Craig Lancaster – Ask The Author

Craig was born on February 9th, 1970, in Lakewood, Washington. Adopted at birth, he grew up in suburban Fort Worth, Texas, with his mother and stepfather and siblings. His stepfather, Charles Clines, was a longtime sportswriter at the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, a connection that led to Craig’s career as a journalist, a profession he followed to a series of newspaper jobs across the country — Texas, Alaska, Kentucky, Ohio, Washington, California and, finally, Montana. Craig writes stories set in the contemporary American West.  You can read more about Craig and his books on his website

As you know I ADORE your 3 Edward books (600 Hours of Edward, Edward Adrift and Edward Unspooled). Are you surprised by the reaction you’ve received and the outpouring of love towards Edward?

Everything about these books has been surprising, not least of which is the fact that they were ever written at all. The story of how 600 HOURS OF EDWARD came to be has become kind of this boilerplate part of my bio, sometimes to my irritation, but, hey, whatever makes for a good tale: I wrote it in 24 days in November 2008, quite on a lark, and self-published it a few months later because I had absolutely no expectations for it. At that stage, I’d surprised myself by writing a novel and figured I’d share it with a few friends and family members and that would be that. Within a year, it was picked up by a small Montana publisher, found a few fans, won a few awards, and then moved on to the much bigger publisher it has now, where it’s been given a worldwide audience (including you!). I’m amazed, touched, honored, flabbergasted at what an ambassador it’s been, and how many wonderful people I’ve heard from and gotten to know because that book is in the world. It changed my life. That’s about the simplest and most profound thing I can say about it.

The first couple of years that 600 HOURS was out, I had no intention of revisiting the character. Once I discovered that novel writing wasn’t just a one-off for me, that I had other stories I wanted to tell and that my professional career was being transformed, I set about other projects. But Edward, he sticks with me. Every now and again, he taps me on the shoulder and lets me know he has more to say. That’s cool. I like hanging out with him. He’s a muddler. He keeps moving forward, keeps trying to figure things out, leads with his heart despite himself. I think that’s something most of us can relate to in a way that’s bone-deep.

Just between you and me – is there any chance we might have a fourth Edward book in the next few years?

Well, as long as you don’t broadcast this, by putting it on a blog or something silly like that … Anyone who gets to the end of the third book—no spoilers!—will see that the life of Edward and the lives of those close to him are very much open-ended. It’s hard to imagine that I won’t want to check in on them again.

This, though, is why I’ve generally resisted the urge to call the Edward books a series, although certainly for purposes of marketing they have to be considered such. It’s not a durable, new-installment-every-year kind of storyline, like a good thriller or romance series. I drop in on him—or, rather, he drops in on me—every few years, and I tiptoe back into his world and see what’s going on. In my mind, he’s more a recurrent character than a series character, so while I’m endlessly appreciative of those who love him and want to see more from him, I have to be careful to wait for the right story idea to come along. If I were to be purely mercenary about it, I could probably gin up my mailing list by offering a free Edward short story every year for Christmas, or writing novellas about him in between the larger books, but I simply couldn’t see my way clear to doing that. I’d be manipulating him. For three books now, for better or worse, he’s driven his own story, even though he’s a fictional character. I have to respect that.

As well as the 3 wonderful Edward books you have also written several others – can you please tell me more about each one?

Bless you.

The non-Edward books, in order:

THE SUMMER SON (published in 2011): It’s a bit of a classic father-son story that runs along two timelines. The first, the story driver, rolls out in the present day, as a guy in his late thirties named Mitch Quillen is thrown together with his long-estranged father, Jim. They can’t move forward without dealing with the events from the summer of 1979 that drove a wedge between them. It was a finalist for the 2010 Utah Book Award, which was cool. Durable book. Like the Edward books, but on a smaller level, it just goes and goes. I’m grateful.

THE ART OF DEPARTURE (originally published as QUANTUM PHYSICS AND THE ART OF DEPARTURE in 2011 and repackaged/recast in 2016): A collection of short stories mostly written in 2010 when my first marriage was in a death spiral and I was sorting out my issues on the page. In the revamped edition, I added some micro fiction I wrote a few years back, as well as some other short stories that came out after the book was initially released. Pounding out short stories used to be a way a writer could keep paying the bills, but much of that market has dried up. Every now and then, though, I like to take a crack at one. And, hey, I learned a valuable lesson with the first iteration of this book: If you want your work to be widely unpurchased, put “Quantum Physics” in the title. Nonetheless, I’m really proud of this one for reasons that are beyond commercial. And, hey, it won a gold medal from the 2012 Independent Publisher Book Awards. I’ll take it.

THE FALLOW SEASON OF HUGO HUNTER (published in 2014): My enigma of a book. It’s a love story, in essence, but a chaste one between a sportswriter and a boxer he’s covered for 20 years, the titular Hugo Hunter. In the pre-publication run-up, *everybody* loved this book. I got mash notes from the editors who worked on it, and it was chosen for my publisher’s most prominent marketing package, and … nothing. It’s my worst seller by far. Am I disappointed? Yeah. I think it’s good work. I wish more people knew about it. But here’s the thing about this business: It doesn’t owe me anything, and readers choose what they want for reasons that are entirely their own. This book taught me something vital: When I’m sitting at my desk and trying to find a way through a story, I start out by telling myself a story, and then slowly I work through it and try to make it something that will have more universal appeal. At some point, I have to let it go and divorce myself from its outcome in the marketplace, because that’s ruled by factors over which I have limited control. If I write what I think is a good book—indeed, the best book I have in me at that point—then I’m OK.

I will say that Edward fans have a good reason to read this book, and I hope they do.

THIS IS WHAT I WANT (published in 2015): A multi-point-of-view drama set in a small Montana town during the weekend of its homecoming festival. There’s a lot to crunch on here: a town father who’s trying to keep the oilfield culture from fundamentally altering the way of life where he lives; his restless wife; his distant son; a scheming, manipulative mayor and his clashes with his new police chief; a star basketball player who’s inherited a mess of trouble; and a famous ex-resident who returns every year and causes great consternation. A lot of people haven’t liked the rather abrupt endings for some of these characters, but isn’t that kind of the way life works? In most things, we don’t get psych-speak “closure.” We get what we get, and we push on to what’s next.

JULEP STREET (coming in May 2017): I see by Question 8 that we’ll deal with this later. See you there.

 You recently married the gorgeous Elisa Lorello who is also an author. Do you read each other’s WIPs and what is an average day in the life of Mr & Mrs Lancaster?

Both of us tend to hold our work in progress close, but once a book comes out or is ready to come out, we’ll read chapters to each other before we go to bed. It’s a nice way to unwind, stay in touch, and bond. Having been married twice now, I think it’s foolhardy and counterproductive to compare one marriage to another, and I simply won’t do it. But I will say this: I’ve learned some hard lessons about what creeping distance can do to a loving relationship, and I’m much more mindful of it now. I’m very centered with myself, with Elisa, and with the relationship we built, first as longtime friends and then, later, as something neither of us expected or tried to engineer.

As for an average day, I would contend there’s no such thing. But I’ll give you the rundown on a good day, which is what we generally get:

We wake up and we grumble and we laugh. I’m a full-speed-first-thing-in-the-morning kind of guy. She’s a morning-hates-me kind of woman. We reconcile that with laughter. It’s really the best.

I drive across town to my ex-wife’s house and pick up the two dachshunds (Bodie and Zula) we co-parent. You might laugh, but those dogs are the best thing that came out of that marriage, and we’re on good enough terms as exes to jointly see them through the remainder of their lives.

Everybody—Elisa, me, the dogs—has breakfast.

Elisa and I go downstairs, she to her office and me to mine, and work.

Reconvene for lunch. Take a walk, run errands, whatever.

Back to work.

In the late afternoon, I’ll take the dogs back to my ex-wife’s place, then drive over and see my father, who lives in a condo here in Billings. He and I will bitch at each other, or play backgammon, or watch TV or whatever.

Back home for dinner with Elisa. We’ll watch a movie or a sporting event, play a game, go out for evening—whatever suits our fancy.

It’s a damned good life.

We met “virtually” online over 2 years ago when I tracked you down and invited you to join THE Book Club (TBC) on Facebook, do you and Mrs L have any plans to come over to the UK and met all the Edward groupies from TBC?

You call it “virtually” meeting. I call it Tracy, the unstoppable force of nature, blew into my life and pulled me into this wonderful community of authors and readers. Fairly demanded that I be part of it. And you know what? I owe you, big-time.

I *so badly* want to make the trip over. For one, I’ve never been out of North America, and that’s a shameful gap in my experience. But, yeah, with so many wonderful TBCers there, it would be a hoot to break bread, drink, and talk books and life with all of you.

I challenged Helen Boyce—an Edward fan I’m proud to call a friend—to wrangle me an invitation to one of the UK’s book festivals. If that happens, I’ll do everything I can to make it, including getting my flight-anxiety-ridden wife safely on the plane.

Kentucky is a huge part of your life and coincidentally I LOVE Kentucky… Fried Chicken. My question is what is your favourite takeaway?

Kentucky was pivotal in my life, a place I moved to in my early 20s when I was still stumbling around in the early years of my career as a newspaper editor. I lived for about 18 months in a town called Owensboro and worked at a newspaper, the Messenger-Inquirer, that made me demonstrably better at my profession. All these years later—it’s been nearly 23 years since I left—I still have great friends from that time in my life. You come to appreciate that.

As for the chicken … Look, I grew up in the American Southwest (Texas). I can fry a chicken way better than any dead Kentucky colonel, and I’ve got the gut to prove it. I don’t need his grub. What I’m powerless against is the Taco del Sol down the road. Elisa has become numb to my declarations, on days when we’re fending for ourselves for dinner, that I’ve stopped off and got a burrito (pronounced “breeto,” if you’re from where I’m from).

Julep Street is your latest book – tell me more about it and why I need to read it?

So, speaking of Kentucky …

All of my books, thus far, have been Montana-centric. It’s where I live and where my heart resides. But this story, for whatever reason, put me in a mind of my old Kentucky home. It’s a story about a newspaper editor who loses his job and sets out on a major bender with his only true love, an ancient yellow Lab named Hector. I started writing it some years ago, set it aside, then came back to it this fall. And quite without planning, I found that it has themes with great import today: the loss of meaningful work and the self-esteem it fosters, the decline of fact-based journalism and the rise of nationalism, the questions of what we expect of our men. Too little, I’d argue, which is how we end up with people like Trump and Farage. But, look, you didn’t ask me to be political, and so I won’t. But there is an underlying reason I keep writing about men in trouble. I was one. I could be one again, if I’m not careful.

When my first marriage was irretrievably broken and I was finally coming face to face with all the work I’d never done on myself, when those issues were too profound to keep ignoring, in a moment of clarity I said to my counselor: “I feel like an idiot for living this long and not understanding all of this.” She proceeded to tell me that as an American man, the odds were against any sort of breakthrough until my forties—when I’d done what society demanded of me. I’d built a career, married, been productive. All with blunt tools, frankly. In a social sense, we tell men to build and conquer. We don’t spend much time on their feelings, their fears, etc. And we shortchange them, and we get from them what we deserve. (Disclaimer: I’m talking broad themes here, not anecdotes. Obviously, most of us have known fine men who were and are in full control of themselves emotionally, spiritually, and practically.)

So why should you read it? Because it’s real and it’s universal, and it’s wickedly funny but also terribly dark and frightening.

You have a rather unusual day-time job – can you tell me more about it please?

I have several jobs, actually, none of them full-time. If I have one overarching goal for the rest of my life, it’s to remain in complete control of my own schedule. The book-writing pays most of the freight, for which I’m thankful. Four times a year, I design and produce a shimmering magazine called Montana Quarterly, where I get to work with material from the best writers and photographers of my state. It’s just one of the true pleasures in my life.

But I think the gig you’re talking about is my life on the pipeline. I’m what’s called a “pig tracker.” Attractive, no? What this means, essentially, is that I track a tool (the “pig”) through oil and gas pipelines to make sure they’re working the way they’re supposed to. Every job is a little different, and most of them take me into remote corners of my country that I’d have never seen otherwise. It’s interesting and important work; I get that some people are fundamentally opposed to pipelines, but if we have them (and we do), you want me out there doing what I do.

I took several months off the pipeline job this past fall while I taught an honors fiction course at a local university. That gig’s over, and the pipeline calls again. I drive out next week from Billings, Montana, where I live, to Minot, North Dakota, and I’ll be four days on the line, tracking the pig deep into Minnesota. And then I’ll drive home and chase my wife around the coffee table.

Finally, a question all #teamEdward fans need to know… if he were to be made into a movie – who would you want to see playing him?

I’ve actually contemplated this question, and I think I have an off-beat answer. There’s an actor whose work I’ve always enjoyed, but he’s never really been a breakout star. His name is Donal Logue. I think he has the Edward look and the ability to find the truth at the center of the character. If the book ever gets optioned—there’s been the occasional sniff but nothing concrete—and a movie ever rolls into production, I’ll hold a thought for Mr. Logue. I think he’d be great.

Note to reader – I have no idea what happened during our email interview but this extra question popped up and Craig being the ever charming and professional person he is answered it as follows:

What are your …

My what, Tracy? My favorite yoga poses? My shoe size? My most embarrassing moment?

Oh, right, my favorite curse words.

It probably won’t surprise you that “fuck” is at the center of my affection. I appreciate words for their utility, and “fuck” is fucking awesome in that regard. You can say “that fucking fucker is fucking fucked—fuck it!” and use some variation of the word in four different parts of speech. You can conjure things like “fuckchops” and “fuckmilk” and “fuckabilly” and “fuckery.” I could write a book about the the current political climate and title it “Those Fucking Fuckers Are Fucking Fucking Us.”

Thanks for the good fucking time, Tracy. You’re one of the greats.

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