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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.

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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

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.

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 …

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!

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.

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

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

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

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

THE TWISTED WIRE EDITOR

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

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

Mother Teresa’s.

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

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

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

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

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

THE RECALCITRANT SPORTS EDITOR

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

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

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

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

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

FINALLY, A LOVE LETTER TO THE PEOPLE WE COVER

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

It was sometime early last fall — I can’t remember exactly when — that Adrianne Hurtig of the Friends of the Ronan City Library sent me an e-mail and asked if I’d like to bring 600 Hours of Edward to her group on March 18. It seemed a long way off, and for a long, long time, that entry on my Web site‘s list of events was the lone beacon, a sign that, yes, I did have something to do, sometime.

Now, it’s just a little more than twenty-four hours away. I’m excited as all get out to see Ronan and meet these fine folks who love books and help keep reading alive in their small town. The event starts at 7 p.m. at the Ronan City Library, 203 Main Street SW.

The long weekend that begins with tomorrow’s road trip includes two other stops:

Friday: A reading and signing at Fact & Fiction, 220 N. Higgins Ave. in Missoula. It begins at 5 p.m.

Saturday: A signing at Chapter One, 252 W. Main Street in Hamilton. It begins at 11 a.m.

If you’re in the area, I hope to see you at one (or more!) of these events.

And in other news …

If you head over to the “Craig’s novel” section of CraigLancaster.net, you can take a peek at the first chapter of my second novel, The Summer Son. I hope to soon have some salient details on its emergence.

Oh, and one more thing …

If you’re a member of Goodreads and want to read 600 Hours of Edward, please consider throwing your name in for one of five copies I’m giving away. And hurry. At last count, 144 people were already queued up.

A few new appearances have trickled in this week …

Tuesday, March 30: I’ll be at the Country Bookshelf in Bozeman for a signing that begins at 7 p.m. The address is 28 West Main.

Saturday, April 10: The Montana Book Co. in Helena, 1 to 3 p.m. 331 North Last Gulch.

Saturday, April 17: I’m doing a presentation for the Friends of the Madison Valley Public Library in Ennis beginning at 11 a.m.  328 Main Street.

There should be some news about a Livingston event in the near future. Stay tuned. And, of course, you can check out my calendar any time by visiting my newly revamped Web site.

While I cannot promise I'll wear a suit to any of the above events, as you can see from the picture, there's always a chance.

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