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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 …

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Assuming the world continues spinning on its axis for the next 24 hours or so, I’ll be at a book signing tomorrow (Saturday, Feb. 19). Here’s the skinny:

Red Lodge Books, 11 N. Broadway, Red Lodge, Montana, from 3 to 5 p.m. You should certainly come for The Summer Son, but if that’s not enough to sway you, owner Gary Robson has a killer lineup of cigars and makes a mean cup of tea. You won’t want to miss that.

My first week back on the terra firma of Montana has been a bit of a whirlwind. A recap:

I offered up my advice to the lovelorn in this month’s issue of Magic City magazine. The value of that advice is debatable, but perhaps it might squeeze a belly laugh out of you.

Charles Apple, the relentless blogging machine at the American Copy Editors Society, featured a Q&A with me at the Visual Side of Journalism. And I totally wasn’t lying when I said I enjoyed being edited. I promise.

And it feels so good!

Largehearted Boy, one of the coolest blogs out there, featured The Summer Son in its Book Notes series, where authors pick a playlist for their book. And despite the presence of Randy VanWarmer, Robert John and, God help me, Peaches & Herb, it’s not as schlocky as you might imagine.

Novelist Linda Sandifer brought me aboard her Writing Out West blog for a Q&A.

And then, just today, as if I weren’t growing weary of my own words, I have a piece up at Genna Sarnak’s Reading, Writing, & The World of Words on the useless distinctions between literary and genre fiction.

This book could be yours. Signed and everything!

Also, just as a bit of a housekeeping chore:

A reminder that a giveaway of a SIGNED copy of Jonathan Evison’s brilliant West of Here is still going on here at the ol’ blog. Just cruise over to the original post and leave a comment, and you’re entered (U.S. and Canadian residents only, please). This will be one of the “it” books of 2011. It made its debut on the New York Times bestseller list this week at No. 35. Expect it to climb.

If you’d like to double down on your chances of reeling in a copy of this book, cruise over to David Abrams’ The Quivering Pen, where he’s offering it as his Friday freebie.

Where in the hell did a year go?

Tonight, for the first time since Nov. 17, 2009, I made fresh progress on a new novel. Eight hundred and fifty-nine words’ worth, if you must know, and that’s a pretty good single-session output for me. I’d be lying if I said I had planned to let it sit so long, and I’d also be lying if I said I feel like I wasted the time in between. Twenty-ten was spent pushing hard on 600 Hours of Edward, rounding The Summer Son into shape (and finding a publisher for it), essays, short stories and the like. I did not want for work, though I probably could have gotten by on a little less rest.

Just the same, after writing and selling two novels in twenty months, to have let twelve more slip by me with no measurable progress on a third seems … unlikely. And yet, that’s just what happened. Now that the thing is moving again, I’ll hope to stay atop it until I see it through. As to its working title or storyline, I’d like to hold that close for a little while longer yet. Ideas are like newborn puppies; the fewer hands that touch them, the better.

Cheryl Anne Gardner, one of the many talented authors I’m fortunate to call a friend, posted a link on Facebook to the movie “Vanilla Sky” and observed that despite her well-considered disdain for Tom Cruise, Penelope Cruz and Cameron Diaz, she finds the creepy surrealism of the film to be utterly enchanting.

I have different thoughts about “Vanilla Sky.”

I saw it in San Jose, Calif., where I used to live, with a woman I met online, as that was my predominant mode of dating back then. (You see, friends, I’m a swing-shift worker — 3 p.m. to midnight — and I daresay that the kind of woman you meet after midnight is not, in many cases, the kind with whom you want to share the other hours of the day.)

Anyway, I’ve written before about the follies of online dating, but this woman was a cut above. We had great fun, laughed, talked easily and widely and generally had a fine time, so much so that I wrote to her the next day and said I’d love to see her again.

While not word-perfect, this was the gist of her reply:

“Craig, I had such a good time last night. You’re a great guy, a real gentleman. In fact, I called my ex-boyfriend after I got home and told him I wished he were more like you. He said he would try, and so we’re getting back together. Thanks again!”

I resolved soon after to become an unrepentant bastard, a stance that continues to this day.

The smiling, friendly-looking young man to the right is Brian Shults. If his hair and glasses seem a little out of date, it’s only because Brian is, too. He’s been gone since March 21, 1993. I received this image in an e-mail from his mother just a few days ago.

I wasn’t prepared for how jarring it would be to see him again. Brian’s never been too far from my mind in the nearly 18 years since I answered an early-morning phone call in my new apartment in Owensboro, Ky., and heard my mother say, “Your friend Brian, he’s dead.”

“Dead, dead how?”

“He shot himself.”

“What?”

It fell to me to call another friend, Jon Ehret, in Buffalo, N.Y., and listen to the same crushing incredulity my mom heard.

“What?”

“I said, he shot himself.”

Long pause.

“Why would he do that?”

I don’t know. I didn’t know then. I don’t know now.

*****

I didn’t want to like Brian when I met him at the University of Texas at Arlington. He came on like a freight train, blustery and bad-assed, and it was all a put-on, his way of masking deep insecurities. But if you hung in there with him for just a little bit, the trip was worth it.

The guy was brilliant in a way that gets lost nowadays, when “genius” is a word my friends and I wantonly use on Facebook. He could write like nobody I knew to that point in my life. He asked great questions, was utterly unafraid of the answers, and possessed an insight into the dispossessed, the lonely, the broken that seemed far beyond his years. It was only after I got to know him, after we threw in together in an off-campus apartment while scrapping it out for freelance jobs, that I discovered the source of that hard-won experience.

Brian was dyed-in-the-wool Fort Worth, a boy from the Arlington Heights neighborhood near downtown. I was a suburban kid, a transplant to Texas. Brian came from a broken family that had scattered — a mother there in Fort Worth, a father in Portland, a brother in Seattle. I lived a life the Cleavers might have claimed: stay-at-home mom, 3.7 kids, family dinners every night, family pictures every Easter. By the time Brian got to UTA, he’d already rehabbed for drug and alcohol abuse, and he was living the straight-and-narrow life of the 12-stepper. I’d done nothing more daring than stealing draws off a wine cooler in the back of a friend’s pickup during lunch.

On paper, we shouldn’t have been friends. But we were.

*****

When we settled on an apartment off Cooper Street in Arlington, Brian said, “You’re gonna be sorry you roomed with me. Everybody is. I’ll drive you crazy.”

I smiled and said, “You won’t drive me crazy. If you piss me off, I’ll kick your ass.”

Brian balled up his fists, jumped at me and said, “You do that, and I’ll press charges!”

Jesus, he was tightly wound sometimes.

He was right, though. He occasionally did drive me crazy. I grew tired of chasing him down for his half of the electric bill, or getting him to clean the dishes in the sink. But those frustrations never lasted. There were too many good times — the kind of times you get to enjoy only when you’re young and stupid and people give you a wide berth because, well, you’re young and stupid.

*****

At the age we were during the months we lived together, 21, Brian and I were not beyond unwinding after a shift at the Fort Worth Star-Telegram sports department by hitting one of the myriad high-end strip clubs in Arlington. Brian never drank, at least not in my presence, but he seemed to enjoy being in the presence of action. One night, we were at a place called Lace, and Brian said, “You know who should be here? (Name redacted).” (Name redacted) was one of our supervisors at the Star-Telegram who had a famously uptight bearing on the job. Brian and I were convinced that it was environment, not nature, that informed (Name redacted)’s personality. We knew that if we could just manage to get that guy in a place where he could credibly wear a feather boa in public, he’d loosen up.

True story: A few minutes later, I looked up and spotted (Name redacted) sitting alone in a booth, chatting up one of the dancers. I poked Brian and pointed out what I saw. Brian stood up and walked toward (Name redacted) with double-gun fingers pointing. Seeing the blood drain out of that guy’s face at being found out was an all-time top-five moment, man. It was beautiful.

*****

Brian remains the funniest person I’ve ever known. He took being funny seriously. He’d done some standup and was quite good at it. He had an affinity for performers, whether they stripped bare their bodies or their souls. He collected them. One of his best friends was Doyle Bramhall Jr., the great bluesman.

One of the transcendent evenings of my life was the time that my mom and I went with Brian to an AA meeting where he told his story of addiction and sobriety. The raw honesty was searing, mesmerizing. He delivered the story like a monologue, but the laughs were incidental. Hard truth was his aim that night. It was one of those moments where I knew that no matter how much time I spent with him, I had no way of really knowing his road.

*****

Standing there in my apartment in Kentucky, I hung up the phone, and I realized that my last thought about Brian had been one of anger.

Just before the move to Owensboro, I’d gone back to Fort Worth to see my friends at the Star-Telegram, and we all headed for the Ol’ South Pancake House on University, one of our favorite haunts. Brian rode over with me, and on the way, he’d asked me to spot him some cash, fifteen bucks, no big deal.

“I’ll write you a check to cover it,” he’d said.

Fine, no problem.

When I got back to Texarkana, where I was living at the time, I deposited the check and it bounced. That pissed me off — not because of the amount, but because it was so inconsequential that Brian should have just asked for the fifteen clams straight out. The charade was senseless.

I never called him about it. Several weeks later, I was on my way to Kentucky. It’s a hard thing to live with, the being so angry about something so small, and then never having the chance to make it good. I wonder how many of us carry such regret about him.

*****

Brian came barreling back into my life a few weeks ago when I saw the name “Steven Shults” on a comment thread at the New York Times Facebook page, saw the semi-familiar face, and ventured an e-mail:

I about fell over when I saw your comment on the Paul Krugman column at Facebook. I knew the name, clicked on the profile and saw the Seattle location, and I knew you were Brian’s brother.

Brian and I were roommates in 1990-91 while we were both at UT-Arlington. He was one of the best friends I had at an important time in my life, and I think about him often. I was living in Owensboro, Ky., when the sad news reached me, and I wasn’t able to make it down for the funeral. So, really, I’m so happy for this chance to tell someone in his family how much I liked him and how much he’s missed.

Steven wrote back, confirming my suspicion and putting me in touch with Linda Lee, Brian’s mom. We swapped several e-mail messages and that’s how, just a few days ago, I ended up seeing a face that has existed only in my head for almost twenty years.

*****

About that face …

I thought I knew it, but actually seeing the photograph reveals just how unreliable memory can be. I’d forgotten about the little scar on his chin and the way his whiskers crept down his long neck, a secondary male characteristic that I can’t match even today, at age 40. I’d forgotten how curly his hair was, or that he had such a winning smile. How I wish he’d shown it to us more often.

Mostly, I’m struck by just how young he was. As I aged and brought memories of Brian along with me, perhaps I incrementally aged him as well. Perhaps I gave him wisdom he didn’t have, or perspective he never lived long enough to develop, or a sense of proportion that clearly eluded him on the day that he decided he didn’t want to live anymore. Maybe that’s my way of keeping him in a place where I can relate to him as my memories of that time in my life fade.

I don’t know what he felt on that day, any more than I really know what he felt on any other day. I wish he’d held on for another hour, then another day, then another month, then another year. I’d have loved to have seen him turn 40. Meet a girl. Raise a family. Bitch about the onset of arthritis. Whatever.

Brian was never cut out for being young. He should have grown old.

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.

Back in February 2009, as I approached my 39th birthday, I had this idea of writing an essay a week leading up to my 40th birthday. I thought maybe I could capture some elements of that living-on-the-cusp year and perhaps turn them into a collection. Like a lot of seemingly good ideas, this one ran out of gas fairly quickly, and I squirreled the two essays I completed away in a folder deep in the bowels of my computer. I re-read them tonight, for the first time in a year and half. The first essay was not ready for prime time, as they say. But the second provides an interesting glimpse into what I was thinking about that winter — thoughts that led me directly to the writing of The Summer Son, my forthcoming novel.

I hadn’t remembered all of that until just tonight. It’s worth sharing:

Dad with Bodie, left, and Zula, his grandpuppies.

February 16, 2009
5:31 a.m.
Billings, Montana

My father lives upstairs from me, in a condominium whose physical structure is identical to mine, and that’s an odd bit of conformity when you consider just how different we are. He’s a man who has seen hardship and pain that I can’t conceive. He made his way in the world with his hands, while I’ve made mine, meager though it may be, with my head. He makes friends easily and keeps them for decades. I make acquaintances easily and release them like leaves in the wind.

And those are just the broad strokes.

Yet I find myself now wondering what I’m going to do with my thoughts on the man. At this late date, when he’s on the cusp of 70 and I’ve just rounded the last number between me and 40, he has dropped a surprise on me.

In my birthday card – Dad always picks out something verbose, letting the card maker carry the words that he cannot – he wrote something that left me thunderstruck, standing right there in his kitchen.

When I could speak again, I made him hug me, and for the first time in a long time, I wrapped both of my arms around his back and squeezed him tight.

*****

A couple of days ago, on the social-networking site that is taking over my life, I debated with a friend the reason that our new president would self-identify as black when his racial makeup is equal parts black and white – and it’s the white folks who cared for and nurtured him.

She wrote: “But really, ask yourself how you would feel if you were Barack’s or Halle’s (Berry) mom: ‘I got them away from their father and I raised and sacrificed everything for them and now they identify with their non-present, purposely abandoning sperm donor …’ ”

It’s a provocative notion, and one I can confront in my own circumstance, the racial component aside. It was my mother who, when I was three years old, recognized that life with my father was untenable, that if I was going to have the best opportunity to grow up in a stable, supportive household, she was going to have to extricate herself from a bad marriage and start anew. Of all the gifts I’ve ever received, two stand above the rest: the decision by my birthmother to give me up to someone who could better care for me, and the decision by my mother to pull us out of Casper, Wyoming, and into life in Texas with Charles Clines – her new husband, my new stepfather and the great male role model in my life.

So, using my friend’s question, I’ll frame my own: Why, given Mom’s sacrifices, have I spent a good deal of my adulthood trying to corral a relationship with and an understanding of Dad?

Part of the answer lies in my response to my friend, given to her in an apologetic note after our words in a public square of Facebook grew too sharp: “I just got done writing a book (Past-Due Pastorals, which I’ve since taken out of print) that focuses largely on my father, a man I don’t know half as well as my mother and someone who hasn’t been half as good to me as she has. That doesn’t mean I disregard my mom. As I told her, it’s the things you miss in life that leave you searching, not the ones that are there for you.”

Put another way, my relationship with my mother is hard-wired into me. I can talk to her about anything, I can rely on her without question or fear of being let down. She was and is a constant, nurturing presence in my life. I never wanted for anything that matters where she is concerned.

Where Dad is concerned, I’ve always wanted.

*****

When I was a child, that constant striving for Dad’s approval led me into some blunders of judgment. For years, I idolized him on superficial grounds: He was strong and tough, he drove trucks and wielded tools, and in the absence of parenting skills but awash in money, he gave me anything I wanted if he thought it would keep me quiet and out of his hair.

And so it was that I would go home to Texas from summers spent with Dad, fat and sluggish from all the food I wanted to eat and all the pop I wanted to drink, and I would have to learn to live again in a house with rules, where love was not a new motorbike but a well-balanced meal, where discipline was not a handful of quarters for the video arcade but an expectation that I would work hard in school and interact with the family.

I have a very specific memory of being seven or eight years old and telling my mother that she wasn’t as nice as my stepmother Linda, Dad’s second wife. It’s hard for me to write that now, knowing how wrong I was. In the years that followed, my opinion of Linda changed. I viewed her as an opportunist, a user and someone who leveraged her position as a wedge between my father and me. At one point, my mother wrote to Dad and told him that he wasn’t sufficiently active in my life. (This was not a plea for money, which he also owed, but for time.) Linda sent the note back and scrawled atop it: “Leave him alone.”

How it must have pierced my mother’s heart to hear me compare her unfavorably with that creature.

*****

In later years, I stopped seeing Dad’s absences as something that made him mysterious and worthy of my yearning, and I just walked in my own direction. When he had a series of heart attacks in 1993, I was hundreds of miles away, in Owensboro, Kentucky, and I didn’t go out to Albuquerque to see him until the following spring, well after he had recovered. Our calls grew infrequent.

In the mid-’90s, he committed his heart to a woman for the fourth time. (Linda was Marriage No. 2 and Marriage No. 3; if at first you don’t succeed, try, try again.) His final attempt was his most successful. Mildred Leahy was the right person at the right time – a sweet, loving woman who could handle my rapidly slowing down rascal of a father. And it was Mildred who asked, point-blank, the question that was right in front of our noses: Why were Dad and I so distant?

On the side of that question where she could exert some influence – my father’s – Mildred went to work. I started receiving weekly phone calls, at her behest initially and then because we both found that we enjoyed them. On one of my visits to Albuquerque, Mildred asked me why Dad and I had been so estranged, and I very honestly told her. She urged me to take a fresh look at the man, and so I did. Here’s what I saw: a doting partner who would set out her breakfast every morning, along with a napkin upon which he would write “Good morning Sunshine. I love you.”

Just a few months before Mildred died, when she was dealing with the excruciating pain of the cancer that was killing her, she insisted that Dad and I take a long-planned driving trip through Montana, to visit the spaces and places of his early life. It was her last great gift to our relationship. After she was gone, I wrote a typically bad but heartfelt poem:

Hours from now I’ll be racing the weather south

To a place that should feel like home, much as I’ve been there

And yet confounds me each time

To a man I’ve known all my life

Whom I know less than a man I met last week

Closeness could never be counted in warmth or words

Just proximity, and only sometimes

But as my tread wears away I find

That none of that matters much

We come together for the right reasons

And stay apart because we’ve always done it that way

She never quite understood that

And she made him do it better, out of love

And made me do it better, out of shame

But she’s gone now

Pancake makeup and strident hair

Are my memories

But his are different

He needs me now

There’s nobody left

*****

For as long as I can remember, my father’s friends, upon meeting me, would say something like this: “Your dad is really proud of you.”

Last year, as I acted on Dad’s behalf to buy his condominium here in Billings, his Montana-based mortgage banker said, “Your dad just goes on and on about you.”

These are wonderful sentiments, of course, and anyone would be proud to receive them. But please understand that the words come with a tinge of melancholy when I hear them from someone other than him, when I have to come to terms with the notion that he can say them, just not to me.

But perhaps I should be fair about this, as I’m guilty of the same thing. He brags to other people. I share my thoughts with a keyboard.

Before Past-Due Pastorals came out, Dad sat upstairs with a proof copy and read it over the course of an evening. His eyes are fading, shot through by macular degeneration. His reading level is low, the result of a childhood in which farm work was given more currency than book learning. No one seems to know just how much schooling Dad had. My mother figures that his day-to-day education ended around the fourth grade. A cousin says that he was in school off and on up until junior high. Whatever the case, reading is not pleasure for him; it’s work. And yet he dedicated himself to reading my book one night, and he bore my at times harsh assessment of him without complaint or recrimination.

He’s a big man, my father.

And I’d like to think that he recognized in those pages something that I badly needed to hear, something that he gave me for my 39th birthday in the words he wrote on my card: “The gift thats meant the most to me has been the joy of watching you grown into a special man I’m proud to call my son. With love, Dad.”

Some online destinations for your consideration:

  • I’m part of the lineup of editors at The Blood-Red Pencil. If you’re a writer or an editor (or both!), I highly recommend that you bookmark this site. Tips cover all the bases: grammar, plotting, dialogue, marketing and promotion, etc. Check out my latest post, on pet peeves.
  • Today, I dropped in at another of my favorite sites, 1st Turning Point, and offered up an essay on self-promotion. The reality for most writers is that it’s promote or perish. Gone are the days of dropping a book out there and washing your hands of it — if, in fact, such days ever existed. 1st Turning Point consistently offers sound advice on thumping your work without being a raging pain in the ass. Unless, you know, that’s your niche.
  • Are you a Goodreads denizen? If you love books, you should be. Think of it as a Facebook for readers. I’d also invite you to add my upcoming novel, The Summer Son, as a to-read item. (I can safely assume you’ve already added 600 Hours of Edward, right? Right?)
  • Finally, thanks to the fabulous Christopher Meeks, I just discovered Janet Fitch’s blog. The White Oleander author has some superb stuff there, including this essay on creating dialogue. She writes: “It’s like a racehorse, it can’t just carry any old thing, the pots and pans and old tires. You can’t heap all your expository business on it, the meet and greet, all that yack. It’s just for the conflict between one character and another. That’s it.”

I think I just swooned.

Craig’s note: My debut novel, 600 Hours of Edward, was born last year at this time, during National Novel Writing Month. My wife, Angie, asked if she could write a guest post to look back on the past year from her perspective. It’s my pleasure to present it here.

angie princess

My favorite picture of Angie. Who can resist a pouty cowgirl princess?

By Angie Buckley Lancaster

It been a long journey for Edward in the past year, from living solely in my husband’s imagination to his story being flung onto the page as fast as the keyboard allowed. Last year, when Craig decided to do NaNoWriMo, I believed he could do it. But I had no clue he’d do it so well.

November 2008 is the month my husband refers to as when we test-drove divorce, but I was really just thrilled that he was showing interest in life again, even if it was Edward’s life he was most excited about. In July 2008, Craig was in a motorcycle accident that tested our patience, our marriage and my gag reflexes. Craig went into November a guy recuperating from a dance with the pavement. He came out of November an author.

It’s still hard for me to imagine people being all that excited about his talent. I mean, really, he cheers for his own farts. But I think the part that I don’t get is how everyone didn’t already know how great he was. I knew he could write. I knew he could write 80,000 words. I knew he could tell a story. And I knew he could do it better than anyone else.

I got to know Edward pretty quickly, too, coming home from work to read Craig’s latest progress. It was just like reading a “real” novel, eagerly awaiting the next installment and wondering what would happen next in his life. Edward has been through some “life changes” (read: revisions) but he will always be as he was initially in my mind – part of an adventure that ended with more influence in my life than I’d previously imagined.

See, I didn’t marry an author. I married a man hopelessly devoted to and doting on me. So when last November I could barely get him to turn around long enough from the computer to have a conversation (let alone to let me check my OWN e-mail!) he assured me that this new lifestyle would be temporary. It would all be over Nov. 30.

Well, Craig lied. A passion was ignited that drove Craig to not only edit, revise, publish, send queries and so on and so forth, but he decided to do it AGAIN. And again. His life – and as a result, mine – is dominated by blogging about his book, talking about his book, trying to get his book published, searching for an agent. He’s learned so much about not just publishing and writing but also about himself.

People are always surprised by how much they like 600 Hours of Edward. It seems that perhaps they didn’t know Craig is such a gifted writer. I always knew it, and so their praise and surprise is met with my own pride and the satisfaction of being assured that, indeed, my husband is that good.

We – and by we, I mean Craig – are 2,000-plus words into this year’s NaNoWriMo. I know the basics of the story that is developing, and even get to help mold the main character’s interactions with social service agencies (not to the level of being Dr. Buckley, of course, but I suppose not every book can have a character named after me). But regardless of which characters come next from Craig, Edward will always be the first and in some ways will always have the most special place in my heart. Because more than anyone, it’s his creator – my husband – who is the greatest character of them all.

family

Something a bit more contemporary: our Christmas photo from last year. That's Zula in Angie's arms and Bodie in mine.

 

One year ago today, I bought a gleaming new motorcycle in Sidney, Mont., and attempted to drive it nearly 300 miles home to Billings.

My day ended 37 miles short of the finish line. I was lucky to lose only a motorcycle.

Here, from Past-Due Pastorals, is “The Motorcycle Crash.”

Every day is a gift. It’s true.

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