Progress Report

Plotting vs. pants-ing

broken pencil

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.”

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.

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?”


“Ever married?”


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.

Catching up

Some news and notes on various fronts. I’ve been really busy these past few weeks–with the promise of more busy-ness to come–and haven’t had time to get to this stuff until now:

600 HOURS OF EDWARD is out, and doing swimmingly. In just over a month since it’s re-release, it has garnered about 25 new, mostly glowing reviews on (about 50 if you count the enthusiastic response in the UK, and I do). I don’t like to talk about sales figures, but it’s safe to say that the reception has exceeded my hopes. I’m thrilled that the book seems to be finding its audience.

The audiobook version of THE SUMMER SON has been delayed a bit. It’s now scheduled to drop on Oct. 23. The audiobook of 600 HOURS OF EDWARD is already out.

The coming weeks will also bring my work into other languages. The French version of THE SUMMER SON (titled UNE SI LONGUE ABSENCE) will be released by Presses de la Cite on Oct. 12, and the German version of the novel (DER SOMMERSOHN) is scheduled for Nov. 13.

I also have a couple of upcoming events:

  • This Friday (Sept. 28), I’ll be in Great Falls, Montana, for the state’s General Federation of Women’s Clubs meeting. I’m speaking at the group’s dinner.
  • After a short vacation, I’ll be in Lewistown, Montana, on Oct. 17 for a presentation at the library. It’s called “Living With Your Character,” and it should be a lot of fun.
  • I’m reading from QUANTUM PHYSICS AND THE ART OF DEPARTURE during the High Plains BookFest in Billings, Montana, on Oct. 20, and that night I’ll find out if the book, a finalist for the short-stories award, is a winner. (To see all the fine books that are up for High Plains Book Awards, go here.)

Information on appearances is available here.

Thanks to the new 600 HOURS OF EDWARD and its bonus first chapter from the upcoming sequel, EDWARD ADRIFT, I get a lot of questions about when the new book is coming out. I don’t have an official release date yet, but Spring 2013 is a good bet. I can tell you that principal editing begins this week, so the process is moving along.

Finally, I’d urge you to check out this interview I did with Jonathan Evison to mark the release of his latest novel, THE REVISED FUNDAMENTALS OF CAREGIVING. If you haven’t read it yet, you should. It’s my favorite book so far this year.

Another turn for Edward

In its more than three years of existence as a published novel—in one form or another—my debut, 600 Hours of Edward, has had quite the journey. NaNoWriMo experiment to self-published book to small-press-published book. And now, it’s about to have its fourth act.

In August, 600 Hours of Edward will be re-released as a trade paperback by AmazonEncore, an imprint of Amazon Publishing. This is the same outfit that published my second novel, The Summer Son, and did such a wonderful job with it. The new cover went live on the Amazon site this week, and it’s a beaut:

Here’s the part where I impose on your good graces: If you’ve been meaning to read 600 Hours of Edward, or been meaning to tell a friend to read it, please go ahead and pre-order the book in print or Kindle form. Just follow this link. Pre-orders are a huge factor in a book’s performance, and while I’d just as soon write and leave the marketing to others, it’s not the way of the world anymore. If you have friends who are authors, here’s what they’re dying to tell you about how important your early support of their work is.

If buying things online isn’t your deal, you can also go into your local bookstore the week of the release (Aug. 14) and ask the folks there to order a copy.

OK, end of arm-twisting. For now.

One last thing: I hope to have some news soon about the sequel, Edward Adrift.

Thanks for reading!

New writing digs

Things have been a bit quiet around here lately. I have a good excuse: We moved into a new house.

Well, that’s not entirely true. The house is old: 83 years old. But it’s new to us.

The move from a one-bedroom condo to a rambling old three-bedroom cottage has not been without its adjustments, all of them for the better. But for me, there was one sadness in leaving the old place: It’s where I wrote my first three books, in a little corner of the main room. The new house gave us the space to allow me my very own office (at the bottom of the stairs, in the basement), and I have every expectation that I’ll find this spot as conducive to writing as I did the old one. I’d better.

Here’s a quick tour:

Looking into the office from the outside hallway. That's my couch. For "resting."


This lovely old home features all kinds of cool built-ins, including these shelves along the entryway. And here is a snippet of my eclectic reading.


I chose a small wall for the writing awards. I'll be happier that way, I suspect.


The desk. In the pink bag: Some of my wife's perfume that ended up in a box that got unpacked down here. It just hasn't made its way upstairs yet.


The wallpaper that came with the place has a fish motif. Not really my preferred activity, but I like the look. I think it's gonna stay.


When I bought this behemoth in 1996, it was top of the line. Now it's playing out its days hooked up to an equally ancient VCR. I'm not really the Luddite type, but that damned VCR has outlived a half-dozen DVD players. Sometimes primitive technology is the hardiest.


And here are the ancient videos that go with the ancient TV and ancient VCR. Luckily, I could watch "Caddyshack" and "Animal House" daily for the rest of my life.


If Ernest Hemingway were alive today, he would have a Dallas Cowboys Snuggie. I'm certain of this.


One of my current projects is going through and marking up the first draft of my current manuscript. (Yes, this is the "Edward" sequel.)


The last writing space didn't have one of these!


Or one of these!


The full view of the office, from the bathroom doorway. Desk on the left, couch on the right, TV and archealogical VHS tapes across the room.


A birthday gift

On the occasion of my 42nd birthday, this one’s from me, for delivery at a time to be announced later.

Read it. Absorb it. Live it.

I’ve been a professional novelist for nearly three years now. (Note that I said professional, in the sense that I get paid for my work. I’m still working on self-sustaining.) And if there’s anything I’ve learned in that time, other than the writing life seems to dole out pleasure and pain in equal measures, it’s this: I may have plans for what I write, but in the end, the story is in control, not me.

Terrible Minds

I’ll offer a good example of this, as I have one sitting handy: In mid-December, I was certain that I’d be taking the first half of the year off, if not longer. I’d written a novel, and then another novel, and then a collection of short stories in quick succession, and I was tired and even a little discouraged.

On December 28th, compelled to my writing desk by an idea I couldn’t and didn’t want to shake, I started a new manuscript. As I type these words, I’m more than 42,000 words into it, and I long ago passed the point of danger. Some manuscripts never make it; they’re either put aside or repurposed into something else. This one is going the distance. More than that, it’s good. That’s harder for me to say than you might imagine.

Concurrent to this abrupt change to my plans, I read this article: 25 Things Writers Should Start Doing (ASFP).

It’s aggressive and raw and in-your-face profane. And I fucking love every word of it.

Two of the 25 things, in particular, stand out for me:

7. Start Discovering What You Know

Ah, that old chestnut. “Write what you know.” Note the lack of the word only in there. We don’t write only what we know because if we did that we’d all be writing about writers, like Stephen King does. (Or, we’d be writing about sitting at our computers, checking Twitter in our underwear and smelling of cheap gin and despair.) The point is that we have experience. We’ve seen things, done things, learned things. Extract those from your life. Bleed them into your work. Don’t run from who you are. Bolt madly toward yourself. Then grab all that comprises who you are and body-slam it down on the page.

Abso-goddamn-lutely. The past two books I’ve written were dark slogs into the human heart. I don’t disavow them. That horrible muck we go through when we love somebody but can’t say it, or hate someone with nuclear intensity, or want to kill somebody and would if not for the grace of well-timed civility — all of that is in me, all of that informs who I am, and when I wrote those stories, I needed to purge it. I make no apologies.

But that’s not the whole of me. There’s a wickedly absurd sense of humor in there, too, and a subversiveness that undercuts with laughter rather than rage. I’ve been neglecting that too long. I’m gonna write some funny books and stories. (I already have, in fact. What I’m saying is, I’m gonna write some more.) There are plenty of people channeling Cormac McCarthy and casting our lives against bleak landscapes. Good on them. I’m gonna do something else.

11. Start Cultivating Your Sanity

You’re crazy. No, no, it’s okay. I’m crazy, too. We’re all a little bit unhinged. Hell, I’m one broken screen door away from drinking a fifth of antifreeze and driving off a highway overpass on a child’s tricycle. Writing is not a particularly stressful job — I mean, you’re not an air traffic controller or an astronaut or some shit. Just the same, it’s a weird job. We hunker down over our fiction like a bird with an egg and we sit there alone, day in and day out, just… making up awful stuff. People die and hearts are broken and children are stolen by van-driving goblins and all that comes pouring out of our diseased gourds. So: cultivate your sanity. Take some time to de-stress your skull-space. Take a walk. Take a vacation. Drink some chamomile tea and watch the sunset. Chillax. That’s the new thing the kids are saying, right? “Chillax?” Yeah. I’m up on my lingo. Chillaxin’ is the hella tits, Daddy-o!

I’ve written before about the crazy. All the bullshit that goes into publishing — the wretched egos and the inscrutable decisions and the rampant pettiness — can get your ass down in a hurry, and if you’re harboring some bit of bad brain chemistry when it does, you’re screwed in ways you never imagined.

It’s time to put that nonsense to rest. It’s a beautiful world, and I get to breathe air in it. You don’t like me? Too bad. You don’t like my book? Fine. Get another. I’m writing to please me, and all I can do is hope that it pleases others. As for the rest, I don’t even care. I got a momma and a daddy and a wife and two dogs who love me. That’s all I need.

Strike that: I also need the Dallas Cowboys to stop sucking. Amid all the pragmatic doing-for-my-own-self shit, a guy’s gotta dream.

Quasi-NaNoWriMo 2011: Day 3

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.

Quasi-NaNoWriMo 2011, Day 2

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.

Happy writing!

NaNoWriMo: I’m in! Kinda. Sorta.

As I write this, National Novel Writing Month — known by adherents as NaNoWriMo — is sixty-four minutes old. Hundreds of thousands of would-be, never-will-be and most-definitely-are novelists are taking to their keyboards and trying to pound out a minimum of 50,000 words over the next thirty days.

I already have the only NaNoWriMo badge of courage I need: I wrote the entirety of 600 Hours of Edward in November 2008 — nearly 80,000 words — and watched as that mania-fueled manuscript changed my life. I have no desire, and probably no ability, to relive that experience. And yet, the idea of setting aside thirty days to write with abandon, to dump the contents of the mind onto the table and see what possibilities are there, has a great deal of appeal. So I’m using NaNoWriMo 2011 in an unofficial way to jump-start a novel project I’ve been contemplating for weeks now. I started it several weeks ago, then set it aside for more brain seasoning. I think — think — it’s ready to go back in the cooker now, and I’ll be using my blog here as a way to keep myself accountable over the next month.

So, for those keeping tabs at home, here’s the scoreboard on a story I’m tentatively calling Rayfield:

  • Date: November 1
  • Number of words at the start of writing today: 2,668
  • Number of words at the conclusion of writing today: 3,738
  • Words written today: 1,070
  • Words written in November: 1,070
  • Chapters completed: 1


At long last, I have final copies of my new short-story collection, Quantum Physics and the Art of Departure, in hand. They’re sporting a couple of nice cover blurbs: one on the front from Craig Johnson, the bestselling author the Walt Longmire series of novels, and one on the back from one of my favorite people, Megan Ault Regnerus, the managing editor of Montana Quarterly, where a couple of these stories have been or will be published.

Here’s what these good folks have to say:

“Have you ever felt in your pocket and found a twenty you didn’t know you had; how ’bout a hundred dollar bill, or a Montecristo cigar or a twenty-four-karat diamond? That’s what reading Craig Lancaster’s Quantum Physics and the Art of Departure is like — close and discovered treasures.” — Craig Johnson, author of The Cold Dish and Hell Is Empty

“Craig Lancaster understands the human condition, all of it. The funny, the absurd and the fault-ridden awesomeness that is each and every one of us — or at least someone we know.” — Megan Ault Regnerus

The book will be in Montana bookstores soon, and if you’re a Kindle or Nook person, it’s available now for just $3.99.

Thanks for reading.

Progress Report: 8/2/11

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.

A photo titled "Ennisish." I will be in Ennis proper. No -ish about it.

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.

Progress Report: 7/26/11

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.

Progress Report: 7/19/11

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.

Progress Report: 7/12/11

Big news first:

  • Ed Kemmick’s The Big Sky, By and By is now available for the Kindle. And for the Nook!

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:

Progress Report: 7/5/11

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!

Progress Report: 6/28/11

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.

I’ve done a couple of library gigs — Ronan (Montana) on June 16th and Columbus (Montana) a week later.

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 …

Progress Report: 6/21/11

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).

Finally …

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.

Progress Report: 6/14/2011

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.

Progress Report: 6/7/11

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 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!

Angie at Ellis Island.


Progress Report: 5/31/11

I want to go back.

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.

Progress Report: 5/24/11

This is where I am right now. I’d say I’m progressing nicely.


Progress Report: 5/17/11

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.

Progress Report: 5/10/11

Things are moving on, if incrementally, on several fronts …


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.


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.


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 …

Progress Report: 5/3/11

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.