My short review of Richard Burgin’s recent short fiction collection, Hide Island, is up on Prairie Schooner‘s website, in their Briefly Noted feature. Hide Island offers “an unsettling and honest appraisal of the contemporary American neurotic” and is yet another quality book from Burgin.

Check out the review here. Get the book here.

Stay strong, PSBN.

 

Wheeler-KWLS-2014-5517

Photo by Nick Doll.

I had a jacket on and everything! And only look a little puffy and haggard. Not bad for Day 12 at the KWLS. This was taken during the award-winners reading on the final Sunday of festivities at the San Carlos Institute. I presented part of my piece that won the Marianne Russo Award, “On the River, Down Where They Found Willy Brown,” which is excerpted from the novel I’m working on.

Congrats are in order for Vanessa Blakeslee, whose collection of short stories, Train Shots, was released today by Burrow Press!

Vanessa is one of the great writers I met in Key West during KWLS 2012. It’s exciting to see so many of the crew from that year with books out. This is the fourth, I believe, if I haven’t missed anyone, with Eric Sasson having a novel forthcoming too. Truly exceptional work.

Here’s the jacket copy for Train Shots:

A single mother rents a fundamentalist preacher’s carriage house. A pop star contemplates suicide in the hotel where Janis Joplin died. A philandering ex-pat doctor gets hooked on morphine while reeling from his wife’s death. And in the title story, a train engineer, after running over a young girl on his tracks, grapples with the pervasive question–what propels a life toward such a disastrous end? Rendered in a style both generous and intelligent, the men and women at the center of these subtle stories are driven by their unusual predicaments and preoccupations. Rife with dark humor, Vanessa Blakeslee’s debut story collection illuminates the idiosyncratic and the mundane in energetic, bristling prose that marks the arrival of a powerful new voice.

Congrats, Vanessa!

Cover images by David Fleck.

While Five Chapters was serializing my work last week, some good news regarding another publication came through, as “Attend the Way” was accepted by Heavy Feather Review for their themed double issue this summer!

HFR has done some cool stuff for what’s a pretty new journal. Their web design and cover art are really interesting, for one thing. I’m excited to see how the issue comes together. And their call for submissions period on the theme “Vacancies” is still open, by the way. View the call here.

“Attend the Way” is a story I’ve been working on for a while, one from a series about the “neighborhood men” I used to come across when I walked to work from 33rd & Dewey. This is the second story to feature the Kellogg Rooming House too, for all you 24th Street connoisseurs out there.

Here’s an excerpt:

Most all he has now are clothes and most of them are ratty. Olive work pants the city gives him, a bunch of tee shirts. Rodney mows grass in parks and vacant lots, around abandoned houses. He has a hot plate in his room, on a table next to his bed because he likes to cook lying down. There’s a pine closet that sticks out from the wall by the door and his twin bed is angled so he can look out the window. His girl had a TV and paid for cable. Rodney kind of misses watching what was on each night, especially in the summer after mowing was finished. He misses lying on the couch with his girl too, even though he won’t let himself miss her. Most of the time it’s more comfortable to be alone, that’s how he sees it. Rodney’s legs are hot and he doesn’t like being shut up in a room with somebody else whose legs might also be hot.

Thanks to Jason and Nathan for selecting the stories, and to everyone who helped this story along. It’s nice to have another pub to look forward to this summer. “Shame Cycle” in Gargoyle, and now “Attend the Way” in Heavy Feather Review. Prost!

The serialization of my story “Impertinent, Triumphant” on Five Chapters began tonight! Look for Part 2 on Tuesday, and so on, throughout the week. In lieu of making five posts, I’ll just update the links here. Let’s get started:

All five parts are posted here.

I wrote a bit more about the story back in November when it was accepted, and you can read that here if you’re interested.

It’s exciting to see this story go up on such an interesting and vital venue. Be sure to click around in their archives too while you’re there. 5c has really put out some remarkable work. Thanks again to David Daley for taking the story.

Cheers!

A couple weeks ago Google alerted me to the fact that a new review of my story “Welcome Home” had been posted on the blog I Read a Short Story Today. While it’s somewhat rare to see an individual short story mentioned in a review–less so if it’s been anthologized, this one has been mentioned a few times before–it’s more surprising to see this come more than five years after Best New American Voices 2009 was released. It’s nice to see the anthology is still kicking around out there, and got me wondering what the other writers in this edition have been up to since its publication. Maybe it’s a bit indulgent, but here’s what my fellows in BNAV 09 have been up to, those I could find info on anyway, just running through the TOC.

Baird Harper, “Yellowstone” – teaches writing at Loyola University and The University of Chicago, pubs in Tin House, Glimmer Train, Mid-American Review.

Will Boast, “Weather Enough” – his story collection, Power Ballads, won the 2011 Iowa Short Fiction Award, and his memoir, Epilogue, is forthcoming this fall from Liveright.

Anastasia Kolendo, “Wintering” – has lived all over the world and is finishing a novel.

Mehdi Tavana Okasi, “Salvation Army” – pubs in Iowa Review, Guernica, Glimmer Train, was Carl Djerassi Fiction Fellow at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

Suzanne Rivecca, “Look Ma, I’m Breathing” – her story collection, Death is Not an Option, was published by Norton in 2011 (reviewed by me for The Millions) and was really quite remarkable. Since then she’s been traveling all over on prestigious international fellowships and has a much-anticipated novel in the works. For my money, Suzanne is the best young American writer out there and I’m really excited to see what she’ll produce.

Kevin A. González, “Statehood” – has published short fiction all over and published a book of poetry, Cultural Studies, as part of the Carnegie Mellon Poetry Series. Looks like he also teaches at Carnegie Mellon.

Theodore Wheeler, “Welcome Home” – this guy spends most of his time reading about Notre Dame football and walking a little jerk of a dachshund. Read more about him at his website.

Nam Le, “Love and Honor and Pity and Pride and Compassion and Sacrifice” – his short story collection, The Boat, was quite a sensation in literary circles when it came out four years ago from Vintage, and a followup novel is in the works.

Otis Haschemeyer, “The Fantome of Fatma” – pubs in The Sun, Missouri Review, and Alaska Quarterly Review.

Lydia Peelle, “The Still Point” – her short story collection, Reasons for and Advantages of Breathing, was published by Harper Perennial and greeted with great enthusiasm by reviewers, at least this one. As of the last time I bugged her publicist at Perennial, she has a novel due out in the next couple years.

I should mention too that guest editor Mary Gaitskill has published Bad Behavior and Don’t Cry in the mean time.

Also, series co-editor Natalie Danford published three books: a novel, Inheritance, along with The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Cooking Pasta and perhaps the favorite book in the Wheeler household, The Veselka Cookbook: Recipes and Stories from the Landmark Restaurant in New York’s East Village.

Looks like people have been busy!

Big congrats today to Timothy Schaffert on the release of his latest novel, The Swan Gondola! The book has received quite a strong reception from critics. Publishers Weekly said “it’s easy to imagine this charming novel attaining Water for Elephants–like popularity with readers,” which is quite an endorsement.

The Omaha World-Herald has more on the book here and here, along with information on various local events this weekend to celebrate its publication.

It’s nice to see a Nebraska writer realize such success–particularly with a historical novel set in Omaha. It’s especially fitting for Timothy, as he does quite a lot to advocate for Nebraska authors–through his (downtown) Omaha Lit Fest, as interim editor of Prairie Schooner, and in thousands of smaller ways. All this couldn’t be happening for a better guy.

Way to go, Timothy!

Here’s a description of The Swan Gondola:

On the eve of the 1898 Omaha World’s Fair, Ferret Skerritt, ventriloquist by trade, con man by birth, isn’t quite sure how it will change him or his city. Omaha still has the marks of a filthy Wild West town, even as it attempts to achieve the grandeur and respectability of nearby Chicago. But when he crosses paths with the beautiful and enigmatic Cecily, his whole purpose shifts and the fair becomes the backdrop to their love affair.

One of a traveling troupe of actors that has descended on the city, Cecily works in the Midway’s Chamber of Horrors, where she loses her head hourly on a guillotine playing Marie Antoinette. And after closing, she rushes off, clinging protectively to a mysterious carpetbag, never giving Ferret a second glance. But a moonlit ride on the swan gondola, a boat on the lagoon of the New White City, changes everything, and the fair’s magic begins to take its effect.

hemingway pool

The trip started with a cocktail reception at the Ernest Hemingway Home. When I visited before, in daylight hours, the poolside seemed like a great place to have a party. It was.

After eleven days of the Key West Literary Seminar (four days of workshop with the incomparable and generous Mary Morris sandwiched between two weekend seminars) I made my way home to Omaha on Sunday night. It’s certainly nice to be home after what was quite a trip.

The theme this year was The Dark Side, which covered mostly crime and mystery novels, with some tangential works picked up along the way. While I’m not really a reader of mysteries, there were quite a few presenters who are, or might be, household names–Scott Turow, Carl Hiassen, Joyce Carol Oates, Lee Child, Michael Connelly. The high points for me came when Percival Everett, Malla Nunn, Gillian Flynn, Attica Locke, and John Banville/Benjamin Black were on stage. There was an undercurrent of writing race in historical fiction that developed in the second session that was much more thought-provoking and touching to me, although Carl Hiassen’s Florida Freak Show standup routine in the first session was certainly a highlight too. I don’t know why I would have thought any different, but folks who write about murder all day certainly seem to have an active sense of humor.

The books I came out really wanting to read are I Am Not Sidney Poitier and God’s Country by Percival Everett,  A Beautiful Place to Die by Malla Nunn, Ordinary Grace by William Kent Krueger, and Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn. There were more, of course, but these the most.

Hanging out with Judy, Liz, and Christine.

One of the highlights was visiting the elegant home of Judy Blume for a cocktail party during the week. She’s quite a hostess. (She also tweeted me the next day.) This invite was part of winning the Marianne Russo Award, so Christine Shan Shan Hou and Liz Gordon (the other two award winners) and I could hobnob with a few of the visiting writers and benefactors of the seminar, including Peyton Evans, who selected my work for the award. It was nice to be able to thank certain people in person.

blue heaven

The restored brothel room above Blue Heaven.

Another big feature of winning the Russo Award–along with having my bio and photo listed in the artful seminar book–was that I read from my work on stage during the seminar’s final session, a selection from “On the River, Down Where They Found Willy Brown.” A few years have passed since I’d last read in public, out loud, or been on a mic for that matter, but I really wasn’t all that nervous to be up on stage at the San Carlos institute. Actually, it was a lot of fun. After the cycles my writing life has taken the last five years–with a moderate high followed by a couple year lull–I really appreciated the opportunity to get up there and present my writing to an audience. I felt ready this time around, much more so than before, and am looking forward to any more success that I might luck into.

skelton house pool

What’s a polar vortex?

Thanks to Nathan, Christine, Dustin, Liz, Nick, Sam, and Sandy for being great house and/or roommates, and to everyone in the Mary Morris workshop, and to Amina, Carol, Mary, Melissa, Paula, Shannon, and Tim for joking around at events and between sessions. And, of course, I’m very grateful to Miles Frieden and Arlo Haskell (current and associate/future directors) for their support. This was my third trip to KWLS, so it should be obvious what I think of the community of writers and artists they’ve built down there.

I’ve mentioned it many times before, but it’s highly recommended that any interested writer (or teacher, or librarian) apply for financial aid to attend the seminar. KWLS is an awesome experience, they give out a ton of aid ($300k in the last six years, I guess, which is huge) and there’s no application fee to apply. Give it a shot. Next year’s theme is How the Light Gets In: Literature of the Spirit.

I wanted to note the passing of Orville Menard. For long-time readers of the blog, Menard’s name should be a familiar one. I’ve mentioned his work on Tom Dennison and the history of political bossism in Omaha many times in this space, as its been a crucial source in researching my novel. I’m very thankful for his wide adnd varied contributions on the subject and was saddened by the news.

His book on Dennison–River City Empire: Tom Dennison’s Omaha–was just reissued last November by Bison Books.

The Omaha World-Herald ran this profile of Menard last week, detailing Menard’s career as an academic, writer, family man, and mentor of, among others, Chuck Hagel.

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