Billings writer Craig Lancaster presented his latest novel, “And It Will Be a Beautiful Life,” at Isle of Books & Books on Saturday after winning the 2022 American Fiction Award for Literary Fiction.
“Awards are not a perfect vehicle of merit,” Lancaster said of the American Fiction Award. “It just feels good.”
He added that he worked on being comfortable feeling good when he was winning awards and trying not to sweat when he wasn’t.
Lancaster said this was his second event at Butte, but he hopes to return in the future.
“It’s actually criminal how much I didn’t come to Butte,” he said. “If someone doesn’t like Butte, I don’t trust them.”
He also said he hoped to return to Isle of Books & Books especially for future book events.
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“I love what Medellee (Antonioli) and his team are doing,” Lancaster said. “I love independent bookstores. I couldn’t imagine coming out to support this book without supporting her and her store there.
“And It Will Be a Beautiful Life” is also nominated for the 2022 High Plains Book Award in Fiction. Lancaster didn’t know his ninth novel had won the award when he scheduled the event. This is the first time he has won the award.
Like Lancaster himself, the novel’s protagonist Max Wendt lives in Billings. Unlike Lancaster, Wendt’s life falls apart early in the novel.
Wendt is about to get a divorce but doesn’t know it, his relationship with his daughter is fragile, and both of these things are due at least in part to the fact that Wendt is often away from home for his work as a pipe fitter, a job that he is reluctant to go back or part with it.
“Max gets the job done, that’s where my similarities to Max end,” Lancaster said. “I am not a father, I am not about to divorce. This is where for me the fun of writing fiction comes in, an idea may be rooted in memory but it is flushed out in the imagination.
While authors sometimes do research for their books, Lancaster lived through most of the research for this one, working as a pipe liner between 2015 and 2021 after nearly 25 years as a journalist. He stopped working there after the company he worked for closed.
“I loved it,” Lancaster said of the job. “I loved it for travel reasons, for solitude reasons. I think I captured that in the book.
He is now an editor for sports news website The Athletic.
Nicolette Reames, Isle of Books & Books Manager and Events Coordinator, said the bookstore is delighted with all the author events it is hosting in the coming weeks. While all authors are welcome, Reames said the store seeks to support Montana authors whenever it can.
“Butte is a very literary town,” she says. “There are four bookstores.”
In a 2013 report by Publishers Weekly, Montana was listed as the state with the most bookstores per capita, with 64 bookstores per 1,005,141 people.
The High Plains Book Prize was established by the Billings Public Library and recognizes regional literary works that “examine and reflect life on the high plains,” including Montana, North Dakota, South Dakota, Wyoming, Nebraska, Colorado and Kansas, and Canada. provinces of Alberta, Manitoba and Saskatchewan.
Lancaster won the First Book category of the High Plains Book Award for his debut novel, “600 Hours of Edward” in 2010.
As Billings’ author, Lancaster said he had “high regard for the High Plains Book Award” and was happy to be in the fiction category with authors Craig Johnson and Kase Johnstun.
Lancaster will have a reading from his book at the Montana Book Festival in Missoula on September 16 and a reading at the Big Sky Community Library at Gallatin Gateway on September 27.
His tenth book, “Dreaming Northward,” which features “four sons in four distinct timelines,” will be released on May 9, 2023.