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Novelist writes $1 short story for charity
Buy the story, feed a family

Craig Lancaster, author of the widely praised 600 Hours of Edward and the forthcoming novel The Summer Son (to be released by AmazonEncore in early 2011) wanted to do something for others this Christmas season, so he wrote a fantastic holiday-themed story, “Comfort and Joy,” to sell on Amazon and Smashwords for $1.

However, that he plans to donate 100% of the proceeds to Feeding America, whose 200+ food banks distribute to all fifty states, wasn’t enough for us at Inside the Writers’ Studio. When we learned of his plan to write some short fiction, he hadn’t yet begun “Comfort and Joy,” and we were more than happy to catch him early enough to challenge him to find a way to incorporate a few random words.

The words: snowman, hot chocolate, and jingle balls.

LANCASTER: I thought my “Jingle Balls” solution might have been a little reach, but I was 12 years old once, and it’s something I might have come up with.

He managed to write the (approx.) 5,500-word story in just 24 hours.

LANCASTER: The idea has been bouncing around in my head for a while, and it’s easily adaptable to a holiday angle. Short-story productivity, for me, comes and goes, and for whatever reason, I’ve been in a fertile period. I’ll sit down in the next couple of days and knock it out. The funny thing is, I’ve never really written fiction on a deadline, but I have one now: I’ve pledged to send this story to the in-boxes of donors by Dec. 15.

He made good on his pledge; “Comfort and Joy” is available at Amazon and Smashwords right now (click a link to buy a copy – you can always come back here when you’re done), and it will stay there indefinitely with the proceeds continuing to benefit Feeding America. And, as promised, it’s only $1. “But why not charge more to give more?” we wondered.

LANCASTER: Two reasons. The first is the greater-volume-at-a-lower-price idea. The second is that I hope this isn’t the be-all, end-all of people’s giving. A few folks have written to me and said, “I want to give more than a buck,” and my response has been this: “Send me a buck. Send your local food bank, or some other charity there at home, as much as you feel like you can give.”

INSIDE THE WRITERS’ STUDIO: What made you choose this particular charity?

LANCASTER: I’ve been reading a lot about how stressed food banks are. Times are hard, and charitable giving is down. And since (I hope) donations will be coming in from all over, it didn’t seem quite right to roll whatever money is generated toward the food bank where I live, though it certainly could use the help. So I figured that Feeding America, with its national focus, made sense.

One of the things that put this at the top of my mind was seeing a plea from my friend Carol Buchanan on Facebook that people not buy her books as gifts but instead donate to their local food bank. She said she’d eat whether the books are bought or not. Others — many, many others — are not so fortunate.

This effort is nothing like the NPR fundraising drive—there’s no dollar amount in mind, no set goal (“I have no expectation here,” Lancaster says. “If it’s five bucks, it’s five bucks.”), but he does hope to turn this into an annual effort, one that involves more writers contributing to a holiday-themed anthology.

LANCASTER: Say, 15 or 20 holiday-themed stories, from a wide variety of genres, all with the aim of putting some food on the tables of people who badly need it. Wheels are already turning for next year: an anthology, from writers across the traditional and indie spectrums. Zombie Christmas, romance Christmas, bizarro, whatever. I think if I were to get people on board in, say, July, we’d be able to offer all kinds of options: individual stories, the entire collection, e-book, short POD run.

IWS: Do you think you might choose different charities in the future?

LANCASTER: I haven’t even thought about that. I’m pretty passionate about food banks. They’re chronically understocked, and it’s one form of charity that is completely without political overtones.

IWS: Have you ever donated to/worked in/needed a food bank?

LANCASTER: I’ve pulled a few shifts stacking boxes and such, and I’m a reliable bring-a-canned-good-to-whatever-event guy, but I’ve never done it on a consistent basis. One of the things I hope to do, beyond the holiday season, is become a lot more involved with that sort of thing on a local level.

IWS: That sounds like a perfect New Year’s resolution. Speaking of the new year—your upcoming novel, The Summer Son, will be released in January. Tell us about it.

LANCASTER: It’s a multi-decade father-and-son story. Mitch Quillen and his father, Jim, have been largely estranged for nearly 30 years, and the breach stems from a violent summer when Mitch was 11 years old. In the present day, they’ve been thrown together again and they try to work through the distance between them. All the while, Mitch is reliving that long-ago summer in the form of a note to his wife, whom he’s kept away from that part of his life, in an effort to reconcile his own failing relationship with her. It’s a story about the things we experience and how those things shape us — and how those same things get interpreted in different ways by other people who were there.

IWS: Final question. Fruitcake: yay or nay?

LANCASTER: You know, I’d love to say yay, just to be the contrary bastard I tend to be. But I cannot. Fruitcake is a nay. It’s a nay to the 100th power. It’s a nay that pushes at the outer edges of the space-time continuum. It’s the nay that keeps on giving. Let’s face it: Fruitcake sucks.