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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.
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.
As I type these words, the release of my second novel, The Summer Son, lies just a week away. During the first couple of weeks of release, some friends and fellow book bloggers are going to be helping me get out the word about the new book. In exchange for their generosity in letting me hang around their sites, I’ll be giving away signed copies of the book at each stop.
Here’s the lineup. Please do these folks the courtesy of visiting their sites, now and during the upcoming appearances. My guess is you’ll find plenty to interest you at each one:
Monday, January 24: I’ll kick things off at A Word Please, hosted by author Darcia Helle, with an essay on the meeting of fact and fiction in The Summer Son.
Tuesday, January 25 (release day): Billings Gazette arts reporter Jaci Webb will host a Q&A with me at the 5:01 blog.
Wednesday, January 26: At The Book Inn, hosted by Natalie Wadel, I’ll write about fathers and sons, the major theme of the book.
Thursday, January 27: At Straight from Hel, hosted by Helen Ginger, I’ll write about the 20-month stretch in which I wrote and sold my first two novels, a burst of creativity that I’m not likely to mimic anytime soon.
Friday, January 28: The first week will wrap up with a visit to The Visual Side of Journalism, hosted by Charles Apple, where he’ll pitch some questions at a guy (me) who works in the production trenches of a daily newspaper but writes fiction on the side.
Monday, January 31: Cherie Newman, host of the excellent “The Write Question” on Montana Public Radio, gives me the keys to her blog of the same name and lets me hold forth on what it means to write in and of Montana.
Tuesday, February 1: This will be a little different. My friend Jim Thomsen will host a Q&A with me in the form of a Facebook note. But don’t worry: if you’ve so far resisted the siren song of the social network, 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 gives me the floor for an essay on where stories come from, as if I have any idea.
Friday, February 4: I 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.
So please (please!) make plans to follow along each day, and be sure to throw in for a chance at a signed book at each stop.
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.
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.
For the most part, 600 Hours of Edward has cycled through its critical reviews — suffering little more than flesh wounds along the way, I’m happy to report — but I knew that Montana Quarterly was one of the ones yet to come in.
It turns out that the June issue was worth waiting for. From the review:
This is a wonderful book. Mr. Lancaster’s journey from the daily life of journalism at the Billings Gazette into the imaginative pages of fiction was one well taken, for himself, for readers and certainly for the lovingly created Edward Stanton.
Some exciting news today: 600 Hours of Edward has been selected as a 2009 Honor Book by the Montana Book Award.
Read the press release here.
Jamie Ford’s wonderful Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet won the top prize. In addition, three other books were selected as Honor Books. They are:
- The Big Burn, by Timothy Egan.
- The Selected Works of T.S. Spivet, by Reif Larsen.
- Stick Horses and Other Stories of Ranch Life, by Wallace MacRae.
It’s an honor to have such wonderful company. Congratulations to all!
The folks at Age of Autism are hosting a giveaway for 600 Hours of Edward. Just cruise over and leave your name (with e-mail address) in the comments, and you’re in.
Meanwhile, over at One Book At A Time, Page has given the novel a five-star review.
It was such a moving story from beginning to end. I felt so connected to Edward, and had a wide range of emotion throughout the story. While the story ended nicely, I wanted more of it.
It was nice to wake up to this today: 600 Hours of Edward picked up a nice review from Palo Alto (Calif.) Daily News columnist John Orr. The headline of this blog post is the headline in the newspaper.
Full disclosure: I’ve known John a long time but not in any particular depth. For the better part of a decade, we both worked at the San Jose Mercury News, which at the time was a large newspaper, with more than 400 editorial employees (I hear the number is closer to 100 now). The place had three disparate newsrooms, so in general, the people you knew best were the ones who worked shoulder to shoulder with you. I was in sports, which had its own room. John was in features, in another part of the building. In the entire time we worked together, we probably shared less than a dozen brief conversations.
John touches on all of this in the review, amiably highlighting the difference between sports guys and what I can only imagine he considers to be the normal humans working elsewhere at a paper. This view is highly debatable, but I’ll let it pass.
A few years ago I worked at the San Jose Mercury News, where I was casually acquainted with a guy named Craig Lancaster. He was an editor in the sports department, I worked in features, so we didn’t know each other very well, but I did watch him win a Peeps-eating contest once. That was disgusting.
But, that’s the kind of thing people in sports departments do at newspapers, which is probably one of the reasons the Merc put those people off in their own room, far away from other human beings.
(A bit of correction: I didn’t win the Peep-eating contest. I’ve never won one. It’s not for a lack of trying.)
More from the review:
Into his well-controlled life come a young boy and the boy’s mother, who move into a house across the street. She has moved away from an abusive boyfriend.
Young boys are not to be denied, and the kid becomes Edward’s friend. Edward helps out when the abusive former boyfriend shows up. There is a scene at a hospital. Trouble ensues. A lot of trouble, and threats from Edward’s father and Edward’s father’s lawyer.
All that leads to some major choices for Edward. It leads to changing his life.
600 Hours of Edward just received a wonderful review from Gavin Bollard’s excellent blog, Life With Aspergers.
Now that Gavin has had his say, I guess I can reveal this: Of the many review outlets where Riverbend has placed the book, this one filled me with the most anxiety. Gavin is an Aspergian (Aspie for short), he knows more about the syndrome than I do, and if my book had struck a wrong note, he certainly would have held it up to the light (as well he should). I’m gratified that the book passed muster with him.
Here’s a taste of the review:
600 hours of Edward is an absolutely fascinating book. If you’re an aspie, you’ll see yourself in it. If you’re married to an aspie or if you’re caring for one, you’ll get a fascinating glimpse of their thought processes.