Thursday, February 17, 2011
Author Interview: Craig Lancaster
Sometimes a book comes along that you just have to let others know about. The Summer Son, by Montana author, Craig Lancaster, is one of those wonderful novels you definitely should add to your reading material. Trust me, you won't be disappointed. In this interview with Craig, you learn a little about The Summer Son, as well as his first book, 600 Hours of Edward.
Tell us a little about your new book, The Summer Son.
It's a father-son story, one rooted in two eras: late fall of 2007, as Mitch Quillen and his dad, Jim, try to make their way back to each other after a 28-year estrangement, and the summer of 1979, when their relationship blew apart. It was a tricky writing job, moving back and forth and keeping the various story threads in play. But I think it worked.
What inspired you to write The Summer Son?
After I finished my first novel, 600 Hours of Edward, I started thinking a lot about the dynamics of father-son relationships and why so many of them seem to slide sideways. In general, our relationships with our mothers are hardwired; they're gestational. A father's relationship to his children, traditionally, stands apart from that. There's incredible pressure, overt or otherwise, for sons to measure up to their dads, or to live down a bad reputation that's passed on to them. And when fathers and sons don't have much in common, as seems to be the case with Mitch and Jim, the potential for deep divisions multiplies.
What was the biggest challenge you faced with this book?
Shaping it into the story I wanted to tell. My first draft, which I completed in about three months, was incredibly raw, as much essay as it was novel. I did two major rewrites and then spent months sanding down and shaping the narrative. Once the book starts bouncing between the two decades, I wanted the storylines to follow a parallel emotional path. That was an interesting thing to work out on the page.
What, or whom, influenced you to become a writer?
I grew up around books and reading, thank God, so in many ways I gravitated to it naturally. My stepfather, who was essential in my upbringing, was a sportswriter, and I started out wanting to emulate him. I ended up becoming a newspaper editor rather than a reporter, and I worked on my own writing--essays and such--on the side. At 39, I published my first novel, and so now I find myself deeply into the craft of writing fiction. It seems to suit me.
What has been your biggest learning experience as a writer?
Letting go of some elements of my training as a journalist. In that arena, you write in a particular way, communicating the big-picture stuff early in an article and then drilling down to the fine details. If you wrote a novel in that manner, it would be about 10 pages. But all in all, my journalistic training has served me well, especially in terms of writing in a spare fashion and being precise in my word choice. A good story is a good story, whether it's true or fiction (and some of the best fiction, of course, has the ring of truth).
Can you tell us about your first book, 600 Hours of Edward, and anything new on your plate?
600 Hours of Edward changed the arc of my life. That's not hyperbole. I wrote it as a lark, using National Novel Writing Month 2008 to see if I could finally squeeze out the novel I'd always wanted to write. I wrote the first draft, nearly 80,000 words, in 24 days, initially self-published it, then passed it on to a Montana publisher, Riverbend. Since then, it's done things I wouldn't have dreamed for it. It was a 2009 Montana Honor Book and the 2010 High Plains Book Award winner for best first book, and it's gathered a small but enthusiastic group of fans. It continues to be the little book that could.
These days, after writing two novels in 20 months, I've mostly been finding my way into short stories. One I wrote recently, called "Cruelty to Animals," will be published in the spring issue of Montana Quarterly. And don't worry: No animals are harmed in the story, as long as you don't count the two horribly mismatched lovers at the center of it.
Amazon link for "The Summer Son": http://www.amazon.com/Summer-Son-Craig-Lancaster/dp/1935597248/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1281855659&sr=1-1
Amazon link for "600 Hours of Edward": http://www.amazon.com/600-Hours-Edward-Craig-Lancaster/dp/1606390139/ref=pd_sim_b_1