I just put up a short story, SLUMP BUSTER, in the Kindle store.
This piece originally appeared in the Spring 2013 issue of The Montana Quarterly (a publication you should read if you don’t already). When I wrote it, back in December of last year, I figured it was a one-off. I had this little idea about a broken-down boxer trying to come to grips with a bleak future.
Funny how things work …
The main character in the story, a fighter named Hugo Hunter, is now the title character of the novel I just finished, THE FALLOW SEASON OF HUGO HUNTER. No word yet on when that book is coming out, but in the meantime, you can get to know Hugo a little bit by downloading this story. It’s 99 cents in the U.S. Kindle store, and a proportional price elsewhere. If you have a Prime membership, you can read it for free. Can’t beat that.
And so EDWARD ADRIFT—my fourth book overall, and my third novel—heads off into the world today.
So much about publishing becomes a grind as you go along. Not an unwelcome grind; indeed, I cannot imagine anything I’d rather do than write and hope to put that writing in front of readers. But as one moves from newbie to veteran, and I suppose I’m somewhere in between, there are certain aspects of the process between “the end” and “thank you for your purchase” that begin to look less magical.
But not release day. Release day is full of hope that this new work will find an appreciative audience. Uncertainty about the reaction that will follow—or whether there will be one at all. Fear that readers you’ve pleased in the past will go unsatisfied this time. Relief and thankfulness when good reviews come in. Gratitude that anyone at all would choose to spend a few of their precious hours with something you created.
It’s the best drug there is, and entirely legal, too.
So … If you’ve previously read 600 HOURS OF EDWARD or one of my other books, I invite you to take a look at this one. I’m proud of it. I’m grateful to be able to do this thing that I love so much, and I’m amazed at how many people have let Edward Stanton into their hearts.
Thank you for reading.
April 9, 2013
Yesterday, the Kindle Post hosted an interview with me about the re-emergence of 600 Hours of Edward. It used three questions of a wider-ranging interview that my good friend Jim Thomsen, a freelance book editor and author, had conducted with me. Here, then, is the rest of the story …
Unlike Edward, you don’t have Asperger’s Syndrome. But, like Edward, you’re a fan of the Dallas Cowboys, of the TV show Dragnet and of the band R.E.M., and you live where the book is set, in Billings, Montana. Talk about how you blended the factual and the fictional.
I get asked this a lot, and my sheepish answer is that I chose to incorporate all of those things into the narrative simply because I knew them well and could thus write about them with authority and great speed, a distinct requirement of the arena (National Novel Writing Month) in which I was working. Without that constraint, who knows what I would have chosen. And in subsequent works, I’ve begun to see the merits in putting fictional twists on real places. It opens up the imagination and allows me to more fully immerse myself in the little worlds I try to create. That said, I think a lot of people in Billings who’ve read the book have gotten a kick out of seeing, say, their Albertsons store represented in print. At one event I did in Texas, a boy with Asperger’s, the son of a high school friend, came up to me and said, “Is there really an Albertsons at the corner of 13th and Grand in Billings, Montana?” I was proud to tell him that, yes, there is. I shop there every week.
How fine a line do you find there is between Asperger’s characteristics and just plain old human eccentricity? Edward is a slave to his routines — his constant logging of everything from wake-up times to weather to travel distances — but, to varying degrees, so are many of us who don’t have Asperger’s. How relatable do you think readers will find Edward to be?
What makes Edward work—for me as the author and for folks who read the book—is that he’s reflective of things that don’t know boundaries that are generational, ethnic, medical or educational—things like isolation, familial estrangement, the struggle to fit in and find one’s path, to make friends, to live life instead of letting the days pass by. That he has Asperger’s simply puts a different set of filters on how he experiences those everyday things.
600 Hours of Edward is such a lean, breezy read. Many literary authors tend to issue debuts full of dense prose and writerly devices — lots of metaphors and similes, exposition, backstory. Was it difficult to steer clear of that, or do you find your natural writer’s voice is an economical one?
I think the peculiarities of the story imposed some of that. 600 Hours is structured in a deceptively simple way. It starts with Edward’s waking up on a mid-October day and ends 25 days later. Everything proceeds in a straight line, and because the story is told in his voice, it’s naturally spare and devoid of rambling exposition. The few times he stops and speaks of past events, they always have a direct correlation—at least in his mind—with what’s happening in the moment. I do prefer spare to verbose, simple and clear to dense and poetic, and I think some of that can be attributed to my journalism background and some to my story sensibility. I put great faith in Hemingway’s idea of the iceberg’s dignity of movement, that you can write confidently and without adornments, and readers will fill in the details with their own minds. I like the idea that readers’ imaginations are active participants in the stories I write.
Another literary convention from which you steered clear was giving Edward an obvious love interest (though his disastrous evening with a woman he met on an online dating site is one of the funniest parts of 600 Hours of Edward). Did you wrestle with that as you wrote it, and did you have any misgivings about that based on the reactions of early readers who might have wanted to see Edward in love?
I never considered a love interest essential to this part of Edward’s story. What I knew about him is that he was straining against some of his self-imposed barriers, and his attempt at online dating is part of the way he challenges himself to connect with others. What I tell people who read the book and ask me what happens to this storyline or that storyline is to use their imaginations. This is a 25-day snapshot of a life in transition. After the window closes on Day 25, the story I told is over. But that doesn’t stop Edward, as a character living in readers’ minds, from going on.
I’ve been waiting for today for a long time.
My debut novel, 600 Hours of Edward, is making its own debut, as a newly published paperback, Kindle edition and audiobook under the auspices of Amazon Publishing. For a long time now, I’ve been living with Edward Stanton, the middle-aged man from Billings, Montana, whom I created four years ago in twenty-four fevered days of writing, and he continually surprises me. Today is no different.
If you count the original self-published version of this novel, and I do, this marks the third iteration of his story, and this one leads to new horizons: at the end of the new book sits the first chapter from Edward Adrift, the sequel coming next year. I can’t wait to share where Edward’s story goes, but first, the challenge is to introduce him to a whole new audience. Amazon Publishing, which also put out my sophomore novel, The Summer Son, is primed to do this.
So today, I feel nothing but gratitude for this novel and this character, both of which have allowed me to chase my dreams as a novelist. It all seems amazing to me still that the story could begin as a lark and turn into the work I want to do for the rest of my life. I’m grateful for the people who’ve believed in Edward along the way–starting at home, with my wife, Angie, and extending out to Chris Cauble and the team at Riverbend Publishing, who gave my book a chance back in October 2009, to my editor, Alex Carr, and the team at Amazon who’ve been such cheerleaders for this book, to all the readers who’ve had so many nice things to say about the work (including one from Belfast, Northern Ireland, just this past week!) and the many writers I deeply admire who’ve shown me kindnesses along the way. I’m so thankful.
But this isn’t a valedictory, not by a long shot. With time and luck and hard work, there will be many, many books to come.
Thanks for reading.
I had another idea for a blog post today, but a few of my colleagues were taking a rip at this topic, so I thought I’d join the fun. There’s always tomorrow for my own idea.
Here’s the thing: No single piece of bad advice sticks out. But if I were to gather up and stack the advisories with the least merit, I think I could fit them all under the general heading of “the mechanics of writing.”
You see, I don’t want to hear orthodoxy about outlining or not outlining. Of buffing and polishing each sentence to a high sheen before moving on to the next one. Of vomitous first drafts. Of writing at nighttime. Of writing during the day. Of listening to music. Of writing immediately after a shower. If it works for you, great. But that’s as far as it goes. My patience runs thin with writers who, however well-meaning, think only their experience has merit.
In a box buried in my office sit 18 sheets of yellowing paper, the beginning and aborted end of a novel I tried to write when I was 19 years old. I purported to write about lives I didn’t know and couldn’t imagine, of experiences I hadn’t had or heard about, and I did so without a net–no notes, no outlines, just me and a word processor. In retrospect, I’m fortunate to have made it as far as I did.
There were other attempts, too, ones that I didn’t save, for whatever reason. They died of other causes: neglect, lack of hope, a wandering eye, inconsistent discipline. I wasn’t ready to finish them. A novel is a test of your ideas, your willingness to submit, your longevity, your tenacity. I wasn’t prepared to pass that test.
I can’t tell you why, at age 38, I was finally able to finish a novel–and finish it well enough to get it published. I finally tried outlining, and it served me well, but four years clear of it, I think the idea would have forced itself onto the page no matter what. I was a little older. I’d been through some shit, as they say. I was ready. I wrote my second novel with an outline, and as I look back, I think I was impeded a little by it. I’m proud of the book, yes. But I can do better. My third novel–coming next year–was stream of consciousness, baby, and I think it’s my best one yet. So am I now off outlines where once I swore by them? No. I’m off hard-and-fast rules. That’s what I’m trying to say. It ain’t the method. It’s the result.
Now, when someone asks me how to write, there are exercises I can offer and experiences I can share that might help dislodge some ideas. But I cannot take my method, whatever it happens to be, and apply it to you. I won’t insult you by saying that I can.
My advice is, simply, this: write. Keep writing. Find that reservoir within yourself that makes your ideas come alive on the page, drill deep down inside and draw on it for the rest of your life.
Here are some other posts on this topic:
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.
I hope you’ll check it out.
Vacation’s over. Also, how ’bout them Cowboys? Wait … don’t answer that.
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).
I’m thrilled to be able to announce that my third book, QUANTUM PHYSICS AND THE ART OF DEPARTURE, will be released on December 6th, 2011.
The book is a collection of ten short stories — some previously published, some not — that fall under the broad heading of family drama. It’s not a novel-in-short-stories (as seems to be popular these days) or a group linked by a singular time and place (ditto). Like my two novels, 600 HOURS OF EDWARD and THE SUMMER SON, the settings are largely Montana, but the themes could play out anywhere. If there’s a unifying idea to the book, it is one that explores the concept of separation–whether it’s from burdens, ideas, fears, beliefs, places or people.
Here’s a quick look at the stories:
SOMEBODY HAS TO LOSE: A championship basketball coach gets caught between his team, the rabid partisans in his town, and the disparate desires of his family.
THIS IS BUTTE. YOU HAVE TEN MINUTES: Consigned to a late-night bus ride, a traveling salesman shares space with a coterie of oddballs and lost souls, and one mysterious woman. (This previously appeared in e-book form as the title story in a three-story bundle.)
ALYSSA ALIGHTS: A teenage runaway finds herself in an unlikely alliance with a self-styled street vigilante. (This also appeared in the aforementioned e-book.)
STAR OF THE NORTH: A prison inmate who has been stripped of everything except his sense of self-righteousness takes a young arrival under his wing. (Also appeared in the aforementioned e-book.)
CRUELTY TO ANIMALS: Two mismatched lovers try to hold together a long-distance relationship. (Previously appeared in the Spring 2011 issue of Montana Quarterly.)
QUANTUM PHYSICS AND THE ART OF DEPARTURE: A husband and wife realize they are on opposite sides of their desires.
THE PAPER WEIGHT: A longtime journalist faces a worrisome new reality–and learns some new tricks–when he’s busted down to an entry-level job.
SHE’S GONE: A boy is shunted off to the father he barely knows, a man who has plenty of his own problems.
SAD TOMATO: A LOVE STORY: You’ll just have to read it.
COMFORT AND JOY: A young man who has lost his father to a tragic accident finds a friend he never would have expected in an old man who lives next door. (This was previously published as a standalone e-book last December as a fundraiser for Feed America. More on that in a second.)
Now, while the book will not be officially released until December 6th, I’m offering early copies for sale through this site.
Quantum Physics and the Art of Departure will be officially released on Dec. 6, 2011. However, you can get an advance signed copy now for $14 (plus shipping).
One last note: As the final story, “Comfort and Joy,” takes up roughly 10 percent of the book, I will be contributing 10 percent of all net proceeds from the sale of this book to Feed America and its effort to eradicate hunger in the U.S. I said last December, when I intially published the story, that its earnings would go to food charities in perpetuity, and so it will be.
Thanks for reading!
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.