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No, not THAT kind of love.

This devastatingly handsome guy is Gustavo. He runs the book department at the Hastings store here in Billings, Montana. I’ve known him since way back in February 2009, when I showed up with my sad little self-published debut novel and inquired about a consignment deal. He gave me one. Sold a few books for me. Let me do a signing. Always paid up, too.

Now, the nice thing about getting to know Gustavo then is that I know him now. We’re Facebook buds. We have a lot of other friends in common. When we run into each other around town, we chat awhile. And when he says, “Hey, your book sold out,” and I say, “Sounds like it’s time for another signing,” he’s all for it. So that’s what I’ll be doing Saturday at the Billings Hastings (1603 Grand Ave.) from 1 to 3 p.m.

He even made me a cool little sign:

Here’s the deal: You write alone. You fret alone. You try to find an agent or a publisher alone. You grind on your insecurities alone. But when the book finally, blessedly comes out, you’re not alone. You get to meet readers. You get to meet booksellers. If you work hard enough, you get to talk to reporters and radio hosts and Elks groups and book clubs. Life is about relationships, and man oh man, is that the truth with books. I didn’t get to know Gustavo because I cravenly want to sell books (although I certainly do). You can’t fake it. He’s a good man, and he’s supported me and my book, and I’m damn well going to support him and his store.

This blog has lain fallow far too long. Please allow me to begin watering it again.

A few items of note:

I’ve launched a new site, Messages to Our Fathers, that ties in with my forthcoming novel, The Summer Son. The twist here is that the items will come from other writers and random contributors. The field is wide open for submissions, so long as they take in some element of the roles fathers play in our lives. We’re off to a lively start, and I hope you’ll make a point of adding it to your reading list. (By the way, if you’d like to contribute an item and get some publicity for your current project, just drop me a line at amindadrift at gmail dot com.)

Speaking of The Summer Son … Work continues on preparing it for advance reviewers and, early next year, its emergence with AmazonEncore. I can’t say enough about what a great experience it’s been so far.

I’ve been a bit lazy this summer as far as book events go, but that will change this coming Saturday, July 24, when I’ll be signing copies of 600 Hours of Edward at the Billings Hastings, 1603 Grand Ave., from 1 to 3 p.m. If you’re in the area, I hope you’ll drop by and say hello.

More news as it emerges. In the in-between, I’ll be posting with greater frequency here in the days, weeks and months ahead. Book recommendations, pop-culture riffs, weird links, the whole freakin’ menagerie of human life. We’re stuck with it, so we might as well celebrate it.

P.S. It’s July 21, 2010. Two years ago today, I wrecked a motorcycle at high speed on Interstate 94. Damn glad to be here still. For those of you who enjoy nostalgia, here’s the essay.

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.

Having had a burst of book signings over the past week — and with more on the horizon — I’ve come to one major conclusion (more on this in a minute) and some assorted other thoughts (ditto).

First, the conclusion: Signings are not, in and of themselves, my favorite thing in the world. While people like Sarah Palin enjoy teeming crowds with twitterpating hearts, your average schlub author — and I’m nothing if not a schlub* — mostly sits and smiles for a couple of slow-moving hours. Now, let me be clear: It’s not the adulation I crave. It’s the human contact. In the paragraphs to come, I’ll propose some ways that you and I can do better by each other.

But first, a disclaimer

It would be the height of dishonesty to say that the exercise isn’t about selling you a book. It is. As much as it might entertain both of us to chat happily about this or that or compare favorite movies, in the end, I want you to take the book. That said, I’m a big boy, and I learned a long time ago that I don’t always get what I want. I can take it if you’re just not interested. OK? OK.

Onward …

What you need to know

1. I’m not going to attack you: I’ve grown so amused by the customers who enter the store, see me sitting front and center, avert their eyes and take the most circuitous route possible to whatever part of the store they want to visit that I finally printed out a sign that graces the signing table: “Author will not bite unless you ask him to.” At the very least, it’s a conversation piece. It’s also a guarantee.

2. If you have the time, I’d love to chat: About anything, really. Whether you take a book or not, I’m going to have to sit there. Hearing what folks are reading or doing helps the time go by and helps me be more aware of the world around me.

A few weeks ago, at a Borders signing, a woman and her teenage son stopped by the table. While she ended up buying a book (thank you!), most of the conversation centered on what the young man held in his hands: The Grapes of Wrath. It was a blast to be able to chat with him about it and to tell him not to dismiss the turtle chapter, that it would all become clear once he was done. I’m thankful they stopped by.

3. Laughter is the opposite of soul-crushing: There’s a caged-animal-on-display aspect of signings that a lot of authors find distasteful. We have a lot of reasons for being there — promoting our work, supporting the stores that stock our titles, maintaining the court-mandated 150 yards from all schools — but I haven’t met an author yet who doesn’t appreciate the folks who come by, crack a joke and let some oxygen back into the room. So to those who do us this valuable service, I say thanks.

What I need to do

1. Have a good answer for this question: “What’s your book about?” All I can say is that I’m honing it.

2. Get up from the damned table: At my first signing, I never left my seat, and I sold about three books in two hours. Subsequent efforts have involved more movement and, not surprisingly, more sales. Just as important, they’ve led to more satisfying interactions with my favorite kind of people: the kind who love books.

3. Bring candy: No lie. It makes the table more inviting. I’ve been heavy on the chocolate of late. If you’d like something different — particularly if you’re going to be at the Billings Hastings this Saturday — let me know in the comments section.

* — Lest you think that I’m being falsely humble here, I point you to this excellent essay in the Indie Reader magazine on the death of the book tour. In it, Charles Stillwagon of the Tattered Cover bookstore in Denver says of midlist and debut (that’s me) authors:

“Why would they think that anyone would want to come out to meet them?”

Why, indeed. Let’s take the over-inflated bastards out back and kick the bejeezus out of them.

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