Please join me in welcoming Craig Lancaster as today’s Wednesday’s Guest. He is the author of a number of books, including a series that features a man with Asperger’s Syndrome as the central character. I reviewed Edward Unspooled – the third book in the series – last Monday, and here is a LINK in case you missed it.
And now, without further ado – I’ve always wanted to say that – here is Craig Lancaster, answering some interview questions.
1. How did you come to write a book about a man with Asperger’s?
The Asperger’s aspect was actually a bit of a back construction. The original idea centered on a man who was so bound by his routines that a series of fairly quick, fairly major events in his life would totally upend him. In imagining the story, I saw the comedic possibilities first—you know, the whole idea of throwing fastballs at his knees and making him react. The human tenderness came in later. As for his developmental disorder, that was simply a matter of saying “OK, this is what he’s like, so what’s his issue?” I knew enough about Asperger’s anecdotally to figure that was probably it.
2. Is Edward patterned after someone you know?
Edward, for better or worse, is entirely a work of my imagination. He has some surface-level similarities to me (the band he digs, the TV show he enjoys, the football team he roots for), but I didn’t choose those things because he’s me. I chose them because I’m fundamentally lazy and already had the information embedded in my head.
3. What kind of research did you do?
Less than you’d think. I knew that if I read a textbook I’d probably write something entirely too clinical and not nearly human enough, so I tried to stick to acquainting myself with behaviors and traits, then transferring those to Edward while giving him plenty of room to become himself. That, I think, is the magic of writing fiction that nobody really understands until they start doing it. The characters and events and places really do speak to their own ways and desires, and you impede them if you try to control things too much. It’s like the old .38 Special song: hold on loosely.
It helped that I heard from friends and acquaintances who have much more in-person experience with autism than I do. There’s a saying: If you’ve met one person with Asperger’s, you’ve met one person with Asperger’s. That gave me the latitude to let Edward be an original rather than a template.
4. Will Edward’s story continue?
That’s always the big question, isn’t it? I’ve stopped committing myself one way or another. When I finished the first book, 600 Hours of Edward, several years ago, I was forthright about not continuing the story. I thought I was done, and I thought he was done. Three years later, I found out otherwise, and out came Edward Adrift. All I can really say is that Edward Unspooled ends with a lot of material still on the table, and this particular character, more than any other I’ve written, has a tendency to show up again and be insistent with me. So we’ll see.
5. Have you always wanted to be a writer, or have you come to writing after another career? What was that career?
I grew up in a writer’s household. My stepfather, who raised me along with my mom, was a sportswriter at the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. So I had early exposure to the idea that one could make a living with words. As you might imagine, it was the kind of home where books and ideas had a lot of currency. By the time I was in high school, I was pretty well set on making my way with words, and that’s what happened. I spent 25 years as a professional journalist before leaving to write full-time in 2013. By then, I’d published three novels and a collection of short stories. This spring, my seventh novel will be published.
6. How did you come to write in the genre you chose?
I think part of my problem, from a commercial standpoint, is that I really don’t have a genre. My stuff sometimes gets classified as literary fiction, which isn’t really a fit for me, and sometimes gets called contemporary fiction, which is probably accurate but doesn’t really say anything. My own aim is to land in that sweet spot where well-written, challenging fiction meets commercial interest. Sometimes (as with the Edward books) I’m more successful than others.
I hear a lot from readers who preface things with “ordinarily, I would have never chosen this book,” which of course delights me that I broke through with them but also frustrates me because I wonder how many readers I’m missing. In the end, all I can do is write the best book I can. What happens in the marketplace is another beast entirely.
7. What is your family’s favorite story to tell on you?
Oh, there are a couple. Probably the funniest is the one where I’m 3 years old, and my mom and I have just moved to Texas to be with her new husband, who doesn’t know me very well yet. We were living in an apartment in Euless, and Charles, my stepdad, calls me in for dinner. I tear into the house and say, “What are we having?” He looks down at me, scrunches his face, and says, “Liver and onions.” I start hopping around. “Woohoo! My favorite!”
I don’t remember this, but that’s the story. I was a weird kid.
8. What gives you the most pleasure in writing?
Just the act of writing itself. Long before book contracts or marketing strategies or sales or worrying about reviews, there’s you and the paper (or the screen). It’s all about choosing the right framework, the right approach, the right word. It’s time spent in your own head. I love everything about the process, and all the vicissitudes that flow from it: the enthusiastic beginning, when you’ve got an idea you’re eager to explore; the murky middle, when you wonder how you’re possibly going to make it; the downward momentum toward the finish. God, it’s just the best.
9. What is the hardest thing about writing?
Everything else. Because writing is so intimate and personal, and because publishing and selling are so public and inscrutable, it’s hard to protect your sense of self from the vagaries of the marketplace and reviewers. I’ve really had to learn how to separate myself and my sense of worth from how a book actually does once it’s out. I think I’ve won that fight, though, and it’s saved my sanity.
I’m also challenged by the fact that I’m just not really a joiner, so the venues where other writers can tend to their self-esteem—things like literary festivals, etc.—don’t hold much appeal for me. Don’t get me wrong: I love talking with readers, but sitting around with a bunch of writers and talking about the business, sharing war stories, etc., just bores me.
10. What did it say about you in your high school yearbook?
Our yearbook wasn’t really structured that way. But if I take it off the shelf—and I just did—and look at it, I show up in all kinds of places: on the school newspaper staff, as the writer of some of the stories, in Who’s Who, the National Honor Society, the academic decathlon team. I was a kid who didn’t really have a crowd; I had friends across the school, from the student council to the auto shop guys. That’s been true in my life since, too. I’m incredibly blessed by the diversity of my friends.
11. Do you have a pet?
I have two dachshunds, Bodie and Zula. I co-parent them with my ex-wife. Seriously. Every day, Monday through Friday, I drive over to her place, load the dogs into my car, and bring them home with me. At the end of the day, they go back to her. It works. And the cooperation has made us much better exes than we ever were married people.
12. What is the most interesting job you ever had?
The summer after I graduated from high school (1988), I went to work for my dad in the eastern Colorado oilfields. It was total grunt work, setting up cathodic protection for oil pumps. A lot of trenching and digging and filling in holes. I learned how to change the transmission on a Ditch Witch. You’d be surprised how little that comes up these days. And I worked with this horrible epoxy that took forever to scrub away if it accidentally got on your hands. I’m 47 years old; my hands are 92.
But here’s why it’s interesting: Because there are millions of people who do jobs like that, and nobody really knows anything about it. It’s just the kind of job that keeps America moving. I gained a deep appreciation for hard work—and memories of being out there, the sun beating down on me all day, kept me in proper perspective when my phony-baloney office job seemed overbearing.
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Buy Edward Unspooled HERE
Lancaster lives in Billings, Montana, with his wife, bestselling author Elisa Lorello