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Some more Tom Dennison content to share, as Matthew Hansen’s column in yesterday’s Omaha World-Herald gives an overview of Dennison’s forty year career as political boss in Omaha. The column focuses on the 1932 Prohibition trial of Tom and his associates, and features a few quotes from Dennison expert Orville Menard, whose book River City Empire was recently reissued.
While the article doesn’t really offer a whole lot of new information, it’s certainly worth a read. Here’s a highlight:
Tom Dennison, the dapper Irishman who strode to the witness box in November 1932, had for all intents and purposes run Omaha for nearly four decades. He had never been mayor, and, in fact, he never ran for political office. Instead, he got mayors, city councilmen, judges and even congressmen elected — or defeated — based on how willing they were to bend to his will. Neither was Dennison a reputable big-business man, the equivalent of a modern-day Fortune 500 CEO. It’s a tad difficult to fit in with the black-tie crowd when you are dogged by accusations that you had murdered rivals, robbed trains and become the Capone of the Cornhusker State. Not that the man on the witness stand was hurting for cash. He moved rivers of liquor during Prohibition, ran several wildly profitable illegal casinos, controlled and profited from the city’s 2,500 prostitutes and collected cash from every business — both reputable and underworld — that needed his protection. He also tampered with juries, stuffed ballot boxes, bought off the Omaha police, installed relatives and cronies into made-up city jobs, allegedly ordered the murder of one of Omaha’s biggest businessmen and may have purposely inflamed the racial tension that led to the 1919 race riot and lynching of a black man. A Chamber of Commerce stalwart he was not. But Tom Dennison was something else. He was untouchable.
From the sounds of things, Hansen will be devoting more of his column space to Tom Dennison in the future–the gangland murder of Harry Lapidus in particular–so that’s something to look forward to. Hansen has really done a great job since taking over as a columnist earlier this year. Some of his stuff has been pretty compelling, in both goof-ball and more touching ways, so I’m excited he’s turned his attention to this era of Omaha history.
My contributor copy of the Fall 2013 edition of Boulevard arrived in the mail today, making it official that “River Ward, 1917″ (the first excerpted piece from my novel-in-progress) has appeared in print!
Here’s the breakdown from when the story was accepted for publication back in March, with more background on the story. As noted, this is the fourth time my work has been in Boulevard. Special thanks to Editor Richard Burgin and the staff at Boulevard, as always.
This issue also features work from Joyce Carol Oates, Albert Goldbarth, Gerald Stern, and many others. You can subscribe here, fyi.
Here’s a sample of “River Ward, 1917″:
There were tents and lean-tos three deep along the muddy banks of the Missouri River, from the southern tip of the mills under the Douglas Street Bridge to the northern edge of Jobbers Canyon. A bawdy heat radiated from the flats, from open fires and juiced up men, from rosy-cheeked women who circulated the crowd, from the kids with trays tethered over their shoulders who sold tobacco and a drink advertised as mulberry wine, from the mud itself, from the burning solder soot that pumped out mill chimneys and rose above the industrial dusk of the valley. The odor was overwhelming. Jacob didn’t understand how a river so big, that moved so fast, could smell so bad. Most men smoked constantly to mask the stench with cheap tobacco. Others were too drunk to notice. They dipped forward on shaky legs and relieved themselves where they stood. Some were in socks after their shoes were sucked off in the mud. They slopped happily to an open tent flap and peeked in at the occupant. If a man liked who was inside, he entered and the flap fell closed behind him. Every so often there was an enforcer astride a horse with a loaded shotgun broke across his chest. Scuffles erupted constantly in the muck. The enforcers set things straight.
Things slowed down as summer officially began. Not a lot of news fit to print. (Besides the KC Royals making an honest to God playoff run, that is. That 4% chance of making the post-season they’ve been nursing the past month or so has brought me a not small amount of joy.) [EDIT: We also won 7th place in Dole's Taste of Spain sweepstakes, which includes a free Bag o' Salad. So the winning streak continues.] A lot of this was by design to savor a couple things that will be in short supply next summer–cash and family time.
Inkubate did select the winners of their Literary Blockbuster Challenge. Although part of the long-list of finalists my work was not selected as one of the cash winners. Apparently they are sharing my work with a group of participating agents and editors, so there’s that.
I also finished the rewrite of my novel and am now hard at work in the revision of the rewrites. All in all I’d declare the multiple POV experiment a success. A main thread emerged through the character of Karel, a nine year-old boy when the novel begins. I’ve never done much with child characters in my work before–with a notable exception coming when “How to Die Young in a Nebraska Winter” was published in The Kenyon Review in 2011–and it’s turned out well.
An excerpt from The Uninitiated will appear as “River Ward, 1917″ in Boulevard soon, so keep an eye out for that.
Dispatch from The Uninitiated
“That night Karel turned on his lamp, just briefly, to take off his shoes and tuck them safely under the mattress. He was a bit drunk and didn’t feel like sleeping right away. At the same time he was too anxious of himself to join the boys at the loud end, so he sat for a while to think about his predicament. He wished that the feeling he created on the baseball diamond when he played ball followed with him once he made it home, but this couldn’t be so. There was too much weight in familiar places. The stuff about his mom he didn’t want to believe. What happened with Braun, the demise of SOSA; and not long after Jacob being ran out of town in disgrace, a thug, a thief, good riddance. And Anna. Karel could do nothing to change what had happened to Anna, and what would.
Instead he was in this dorming house, sitting on the quiet end with his lamp on. He annoyed those around him but they could roll over and grumble, for all he cared. They could order him to douse his lamp. He’d tell them to fuck off. Karel was sitting in the lamplight. That’s all. Something he never did. He’d never wanted to put off the others but he didn’t care now. The room looked strange to him, drunk, the way the shadows were victorious against the lamp in the corners, under beds, up in the airy loft above him when the rafters crossed each other. Sometimes the room reminded Karel of the time he’d visited Anna up at the state home. For she too slept in a long dormitory hall like this one. The two rows of beds. All girls there—as this was all boys—strangers to one another, which made them compatriots in a way. It was always lonely to fall asleep in a row of beds, particularly if you were bracketed by silent neighbors. If he couldn’t hear their breathing, Karel wondered if they’d died in the night, and remembered how it was when he’d shared a bed with his sister, how he fell asleep to her dainty snoring most nights, and the terror of waking up to silence in the middle of the night, Anna’s snoring stopped, and him to speculate why. Karel didn’t like to have a bed to himself, despite believing he did. He’d never slept alone before and wasn’t sure how to do it. He’d stay up late and stare into the rafters. He’d listen to the card players. This night he’d leave the light on.”
The Piano Teacher by Elfriede Jelinek, translated by Joachim Neugroschel. In preparation for my trip to a German arts organization next summer I’ve been acquainting myself a bit with the German-language canon, so as to not appear so much as a self-centered, hegemonic American jerk. The Piano Teacher was really great. I’m not sure that there’s anything so formally striking about it, but the close, close POV (even when split) was remarkably well done, and wonderfully hard to read at times, and the evocation of Vienna in the 1980s very engaging.
Speculations About Jakob by Uwe Johnson, translated by Ursule Molinaro. I’d never heard of this book before, but I’m grateful I came across it and picked it up. Originally published in German in 1959 (the English translation went public in the US in 1963) Johnson provides a striking panorama of what life was like in East Germany in the 1950s, at the time of the Hungarian Revolt–and, more importantly, what East Germans thought of West Germans and why not all East Germans dreamed of becoming refugees in the West. While the style of the narration–multiple, often overlapping points-of-view–can be challenging, the book is a masterpiece. Very highly recommended.
Amerika by Franz Kafka, translated by Willa Muir. This unfinished novel is kind of known for being factually inaccurate–what? you didn’t know that the Statue of Liberty held a giant stone sword?–as Kafka never traveled to the United States and was kind of writing by the seat of his pants as far as research went. It’s still a pretty good novel, although not always very Kafkaesque, surprisingly. This being one of his earliest works, you can tell he was still feeling out his style by writing what is basically a pretty conventional travel story, at least in the beginning. Things get a lot weirder towards the end.
The Joke by Milan Kundera. It’s kind of interesting to read the so-called “lesser” works of such a well-known author, since it can be hard not to give the novel its own treatment, rather than reading everything through the lens (or in comparison) of The Unbearable Lightness of Being, in this case. So while The Joke is a very good book, I seemed to appreciate it less in the beginning because it wasn’t THE Kundera classic. That being said, The Joke offers its own pleasures. It’s a little deeper experience in some ways, more focused on single events and the ironies of the characters as their plots intertwine.
Eat the Document by Dana Spiotta. A finalist for the National Book Award, Spiotta’s 2006 novel is highly entertaining, and pretty spot on in its portrayal of activist and outsider culture in the United States, both in the 1970s and the early 2000s. I kind of cringed reading the sections set in 2003, remembering how some of my friends and I worked so hard to craft political consciousness through fashion. A lot of times I take issue with novels that try to depict aspects of my generation, particularly if they hit close to home, as everyone does, I’m sure. But Spiotta’s writing is so sharp, her points so precise and intuitive, there really wasn’t much to argue about.
The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford by Ron Hansen.
The Rings of Saturn by W.G. Sebald.
Summer is here in just about every way imaginable, so it’s time to recap what’s gone down the past few months.
First, some news about Tom Dennison’s house at 7510 Military Ave was passed on to me by a reliable source who wishes to remain anonymous. (Previous posts about the Dennison house can be found here and here.) There was some confusion about which side of Military the house was actually located, and my source let me know that the address of the house would have changed at some point after Dennison died. So while it was originally 7510 Military, it would have been on the 7300 block of Graceland Drive for most of the time it was standing, putting it south of Military, on the property of Skyline Retirement Community rather than on Marian’s side like I thought. That the address changed clears everything up.
Some more info from the source:
From the 1960s until it was torn down in 2006, the house was used as a guest house by Skyline Manor, and later as administrative offices. There was an effort to remodel the home before the decision to raze it was finalized, but the cost of a new roof, structural repairs, asbestos removal, etc, etc, was deemed too great. Skyline also offered the house free to anyone who wanted to relocate it to a new property, but, again, the cost of moving the house vastly exceeded its monetary value. The spot where the house stood is now a parking lot.
Other news from what was a pretty busy season:
-I was awarded a fellowship and residency by Akademie Schloss Solitude in Stuttgart, Germany. (Get the whole story here and here.) Summer of 2014 can’t come soon enough. We’ve been busy planning out the trip and addressing all sorts of logistical issues. I thought Maddie would be a little more nervous, but she’s still very excited about the whole thing, just so long as she gets to watch movies on the airplane and have torte for dessert every meal. Not such unreasonable demands.
-Some more good news for my novel came in June when The Uninitiated was announced as a long-list finalist for Inkubate’s Literary Blockbuster Challenge. News of the winners will come later this summer.
-My short story “Shame Cycle” was selected for publication in Gargoyle!
-”The Hyphenates of Jackson County,” an excerpt from my novel-in-progress, was short-listed as a finalist for the Summer Literary Seminars Unified Literary Contest. It did not win.
-New Stories from the Midwest 2012 was released, with my story “The Approximate End of the World” garnering an Honorable Mention.
-Not a lot of travel lately, although we did spend a few days in Los Angeles in April, which was really nice. On the docket for this summer: the Ozarks, Kansas City, and a family trip to Chicago to give the girls a little more flight experience before crossing over to Germany next summer. Tentative plans call for a little jaunt to New York this fall to retrace and expand last year’s bratwurst tour of Manhattan.
Dispatch from The Uninitiated
Tom hadn’t exactly been feeling fit, but he didn’t feel any worse than he had the month before, and maybe he was a little better than the month before that. His daughter had him doing all sorts of things to feel better. Morning ablutions. Evening exercises. A Bulgarian hulk came to stretch his legs with a rubber strap and burn his back with rocks. He had a steambath installed in the back lawn. Tom submitted because she begged him to. Ada had him consuming all sorts of herbs and minerals too, he didn’t even ask what the names of her magic were. Selzter water mixed with salts from the Dead Sea, she claimed anyway. Now why he wanted to drink Dead Sea saltwater he didn’t know. Wasn’t dead the very thing he was trying to avoid? All it did was keep him in the bathroom all morning, and he suspected more than once that maybe this was Ada’s way of getting him to spend less time at work. It surely kept him occupied.
Woes of the True Policeman by Roberto Bolaño. Supposedly this is Bolaño’s final unfinished novel, what he was working on when he died, I guess, and it’s writing that ranks up with his best. A lot of it reads like stuff that was cut out of 2666, which is fine by me. The focus on Óscar and Rosa Amalfitano yields quite a few wonderful stories.
In a German Pension by Katherine Mansfield. A series of sketches about the guests of a German health resort. Mansfield is vastly underappreciated, and this is yet more great work from her. (The Kindle version of this is now free, fyi.)
Laughter in the Dark by Vladimir Nabokov. I’d never heard of this novel before, but picked it up on a recommendation while at Book Soup in Los Angeles, and I’m glad I did. A comedy of manners that romps through Berlin and Italy.
Death in Venice by Thomas Mann. I’ve been meaning to read this for years and finally got to it now that I’m trying to get a feel for the German canon before I’m over there next summer. A masterpiece. Maddie kept asking me to read it aloud for her–a little uncomfortable given the subject matter–because it’s so beautiful. I’m pretty sure she didn’t understand many of the words…hoping anyway.
Freedom by Jonathan Franzen. After all the controversy and hoopla surrounding this book when it came out a few years ago, I decided to give myself some space before reading it. I’m big fan of Franzen, but not so much this book.
The Slippage by Ben Greenman. A solid offering, but not quite on the level of his short fiction.
Amerika by Franz Kafka.
Here’s a great story that ran on NPR’s All Things Considered last month about Richard Rubin’s search for the last living American soldiers who served in World War I. It’s pretty fascinating to hear some of these stories, with the best part being the audio recordings of the old doughboys themselves telling stories about things they haven’t mentioned in many decades, some in over seventy years. Very touching.
Give it a listen! Or read Rubin’s book. The Last of the Doughboys looks pretty interesting too.
More good news this week, as my novel The Uninitiated was selected for the long list in Inkubate’s “Literary Blockbuster Challenge!”
You can find the whole list on their blog, but the gist of it is that initial readers whittled down to twenty-one finalists from the over six hundred novels submitted to the contest. (Congrats, Domini.)
Here’s what one of the readers, Nathan Feuerberg, had to say about the process:
“For two months all we did was read. There were detective novels and coming of age stories, mysteries and science fiction, historical and even some erotic literature. There were so many great entries that narrowing down our selections to just a few became a daunting task. In the end, I think we found some writers with exceptional talent, and that made all the reading worthwhile.”
Ten winners selected from the long list will be announced in August, with $10,000 in prizes divided among them–$5000 of that to the first prize winner. Each of the final ten will also receive feedback from publishing executives.
If you’ve never heard of Inkubate before, it’s certainly an interesting concept. The idea is to basically rethink the slush pile process of authors submitting queries and manuscripts to agents and publishers by creating a platform where agents and publishers instead browse author-created profiles, thus allowing the gate-keepers to narrow in on the genre, experience level, what have you, that they’re interested in. The value here seems to be for young writers just starting out and established writers who may have lost the eye of publishers for some reason or another. Basically, those with a bare-bones cover letter, or a stale one.
It’s a cool idea, although, as with anything, it’s yet to be seen how the service funds itself. Participating agents and publishers are to pay a fee to browse the site–it’s free for authors to create a profile–but will publishing professionals pay for something they already get in abundance for free? TBD, I guess, and something to watch evolve. In the meantime I’m happy to be a part of it.
After bringing home Tarcher/Penguin’s Top Artist prize earlier this year, it’s exciting to have this draft of the novel in the running for another competition. I’ll try to get an update on where I’m at with the novel later on this month, but today let’s enjoy this victory and hope that there’s more to come.
I’ve been sitting on some big news for a couple months now. Something very difficult for a guy like me who, while sneaky, is no good with secrets. So I’m excited, very very excited, to announce that I’ve been awarded a fellowship and three-month residency from Akademie Schloss Solitude!
There are many cool things about the fellowship, some of which I will enumerate here. Paid airfare to/from Stuttgart, Germany, where Solitude is based; studio space and lodging in a baroque castle surrounded by forestland (Castle Solitude, pictured); a monthly stipend to cover living expenses; a double-housekeeping benefit to help supplement my rent at home; the opportunity to live in German culture (Swabian to be exact) for an extended period, sort of a reverse of what the characters of my novel do, my German-Americans; a chance to research and work on my next novel, part of which will take place at and near Ramstein Air Base.
Best of all, families are welcome to join artists during the residency, so Nicole, Maddie and Clara will be coming over for at least part of next summer. This is a pretty rare thing for residencies. Among the many things I’m grateful to Akademie Schloss Solitude and the state of Baden-Württemberg for, the opportunity to share this with my family is up near the top of the list. In fact, we’re so excited that we’ve decided to change the spelling of our youngest child’s name from the Anglican/Latinate Clara to the Germanic Klara as a sort of tribute to my benefactors.
You can read more about the program here and its vision of Esprit Solitude here, and see what past fellows were up to during their residencies here, but the gist of it is that Baden-Württemberg funds this program in order to encourage emerging artists from around the world to expand and further their work in ways they wouldn’t be able to within the strictures of their normal home life. It’s really an astonishing investments in the arts, and a recognition that personally elicits massive amounts of humility and gratification whenever I think about it. I was actually offered an eight-month residency, but it seemed like that might be too much of a good thing. I’ll be spending the summer of 2014 in Germany.
My sincerest thanks go out to juror Maxi Obexer, who selected me as a fellow, Jean-Baptiste Joly, who is Director of the Akademie, and Silke Pflüger, who, as Grant Coordinator, has been dealing with my many questions.
This continues a good run of recognition for my novel, as my application was accepted based on the strength of a full manuscript version of The Uninitiated. This manuscript also took first prize in Tarcher/Penguin’s Top Artist competition, while an excerpt is forthcoming in Boulevard this fall. A different excerpt was a finalist in the recent Summer Literary Seminars contest. And now, Solitude.
A quick note today about the results of the 2013 Summer Literary Seminars Unified Literary Contest. The winners were announced last week here, of which I’m not included. Congrats to them.
While this wasn’t announced publicly, the contest coordinators did let me know that my submission was short-listed as a finalist. Good news there!
This is the fourth time I’ve been on an SLS contest short-list. Somebody there must like me, I guess. Quite a compliment considering the stiff competition the contest brings in. The significance this time is a little different for me in that my submission (“The Hyphenates of Jackson County”) was excerpted from my novel, thus continuing a string of positive momentum for The Uninitiated this year. No agent yet, no publisher. But, if you’ll excuse the recap, the full manuscript did win Tarcher/Penguin’s Top Artist Writing Contest and a different excerpt was accepted for publication in Boulevard under the title “River Ward, 1917″. The book is four years in the making, so it’s very nice to get some little bit of recognition of its quality. Hopefully the string continues to build.
Some day I hope to be a part of a Summer Literary Seminar. It’s a great institution for writers, one I’ve heard nothing but nice things about from folks who have gone out with them. Being immersed in the writing culture of a country on another continent for a month–what’s not to like? Here’s more information on their current seminars in Lithuania and Kenya in case you’re interested.
I’m excited to share that, this week, my fiction was again chosen to appear in a future edition of Boulevard! Amazingly, this will be my fourth story in Boulevard, which has really become a great home to my work these past few years. (The breakdown of each story is below if you’re interested.)
Here’s the opening of “River Ward, 1917″, which may be familiar to some of you:
It used to be a common thing for a young man to light off secretly in the night, searching for a life different from the one he toiled through at home. Jacob Bressler became an exile in this way. He left under starlight and led his horse over the brawny shoals of what would be his brother’s farm from then on. He didn’t bother with a saddle but merely slid a bridle over the nag’s muzzle and walked into the buggy paths of the river valley. In the dark he found the graveled highway that led to Omaha. There was no need to rush. His brother wouldn’t follow him.
What’s most pleasing about this pub is that “River Ward, 1917″ is excerpted from my novel, The Uninitiated, and marks the first time any of this writing will see print. It’s a landmark, of sorts, for me. Four years have past since I began work on the novel. From it’s early shape as The Open City to the early days of The Hyphenates of Jackson County to its current form as The Uninitiated, it has taken a lot of work to get here.
So it’s exciting to get some of the book out there. To have the piece run in Boulevard means even more. Boulevard was my first major publication, running “Welcome Home” in the spring 2008, really launching an encouraging string of success with the short form that saw the story reprinted in Best New American Voices and recognized in a Pushcart Prize anthology. I can only hope that “River Ward, 1917″ appearing in Boulevard in the fall of 2013 holds similar portent for my long form work. Regardless, cheers! This one feels good.
Special thanks goes out to Amber Mulholland, Travis Theiszen, Country Club Bill, Mary Helen Stefaniak and any others who helped this particular section through its early phases. And to the Lee Martin workshop at last June’s Nebraska Summer Writers Conference, who gave significant feedback and support in its latest phase. And to Richard Burgin and the editors at Boulevard too, of course. Thanks!
TW stories in Boulevard: “Welcome Home” in Spring 2008, “The Approximate End of the World” in Spring 2010, “On a Train from the Place Called Valentine” in Spring 2012, “River Ward, 1917″ is forthcoming.