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.”
“You fly by the seat of your pants.”
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.
On the occasion of my 42nd birthday, this one’s from me, for delivery at a time to be announced later.
Here are the grim numbers:
- Date: November 3
- Number of words at the start of writing today: 4,828
- Number of words at the conclusion of writing today: 5,291
- Words written today: 463
- Words written in November: 2,623
Blame modern convenience for the paltry total. I came home from work at midnight, wrote most of a short scene, then checked the DVR for new shows. Turned out I’d recorded Seven Days in May, a terrific political thriller from 1964. Burt Lancaster (no relation). Kirk Douglas. Ava Gardner. Fredric March. Martin Balsam. Choice!
So I lay down on the couch to watch it, and promptly fell asleep.
My new rule: Sleep trumps all.
I’ll try to play catch-up tomorrow.
Here are the latest tabulations as I keep myself accountable on a novel project I’m tentatively calling Rayfield:
- Date: November 2
- Number of words at the start of writing today: 3,738
- Number of words at the conclusion of writing today: 4,828
- Words written today: 1,090*
- Words written in November: 2,160
* — This is why I’m calling this Quasi-NaNoWriMo, because 1,000 words represents a very productive writing session for me but is far short of the mark if one wants to put down the 50,000 words necessary to be a “winner” at National Novel Writing Month. To turn that many words in a single month, you have to write an average of 1,667 daily words.
So I’ll say this once and be done with it: I’m not interested in 50,000 words in November. I’m not interested in a daily minimum. I’m interested in a solid month of progress, and that’s it. To those of you striving for the NaNoWriMo benchmarks, I give you a hearty salute, because I’ve been there.
In 2008, when I wrote the entire first draft of the novel that became 600 Hours of Edward — all 79,175 words of it — my daily counts looked like this (the daily totals are in parentheses):
Nov. 1, 2008: 5,763 (5,763)
Nov. 2, 2008: Off
Nov. 3, 2008: Off
Nov. 4, 2008: 11,183 (5,420)
Nov. 5, 2008: Off
Nov. 6, 2008: 13,721 (2,538)
Nov. 7, 2008: 16,963 (3,242)
Nov. 8, 2008: 20,439 (3,476)
Nov. 9, 2008: Off
Nov. 10, 2008: 23,085 (2,646)
Nov. 11, 2008: 27,293 (4,208)
Nov. 12, 2008: 30,744 (3,451)
Nov. 13, 2008: 34,558 (3,814)
Nov. 14, 2008: 39,886 (5,328)
Nov. 15, 2008: Off
Nov. 16, 2008: Off
Nov. 17, 2008: Off
Nov. 18, 2008: 43,846 (3,960)
Nov. 19, 2008: 51,811 (7,965)
Nov. 20, 2008: 54,816 (3,005)
Nov. 21, 2008: 60,837 (6,021)
Nov. 22, 2008: 63,957 (3,120)
Nov. 23, 2008: Off
Nov. 24, 2008: 73,208 (9,251)
Nov. 25, 2008: 79,175 (5,967)
I don’t know what that looks like to you, but to me, it can only be defined as insanity. I’m glad I did it, glad what came of it, but I don’t ever want to do it again.
Oh, golly, do I have progress to report.
The new novel project keeps trucking along. I’m at 15,000 words; once I double that, I’ll have enough confidence in it to start sharing some small details. Suffice to say, the writing is going really, really well, and I simply wish there were more time in the day for it.
Any day now — my money is on Thursday — I’ll have concrete details on my next book, a collection of short stories.
Ed Kemmick and I are going to be in Big Timber, Mont., on Friday for the Spirit of Montana Authors’ Gathering at Carnegie Public Library, 314 McLeod Street. That runs from 6:30 to 9 p.m., and if you’ll excuse me just a second for being a big, sloppy fan boy, I’m really hoping for a Tom McGuane sighting/meeting.
On Saturday, we’ll both be in Ennis for the Madison Valley Arts Festival. That starts at 10 a.m. in Peter T’s Park.
It’s going to be a blast.
There’s not a lot to report. I’ve been writing, writing, writing and it’s gone well, well, well, but I’m still not at the point where I’m ready to talk about the project in any substantive way. So that pretty much ends that.
I spent the early part of Saturday at the Joliet (Mont.) Jamboree, a fundraiser for the town’s library, and that was a lot of fun. From a books perspective, the best thing about summer is all the outdoor festivals — all chances to meet readers and put books in their hands. I have three left before the summer fades away: Aug. 5 in Big Timber, Mont.; Aug. 6 in Ennis, Mont.; and Aug. 20 in Manhattan, Mont. Details here.
Meanwhile, Ed Kemmick’s book, The Big Sky, By and By, continues to draw attention. The Billings Gazette ran a review this weekend by Montana Public Radio’s Chérie Newman, as did the Great Falls Tribune (an online version of which Ed and I both have been unable to unearth). Books are stocked at Hastings, Thomas Books and the Western Heritage Center in Billings and are on their way to a few more locations in the state: The Bookstore (Dillon), Fact & Fiction (Missoula), The Country Bookshelf (Bozeman) and Books and Books (Butte). If you’re a bookseller and are interested in getting some copies, please contact me at craig at craig-lancaster dot com.
Welcome, again, to the land of incremental progress:
The official release date of Ed Kemmick’s book, The Big Sky, By and By, is a week from today, and I now have books in hand to ensure that select bookstores around the state receive copies. I’m happy to say that pre-sales have been very brisk indeed, as I knew they would be. If you’re in Billings and/or receive The Billings Gazette, be sure to check out Sunday’s books page, which will feature a review of Ed’s book by Montana Public Radio’s Chérie Newman. (Also, it’s worth pointing out again: If you have a Kindle or a Nook, Ed’s book is also available in those formats.)
I’m continuing to plug away on a new project. It’s still far too early to say anything of substance about it, but I’m very happy that the day-in, day-out writing experiences have been brisk. For whatever it’s worth, I’m seeing the road pretty clearly as I move through the first draft.
I’ll be in Joliet, Montana, on Saturday for the Joliet Jamboree, a fundraiser for the public library. I’m looking forward to that, and to sharing a panel with fellow Billings authors Russell Rowland and Nancy Brook, among others. Details here.
Just saw the sad news about the demise of Borders. Here in my town, that means the loss of what has been a very good bookstore, and that diminishes the entire community in a cultural way. Jacob Tuka, the books manager in Billings, has been terrifically supportive of local authors and was always cheerful about lining up signings for me. We had a bit of bad timing with The Summer Son, which was released in late January, just as a book-buying moratorium kicked in at Borders. The Billings store has been a reliable seller of 600 Hours of Edward, however, and so I’ll be sorry to see it shuttered.
Big news first:
As for the rest of it:
- Had a very successful day Saturday at the Sidney Sunrise Festival of the Arts. As Kemmick himself notes, perhaps the most welcome development was the 70-degree day, with a nice breeze. At any rate, I hope I see equal or even better results at my upcoming festival gigs: July 23 at the Joliet (Mont.) Jamboree, August 6 at the Madison Valley Arts Festival in Ennis, Mont., and August 20 at the Manhattan (Mont.) Potato Festival.
- I’ve had a run of really nice writing days, where I’ve found the thread easily and moved my new idea steadily down the line. This is huge for me, because as you can see from the chart below, my writing time is scarce and I have to make the most of it:
Not a lot to say …
- I’m off to Sidney, Montana, this weekend for the Sunrise Festival of the Arts. The last time I was there for the festival, two years ago, I met a ton of nice folks and sold a lot of books. Hoping for more of the same.
- I’ve started a new long-form project. That’s all I’m gonna say …
- Some very, very good news that I’ll be revealing later. I’m such a tease.
Hope you had a wonderful Fourth!
Confession time: I have nothing to report.
The short-story collection that has taken up the bulk of my time for the past year is finished and delivered to my editor.
Ed Kemmick’s book is mostly out the door.
Next week begins my summer festival season:
July 9: Sunrise Festival of the Arts in Sidney, Montana.
July 23: Joliet Jamboree in Joliet, Montana.
August 6: Madison Valley Arts Festival in Ennis, Montana.
August 20: Manhattan Potato Festival in Manhattan, Montana.
Until tomorrow …
This will be blessedly short. It’s 2:05 a.m. as I begin it, and I’m exhausted:
Really Cool News, At Least To Me, Part 1: A poem of mine has been published by The Montucky Review, a new literary journal. It’s called Eastward Ho, and I wrote it about five years ago. Sometime back, I posted it on Facebook, and a friend of mine — a true poet named John Wall — suggested some revisions, which I finally made last weekend, right before I submitted it.
As I write poetry about as often as Boston releases an album — and to far less satisfying results — I wouldn’t expect to see this feat duplicated any time soon.
Really Cool News, At Least To Me, Part 2: The short-story collection that I’ve been bleating about (now renamed She’s Gone) is done, done, done, done. That’s why I’m up at such an insane hour. I’ll be sending it along to my publisher this week.
Pointless News, To Everybody: Because I don’t waste enough time online, I have a new social-media presence. Check it out (or look at the ghastly screen grab above).
I know this feature is supposed to focus on things that are happening, well, away from here, but if you haven’t checked out Jim Thomsen’s piece on the band Sniff ‘n’ The Tears (directly below this post), you really are missing out on something special. If you haven’t checked out the first video, for the band’s hit song “Driver’s Seat,” please do. If you don’t like it, please see a doctor, as you’re probably dead.
Jim will be back next Monday with Part 2, an interview with Sniff’s lead singer and songwriter, Paul Roberts. It’s not to be missed.
It’s been a light week. And, dammit, I deserved it.
A few things:
- Finally, the Ed Kemmick book, The Big Sky, By and By, is for sale in advance of its official July 26 release date. If you’d like a signed copy, please jet over to Ed’s site and make a totally safe PayPal transaction. If you love Montana and Montanans, this book will not disappoint you. I’m damned proud to have it as the second release from my little literary house, after Carol Buchanan’s Gold Under Ice.
- I’m hitting the road this week, heading up to Ronan, Montana, to talk to the Friends of the Library group there. Ronan was a great host last year when I was thumping 600 Hours of Edward, and I’m really, really looking forward to talking to my friends about my new novel, The Summer Son. This, I suppose, is the unofficial kickoff to my summer book season. Check out my calendar for the other stuff I have on tap.
- My collection of short stories, tentatively titled Quantum Physics and the Art of Departure, is in the hands of a trusted editor before I move it along to my publisher. Really, really excited about these. Really, really hoping the publisher will be, too.
And now, a personal note:
Today is the 72nd birthday of my dad, Ron Lancaster (shown above with my dogs Bodie and Zula). (By the way, them’s my legs behind him.) I’ve written some about his difficult life, and my occasionally difficult dealings with him. I’ve never shied away from the fact that The Summer Son is, on some level, both a vehicle for working out my frustrations with him and a love letter to him.
But I’ll be telling him today — as he will never see it here — that I love him very much and am blessed to have him in my life.
Happy birthday, Pops.
I’ll be quick (there’s an Anthony Weiner joke in there somewhere, but I’m not making it):
- I’m close — so, so close — to finishing the last short story for a collection I’ve been working on for the past year. In fact, my plan is to move immediately from typing up this post to working on the story, so by the time you read this — about eight hours after I finish writing it — I may well be done. Then again, maybe I won’t. At any rate, tell me how this grabs you for a title for the collection: Quantum Physics and the Art of Departure.
- Copies of the Ed Kemmick book, The Big Sky, By and By, have been shipped out to early reviewers, final changes to the interior have been uploaded to the printer, and soon, books will be for sale. Please bookmark EdKemmick.com and visit it often. He’ll be posting details there. The official release date is July 26.
- I do have some news on the novel project I’ve been yammering about, but I’m going to save that for Thursday’s Grab Bag. That right there is what we like to call a cliffhanger. Or a ripoff. Choose your nomenclature.
And finally …
Today, June 7, is the 30th birthday of my wife, Angie (pictured below during our recent trip to New York). I could say a million things about her, and I probably will eventually, but lately, I keep coming back to this: She believed in me when I didn’t believe in myself. And that’s seen us through some really difficult times. Happy birthday, sweetheart!
Still coming out of my post-New York coma, so I’ll be (relatively) brief …
- Copies of the Ed Kemmick book, The Big Sky, By and By, have been bundled up for reviewers and will go out this week. Release date is July 26.
- I’m plug, plug, plugging away at the new novel project. This is all a little inside baseball, so if that’s not your cup of tea, go here for something more interesting. … OK, still here? I’m trying something new with this book. I have a basic idea of where it’s going to go, but I’m outlining only a few scenes at a time — four or five. Once those are written, I assess where the story is and consider new threads that have emerged — those always happen — and then sketch out a few more scenes. With 600 Hours of Edward and The Summer Son, I plotted a bit more aggressively at the outset, and while I’m happy with both books, they perhaps missed a little bit of the spontaneity that I’m experiencing with this project. It’s kept the slogging — that awful point in a first draft where you’re several thousand words in and have many thousands yet to go — from being a total drag.
- I hope you’re keeping up with my weekly project, The Word. I’m having a ton of fun with that. You can also see the stories at my page on Fictionaut.
This is where I am right now. I’d say I’m progressing nicely.
Here we go:
Ed Kemmick‘s book, The Big Sky, By and By, has been approved for print, and the first wave of review copies should be landing at the doorstep any day now. Those will be distributed around the state, and by mid-June, we’ll be taking advance orders for signed copies. The official release date for the book is July 26.
I’m absolutely thrilled with how the book turned out, its prospects (people who love Montana and Montanans will love this book) and, most of all, for the chance to work with Ed.
On other fronts:
- I’m still plugging away at the new novel project, tentatively titled Somebody Has to Lose. I get a few cracks at it each week, and right now, it’s sitting at about 14,000 words. Once Ed’s book gets launched, I should be able to dedicate more time to it. Still very enthusiastic about the story, which is revealing itself to me in exciting ways.
- I’m really digging my weekly writing exercise, The Word. What’s been interesting, at least to me, is that the moments of inspiration have carried me back to Texas, where I grew up. I’ve done little writing set in Texas, but somehow, these little scenes of suburban mayhem have found their way there.
- At the end of the week, I’m off to New York City for a few days of Book Expo America goodness. I’m looking forward to meeting other AmazonEncore authors, basking in the glory of books and, of course, exploring the greatest city on earth (or so I hear; I’ve never been). Blog posts will march on in my absence.
Things are moving on, if incrementally, on several fronts …
THE BIG SKY, BY AND BY
Awaiting a proof copy of Ed Kemmick’s collection before doing the initial run. In the meantime, I’ve been pulling together the fact sheet (take a look) that will go out to booksellers and reviewers. By the end of the month, we’ll begin taking pre-orders of this fine book.
THE NEW NOVEL PROJECT
I added a couple of thousand words in the past week and am starting to see the field clearly, at least in terms of the first third of the book. Much like last week, though, it’s far too early to say whether this one has the legs to reach the finish line, so details on subject matter, characters and other substantive stuff will have to wait.
It does have a working title, though: Somebody Has to Lose.
BEYOND THE WORD
Remember The Word, my weekly writing exercise that’s based on the inspiration of a single word? Thanks to flash-fiction genius Meg Pokrass, I snared an invitation to Fictionaut and have begun cross-posting those short pieces there, in some cases using the feedback to hone the writing a little more. (For an example of this, see how Insatiable posted here at the blog and what it’s become at Fictionaut.)
(For more on the truly astounding Megz, see this piece she wrote for David Abrams’ blog.)
I can’t tell you how much fun it has been to experiment with the very-short form, especially while I’m trying to wrestle a bigger novel idea to the ground. I’m learning a lot about how to put a full story in just a few hundred words, and I’m confident those lessons will make me a better writer across all forms.
In the week ahead, I’m hoping to put down a lot of tracks on the novel, as it will be my last chance for some significant work before I disappear for a week in New York. Fingers crossed …
The bin Laden news in my workaday life has impeded my writing somewhat this week — life advice: your steadily paying job comes first, always — but I’m pushing the plow down the field. I’m about 7,000 words into a first draft of a novel project, which is enough to be developing some confidence but not nearly enough to actually talk about it. So we’re done with that topic.
I’m most excited about the work I’m doing with Ed Kemmick on his forthcoming book, The Big Sky, By and By. The book is with the printer, and we’re awaiting a proof copy. If all is good with that, we’ll soon have copies to sell ahead of the official release date, July 26.
I’m really, really proud of what we’ve done on this book. My little basement publishing house, Missouri Breaks Press, isn’t prolific — this is just our second book — but I think we’ve picked real winners both times. The debut title, Carol Buchanan’s Gold Under Ice, was just honored as a Spur Award finalist. I suspect that Ed’s book is going to find eager readers here in the place where he’s made his considerable reputation as a reporter and writer.
That’s it for this week. And it’s enough.