Wheeler’s Debut Novel Sold to Little A

The last week has been pretty exciting around here.

First off, the announcement from Publishers Marketplace:

Creighton MFA Theodore Wheeler’s KINGS OF BROKEN THINGS, that follows two young immigrants to and through the Omaha Race Riot of 1919, shedding light on a tragic period in American history, to Vivian Lee at Little A, for publication in spring 2017, by Stephanie Delman at Sanford J. Greenburger Associates.

I couldn’t be happier that Kings of Broken Things has found a home with Little A, and I’m thrilled to be working with Vivian Lee. After spending eight years researching the history and creating characters who could not only live within the existing history, but also bring out the events in a compelling way, I’m finding great comfort that Kings has found a home with a publisher who can both push the work further artistically and find a wider audience to expand its reach. (Check out The Hundred-Year Flood by Matthew Salesses for a standout example of a book Vivian edited.) If you’ve followed this blog over the years, you’re with me. From the first drafts of The Hyphenates of Jackson County to the middle stages of The Uninitiated and the brief term of Red Summer and now Kings of Broken Things, a lot of well-meaning words met their ultimate demise to make this possible.

Friday happened to be my birthday. Receiving an offer to publish my novel was quite the way to celebrate! (Publishing this post from the press file room at the DNC debate is kind of cool too.)

Really, it’s been quite a year. A second trip to Germany to perform Omaha Uninitiated: Stateside Race Riots & Lynching in the Aftermath of World War I, which coincided with the publication of my chapbook, On the River, Down Where They Found Willy Brown, by Edition Solitude; Queen’s Ferry Press accepting my short story collection Bad Faith for publication (in July 2016, it’s coming up!); a string of publications highlighted by my first story to be featured in The Southern Review and more of my historically-based “hyphenates” fiction about German-Nebraskans winning an AWP Intro Journals Award; some amazing travels in Europe, New York, Chicago, Kansas City; the Royals winning the World Series; Notre Dame in the hunt for a national championship. I’m one lucky dude, obviously.

The success I’ve had the last couple years in getting this story about the Omaha Race Riot and these old immigrant communities has been very encouraging. The three months I spent at Akademie Schloss Solitude in 2014 were instrumental to refining Kings of Broken Things in a way I couldn’t have done otherwise. My experiencing Esprit Solitude really did wonders for this novel, and for my next novel, which was largely written while I was in Germany. Beyond that, Akademie Schloss Solitude helped create a wonderful platform to gain exposure for this historical project of mine, this redemptive art, as we called it, by publishing an excerpt of the novel in chapbook form and supporting a multi-media performance (Omaha Uninitiated) that focused on historical and cultural documents as objects of creation. Thanks to Director Jean-Baptiste Joly and literature juror Maxi Obexer for bringing me to Stuttgart and facilitating my work in such a generous way.

This is about to get sappy, but there are so many people to thank for their help reading, critiquing, and talking about the manuscript, and their sticking with me through the grueling process of writing a novel. Obviously this is far from over. But I should take this opportunity to thank my wife Nicole. She puts up with a lot, being married to a writer. I don’t know what I had to endure in a previous life to deserve her generous and enthusiastic love, but I’ll take it. My mother-in-law Karen West was instrumental in my writing process, tending to our girls during the day when they were little and understanding that time is something very precious to a writer. My own mom too, Marta, for being there and helping out whenever help is needed, and for teaching me to read and write, and for imparting the belief in storytelling as something sacred. My grandmother, Cleo (Blankenfeld) Croson, for all the work she’s done passing on a rich family history, and for her openness and honesty when discussing the finer, sometimes tawdry, elements of our history, a rare quality. My agent Stephanie Delman for championing the book and her tireless work in finding a great home with Vivian Lee and Little A. Also, “Country Club” Bill Sedlak, Amber Haschenburger, Ryan Borchers, Drew Justice, Sam Slaughter, Gregory Henry, Nabina Das, Mary Helen Stefaniak, Brent Spencer, Susan Aizenberg, Dave Mullins, Jonis Agee, Kwakiutl Dreher, Bob Bergstrom, Shannon Youngman, Jenn Ladino, Dave Green, Devin Murphy, Doug Rice, Darren Keen, Timothy Schaffert, Nicole Steen, Travis Thieszen, Miles Frieden, Arlo Haskell, Mary Morris, Richard Burgin, Lee Martin, Robert Stone, Kimmel Harding Nelson Center for the Arts, Key West Literary Seminar. I’m sure I’m forgetting to include some vital people in this cloud of gratitude, but this is just the pre-acknowledgement acknowledgments.

So I’ll stop with this: It feels pretty great to be able to remove the aspiring part from aspiring-novelist. I can’t wait to bring this book to you in Spring 2017!

More soon. For now, cheers!

“The Missing” is Nominated for a Pushcart Prize

Some exciting news to share today, as my short story “The Missing” has been nominated for a Pushcart Prize!

The story was nominated by Mark Wisniewski, a contributing editor with the anthology series, and author of the novel Watch Me Go.

“The Missing” is featured in the current issue of The Southern Review. (Go here thesouthernreview.org/issues/detail/Autumn-2015/233/ and used the code FRIEND514 for a 25% discount off the cover price.) It was such a thrill to see my work in The Southern Review, which came out just last week, and to have “The Missing” get some love already is amazing. (Read more about the story here.)

This is my fifth nomination for a Pushcart. “Welcome Home” (originally published in Boulevard and anthologized in Best New American Voices 2009) was listed as a “Special Mention” story in the 2010 Pushcart anthology.

Here’s hoping that this is the year!

Happy Book Birthday – Juventud by Vanessa Blakeslee

Congrats to Vanessa Blakeslee on the publication of her first novel, Juventud! Fresh off the success of her 2014 story collection (Train Shots, Burrow Press) Vanessa is back with her second book quickly. I had the pleasure of meeting Vanessa at the 2012 Key West Literary Seminar, then ran an essay of hers (“First Job”) back when I was web editor with Prairie Schooner, and it’s been awesome watching her career blossom.

Curbside Splendor Publishing is still running a pre-order special as of right now–click over a grab a copy ASAP! She’s also booked quite a few dates on a tour–so check out her website to see if she’s coming to a city near you.

Growing up as the only daughter of a wealthy landowner in Santiago de Cali, Colombia, teenaged Mercedes Martinez knows a world of maids, armed guards, and private drivers. When she falls in love with Manuel, a fiery young activist with a passion for his faith and his country, she begins to understand the suffering of the desplazados who share her land. A startling discovery about her father forces Mercedes to doubt everything she thought she knew about her life, and she and Manuel make plans to run away together. But before they can, tragedy strikes in a single violent night. Mercedes flees Colombia for the United States and a life she never could have imagined. Fifteen years later, she returns to Colombia seeking the truth, but discovers that only more questions await. 

In the bristling, beautiful prose that won her an IPPY Gold Medal for her short story collection Train Shots, Vanessa Blakeslee’s Juventud explores the idealism of youth, the complexities of a ravaged country, and the stories we tell ourselves in order to survive. 

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 

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.