Appearance on Platte River Sampler to Air this Thursday (4/23) at 6pm

Have you lately been curious what my voice sounds like? Do you want to hear me answer questions about my latest work? Well, you’re in luck, as I’ll be reading from my chapbook On the River, Down Where They Found Willy Brown this Thursday, April 23 on The Platte River Sampler radio program. The segment will air between 6 and 7 pm.

If you live in the Lincoln/Lancaster County area you can listen on KZUM community radio, 89.3 on the FM dial. The station can also be streamed live here (http://www.kzum.org/) by clicking on the player at the top left of the page.

The Platte River Sampler is “a weekly exploration of original prose, poetry, drama, songwriting and more, all from Nebraska.”

Be sure to listen live if you can. But if you can’t, a podcast version should be online within a couple weeks.

Thanks so much to producer and host Phil Schupbach for putting this together.

A Couple Photos from AWP

Check me out signing copies of my chapbook at Boulevard‘s book fair table in Minneapolis last weekend. Thanks again to Boulevard and Managing Editor Jessica Rogen (pictured) for being such gracious and enthusiastic hosts.

I took a few years off from the AWP Conference after leaving Prairie Schooner, so it was good to be back this year to catch up with old friends and touch base with some cool editors and journals. It was great having a large contingent from Creighton make the trip up as well. Lots of fun. See you next year in LA, writer folks!

Happy Book Birthday: The Jazz Palace by Mary Morris

Click the cover. Buy the book.

Congratulations are in order for Mary Morris, whose new novel The Jazz Palace is now officially released from Nan A. Talese!

Mary led the workshop I was a part of at the Key West Literary Seminar in 2014, which is when I first heard about The Jazz Palace. For those interested in literary historical fiction, particularly historical fiction set in the Midwest, don’t miss out on this one.

A bit about the book:

Acclaimed author Mary Morris returns to her Chicago roots in this sweeping novel that brilliantly captures the dynamic atmosphere and the dazzling music of the Jazz Age.
     In the midst of boomtown Chicago, two Jewish families have suffered terrible blows. The Lehrmans, who run a small hat factory, lost their beloved son Harold in a blizzard. The Chimbrovas, who run a saloon, lost three of their boys on the SS Eastland when it sank in 1915. Each family holds out hope that one of their remaining children will rise to carry on the family business. But Benny Lehrman has no interest in making hats. His true passion is piano—especially jazz.
     At night he sneaks down to the South Side, slipping into predominantly black clubs to hear jazz groups play. One night he is called out and asked to “sit in” on a group. His playing is first-rate, and the other musicians are impressed. One of them, the trumpeter, a black man named Napoleon, becomes Benny’s close friend and musical collaborator, and their adventures together take Benny far from the life he knew as a delivery boy. Pearl Chimbrova recognizes their talent and invites them to start playing at her family’s saloon, which Napoleon dubs “The Jazz Palace.”
     But Napoleon’s main gig is at a mob establishment, which doesn’t take too kindly to freelancing. And as the ’20s come to a close and the bubble of prosperity collapses, Benny, Napoleon, and Pearl must all make hard choices between financial survival and the music they love.

Wheeler Schedules Book Signing at AWP Conference in Minneapolis

The proof edition of On the River, Down Where They Found Willy Brown.

As the headline tells, I’ll be signing copies of my chapbook On the River, Down Where They Found Willy Brown on Saturday, April 11 at the 2015 AWP Conference & Bookfair in Minneapolis from 10:30 am to 11:30 am. You can find me hanging out with Boulevard in the bookfair at table 1924.

If you’re using the schedule builder on the AWP website, be sure to add it to your itinerary with just a click at this page.

I’ll have copies available for purchase for $3. Boulevard will also be bringing a few copies of their four back issues that feature my work, which is pretty cool. If you’re looking to build up your Wheeler archive–who isn’t, these days?–this would be a good place to start.

Thanks so much to Jessica Rogen and Boulevard for sharing their exhibition space with me!

AWP Book Signing / AWP Conference & Bookfair / Minneapolis Convention Center

Saturday, April 11 / 1030a-1130a / Boulevard Table (1924) 

May 12 Reading at Lincoln’s Indigo Bridge Books Added to Events

Another date has been added to the whirlwind 4-month, 3-city world tour to promote my debut chapbook On the River, Down Where They Found Willy Brown, with a third stop booked for Tuesday, May 12 in Lincoln, Nebraska, at Indigo Bridge Books (701 P Street, in The Creamery Building).

After doing the big Omaha Uninitiated performance at the first two stops in Stuttgart and Omaha, this will be a more traditional, straight-forward reading without the A/V component.

The exciting part of this event–besides reading in my hometown for the first time in five years–is that I’ll be opening for Julie Iromuanya as she presents her debut novel Mr. and Mrs. Doctor. (Available for pre-order now, btw.) It will be great to share the stage with Julie.

Our paths briefly crossed when were both readers with Prairie Schooner earlier this decade (and were both published by The Kenyon Review around the same time–hers and mine) so I’m excited to see her first novel come out with a great publisher like Coffee House Press. Julie is a young author to watch, and what better way than by coming to the reading on May 12!

Here again are the details:

Tuesday, May 12 @ 7pm  /  Indigo Bridge Books  /  701 P St. Lincoln, NE 

“Hyphenates” Story Wins an AWP Intro Award & Will Be Published in Artful Dodge

The string of good news continues, as I learned late last week that my story “The Hyphenates of Jackson County” has won an Intro Journals Project award from AWP and will be published in a future edition of Artful Dodge!

Check out the announcement here, with the results for the three winners in fiction about halfway down the page. (Fyi, from the page: “The Intro Journals Project is a literary competition for the discovery and publication of the best new works by students currently enrolled in AWP member programs.”) (And if you don’t know what AWP is, check here.)

Thanks so much to Creighton University for nominating “The Hyphenates of Jackson County” and judge Erin McGraw for selecting it.

I’ve mentioned a few times how good it feels to have some of my Germans in Nebraska during World War I material published–as it has been in Boulevard, in The Four Quarters Magazine, and most recently in my chapbook On the River, Down Where They Found Willy Brown. Seven years into that project and with no publication in sight for the novel, things like this help keep me from feeling too much in the woods with the project.

So, of course, I’m very thankful to have “Hyphenates” recognized by such a prestigious award series.

Long-time friends of the blog will surely recognize the title of the story, as this was the original title of my World War I novel, what has since become The Uninitiated. In its earlier versions the novel focused entirely on the character of Jake Strauss (fka Jacob Strauss fka Jakob Strauss fka Jacob Bressler) and his introduction to the underworld elements of Omaha after being forced to flee his rural home of Jackson County. This short story is basically the opening scenes from that iteration of the novel.

More generally, the story is set in the fiction Jackson County, Nebraska, during World War I, and deals with a German immigrant and his two sons’ struggle to hold together their family, church, and farm amid threats both local and global.

More on all this later, particularly as the publication details are worked out with Artful Dodge. For now, I’ll let good feelings suffice and wish congrats to the other winners.

That, and here’s an excerpt to tide you over:

With the war in Europe raging late that summer, Jake was awakened by his father in the middle of the night more than once, the Pfarrer compelled to voice a worry that the German army would claim Fred and Jake, somehow, conscript them into service over on the Eastern Front, because that’s the side of Germany the Pfarrer was born to, in West Prussia, south of Danzig. There were always rumors of Kaiser Wilhelm’s reach, but the Pfarrer’s mania was peculiar and unfounded, as it always boiled over in the middle of the night. With all that had happened, he felt something was lacking in their connection to the Lord. “There’s a debt there,” was how the Pfarrer put it.

Jake and Fred agreed. But what was there to do about it?

That August, Jake found his father sprawled in the creek on the other side of their claim, water damming up and washing over his naked body. His clothes lay out on the grass. The jacket was on top, a shirt showed under the lapels. His pants were below with a shoe at the bottom of each leg, laces tied. It looked like the Pfarrer had been sucked out of his clothes, the way they’d been arranged. Two bottles of wine nearby, a half empty jar of horse cleaner. Jake didn’t know if his father had poisoned himself or not, if he’d soon die. Jake had heard of people doing that—eyes lost pigment after drinking horse cleaner, hair fell from heads. It hurt horribly. His father was naked in the cold creek, rolling to be facedown. He was pale, his breathing slow as Jake yanked him from the water and demanded to know what he’d done. He woke looking into Jake’s eyes. “I couldn’t do it,” he said. “The horse cleaner?” Jake asked. “No. I didn’t.”

Jake lifted the Pfarrer to his shoulder and carried him up the hill. His father was large, but Jake showed no struggle. He had urgency on his side and his muscles responded to the charge. The Pfarrer glanced to Jake, almost shy in his drunk, tepid and put-off as he was set to the porch, surprised again at how his younger boy had grown. Jake felt it well up in his gut, in his muscled shoulders and forearms, the anger and guilt, the tension of struggle. What did his father want to accuse him of?

Gargoyle 62 (with “Shame Cycle”) is Out Now!

My contributor's copy of Gargoyle 62, along with some cool postcards that came along for the ride.
My contributor’s copy of Gargoyle 62, along with some cool postcards that came along for the ride.

The new issue of Gargoyle is out and features my short story “Shame Cycle.”

Order the issue for $19.95 from the publisher at GargoyleMagazine.com.

“Shame Cycle” is a piece I put a lot of time into, in a roundabout way. A distillation of my first attempt at a novel, the story is a Best of that defunct project and features a fictionalized version of the 49’r Lounge, a fact that may interest a few locals here in Omaha.

Here’s an excerpt:

Anna was sixteen when she approached you at a downtown record store and you began seeing her not long after that. This was the summer before your freshman year of college, when she invited you out and claimed possession of your body. She paraded you around the smoky rooms of parties. You considered it a move up in social scene from the part-time Nu Metal rebels you knew in high school to this career class of punks. The hard-drinkers, veteran sludge rockers and sometimes transients who pocked the city so visibly in those days. These were people Anna exposed you to, her friends. Hipsters who spoke of NYC so constantly and fluently that, besides the fact that they were born here and lived here, they seemed to have never heard of Nebraska. Their mouths were always full of Brooklyn. They hitchhiked to Williamsburg and ran drugs from the Mexican border for South Omaha gangs; they bought their own tattoo guns; they had shaved-in mullets and handlebar mustaches; they screamed swear words into ice cream parlors as protests against capitalism. These people were the real deal as far as you were concerned—or as close to it as one could get in Omaha.

It was all so blinding. You were an honest, unable-to-hide-it geek; Anna was stylish and sexy in a way you couldn’t comprehend. She wasn’t like the athletic blonde girls from high school or the sweat-shirted young ladies at college pre-registration events. Anna had her own system of gravity, an atmosphere of nitrogen. The grim reaper tattoo had been her idea—the ink that runs from the inside of your wrist to the vein-popping crook of your elbow, a black robe draped half-off its skeleton body—just as wardrobe changes and haircuts were before that. You were desperate to keep her, that’s why you were marked so shamefully. Even after she left, you still took a lot of pride in your appearance, because it was something Anna gave you. You followed her around like a puppy and she made a mockery of your affection. You had fun that summer, though, you certainly remember that. Hard liquor parties and hand-rolled cigarettes, house shows in boiling hot basements, nights drinking underage. It was a renaissance of delinquency, a rebellion against the kind of common sense embodied by the men of your family. You are different from them now, because Anna changed you.

Different versions of this story were previously finalists in Matrix/Pop Montreal’s 2010 LitPop contest and PRISM international’s 2012 contest. So Canadians (and Canadiens, for that matter) like the story; you probably will too.

Go check it out!

Book Launch Photos (Omaha Edition)

Some pictures from last night’s book release party for On the River and a second performance of Omaha Uninitiated at Pageturners Lounge. Thank you very much to everyone who came out. It meant a lot to see so many friendly faces, and a few old friends, make it out. Reading to a filled room always feels great too. Also, thanks are in order for Pageturners for hosting the proceedings and for all the work Darren Keen put in to make the performance a success.

(Photo credits to Nicole Wheeler and Felicity White.)

On the River Launch Party Tonight at PTL

Pageturners Flyer
Click to view bigger.

Just a reminder that the launch party for my chapbook On the River, Down Where They Found Willy Brown is tonight at 7pm at Pageturner’s Lounge (5004 Dodge Street, parking in rear). This is the last time that the whole mutli-media performance with Darren Keen is scheduled to be put on, what was previously performed at Akademie Schloss Solitude in Germany. The show mixes readings from the chapbook with photographs of World War I-era Omaha, popular films from the era (Charlie Chaplin, Krazy Kat, Katzenjammer Kids, Sinking of the Lusitania) and a cross-fertilization of some pretty interesting music. The songs include ragtime, Louis Armstrong, Enrique Caruso, Woody Guthrie, and propaganda music from the war, mixed in with Ideal Cleaners, Bright Calm Blue, Spring Gun, Rent Money Big, Her Flyaway Manner, and other important music from Nebraska in the last decade. It’s really cool. A great melange of elements that inspired the chapbook.

In other news, I’ve been working on getting On the River into a few bookstores around the area. So far I’ve worked out an arrangement with Jackson Street Booksellers (Old Market, 1119 Jackson St.) and their satellite Solid Jackson Books (Benson, 6571 Maple St), both in Omaha. More news to come on this as it develops. Oh, and if you know of any bookstores that specialize in chapbooks or any store that might be a good fit, drop me a line about it, I’d appreciate the lead.