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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

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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.

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.

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.

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.

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

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.

Where in the hell did a year go?

Tonight, for the first time since Nov. 17, 2009, I made fresh progress on a new novel. Eight hundred and fifty-nine words’ worth, if you must know, and that’s a pretty good single-session output for me. I’d be lying if I said I had planned to let it sit so long, and I’d also be lying if I said I feel like I wasted the time in between. Twenty-ten was spent pushing hard on 600 Hours of Edward, rounding The Summer Son into shape (and finding a publisher for it), essays, short stories and the like. I did not want for work, though I probably could have gotten by on a little less rest.

Just the same, after writing and selling two novels in twenty months, to have let twelve more slip by me with no measurable progress on a third seems … unlikely. And yet, that’s just what happened. Now that the thing is moving again, I’ll hope to stay atop it until I see it through. As to its working title or storyline, I’d like to hold that close for a little while longer yet. Ideas are like newborn puppies; the fewer hands that touch them, the better.

Perhaps the most common question I receive — aside from “Ever think about mixing in a salad occasionally?” and “Just what’s wrong with you, anyway?” — is this one: “Why do you write?”

I never have a very original answer. I mumble something about a deep inner compulsion and not being very good at anything else and a latent desire for self-abuse — all of which are, to varying degrees, valid reasons.

And then I get a letter like this one, from an early reader of The Summer Son who provides the best answer imaginable: I write to share an emotional experience with other people.

Read on:

Very good. Blown away by the ending. But I think I found the key sentence in the entire book:

“There is no universal standard for judging a man; it’s all a matter of degrees and a question of where you stand.”

Truer, wiser words have never been spoken, my friend. But am I right? Does this sentence pop for you like it does me?

I am so glad you let me read this book. I have a bazillion questions for you, and in time, hope we can speak about it.

Mom kept pestering me to finish it, and as I just got my reading glasses from Costco last night, I was able to tackle it in earnest. She was biting her lip to not spoil it in any way, but wanting so much to discuss it with me, apart, that is, from her high praise for your style and technique. We both agreed that it was taut, economical, and though I did not use the word out loud in front of her, I found your style “non-masturbatorial.” You know, where a writer can’t help but toss in some purple prose just for the sake of showing off, therewith sacrificing the integrity of the narrator’s voice. I’m glad you refrained from that, even though you could have, had you wanted to. Mom says it is because you’re a real newspaper man. Ronald Tobias, my writing teacher and mentor over at MSU, used to say, “Good writing, as well as bad writing, can get in the way of storytelling.” I find it highly commendable that you left the mustard in the fridge, to paraphrase the late, great Chick Hearns.

I refrained from bringing out the yellow highlighter till the end, when I found the aforementioned sentence, then said fuck it, and began highlighting away. I’m gonna want to use it lots in the re-read, and scribble notes in the margins, too. … It really is good, you know. I can see now why Mom has muttered over and over again how much she wishes Oprah would read it and add it to her collection of works she’s endorsed. For some reason, Mom thinks many people should read it. I think she’s right, and I think it’s because you tapped into the reality that we never really know everything we think we know, especially when it comes to our parents, and their personal histories. I suspect that what happened to Jim as a boy happened to my father, and it haunted him till his death, too. And was a giant splitting wedge in their intimacy.

It’s good, Craig, and it’s good like Edward was good, but in a much different way. Edward was quirk and Mitch was angst, but both characters are equally believable and likeable, even with their idiosyncracies. Mitch is everyman, not Superman. Mitch is honest, wrong, lost, but good-hearted. His character arc is huge, and he grows and changes about as much as a person can grow and change, which usually isn’t very much, but it’s enough and it’s a fair atonement for all the hell the author put us through getting him to the other side.

I’ve learned a lot, and hopefully, grown some from reading your words.

Again, thank you. It’s an honor I hope I can someday repay.

Thanks, Jeremy, for that.

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.

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