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Endorsements of The Summer Son have begun to roll in from authors and critics whose work I deeply admire.

Among them:

“Lancaster has crafted a novel that offers readers the most valuable gift any work of fiction can offer: an authentic emotional experience. The Summer Son will grip you with its pathos and insight, propel you mercilessly forward with its tension and suspense, and then wow you with an ending you won’t see coming. And when the experience is over, The Summer Son will stick with you.”
Jonathan Evison, author of West of Here and All About Lulu

Jon is having the kind of career I can only dream of. His first novel, All About Lulu, won rave reviews as a funny, deeply felt coming-of-age story. His latest, West of Here, will release on Feb. 11, 2010, and is already being hailed as one of the great books of the coming year. Chuck Adams, Evison’s editor at Algonquin, has called it the best book he’s worked with in four decades of publishing. I’m lucky enough to have an advance reader copy of it, and I can tell you that the multigenerational sweep, the sense of place, the writing all are beautifully rendered.

*****

“Lancaster’s characters drill into the earth in search of natural gas, and so too do they burrow into their pasts, hunting for the pockets of explosive angst that define who they are today. A compelling dose of realism and a vicious reminder that ancient history is always close enough to kiss us.”
Joshua Mohr, author of Termite Parade and Some Things That Meant the World To Me

Josh is the kind of writer who makes me wonder if the rest of us simply don’t have sufficient imagination. Consider the premise of his latest, Termite Parade: Three narrators — a woman, Mired; her boyfriend, Derek; and his twin brother, Frank — carry us through a story that starts with Mired’s being pushed down stairs, intentionally, by Derek (who, by the way, believes he’s being eaten from the inside by termites). And his much-heralded debut, Some Things That Meant the World To Me, centered on a 30-year-old man named Rhonda who is led through his troubled past by his own inner child. Some Things, published by tiny Two Dollar Radio, was selected by O Magazine as one of its “10 Terrific Reads of 2009.”

*****

The Summer Son is a superb and authentic exploration of family ties and the delicate relationships between fathers and sons, husbands and wives, and the past and present. Lancaster writes from the heart in clear and powerful prose, exposing his characters flaws and strengths in heartbreaking detail and giving readers exactly what we want from contemporary fiction: characters we believe in from the first page, laugh and cry with throughout, and, finally, deeply understand at the end.”
Kristy Kiernan, author of Catching Genius and Between Friends

In a book world that demands that everything be classified, Kristy’s work often gets labeled as women’s fiction. While that’s certainly not a knock, it also misses half the picture. What she really writes is human fiction — beautiful, complex, redeeming, heartbreaking human fiction. All of her work — Matters of Faith, Catching Genius, Between Friends — probes relationships and choices and consequences with a deft eye and a hopeful heart. Fabulous stuff.

*****

“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.”
Richard S. Wheeler, author of Snowbound and a six-time Spur Award winner

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: Dick Wheeler, for my money, is our greatest living writer of Westerns, and along the way, he became simply a fine novelist, no qualifications necessary. He’s also a man after my own heart: a former newspaperman who stumbled into a literary career. (That he is married to one of the finest people on the planet, Sue Hart, essentially makes Dick the most enviable man I know.) Check out his latest, Snowbound, for a terrific example of Wheeler’s exhaustive research — the tale centers on explorer John Fremont — and his elegant prose.

*****

The Summer Son made me laugh, made me feel and even made me love a scoundrel.”
Kristen Tsetsi, author of Pretty Much True …

I love when great things happen to deserving people. Kris’ self-released debut novel, Homefront, was loved by nearly everyone who read it, and after years of shopping it to publishers, she’s found one who sees the possibilities for the book that all of us who’ve read it so clearly grasped. It will be re-emerging soon as Pretty Much True … and you pretty much should read it when it does. Check out her blog here.

*****

“Part family saga, part mystery, The Summer Son will grab hold of you and not let go.”
R.J. Keller, author of Waiting for Spring

I love when great things happen to deserving people, Part 2. R.J. originally released her debut novel through CreateSpace, priced it to move on Amazon’s Kindle platform — and reaped the rewards of her own good work and readers’ word of mouth. Waiting for Spring — women’s fiction for women who don’t live Carrie Bradshaw’s existence — has consistently been one of the best-selling novels on the Kindle, and sure enough, AmazonEncore took notice: It will re-release the book to a much wider audience next spring. A success story well-earned.

*****

“In this novel of power, psychological insight, suspense, and healing, Lancaster takes the reader on Mitch Quillen’s search with courage and emotional honesty. Moving and unforgettable!”
Carol Buchanan, Spur Award-winning author of God’s Thunderbolt and Gold Under Ice

What can I say about Carol? She’s one of my best friends among the Montana writers I’ve met, she’s a whip-smart writer and possibly even better editor (The Summer Son benefited greatly from her advice), and she wrote a self-published debut novel (God’s Thunderbolt) that won a Spur Award. She’s such a gifted writer that it was a no-brainer for me to team up with her and launch her follow-up, Gold Under Ice, as the first release of my small literary imprint, Missouri Breaks Press.

*****

“Craig Lancaster really knows how to tell a story. And in this deeply felt, keenly observed, beautifully structured novel he tells one older than Sophocles, about the tensions between fathers and sons and the secrets that shape — and threaten to destroy — their lives.”
Charles Matthews, former books editor, San Jose Mercury News

Charles and I go way back, although it would be a stretch to say that we really knew each other before the advent of Facebook. We worked together at the San Jose Mercury News several years ago, but that was back in the days when that newspaper had 400-some editorial employees (as opposed to the 120 or so it has now), and so I’m not sure we ever even had a conversation. But no matter. Charles knows his stuff, and I’m greatly pleased that he liked what he read from me. Check out Bookishness, his brilliant blog.

So there they are — eight testimonials that I hope will persuade you to give The Summer Son a try. But even better: I just gave you at least a dozen good reading recommendations. Check these authors out. You won’t be sorry.

As I use YouTube mostly for looking at 1980s music videos (I love Duran Duran; do not judge me), I’ve been slow to pick up on the growing field of book trailers — a couple of minutes’ worth of visual art that, much like a movie preview, is intended to hook your interest and, it is hoped, prompt you to buy the book.

Here are a couple of book trailers from authors I admire, R.J. Keller and Kristen Tsetsi. Take a look:

“That Would Be Me” (for Keller’s Waiting for Spring)

Tsetsi’s Homefront

Here’s what a trailer can look like if you have the power of a huge publisher and assured sales of a million-plus books behind you:

Dan Brown’s The Lost Symbol

I’d be curious to hear what people think of these videos. Are you any more or less intrigued by the titles after viewing them? Do you think that the author should be featured as much as the book? Why or why not?

One of the things I’m going to do in the next week or so is start plotting out a trailer for my own book, 600 Hours of Edward. I really have no feel for how effective or ineffective it will be, but I’m doing it under the auspices of “Let’s run that sucker up the flagpole and see if anyone salutes.” What I’m learning more and more about building buzz for a book is that it works in multitudes (seriously, I think a copy of The Lost Symbol is handed out to every airline traveler in the world) and at the grass-roots level, one reader at a time. If a book trailer helps to hook a few, it’s worth the effort.

* — I realize that “tape,” in the sense of videos, is an antiquity. I’m taking some creative license here.

author_portraitWelcome to what I hope will turn into a semi-regular feature in this space. (I’m not promising anything, like every Friday or whatever, because that’s just tempting a crash.) I’d like to turn the focus on authors and how they approach the craft. The feature is likely to lean toward those who have chosen an independent route to publishing, but in time, I’d like to take on all comers.

The first guest is R.J. Keller, author of Waiting for Spring. She’s based in Maine and a member of Backword Books, a collective of independent authors.

Q: Where did the idea for Waiting for Spring come from, and once you had the basis for a story, how long did you spend working on it?

I just really wanted to tell the story of a group of regular people dealing with the kind of problems everyday people face, the kind of things I saw the people in my life dealing with. So many authors tell stories about ordinary people who find themselves in extraordinary circumstances — housewives or businessmen who stumble into danger and end up saving someone’s life, or saving the world — and that’s cool. I like those kind of books, too. But getting out of bed in the morning and forcing yourself to go to work when your heart is breaking after a divorce, or when your world is falling apart because someone you love has died, is heroic, too.

I began work on the novel in March of 2006. The first version of the first draft took me about six months to write, but it went through a series of rather intensive edits, so it wasn’t completed until early fall of 2007.

Q: You chose to publish Waiting for Spring independently. Why?

waitingforspringI did try for a while to get it published traditionally, and I found some interest. I kept getting turned down, even though several agents liked the manuscript, because they felt it wasn’t marketable. It doesn’t fit into a particular genre or have an easy answer to, “What’s your book about, in ten words or less?” I felt like Jerry Seinfeld trying to pitch his ‘show about nothing,’ except that my novel felt more like a ‘book about everything.’ It’s more about the way the story is told than about what actually happens.

I finally decided that since I believed in myself and in my novel, who better to put it out into the world? The Internet opens up a so many new ways of publishing, of finding and reaching readers directly. I knew I had something worthwhile, so I used those tools and found the readers.
 
Q: The book is an intense character study of your protagonist, Tess, someone who sees some of the grittier aspects of life. How do you approach the writing of intense scenes?

I have to dig very deeply for those scenes. I can’t just ask myself, “What would I do if I was in this circumstance.” I have to become my character at that point. I crank the music in my headphones and close my eyes and play the scene in my mind, not as though I’m watching it or choreographing it, but as though I’m there in the thick of it and it’s happening to me. I wait until I’ve hit the particular nerve I need to hit in order to make the scene real (I call it “exposing the core”) before I start to actually write it. I usually start writing with my eyes still closed, so that it doesn’t feel like clunky words being typed onto a computer monitor, but rather that the emotions themselves are dissolving onto it. I suppose it’s a little like method acting.

Q: How do you plot out a story? Is it mostly in your head, or do you do detailed outlines and notes?

I nearly always start with my characters, and let the plot spring naturally from them. Once I get going, I make notes based on what I’ve already written — timelines and family trees, for example — so I can keep things organized.
 
Q: You’ve said that Waiting for Spring was, on some level, your attempt at writing female-driven literature that spoke to the world as you see it. What do you mean?

I live in a very rural, somewhat poverty-stricken area of Maine. So much of the contemporary women’s fiction that’s been popular over the past ten years or so deals with urban characters and situations. There’s so much attention paid to where these characters shop and what brands of clothes they buy there and what kind of shoes they wear, and not enough to the actual characters. It was hard for me to relate to these women, or to care about them.

And even the books that are set in rural areas seem very out of touch to what I see around me, because most of them are written by people who live in the city. They might drive through the sticks to get to the lake or the coast while they’re on vacation, but that’s about it. They don’t live and work and breathe in these small towns, so too often their characters are stereotypical: Big Town Fish Out Of Water, Oppressed Small Town Girl Who Longs For Bigger Things, or Ignorant Hick. I wanted to shine a light on what we’re really like out here.
 
Q: Like many other writers, you’re balancing a “regular” job and family life. How and where do you carve out time to write?

It’s a real challenge, especially now that I’m home schooling my kids. I do my writing after everyone in the house has gone to bed, which works out well, because that’s when I’m at my creative peak. In fact, I think it’s more accurate to say that I have a harder time carving out enough time to sleep than I do carving out time to write.

Q: You’ve been at the forefront of experimenting with low- and no-cost offerings of your book in electronic formats. What is your thinking there?

I put myself in readers’ minds. R.J. Keller is an unknown, self-published author. She doesn’t have a big name publisher behind her, so what guarantee is there that they’re not throwing their money away on her book? The only way is to make that risk negligible by offering my work inexpensively, even free. I was, and still am, gambling on the hope that once people read my stuff, they’ll trust me enough to pay more next time around.
 
Q: Who, if anybody, helps you shape your work? Do you have a writing group? Trusted friends?

I don’t belong to an official writing group. I tried it, and it was counter-productive for me, although I know that other writers really benefit from that experience. I’m good friends with two editors who do me the favor of reading my work, and the even bigger favor of being brutally honest with me about it.
 
Q: What are you working on now, and how far along are you?

I’m working on what I call a ‘sort-of sequel’ to Waiting For Spring. It explores the relationship of my male protagonist (Brian)’s parents, Rick and Wendy. Most of the “action” of the novel takes place in one day. Their story is shown through Rick’s eyes, in flashbacks, as he’s preparing to carry out a brutal murder.

Q: What lessons have you learned in independent publishing? How will you bring them to bear on your next project?

Practically speaking, I’ve had to learn a whole new set of technical skills that will make formatting my next novel a lot easier. I’ve also gained a lot of confidence in myself and in my writing. But I think the most important thing I’ve learned is that I’m not alone. There’s a growing number of talented indie writers who are building a community, sharing what they’ve learned with others, encouraging each other. It’s a very exciting time, really.

Q: What question would you ask of fellow writers who are trying to make a go of it?

I like picking other writers’ brains for marketing ideas. There are so many avenues out there and I’m sure there are methods for promoting my novel that I’ve never heard of.

*****

Here are some links to more information about R.J. Keller and her books:

Blog: http://rjkeller.wordpress.com/
Web site: http://www.rj-keller.com/
Waiting for Spring on Kindle: http://www.amazon.com/dp/B001MTEN6K
Waiting for Spring in print: http://www.amazon.com/Waiting-Spring-R-J-Keller/dp/1440461163/ref=sr_1_2?ie=UTF8&qid=1229752118&sr=8-2
Waiting for Spring on Smashwords: http://www.smashwords.com/books/view/268
Waiting for Spring on Scribd: http://www.scribd.com/doc/15651830/Waiting-for-Spring-RJ-Keller
R.J. Keller on Twitter: http://twitter.com/rjkeller
R.J. Keller on Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/rjkeller

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