Wheeler’s Debut Novel Sold to Little A

The last week has been pretty exciting around here.

First off, the announcement from Publishers Marketplace:

Creighton MFA Theodore Wheeler’s KINGS OF BROKEN THINGS, that follows two young immigrants to and through the Omaha Race Riot of 1919, shedding light on a tragic period in American history, to Vivian Lee at Little A, for publication in spring 2017, by Stephanie Delman at Sanford J. Greenburger Associates.

I couldn’t be happier that Kings of Broken Things has found a home with Little A, and I’m thrilled to be working with Vivian Lee. After spending eight years researching the history and creating characters who could not only live within the existing history, but also bring out the events in a compelling way, I’m finding great comfort that Kings has found a home with a publisher who can both push the work further artistically and find a wider audience to expand its reach. (Check out The Hundred-Year Flood by Matthew Salesses for a standout example of a book Vivian edited.) If you’ve followed this blog over the years, you’re with me. From the first drafts of The Hyphenates of Jackson County to the middle stages of The Uninitiated and the brief term of Red Summer and now Kings of Broken Things, a lot of well-meaning words met their ultimate demise to make this possible.

Friday happened to be my birthday. Receiving an offer to publish my novel was quite the way to celebrate! (Publishing this post from the press file room at the DNC debate is kind of cool too.)

Really, it’s been quite a year. A second trip to Germany to perform Omaha Uninitiated: Stateside Race Riots & Lynching in the Aftermath of World War I, which coincided with the publication of my chapbook, On the River, Down Where They Found Willy Brown, by Edition Solitude; Queen’s Ferry Press accepting my short story collection Bad Faith for publication (in July 2016, it’s coming up!); a string of publications highlighted by my first story to be featured in The Southern Review and more of my historically-based “hyphenates” fiction about German-Nebraskans winning an AWP Intro Journals Award; some amazing travels in Europe, New York, Chicago, Kansas City; the Royals winning the World Series; Notre Dame in the hunt for a national championship. I’m one lucky dude, obviously.

The success I’ve had the last couple years in getting this story about the Omaha Race Riot and these old immigrant communities has been very encouraging. The three months I spent at Akademie Schloss Solitude in 2014 were instrumental to refining Kings of Broken Things in a way I couldn’t have done otherwise. My experiencing Esprit Solitude really did wonders for this novel, and for my next novel, which was largely written while I was in Germany. Beyond that, Akademie Schloss Solitude helped create a wonderful platform to gain exposure for this historical project of mine, this redemptive art, as we called it, by publishing an excerpt of the novel in chapbook form and supporting a multi-media performance (Omaha Uninitiated) that focused on historical and cultural documents as objects of creation. Thanks to Director Jean-Baptiste Joly and literature juror Maxi Obexer for bringing me to Stuttgart and facilitating my work in such a generous way.

This is about to get sappy, but there are so many people to thank for their help reading, critiquing, and talking about the manuscript, and their sticking with me through the grueling process of writing a novel. Obviously this is far from over. But I should take this opportunity to thank my wife Nicole. She puts up with a lot, being married to a writer. I don’t know what I had to endure in a previous life to deserve her generous and enthusiastic love, but I’ll take it. My mother-in-law Karen West was instrumental in my writing process, tending to our girls during the day when they were little and understanding that time is something very precious to a writer. My own mom too, Marta, for being there and helping out whenever help is needed, and for teaching me to read and write, and for imparting the belief in storytelling as something sacred. My grandmother, Cleo (Blankenfeld) Croson, for all the work she’s done passing on a rich family history, and for her openness and honesty when discussing the finer, sometimes tawdry, elements of our history, a rare quality. My agent Stephanie Delman for championing the book and her tireless work in finding a great home with Vivian Lee and Little A. Also, “Country Club” Bill Sedlak, Amber Haschenburger, Ryan Borchers, Drew Justice, Sam Slaughter, Gregory Henry, Nabina Das, Mary Helen Stefaniak, Brent Spencer, Susan Aizenberg, Dave Mullins, Jonis Agee, Kwakiutl Dreher, Bob Bergstrom, Shannon Youngman, Jenn Ladino, Dave Green, Devin Murphy, Doug Rice, Darren Keen, Timothy Schaffert, Nicole Steen, Travis Thieszen, Miles Frieden, Arlo Haskell, Mary Morris, Richard Burgin, Lee Martin, Robert Stone, Kimmel Harding Nelson Center for the Arts, Key West Literary Seminar. I’m sure I’m forgetting to include some vital people in this cloud of gratitude, but this is just the pre-acknowledgement acknowledgments.

So I’ll stop with this: It feels pretty great to be able to remove the aspiring part from aspiring-novelist. I can’t wait to bring this book to you in Spring 2017!

More soon. For now, cheers!

“The Missing” is Nominated for a Pushcart Prize

Some exciting news to share today, as my short story “The Missing” has been nominated for a Pushcart Prize!

The story was nominated by Mark Wisniewski, a contributing editor with the anthology series, and author of the novel Watch Me Go.

“The Missing” is featured in the current issue of The Southern Review. (Go here thesouthernreview.org/issues/detail/Autumn-2015/233/ and used the code FRIEND514 for a 25% discount off the cover price.) It was such a thrill to see my work in The Southern Review, which came out just last week, and to have “The Missing” get some love already is amazing. (Read more about the story here.)

This is my fifth nomination for a Pushcart. “Welcome Home” (originally published in Boulevard and anthologized in Best New American Voices 2009) was listed as a “Special Mention” story in the 2010 Pushcart anthology.

Here’s hoping that this is the year!

Happy Book Birthday – Juventud by Vanessa Blakeslee

Congrats to Vanessa Blakeslee on the publication of her first novel, Juventud! Fresh off the success of her 2014 story collection (Train Shots, Burrow Press) Vanessa is back with her second book quickly. I had the pleasure of meeting Vanessa at the 2012 Key West Literary Seminar, then ran an essay of hers (“First Job”) back when I was web editor with Prairie Schooner, and it’s been awesome watching her career blossom.

Curbside Splendor Publishing is still running a pre-order special as of right now–click over a grab a copy ASAP! She’s also booked quite a few dates on a tour–so check out her website to see if she’s coming to a city near you.

Growing up as the only daughter of a wealthy landowner in Santiago de Cali, Colombia, teenaged Mercedes Martinez knows a world of maids, armed guards, and private drivers. When she falls in love with Manuel, a fiery young activist with a passion for his faith and his country, she begins to understand the suffering of the desplazados who share her land. A startling discovery about her father forces Mercedes to doubt everything she thought she knew about her life, and she and Manuel make plans to run away together. But before they can, tragedy strikes in a single violent night. Mercedes flees Colombia for the United States and a life she never could have imagined. Fifteen years later, she returns to Colombia seeking the truth, but discovers that only more questions await. 

In the bristling, beautiful prose that won her an IPPY Gold Medal for her short story collection Train Shots, Vanessa Blakeslee’s Juventud explores the idealism of youth, the complexities of a ravaged country, and the stories we tell ourselves in order to survive. 

The Southern Review Shipping Now–featuring “The Missing”

Late on Friday I heard from The Southern Review that their autumn 2015 issue (featuring my story “The Missing”) is currently shipping and should be out in the world soon. If you’re already a subscriber, keep an eye out this week. Otherwise, TSR is offering a “friends & family” discount that I’m able to share here for 25% off the purchase of single copies of the journal or any subscription. Use this coupon code: FRIEND514.

The issue also contains fiction by Erin Flanagan, Steve Amick, and Matthew Baker, and poetry by Floyd Skloot, David Kirby, Fleda Brown, and David Wojahn, among others. (Check out the table of contents here.) I haven’t seen the issue yet, but I’m really looking forward to it. Some exceptional company to keep, as I’d expect.

Here’s what I wrote when “The Missing” was originally accepted for publication back in January, if you’re interested in some deeper background. In short, “The Missing” follows a young father who runs off to visit a friend in El Salvador rather than face the prospect that both his wife and daughter-to-be could die during childbirth. This story represents a couple different progressions for me. One being an engagement of a more dynamic style, something I worked on extensively while on fellowship at Akademie Schloss Solitude last summer while working on a new novel. And the other development being that the story addresses issue of fatherhood and anxiety about childbirth and responsibility from that point-of-view. Usually it takes me a long time to digest things emotionally–so a five-year lag between becoming a father myself and being able to work on a story like this isn’t so bad.

Thanks again to Fiction Editor Emily Nemens for taking the story and for all her hard work editing “The Missing” into the best shape it could be.

Soaking it up down at the beach.
Costa del Sol, El Salvador.

This is going to be a good week, I think. I had a great time at the Omaha Lit Fest this weekend, and held my own during my panel. (Thanks so much to Timothy Schaffert for putting everything together this weekend, and to Douglas Wesselmann and Marilyn Coffey for sharing the panel with me.) Plus, Notre Dame beat USC in an entertaining rivalry game; the Royals are up 2-0 in the American League Championship Series after yet another huge comeback and could clinch a World Series spot in the next couple days. We harvested a bumper crop of carrots and beets from the garden today. My contributor copies of The Southern Review are on their way. What’s not to like?

The Reader on Omaha Lit Fest

The Reader did a cool spread in their latest issue on the upcoming (downtown) Omaha Lit Fest to go along with Leo Adam Biga’s article “Lit Fest delves into what we fear, how we relate in extremis.” The article features some choice quotes from Lit Fest Director Timothy Schaffert and a few participating authors, myself included, for the October 16 & 17 event.

The issue is currently out all over Omaha, so pick up a copy if you see one. Or, read the article here, on the The Reader‘s webpage. Here an excerpt:

Ted Wheeler, author of the chapbook On the River, Down Where They Found Willy Brown and the related novel Kings of Broken Things, says, “So much of interesting literature is about social outcasts. I see that as the central duty of a writer – to tell the stories that shouldn’t be told, to make personal demons public, to dredge up buried history or explore the parts of society that have been pushed out to the margins. The literary writer’s job is to say what can’t be said in polite company.”

Schaffert says the work of Wheeler, Wesselman and fellow panelist Marilyn June Coffey has “a kind of mythology, whether folklore or historical incident or ancient mythology.”

Wheeler explores Will Brown’s 1919 lynching in Omaha.

“My main intention was to give it treatment in a way I hadn’t seen done in any history books. The trick wasn’t really in explaining why this horrible event happened here, but more about resisting the urge to rationalize a mass act of treachery by exploring what it was like to be at a race riot and get caught up it the swerve of violent extremism.

“What’s interesting to me and what’s unspeakable about it in a certain way is this point where mundane life intersects with a notorious crime.”PubQuizcheck

Thanks to writer Leo Adam Biga for this.

Also, one last reminder. Opening night for the Pageturners Lounge Literary Pub Quiz (PTLLPQ for short) is this Wednesday, October 7 at 9pm. (Go here for more information. Or here.) In addition to some first-rate trivia, prizes, drinks, etc., we’re also featuring Timothy Schaffert as our guest co-quizmaster for the night. I’ll have a few questions just for Timothy about this year’s LitFest and his own popular novels (The Swan Gondola, Coffins of Little Hope). It will be fun. Even if the trivia is a total disaster, come laugh at me make a fool of myself. You can’t lose!

Solitude Atlas Arrives in Omaha

My copy of the Solitude Atlas arrived in the mail today, so I thought I’d share a few photos with you all. See below for those. I already wrote about the publication at length back in August–so see this post for more information on how the book came together to commemorate the 25th Anniversary of Akademie Schloss Solitude. It’s interesting stuff. Also, here’s the webpage for the book, where you can order a copy of your own.

I’m happy to finally have this in hand, and am of course proud to be one of the 145 authors of this atlas of Solitude. Also, it’s always gives me a little extra thrill (or is that self-importance?) to see my work translated. So there’s that too.

Thanks so much, Jean-Baptiste, for sending this copy my way.

The 1877 Society

A quick note of thanks here to The 1877 Society for awarding my short story “Violate the Leaves” the prize for Best Short Story in their inaugural writing contest!

Here’s what they had to say about “Violate the Leaves”: “Wheeler’s story digs into the psyche of a military family through the eyes of a child whose mother is deployed. He is left to experience life with his father; it’s one much more grown-up than he’s used to.” That’s pretty much it!

The 1877 Society is a group of library enthusiasts and advocates in their twenties and thirties who support the Omaha Public Library Foundation. Please consider joining, as I recently did, if you’re in Omaha. It’s a fun club with monthly book-related events and certainly benefits a good cause. (This event in particular looks especially.) To join or for more information, send an email to 1877society@omahalibrary.org or call (402) 444-4589.

Thanks again to The 1877 Society, the judges, and to my fellow winners, Kristine Mahler and Benjamin Simon!

Pageturner’s Pub Quiz Starts October 7

Another quick announcement this week. I’m pretty stoked to share that, along with MFA buddies Ryan Borchers and Drew Justice, I’m starting a literary-themed pub quiz at Pageturners Lounge in Omaha. This is a pretty traditional trivia night–21 questions, teams competing for prizes–with the twist that we’ll also feature a celebrity guest to introduce to the community via a short interview and a special category wherein the guest will be asking the questions. This should be fun, I think, and hopefully widen the literary community in Omaha a bit. While at Creighton the past couple years, I thought a lot about how to present authors and their work in a different way than what can sometimes seem like the sterile environment of a reading. This format should allow for a little more interactivity and playfulness. In addition to asking their five questions, the authors will play along in the game (with a five point handicap, of course) and will be around to sign copies of their books or chat or talk trash about who knows more than who. We’ll see how it goes.

Our first night is Wednesday, October 7 at 9pm. Pageturners is at 5004 Dodge Street–where the release party for my chapbook was held earlier this year–with Timothy Schaffert as our esteemed guest. If you can’t make it to the first go, we’ll be back the first Wednesday of every month. (See below for the schedule through February.)

Here’s a link to the Facebook event page if you require more information. Otherwise I’ll just see you there!

PTL Pub Quiz Schedule

October 7: Timothy Schaffert, author of The Swan Gondola & The Coffins of Little Hope
November 4: Jen Lambert & Liz Kay, editors of burntdistrict poetry journal & Spark Wheel Press
December 2: Todd Robinson, author of Note at Heart Rock & noted boulevardier
January 6: Cat Dixon, author of Our End Has Brought the Spring & Too Heavy to Carry
February 3: Wendy Townley and the 1877 Society, young lions of the Omaha Public Library

Treachery at the Omaha Lit Fest

The (downtown) Omaha Lit Fest is coming up on October 16 & 17. I’ll be there talking about my chapbook On the River Down Where They Found Willy Brown on the “Treachery” panel at 2pm on Saturday October 17 with Marilyn June Coffey and Douglas Vincent Wesselmann (aka Otis XII) All events are free and open to the public, and are hosted at the downtown branch of the Omaha library (215 S 15th St).

The theme this year is “Nervosa: Science, Psych & Story.” There’s a great lineup of authors participating, headlined by best-selling and National Book Award finalist Emily St. John Mandel. Just having her come to Omaha is a pretty big deal, so you won’t want to miss her or any of the other great writers, like Joy Castro and Julie Iromuanya. Thanks so much to Timothy Schaffert for putting this together.

The panel discussions are the same day as the Holland Stages Festival–so a pretty big day for free arts events in downtown Omaha. Free writers events at the library all afternoon then cross over the Gene Leahy Mall for free concerts by Conor Oberst, Simon Joyner, and Delfeayo Marsalis in the evening. Not too shabby!

Here’s the schedule of events for Lit Fest. I hope to see you there!

FRIDAY NIGHT, OCT 16 (6:30-9:30 pm)

ANXIETY: the opening night party/exhibits, W. Dale Clark Library
(downtown branch, 215 S. 15th St)


Featuring wire-and-book sculptures based on Gulliver’s Travels, Pride and Prejudice, Misery, Moby Dick, etc…


Sometimes-tranquil, sometimes-restless portraits in oil and ink.


Again hosted by literary journal burntdistrict. The journal’s namesake, Omaha’s historic Burnt District, was infamous for its bordellos, gambling tables, and other unseemly underbellies in the 19th century. Relax in the brothel with your own intimate poetry.


PANEL DISCUSSIONS, conducted by lit fest director and author Timothy Schaffert. W. Dale Clark Library (downtown branch, 215 S. 15th St).


Featuring doctors/writers Bud Shaw (Last Night in the OR: A Transplant Surgeon’s Odyssey) and Lydia Kang (Catalyst). Shaw came to Nebraska in 1985 to start a new transplant program that quickly became one of the most respected transplant centers in the world. Kang’s background in medicine has inspired two YA sci-fi novels, scientific thrillers that explore a dark future of genetics.


Authors discuss personal demons, social outcasts, and drastic measures. Featuring: Marilyn June Coffey (Thieves, Rascals & Sore Losers: The Unsettling History of the Dirty Deals That Helped Settle Nebraska); Douglas Vincent Wesselmann (Tales of the Master: The Book of Stone); Theodore Wheeler (On the River, Down Where They Found Willy Brown).


Fiction writers Joy Castro (How Winter Began: Stories), Julie Iromuanya (Mr. and Mrs. Doctor) and Jennie Shortridge (Love Water Memory) discuss emotional depth in novels and stories, sentiment vs. sentimentality, and the process of exploring a character’s psychology on the page.


Novelist Emily St John Mandel, author of the best-selling, National Book Award-finalist Station Eleven, with Timothy Schaffert, author of The Swan Gondola.