charles Clines, who was working that night, and say, “Is Charles Clines working tonight?”

Charlie, as he was known, says, “I’m not sure. Let me check the schedule.” He walks to the opposite wall, puts his finger on the schedule, and says, “Nope. He’s off tonight.” The two men thank him and head back to the elevator. Unfortunately for Charlie, his coworkers launch a long, cascading laugh, and the two men pivot and walk back into the newsroom, past the sports desk, on their way to the managing editor’s office. Charlie, figuring he’s done for but showing the can-do spirit of a desperate fugitive, dashes into a side office, shuts the door and turns off the light.

It’s all for naught. The managing editor and the two men show up, unlock the office door, and place Charlie in handcuffs. The men were cops, and the reason they came for Charlie is that he hadn’t paid his parking tickets. Ever. He was paraded through the newsroom and received a standing ovation.

(The reason I know this story? Charlie is my stepfather.)

FINALLY, A LOVE LETTER TO THE PEOPLE WE COVER

The first two examples I cited were people inside the newsroom. But at least half the fun of the profession lies in who you get to know outside the office.

Down in central Texas sits a town that’s spelled M-E-X-I-A. It’s famously mispronounced even by longtime Texans; it’s not MEX-ia, but MA-HEY-UH. Back when Grant Teaff coached the football team at Baylor, he made a recruiting visit to that town and, as the story goes, he stopped off at a local restaurant for a bite to eat.

“Ma’am,” he says to the woman behind the counter, “I always get this wrong. Could you tell me again, real slow, where I am?”

The woman looks at him and says, “DAI-REE QUEEEEEN.”

Finally, here’s one that actually happened to me:

Early in my career, maybe 1990 or 1991, I’m covering the Texas Golden Gloves at the Will Rogers Coliseum in Fort Worth. One of the championship fights comes down to a Dallas fighter against a Fort Worth fighter. Given the pro-Fort Worth bias of the crowd, the Dallas fighter is lustily booed, both as he enters the ring and throughout the fight. Despite facing this hostility, the Dallas fighter ends up winning in a knockout.

I hightail it back to the interview area and catch him as his gloves are being cut off.

“So,” I say, “did the boos motivate you?”

He flashes with anger, balls up his fists and says, “Naw, man, I don’t drink.”

Too bad. I had this flask, right there in my overcoat …

I’ve been involved with Toastmasters for a couple of months now. I joined the group to iron out my public-speaking skills, now that I actually do a fair amount of it. I’ve never had a lot of trouble with structuring a speech or being entertaining (please refrain from offering a rebuttal of this second point), but I have a painfully well-developed penchant for littering my speech with “um” and “you know” and “whatever and stuff” and all manner of other fillers. For all-too-cringeworthy examples of this, check out the AV page at CraigLancaster.net. Or don’t. You’ll probably be happier with the latter choice.

In any event, today I presented a speech to my Toastmasters club called “The Accidental Novelist.” There was sufficient demand for it among my peeps at Facebook that I thought I’d go ahead and post it here:

Today I wish to tell you how the worst day of my life led me to the fulfillment of my biggest dream. But first, a little background on that dream …

I wrote my first novel, 600 Hours of Edward, in 24 days of November in 2008, was finished revising it by February 2009 and sold it to the first publisher who looked at it. It came out in October 2009 and has since been named a Montana Honor Book and a finalist for a High Plains Book Award. Zero to published in less than a year. Man, I thought, this novel-writing stuff is going to be a cinch.

Then I wrote my second novel.

The differences were stark. I drafted The Summer Son over three arduous months in the summer of 2009, turned it over to my beta readers – a group of people I trust to give me honest feedback on my work (which is to say, none of them is my mother) – and watched them drive Buicks through the holes in the plot. So I wrote it a second time, rearranging pieces of the story, backfilling details, cutting out the useless bits and generally turning my work area into a bloodbath of narrative body parts.

I’d have given my second effort to my beta readers, but for one niggling fact: I hated it.

So back I went, through a third, a fourth and a fifth draft. The original manuscript, which checked in at around 79,000 words, lost weight and gained focus. Late in the fourth draft, I finally discovered what the story was really about – the beating heart beneath the prose – and my pace quickened as I saw the solutions to all the problems I’d put in my own path. By June 2010, I had a finished manuscript, at just a shade under 72,000 words. It promptly sold, and now I await a January 25th release date.

A 12-month, five-draft slog to Book No. 2. Man, I thought, this novel-writing stuff is going to kill me.

The truth of the matter is this: It was only after almost literally killing myself that I embraced my long-held dream of being a novelist. In July 2008, just a few months before I wrote 600 Hours of Edward in a literary frenzy, I cajoled my wife into letting me have a motorcycle, bought it in Sidney – because, you know, why not purchase a death machine 260 miles from home? – and began piloting it back to Billings. Thirty-seven miles from home, at 60 miles per hour on Interstate 94, I went down when a buck jumped in my path. I bounced through the passing lane and came to rest in the median strip. The damage, while not fatal (obviously), was plenty bad: I broke all the ribs on my left side, collapsed a lung, lacerated my spleen, wrenched my left knee and tore up my elbows with road rash. The impact blew off my shoes and wrenched my wedding ring from my finger. Recuperation came with a weeklong hospital stay, another month at home in a recliner (because of my ribs, I couldn’t lie flat on my back) and enough pain medication to turn me into a drug dealer, had I so chosen.

In the month that I was out of commission and unable to do much but sit and think, my mind wandered. I knew how fortunate I was; at that speed, on that terrain, one shift in the geometry might have done me in. I was lucky that Ang was following me in our Ford Explorer – not so wonderful for her to witness the wreck, but she was able to call in help immediately. In the days and weeks that followed, I endured nightmares about the wreck, nighttime visions that still occasionally visit me. But I also found my thoughts drifting toward goals I’d once had for my life, and notable among those was a desire to write books. Here’s the deal: I can’t tell you how many people come up to me and say, “I have a novel inside me, I just know it.” For years, I was one of those people. Do you know why most of those novels never get written? BECAUSE IT’S HARD. More than that, it’s because we all harbor dreams about what we want to do, but for many of us, the day-to-day demands of life crowd in, and those dreams wither on the vine.

Sometimes, it takes a powerful jolt to shake those aspirations loose, to remind us that we really do have only one life and one chance to pursue happiness. A motorcycle wreck, for example. On July 22, the day after my wreck, I might have spit in the eye of anyone suggesting that I’d received a gift, but that’s exactly what it was. It was a gift of perspective.

600 Hours of Edward changed my life; there’s simply no way to adequately capture what it’s meant to hear from people who’ve been moved by it. The Summer Son, a darker, more psychological, more personal story, promises to give even more lift to my literary dreams. The great Western novelist Richard Wheeler, in endorsing my new book, wrote: “The Summer Son travels straight into the realm of broken hearts and hurt souls only to discover miraculous things at the core of each of us: grace and love.”

Grace and love. That’s pretty heady stuff for a guy who was just trying to get home one very bad day in July and ended up crashing into a new way of looking at his life.

I announced the news of AmazonEncore’s acquiring The Summer Son a while ago. Today, the publishing company announced its Spring 2011 list, and sure enough, the new novel is right there among some provocative offerings.

From the release:

“The Summer Son,” by novelist Craig Lancaster, explores the complexities of family dynamics and two men’s turbulent journey toward healing. Mitch Quillen is nearly 40 and facing the quintessential midlife crisis: a career going nowhere, a marriage slowly dying and a tumultuous relationship with his father. When he is beset by mysterious phone calls from his father, he travels to Montana to face the man that he holds responsible for much of his discontent. Lancaster, a journalist and novelist, is the author of “600 Hours of Edward,” named a Montana Honor Book. He lives in Billings, Mont., with his wife and two dachshunds. “The Summer Son” will be published on Jan. 25.

The next few months will be exciting as the book lands in the hands of reviewers and pre-readers. I’ll have my fingers crossed for some nice buzz as the Jan. 25 release approaches.

For more information on The Summer Son and the other AmazonEncore titles, check out this link. I would be remiss if I didn’t point out that Amazon has the new novel priced at a 32 percent discount. Pre-order today and it’ll be on your doorstep on the day of release.

By the way: If you go to my website, CraigLancaster.net, and click the cover image for The Summer Son, it will carry you to a page where you can read the first chapter.

Nine years after that terrible day, I’m still at a loss to describe my feelings. This is a hard thing for a newsman to admit, but we were a few hours into it before I became aware of what was happening. It was my day off, and for whatever reason, instead of idly flipping on the TV, as I would usually do, I just puttered around the house. Nobody called, not even the office. When I finally did turn on the TV and see the image of the plane looping around and then crashing into the tower, I just went numb. A few seconds later, I saw the second one and my knees went out from under me. And there I stayed.

A group of my friends, guys who have been in a fantasy football league together since the early ’90s and gather yearly for a draft and convention, were in the city that day, and at some point, I scrambled to a computer in an effort to find out if they were all safe. They were, thank God. And then it was back to the TV.

The litany of horrors — towers pierced and then toppled, a plane crashed into a field in Pennsylvania, yet another plowed into the Pentagon — was almost too much to comprehend. I watched and watched. I prayed. I burned with anger, confusion, frustration. Just like everybody else.

I also felt distress on a deeply psychological level. For as long as I could remember, I’d had a specific death dream. I was in an airplane, flying low. It would slide under overpasses, above city streets, until it was aimed directly at an insurmountable obstacle and … I woke up. I couldn’t begin to count the number of mornings I awoke, sweaty and with choppy breath, as a plane I rode in my subconscious headed, yet again, for a collision with some object rooted to the earth.

9/11 was the reality of my most common nightmare, multiplied by 2,996.

To say I’d always been a reluctant flyer is to cheapen the word “reluctant.” As it turned out, I had a ticket in hand for a trip to Texas in November 2001, and in the wake of 9/11, I had deep fear that I wouldn’t be able to bring myself to step onto the plane. Flying, for me, had always been a triumph of selfish pragmatism — the ease of movement eventually winning out over my fear of putting myself at the mercy of a pilot I didn’t know and machinery I couldn’t trust. Rationally and statistically, I knew my objections were silly. But rationale doesn’t hold a lot of currency when your dreams send you continually crashing into buildings and you’ve just seen that same horror play out in the conscious world.

My day of travel arrived, and I sucked down liquid courage in a bar at the San Jose airport before boarding. A funny thing happened next. I slept — deeply. I didn’t feel the plane take off, and I didn’t pull out of it till the wheels touched the ground at D/FW. When I went home a few days later, the same thing occurred. On the dozens of flights since, I’ve either slept or sanguinely sat through my ride. No more white knuckles. No more thumping day-of-travel fear.

I cannot explain it. Don’t really care to have an explanation. On a day that took so much from all of us, I somehow retrieved a small scrap of my fear and stashed it for good. I would give it back, in a heartbeat, if it meant that the losses of that day went away. The galvanizing national experience of 9/11 manifests itself in our lives in so many ways, and for me, one of those is what I remember every time I get on a plane.

The 9/11 victims.

Tuesday afternoon, I pointed the nose of the family SUV north, toward Fort Benton, for a long-planned visit with the Chouteau County Friends of the Library. And, I’m sorry to say, I made a huge logistical blunder.

Twenty miles into the trip — too far to turn back but still 200 miles from my destination — I realized that I had exactly one CD. The one in the player. The one I’d been listening to for weeks. The one with at least two songs marred by skips.

What could I do? I pressed on.

At Eddie’s Corner, the junction known to all who venture into central Montana, I stopped for bodily relief and provisions. And I found this:

Oh, HELL, yes! Schlock rock would be my salvation.

Here’s the track listing, with my mini-review of each song:

1. “You’re No Good,” Linda Ronstadt. Every day, and twice on Saturday.

2. “Jackie Blue,” Ozark Mountain Daredevils. I have no beef.

3. “That’s the Way (I Like It),” K.C. and the Sunshine Band. Skip.

4. “Must of Got Lost,” J Geils Band. Meh.

5. “Why Can’t We Be Friends,” War. Once is enough.

7. “Philadelphia Freedom,” Elton John. A big, fat yes.

8. “Black Water,” Doobie Brothers. A nice slice of the seventies.

9. “Love is a Rose,” Linda Ronstadt. I’m always in favor of Linda, but this isn’t a particularly strong example of her work.

10. “How Long,” Ace. Sure. Yeah. Okay.

11. “Dance With Me,” Orleans. Acceptable in strict moderation.

12. “Free Bird,” Lynyrd Skynyrd. It’s become a parody, but it’s good southern-friend stuff.

13. “You Are So Beautiful,” Joe Cocker. A keeper.

14. “Feel Like Makin Love,” Bad Company. Heard it too many times.

15. “Lady Marmalade,” LaBelle. Funk yeah!

16. “Pick Up the Pieces,” Average White Band. Skip.

17. “Island Girl,” Elton John. This song, which I’ll listen to in full any time it comes on because of John’s hooks, pisses me off in more ways than I can possibly describe. Another blog post, perhaps.

18. “Some Kind of Wonderful,” Grand Funk. Eh.

19. “The Hustle,” Van McCoy. Absolute garbage.

20. “Let’s Do It Again,” The Staple Singers. Yeah, okay.

You may have noticed by now that one song is missing — song No. 6, the best on the album, and yet a song so affected by two flaws that I think of its missed potential rather than the considerable sweet spot that it absolutely occupies.

The song: “Sister Golden Hair,” by America.

You know the song:

This tune, an earworm if there ever was one, is so close to being the perfect soft-pop gem that it kills me to deny it entry into the pantheon of greatness. Listen to that clip, if you haven’t already. The tuneful intro, the earnest vocals, the deft changes in tempo. It does everything a great song is supposed to do; it moves you around the emotional spectrum, and it hooks like a one-armed boxer. Like I said, it’s almost perfect.

But perfect it ain’t. Two big reasons:

First, the title is just horrible, and it’s made worse by adding the word “surprise” in the body of the song. “Sister Golden Hair Surprise” sounds like a misadventure in baking, man. It sounds like a surprise I don’t want. “Would you like another slice of Sister Golden Hair Surprise?” “No, thanks, I’ve had plenty.” And it’s not like those words really mean anything or have some sonic value that couldn’t be replicated by better-chosen words. I don’t care how spot-on the rest of a song is. When you screw up the title and two parts of the lyrics, you’ve devalued the work.

Finally, the extended shoo-bop outro is a poor-fitting add-on, like a wooden outhouse behind a steel-and-glass office building. It sounds, to these ears, that Gerry Beckley and the boys didn’t know how to end their song, so they just do this weird jam thing. End the song! Just end it. You have a near perfect song and you’re spoiling it by not knowing when it should come to an end. You see this a lot, in all kinds of artistic endeavors. It’s like people don’t know how to edit anymore. They just keep going and going, assaulting your ears or your eyes with nonsense, until finally you scream, “Please, for the love of all that is holy, just bring this to an

New to the blogroll today (and only because I was lazy about 10 days ago, when it launched):

Jim Thomsen, gentleman and blogger.

Reading Kitsap, by my good friend Jim Thomsen.

While the blog does play to a Kitsap County, Wash., core audience, Jim has some ambitious plans for it. As he said in the introductory post: “It’s my hope that this becomes the one stop for all news about our writing, publishing, bookselling and book-sharing communities.”

So far, he’s been true to his words. He’s had items on writers (including the awesome Jonathan Evison, who has come in for some praise here), provocative posts about how technology is changing our reading habits, riffs on book design and all kinds of other fabulous stuff. One of the best parts of my day is when a new post hits my e-mail box.

And if you think I might be trying to figure out some way to connect myself to Kitsap County so I can wedge my way into this blog … you’re right!

A few days ago, a nice woman named Lynne wrote to me and said how much she enjoyed 600 Hours of Edward (always wonderful to hear) and that her book club was reading it (ditto). I wrote back and asked where her book club is, expecting to hear Billings or someplace else here in Montana.

I was a bit off: It’s in Sachse, Texas. (Sachse, which I’d never heard of, is a mere 47 miles from my hometown, North Richland Hills, Texas.)

While I won’t be able to make an in-person visit to Lynne’s club, we’re working on piping me in via conference call. In the meantime, I invited her to send me a list of questions to answer via e-mail. Here’s a look at those, and the answers I sent back:

1. Since this is your first book, has the idea been in your head for a long time?

The funny thing about this story is that it wasn’t until my head until a couple of days before I started writing it. A friend of mine, Jim Thomsen, asked me in late October of 2008 if I’d try National Novel Writing Month with him (NaNoWriMo, as it’s called, happens every November, with the challenge being to put down 50,000 or more words in the month). At first, I declined; I’d tried NaNoWriMo before and never gotten very far with it. Then, a couple of days later, an idea sprouted in my head: What if I took someone who lived his life in a very rigid way, almost as if he were ruled by the clock, and then I started kicking the legs out from under him? This idea had two big advantages: First, it had built-in drama. Second, by using someone who lived his life in patterns, I could write quickly, thereby giving myself the best possible chance at succeeding at NaNoWriMo. I took a couple of days to sketch out a story outline, and at midnight on Nov. 1, I started writing.

2. Was it based on personal knowledge of someone like Edward?

Edward doesn’t have a real-life model. A lot of the surface things — the bands he likes, the Dallas Cowboys fixation — he has in common with me, but that was really only because I could write those things quickly. I could have made him a Washington Redskins fans, I suppose, but that would have made me physically ill and I would have had to research the particulars, which would have cost me time.

I did only a cursory amount of research on Asperger’s — just enough to feel confident that I had the traits down. Again, this was more a function of time than anything else, but in hindsight, it was a fortuitous thing. Had I known then what I know now about Asperger’s, I might well have gotten bogged down in the sort of clinical details that are blessedly absent from this book. One of the things that readers seem to find charming about it is that Edward’s condition is just part of the tapestry; it’s not THE story. The larger themes of fitting in, of not traveling the road alone, of fellowship with others — those things end up carrying the day, not the fact that Edward is an Aspie.

3. How long did you work on the book?

So, I mentioned earlier the NaNoWriMo aspect … Well, I succeeded at the goal: I wrote 50,000 words in November 2008. Actually, I wrote nearly 80,000 by Nov. 24, finishing the first draft. I spent December and January polishing it, but it was a book that needed little revision. Mostly, I went through and struck the phrases that sounded like me rather than like Edward. But on the whole, it was the easiest second draft I’ve ever dealt with. Contrast it with my second novel, The Summer Son, which took three months to draft — and nine months of subsequent drafts to get it right.

4. How long did it take you to get it published?

I self-published it almost immediately, in February 2009. I was blissfully ignorant; after it had been praised but rejected by two literary agents, I figured, hey, I just want it out there. I knew my mom would buy it. I was pretty sure my brother would, especially if I gave him the money. I literally had no concept of whether it was good, bad, commercial, not commercial. To me, the achievement was having completed a novel. So I started thumping it around my home region — talking to civic groups, going to arts festivals, that sort of thing. A funny thing happened: People started reading it and liking it and telling other people. In August 2009, Chris Cauble, the owner of Riverbend Publishing in Helena, Mont., sent me a note and said he liked the book and wanted to acquire it. I was thrilled to let him have it.

He gave it a new name (the original title was Six-Hundred Hours of a Life), a new cover, a new life. With Riverbend behind it, the book was picked as a Montana Honor Book and is currently a finalist for a High Plains Book Award. It’s getting wider notice. I’m pretty sure a book club in North Texas wouldn’t have taken it on when I was selling it out of the back of my car.

5. What is the best writing advice you ever received?

I’m going to cheat and give two pieces of advice, one old, one recent.

The first is simply that you have to do it. I can’t tell you the number of people I meet who say “I have a book inside me, I just know it.” Then they spend the next 10 minutes giving me all the reasons they can’t find time to write. Well, if you can’t find time to write, guess where the book is going to stay? I don’t mention that to be flip or self-important. I’m sympathetic to the idea of busy lives; I have a full-time job, a wife, a needy, elderly father. I have things on my plate. But I make time for writing. The only way to do it is to do it. Sounds simple. But it’s difficult.

The recent piece of advice is something Walter Kirn (the author of Up in the Air) said in an interview with Montana Quarterly:

“I believe there’s a ratio between reading and writing; you have to read 200 pages to write one paragraph. Minimum. Reading is mulch for writing; you have to lay down layer upon layer of organic material to get one tiny tender shoot of plant life.”

That struck me as incredibly prescient and profound. The reason I became a writer is that I loved to read, loved words, loved sentence structure. A lifetime of reading prepared me for this novel-writing business. Believe it or not, I do meet writers who say they aren’t big readers. I always wonder how that works.

6. What is the worst writing advice you ever received?

I find most mechanical advice — outlining vs. not outlining, time of day to write, how to do revisions, etc. — to be basically useless if it’s couched in “you must do this” terms. When people ask me about these things, I tell them what works for me, and then I caution them that their mileage may vary. Part of the journey of being a writer is finding what works for you, then playing to that.

7. Can you give 2 or 3 tips for aspiring writers?

Always make time to write. The only way you get better is by doing it, again and again and again.

Some writers have made it big by chasing trends, but there’s also great danger in it. Trends, by definition, change. Writing that comes from the heart, though, is timeless.

Develop a thick skin. If you’re writing for publication, you’re going to be rejected. A lot. Better get used to it now.

8. What were your inspirations for writing 600 Hours of Edward?

I think I’m far enough away from the writing of the book to be able to analyze why it was successful when so many other attempts at writing a novel previously failed. In July 2008, I had a terrible motorcycle accident on Interstate 94 — a deer jumped out in my path, and I laid the bike down at 65 mph. I broke half my ribs, collapsed a lung, lacerated my spleen, road rash on my arms … just bad, bad, bad. In the aftermath of that, as I recuperated, I started thinking about things I’d always wanted to do but hadn’t, for whatever reason. So I was motivated in a way that I’d never been motivated before.

9. Can you tell us a little about your next book, The Summer Son?

It’s coming out in January 2011 from AmazonEncore (shameless plug: Amazon has an AMAZING price on it right now, and it’ll be delivered the day it releases). It’s quite a different story from 600 Hours, one whose emotional themes hit much closer to home for me. I’m really proud of it.

The story is told from the point of view of Mitch Quillen, a guy on the edge of 40 whose whole life seems to be unraveling: bad marriage, on the skids at work, etc. He’s suffered a lot of losses in his life, and he blames most of them on his father, a man he’s seen only two times in 30 years.

One day, his father calls, then bails out of the conversation. Then he calls again and does the same. This goes on for about a week, until finally, Mitch’s fed-up wife, in part for her own reasons, pushes him out of the house and says “go settle this thing.”

“This thing” is the crux of the story. Something happened to Mitch and his dad in the summer of ’79, and it’s been a wedge between them since. The story moves in two directions: forward, in present day, as Mitch and his dad start hacking away at the considerable enmity between them, and backward, to the summer in question, as Mitch deals with his feelings and begins to become aware of things that weren’t obvious to him when he was a boy. And then the two narratives collide …

I was fascinated with the idea of point of view. First person, while intimate, is also incredibly limiting, but that served my purposes in this story. Mitch views his father in certain terms, and those terms are based on what he’s seen and experienced. I would imagine that any of us, given the same information, would develop a similar view. But Mitch’s viewpoint doesn’t take in the whole story, and it’s the things he can’t see that rock his world when he finally becomes aware of them.

More shameless plugging. Here’s what novelist Richard S. Wheeler said about The Summer Son:

“Craig Lancaster’s magnificent novel, THE SUMMER SON, travels straight into the realm of broken hearts and hurt souls only to discover miraculous things at the core of each of us: grace and love. This is one of those rare novels that will live from generation to generation, offering sunlight to those who think the human race lives only in a stormcloud.”

If you want to get an idea of where my head was when I started writing The Summer Son, check out my blog: https://craiglancaster.wordpress.com. There’s an item up now about my own father-son story, one that certainly informed the writing of this book.

10. Are you working on the next one?

I’m about 16,000 words into Novel No. 3, but I’ve taken an extended hiatus from it while I ramp up promotional efforts for The Summer Son. In mid-October, I’m going to clear out a few months and dive deeply into the book in the hopes that I can finish a first draft before The Summer Son releases. Once I’m in full-on promotional activities, I won’t have a lot of time for anything but revising.

11. Being a good Texas son, how did you end up in Billings? What is your favorite part of Montana?

I grew up in Texas, but I wasn’t born there. Montana has always been a place where we’ve had family. My mom and dad met at a party on the Rims above Billings back in 1963, and I always had aunts and uncles and cousins and a grandma here, so Billings was a regular destination on family vacations. When I met and fell in love with a Montana girl in 2006, I took the opportunity to move from California and come to this place that had always held such wonder for me.

My wife is from far eastern Montana, so we spend a lot more time on the prairie and in the badlands than we do in the mountains. The Montana I’ve come to love is actually the one that isn’t in most folks’ imagination of the place. And that’s fine — it keeps the interlopers and the real-estate speculators on the other side of the state.

I’ll say this, though: You’ve never seen a sunset until you’ve been on a windswept plain, with the fading rays sparkling off the buttes in the distance. It’s magical.

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