The Art of Departure

Craig’s debut collection of short fiction, originally published under the auspices of his own Missouri Breaks Press as Quantum Physics and the Art of Departure, marked the culmination of a torrid period of writing.

art of departure front coverTwo of the stories, Cruelty to Animals and Comfort and Joy, originally appeared in The Montana Quarterly. The rest were written during a time of great emotional distress and loss. “In that regard,” Craig says, “it’s probably my most personal writing to date.”

The stories take root in the soil of Craig’s home state of Montana and skip around to a range of characters at loose ends. A championship basketball coach caught between his team, his family and the rabid partisans in his town. A traveling salesman consigned to a late-night bus ride. A prison inmate stripped of everything but his pride. A teenage runaway. Mismatched lovers.

It’s an examination of the notion of separation in its many forms—from comfort zones, from ideas,from people, from security, from fears. These ten stories delve into small towns and big cities, into love and despair, into what drives us and what scares us, peeling back the layers of our humanity with every page.

This book won an Independent Publisher Book Awards gold medal and was a High Plains Book Award finalist.

In September 2016, Missouri Breaks Press will release a new edition of the book, with a shorter title—The Art of Departure—and more stories, including very-short fiction Craig wrote in 2012 and 2013.

About the book

Publication date: Originally published December 6th, 2011; new edition released in September 2016

Publisher: Missouri Breaks Press

ISBN-10: 0-9827822-7-6

ISBN-13:  978-0-9827822-7-9

Download the Art of Departure media kit.

Praise for the book

“The success of any short-story collection hinges on the author’s ability to create characters that immediately connect with readers. Lancaster excels on this point, ironically so because the inability to connect is his underlying theme.—Booklist

“It’s a real delight to inhabit Lancaster’s lonely, darkly majestic Montana locations and desperate characters, a look at a slowly eroding 21st-century America that’s as strong as many more well-known titles by major presses. It comes strongly recommended.”—Chicago Center for Literature & Photography

“Lancaster continues to weave together hope and hopelessness with his cast of haunting, unpredictable characters.”—Montana State of the Arts newspaper

What the author says

The following is from the author’s foreword of the September 2016 release:

The first ten stories at the front of this book—starting with Somebody Has to Lose and ending with Comfort and Joy—came into the world several years back as a collection titled Quantum Physics and the Art of Departure. For a long time, it was my “other” book. I loved it just as much as the others, certainly, but it wasn’t one likely to shine brightest or get talked about most. That’s been OK by me.

They’re joined here by two relatively new, standard-length short stories, if there is such a thing, and a scattering of very-short fiction that I wrote mostly back in 2011 and 2012. I lopped off half of the original title for the collection, shortening it to The Art of Departure.

So why take a modestly successful story collection, one that’s been a consistent if plodding seller and has won some critical acclaim, and recast it?

Two reasons, I suppose.

First, I can. The rights to most of my longer works are encumbered in various ways (I’m not complaining), and these stories have remained my babies for lo these several years. If you’re as interested in the mechanics of publishing as you are the craft of writing—and I am—the opportunity to dabble is hard to resist.

Second, that old title long grated on me, even if I have only myself to blame for it. Quantum Physics and the Art of Departure. It’s a reliable laugh line for me to say, at readings, “If you want to ensure that your book is widely ignored, put ‘Quantum Physics’ in the title,” but damned if that isn’t the truth in some uncomfortable ways. I’ve often said that there’s no actual quantum physics in the book, and now that’s true in fact and in name. The Art of Departure. Better title. And now, I think, a better book, too.

Beefing up the short stories and offering some shorter fiction brings all of my smaller-scale work, so far, together under one roof. In preparing this new edition for publication, I got to walk back through these stories, in some cases years after I last read them. What I’m struck by now, nearly five years on from their original release, is the evolution of a world of fiction. Every book I’ve released has touched every other book. You can see that here: Jim Quillen, the violent father at the center of the novel The Summer Son, makes a crucial appearance in the story She’s Gone. Ray Bingham, the self-righteous inmate in Star of the North, tells a little more of his story in the short piece Left Turn. Hugo Hunter, the titular character from the novel The Fallow Season of Hugo Hunter, first showed up in the short story Slumpbuster, published in the Spring 2013 edition of the Montana Quarterly. That one’s here, too. I hope you like it.

Short fiction is an irregular pursuit for me; the stories don’t often come, but when I’m so compelled, it’s some of my favorite work. The ideas often arrive with fully formed arcs, but there are enough surprises to keep the endeavor interesting, with some of the nausea and uncertainty and slog of writing a novel neatly shaved away.

I keep hoping someday I’ll hit another rich vein of short fiction. The only way, I suppose, is to keep digging. Hand me that pick and shovel, won’t you?