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I spent yesterday afternoon at the combined conference of the Montana Library Association and Mountain Plains Library Association here in Billings. I was on a panel with Ruth McLaughlin (Montana Book Award winner! Woot!), Montana poet laureate Henry Real Bird and Dan Aadland.

Somehow, when I was recruited for this panel some months ago, I got it into my head that we were to deliver speeches. Well, no. We were there to read from our work (which, frankly, is a way better deal anyway). I was happy to make the switch, and I realized that I could just post the speech and PowerPoint presentation I prepared here at the blog.

So here goes: recycling!

THE PUBLIC LIBRARY: AN ESSENTIAL

I’d like to thank the Montana Library Association and the Mountain Plains Library Association for inviting me here today. I’m proud to be able to speak with folks who are doing a job that I consider absolutely essential to a well-rounded community and an informed, engaged populace. Thank you, sincerely, for all that you do.

I came to book writing relatively late. Although I’ve been involved with writing and editing as a journalist for nearly a quarter-century, it was just two and a half years ago that I wrote my first novel, 600 Hours of Edward. And while I sometimes retroactively kick myself in the pants for waiting so long to get going, in some ways I’m happy to have a nascent career at a time of such upheaval and rapid change in the business of words and publishing. You see, I have no time to sit around and pine for how it used to be, back when publishers were proliferate, writers were given three or four books to become overnight sensations and a fella could wear an ascot without getting funny looks. I have to figure out how to make it work with conditions as they are, not as I wish them to be. And if you’re here today, you have the same challenge.

This is just one guy’s opinion, but it’s an enthusiastic one: I think we’re going to be okay. Yes, it’s true: Never have so many things competed for people’s time and attention, and even when reading happens on a cell phone screen rather than a typeset page, it’s a decidedly old-school endeavor against the allure of game consoles and 3-D movies and video on demand. Like you, I hear this sullen phrase more than I wish to: “I just don’t have time to read.” And yet, on the other side, good news blooms: There’s more reading going on than ever before. Everybody and his dog are buying one of those fancy new e-readers. There’s a revolution in reading that certainly does threaten less-than-nimble publishers, but on the flip side, more power to create and bring books to market has fallen into authors’ hands. And we authors are eager to work with you. My friend Dee Ann Redman at Parmly Billings Library need only call and I’ll be there for any program she cares to put together. (Okay, truth be told, she’ll have more luck by pinging me on Facebook, but my larger point stands.) I’m dead serious about this, and I walk my talk. Any library group that wants to work with me will find that I’m a willing partner in presenting timely, informative, entertaining programs. I consider it vital to my self-interest as an author and a library’s role as a community pillar.

In this new world of reading, there is an essential role for librarians to play. We will forever need people who curate books, who put them in the hands of readers, who love them so much that their infectious enthusiasm lights the fuse of patrons young and old. That these tasks are performed in a place that is uniquely positioned as a community gathering place makes your role all the more important. My great hope for you falls along two lines: First, that your local governments and voters will give you the capital you need. (This, I’m afraid, is where my optimism wanes a little bit. It seems that the public arts are too easily considered expendable when tough economic times come along. On the contrary, I believe they’re needed more than ever.) Second, that publishers who adopt a penny-wise-pound-foolish approach to new technology see things in a more rational way. As you have no doubt gathered, I’m speaking here of ridiculous rules regarding limited licenses for e-books. It’s madness, and I sincerely hope that more reasonable people prevail here.

Back in January, my second novel, The Summer Son, was published. To have written and published two novels since November 2008 has changed my life in ways that I couldn’t have imagined when I sat down and finally pursued my writing dreams with an appropriate vigor. Among other things, it has afforded me the opportunity to talk about the influences that shaped my decision to pursue a career in letters.

Hurst (Texas) Public Library

In this regard, teachers and librarians – and, of course, my parents – loomed large in my upbringing. Some of my earliest memories of family outings involved going to the public library in Hurst, Texas, and taking home a stack of books. In my high school years, the library was an invaluable source of information and a quiet space for study. In my early twenties, when I could barely afford my rent, let alone books, the public library was a place I could feed my voracious appetite for free.

All of these people – parents who actively encouraged me to read, librarians who shamelessly fed that habit, teachers who helped me shape my thinking and my interests – worked in concert to make me a lifelong reader and someone who loved books so much that he wanted to write them. And while it’s been a long time since I’ve been in school, making me a candidate for viewing that part of my past through a kaleidoscope of nostalgia, I have a hard time believing that times have changed so much that these roles are no longer needed. Again, I have to think that they’re needed more than ever.

So, again, I thank you for lending your considerable talents to the communities that so badly need you.

*****

And here’s a PDF version of the PowerPoint presentation I prepared:

Library Association presentation

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This will be a clearing-the-decks post. That’s what happens when things go silent for a couple of weeks. My bad. I’d say it won’t happen again, but … well, you know.

ANYWAY …

Last week brought the excellent news that 600 Hours of Edward, a book that I wrote more than two years ago and one that continues to find new fans all the time (for which I’m very thankful), has been selected for the One Book Billings program this spring. The book will be talked about at a series of community conversations the week of April 11, and I’ll be giving a presentation at Parmly Billings Library at 11 a.m. on the 16th. I’m really looking forward to this.

For more information, you can call the library at 406-657-8258.

But wait! There’s more!

The Western Writers of America recently released the results of the Spur Awards voting, and I’m proud to say that Carol Buchanan’s Gold Under Ice, the first book published by my little literary house, Missouri Breaks Press, was a finalist in the long-novel category.

This honor, of course, is Carol’s alone, as everything that’s good about her book — and that’s a whole lot — is entirely the result of her own industry and talent. I’m just glad I was able to be associated with such a fine work and such a fine person.

Also worth noting is that Richard S. Wheeler also won a Spur, in the short-novel category for Snowbound. It’s his sixth. That’s a record. A wonderful honor for a true gentleman.

And finally …

The aforementioned Missouri Breaks Press will be releasing its second book-length work this summer, a collection of essays and stories by Ed Kemmick. It’s called The Big Sky, By and By, and it tells the stories of some ordinary/extraordinary folks who give this wonderful place flavor and light.

I’m thrilled to be working with Ed to bring this book to the marketplace. I think it’s going to find a lot of eager readers among Montanans and the many people who love this great land from afar.

More details coming soon …

It’s release week for The Summer Son, so I’m expecting to see some editorial reviews rolling in over the next several days.

First up is a beautiful review from The Billings Gazette (where I work, I should add for the record). Reviewer Chris Rubich writes:

Mitch’s journey to his father and back through the past couldn’t be in better hands than those of Billings author Craig Lancaster in The Summer Son.

In his debut novel, 600 Hours of Edward, Lancaster showed his mastery in exploring the pain and love in such relationships. That skill earned him the High Plains Book Award for first book and the book’s selection as a 2009 Montana Honor Book, as well as praise from disabilities groups for his sensitive look at a man struggling with Asperger’s syndrome.

Both books are set in Billings, and both blend piercing pain with humor and realism.

While 600 hours define Edward and offer a chance to change his life, a single summer leaves a heavy imprint that marks Mitch across the decades.

The book comes out Tuesday. If you’re in the Billings area, there are several events coming up where you can get a copy:

  • This coming Friday, from 6 to 8 p.m. at Travel Cafe (313 N. Broadway), there will be a launch party with a couple of readings, signed books for sale, snacks, a cash bar and music by special guest Dan Page.
  • The next day, I’ll be at the Billings Barnes & Noble (530 S. 24th St. West) from 2 to 4 p.m. for a reading and to sign copies.
  • Saturday, Feb. 5, I’ll be at the Billings Hastings (1603 Grand Ave.) from 1 to 3 p.m. for a signing.
  • And if you’re in Bozeman, catch me on Monday, Jan. 31, at the Country Bookshelf (28 W. Main Street) at 7 p.m. for a reading and signing.

For everyone else: The book will be available in paperback and Kindle starting Tuesday. Order if from your favorite bookseller or at Amazon.com. Please!

*****

Finally, one last note about launch week: Monday starts a two-week stretch where I’ll be popping up on various book- and publishing-related blogs with guest posts, interviews and all kinds of other fabulous stuff. At each stop, a signed copy of The Summer Son is being given away, so follow along and throw your name into the mix.

For a rundown on the sites and dates, go here.

Almost two years ago, fueled by little more than a faint story idea and my own volatile cocktail of mania, I started writing what would become 600 Hours of Edward. I finished the first draft in 25 days.

I know what you’re doing: You’re looking at the calendar and saying, “That SOB did National Novel Writing Month!”

Indeed, I did. It wasn’t the first time. But it was the first time I completed the challenge of writing at least 50,000 words in 30 days. (I actually wrote 79,175 words in 25 days. Actually, it was 17 days, because I took eight days off. But, really, who’s counting?)

In the hindsight of two years, I can now say with confidence that I couldn’t have written Edward in any other way. And now that I have a second, more conventionally written novel to my credit, the forthcoming The Summer Son, I can also say with confidence that I’ll never do NaNoWriMo again, at least not in the way that it’s intended (i.e., as a spawning ground for a fresh work of fiction).

To find out why, as well as some tips for tackling the NaNoWriMo challenge if you’re so inclined, check out my guest gig at Jim Thomsen’s Reading Kitsap blog.

Here’s the kicker:

Having written one novel under the auspices of NaNoWriMo and one in a more traditional way (three-month first draft, followed by nine months of revisions), I have to tell you that I’ll probably never again do the NaNoWriMo thing. Word count is a pretty flimsy construct in the first place; when someone asks me how long a story should be, my answer is: As many words as it needs, and not one more. To then squeeze those 50,000 words out under intense pressure no doubt leads to some irretrievably poor writing. If it’s the challenge you want, that’s one thing. But if you’re aiming for a writing career, you should ask yourself some hard questions about what you want from a month’s work. It’s entirely possible that NaNoWriMo won’t offer what you’re seeking.

A man in black with a plaque.

Friday night, 600 Hours of Edward was honored with the High Plains Book Award for best first book. I won’t bore you with the story behind the story; it’s been covered many times. I’ve taken to calling Edward the little book that could, and Friday night, it did.

That the honor happened right here in my adopted hometown of Billings, on a night when so many other works were similarly recognized, was nothing short of wonderful. My “dates” for the evening were my father, Ron, and my mother, Leslie. They’ve been divorced for 37 of my 40 years, but we all enjoyed a night out, something I have no memory of from our brief time as a nuclear family. That was beyond cool.

It’s a wonderful thing to look out across a room and see a couple hundred people who absolutely love books, and every one of us — William Notter (poetry), Linda Hasselstrom (Zonta Best Woman Writer), Steven Grafe (nonfiction), Kent Meyers (fiction) and Margaret Coel (emeritus) — paid particular tribute to them. (I did so perhaps a bit too colorfully, expressing the wish that I could multiply them — and realizing only after I sat down that my entreaty could have been interpreted as a come-on.)

All in all, it was a lovely evening. Big thanks to the Parmly Billings Library and the many, many volunteers who make the awards happen; Riverbend Publishing for sending Edward out into the world; and especially to the readers who have spent a few of their hours with Edward.

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.

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.

Gold Under Ice, Carol Buchanan’s follow-up to her Spur Award-winning debut, God’s Thunderbolt, is now available on Amazon.com. In a state brimming with literary talent, Carol is one of the most graceful writers we have. Her debut gave readers a fascinating piece of fiction set during Montana’s Vigilante period and a new hero in Dan Stark. Dan is back again, this time facing trouble back home in New York.

Carol announces the book’s arrival here.

From the back cover:

Money. Greenbacks vs. gold. The Lincoln administration prints greenbacks to pay the Union armies, and in the Gold Room off Wall Street traders pit the greenback against the gold Double Eagle. By January 1864, the greenback loses nearly half its value. An angry President Lincoln wishes gold traders – traitors all – were “shot in the head.”

Far to the west, in Alder Gulch, Montana Territory, millions in gold lie under the ice of Alder Creek. Gold-seekers pray for spring. When the ice breaks, Daniel Stark rescues a man hurled into the frigid water, only to learn that his autocratic grandfather sent the man to bring him back with gold to pay his family’s debt.

But Dan does not have enough gold to rescue the family from their financial burden. If he joins the gold traders, he could make enough to pay the debt and secure his family’s future. Or lose everything and be branded a traitor to the Union.

On a related note, I’m pleased to be able to announce that my new venture, Missouri Breaks Press, is the publisher for Gold Under Ice. Carol’s lovely book is the imprint’s first title, and I couldn’t be more proud. I launched this boutique publishing house because I wanted an outlet to work with projects and people that interest me. Carol qualifies on both counts. We both know all too well how perilous and uncertain publishing is right now, and we both know there’s never been a better time to swim through the currents of indie publishing.

Make no mistake: This is Carol’s book. I say that not to distance myself from the project but rather to ensure that I don’t take any undue credit for it. She pushed God’s Thunderbolt to its position as a regional and national success, and she’ll do the same for Gold Under Ice. I’m providing some editorial support and some cheerleading, and together we’ll see what that amounts to. I can’t think of a book I’d rather see as the initial Missouri Breaks release.

Yesterday in Bozeman, I completed the circle on what has been a surreal experience. “Surreal” was how Jamie Ford, the author of Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet, described winning the 2009 Montana Book Award, so I’m going to co-opt his word. My book, 600 Hours of Edward, was one of four Honor Books for 2009, and, yes, “surreal” is the word.

I had no idea what to expect from the evening. I’d been told where to show up (Bozeman Public Library, a beautiful place) and when, and that’s about it. (Brief detour: I very nearly messed up the “when.” Angie and I were having dinner with my publisher, Chris Cauble, and his wife, Linda, and at 5:45, I noted that we still had plenty of time, given that the event started at 6:30 and was right across the street. Chris said, “I think it’s 6.” He checked the invitation, and sure enough: 6 o’clock. Angie changed into a dress in the front seat of the Explorer while I drove 100 feet at approximately 85 mph. Good times!)

When Wally McRae (Stick Horses), the first honoree, seemed completely at ease and launched into perfectly tailored remarks, my heart raced. I was wholly unprepared to actually say anything, so I stood there with Ang, trying not to sweat (or retch) and tried to come up with something appropriate for the occasion.

I won’t bore you with the actual remarks. I thanked Ang first and my publisher second, and expressed deep appreciation for the honor (which works, as I’m deeply appreciative). I thanked Jim Thomsen, who’s largely to blame for getting me into this crazy thing. I gave a brief, disjointed synopsis of how the book came to be. It occurs to me now that maybe telling people that I drafted it in 24 days isn’t the wisest thing in the world; it sounds as if I think art is something that can just be tossed off on a whim, which doesn’t reflect my point of view at all. Art comes on its own terms; in the case of 600 Hours of Edward, it came in a one-month torrent. I know how fortunate I am. Believe me.

In what can only be described as one of the themes of my life, it was hours later and miles away that I realized what I should have said. So if you’ll indulge me …

The motorcycle accident I had in July 2008 has become part of the Edward backstory, in large part because I’ve encouraged that. (For proof, see my bio and the latest bit of news to cross the transom.) But in July 2008, I hadn’t given any thought to Edward Stanton, and any dreams I had of being a novelist had been tucked away in the recesses of my brain.

What I was in July 2008 was a broken person, and this was long before the buck jumped into my path at mile marker 37 of Interstate 94. For months, I had been shuffling through my life without much enthusiasm and with a hurt and an anger I could could barely, and not always successfully, keep under the surface. I thanked Angie last night not just because she tolerates my incessant need to write but because she lived with the shell of the person I’d become, and she never lost faith that I would find my way back to a worthwhile path.

The motorcycle crash made me focus on getting better — first, in healing the physical scars, and then in confronting what was going on inside.

In November 2008, Edward came along, and for 24 days, I lived inside his head — an interesting place to be sure, and at that time, far preferable to being inside my own cranium. Writing Edward made me feel useful and gave me a peek at something I wanted to do with the life I had left.

I’m always gratified when people write to me and thank me for breathing life into Edward. That my fictional man, so flawed and so beautiful, has a profound impact on folks just blows my mind. It’s the best validation for writing I can imagine.

And yet, I’m always tempted to correct them. Because from where I sit, the truth of the matter is that Edward breathed life into me.

Quick takeaways from Bozeman …

  • It was so nice to see people who are becoming such good friends: Mark Miller (who introduced me), Barbara Theroux, Mary Jane DiSanti, Ariana Paliobagis, Michelanne Shields, Jill Munson. It was, in every sense of the word, a wonderful evening.
  • Jamie Ford and his lovely wife, Leesha, are such nice folks. Jamie wrote a beautiful book, and he’s every bit as graceful as his words. I joked with him afterward that we should start a literary blood feud, but if you were to meet him, you’d know how truly preposterous such a notion is.
  • Librarians can party.
  • Finally, a meteorological note (Edward would approve). Here’s Montana in spring: We arrived in Bozeman just after 3 p.m., and the sun was shining, people were walking around with sunglasses, Angie shed her top layer because it was getting warm. Not a half-hour later, a snowstorm plowed into town, with huge flakes flying sideways and swirling. By the time we got to the car, I had to sweep it clear. We arrived at the restaurant positively drenched. Hours later, as we left town, it looked like a winter wonderland.

Sorry.

There’s been little to say of late, and so I’ve gone against character and said little. So before I disappear again, I’ll take the opportunity to do a little bit of self-serving promotion and to drop a teaser out there. Hang tight, please.

My busy April started in the waning days of March with a reading and signing at the Country Bookshelf in Bozeman, where a fine time was had. God, I love our wonderful indie bookstores — Thomas Books here in my hometown of Billings, Barbara Theroux’s Fact & Fiction in Missoula, Mary Jane and her crew at the Country Bookshelf and some others (see below) that I’ll be visiting in the coming days. I do hope that if you’re fortunate enough to have an independent bookseller where you live — someone who hand selects the books he/she stocks and promotes not just the titans of the literary world but also local and regional authors — that you’re generous with your time and money in such places. They are treasures, in every sense of the word.

Here’s a look at my upcoming schedule:

Thursday, April 8: I’ll be back in Bozeman for the Montana Book Awards. Jamie Ford’s lovely debut, Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet, was the big winner this year, and 600 Hours of Edward was fortunate enough to be selected as an Honor Book, along with Timothy Egan’s The Big Burn, Reif Larsen’s The Selected Works of T.S. Spivet and Wallace McRae’s Stick Horses. My publisher, Riverbend, and I are richly gratified to see the novel get this recognition, particularly given the stellar company. We’re looking forward to a wonderful evening.

Saturday, April 10: I’ll be in Helena at the Montana Book Co. (another indie!) to sign copies of 600 Hours of Edward. The event runs from 1 to 3 p.m. at 331 North Last Chance Gulch.

Saturday, April 17: I’ll be at the Madison Valley Public Library in Ennis, 328 Main Street, at 11 a.m. to chat about 600 Hours and to give a reading to the Friends of the Library.

Sunday, April 18: Another day, another Friends of the Library group, this one in Livingston at the Livingston-Park County Public Library, 228 W. Callender Street. That starts at 3 p.m.

Saturday, April 24: I get to go to one of my favorite Montana towns, Red Lodge, for a signing at Red Lodge Books, 16 N. Broadway, at 3 p.m. Really looking forward to meeting Gary and his patrons.

Saturday, May 8: I’m headed to Butte and Books and Books, 206 W. Park Street, for a signing that begins at 2 p.m.

By the way, you can always check out my upcoming schedule at my Web site, CraigLancaster.net.

That’s it for now. There’s some other news percolating — some of it big, all of it exciting. When it’s ready for release, you’ll be able to find it here. *

* — Yes, this is a blatant teaser.

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