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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.

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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 …

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!

At this point, thirty-six days from the release of The Summer Son, the low-level eagerness that I’ve been dealing with for months has been superseded by full-on anxiety. I’m ready to see the book. I’m ready for more people to read it. And — I think — I’m ready to hear what people think of it, good or bad.

It’s nice, then, to have some small developments to mark the way to January 25th. The latest: The final cover is complete, finished with a flourish by a wonderful blurb from Jonathan Evison, whose wonderful second novel, West of Here, drops on February 15th.

And here’s the obligatory commercial: The Summer Son remains available for pre-order at Amazon.com. It is nicely discounted at $9.49. Click here if you’d like to check it out.

Usually at this time of year, I strap on the ol’ feedbag, zone out, watch entirely too much football and stare down the barrel of another year.

I may do that yet again. But I’m also going to do something else.

This year, I’m writing a holiday-themed short story that I’m selling through my website, CraigLancaster.net. It’s called “Comfort and Joy,” and for the insignificant sum of $1, you can ensure that the story gets sent to your in-box when it’s finished (no later than Dec. 15), and you’ll have the satisfaction of knowing that your money — every cent, save for applicable PayPal fees — will be bundled in a donation to Feeding America.

(I’ll also be making the story available on a wide number of e-reader platforms through Smashwords, with net proceeds from those sales also going to Feeding America. I’ll post links to those outlets when they go live.)

I hope you’ll consider throwing in a buck, helping put some food on the table of someone who badly needs it, and getting a holiday read, to boot.

Thanks for your consideration, and best wishes to you and yours this holiday season.

I announced the news of AmazonEncore’s acquiring The Summer Son a while ago. Today, the publishing company announced its Spring 2011 list, and sure enough, the new novel is right there among some provocative offerings.

From the release:

“The Summer Son,” by novelist Craig Lancaster, explores the complexities of family dynamics and two men’s turbulent journey toward healing. Mitch Quillen is nearly 40 and facing the quintessential midlife crisis: a career going nowhere, a marriage slowly dying and a tumultuous relationship with his father. When he is beset by mysterious phone calls from his father, he travels to Montana to face the man that he holds responsible for much of his discontent. Lancaster, a journalist and novelist, is the author of “600 Hours of Edward,” named a Montana Honor Book. He lives in Billings, Mont., with his wife and two dachshunds. “The Summer Son” will be published on Jan. 25.

The next few months will be exciting as the book lands in the hands of reviewers and pre-readers. I’ll have my fingers crossed for some nice buzz as the Jan. 25 release approaches.

For more information on The Summer Son and the other AmazonEncore titles, check out this link. I would be remiss if I didn’t point out that Amazon has the new novel priced at a 32 percent discount. Pre-order today and it’ll be on your doorstep on the day of release.

By the way: If you go to my website, CraigLancaster.net, and click the cover image for The Summer Son, it will carry you to a page where you can read the first chapter.

My new novel, The Summer Son, comes out in January. Certainly, there is a lot of seemingly interminable waiting — to see the cover (finally did), to get proofs, to hear from marketing, etc. All perfectly normal, and frankly, my publishing story has unfolded at lightning speed compared with most. I’m not good at patience, but it’s something I’ve had to learn to develop. If you think writing and publishing books might be for you, learn to live with the waiting.

Behind the scenes, though, I’ve been plenty busy. Starting January 24th and continuing for two weeks, I’ll be on a virtual tour to promote the book, doing guest spots on a series of blogs related to books, writing, culture, etc. So for the past week or so, I’ve been writing that material — posts on building characters, finding a publisher, real-life inspirations for fiction, fathers and sons, writing in Montana. I’m about halfway through that stack of work, and still other appearances will be in a Q&A format, so I’m awaiting questions from my kind hosts.

The goal, for me, is to have my plate largely cleared by mid-October, three months before The Summer Son is released. Then, I’m bearing down to finish the first draft of the next novel, so the cycle can begin again. Wouldn’t have it any other way.

Carol’s follow-up to the Spur Award-winning God’s Thunderbolt was just released by Missouri Breaks Press, my small (very small) literary press.

Carol was kind enough to field some questions about Gold Under Ice and the continuing adventures of Dan Stark:

Q: Your first novel, God’s Thunderbolt, was an unqualified success, winning a Spur Award and a raft of devoted readers. What did you learn from the experience of writing, publishing and marketing that book, and how did you apply those lessons to Gold Under Ice?

A: In the course of writing God’s Thunderbolt, I found my voice, that nebulous thing new writers are counseled to search for. It can’t be put on like a pair of socks because it comes from inside someplace, and I certainly can’t define it. It’s just how you write that’s different from how another author writes, like Faulkner and Hemingway. In publishing and marketing it, I learned about finding the niche market, which means to define your audience. I was taught that in 8th-grade English class. I write for Montanans, those who live here and those who don’t, and for those who are Montanan in spirit. Those who think “cowboy” is good. Former Governor Blagojevich said, “I’m not some cowboy….” And he’s right. He couldn’t qualify.

Having defined my niche market and found my voice, I just kept on. Regarding publishing, one thing changed. You asked if Gold Under Ice could be the inaugural book for Missouri Breaks Press, and I was honored. I don’t feel as if I’m writing in an empty room now.

Q: What awaits readers who dive into Gold Under Ice? What is Dan Stark up to in the second book?

Gold Under Ice is far more wide-ranging than was God’s Thunderbolt. Half the novel is set in Virginia City, and half in New York City. The tying thread is gold, Montana gold that Dan Stark brings to New York to pay the debt his father left. He doesn’t have enough gold, so he decides to repay the debt in greenbacks, the currency that the Lincoln administration printed to pay the Union Armies and buy supplies. That leads to trouble because speculation was considered disloyal, if not downright treasonous. Dan’s autocratic grandfather is beside himself about it, because he thinks paying debts with paper is dishonorable.

Q: The book, in part, explores an aspect of the Civil War years that isn’t necessarily covered in depth in history textbooks (disclaimer: I was educated in Texas public schools, which seem to be dismissing Thomas Jefferson, so what do I know?). What was the role of money in the conflict, and how does that entangle Dan Stark?

The role of money, either gold or greenbacks, isn’t well studied and it certainly doesn’t find its way into history textbooks much. When I began to research Gold I discovered a lot I didn’t know about money during the Civil War. It’s a fascinating subject, and I had to fight to keep from writing nonfiction. For the first time, the federal government printed money, the greenback, because there was not enough gold to pay for everything. Gold reserves began to run out, so at the end of December 1861, the banks closed. They refused to honor demands because they hadn’t enough gold to meet them. The first Legal Tender Act was the nation’s first declaration that paper money would be accepted in payment of debts already incurred. Congress passed two more acts, each time allowing for the printing of more paper.

Then, of course, many saw a speculative opportunity and began to trade in gold against the greenback. Fortunes were made and lost on the Gold Exchange, which was barred from the Stock Exchange because the directors thought it was treason to trade in gold. As gold rose, the greenback lost value, and the greenback was the Union’s money. Therefore, to cause the greenback to lose value was to be disloyal. That’s a conflict within Dan, who is a radical abolitionist and supporter of President Lincoln.

Q: Where can readers get a copy?

On Amazon.com, from Montana Borders stores, Hastings stores, and from independent booksellers. Also from your website and mine: CraigLancaster.net and SwanRange.com.

Q: Your intricately, lovingly written historical fiction requires a good deal of research. What were some of the challenges in writing Gold Under Ice?

The math! Luckily Dick, my husband, is a math whiz who built a spreadsheet that let me enter the amount of raw gold, the purity, the premium (the current price of gold in the Gold Room), and come up with the current value of gold and the greenback. At one point (in the 1970s) I held a NASD securities license, so I’d had some (very rusty) background. Besides, a good friend who is a financial analyst read the whole book, especially the trading scenes, and corrected some things. And Google Books, with its marvelous scanning, enabled me to located books on economics and banking written in the late 1860s and the 1870s and a couple of contemporary accounts of gold trading and what it was like in the Gold Room.

Q: I was struck by some of the universal themes in Gold Under Ice — the tension between responsibilities to family and the desire to make one’s own way in life, yearning, conflict. From your perspective as the author, what’s the overarching theme of the book?

I don’t know. Theme, I believe, comes out of story, and I truly never gave a thought to theme as I wrote either book.

Q: Start to finish, how long did it take you to write Gold Under Ice?

I wrote a truly awful first draft for NaNoWriMo in November 2007, threw 95% of it away, and let it sit while I marketed and then self-published God’s Thunderbolt: The Vigilantes of Montana. In 2008 I went back to Gold, so I guess the really intense work took 18 months – two years.

Q: Can you describe your work process? Are you an aggressive plotter and outliner, or do you let the story carry you along as you write it?

I use sticky notes on a long piece of butcher paper to plug in scene ideas and move them around. When I know what order the scenes fall in, I begin a scene outline in a Word table. I always know how the book starts, what happens, and how it’ll end before I write. Then come the intervening scenes, the ones that get us there, in a detailed scene outline. But as I write, things change. My understanding of each scene deepens, and I understand larger implications, see new aspects of characterization, let the characters direct more. I write in scenes, not chapters, and people said about God’s Thunderbolt that reading it was like watching a movie. I see the scenes and events as if I were watching a movie, and I write them down. In draft after draft after draft after….

Q: What sort of pleasure reading do you engage in?

I can’t relate to some genres (sci/fi, horror, fantasy, paranormal, zombie stuff), so my reading is mostly limited to very well written thrillers (James Lee Burke), mysteries (John Dunning, Craig Johnson), and literary novels (E. L. Doctorow, Kim Edwards), and some western fiction whose writing is outstanding (Howard Cobb). And poetry. I love Jane Kenyon, Shakespeare (of course), Billy Collins, John Donne, T. S. Eliot, and Mona Van Duyne. (I might also mention a great new Montana author named Craig Lancaster, whose 600 Hours of Edward is one of my favorites.)

Q: For an author, it’s a dance between the current book and the next book. We’ve heard about the current book. What’s next?

Gold III (working title) set in Virginia City, again with Dan Stark as the protagonist, amid the beginnings of a judicial system at odds with the Vigilantes.

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.
Click here for a PDF of the entire review, published with permission from Montana Quarterly.

It’s been a strange week.

I seem to have scuttled one friendship in a stupid political debate in which I indulged a destructive tendency to answer a verbal jab with a verbal elbow to the nose. Apologies have been issued and unaccepted, and so it goes. Another lesson learned the hard way.

My sour mood over that loss notwithstanding, I was happy to see that my friend Celeste’s son has learned that a precise employment of language can deliver some nice benefits.

As she wrote in a Facebook status update:

Arguing with the boy. “You said I’d get ice cream.” He had a fudge bar earlier, so I said he’d already had ice cream. “That’s only RELATED to ice cream.”

Celeste acknowledged in a subsequent comment that she was losing the argument.

I smiled, because it reminded me of a row I had with my own mother many years ago, when I was in junior high school. We were arguing about something or other that has been lost to time, and I was prevailing in the game of point-counterpoint. Finally, Mom pulled the plug by way of a fiat: It would be done her way, and that was that.

“You’re only doing that because you’re losing the damned argument,” I said.

My invocation of the mildest of curse words, at my tender age, earned me a fresh round of scolding and the promise that more would follow that evening from my stepfather. I trudged off to school dreading what awaited me just a few hours later.

When I returned home, I was sat down for a talk. I couldn’t be permitted to go around cursing at my mother, I was told. There would have to be a punishment, a rather stern one.

(I should point out now that my folks were, and are, extraordinarily good people who rarely had to punish me, sternly or otherwise. That’s because I was a pretty good kid, my budding proclivity for verbal throwdowns notwithstanding.)

Rather than accepting my fate, I took issue with my stepfather’s characterization of my offense. I proceeded to reduce that morning’s angry sentence to its component parts, pointing out that damned was an adjective that modified the noun argument. It was not accurate to say I cursed at my mother, I contended. The better interpretation is that I cursed in her presence.

My folks were duly impressed with my grammatical acuity. My grounding was trimmed to a day rather than the longer stretch initially outlined. And I was exhorted to not curse “at” or “near” my mother again.

Sometimes, a reduced sentence is the best you can hope for.

(By the way, the word cloud above is the product of this post. Clever, eh?)

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