Solitude Atlas Arrives in Omaha

My copy of the Solitude Atlas arrived in the mail today, so I thought I’d share a few photos with you all. See below for those. I already wrote about the publication at length back in August–so see this post for more information on how the book came together to commemorate the 25th Anniversary of Akademie Schloss Solitude. It’s interesting stuff. Also, here’s the webpage for the book, where you can order a copy of your own.

I’m happy to finally have this in hand, and am of course proud to be one of the 145 authors of this atlas of Solitude. Also, it’s always gives me a little extra thrill (or is that self-importance?) to see my work translated. So there’s that too.

Thanks so much, Jean-Baptiste, for sending this copy my way.

Pageturner’s Pub Quiz Starts October 7

Another quick announcement this week. I’m pretty stoked to share that, along with MFA buddies Ryan Borchers and Drew Justice, I’m starting a literary-themed pub quiz at Pageturners Lounge in Omaha. This is a pretty traditional trivia night–21 questions, teams competing for prizes–with the twist that we’ll also feature a celebrity guest to introduce to the community via a short interview and a special category wherein the guest will be asking the questions. This should be fun, I think, and hopefully widen the literary community in Omaha a bit. While at Creighton the past couple years, I thought a lot about how to present authors and their work in a different way than what can sometimes seem like the sterile environment of a reading. This format should allow for a little more interactivity and playfulness. In addition to asking their five questions, the authors will play along in the game (with a five point handicap, of course) and will be around to sign copies of their books or chat or talk trash about who knows more than who. We’ll see how it goes.

Our first night is Wednesday, October 7 at 9pm. Pageturners is at 5004 Dodge Street–where the release party for my chapbook was held earlier this year–with Timothy Schaffert as our esteemed guest. If you can’t make it to the first go, we’ll be back the first Wednesday of every month. (See below for the schedule through February.)

Here’s a link to the Facebook event page if you require more information. Otherwise I’ll just see you there!

PTL Pub Quiz Schedule

October 7: Timothy Schaffert, author of The Swan Gondola & The Coffins of Little Hope
November 4: Jen Lambert & Liz Kay, editors of burntdistrict poetry journal & Spark Wheel Press
December 2: Todd Robinson, author of Note at Heart Rock & noted boulevardier
January 6: Cat Dixon, author of Our End Has Brought the Spring & Too Heavy to Carry
February 3: Wendy Townley and the 1877 Society, young lions of the Omaha Public Library

Solitude Atlas

To celebrate the 25th anniversary of Akademie Schloss Solitude, this summer the Akademie and Edition Solitude put together a phenomenal book project called Solitude Atlas that brought together 145 participating authors (all former or current fellows) to contribute vignettes of varied form that describe the cities where they live. It’s quite a project. By the numbers, Solitude Atlas includes letters, poems, essays, and illustrations from nearly 100 different cities and 48 countries. When I was back at Solitude in February I talked to designer Phil Baber about the process he was going through to put together the book and the difficulties of making contributions that are in 20 different languages and feature numerous non-Latin alphabets all work in a single volume. It’s pretty remarkable.

Check out an interview with the book’s creators here.

For my contribution I ended up doing a few brief folk histories of infamous Omaha intersections–something that interests me a lot and is important to my process, listening to stories, digging up the history of a neighborhood or street corner or building. Looking at maps and atlases is one of my favorite pastimes too, particularly old maps that are useless except for the history they tell, so this narrative strategy seemed a natural fit to me.

A glimpse of the contribution from Palestinian architect and cartoonist Samir Harb.

Here’s a bit of it:

40th & Farnam

A lot of bars, two breweries & a coffee shop with tables outside coffee-shop-people sit at. Things have been cleaned up recently. Sullivan’s moved into the gutted & redone corner spot. Before that it was called Cheaters, which is clear what the owners were thinking. The city shut them down after an off-duty cop shot a 15-year-old boy in the street outside here. Both were drinking. When the teenager started trouble a melee bloomed. The off-duty chased the teenager into the street & wounded him about as benignly as a service revolver can wound. Dropped him in the middle of the street. The off-duty got in a bunch of trouble over this. Cheaters was pretty notorious so it was shut down. The spot was very ugly. There was white siding & a wood-panel door that looked like it had been kicked in a few times. The new guys, Sullivan’s, tore off the siding & cleaned up the original brick underneath, & there’s a fluorescent sign above the front door. A long time ago the same building was the Omaha Community Playhouse—founded by Dodie Brando, Marlon Brando’s mother. In its first season Henry Fonda got his start as an actor on that stage at the Omaha Community Playhouse. Fonda had a big career as an insurance actuary all lined up before he went into acting. There are lots of actuaries in Omaha—it’s a big city for that sort of thing. Marlon Brando also made his debut on that stage, at 40th & Farnam, where years later an off-duty cop would chase a drunk teenager out of a bar called Cheaters & put a bullet in a meaty part of the kid’s leg.

Be sure to check out Solitude Atlas at the Akademie’s online store. Whether you’re connected to Akademie Schloss Solitude or not, the book offers an interesting perspective into how artists see the world while demonstrating how these perspectives and voices come together under a single roof at Akademie Solitude (or in this case, between the the two covers of a book).

Pub Updates: Southern Review, Artful Dodge, Boulevard

Since we’re on the backside of summer and the days again are speeding up, a quick update on my forthcoming publications.

The Southern Review will publish “The Missing” in their autumn issue. I recently went through some edits with editor extraordinaire Emily Nemens and am really excited about how the story came out on the other side. Not that I wasn’t super excited about this before, but to have a journal editor spend two weeks working over every detail with me is pretty special. I appreciate all the hard work and can’t wait to share this one. Be sure to subscribe now to get the issue featuring my story delivered to your doorstep later on this year.

Artful Dodge will publish “The Hyphenates of Jackson County” in their autumn issue. This story won an AWP Intro Journals Project award earlier this year, a series that honors the best work coming out of MFA and other writing programs each year. Erin McGraw selected the story as a winner. I wrote a longish post here in April when the announcement was made, noting in particular how this piece was the opening chapter of a former iteration of my novel-in-progress, and expressed my gratitude and relief that this story brought home some hardware. I’ve still been playing around with this material now and again (the Strauss family in Jackson County, 1910-1917) and can easily see a novel coming out of what I have started and outlined. (Not that a novel ever comes easy.) Maybe if the first novel is published and does well The Hyphenates of Jackson County could be a followup book. Something to dream on anyway. Anyway, be sure to subscribe to Artful Dodge now and get in on the ground floor of this story.

-As announced last week, Boulevard will be publishing my story “Violate the Leaves” in their spring 2016 issue. I won’t repeat myself too much. If you’re interested in subscribing to Boulevard (and, yes, go for the trifecta) you can do so here.

Other than that, I’d just like to remind that my chapbook On the River, Down Where They Found Willy Brown is still available in Kindle and bound form from Amazon, and from my publisher Edition Solitude (if you get giddy about receiving mail from overseas, this option is for you!), and from the following fine booksellers. If you happen to be in Omaha, Lincoln, Des Moines, ChicagoFruita, Seattle, Vancouver, Montreal, or Paris, please stop in at one of the stores that I’ve linked here and pick up a copy. They’re wonderful venues, so be sure to check them out.

Hanging out with my chapbook at Quimby's, an essential stop for fans of counterculture books in Chicago's Wicker Park.
Hanging out with my chapbook at Quimby’s, an essential stop for fans of counterculture books in Chicago’s Wicker Park.

Keep an eye on the Books page here for an updated list of where to find my work. I recently had to do a second printing of the chapbook to replenish my stock and have been thrilled with the response. I wasn’t really sure what to expect from having a chapbook published, but getting to do three big events (with at least one more coming this fall) and to find a high level of interest in the subject and my treatment of it, this has been a lot of fun. I’m really excited to get out next summer and promote my book of short stories (Bad Faith, Queen’s Ferry Press, July 2016) after learning a lot about presenting myself and my work to audiences both live and in cyberspace.


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 (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 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?