Novelist

Quantum Physics and the Art of Departure

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.

 


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 Amazon.com (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.


Worlds of fiction

Now that 600 HOURS OF EDWARD is about to be unleashed in a new edition, I have a confession to make.

But first, some backstory:

Almost four years ago, when I sat down to write what became 600 HOURS OF EDWARD, things were a lot different than they are now.

For one thing, the words 600 HOURS OF EDWARD hadn’t even entered my consciousness. The working title of the novel I wanted to write was “Six-Hundred Hours in a Life That Will Get Only 630,270, Assuming It’s a Life of Average Length, And I Don’t Like Assumptions,” as seen below on the original manuscript.

 

Second, as you may have gathered from the working title, I had no expectations that I would (a) finish the novel or (b) get it published.

So as I wrote about Edward Stanton and his world, I picked something I knew well–Billings, Montana, where I live–and dropped him into it precisely as I see it. His Albertsons exists. So does his Home Depot. And his golf course. And his downtown. His street address isn’t real, but the street he lives on is.

One of the places in the original version of the book, published in 2009 by Riverbend Publishing, is the Billings Gazette. It’s a crucial, feel-good part of the story.

When I was writing Edward, I gave absolutely no consideration to the fact that, a few years later, I might write a sequel. I certainly didn’t consider that there would be other books, other writing about Billings, a whole world that would take shape from my keyboard. And so I made the Billings Gazette, well, the Billings Gazette. Easy-peasy.

But here’s the problem: In the second book, which is coming out next year, the newspaper in Billings also figures into the storyline. But it’s not so feel-good. And here’s an even bigger problem: I work at the Billings Gazette. The one here in the real world, not the fictional world where Edward exists. I get paid and everything. It’s a significant factor in my daily life, to say the absolute least, and one I’d just as soon not compromise.

So here’s how I handled the delicate position I wrote myself into:

Because Amazon Publishing acquired the rights to publish a new edition of 600 HOURS, the original publisher, Riverbend, was contractually obligated to pulp the remaining copies and stop selling it. In a commercial sense, that means the original no longer exists (obviously, several thousand copies exist on people’s shelves and in readers’ heads). This represented the best chance I was ever going to have to make a material change to the book.

So, in the manuscript I submitted to my editor at Amazon, the Billings Gazette vacated the stage and a new newspaper, the Billings Herald-Gleaner, stepped in. Subsequently, I made the same change to the manuscript of EDWARD ADRIFT, which I was preparing for submission. With a few keystrokes, I changed Edward’s world — and made mine a lot more comfortable.

This also had the nice side benefit of tying together my work a little better. In my short-story collection, QUANTUM PHYSICS AND THE ART OF DEPARTURE, the story called “Paperweight” concerns an aging reporter at a newspaper called the Herald-Gleaner. That character, Kevin Gilchrist, and Edward Stanton are now connected, as are Edward and the father character from my novel THE SUMMER SON (Edward’s dad was Jim Quillen’s boss). The sum is a fictional world that has threads connecting my Montana-set stories, which blend real and imaginary places and, I hope, give depth to what I’m trying to do.

This idea was clarified for me in an elegant way several months ago when I interviewed Emily M. Danforth, the author of the wonderful debut THE MISEDUCATION OF CAMERON POST. Here’s what she had to say about using the real setting of Miles City, her hometown, in her book:

“In terms of setting, specifically, anyone who has any familiarity with Miles City will recognize some of the local attractions — the swimming hole, the Bucking Horse Sale, the Montana Theater, etc. — but each of those locations has also been fictionalized. I understand that this might be disappointing for some readers who want every street name or video rental place, whatever, to match exactly to reality — though businesses close and re-open all the time, right, so there isn’t a ‘fixed’ reality that a novel can capture and hold ever, because ‘the real world’ will always keep changing.”

 


An honor for ‘Quantum Physics’

I posted about this last week on Facebook (follow me here!) but wanted to wait for the official announcement before posting anything here. The press release went out Tuesday, so I guess it’s safe.

QUANTUM PHYSICS AND THE ART OF DEPARTURE, the short-story collection I released back in December, has won a gold medal from the Independent Publishers Book Awards. It was picked as the top fiction book in the West-Mountain region for 2012.

You can see the full list of winners here.

I’m obviously thrilled that this book, so personal to me, has been recognized in this way. I’m doubly proud because the book was put out under the auspices of my little publishing house, Missouri Breaks Press. By now, the instances of smart self-publishers releasing polished, accomplished books are legion, so it’s not as if I felt compelled to prove something by going it alone. For me, Missouri Breaks Press has always been much more about finding high-quality manuscripts that for whatever reason aren’t viewed as commercial enough for the major presses to take on. It’s about finding work and writers I admire. And, occasionally, it will be about exercising the unprecedented choices we have as writers these days to release and market our work. Going it alone with this book made sense to me, and this award offers some validation of that choice.

If you’d like to read QUANTUM PHYSICS AND THE ART OF DEPARTURE, it’s available for Kindle, in paperback from Amazon.com and signed direct from me.

I hope you’ll check it out.


Gigs? Turns out I have gigs

Since I came home from the Montana Festival of the Book back in October, it’s been a quiet few months on the get-out-and-yak-about-books front, and that hasn’t been entirely unwelcome. For one thing, I managed to shove the short-story collection out the door. For another, I managed to move to a new house. For yet another, I managed to write another novel (or a draft of one, anyway). What I’m saying is, I haven’t wanted for things to do.

And still, I have things to do. Fun things, thankfully:

The Great Falls Public Library.

On March 29th, I’ll be at the Great Falls Public Library as part of The Great Falls Festival of the Book. I’ll be doing an event with my friend and colleague Ed Kemmick that is being billed as, wait for it, “An Evening With Ed Kemmick and Craig Lancaster.” This is my favorite kind of event, and it’s not even close. Being able to get together with people who truly love books and share stories with them … I can’t think of anything book-related that’s more fun. (Did I sufficiently hedge that statement?)

The Great Falls Public Library is at 301 2nd Ave. North, and the fun begins at 7 p.m.

With Country Bookshelf owner Ariana Paliobagis during one of my dashes across the state.

And then, on Tuesday, April 17th, I’ll be at one of the grandest independent bookstores you’d ever hope to find: The Country Bookshelf in Bozeman. I’ll be reading from Quantum Physics and the Art of Departure, and I might even work in a selection from my current work in progress. Who knows?

The Country Bookshelf is at 28 W. Main Street in Bozeman. That event, too, begins at 7.

*****

Brandon Oldenburg, right, in a screengrab shamefully stolen from a classmate.

I was neck-deep in the day (er, night) job during the Oscars telecast, but I couldn’t miss the excitement as my Facebook feed burbled with the news about Brandon Oldenburg winning for his work on the short “The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore.”

Oldenburg is an alum of my high school. I didn’t know him — mine was a big-box high school — but I sure am proud of him. (And I loved the fact that he wore a tuxedo made by Dickies to the show.)


Wrapping up 2011

"Dorky Smile" (self-portrait by author, 12/31/11)

And so 2011 ends, the third full year that I’ve been able, with varying degrees of credibility, to call myself an author.

In the past 365 days …

  • I’ve seen two books into the world. My novel The Summer Son released on January 25th, and my collection of short stories, Quantum Physics and the Art of Departure, came out December 6th. I’m really proud of both.
  • I’ve watched The Summer Son become a Utah Book Award finalist.
  • I’ve been proud to have two short stories, “Cruelty to Animals” and “Comfort and Joy,” appear in Montana Quarterly. Both stories are in Quantum Physics.
  • I’ve had the pleasure of working with my friend and colleague Ed Kemmick to bring his book, The Big Sky, By and By, out to an appreciative audience.
  • I’ve made some new friends in the book business and even repaired a couple of damaged friendships. I’m particularly thankful for the latter.
  • I’ve also struggled with occasional bouts of self-doubt and despair about the book business. Rejection and disappointment are frequent realities, and at least for me, they’ve become no easier to take than they were in the beginning. At least twice in the past year, I’ve intimated to a friend that I think I’m done. Both times, I’ve been wrong. The first because I’m not really a quitter (I just like to talk about being one, apparently) and the second because …
  • When I least expected it and, in fact, had resigned myself to taking 2012 off because the pump was dry, I was hit with an idea that is so mind-consuming that it propels me to the writing desk each day in a pique of wonder and joy.

I needed that.

So, in 2012, I resolve …

  • To see my new project to completion and find a publishing home for it.
  • To not take things quite so hard when they don’t go my way. By any reasonable measure, I’ve been extremely fortunate. It’s time for me to remember that.
  • To keep writing. No matter what.

Happy New Year.


Here comes ‘Quantum Physics’

Today–Tuesday, December 6th–is the official release date for my new book, a collection of short stories called Quantum Physics and the Art of Departure.

Truth be told, the book has been available in print and e-book form for a couple of weeks now, but a book needs a release date, and this is mine. It’s my third book, following the novels 600 Hours of Edward and The Summer Son, and I’m incredibly proud of it. Part of that lies in where the stories came from and the time in my life that spawned them (there will be more on this down the line). Part of it lies in the fact that this is a full production for my little publishing house, Missouri Breaks Press, and a fully realized manifestation of my artistic and professional interests, not to mention my tendency toward being an autodidact. And part of it rests in the same sense of pride and apprehension that accompanies the release of any book. Author Scott Nicholson does a nice job of explaining that here. It takes something–gall, perhaps, or bravado or delusion–to write something and decide that people not only want to read it but also will be willing pay for the privilege.

As for the money part, I’ve tried to make that as pocketbook-friendly as possible. The trade paperback version of the book retails for a competitive $14. The e-book version, available in Kindle and Nook and everything else, is set at $1.99, an eminently fair price for ten good stories.

Back in August, I wrote a series of posts highlighting the ten stories and offering some insight into how they came to be. You can see those here if you missed them the first time.

As for the book, I hope you’ll check it out. I think it’s some of the best work I’ve done.


How are you? It’s been a while …

Here’s what’s been going on:

Even my slimmed-down version of NaNoWriMo crashed and burned. I still love the story idea, still think about it a lot, still like what little progress I’ve made on it, but I won’t be finishing any time soon. It just needs some more cooking time in my head. The longer I do this — and I’m three books into it now — the more I realize that the words and stories come in their own time. I can’t be a crank-o-matic. Wouldn’t even want to be one.

I’ve kept busy with some freelance gigs, mostly of the editing variety. This brings up a good opportunity to do something I don’t do very often, and that’s to pitch my editorial services.  I have good, competitive rates, I turn the work around quickly, and I’m handing off good work to appreciative customers. Whether you’re prepping a manuscript for submission to agents and publishers or preparing to go it alone as a self-publisher, I can help you create a professional product.

Reading the story "Comfort and Joy" from "Quantum Physics and the Art of Departure" at Wild Purls. (Photo courtesy of Wild Purls)

Three years after 600 Hours of Edward was written, we continue to find appreciative audiences. One of my more interesting gigs was two hours with about twenty-five knitters at a local shop, Wild Purls. Check out this account of the evening on the store’s blog. I had so much fun. (And here’s a blatant tease for you: I expect to have some exciting news about 600 Hours in the near future.)

Finally …

E-readers and e-books should be all the rage this holiday season. If you’re lucky enough to get a fancy new toy, you might consider loading it up with my latest, Quantum Physics and the Art of Departure. The e-book price has been dropped to $1.99 through the New Year, which is a heck of a deal. Go here for the Kindle version. Go here if you have a Nook.

Happy holidays!


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.


Giveaway: ‘Quantum Physics’ e-book

My new book, Quantum Physics and the Art of Departure, comes out December 6th.

But now — today, and on through the end of the month — I’m giving you the opportunity to download an e-book version for free.

Completely and totally free.

Monstrously free.

Here’s the book trailer. Check it out:

So, you want a copy, right? Here’s what you do:

If you don’t have a Smashwords account, you’ll have to sign up for one. But don’t let that dissuade you. It, too, is free, and there are a lot of good e-book bargains on that site. It’s a panoply of reading pleasure for the story enthusiast.

Please pass this along to your friends with e-readers. The offer is good until Sept. 30, and I’d love to see as many free copies as possible sent out into the world. After you read the book, if you’re so inclined, please offer up a review at Amazon.com or Barnes & Noble or Goodreads or LibraryThing, if you frequent those places. Or tell a friend.

Thanks for reading!


He had questions; I had answers

Please allow me to commend to your attention this story at Self-Publishing Review, in which A Life Transparent author Todd Keisling says some very nice things about my new book and is kind enough to toss me some questions about writing and publishing.

While I was more than happy to chat about Quantum Physics and the Art of Departure, the best part of the interview, for me, was the opportunity to chat about Missouri Breaks Press, the little publishing house I run out of my living room. I started this little business because my professional background is rooted in the production side of publishing. I’ve spent most of the past twenty years as a copy editor and designer (a layout man, to use a waning term), and it’s because of that background that I’ve been as interested in the physical construction of my books as I have been in the writing of them. When I branched out into the book business a few years ago as a novelist, starting my own house and looking for work to put out there was a natural extension of things.

I’ve had extraordinary good fortune with the projects I’ve chosen. My good friend Carol Buchanan, whose first novel, God’s Thunderbolt, was an indie sensation and a Spur Award winner, was kind enough to cast her lot with me for her follow-up, Gold Under Ice. And that book has been every bit the wonder that her first book was, becoming a Spur Award finalist.

My second book, Ed Kemmick’s The Big Sky, By and By, has been a hit around these parts, where Ed is well-known as the City Lights columnist at The Billings Gazette, where he and I both toil.

In both cases, I’ve had the privilege of working with terrific writers and better people. As I said in the interview, those successes have given me the confidence to release my own work through Missouri Breaks Press, as I will with Quantum Physics. My first two novels, published by other houses, have allowed me to build the relationships with booksellers and readers that make going it alone a little less fearsome. And, of course, I’m not alone. I had a lot of help and input in these stories, and I turned them over to the steady hand of a terrific editor. I’d no sooner do my own editing than my own heart surgery.

And that’s what I have to say about that.

Speaking of Quantum Physics

Thursday is the final day to get an advance, signed print copy of the book for the low price of $10.50. That day, right here, a new promotion will be announced, this one of interest to folks who brandish e-readers. You don’t want to miss this.


Monday media musings

Vacation’s over. Also, how ’bout them Cowboys? Wait … don’t answer that.

Did I ever mention that the wondrous R.J. Keller and golden-voiced Todd Keisling teamed up to create a book trailer for Quantum Physics and the Art of Departure? Well, they did. Check it out:

Pass it on to your friends. Also worth noting: This is the final week to get an advance print copy of the book (which releases Dec. 6) at the low, low price of $10.50. Details here.

If you’re in Montana, please check out the latest issue of Montana Magazine, which includes a feature story about my books (written by Chèrie Newman of Montana Public Radio) and a wonderful review of Ed Kemmick’s “The Big Sky, By and By,” which I published. The magazine is on newsstands now.

Finally, a travel advisory: Tuesday, I’m headed to Fort Benton, where the next morning I’ll meet with the Friends of the Library to talk about The Summer Son. Just a little more than a year ago, I was there with my first novel, 600 Hours of Edward, and it was a great group of people and a great town (my first trip there).

Tuesday, I’ll be playing golf here. And staying here. You’re free to be envious on both points.


A few words about a few words

This thing up above is one of two dedications in my new book, Quantum Physics and the Art of Departure. (The other is to my wife, Angela.)

I never had the pleasure of meeting David Brockett or Bill Petter, but both men left a powerful influence on me.

David Brockett and his granddaughter Mia.

David’s daughter, Amy Pizarro, and I were co-workers at the San Jose Mercury News and are great friends. She’s the kind of friend — and I’m lucky enough to have several of these — who is right there at the moment you most need an encouraging word or someone to listen to your troubles. Because of the vagaries of day to day life and distance, I can go weeks and months without talking to her, only to find that everything falls away when I do. She is, simply put, a wonderful person.

Her dad ended up with a copy of 600 Hours of Edward and just loved it, so much that he and I struck up a correspondence by e-mail. David was a long-haul trucker, and we had an appointment to get together the next time his work brought him through Billings.

Sadly, it never happened. He got sick and died so quickly, it took my breath away. Took everybody’s breath away.

Amy details that on her blog, and I can’t suggest strongly enough that you go check it out. It’s a beautiful tribute to a man and a father.

Bill Petter is another guy I’m left to wish I’d had the pleasure of meeting. His daughter, Donna Moreland, is another of my friends, one of the many I’ve picked up on Facebook.

When Bill died on March 21, the outpouring of tenderness and stories from Kirkland, Wash., where he lived, was just incredible. Here’s but a sample. Donna told me that 600 Hours of Edward was one of the last books he read and that Edward’s fascination with numbers and process was something he shared with Bill. There’s just no way to say with any degree of adequacy how much sentiments like that mean to me.

We lost greatness with the passing of these two men. Luckily for us, they left legacies — in the daughters they raised and the lives they touched. I think you ought to know.

Update: Amy just e-mailed me with something pretty interesting: Bill Petter died one day before her dad, and the two men’s birthdays were one day apart. Wow!

Bill Petter and his Mickey Mouse gloves.


Inside ‘Quantum Physics,’ Part 10

We continue today with the story behind the story on the 10th and final piece of short fiction from my upcoming collection, Quantum Physics and the Art of Departure. To read previous installments, go here.

COMFORT AND JOY

Backstory: I originally wrote this story over the course of two days in December 2010 and published it in e-book form. It sold for $1, and I donated the net proceeds from those sales to Feed America. Now that it’s part of a larger book — roughly 10 percent of it — I will be donating 10 percent of the net proceeds from sales of Quantum Physics and the Art of Departure to that same organization. Also, an abridged version of this story is scheduled to appear in the Winter 2011 issue of Montana Quarterly.

Here’s an excerpt:

As spring melted toward summer, an answer to that prayer arrived. Life next door to Frank went back to some semblance of what it had been before. The woman went to work and came home. The boy went to school and then, as June rolled around and the summer break took hold, he and his friends often hung around the house, tossing a football in the yard or playing basketball in the driveway. Frank caught snippets of these things through the window. He would watch and sip his coffee, and then he would return to her.

Frank’s other prayer, that Lucy’s pain would subside, was a tougher sell with God. She barely moved some days, and Frank would have to pick her up and carry her to the bathroom. The small act of sitting on the toilet would aggravate the cancer that had metastasized in her bones, and in her agony she could barely make a sound, depleted as her lungs were. Frank would hold her close, careful not to hurt her further, and blink back the tears.

When he found the compression sores, he gave in and called for help from hospice, finally admitting that he couldn’t tend to her alone anymore. The nurses came in, and there wasn’t much they could do, either. They dressed her wounds and tried to make her comfortable.

Lucy died in the early hours of a Wednesday in late July. Nobody left flowers in her yard.

Trivia: In this story, I managed to work in some details about one of my heroes, a retired NASA engineer named John Aaron. If you saw the movie Apollo 13 — and if you didn’t, please rectify this oversight immediately — you saw Aaron portrayed by Loren Dean.

Take a look (Dean, as Aaron, shows up around the 6:30 mark of this clip):

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Quantum Physics and the Art of Departure will be officially released on Dec. 6, 2011.


Inside ‘Quantum Physics,’ Part 9

We continue today with the story behind the story on the ninth and penultimate piece of short fiction from my upcoming collection, Quantum Physics and the Art of Departure. To read previous installments, go here.

SAD TOMATO: A LOVE STORY

Backstory: This entry will be very brief. Very brief. This is a continuation of an earlier story in the collection, Alyssa Alights. Beyond that, there’s almost nothing I can say about it that wouldn’t be a spoiler. It’s quite unlike any story I’ve ever written before.

Here’s an excerpt (a single paragraph, the first one):

The first time he cut her, she felt the endorphins rush her head and she thought, just for a moment, that she was going to die. It felt so fucking good. The blade sliced a clean, straight line above her ankle, and the blood held back until her heart beat again. It came first in a trickle and then a pour. He handled the knife like he was born to do it, the tip of his wet tongue hanging from his mouth as his eyes, immovable, focused on the target and the line. She looked at him and she wanted him so bad, and after he cut himself, too, she had him. She rode him until they collapsed together into the drying blood that stained the sheets. She didn’t wake up until after noon, and then the metallic smell of what they had done with the knife turned her on all over again, so she woke him.

Trivia: The real-life event that inspired this story happened on the week of my birthday in 2008. How’s that for a teaser? Once you read the story, feel free to write to me at amindadrift at gmail dot com and inquire about it. I’ll happily spill.

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Quantum Physics and the Art of Departure will be officially released on Dec. 6, 2011.


Inside ‘Quantum Physics,’ Part 8

We continue today with the story behind the story on the eighth piece of short fiction from my upcoming collection, Quantum Physics and the Art of Departure. To read previous installments, go here.

SHE’S GONE

Backstory: Long after I wrote about Ross Newbry as an adult, I came back to him, this time as an adolescent. Since family relationships seem to be the vein of fiction that I most eagerly mine, I wanted to explore the question of how the reverberations of childhood can mark us and influence our actions as adults. The result was this piece of short fiction, set in the early ’80s in Miles City, Montana. It’s another father-son story — an area that has been well-trod in my first two novels — but this one tacks a much different course.

Here’s an excerpt:

“That’s not much of a story,” the boy said, scooping the last bite of ice cream into his mouth.

“I just figured you’d want to hear it,” Dwight said, a bit too quickly, and he winced as he realized that he’d let the boy know he’d been wounded.

“No, you said it was too good a story to waste,” Ross said, staring at him. “It wasn’t good at all. It sucked.”

Dwight tugged at the napkin on the table, straightening it.

“What are you so angry about, Ross?”

“I’m not angry. I’m really glad you and Mom had a great day. That’s so awesome. Didn’t really stop you from leaving us, though, did it? You’re here, she’s at home, she doesn’t want me, I’m here, I don’t want to be with you. It really worked out for me, didn’t it?”

Dwight clasped his hands in front of him. “Ross—”

“Shut up.”

“Listen—”

“Shut up.”

“Ross, about me and your momma—”

“Shut up!” The boy threw back his chair, crashing it against the stained-wood wall of Dwight’s trailer. He ran to his room, shaking the doublewide again with a slammed door.

For a long time, Dwight stared into his bowl, waiting for his heart to thump with less urgency. When he finally scooped out some of the melted vanilla, the sound of his spoon clinking against the bowl reverberated in a house that had gone silent.

(Copyright © 2012 Craig Lancaster)

Trivia: Jim Quillen, the violent father at the center of my novel The Summer Son, is in the heart of this story, too. It’s a few years on from the breach between Jim and the narrator of the novel, his son Mitch. Jim’s appearance was in no way planned, but I have to say, he fit perfectly into this story, and it was good to see him again.

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Quantum Physics and the Art of Departure will be officially released on Dec. 6, 2011.


Inside ‘Quantum Physics,’ Part 7

We continue today with the story behind the story on the seventh piece of short fiction from my upcoming collection, Quantum Physics and the Art of Departure. To read previous installments, go here.

STAR OF THE NORTH

Backstory: This story, about a prison inmate waiting out a life sentence for a murder he’s never denied, was inspired by a specific event in my own life that didn’t happen. I can’t give all of the details without undermining the story a bit, so let me just say this: More than 20 years ago, on the precipice of a huge change in my life, I felt as though my family had been violated in a way that made me angrier than I’ve ever been in my life — so much that, had I been able to get my hands on the perpetrator, I might well have changed the trajectory of my future. So now, all these years later, I’m relieved that I never had a chance to act on that urge for retribution. The protagonist in this story, Ray Bingham, did have that opportunity. A lot of stories come to me this way; I think about an event from my own life, or the life of someone I know, and I play games where I extrapolate the path not taken.

Here’s an excerpt:

After lights-out, Ray kept his eyes open and chewed on the question of regret. To his recollection, Judge Mabry had been the first to ask about it, at the sentencing. The old jurist had spent much of the trial either polishing his glasses or idly spinning them by the temples. But at the final hearing, Mabry had pulled the glasses on and peered over them at Ray and asked if he wished to acknowledge the pain of Jeff’s family, if he had come to terms with the horrible thing he had done.

“Hell, no, I don’t regret a thing,” Ray had said. “Jeff deserved what he got, and I gave it to him. That’s about the size of it.”

“Young man,” Judge Mabry had answered, “you will find prison a cold and lonely place with that approach.”

In the intervening years, Ray had come to agree with Mabry about cold and lonely, but he didn’t figure it had anything to do with his attitude. That’s just the way prison was, for everyone.

Ray flopped over onto his left side, facing the wall, and doubled up his pillow.

I’ll never see a day outside this place, he thought. I know that now. But if the price of being free is remorse about something I’m glad I did, something I’d do a hundred times out of a hundred if given another chance at it, I’d rather stay here.

(Copyright © 2012 Craig Lancaster)

Trivia: One of Ray Bingham’s cherished memories is of a blue Mustang named Caroline he once bought at a car lot in Arvada, Colorado. I, too, bought a blue Mustang in Arvada. I never named her. She never deserved it.

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Quantum Physics and the Art of Departure will be officially released on Dec. 6, 2011.


Inside ‘Quantum Physics,’ Part 6

We continue today with the story behind the story on the sixth piece of short fiction from my upcoming collection, Quantum Physics and the Art of Departure. To read previous installments, go here.

THE PAPER WEIGHT

Backstory: Like Alyssa Alights, this was salvaged from a novel that didn’t make it to the finish line. For a long time, I’ve wanted to write a good blast-off on the challenging times newspapers and newspaper journalists now face. When I started my career more than 20 years ago, I knew what I was getting into, having had a stepfather who was a longtime reporter. But it also seemed, at the time, like a rock-solid profession, full of job security and interesting assignments. Well, the latter still exists, but the former is gone, probably forever.

The obstacle between wanting to write such a story and actually doing it lay in my being entirely too close to the subject matter, a condition that dogged this story when it was part of a novel-in-progress and threatened to derail it even as a short story. It was only when I conjured an absurd approach to the main character, Kevin Gilchrist, and played it out to its illogically logical end that I found my way through the thing. As it turns out, this has ended up being one of my favorite stories in the collection.

Here’s an excerpt:

These facts about The Diploma caused Gilchrist to despise him on several levels.

First, he had only four years of honest-to-goodness, in-a-real-newsroom experience. And in those four years, he had kissed enough of the right asses to be running the whole shooting match at the Herald-Gleaner, which, back in the days when people actually read newspapers, had been a pretty damned good one.

Second, the guy went to Kansas and Missouri, for Christ’s sake. If one were to equate collegiate sports with politics, it would be a little like defining oneself as an abortion-rights Republican from Alabama. (Gilchrist had begun to suspect that The Diploma didn’t care much for sports. On the odd occasions when he would join a newsroom bull session, uniformly uncomfortable moments for everyone, The Diploma would put on a serpentine smile and slink away when talk turned to whatever game was in season.)

Third, The Diploma had a master’s degree in journalism, which Gilchrist figured to be about as useful as a screen door on a battleship. Journalism—real journalism, the kind practiced by Gilchrist and those who had come before him at the Herald-Gleaner—didn’t happen in a laboratory. It wasn’t theoretical. It was real. It happened outside the glass walls, on the street, among people whose stories demanded to be told and among people who, as a matter of course, would lie, equivocate, prevaricate and falsify to keep somebody like Gilchrist from discovering the truth. The Diploma came out of Missouri with big ideas about databases and web hits and social media, none of which meant a damned thing to Gilchrist.

(Copyright © 2012 Craig Lancaster)

Trivia: This is important. None of the characters in this story has a direct relationship to someone I know in real life. They are all amalgamations of various people I’ve known in a 20-plus year career in newspaper journalism. You will never find a more irascible, maddening, insanely brilliant group of people anywhere, except maybe at a fiction writers’ convention.

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Quantum Physics and the Art of Departure will be officially released on Dec. 6, 2011.


Inside ‘Quantum Physics,’ Part 5

We continue today with the story behind the story on the fifth piece of short fiction from my upcoming collection, Quantum Physics and the Art of Departure. To read previous installments, go here.

QUANTUM PHYSICS AND THE ART OF DEPARTURE

Backstory: The title story of the collection (obviously). A reader could be excused if, upon digesting this story, he/she assumed that it, too, sprang from the turmoil of late last year that I’ve talked about previously. Actually, that’s not the case. I’m pretty sure this is the oldest story in the collection, written nearly two years ago as a palate cleanser between my first and second novels. It does reflect my fascination with the politics of our most intimate relationships — the ways in which we use coercion and leverage, whether it’s subconsciously or with reckless abandon. The main character in this story, a man named Ross Newbry, shows up later in the collection as an adolescent.

Here’s an excerpt:

Her drunken lovemaking was, by turns, fierce and haphazard. She licked his face and slithered her tongue in his ear. When she moved to the other side, he reached up and swabbed her spit away. She lay back and invited his mouth to find her, and he did so by rote. The most preposterous memory stepped to the front of his mind. Sam Kinison, the manic comic, had a routine about oral. “Lick the alphabet,” Sam the Man said. So he did. She writhed and grasped at his head, and then, as the moment neared, she turned him on his back and rode him until it was done.

As she draped across him, he looked for patterns in the ceiling.

“It was good?” she asked.

“Yes.”

“It’s been a while.”

“Yes.”

“I think we should do it again.”

He said nothing.

She reached for him and found him flaccid. “Oh.”

“Tomorrow,” he said.

She turned away and ground her backside into him. He patted her shoulder and waited for her snores.

(Copyright © 2012 Craig Lancaster)

Trivia: When I was writing this story, the house that Ross and his wife, Laura, share was modeled on a place my wife and I lived in before we got married. Interestingly enough, that same house served as the model for Edward Stanton’s home in my first novel, 600 Hours of Edward. In the novel, I simply moved the house one street away from where Ang and I lived.

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Quantum Physics and the Art of Departure will be officially released on Dec. 6, 2011.


Inside ‘Quantum Physics,’ Part 4

We continue today with the story behind the story on the fourth piece of short fiction from my upcoming collection, Quantum Physics and the Art of Departure. To read previous installments, go here.

The story as it appeared in the Spring 2011 Montana Quarterly

CRUELTY TO ANIMALS

Backstory: Hoooooo boy. Where to start? The latter part of 2010 was a chaotic time in my life. I was unfair and ugly to a lot of people, myself included. And I was taking all of that angst and emotional turmoil and spinning it into creative works, which left me close to half-crazy, wondering if I was doing it all just to gin up my fiction. This is a result of that creative burst. It’s an examination of two mismatched lovers, told from the viewpoint of only one of them (which means, of course, that somewhere out there another story is waiting to be told). It’s comical and cringe-worthy, just like ill-fitting love. This story originally appeared in the Spring 2011 issue of Montana Quarterly.

Here’s an excerpt:

But Diane, she was different. For one thing, she wasn’t a gangly little girl anymore. She was thirty-four years old, one hundred percent woman if her online pictures were to be believed, and beautiful in a way that moved me in all the right places. Her sister, Rachel, lurked somewhere in my little online universe, but I rarely heard from her and spoke with her even less frequently. But Diane. Oh, man, Diane. I took advantage of any chance I had to swap notes with her, stay up late chatting online or whatever. I even played that stupid farm game, just because she did. Even if I grant you that online communication is two-dimensional in a way that makes it a poor substitute and a dangerous stand-in for genuine human interaction, I couldn’t help myself from falling in deep with Diane. She got me. She could tell when I wasn’t eating well or sleeping well, just from my demeanor in the little electronic box where we talked. I began sharing my frustrations about work, and she helped me there, too. When I told my creative partner, Jonathan, that his big-footing of me during pitches was damaging to our relationship, he was properly chastened. “I owe you an apology, Doug,” he said. “It was weird to hear you say it so directly. I don’t know. Usually, you just go into your office and break something when you’re frustrated.” That was a gift from Diane, the ability to confront Jonathan. She was changing me.

(Copyright © 2012 Craig Lancaster)

Trivia: Two pieces of it, actually. First, the title: It’s inspired by a Pernice Brothers song of the same name, which as it turns out, also has a similar theme. (Thank God titles can’t be copyrighted.)

Take a listen for yourself:

Second, the names Diane and Rachel in the excerpt above: In the story, the narrator becomes involved with “the kid sister of the first girl I ever loved.” The first love of my life was (is) named Rachel. Her kid sister? Diane. Beyond that surface detail, the story in no way reflects them. I’m proud to say that both remain good friends of mine to this day.

Be sure to come back Monday for Part 5 of this series.

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Quantum Physics and the Art of Departure will be officially released on Dec. 6, 2011.


Inside ‘Quantum Physics,’ Part 3

We continue today with the story behind the story on the third piece of short fiction from my upcoming collection, Quantum Physics and the Art of Departure. To read previous installments, go here.

ALYSSA ALIGHTS

Backstory: This is the salvaging of another failed novel project. I’d had this idea for a story involving an ensemble of characters: a teenage runaway, a street vigilante, a burned-out newspaperman, a standup cop dealing with departmental corruption. I had a vague sense of how they might all fit together, but as ensembles often go, I ended up writing not one cohesive story but several half-baked ones. Unable to reconcile them, I carved out the likeliest candidates for short fiction and went back to work. This and two other stories from the collection — The Paper Weight and Sad Tomato: A Love Story — were the results.

Here’s an excerpt:

Finally outside the house, she cut a path out of Sidney on side streets, staying well off the main drag, with its restaurants and gas stations. Even at such an early hour, the eyes that would surely see her leaving would give way to the tongues that would surely tell on her. It wasn’t until she neared the intersection of Highway 200 and Highway 16 that she dared skip over to the main road. She settled onto the shoulder and began walking southwest, toward Glendive, where a bus to Billings awaited.

She patted the right front pocket of her jeans, which held a wallet. That, in turn, contained eighty-three dollars, all the money she had managed to save from her job at the M&M diner. The wallet, she knew, was the most important thing she was carrying. Every few steps, her right hand found its way to the front of her pants, and she traced its outline, verifying once more its existence.

A mile out of town, the first semi of the day rumbled behind her, coming from Williston. She turned and thrust her right thumb skyward and smiled. Just as she figured he would, the trucker eased his rig onto the shoulder. When she caught up to him, he reached across and opened the passenger door.

(Copyright © 2012 Craig Lancaster)

Trivia: The constant patting of the wallet is a personal tic of mine. I also carry it up front — mostly because I don’t like the feel of sitting on it — and periodically brush the front of my pants with my hand to assure myself that it’s still with me. Is that weird? It seems kind of weird.

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Quantum Physics and the Art of Departure will be officially released on Dec. 6, 2011.


Inside ‘Quantum Physics,’ Part 2

We continue today with the story behind the story on the second piece of short fiction from my upcoming collection, Quantum Physics and the Art of Departure. To read previous installments, go here.

THIS IS BUTTE. YOU HAVE TEN MINUTES.

Backstory: This story, which is just a hair under 5,000 words, was inspired directly by a bus trip I took last fall from Billings to Missoula for the Montana Festival of the Book. I didn’t want to drive for a few reasons: First, I didn’t expect to need my car much during my weekend away, which proved to be true. Second, I wanted to travel as inexpensively as possible. Third, I didn’t have my car, because my wife was using it as she moved out of our home and we rode up to the brink of divorce. I’m not saying that flippantly; it was a horrible time in our lives, and as I’m wont to do, I was particularly attuned to inspiration in that crisis state. I found plenty of it on a Greyhound bus.

Here’s an excerpt:

Thirty-seven miles short of the mark, the Corolla belched forth a metallic grumble and died.

“Threw a rod,” the tow truck driver told him nearly an hour later, when he finally arrived and crawled under the nose of the car for a look-see. “Son of a bitch went right through the pan.”

“Oh, hell,” the man with the BlackBerry said as he relayed the news home in a text message. “I just had the oil changed this morning.”

“Yep,” the tow truck driver said, “and there it is.” He pointed back down I-94 a piece at the last dying cough of oil. “You get it done at one of those in-and-out joints?”

“Yeah.”

“I seen this happen a lot. Those guys there don’t take much care.”

“Bloody hell,” the man with the BlackBerry said. “How long to fix it?”

The tow truck driver whistled. “Long time. Expensive.”

The man with the BlackBerry rode the rest of the way in the cab of the tow truck, batting back her electronic invective (How could you not know you were leaking oil? How dumb are you?) with apologies and attempts at placation. In between, he attached a name to the tow truck driver, who hadn’t offered one.

Jeff Hobbs. 37 years old. On his third marriage. Works the graveyard shift at the refinery in addition to driving the tow truck. Former football star. Oh, and there’s this: He’s gay.

(Copyright © 2012 Craig Lancaster)

Trivia: The title of this story — This Is Butte. You Have Ten Minutes — comes directly from the mouth of the driver on my ride from Billings to Missoula. After hearing it, I promptly fell back asleep, so I never had a chance to put her on the clock once we arrived at the Butte depot.

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Quantum Physics and the Art of Departure will be officially released on Dec. 6, 2011.


Inside ‘Quantum Physics,’ Part 1

Starting today and running Monday through Thursday for the next couple of weeks, I’ll be sharing details from each of the 10 stories that make up my forthcoming collection of short fiction, Quantum Physics and the Art of Departure.

I’ll include backstory, excerpts, and other stories behind the stories.

We’ll start, appropriately, at the beginning.

SOMEBODY HAS TO LOSE

The backstory: By far the longest of the 10 stories, at about 13,000 words, this one began life as a novel-in-progress. It just never really progressed, at least not to that point. At about 15,000 words, I realized that the story — about a basketball team pinning its hopes on a singularly talented girl — would never measure up to the definitive basketball-in-Montana novel, Stanley Gordon West’s Blind Your Ponies, even though mine would have an entirely different trajectory. So I reined it in, did some surgery and came up with a devilish ending, the kind I like.

Here’s an excerpt:

As Paul ran through the offense, the whistle rarely left his mouth.

“Give me the ball,” he told Cash.

She fired a chest pass at him.

“Mendy, it’s like this.” He squared up to the basket, squeezing the ball between his hands and planting a pivot foot. “First option: jump shot.” Into the air he went, releasing the ball at the peak of his jump and watching it backspin softly into the net. Cash, her face red, gathered the ball and rifled it back to him. “Second option: drive.” Paul took two dribbles into the lane and then fell back to his spot on the periphery. “Third option: make the next pass.” He slung the ball to Victoria Ford, directly to his left on the wing. “You know better than to just throw the ball over without even looking.”

Paul turned to the players clumped on the sideline. “Shoot, drive, pass. When you get the ball in this offense, that’s the sequence. I don’t want anybody not following it, you got that?”

“Yes, sir,” the girls answered glumly.

“You get the ball. If the defender has collapsed into the middle, you shoot the open shot. If they’re crowding you, drive around them. If you’re covered, make the next pass. This is not difficult. Run it again.”

(Copyright © 2012 Craig Lancaster)

Dan Gensel

Trivia: The offensive style described in the snippet above came from my buddy (and best man) Dan Gensel, the former girls basketball coach at Soldotna (Alaska) High School. His philosophy was that too many coaches filled their players’ heads with so much minutiae that it paralyzed the girls’ freedom to take an open shot. The guy was one of the winningest coaches in the state for nearly 20 years, so I figure he knows what he’s talking about.

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Quantum Physics and the Art of Departure will be officially released on Dec. 6, 2011.