600 Hours of Edward author Craig Lancaster announced today the upcoming release of his second novel, The Summer Son, which has been acquired by AmazonEncore (the new publishing arm of Amazon.com) and is scheduled for release in early 2011. (Read his announcement here.)
600 Hours of Edward has done exceptionally well as a novel, never mind as a debut novel. It was named one of four Honor Books for 2009 by the Montana Book Award Committee, is deeply loved by readers, and has received a number of stellar reviews. There’s no reason to believe The Summer Son won’t be equally – if not more – successful.
Craig took the time to answer some questions about The Summer Son, and his answers will undoubtedly make you want to take advantage of the pre-order discount (link at the end of the Q&A).
Synopsize The Summer Son in 25 words.
Bitter young man blames bitter old man for everything bad in his life and finds out he was right — and horribly, horribly wrong. (Twenty-three words.)
Close enough. There are quite a few secrets in The Summer Son, and at one point, (protagonist) Mitch does some snooping to uncover a secret or two. Are you a snoop, and who most inspires you to want to snoop?
I’m a journalist by trade, and a lot of people seem to think that’s the same thing as a snoop. What I am — and this is a good thing — is relentlessly curious, mostly about human nature and our motivations for doing the things we do. I generally don’t cross the line into illegal or unethical behavior. The key word here being “generally.”
Is there a character in The Summer Son who doesn’t play a major (that is, chapters-long) role, but who you hope readers remember after they finish the book? (And, if so, why do you want them to hold onto that character?)
She’s only alluded to in the book, as she’s long dead, but to me, Mitch’s mom is one of the pillars of the story. We see her only through his eyes, and she is presented as a saint. In the end, though, she’s a much more complicated figure than that. A good woman, certainly, but not necessarily what Mitch considers her to be. I like Leila so much, in fact, that I might well be inclined to write a prequel that involved her. All I need now is the idea.
What does Mitch do in spring, fall, and winter when he’s not being a son?
In the fall, like many men, Mitch turns his thoughts to football. He’s a Berkeley alum, so he even has a rooting interest in the Bay Area, where he lives. What a lot of people don’t know about Mitch is that he’s a chest-painter. It’s a terribly undignified way for a man of his age to act. The winter, of course, tends to be a long period of drinking, self-examination and occasional troughs of depression. That Mitch is able to manage this despite living in a part of the world that doesn’t have what the rest of us consider winter is something of a rare feat.
In the spring, he plays more golf than should be legal, just as I would do if not for my incessant need to sit and write.
Father-son relationships can, of course, be complex and very personal. Did your relationship with your own father inspire The Summer Son?
In some ways, especially on the surface. My dad was an exploratory well digger, like Mitch’s father, Jim. I chose this mostly because I know the lifestyle; it was something I could write about with credibility. My dad is not Jim Quillen, not by a long shot. That said, we have had our difficulties. He doesn’t really “get” me, and I sometimes find it difficult to communicate with him.
My parents split when I was 3 years old, and in most ways, it was one of the best things that ever happened to me. My mother’s second husband, my stepfather, gave me a male role model that was largely lacking in my life, and he remains one of the best friends I’ve ever had. As nice as that is, it does make for some difficulties with my father, whom I love dearly despite the emotional distance between us. We both know that he’s not the dominant male figure in my life. I’m sure it bothers him on some level. On some level, it bothers me, too.
Another author in a recent interview said readers had several complaints about the language and sex in one of her novels. What do you think readers will take issue with in The Summer Son, if anything?
There is a good deal of blue language, but I don’t think it’s gratuitous. Especially as it pertains to the lifestyle of the itinerant well digger, it’s absolutely on-point. I know that life. I’ve lived it. I’ve written accurately about it. But, hey, if you can’t take two grown men flinging “fuck you” at each other a fair bit, this isn’t the book for you.
Is there any sex in The Summer Son?
Some, but it’s mostly alluded to. (One instance of it has a devastating effect on Mitch’s family — but no spoilers.) I’ve managed to write two novels now that are pretty tame in the area of sex. Just the way it worked out. Should an explicit sex scene ever be called for in one of my stories, I’ll have no qualms about writing it. Indeed, I think I’d rather enjoy it.
What other themes did you make it a point to address in The Summer Son (aside from family secrets and father-son relationships), and why were they important to you at this point in your life?
It took me three major drafts of this story to get at the heart of it, which is this: This is a story about perceived truth. It’s about how different people, with different vantage points and different sensibilities, can look at the same situations and information and interpret all of that in such vastly different ways. The Mitch Quillen whom readers meet has very good reasons for the way he views his relationship with his dad, and I would even posit that most of us, given the same view, would come to the same conclusions. But that’s only Mitch’s truth. It’s not Jim’s. And people who read this will no doubt come to their own conclusions.
I’m endlessly fascinated with nuance in life. I suppose that I could be accused of being a moral relativist, but better that than someone whose system of belief is so concrete and unyielding that another point of view has no quarter.
Share your favorite line of dialogue.
Would be okay if I shared a chunk of the first chapter?
One of the early problems I had to confront was how I would bring together two men who had spent most of thirty years staying apart. I ended up putting that chore on Mitch’s wife, Cindy, who has her own problems with Mitch and this relationship that she’s never really been privy to. She basically kicks him out of the house and makes him go to Montana and confront his father. It was difficult to write, but I’m happy with the result:
“You’re going to have to go see him.”
This was late Sunday afternoon. It was the first thing Cindy had said to me since the previous night, which had been sullied by another quarrel and my wife’s proclamation that I had become a disappointment to her. I suggested that she join the club; by this time, I was damned disappointed in myself. For seven months, I had been throwing the same weak pitch, blaming her for the trouble we found our marriage in. When I uncovered her dalliance, I might have had a case, but my moral high ground had eroded. My inability to let go of grudges was rivaled only by my blindness to my inattention to her and the twins. For months, she had been fighting for our marriage, and I knew I hadn’t been meeting her halfway to halfway.
I had been stewing about the most recent fight, about my mounting failures and about this mystery Dad had dropped on us. In my anger, I wanted to close every door. Cindy, on the other hand, insisted on opening a window and seeing if her ideas – about our marriage, and about Dad – would fly.
“You’re kidding, right?” I said. “I can’t wrench a conversation out of him on the phone. What do you think he’s going to say if I tell him that I’m coming?”
“So you don’t announce it. You just go.”
“Just like that?”
I shook my head.
“No. That’s crazy. He doesn’t want me around. He’s made that abundantly clear.” I had seen my father twice in nearly thirty years, both of the instances pushed along, in part, by Cindy. Other than that, the occasional phone call. What made her think I could even get past the door?
“Mitch,” she said, and her tone demanded that I face her.
“You have to. I want you out of here. I need to think about things, and so do you.”
I threw it back at her.
“I know why you want me out. This is just a good excuse to do it.”
“No, Mitch, I want you out because I want you back. The you I fell in love with –”
“You say that as if I’m the one who strayed.”
“Believe what you want to, Mitch. You haven’t been here with us – not really – for months now. I don’t know what to do about that anymore. For as long as I’ve known you, you’ve had almost nothing to say about this man, and when you have said something, it’s been how he has kept you on the outside and rejected you –”
“He has. Don’t act like he hasn’t.”
“I know he has. I know something happened a long time ago that still bothers you. But I don’t know what it is, and I can’t help you with it.”
“I don’t need help.”
“Yeah, Mitch, you do. We need help. You’ve been rejectted, and you’ve rejected us. Are you so blind that you can’t see that? You keep your own wife, your own kids, at the end of your arm. You’re him all over again, it seems to me.”
“That’s not fair.”
“Maybe it’s not. But I know this: We can’t live like this. You’re a good man, but I’ve lost you.”
“I haven’t gone anywhere. Unlike you,” I shot back.
She shook her head.
“I feared this, Mitch. I did. Before we got married, I asked your mother about this thing between you and your dad. I was scared of it, because you would never talk about him. Do you know what she said?”
I stared at her.
“She said she didn’t know, that she could never get you to talk about it, either. She said you closed something off inside and that was it. You were done. She told me that you were a good man, and that I should marry you, that you were solid and loyal.”
“I am loyal.”
“Yes, you are. But you’re not here anymore, not in any way that counts. So you know what? Go see your dad. Set things right. Tell him off. Do whatever. Then come back and set things right with us. We’ll be waiting right here for you.”
Whose character did you have the most fun writing?
A predictable answer: Mitch. Part of that is because I know his heart and where he’s coming from, and part of it is because he’s a fairly complex guy. Easy to like in many ways, easy to become exasperated with in others. He’s flawed, and he knows it, but he’s unwilling to let his own father be flawed, too. It was a lot of fun to carry Mitch on a journey where more of the picture opens up to him.
Which is your most heavily revised scene?
The climactic bit, when Mitch returns to Milford, Utah, the scene of his breach with his father. I chopped that up so many times and moved pieces of it around. For a long time, his arrival in Milford was the first chapter of the book, and then things backtracked to a few months earlier, when his father started calling his house. The problem with that was in the point of view: Because it’s first person, I couldn’t get my head around what would compel Mitch to tell the story in such a way. It seemed like an artificial cliffhanger, so I eventually moved that piece to the back of the book, where it belongs.
What’s the worst working title idea you had for The Summer Son before you rejected it?
The book has had only two titles. The working title was “Gone to Milford,” but as the story developed in subsequent drafts, Milford seemed less important than the emotional aspects. I like “The Summer Son”; I think it fits both the story and the tone. It’s a touch twee, perhaps, but I think it works. Rather late in the process, I briefly considered “My Heart’s Hard Soil,” but it was too poetic. I did end up using that phrase in the book, though, so that was cool.
Where can we find The Summer Son?
It will initially be available at Amazon in print
and as an ebook
. It can also be ordered from any bookseller, and it will be in some stores.
Pre-order your copy of The Summer Son for a 32% discount.