Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Quantum Physics and the Art of Overcoming Despair

by Craig Lancaster
Copyright © 2011 Craig Lancaster

After I finished my second novel, The Summer Son, and delivered it to the publisher, I did what I usually do at the conclusion of a big writing project: I took a deep breath, and I kept writing.

The difference, this time, is that I didn’t embark on one of the myriad ideas I had for another novel. I found myself drawn to short stories, something I’d pursued only haltingly before. I wrote stories about lost and lonely men and women, people pushed to the margins of society and their own lives: among them a traveling salesman consigned to a late-night bus ride; a teenage girl running from abuse in her hometown and falling into the indifference of a larger city; a newspaperman in a crisis of career and confidence; a basketball coach who, to borrow the words of the great Neil Finn, lost his regard for the good things that he had.

For nearly a year, the stories poured out. They weren’t consciously linked in time or in theme, but they were bound by one thing that I found impossible to escape: my own state of mind. My marriage was unraveling. I had learned, after a lifetime of veering between troughs of depression and soaring heights of manic energy, that I have a form of bipolar disorder. (I’ve also learned about the liberation that comes with finding a way to raise the floor and lower the ceiling, emotionally speaking.) My means of coping with the turmoil in my life was to sit at my writing desk and find a path through my own thoughts, exorcising my fears and my insecurities.

Craig Lancaster, author
The result is Quantum Physics and the Art of Departure, a collection of ten short stories with perhaps the most inscrutable title I’ll ever choose. (My promise to you: There are no actual quantum physics involved, and the meaning of the title will become clear enough when you read the book.) Some of the stories appeared elsewhere first: “Cruelty to Animals,” a tale of badly mismatched lovers, was in the Spring 2011 issue of Montana Quarterly. Three of them—“This Is Butte. You Have Ten Minutes,” “Alyssa Alights,” and “Star of the North”—were originally bundled into e-book form. And the last and most hopeful story, “Comfort and Joy,” was written last December and sold for a dollar, the net proceeds of which I donated to Feed America.

While all of this was happening, I was also getting my publishing company, Missouri Breaks Press, off the ground. The first book I did, Carol Buchanan’s Gold Under Ice, was a Spur Award finalist. In July 2011, I collaborated with my colleague Ed Kemmick to bring out The Big Sky, By and By, a collection of Ed’s essays and stories about Montana people and places. The success of those books helped give me the confidence to bring out Quantum Physics under my own banner—not so much because I’m an ardent self-publisher but because my autodidactic tendencies compel me to explore this business from every possible angle. A collection of short stories, which most publishers shy away from on marketing grounds, seemed like the right project to take on. I hired the best editor I know, Jim Thomsen, and he helped me deliver a book that I’m intensely proud of.

I hope you’ll give it a look. It’s available in trade paperback ($14) and e-book versions for a damned sporting price ($1.99). Links: Kindle, Nook.

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