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* — Incomplete in the sense that, at various points, I forgot to take pictures. I did manage, however, to make it to Missoula and back safely, which was my prime objective.

Tuesday, April 19, I left Billings for the 345-mile drive to Missoula, where I had a reading scheduled for Fact & Fiction that night. The next morning, I headed back home. In between: visits with friends, road food, inclement weather and alcohol.

Join me, won’t you?

Less than a block from my house in Billings, this was my view. I woke up Tuesday to find my SUV covered in snow.

Forty miles into the trip, I stopped for breakfast in Columbus. Norman Mailer, in Tom Grimes' "Mentor," said "You gotta eat eggs on the road." So I did.

The worst of the weather occurred between Columbus and Big Timber. For a few miles there, the passing lane was covered in snow and ice and the snow was encroaching on my lane. I was afraid I'd have to turn around ...

... but then, after Big Timber, clear roads returned.

In Bozeman, I stopped and visited with my friend Ariana, the new owner of the Country Bookshelf.

I stopped for lunch in Butte (where I met my friend David Abrams) and noticed that I had an ice-encrusted front bumper.

After lunch, I followed David through some hellacious road construction to his beautiful 1920s house in Butte.

While in Butte, I stopped by Books and Books, another wonderful indie bookseller.

Doesn't everybody take a picture of himself in a roadside restroom?

Missoula! Fact & Fiction! Yes!

Wednesday brought a beautiful day for driving home. And so I did, rapidly.

What did I leave out? Lots of stuff: pictures from the reading in Missoula, hosted by Fact & Fiction’s wonderful owner, Barbara Theroux; my reunion with old friend Robert Meyerowitz, the new editor of the Missoula Independent; my kind hosts, Lisa Simon and Jason Neal and their wonderful home in the woods; cats Maynard and BeBe, who tolerated my intrusion. During the best parts of the trip, I put the camera down — which says little for my photojournalism skills but does commend my ability to fully live in the moment. I’ll take that trade.

Coming to your town ... if your town is Billings, Missoula or New York.

* — The world being significantly downsized, what with the price of gas.

Tomorrow — Thursday, April 7, for you calendar clutchers — I’ll be giving a speech to the combined conference of the Montana Library Association and the Mountain Library Association, right here in Billings. (See, I told you it would be a small world, after all.) This happens at 2:15 p.m. at the Billings Hotel and Convention Center.

I was told that I didn’t have to prepare a speech on any particular theme, which frankly is an alarming and possibly dangerous amount of latitude, but I’ve managed to celebrate libraries and librarians without even noting the time that my college roommate had an amorous adventure in the Fort Worth Public Library. In any case, I think that sort of thing is entirely inappropriate, especially considering it didn’t happen to me.

Tomorrow’s gig launches a flurry of activity on the whole be-out-in-public front. Here’s the rundown:

Saturday, April 16: I’ll be at Parmly Billings Library, 510 N. Broadway, at 11 a.m. for a talk and presentation on 600 Hours of Edward as part of its selection for the One Book Billings program. This will be the culmination of a week’s worth of conversations around town about the book, so I predict a spike in drivers making right turns and spaghetti-eating in greater Yellowstone County. If you’re interested in taking part in any of the community conversations, please call the library at 406-657-8258. The library is providing copies of the book.

Tuesday, April 19: I need no good excuse to visit Missoula. Luckily, I have a great one: I’ll be at Fact & Fiction, 220 N. Higgins, at 7 p.m. to read from my new novel, The Summer Son, and sign copies of it. Please come.

Thursday, April 28: I point the car west again and head out to the University of Montana Western in Dillon for a reading as part of the school’s Dances With Words program. I’ll be reading selections from both books, taking questions, doing rope tricks and all kinds of other fabulous stuff.

Finally …

Monday and Tuesday, May 23-24: I’ll be in New York, baby, for Book Expo America. Forty-one years into my life, I finally visit the only city in the world worth seeing, to hear New Yorkers tell it. I’m expecting an interesting collision of literary and tourism-intensive pursuits. In other words, I’ll be the first person in history to wear an ascot and a fanny pack simultaneously.

In my first question to Alan Heathcock, the author of the forthcoming short-story collection Volt, I used the word “muck” to describe the messes into which he flings his characters.

Popular word, “muck.” Turns out that Publishers Weekly used it, too, in a starred review of Volt:

Heathcock’s impressive debut collection pursues modern American prairie characters through some serious Old Testament muck. If it’s not flood or fire ravishing the village of Krafton, then it’s fratricide, pedocide, or just plain ol’ stranger killing.

Volt comes out March 1st, from Graywolf Press. Heathcock, who lives in Boise, Idaho, and teaches creative writing at Boise State, was kind enough to field a few questions with thoughtful, incisive answers. Enjoy!

The stories in Volt send their characters into some pretty serious muck. What is it about harrowing adversity that is attractive to you as a writer?

The appeal is two-fold. First, I’m what I call an “empathetic writer,” which has kinship to a method actor. I try to become the character in full, think what they think, feel what they feel. The process of writing then becomes an exploration of imagination, intellect, and emotion for me, and putting the characters through the muck is confronting the things that scare and confound me the most. The process of writing has great value to me. It’s not entertainment, but something deeper. I know that sounds pretentious, but it’s as honest an answer as I can give. Second, harrowing adversity simply makes for good compelling drama. Shaekspeare and Cormac McCarthy, two huge influences, put their peeps through deep, deep, DEEP, muck—I, for one, thank them for that.

One of the things that struck me in the stories is the sense of time. You provide small clues about the general era of each story, but most any of them could be dropped into any modern decade. Was that intentional?

It was intentional. I was trying to let the stories be as timeless as possible, not having the baggage of a certain period adhere itself to the stories. For instance, if a story is clearly set in World War II a contemporary reader might slap everything they’ve ever read/viewed/heard about that era, changing/warping the intended meaning of the story. I set the stories in a hard “now” time, while leaving the general sense of time open enough so that each story delivers the reader into as pure a thematic reading as possible.

Aside from that, I’m also proposing the simple truth that history repeats itself, that the pains of war and crime and grief must be felt again and again and again. In that respect, time period has no bearing on the truths of humanity.

I read an essay in which you wrote that your stories help you figure out the world around you. What did you mean by that?

Things have happened in my proximity that deeply altered my ability to understand the moral truths I’d been taught in school/church/home. For example, I used to visit a small town in Minnesota named Waseca. I had friends who lived there. It was a lovely little town, nice Main Street, beautiful lakes, kind people. In winter, I went ice fishing, which I loved. In summer, we’d take long walks down these country roads, looking out over the still fields, listening to the locust drone. Then, in 1999, a twelve-year old girl came home from school to find a man robbing her house. The man raped and killed the girl, and her parents found her dead body in the house. I visited Waseca about a month after this happened, and the town had changed. My friends, who used to leave their doors unlocked, now locked their doors and kept a rifle by their bed. Waseca felt changed, the air and water were changed. It touched everything. I couldn’t shake the desire to have Waseca returned to what it was, and wondered what could possibly be done to restore the peace. So…I wrote the story “Peacekeeper” as a means of unpacking some of my questions, a bit of grief, too, trying to see if I could find any answers and heel the troubled mind. Again and again I find myself drawn to questions that plague me, and use story writing as a means to root out any possibly insight that might settle my equilibrium just a bit.

The Volt stories are set in the fictional town of Krafton. Did you model it after any actual place? What does Krafton look like in your head?

Krafton started out as modeled after the small town where my mother grew up: Lynnville, Indiana. But I felt confined by having to abide their grid of streets and knobs and flora and fauna, so I started borrowing from places I’d been in Illinois, Iowa, Minnesota, Kentucky, South Dakota, Idaho… My goal with Krafton was always to just let it be a small American town. I’ve found, via the early reviews, that depending on the reader they place Krafton in different regions (the west, Midwest, great plains, southeast), which is fine with me. So it’s Krafton, America, which enables the commentary to not be bound by region, while adhering itself to whatever region the reader supplies.

Volt is your first book. Are you planning to write a novel-length book, or are short stories where it’s at for you?

I’m working on a novel now, though I’ll keep writing stories. My original idea for these Krafton stories was to write a comprehensive moral history of a town, a collection of 30 or 40 stories covering a town from its founding to its present. VOLT is like volume one of four in a series I hope to eventually complete.

You’re a Chicago guy who’s teaching creative writing at Boise State University. How have you taken to living in the West?

It was quite a transition. The west is vast. VAST. Time and distance are very different in the west. The people aren’t as direct as they are in Chicago. But I’ve grown to completely love the west. Boise, Idaho, is an absolutely amazing place to live. It’s growing like crazy and crackling with energy. In a small way, being part of the growth in Boise connects me with what the pioneers who founded the west must’ve felt, the feeling of being able to effect a place, to put your mark on a land and culture. And the west has some of the world’s most stunning landscape. Idaho is a wonderland of beauty, and beauty hardly touched when compared to everything back east. I’m loyal by nature, but I sincerely love the west, and I’m extremely proud to be a Literature Fellow for the state of Idaho, and Writer-in-Residence for the city of Boise. And everybody back in Chicago hits me up for Boise State football t-shirts and hats—ha. Go Broncos!

Let’s talk process: When do you write? How do you balance it against work, being a husband, being a dad?

We (my family and I) treat my writing like it’s my full-time job, which it is. It teach one or two nights a week at Boise State, and other than preparing to teach I’m working on my writing Monday through Friday, from the moment I get my three kids off to school to the moment they get home. It helps that I don’t have any hobbies (ha). I read, write, watch movies, follow my kids around to all their activities, sneak in a date night with my wife every now and again, and that keeps my life full and productive.

I grew up in a working class area in south Chicago, and I often think of my friends back home who are pipefitters or police officers or office stiffs, who have to go to a job every day, week after week. With them in mind, it’s easy for me to stay disciplined to doing my work—if ever I have the urge to put my feet up on the desk, I just think of them looking in on me, totally disgusted by how soft I’ve become, and that stokes me to get back at it.

What are some of the books that influenced you? Who or what lit your literary fuse and made you want to become a writer?

Lord of the Flies by William Golding, In Cold Blood by Truman Capote, The Crucible by Arthur Miller, the stories of Flannery O’Connor, Ernest Hemingway’s Nick Adams stories, The Grapes of Wrath by Steinbeck, Taking Care by Joy Williams, Upon the Sweeping Flood by Joyce Carol Oates, Emergency by Denis Johnson, the stories of John Cheever, Winesburg, Ohio by Sherwood Anderson, Kentucky Straight by Chris Offutt, to name a few. But, really, for me, there’s Cormac McCarthy and then all the rest. McCarthy’s books were a revelation to me, were everything in style and story I ever wanted. My top ten books would be dominated by his titles. His novel The Road is the one of a few books I consider to be perfect.

Your publisher, Graywolf Press, has released some great story collections — yours, Refresh, Refresh by Benjamin Percy, Ghosts of Wyoming by Alyson Hagy, among others. How was the publication experience for you?

Graywolf Press is the best publisher out there. Period. I could throw numbers at you to prove it, but if you talk to any author in the wolf-pack, they’ll echo my sentiment. The editors are extremely talented, the sales and promotions crew thorough and dedicated and charismatic. I hear authors published on other presses complain about not being a part of the process, or having quibbles about their book cover or lack of promotions or not being able to get answers from their publisher about this or that. I’ve really felt that with each step Graywolf has included me in the process, cherished my input, given me their best guidance, and championed my book in the marketplace, all with grace and great effect. My book is succeeding both critically and commercially in ways I hadn’t imagined, and I credit Graywolf for enabling that to happen.

As someone who nurtures young writers, what are you seeing from the next generation of storytellers?

I occasionally hear someone lament the lack of imagination coming out of writing programs, but I don’t see it in my classes. I have youngsters writing stories from a myriad of styles and genres, with great variances in thematic content, all with powerful execution. These young writers have grown up with great access to information, have been barraged with stories from around the world, and have been reared in a great time of war and turmoil. They’re filled with stories, brimming with great thoughts and intense emotions. It’s an amazing thing to witness as young writers find their voices and use drama to express their passions in the written word. Time will tell, but I think we’ll see some truly great books in the next ten years or so.

What’s the best piece of writing advice you ever received?

Do not look beyond yourself for validation. Learn your craft to the point you understand the values of quality. Then look inward, and be brave enough to take yourself seriously. The moment you decide to take yourself seriously, to look inward, you will stop imitating others and become original.

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.

The prolonged absence from this here blog was due to one thing, and one thing only:

I took a vacation. I went to the Seattle area for a week, mixed in a couple of bookstore appearances, but mostly I lounged around in book-induced bliss. Hung out with friends. Ate breakfast at a bowling alley every morning. Rode ferries. Met new folks. It was as good a use of a week as I’ve had in a long, long time.

Meanwhile, The Summer Son continues to chug along. In fact, if you’re a proud Kindle owner, you can now get it for just 99 cents. That’s a hell of a deal, I don’t care who you are.

And now you’re saying, “Great, Lancaster, but what’s in it for me? I mean, besides a 99-cent e-book.”

This could be yours.

I’ll tell you what’s in it for you: I attended the Jonathan Evison launch party in Seattle and absconded with a signed hardcover copy of his new novel, the much-celebrated West of Here. And I’m giving it away, right here. That’s right: Signed hardcover. Giving it away.

You want it? Just leave a comment below and you’ll be entered. To really gin up the competition for this one, I’m going to leave the contest open for a week. Next Wednesday (Feb. 23), I’ll choose a winner by random drawing.

For the sake of my finances, let’s confine this one to people in the U.S. and Canada.

UPDATE: Just drew the winning name: It’s Brett Kruger. Congratulations!

The illustrious Carol Buchanan, my host Friday.

A last-minute change to the schedule:

Tomorrow (Friday), I’ll be taking part in a Q&A at author Carol Buchanan’s blog. Carol is the fabulously talented author of God’s Thunderbolt and Gold Under Ice, two books you should definitely read. And, as it turns out, she slings some pretty good questions, too.

Here’s where I’ve been so far on my virtual book tour, and where I’m going in the coming week:

Monday, January 24: A Word Please

Tuesday, January 25: 5:01 blog

Wednesday, January 26: The Book Inn

Thursday, January 27: Straight from Hel

Monday, January 31: Cherie Newman, host of the excellent “The Write Question” on Montana Public Radio, will give me the keys to her blog of the same name and let me hold forth on what it means to write in and of Montana.

Tuesday, February 1: My friend Jim Thomsen will host a Q&A with me in the form of a Facebook note. The interview will be simulcast on two authors’ blogs: R.J. Keller’s Ingenious Title to Appear Here Later and Kristen Tsetsi’s From a Little Office in a Little House.

Wednesday, February 2: One Book at a Time blogger Page Eberhardt will host me for an essay on where stories come from, as if I have any idea.

Thursday, February 3: The fellas over at 3 Guys, One Book will let me pitch in with an entry in their ongoing series “When We Fell in Love.”

Friday, February 4: I will wrap up at Coffee, Books and Laundry, hosted by Melissa Vasquez, where I’ll write about balancing readers’ expectations with following the muse wherever she leads.

There will be giveaways of signed books at every stop, so please follow along and throw in an entry.

My friend Ann Charles has more energy than anyone I know, and she’s expending a great deal of it drumming up interest in her new book, Nearly Departed in Deadwood.

You want to read this. Ann’s book won the Daphne du Maurier Award before it was published, and she’s riding that wave of momentum to new heights now that it’s out in e-book format and soon to arrive in paperback.

You can read more about the book here.

So here’s what we’re gonna do: Leave a comment here, and in a day or so I’ll close things up and pick a winner. This is an e-book giveaway only; fortunately, the coupon code I’ll give you is at Smashwords, so you can have it in any format you want, including a PDF file for the computer if you’re not among the cool kids with a snazzy new e-reader. (And if you’re not, you and I should form a club.)

It’s just that simple. Dive in, people.

I'll be at the Billings Barnes & Noble this coming Saturday.

Honestly, I wondered if it would actually get here — which immediately strikes me as an ill-advised thing to say, seeing as how I signed a contract in June and saw the book released just seven months later, the publishing equivalent of warp speed.

So let me try that again: What? The book’s out already?

I’ve been living with some final copies of the book for a couple of weeks now, and I can tell you that my publisher, AmazonEncore, did a beautiful job and created a lovely book. I’ve been living with the manuscript, in some form or another, since late spring 2009, and I can tell you that I wrote the best book I could. I’m proud of this one. I’m eager to see how it does. I am, I must acknowledge, a bit nervous, and I wouldn’t trust my feelings if I weren’t.

So, you want one, yes?

You have many options:

If you’d like to order from Amazon, either a paperback or a Kindle download, you can go here.

If you’d like to throw your name in for a giveaway copy, I’ll be handing several out over the next couple of weeks on guest blog posts. Go here for a schedule of my stops.

If you’re going to be in the vicinity of Billings, Montana, this weekend, there’s a launch party at Travel Cafe (313 N. Broadway) from 6 to 8 p.m. Friday, and I’ll be at the Billings Barnes & Noble the next afternoon from 2 to 4 for a reading/signing. As ever, my schedule is available at CraigLancaster.net. Events are being added all the time.

You can walk into your favorite bookseller and find it either on the shelves or available by order. Your bookseller will happily get a copy for you, and perhaps even add a few more to the shelves.

And here’s one more option. For the next two hours, anyone commenting on this post will be entered in a drawing for  a signed copy of the book. Get in there!

Update, 10:12 a.m.: The book goes to Laura Lambeth. Congratulations!

I cannot wait to give away this ARC. CAN’T WAIT!

You may have noticed that I’m just a little more than slightly excited about the release of Jonathan Evison’s second novel. If you haven’t noticed, let me refresh your memory: There was this. And this. And this. And this.

And now, this: I’m shipping off the beautiful advance reader copy that was given to me a couple of months ago, to clear room on my shelves for the hardcover copy of the book when it’s released on Feb. 15.

This book is getting serious, serious adulation, and it’s a darling of indie booksellers everywhere — first, because it’s a fantastic book, and second, because Jon is the genuine article, a man as forthright and kind as he is talented.

I cannot exhort you strongly enough: Leave a comment and try to win this book. You will not be disappointed.

I’ll cut off entries sometime tomorrow (Tuesday) and pick a winner.

Update, 7:37 a.m.: Heather Cox wins the drawing for the West of Here ARC. Thanks, everybody, for entering.

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.

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