Boulevard Will Publish “Violate the Leaves” in Spring 2016 Issue

Boulevard No 81I’m pleased to share the news that my short story “Violate the Leaves” has been accepted for publication by Boulevard and will appear in their Spring 2016 issue!

This will be my fifth story with Boulevard. I’ve written a lot in this space about what the journal means to me, so I’ll keep it brief this time. Thanks to Editor Richard Burgin and Managing Editor Jessica Rogen for everything. (Subscriptions, which include the next three issues, start at $15, btw.) Also, a special thanks to CCB, Amber, and everyone in the winter workshop last December (Amy, Amy, Brian, Bob, Felicity, and Ryan) for their help working on the story. You guys are the best!

“Violate the Leaves” is a story I’ve been working on for quite some time, with parts of the original idea having been developed circa 2003 when I was in undergrad. It’s something I picked at every once in a while until the right elements finally came together last summer when I was at Akademie Schloss Solitude. It’s a father-and-son story about how the two deal with each other during a summer when the boy’s mother is overseas, in Iraq. The story is told in a fragmented voice, something I’ve been experimenting with a lot the past couple years. A spare, reticent voice has almost always been a hallmark of my work and I this story tries to push things further in that direction. This was the first thing I worked on while a resident of Schloss Solitude, so it should come as no surprise that the major features include: 1) a parent who leaves his/her family for an extended period, 2) a central character who is nearly incapable of expressing himself verbally, 3) an examination of nationality, and what it means to be a later generation German-American, if anything.

The story is also featured in my collection Bad Faith, forthcoming from Queen’s Ferry Press in July of 2016, and will be a good preview of the book for the dear readers of Boulevard. I have a couple stories coming out this fall and it’s nice to have next year’s calendar starting to fill in a bit as well.

Here’s an excerpt:

In the evening there were video calls with Mom. She was just getting up. Or just going to bed. I don’t remember what time it would have been over there. She was tired. My father dialed in the PC that sat on the floor next to the television, but he went outside before she answered. I brought the fishbowl downstairs to brag how I was keeping my goldfish alive.

She talked about the food she ate, once the PC was dialed in, the kinds of equipment she had around her neck and in the pockets of her med kit. Her stethoscope, her thermometer. Rubber gloves. Her voice digitized, sometimes doubling over itself in echoes. She always wore her hair up, over there, wore khaki tee shirts that fit tight around her. She smiled big when she saw me. So big the video broke up in pixilation. She asked how my day went and told me about her day. She tried to tell me about the people she worked with, or the bunker she rushed to if the Sense & Warn detected incoming, she said; and the geography, the mounds of desert that blew in under the doorways; and on the airplane going over, watching the sunset and sunrise only three hours apart over the Arctic Ocean.

I didn’t hear any of that. 

If she told me to shut up about asking when she was coming home, I would.

Douglas County Historical Society Event for On the River is June 23

A quick note that I’ll be at the Douglas County Historical Society’s “Pages from Our Past” event on Tuesday, June 23 to read from my chapbook On the River, Down Where They Found Willy Brown. We’ll discuss the elements of Omaha history that went into the writing of the book–and probably a few elements that didn’t.

If you missed the local launch party at Pageturners and my reading at Indigo Bridge Books, here’s your chance. Come meet the author!

See below for all this info:

Tuesday, June 23. 530-630pm. 

Douglas County Historical Society / Library Archives Center

Fort Omaha / 5730 N. 30 St, Omaha, NE 

omahahistory.org/calendar.html (See the bottom of the page for information on how to register.)

Douglas County Historical Society will feature Nebraska author Theodore Wheeler’s novella On the River, Down Where They Found Willy Brown at our June 23rd Page from Our Past author event taking place from 5:30 p.m. to 6:30 p.m. at the DCHS Library Archives Center. The program focuses on history-based authors, both of fiction and non-fiction, and is held the fourth Tuesday of each month in the evening. A Page from Our Past is a casual and intimate roundtable discussion, where the audience has the opportunity to get up close and personal with the authors. Each program concludes with a book signing and time to meet one-on-one with the featured author.

On the River, Down Where They Found Willy Brown is the story of an immigrant boy who’s caught up in a race riot and lynching, based on events surrounding the Omaha Race Riot of 1919. While trying to find a safe place in the world after being exiled from his home during a global war, Karel Miihlstein is caught in a singular historical moment and one of America’s most tragic episodes.

Theodore Wheeler lives in Omaha with his wife and two daughters, where he is a legal reporter covering the civil courts of Nebraska.

Cost to participate in these discussions is $5 for members and $10 for non-members. Pre-registration is required and seating will be limited to 20 participants. To register, email members@douglascohistory.org or call 402-455-9990, ext. 101.

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.