A Q&A with Craig Lancaster
Craig Lancaster is the author of two novels,
600 Hours of Edward and The Summer Son, and a short-story collection, Quantum Physics and the Art of Departure
Question: 600 Hours of Edward grew out of National Novel Writing Month in 2008. How did you knock out a complete novel in just 24 days?
Craig Lancaster: I think the answer lies in time, in two senses. First, when I set to writing 600 Hours, it had been many years since I'd attempted fiction. But in the intervening time, I'd become a much better writer and self-editor because of my professional life as a journalist, and I'd experienced enough to draw a character who was quite unlike me or anyone else I know. Second, I was writing so quickly--nearly 80,000 words in 24 days--that I simply didn't have the luxury of worrying about whether it was good. That was enormously freeing. I just wanted to finish a novel, something I'd never done before. In some significant ways, everything that's happened since has been a bonus.
Q: What did you know about Asperger's Syndrome heading into the book, and what did you learn along the way?
CL: Well, I knew that it was the likely syndrome for the character I had in mind: a guy who is relentlessly devoted to his rituals and for whom shades of gray and social niceties present distinct challenges. Beyond that, I focused the research I did--and it wasn't much--on two things, behaviors and traits. I purposely steered clear of the clinical and diagnostic stuff, because I didn't want to write that kind of book. I wanted Edward to be remarkable because of who he is, not because of his particular disorder. I figured if I stuck to the things he was likely to do and the way he was likely to see the world, I'd draw him properly for the purposes of the story. Thankfully, people who know that world far more intimately than I do have told me that I captured it accurately. That was a big relief, and I'm grateful for all the folks who have continued to educate me about autism.
Q: You didn't initially plan for more than one Edward book, but word is you've since reconsidered.
CL: True. In fact, the first chapter of the sequel, titled Edward Adrift, is in the back of the new edition of 600 Hours of Edward. I maintained for a long time that I'd told the most interesting part of Edward's story, but I was wrong. When you live with someone as long as I've lived with Edward, you see new possibilities. He had more places to go and more people to meet, and once I started tugging at the threads of the new story, it revealed itself nearly as quickly as the first one did. It was really cool to be back inside his head.
"It's a spare, elegantly crafted whizz-bang of a book that, on its surface, is as quiet and orderly as Edward Stanton, but underneath, also like Edward, a cauldron of barely repressed rage and desire seeking escape." --Missoula Independent
"Craig Lancaster has created a wonderful character and put him in a memorable story." --The Bookmonger (Barbara Lloyd McMichael)
"This endearing hero deserves the fine ending the author has bestowed on him. The final pages leave the reader wanting to know what happens next for Edward, in his newly acquired red Cadillac." --The Lively Times
"This is a wonderful book. Mr. Lancaster's journey ... into the imaginative pages of fiction was one well taken, for himself, for readers and certainly for the lovingly created Edward Stanton." --Montana Quarterly
"... a nearly perfect combination of traditional literary elements, mixing crowd-pleasing sappiness with indie-friendly subversion, a masterful blend of character and action ..." --Chicago Center for Literature and Photography