Happy Book Birthday: Quiet City by Susan Aizenberg

quiet cityCongratulations are in order for Susan Aizenberg on the publication of her new collection of poems from BkMk Books, Quiet City. Way to go, Susan!

One of the great literary treasures of Omaha, Susan has taught me numerous times during my stints at Creighton University–despite being a poet, she taught me everything I know. Her guidance has been invaluable both on a professional and personal level, particularly when I became a father while in grad school back in 2007. I couldn’t be happier for Susan on the occasion of her third book.

If you’re in the Omaha area, come out to the publication party for Quiet City on Wednesday, May 6, at 730pm, Solid Jackson Books. (See the above link for more details.)

Here’s a bit about the book:

Many of these poems are set in the mid-twentieth century and feature such personae as writers Truman Capote and Tennessee Williams and photographer Roman Vishniac, as well as less-public figures in Brooklyn, Nebraska, and elsewhere, all of whom confront the wounds of love, family, history, and time. ”In poem after poem,” David Jauss writes, Aizenberg ”reveals an astonishingly wide-ranging and deeply empathetic imagination, not to mention the eye of a painter and the ear of a musician.” ”Aizenberg’s vision is clear, her language exact, and her music is perfectly pitched,” writes Betsy Sholl, a past poet laureate of Maine. ”These are keenly intelligent poems navigating the distance and circuitous route between grief and its redemption.” Poet Kathy Fagan writes, ”Aizenberg’s Quiet City reminds us how the wounds of history keep on wounding both in our homes and the larger world.”

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.

“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?

“Forget Me” Published on Cosmonauts Avenue

I have a story in the newest issue of Cosmonauts Avenue that was released today!

I’m over in Stuttgart getting reading for the performance I’m doing with Darren Keen tomorrow night at Akademie Schloss Solitude, but wanted to make a quick note of this too. Here’s more about the story, “Forget Me,” from the post announcing the acceptance if you’re interested. Cosmonauts Avenue is a cool new online publication from Montreal and definitely one to watch and support.

More reason to celebrate!

Pub News: The Southern Review!!!

Some exciting news to pass along this week: The Southern Review has accepted my short story “The Missing” for publication!

I’m beyond thrilled about this. First, because The Southern Review has felt like it might be my white whale as far as lit journals go. A journal that is nearly unrivaled in its strong contemporary reputation and oft-cited tradition. (Robert Penn Warren and Cleanth Brooks were famously among its first editors in 1935.) For a few years now my stories have felt like they were getting closer and closer without getting there, despite some very nice feedback and encouragement from former editor Cara Blue Adams that kept me trying. Thanks so much to fiction editor Emily Nemens for taking a chance on the story.

Second, I’m very pleased to find such a good a home for “The Missing,” a story that marks a more ambitious path for my work, begun last year with this story (after Key West) and continued while writing a new novel of a similar bent during my fellowship at Akademie Schloss Solitude. More episodic and fragmented, voice-driven, stylized prose used as characterization, and, in this case especially, writing candidly about the anxieties of fatherhood. There are much bigger risks to take in life than writing a new way, of course, and much bigger tragedies than having your work being poorly received. But, still, I worried, and am ecstatic to have this story on board with TSR.

A bit about the story: “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.

Here’s an excerpt:

Worthy told him wild stories about El Salvador. Bus rides up chuck-holed alleys into ghettos where even police were afraid to go because gangs controlled that territory—that San Salvador was the murder capital of the world, no matter what claims were made by Kabul or Baghdad or Tegucigalpa. Worthy told about getting drunk on something called coco loco. And girls dancing in clubs where the Salvadoran Geddy Lee played bass with one hand and keys with the other. And girls dancing in clubs who were on the hunt for American men, for the green card, but were often left behind in San Salvador if pregnant, and there was little recourse for a woman of that kind. In long phone calls Worthy told about girls dancing in a nudie bar called Lips that had a taco bar next door that was also called Lips. Worthy was persuasive. Even the plastic baggies filled with soft, slimy cheese that Worthy bought on the street, that was called queso fresco, even that sounded attractive when Worthy talked about it. Even when the Mrs grabbed the phone and told Worthy that if anything bad happened she’d know who to hold responsible.

Do you understand? the Mrs told Worthy. If he doesn’t come back, I will come down there and fuck you up.

This will be my 26th published short story, and joins a group of forthcoming publications for 2015 that includes “Shame Cycle” in Gargoyle, “Attend the Way” in Heavy Feather Review, and “Forget Me” on Cosmonauts Avenue, along with the February release of On the River, Down Where They Found Willy Brown, a chapbook published by Edition Solitude. Things are going to be busy.

Special thanks to CCB, Amber Mulholland, Dave Mullins, Ryan Borchers, Drew Justice, Amy O’Reilly, Charlotte Spires, Felicity White, and everybody else who helped this story along.

Cheers!

Cover Preview for “On the River, Down Where They Found Willy Brown”

Here’s the cover image for my forthcoming chapbook (“On the River, Down Where They Found Willy Brown”) that will be published by Reihe Projektiv/Edition Solitude later this winter, in late February, to be exact.

This will be the first writing I’ve had published about the Omaha Race Riot of 1919 and the lynching of Will Brown at the Douglas County Courthouse. I’ve posted here many times on the subject, one I’ve been researching and writing fiction about for over five years now. I’WheelerCoverm both excited and nervous to finally be sharing this work with audiences. Hopefully it’s found to be pertinent and well-considered work.

The chapbook will be released in conjunction with my upcoming presentation at Akademie Schloss Solitude as part of their two-day, cross-discipline workshop titled “Quotes and Appropriation.” DJ Darren Keen and I have been hard at work on our opening night event that will feature readings from the chapbook and a DJ set from a melange of music that was important to the writing of the chapbook, plus a presentation of photographs and film from my research. It will be a good time.

If you heard me read at the Key West Literary Seminar in January, Solitude Nacht in July, or in December at the Fair Use Reading Series in Benson, this is some of the same material. It includes what I read then and quite a bit more.

If you’re interested in acquiring a copy of the book, the best way would be to just stop in at Akademie Schloss Solitude in February and pick up a copy at the event. If Stuttgart is a little far afield, other options will be available thereafter, hopefully in both hardcopy and digital editions. More on that to come.

Many thanks to Todd Seabrook (editor/designer with The Cupboard) for his work on the cover and book design. He’s great. If you’re looking for someone to work with on a chapbook project, he’s your guy.

Remembering Robert Stone

The news started to spread last night on social media and I’m sure, if you’re a fan of his, you’ve probably heard that Robert Stone died yesterday. The New York Times broke the news and today published this appraisal of his work. Even though my connection to Stone is nothing special, I thought that I’d add my own remembrance as well. Please indulge me.

My first encounter with Robert Stone (or the promise of one) came in the summer of 2007. Earlier that year, finishing up the second semester of my MA, I’d applied for a scholarship to the Key West Literary Seminar and learned that I’d received partial aid to attend their forthcoming session in January. It wasn’t confirmed right away, but I was also informed that Robert Stone had expressed some enthusiasm about the manuscript I’d submitted and might accept me into a special workshop he was holding during the week. A month or so later I was confirmed in his workshop, and was thrilled. Things changed quickly that summer, however, once Nicole and I learned that our first child was on the way, and then that she would be a girl, and that she was due to arrive the same week I was supposed to be in Key West in a workshop with Robert Stone. I was in Omaha that week in January, of course, too elated to worry about what I might be missing in the tropics.

I did see Robert Stone read that summer, with Richard Bausch, at the 2007 Wesleyan Writers Conference. It was a strange week for me. A lot of the other attendees were trying to chase down agents or were out partying, but I kind of stuck to myself and made only a few friends. The day before I’d left for the conference was when we found out Nicole was pregnant; she’d confirmed this with a test at her doctor’s office while I was in Connecticut. This doesn’t have a lot to do with Robert Stone–except I heard him read that week, and now I can only remember the reading in terms of what I was preoccupied with at the time.

It was five years after this that I was actually part of a Robert Stone-led workshop at the Key West Literary Seminar. Nicole was again expecting a child, although with a two-month buffer before Clara arrived. (I was kind of a mess that week in Florida. I was anxious about what the future held and drank too much pretty much every night. I got the best and worst of Key West, I suppose, and spent the better part of our morning workshop meetings sweating out what I’d drank the night before.)

Workshop 2
Robert Stone, Mary Casanova, and me waving for the camera. Stone said, “There’s one in every group.” (Key West, 2012. Photo by Kate Miller.)

To be honest, I don’t think Stone was too fond of me during those four days. He had some nice things to say during the workshop of my story, although he didn’t really seem all that hopeful for the direction I planned on taking the material. He was generous and fair during workshop, and often profound with such an easy intellect that it was breathtaking. Being around a celebrity, particularly one who’s had an influence on so many, seems like it will be such a strange experience to me, but it really wasn’t in this case, and usually isn’t when it comes to authors, who aren’t really celebrities at all, I guess. The vitality of a great writer is something to behold. In undergrad I had the opportunity to do a special workshop with Rita Mae Brown and it was the same then. She was clearly operating on a different plane than the rest of us and, the same as with Stone, it was dazzling to watch.

A few of us would stick around on the front porch of the Skelton House after the sessions as Stone waited for his ride to pick him up. He’d share some stories with us. What it was like dealing with publishers when he got started and how things changed later on; how he got into sailing and deep sea diving by volunteering to serve as crew on yachts; how he’d gotten his grandson suspended from school by sending along a diving knife for show and tell, and how supremely funny he found that to be. Stone seemed most comfortable in those moments, I thought–that and when he read “Hills Like White Elephants” aloud to the group, a moment when several of us looked to each other and grinned with such exhilaration, such content at being in the room as one master communed with another.

When I was at KWLS last year Stone was slated to read from his newest novel, Death of the Black-Haired Girl, but it was announced that he’d injured his arm and couldn’t make it. I’d been excited that we were both on the schedule for the seminar that year, and was disappointed I wouldn’t get to again hear him read. But a broken arm is a broken arm. What can you do? Just another near-miss in Key West, a common enough thing.

RIP.

Cosmonauts Avenue to Publish “Forget Me”

Cosmonauts Avenue in St. Petersburg fka Leningrad.

Good news this week, as Cosmonauts Avenue has accepted my short story “Forget Me” for publication!

This will be my 25th short story publication overall–a nice little milestone there–and my first in Canada. Although, since Cosmonauts Avenue is an online journal, the journal itself is kind of everywhere, or everywhere it can be loaded onto a device. Still, their offices are in Montreal and I’m checking it off my list. Get published in Canada. Check.

Here’s a bit about Cosmonauts Avenue, which is run by the same folks who put on the standard-bearer of international literary programs, the Summer Literary Seminars. (Long-time followers might remember that I’ve been a four-time finalist for the SumLitSem contest. Sadly I’ve never been able to work out attending one of their programs. Someday…) (The 2015 contest is open now, btw, with first-prize carrying full tuition, airfare, and accommodations to this summer’s Disquiet program in Lisbon.) Anyway. Cosmonauts Avenue:

We’re located in the lovely and ethereal city of Montreal, but our namesake, Cosmonauts Avenue, is a long residential thoroughfare on the southwestern outskirts of St Petersburg (nee Leningrad). Laid out in the early-1960s, it was one of the initial “micro-districts” of state-owned co-op apartments which started springing up in large Soviet cities around the time, on then-Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev’s initiative. The great majority of St. Petersburg’s citizens (as well as Muscovites, or the denizens of any large Russian city) live in similar residential locations radiating from the core of the city center in ever-widening concentric circles. Take a walk with us along Cosmonauts Avenue (because if you’re walking alone, it’s boring as hell, and in winter, also very cold).

Thanks to everyone who helped out with this story. Travis Thieszen and Amber Mulholland, in particular, for all their heavy-lifting in parsing through a very different early draft, and CCB for his expertise on creep-thoughts, and everyone in the Brent Spencer workshop at Creighton for their help in refining the focus and tone. Also, thanks for CA editors Mikhail Iossel and Madeleine Maillet for making a home for this piece.

More updates to follow on when the story will be online, of course. For now, here’s an excerpt from “Forget Me”:

Andy audited the expense accounts of junior executives. It was cold, predictable work. He had a thousand words for why he didn’t like his job, words he used on Mondays and Wednesdays. Nothing made the job worthwhile, except that he might get promoted. That’s why he was at the office on a Thursday night instead of his apartment nearby, where he lived alone. On weekends he flipped through magazines while he watched TV, or tried to pick up women at a sports bar called The Penalty Box if he was depressed. Andy didn’t know many people outside work. But he’d been popular in high school, he was sure. His friends had repeated stories about him: the time he used his truck to capsize Principal Wheeler’s above-ground swimming pool, or when he poked a hole in a basement wall at Amy Johanssen’s house with a billiards cue and pissed in the opening, or how he nearly lost his virginity to Jenny Charles in a canoe at church camp, in junior high, until the canoe tipped and Jenny screamed in the cold water, naked from the waist down. Andy had felt legendary by graduation day. Then he went one state over for school and people forgot his stories. If someone did remember, it was just to laugh about how stupid he’d been.

Cheers!

In the Year 2015: Omaha Uninitiated — A Return to Solitude — On the River Chapbook

There will be more of a formal announcement for all this soon, but I’ve been itching to share about a project I’ve been working on as part of my association with Akademie Schloss Solitude, so here you go.

This upcoming February I’ll return to Germany to participate with other fellows and guests of the Akademie in a two-day, cross-discipline workshop titled “Quotes and Appropriation.” I’m very excited to return to Stuttgart for this, as its a culmination and redirection of the book project I’ve been working on the past five years.

In addition to panels and workshops, there will be an opening night presentation called “Omaha Uninitiated: Music, Cultural Artifact, and Historical Event in the Recreation of Civic Trauma.” This project contains three elements–a set of readings from On the River, Down Where They Found Willy Brown, a novella based on events surrounding the Omaha Courthouse Lynching of 1919 (more on this below); a presentation of photographs and video that have been important to the creation of On the River, and my related full-length novel The Uninitiated; and a DJ performance by Darren Keen.

It will be amazing to bring five year’s worth of research and writing on this topic to Germany, and I’m particularly excited to see what Darren comes up with for the music component, what will be a mashup and cross-fertilization of music from the World War I era that was important to the creation of the novel (ragtime, propaganda music, American folk, jazz) mixed with music from Nebraska in the last fifteen years.

The final part of all this is publication of the aforementioned novella (On the River, Down Where They Found Willy Brown) by the Reihe Projektiv imprint of Edition Solitude. If you heard me read at the Key West Literary Seminar in January, Solitude Nacht in July, or last Friday at the Fair Use Reading Series in Benson, that is some of the same material. Todd Seabrook (editor/designer with The Cupboard) is working on the design and I’m pretty excited how it’s turning out.

More on all this later.