Craig’s fifth book—and his fourth novel with Lake Union Publishing—tells the story of two men with a long, often messy history, both of them struggling to come out of the darkness.
Hugo Hunter is an aging boxer who once teetered on the thin line between good and great, and now he’s just playing out the string of a career that never quite came together the way he hoped. Mark Westerly is the sportswriter who has covered Hugo for nearly twenty years, chronicling his rise from a teenage Olympic hero to a broken-down pug. Behind them lie triumphs and heartbreak, losses and lamentations. Ahead of them? Uncertainty.
Told in the voice of Westerly, the novel bobs and weaves through two decades of a relationship that’s both deeply felt and deeply codependent. Tim Kawakami, an award-winning sports columnist for the San Jose Mercury News and a longtime boxing observer, puts it like this:
“All of this feels so real and so lived-in, and I’m someone who has followed plenty of fighters through all the title-bound crescendos and dull, endless, inebriated anti-climaxes. I’ve wondered more than a few times, how does this end? Will anyone survive it?”
About the book
Release date: November 1st, 2014
Publisher: Lake Union Publishing
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Praise for the book
“This story ties it all together, from the boxer and the writer’s eyes—the struggling middle, the bright beginning, and the path toward the end for Hugo Hunter and this Montana collection of characters. It’s about the fraternity of the lost, and the tales they tell each other on their way back.”—Tim Kawakami, sports columnist,
San Jose Mercury News
“To describe The Fallow Season of Hugo Hunter as ‘a story about a boxer and a sports reporter’ would be too limiting. It’s a story about the human condition, and about how, for better or worse, we all need each other. Lancaster masterfully crafts a timeless piece set in an American town, and creates characters so real I expect to meet them in a bar on my way through Billings, Montana. In short, Craig Lancaster is an author who constantly challenges me to step up my game. His latest novel only increases that challenge. Whereas Hugo Hunter’s best days might be behind him, Lancaster is just getting revved up.”—Elisa Lorello, best-selling author of
Faking It, Ordinary World and She Has Your Eyes
“Like Edward Stanton before them, Hugo Hunter and Mark Westerly are characters that shine with authenticity. Craig Lancaster may very well be the best writer I know when it comes to telling the stories of broken misfits struggling toward the light, and The Fallow Season of Hugo Hunter may very well be his best book yet.”
—Tyler Dilts, author of A Cold and Broken Hallelujah, The Pain Scale and A King of Infinite Space
What the author says
When I was nine years old, my stepfather took me to a squat cinderblock building on the northeast side of Fort Worth, Texas, and inducted me into the only sport I never pursued for fun. He’d grown frustrated with an irrational fear I’d developed, one that had wormed its way too deeply into my life: I was afraid of getting in a fight with someone my own size (or larger) and the beating I assumed would follow. This fear, in turn, attracted bullies—and, in an ironic way, fueled my own bullying toward kids smaller than me. It was a bad situation, and Charles thought that Gary Barcroft, who ran the Little John’s Wrecking Yard Boxing Team, could instill some confidence in me, along with the ability to throw a straight punch.
Let’s get the particulars out of the way quick: I was a terrible boxer by any reasonable measure of the sport. I was slow of foot and hand and weak on strategy. In nine sanctioned fights that season, my only one in the sport, I went 1-8, and I suspect that the one victory, in my final bout, was engineered by Gary so I could leave with some shred of pride. As it turns out, I left with that and more.
For one thing, I became an ardent boxing fan, a condition that lasted until my twenties, when I decided that the collateral damage—the dementia, the brokenness, the cycle of poverty to riches and back to poverty, the corruption—could no longer by supported by my time or attention. But from the late ’70s to the late ’80s? What a time to be a fight fan. The year I joined up with the Little John’s Wrecking Yard team, Sugar Ray Leonard won his first pro title. Muhammad Ali had exited the stage (before his all too sad return—here, again, fodder for my eventual falling out with the sport), but talent flourished in the lower weights, and I soaked it up. Fort Worth, where I lived, produced several boxing champions, among them Donald Curry and Gene Hatcher and Steve Cruz, and these were guys I’d come to know through my own participation in the sport and the work of my stepfather, a sportswriter for the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. The 1984 U.S. Olympic boxing trials were held in Fort Worth, and that only added to my fascination, as I grew familiar with names like Mark Breland and Virgil Hill and Evander Holyfield.
I was also building memories that would come to the fore in the fall of 2013, as I wrestled with an idea that became my new novel, The Fallow Season of Hugo Hunter. Hugo is a boxer, a good one, an Olympic silver medalist from Billings, Montana, who never quite made it as a pro. There’s something about the successful failure, someone at the top of his game who comes up short at the most crucial moments, that’s far more interesting to me than someone who pisses excellence, as Ricky Bobby might say. In the fictional Hugo, I have that character.
One juncture of the book draws heavily on my experience as a nine-year-old fighter. Early on, Hugo is speaking with sportswriter Mark Westerly, the narrator of the book, and telling him about the first time he entered the ring as a scared ten-year-old:
“I ever tell you about the first match I fought?”
He hadn’t, but Frank had talked about it one night after lights-out in Barcelona. He didn’t linger over details—except in the context of a fight plan, Frank Feeney wasn’t a fine-print kind of man—but I got the gist of it as he whispered into the space between his comfortable bed and my sleeping bag on the hotel room floor. About the last person he expected to bring him there to Barcefreakinglona was the little black-haired boy Hugo’s grandma had dragged into the gym six years earlier.
“No,” I said. “Tell me.”
Hugo nestled back into the chair and closed his eyes. “It was against Trevor,” he said.
I hadn’t heard this before. I sat there, a little dumbstruck by the idea that after all this time there was something more to learn about Hugo.
“I think Frank had told him to go easy on me. I was scared—so, so scared. Frank didn’t even work his own kid’s corner. He stayed with me, made sure the head gear was on me good and tight, and told me to use the punches he’d shown me. I knew a jab and a right cross. That’s it. My left hook, it still looked like something you’d build with one of those toy cranes.
“The thing is, telling Trevor to take it easy was about the worst thing he could have done, because that wasn’t Trevor’s way. He came across the ring and hit me directly in the eye, and I started crying. I just dropped my hands and bawled, and Frank was in the ring lickety-split and hugged me and told me I didn’t have to fight.”
Hugo dropped his head, and his shoulders heaved. I looked at my hands.
“My Grammy, she was so worried that night that something was going to happen to me, and I was so ashamed at what I’d done—or what I hadn’t done. She’d told me that I was his boy now, that what Frank Feeney said was the law as far as I was concerned, and I was afraid that I’d let him down and that he wouldn’t let me fight anymore. On the drive home, Frank’s talking to me, he’s telling me that I’ll be measured as a man by whether I get in that ring the next time and fight. I’m in the backseat, I’ve got this bologna sandwich next to me that I can’t bring myself to eat, it’s gone all soggy, and I’m trying to listen to him, and Trevor is mocking me and laughing at me because he’s given me a black eye.”
That’s straight-from-the-memory-banks stuff. My first fight, if you want to call it that, was in Waco, Texas, a hundred-mile drive from where I grew up. My family made the trip to see me that night, and I made it through only one punch before I started crying and Gary had to jump into the ring and save me. I don’t know that I ever got the speech about getting back in the ring, but I knew instinctively that I would regret it for the rest of my life if I didn’t. A week later, I was back in there, and I went the full three rounds. I got hit a bunch of times. I got in a few licks of my own. And you know what? The world didn’t end. I didn’t die. Seven more times I did it, and six more times I lost. Didn’t matter. I learned an important lesson, one that’s applicable to just about anything in life: If you keep showing up, good things will happen. Or, maybe, fewer bad things will happen.
I also came away with what my stepfather hoped to instill in me. My fear is no longer bigger than any potential threat. I’ve had a few opportunities to put my boxing lessons to use over the years; thankfully, fisticuffs yielded to better forms of diplomacy in my late teens, and now, at 44, I’d probably be courting a coronary if a physical altercation came into play.
Anybody who’s been in a fight knows that fear is real, and so is adrenaline. Out of the ring, after my season of boxing, I got my ass kicked a time or two. I got the better end of it as many times, if not more. The point is, I knew I’d be OK, no matter how it went down.
That was the gift boxing gave me.