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I’m looking at you, Bozeman, Missoula, Ronan, Dillon

I always have a good time reading in Ronan. This is from my 2010 visit there to read from my debut novel, 600 HOURS OF EDWARD. (Photo by Jim Thomsen)

I always have a good time reading in Ronan. This is from my 2010 visit there to read from my debut novel, 600 HOURS OF EDWARD. (Photo by Jim Thomsen)

For various reasons owing mostly to a career that I no longer have, I didn’t do much traveling with Edward Adrift when it came out last year.

Starting Tuesday, April 8, I aim to rectify that. I’ll be hitting the road for a four-gig tour of western Montana independent bookstores and libraries, where I’ll read from and talk about Edward Adrift and will even include a sneak-preview reading from my next novel, The Fallow Season of Hugo Hunter (release details still to come). Here’s where I’ll be, hoping to see old friends and make some new ones:

Tuesday, April 8: At the Country Bookshelf, 28 West Main Street, Bozeman, MT. 7 p.m. www.countrybookshelf.com

Wednesday, April 9: At Shakespeare and Co., 103 South 3rd Street West, Missoula, MT. 7 p.m. www.shakespeareandco.com

Thursday, April 10: At the Ronan Library District, Ronan, MT. 6:30 p.m. www.ronancitylibrary.org

Friday, April 11: At The Bookstore, 26 North Idaho Street, Dillon, MT. 5 p.m. www.dillonbookstore.com

Q&A: Gwen Florio

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Newspaper people exist in a small world, which is how I felt as though I knew Gwen Florio even before I met her. We spent a number of years working for the same newspaper company. She was at the Missoulian, I was 350-some miles east at The Billings Gazette. She was a reporter. I spent most of my time on the copy desk, and editing her stories was how I grew familiar with her and her writing. When she chucked the newspaper career and became a full-time novelist, I can’t say I was surprised. I was doing the same thing.

Her first novel, MONTANA, let readers get to know Lola Wicks, a seasoned foreign correspondent who has been pulled back to the States against her wishes. Told to take some time off, she heads to Montana and lands in the middle of a murder mystery that is very personal to her.

Next up is DAKOTA, which puts Wicks back in the cross-hairs, this time in the booming Bakken oil formation. The new book releases March 21 from The Permanent Press.

In the midst of an active touring schedule, Florio was kind enough to answer a few questions …

dakotaQ: DAKOTA comes on the heels of MONTANA, a novel that has garnered fine reviews and introduced us to journalist Lola Wicks. What do you want people to know going into this one?

That Lola is back, and as bullheaded as ever. When she gets her teeth into a story, she can’t let go, even when specifically warned away. It takes place amid the social upheaval of North Dakota’s Bakken oil fields, a situation I found absolutely fascinating.

Your protagonist is a female journalist. You, of course, were a longtime, award-winning newspaper reporter. The inevitable question: How much of Lola is you?

One of the great pleasures about writing fiction is that you can create a protagonist who shares some of your own characteristics, and then make her so much better! For instance, I was never a full-time foreign correspondent. I just “parachuted” into situations for a few weeks and then came home. Lola is the seasoned correspondent I wish I’d been. As I’ve often remarked, she’s also taller, thinner and younger, which annoys the heck out of me. Sometimes I think that’s why I put her in such awful situations.

Why do you think so many reporters make the successful transition to fiction? And what caused you to think, OK, it’s time for me to leave the beat behind and focus my energy on books?

Because they got tired of a regular paycheck and health benefits? Seriously, most reporters I know are avid fiction readers, so it makes sense that they’d like to write novels. And, because they write daily, the prospect of writing a novel is probably not as daunting to reporters as to other people. Finally, that crack about a paycheck and health insurance actually was part of the impetus to finally give fiction a full-time go: As the field of journalism became more and more tenuous, with near-daily reports of layoffs and other cost-cutting measures at newspapers, it seemed silly to hang on to a job I felt as though I inevitably were going to lose, anyway. I also waited until I had a two-book contract before I left, so the leap wasn’t completely quixotic.

You’ve been traveling a lot and meeting readers in support of your first book. What has been the best moment you’ve experienced? Did anything surprise you?

A couple of things: Traveling around Montana, something the day job left little time for. Giving readings and doing research is a great way to see the state. Last summer, we drove out to the Bakken for research on DAKOTA, and then back along the whole Hi-Line, something I’ve wanted to do ever since I moved to Montana. It was worth the wait. Even more, it’s been great to connect with people who love books, and with other writers. I’ve met people, like you, whose work I’ve admired from afar. That’s much fun. The biggest surprise? The fact that readings in the smallest towns sometimes attract the biggest and most engaged audiences. That makes it doubly fun for me, because the smaller towns are the places I most enjoy going.

What led you to writing as a career?

I’ve always loved to read. I grew up in a very rural area without a lot of other kids around, so I just read and read and read. I was an English major in college (more reading) and got into journalism when my dad not-so-subtly suggested that I might need to channel all of that reading and writing into a job.

OK, you’re at home, working on a manuscript. What does a day of work look like?

I’m at my laptop no later than 9 a.m., a big change from when I used to slide into work a minimum of 10 minutes late each day (we won’t talk about all the unpaid overtime each night). When I had the day job, I shot for 500 words a day. When I first started writing full time, I upped that to 1,000, and recently started working on 1,500 to 2,000 a day. A daily total is important to me—it harkens back to my daily journalism deadline, so feels familiar, and it also helps me get through the hell of a first draft. Afternoons are for blogging (not often enough), setting up readings, and keeping track of the surprising amount of minutiae that goes along with this business. One more thing: I have a rule about not writing in my jammies. I have to be showered and dressed, more or less presentably, before I start work. Finally, when I’m deep into revisions, I often work well into the night. I’m not much fun to be around then.

How do you hone a project? Do you have a critique group or trusted early readers?

I’ve been a member of two terrific writing groups (Rittenhouse Writers’ Group in Philadelphia and 406 Writers in Missoula) over the years, and they’re really helpful, especially with short stories. Novels are a different animal, and I’m still feeling my way with them. On the advice of my agent, I hired an outside editor for MONTANA (Judy Sternlight; can’t say enough good things about her) and turned to her again for DAKOTA, and hope to do so with subsequent novels. I’m also a member of an online group of four women formed after last year’s Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers convention in Denver. That’s really helpful.

What lies beyond DAKOTA? Can you give us a glimpse into your next project?

WYOMING! And then, ARIZONA and UTAH. Seriously, my publisher did me a favor when he named the book MONTANA by giving me a theme of sorts. As long as people, please God, are interested in following Lola around, I’m going to keep sending her from one state to the next. It’s fun trying to figure out a plot that’s thematic to each place.

If you’re not writing, what interests fill your time?

For many, many years, writing took up all my spare time. I’m still getting used to the fact that I actually have personal time on evenings and weekends now. For starters, I’ve gotten reacquainted with my sweetie, a huge benefit. He comes along on my book research trips, so we’ve had fun exploring remote parts of North Dakota and Wyoming. I started running a couple of years ago, completing one marathon and three half-marathons so far. If my knee cooperates, I’ll shoot for at least one half-marathon this year. The training gets me outdoors on trails around Missoula, something that—even in the worst of weather—I just love. And, I can’t spend too much time in Glacier. Oh, and reading. Lots of reading. Never enough time for that.

Gwen Florio’s website

Follow Gwen on Twitter

Gwen Florio’s Facebook page

 

Plotting vs. pants-ing

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With all necessary apologies, I’m going to talk a bit here about process. If that topic bores you as much as it does me (ordinarily), you won’t hurt my feelings by going somewhere more fun on this great wide Web.

You might like this place better.

If you’re sticking around, you’ve been warned, etc., etc.

Some months ago, I started a new manuscript. In short order, about eight double-spaced pages in, I put it down. Extensive work on another project—a partial teardown-and-rebuild, then a developmental edit—interceded, and I figured I could get back to the new manuscript when things were less frantic around here.

That opportunity came a week ago, and I’ve spent several hours with it every single day. In that time, the manuscript has grown: from eight pages to 102 (as I write this—with more writing scheduled for later tonight, who knows where it will be when I succumb to sleep).

This is unusually fast progress for me. In fact, it’s happened only two other times, and both of those were stories involving the same main character who is occupying my time now. I’m not trying to be coy here. It’s another Edward story.

I can’t explain why this character and his situations reveal themselves to me in such an expeditious way, when everything else can be such a struggle (see: my earlier mention of the teardown-and-rebuild). I can’t explain it, but I also don’t question it. To do so would show a lack of gratitude, and I’m endlessly grateful.

Part of the reason stories can be slow in coming lies in how I approach the work. I’ve tried plotting, but it doesn’t work well for me. I end up deviating from the plot, and if I’ve taken the time to write out notes before beginning the story, I feel compelled to revise my notes, which means I’m working on multiple documents simultaneously, and all of this serves to drive me out of the mental place where I can just let the narrative come as it may. If all of this sounds hopelessly artsy-fartsy (technical term), please believe me that I used to think so, too, long before I wrote fiction and I thought that writers who droned on about process were in danger of disappearing into their own nether regions. Now I’m one of them. Whatever.

What does work for me is putting a character on the page, giving him/her a nudge, and then following wherever he/she goes. Yes, sometimes those travels contradict the sense and sensibility of something that has come earlier, but hey, that’s why we revise. Yes, sometimes those journeys hit a dead end and the story dies. And yes, sometimes those characters travel to a place where the story is completed, but in a way that’s so unsatisfying that I wouldn’t dream of letting anyone else read it.

A friend of mine, novelist Taylor Lunsford, made a simple declaration when we were talking about this: “You’re a pants-er.”

“Huh?”

“You fly by the seat of your pants.”

Well, yeah.

So there it is. I’m a pants-er. I’m not going to apologize. I’m not going to dedicate myself to reform. I’m just going to grab every available minute until this story spins itself out.

I can’t wait to see what happens next.

Take me back to Sotogrande

On Jan. 9, the last full day of my visit to my hometown in Texas, I made an odd request of my folks.

“Will you ride with me out to Sotogrande and see if we can find our old place?”

We have only two “old places” in the Dallas-Fort Worth area. The most notable is the house we moved into when I was four years old, where my mother and stepfather raised four kids, where they outlasted every neighbor we had until, in early 2013, they up and moved to a new place a stone’s throw from my old high school.

7025 Crabtree Lane in North Richland Hills, Texas, the house where I grew up. This photo is taken from Google Street View.

7025 Crabtree Lane in North Richland Hills, Texas, the house where I grew up. This photo is taken from Google Street View.

And then there’s Sotogrande, the apartment complex where my stepfather, Charles, lived when he fell in love with my mom and moved us down from Casper, Wyoming, to live with him. At that time, forty years ago, it was one of the swankiest places you could live in the cluster of humanity known as the Mid-Cities. It adjoined a nine-hole golf course, had lots of swimming pools and boasted a nice set of tennis courts. It wasn’t hard to understand the appeal to Charles, a divorcee and father before Mom and I came along.

Of course, time brings changes. I hadn’t seen Sotogrande in twenty years or so. It’s undergone a few facelifts, and the name I knew it by is now a relic, replaced by “Westdale Hills,” a change for the worse, if you ask me. It’s a little rough around the edges. A friend tells me there’s a bit of a crime problem there.

Time had gone to work on us, too. For a while, we couldn’t find the damn apartment. We drove in and out of cul de sacs. We stared at informational signs. And then, finally, something clicked for Mom. From the backseat, she said, “Turn in here,” and there it all was. On our right, the swimming pool where we whiled away summer days. Dead ahead, the sidewalk where I learned to ride a bike. And there, on the corner, the steep flight of steps to our door, No. 116.

Our cul de sac at Sotogrande. The pool is at the top of the frame. Our apartment was on the opposite corner.

Our cul de sac at Sotogrande. The pool is at the top of the frame. Our apartment was on the opposite corner.

Charles likes to tell a story about me from that short time we all lived at Sotogrande. In 1973-74, he was still trying to make inroads with a little boy who would come to consider him both best friend and role model. One night, he called me in for dinner, and I came shooting up the stairs and through the front door.

“What are we having?” I asked.

Charles leaned down, scrunched his nose and said, “Liver and onions.”

“Woohoo!” I said. “My favorite!”

I don’t remember this, but it’s become family lore, right along with “a guuuuumbaaaaaall machine!” (don’t ask) and “that’s not just unbelievable, that’s incredible” (really, don’t ask). As we looped through the parking lot, it wasn’t hard for me to imagine the little boy I was bounding in front of my eyes and tearing up the stairs, just another day in a life that was undergoing remarkable change in those years.

Part of that change lay in the designs my folks had for their own lives. By the end of 1974, we’d be ensconced in that three-bedroom house on Crabtree Lane. In early 1976, my sister, Karen, joined us. Another two years brought my brother Cody. Keith, the older stepbrother I’d received by way of marriage, lived with us for stretches. A neighborhood thick with kids and single-family homes made more sense than a small two-story apartment.

So why was it so important for me to see Sotogrande on this visit?

In part, it was just the character of the entire trip. I visit my part of Texas irregularly—sometimes it’s a year between visits, sometimes a year and a half, sometimes just a few months—and every time I’m back I have to account for the rapid way in which it changes. Transformation happens where I live, too, but I can deal with that, as I assimilate it day by day. When I’m in North Texas, on the other hand, I have to play catch-up. Open spaces get gobbled up and stores and houses and schools are spit out in their place. The contours of roads I thought I knew change, sometimes drastically. On this trip, I spent hours in my rental car, sometimes with a friend but often alone, looking for traces of the familiar amid transformations. Sometimes I found it. Sometimes I just shook my head and tried to remember a different, younger time.

Sotogrande, though, was more than that.

You see, I have so many memories of my short time there. The first dog I loved, a stray dachshund we named Sniffer, was found there. I learned to navigate a relationship with a brother after being an only child. I saw my mom grow happy and contented. I found a man who was willing to raise me as his own flesh and blood, and let me tell you, that’s a remarkable thing.

Sotogrande gave birth to my earliest strung-together memories. Everything before it exists in whispers of recollection. I knew I loved my dad back in Wyoming. I knew he lived in Casper after we were gone. Little snippets of recall remain in my head, but they unravel quickly, and they’re out of order. Sotogrande, on the other hand, represents a real era in my life, a period both lived and remembered.

I enjoyed seeing it again.

It’s a great line, but I didn’t come up with it

Something curious has happened in the past several weeks.

Three or four times now, I’ve searched for my name on Twitter—yeah, I’m that guy—and I’ve come across posts that look like this:

“Things turn out best for people who make the best of the way things turn out.”—Craig Lancaster

Uh, no. John Wooden. No, seriously, he really said it.

Because I’m such an accuracy freak—blame journalism; I’m trying to break the habit—I feel compelled to publicly set the record straight, as I did several hours ago. To wit:

I know how this happened. I wrote a collection of short stories, Quantum Physics and the Art of Departure. I don’t talk a lot about this book, but I’m really proud of it. The first story, Somebody Has to Lose, is about a teenage basketball phenom and her coach, and the tangled mess that results when a town loses its mind over sports. The phenom’s father is, fictitiously, a former player on Wooden’s UCLA teams, and he has drilled this quote into his daughter’s consciousness. It’s a small part of a long story, but it’s obviously struck a chord. Not surprising. The original Wooden quote struck a chord with me.

Here’s what it looks like in print:

Once more, for the record:

It’s a great line.

But I didn’t come up with it.

John Wooden did.

100K

When it comes to the book business and how I comport myself, I’m a man of guiding principles:

1. Write what’s in my heart, not what I calculate to be the quickest route to sales, notoriety, etc.

2. Connect with readers, not other authors.

3. Don’t get in back-and-forths with critics. They have their role, I have mine.

4. Don’t yammer on about sales figures.

For much of my novel-writing career, still in its adolescence, No. 4 has been easy to honor. There wasn’t much to say. Beyond that, trumpeting one’s sales has generally struck me as unseemly, unless it’s for educational purposes (see J.A. Konrath, who has been transparent about how his life and career have been changed by self-publishing) or some truly remarkable threshold has been met.

I hope the latter is the case here, as I deviate from my self-imposed rigor.

Because of the vagaries of sales numbers—this month’s sales could be eroded by next month’s returns—I won’t know exactly when I cross this threshold, but sometime in the next week, I should reach 100,000 books sold since my first, 600 Hours of Edward, was originally released in October 2009.

In some significant ways, it’s no big deal. I haven’t spent a day on any of the big bestseller lists. My books aren’t released with big multimedia marketing campaigns. I haven’t managed to keep an entire publishing division afloat with any single title. And, hey, it took me four releases in almost four years to accumulate those numbers. (And that doesn’t even get into sales numbers being a poor arbiter of book quality. We’ve all known crap books that sold in crazy quantities and wonderful books that never found an audience.)

On the other hand …

Before 600 Hours came out, I never expected to sell one book, let alone 100,000. In the years since that first release, some remarkable things have happened. I’ve been able to write more books and leave my job, dedicating myself full-time to being a professional author. I find now, at 43 years old, that I am what I dreamed of being back in high school: a self-sustaining, satisfied, working-man author. That was the aim when I started. Not awards (although they’re definitely nice). Not being the toast of the tastemakers (not bloody likely, ever). I just wanted to be a guy who put in the work and made a living.

That’s the significance of the sales, that I’m there and can now dream bigger. More, that’s the significance of all the people who’ve been so kind to buy the books, read them and tell their friends. My gratitude is bottomless.

To mark the occasion and to say thank you, I’m doing some giveaways over at my author page on Facebook. Among the goodies:

  • The chance to lend your name to a character in the novel I’m currently writing and receive a signed first draft of it.
  • Signed copies of all four books.
  • A coffee date with me. (Obviously, if you don’t live in Billings, Montana, or Montana at large, I’ll probably just send you a coffee card, which is the better prize anyway).

Follow the link above and comment on the giveaway post on my Facebook page. That’s all it takes.

 

Working blue

I woke up this morning to this online review of 600 Hours of Edward.

The salient bit:

If not for the swearing it would have received five stars and been one of the best books I’ve read lately hands down. As it is I don’t feel I can recommend it to my children or friends…unfortunate.

I don’t hear this often, but I do hear it. And I feel bad every time. First, it’s a missed opportunity to bring a reader fully into my work. More than that, I hate it when my own reading experiences pull me in two irreconcilable directions, so I have no wish to leave others with that feeling. It might have been more satisfying for this reader to have hated everything about the book. It certainly would have left things less muddled.

I have a policy about not responding directly to critics in an online forum, a stance that—so far—has kept me from gaining notoriety for all the wrong reasons.  That policy goes hand in hand with a general sense of gratitude I have toward those who spend time with what I’ve written and take the initiative to share their thoughts. This is walk-the-talk stuff. You can’t bask in the five-star reviews and take them as confirmation of your literary genius and then turn a blind eye to those who find flaws in your work and present their case in a coherent way.

So instead of rebutting this review—because it’s a well-presented, well-spoken opinion and thus needs no rebuttal—I’d like to instead talk about why blue language appears in my novels and why, even if I wanted to, I cannot keep it out.

The stories I write are given birth by my imagination, but the characters inhabiting them are dumped out into a world that’s very real to me. Edward Stanton, the protagonist of 600 Hours of Edward and its followup, Edward Adrift, in particular inhabits a place I know well. He lives in Billings, Montana, where I live, and shops at the Albertsons on 13th and Grand, where I shop. His house is modeled on a dwelling I once lived in, and it’s situated at an address (a made-up number on a very real street) a block away.

And in this world, bad things happen and intemperate things are said. I have an intellectual responsibility, when I write of this place, to reflect it as I find it. This isn’t something I think about overtly—there’s not a message above my computer that says “remember your intellectual responsibility.” Instead, it’s an interior compass that guides me as I go, that assesses each paragraph and each quotation and asks this fundamental question: Is this true to the story? If it is, it stays.

And let me be clear: Even gratuitousness can be true. I once spoke to a library group about my second novel, The Summer Son, and was challenged on both the language and the violence in it. The reader asked why I felt compelled to present it in such a graphic way. That novel took place against the backdrop of another world I once knew well, that of oil rig workers and their itinerant lives. My response was that I presented that world as it presented itself to me. Impasses were addressed not with the high language of a diplomat but with the raw anger of hardened men. Where language wouldn’t do, fists would. I said I couldn’t see any other way to show it. And I can’t. And I won’t. This is where differing sensibilities have to be given respect. And sometimes, as in this case, the author and the reader simply can’t find a way across the street to one another.

One last thing: The balancing factors of ugliness and crudity are grace and elegance. Just as it would be irresponsible of me to present a world where no one curses or kills someone, so, too, would it be irresponsible to show a place where the light never gets in. I’m fundamentally a hopeful guy, and so the work I do bends toward that hope. In the end, I have to think that carries more weight in the work than the battered world in which the characters live.

What changes may come

Can’t say that Ang and I will be drinking huckleberry milkshakes every day, but much more time together will be welcome.

As I begin writing this, it’s 12:27 in the morning. I’ve just come off my regular night shift at the newspaper, one of six remaining in my long career—it would have been 25 years in November—as a full-time journalist.

You see, aside from a fill-in shift here or there, I’m leaving the only line of work I ever thought I’d do. The reasons are myriad—personal, professional, perhaps even foolhardy. I always hoped I’d know when it was time to go, and it turns out that I did. So there’s that.

What will I do from now on?

Well, first, I’ll write a lot more novels and stories. When you have a full-time job and a family and, you know, all the many elements that constitute a life, writing time is the first thing that gets crunched. That can’t happen anymore. I’ve managed to write and publish four books these past few years, but increasingly, my available time to go deep into my imagination had begun to erode. So, too, had my energy. I had to make a choice. The only way I’m going to do the things I wish to do with the remainder of my life is by making the conscious decision to put them first. I should have done it a long time ago.

Given the distinct challenges faced by newspaper companies, and by the publishing sector in general, I’ve read the parting words of plenty of colleagues who’ve said that they didn’t quit journalism, but rather that journalism quit them. I’d love to hide behind that reasoning, but it would be a lie. Without a doubt, the workaday life of a production editor at a daily newspaper has become increasingly difficult in recent years, with staffing stripped to the bone, a news environment that values quickness rather than curation and the seeming inability of corporate overlords to deal with technology that has simultaneously made their product more widely available and less reliable at delivering the revenue required to support a large newsgathering operation. To work on the inside of most newspapers these days is to be wracked with uncertainty about what the future holds.

And yet, that’s not why I’m quitting.

Some profound things happened between the age of 18, when I first settled into a newsroom chair, and 43, as I prepare to take my fat ass out of one for good. Where once I looked for excuses to be in the newsroom and took every extra assignment (and every bit of extra pay) offered, in more recent years I’ve valued nothing above my time away from the job. Workweeks seem excruciatingly longer with each passing year, and days off, once they finally arrive, seem ever shorter. I’ve found that my tolerance for top-down management, ridiculous canards like “do more with less” and a creeping acceptance of mediocrity were turning me into the sort of bitter soul the younger version of me would have avoided (or mocked). I don’t want to be that guy. I’m not gonna be that guy. And as much as I’ve liked the actual work—and I have, right up to the end—I realize I have to kill the old me to let who I am now run free.

The other big development in my working life has been an entrepreneurial spirit I didn’t know I had and a rekindling of my love affair with work, this time unbound by the whims of newspaper company stockholders and quarterly reports. When I was 39, my first novel was published. Now, at 43, I have three novels in print, a fourth being written and a short-story collection knocking around. I’ve won some awards, built an international readership, found a publisher who loves what I do and is willing to let me do it freely, and at long last I’m making enough money at it that I can step from one career to another and continue on happily.

Let’s be clear: I’m not retiring. In some ways, the hardest work of my life is yet to come, as I try to be more ambitious in my writing and fill in the margins with the occasional bit of freelance work. I’m going to design a quarterly magazine. Lead some writing workshops. Do some manuscript editing and book design. And, yes, write fiction. It’s all hard, honest work. The important part is that what I do from here on out will happen on my terms, by my choices, and in the service of my life and the lives of those I love.

There are things I’ll undoubtedly miss. There’s no place quite like a newsroom on a big news night, and no group of people quite as whip-smart and funny as a bunch of newspaper hacks. The work I do now will be more solitary, less collaborative, quieter, more contemplative. And that won’t necessarily be easy for a big, bombastic guy like me.

But somehow—when I’m able to linger over dinner with my wife (something I never get to do on a night I work), or take an impromptu vacation, or say “the hell with it” and retire to a baseball game for the afternoon—I think I’ll manage to warm up to this new life I’m building.

Thanks for riding along.

Happy release day

Self-portrait at 1:01 a.m. on Release Day. Yeah. Not gonna get a lot of sleep today.

And so EDWARD ADRIFT—my fourth book overall, and my third novel—heads off into the world today.

So much about publishing becomes a grind as you go along. Not an unwelcome grind; indeed, I cannot imagine anything I’d rather do than write and hope to put that writing in front of readers. But as one moves from newbie to veteran, and I suppose I’m somewhere in between, there are certain aspects of the process between “the end” and “thank you for your purchase” that begin to look less magical.

But not release day. Release day is full of hope that this new work will find an appreciative audience. Uncertainty about the reaction that will follow—or whether there will be one at all. Fear that readers you’ve pleased in the past will go unsatisfied this time. Relief and thankfulness when good reviews come in. Gratitude that anyone at all would choose to spend a few of their precious hours with something you created.

It’s the best drug there is, and entirely legal, too.

So … If you’ve previously read 600 HOURS OF EDWARD or one of my other books, I invite you to take a look at this one. I’m proud of it. I’m grateful to be able to do this thing that I love so much, and I’m amazed at how many people have let Edward Stanton into their hearts.

Thank you for reading.

Craig Lancaster
Billings, Montana
April 9, 2013 

The Next Big Thing

“Fobbit” author David Abrams was kind enough to tag me in this ongoing string of posts. The idea is that you answer a standard set of questions about your current work in progress—or whatever is next in your pipeline—and then tag a few others. I’ll do that at the end of this post.

(By the way, “Fobbit” is great. Great! You should read it. And from the sound of things, you should look forward to reading “Dubble,” too.)

What is the working title of your book?

“Julep Street,” which follows “Evergreen,” the conceptual title. When I finished the thing—or, rather, when I finished it to the point that I was ready to send it to my agent—the manuscript bore little resemblance to the original idea I had. (These things happen, alas.) And thus, it also had little fealty to the title I picked out for it when I started. That’s one of my little idiosyncrasies. I can’t write the first word, much less the 70,000th, without a title. Even one I’m going to eventually drown in the tub.

“Julep Street” is the fictional name of the main thoroughfare in the fictional (and unnamed) Kentucky town I’ve conjured, and it’s the artery that supplies blood to most of the story, so it makes sense as a title. Still, I resisted it for a long time—mainly because “Julep Street” sounds a little like the title of a book a failed movie novelist (played by William Hurt) would write. But it’s the best I have, so it’ll have to do for now.

Though the town in “Julep Street” is fictional, it does have a real-life inspiration.

What genre does your book fall under?

On the list of Top Ten Reasons Craig Is Likely to Wallow in Relative Literary Anonymity, being unable to align with a genre has to rank pretty high. “Julep Street” has literary themes—everything I write does—but I don’t think I’d call my work “literary fiction” unless I were willing to kick my own ass for pretentiousness. On the other hand, with this book more than anything else I’ve written, I directly confront my fear of obsolescence and my uncertainties about God, all in 61,000 tidy words that generally buck my over-reliance on simple declarative sentences.

So, yeah, literary fiction, I guess.

Which actors would you choose to play your characters in a movie rendition?

Actually, now that I think of it, William Hurt is not a bad choice, especially if he’s still carrying around that extra weight from “A History of Violence.”

What is a one-sentence synopsis of your book?

One lonely man is made a relic before his time—and proceeds to lose his shit.

How long did it take you to write the first draft of your manuscript?

Oh, gosh, I don’t know. Two months? Three? It’s hard to tell where first drafts end and the million tiny adjustments and major overhauls and sentence tinkerings begin. I started in the early summer of 2012 and turned it over to my agent last month.

I will say, for what it’s worth, that quick first drafts tend to be a good harbinger for me. I’m not suggesting here that the writing is easy. Goodness no. It’s not, ever. But when I’m connecting with the work and the characters and I feel myself slipping into the screen as I go along, only good things seem to happen on the other end.

What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?

I don’t want to be difficult here, but I’m just not good at the compare-this-book-to-another-book game. Those comparisons usually end up being skin-deep anyway. Further, I tend to think cinematically when I’m writing and reading. On that note, I’d say that there’s a little “Falling Down” in this book, and maybe a little “Cast Away,” and perhaps even a little “B.J. and the Bear,” if you can picture “Bear” as an ancient yellow Lab rather than a cheeky chimp. No Sheriff Lobo, though. (God, yes, I am a child of the ’70s and ’80s.)

Who or what inspired you to write this book?

Several things:

1. I built a career as a newspaper journalist. Perhaps you’ve read about our industry’s struggles (on the Internet, no doubt). Further, I’m a newspaper production editor, a particularly endangered subspecies of journalist. Do you think I might have some questions about my long-term efficacy as a gainfully employed citizen? Maybe.

2. One of the things I spend an inordinate amount of time thinking about is self-identity and the terminology we use to present ourselves to the rest of the world. When those words come from some external source (“I’m an engineer at General Dynamics,” “I cut the meat at Albertsons”), we give up power; someone else can render those definitions moot if the quarterly reports don’t look good. The main character in “Julep Street,” Carson McCullough (yeah, yeah), has spent his entire working life self-identifying as a newspaper editor. It is how he thinks of himself. It is the face he wears for others.

But what if, without warning, there were no more newspaper office to go to? Then what?

3. One of the less-than-complimentary reviews my second novel, “The Summer Son,” received on Amazon was from a thoughtful fellow who contended that the absence of any fulsome reference to or thoughts about God undermined its effectiveness. The subtext of this criticism was that I, the author, just didn’t have anything to say about God. That’s not true. I’ll admit that my thoughts tend to be muddled and searching, but they exist, and in Carson I found a vehicle for exploring them. (Sidenote: A Facebook friend once accused me of being hostile to God, which is both incorrect and silly. I’m hostile toward religion, mainly because the worldwide story of religion is told in hostilities. I’ve never been hostile toward God, even if I have profound questions about who (or what) he is and how he operates.)

What else about your book might pique a reader’s interest?

It’s funny. I just got finished with a Q&A about my new novel, “Edward Adrift,” and in it I mentioned that I tried to avoid the usual road-trip tropes of a hitchhiker and an unforeseen destination. Well, “Julep Street” also has a road trip, and in the revision phase, I added a hitchhiker. One of my trusted early readers made that suggestion, saying that if Carson was going to go on a big, sloppy road trip, he should bathe in all its excesses.

On that note, an excerpt is probably in order:

The miles fall away in a soliloquy.

“See, the thing was, I knew when I met Sonya—that was my jezebel, I told you that, yes?—I knew I would fall. I am not a strong man, no sir, I am not, and when I met Sonya, I knew I was not strong enough to stay away from her. I tried, Lord yes, I tried. But I fell. I knew I would.”

The highway man gave his name as Jagur, which Carson figures to be the fakest name ever, but who cares? Carson introduced himself as Jerry Joe Ray Bob Dale—“honest to goodness,” he said—and faked out the faker. Now Jagur sits in the passenger seat and dangles a hand into the backseat of the car, stroking Hector’s undercoat and sending the dog into contented sleep.

“Wait,” Carson says. “ ‘Fell’? So you, what, boinked this Sonya chick?”

“An unnecessarily crude assessment, I rather think, but yes, that is what happened.”

“So what?”

“She was not mine to boink, as you colorfully put it. I am a married man. I have a daughter who is on the student council and the Honor Society. I should have no time for jezebels. It was a sin.”

“So what are you doing out here? Go home. Be with your family. Forget Sonya. A mistake.”

Jagur’s hand leaves Hector and palms the dashboard. The hand is massive, vascular. He sweeps it across the dash, leaving a grooved trail of dust behind.

“Are you married, Mr. Ray Bob Dale?”

“That’s Mr. Dale. The rest is my first name.”

“My apologies. Are you married?”

“No.”

“Ever married?”

“No.”

Jagur again massages Hector. “Forget Sonya, you say. I could sooner forget a knife plunged into my heart. God is testing me, Mr. Dale. When I told my wife—”

“You told your wife?”

“I am not a keeper of secrets, Mr. Dale. When I told my wife, she and God said that I should leave the house and venture into the world. The truth of the matter is that she said only that I should leave the house. It was God’s idea that I go into the world. My penance is out here. My test is out here. And when I have passed it, when I have satisfied God, I shall return again to my wife and to my daughter and to the world I am not presently fit to live in.” 

When and how will it be published?

We shall see, on both counts.

*****

Now, to keep this thing going, I’ll tag …

LynDee Walker, whose debut novel, “Front Page Fatality,” has turned into a big hit.

Stant Litore, who writes literary biblical tales of the voracious undead.

Elisa Lorello, the dazzling author of “Faking It” and “Ordinary World,” and quite possibly the most ardent Duran Duran fan alive.