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What went on in the Wheeler world the past few months, you ask…
-A few bits of feedback returned from the top handful of agents I’d submitted to, and was rejected by, sent me back into a revision cycle, one that is just now reaching completion. I feel a little nuts for going back to the drawing board after only a relative few rejections, but that’s my process and I’ll stick to it. It would be worse to sit on a good idea rather than implement it, right? Anyway, I took six weeks off to rinse my palate and clear my mind–which provided time to paint the outside of our house and stuff a storage facility full of clutter, among other chores to keep my mind busy–and then got back to it. The novel is much better for it, I believe, and slips along much more efficiently. It’s down to 103k words and 321 pages. Amazing how a little drawer time can make some appendages look less indispensable.
-During my off time a few agents requested to look at the novel, so that’s promising. I’ll have the manuscript off to them in January for consideration.
I must say too that the querying game is a lot rougher than I remember it being back in 2008, when I last had to go speed-dating for an agent. Seems like a majority of agents don’t really consider slush in a serious way anymore, and most that do read their mail don’t respond unless they’re interested. This kind of wrecks a carefully made spreadsheet. I understand why agents have taken this approach–as some receive a couple thousand queries a week! It’s logistically necessary on their part. However, this practice can only encourage bad habits among submitting writers. If a writer can’t be sure their query will be looked at, it makes more sense for them to submit to a bunch of agents at once and see what sticks. This really isn’t good for anyone, so I’m trying my best to find ways of getting noticed other than being a bad citizen. I wonder what the end game for this is, as Twitter and blogging become a better way to get the attention of an agent, and direct contact fades away.
-My review of Christopher Narozny’s Jonah Man was published on the fall edition of Kenyon Review Online. Jonathan Evison named Jonah Man one of his Favorite Books of 2012. I agree wholeheartedly. It’s a goodie.
-Travel: There was New York in October and El Salvador in November. Realizing today that this will be the first time since 2010, and only the second since 2008, that I haven’t been to Key West after Christmas. I hope the snowbirds can get along without me. Trips to Boston, Los Angeles, and Kansas City are in the works for 2013, and we’re hoping one to NYC becomes necessary as well.
-Sporting: The last time we checked in with the sporting news, Notre Dame was 3-0 headed into a prime time match up with the hated Wolverines of Michigan. I was confident about that game–perhaps a little too confident, as my 87-2 prediction was way off–but I was a little wary of how the rest of the season would unfold for the beloved Fighting Irish of Our Lady. There were still big games with Stanford, Oklahoma, and USC down the road, and ND usually found a way to eke out a come-from-ahead loss to a lesser opponent too. A few months later, ND is sitting at 12-0, ranked #1, and looking at a NCG match up with the hated Crimson Tide of Alabama. Congrats to the team, coach Brian Kelly and star linebacker Manti Teo. I almost can’t believe how well everything has turned out this year, and hope it continues as long as possible. Go Irish!
Dispatch from The Uninitiated
“Fred was around the block when Jacob caught up, ducked behind a barrel. It was known that Fred lost the will to fight too easily. He was doleful and kept out of trouble. His forehead had a white twig of a scar from when he fell out a linden tree. Bullies noticed him. Jacob was the one with a temper, the restless one. Fred, three years elder, often chided Jacob to become humble, being of the mind that the less someone thought of himself, the more likely he’d find the right side of an argument. But Jacob wasn’t so sure of that. He was tall and fair-skinned and athletic. He’d always done well in school. He had things going for him, and modesty appealed less to him than it might to others.”
Tree of Smoke by Denis Johnson.
Angels by Denis Johnson.
Dog Soldiers by Robert Stone.
Light in August by William Faulkner.
East of Eden by John Steinbeck.
The Dark Corner by Mark Powell.
The Kenyon Review offered up its holiday reading recommendations today in its December newsletter. You can find my contribution at the bottom of the page.
The books I recommend?
Don DeLillo – The Names
Robert Stone – A Flag for Sunrise
Denis Johnson – Tree of Smoke
I hope you’re sensing a theme, one that isn’t exactly “The Holidays” but is still a lot of fun.
There are some great recommendations from Kenyon Review editors, staff, book reviewers, and contributors, so be sure to check them out. Also, if you haven’t read my review of Christopher Narozny’s Jonah Man in the Fall Issue of Kenyon Review Online, be sure to take a gander over there as well if the mood strikes.
Here’s a teaser:
Christopher Narozny’s tantalizing debut novel, a literary thriller surrounding the intrigue of 1920s vaudevillians, is told from the perspective of four men connected by talent, ambition, and a grisly murder in a lawless New Mexico town. Among the principal characters are a young performer on the rise—known as Jonson’s boy—and a seasoned juggler named Swain whose career floundered after one of his hands was chopped off in a devastating act of retribution. Jonson’s boy and Swain are connected by their spots on a travelling show, their status as current and former child prodigies, and a drug trafficking operation that has infiltrated the circuit. Swain slips more each day, injecting the dope he smuggles cross-country into “a nub of bone in [his] stump,” diluting the product each time he uses in the hopes no one will notice his theft. It’s clear Swain is headed for rock bottom, if he’s not already there.
If you’re looking to cleanse the palate after a contentious election cycle, what better medicine some good old-fashioned historically-based fiction. Brought out by a rising Brooklyn-based indy, Ig Publsihing, Jonah Man is really a strong debut by a promising linguistic stylist. (Check out the review for more glowing.)
I’m not sure how I missed announcing this earlier–seeing as I did mention, last year, that a digital version of my “The Housekeeper” is for sale on Amazon as part of the Mixer Countdown–but, better late than never, it bears announcing that Mixer’s debut print anthology, of Love & Death: heartburn, headaches, and hangovers is now for sale on their website!
If you haven’t yet read “The Housekeeper”, or are looking for a print version, the anthology is a good one. Here’s more:
of Love & Death: heartburn, headaches, and hangovers features award-winning writers Kate Braverman, Kirstin Allio, Myfanwy Collins, Tom Bonfiglio, Danny Goodman, Sam Decker, Daniel Grandbois, and many, many more. Structured in three parts, the anthology first explores the joy and pain of early relationships, then marriage, and finally family. of Love & Death is subtle, profane, tragic, lewd, thrilling, insightful, sad, provocative, painful, hilarious, insane, occasionally murderous, and authentically powerful–capturing the beauty and ugly of real life in all its variations. 15 stories in three parts–a rare thematically structured anthology that can be read as a composite novel of life.
I’m usually better about announcing these sorts of things–so I apologize for being late to the party on this one. For more about “The Housekeeper” and its multivaried path to publication, check out what I wrote about the story here, here, and here.
[Ed. note: It looks like my review of Christopher Narozny's novel Jonah Man is scheduled to go up on Kenyon Review Online on November 7. So forget all those annoying election post-mortems and instead opt for some timeless literary criticism.]
Incoming: my book review of Christopher Narozny’s Jonah Man has been accepted for publication by The Kenyon Review!
Contracts are still pending, so I’m not sure when the review will appear. Very excited about the new review pub though.
This will be my second appearance with the journal. My short story, “How to Die Young in a Nebraska Winter”, was in their Spring 2011 issue. It’s a pleasure to work with such genuinely nice people who are so enthusiastic about literature.
Jonah Man is new this month from Ig Publishing, a small press to watch out of Brooklyn. In addition to a stellar lineup of literary fiction and noir, their Best Dive Bars series looks like a winner to me.
I’ve decided to fly in the face of Leap Day and post my review of the past month a day early. (Try to have a safe holiday out there today, folks. We don’t need a replay of four years ago, with all the accidents and alcohol poisonings. Use the extra day wisely!)
February was a month of good news. There was my appointment as Web Editor at Prairie Schooner. I’m still not sure my family believes that I actually get paid to work for a literary journal now. Actually, I’m not entirely convinced myself yet, direct deposit aside. The job has been a lot of fun, although a bit frustrating at times. It’s been a long time since I started a new job. There’s a lot to learn. Hopefully I’m picking it up right. … Next came word that two of my published short stories will be mentioned among the “Thirty Other Distinguished Stories” in the New Stories from the Midwest anthology series. “The Approximate End of the World” (Boulevard, Spring 2010) will be noted in the back of the 2011 edition. “The Current State of the Universe” (The Cincinnati Review, Summer 2011) will be noted in the back of the 2012 edition. This is a new series, but one that looks very promising. I’m excited to break through in some small way with them. Hopefully it’s only the start of bigger things. … That same weekend I learned that my review of Yannick Murphy’s novel The Call was accepted for publication in the Pleiades Book Review. This is my second review Pleiades has taken, and it will run in their Summer 2012 issue.
March brings a lot of promise. There’s AWP in Chicago. Spring is here, apparently. (Our daffodils have breached!) ZZ Packer is the writer in residence at UNL and will make a couple public appearances in Lincoln. Also, lil’ Clara Lynne is due to join us.
Dispatch from The Uninitiated
“Sometimes I scuffled with Neal Davies and his brothers. I ran track with the two younger Davies boys. They weren’t so brazen about what they said, not like Neal had been outside the store. Mostly it was Neal who mumbled something, standing off to the side to watch us run. Neal Davies was short and podgy. He had blonde hair that laid very flat and smooth on his round skull. His brothers looked at me and laughed when Neal made remarks. I’d tackle one of them into the grass, the Davies brother who was slowest getting out of the way. A punch or two would be thrown, but that was all. Other kids would break it up. Whatever happened was chalked up to bad blood. Since I didn’t know what they said, there was nothing more I could say about it. There was lots of bad blood in Jackson County in those years, the war years. It was wrong of Davies to tease me about the ways my folks died, I’m certain. I’m not certain if I would have teased him about such a thing if the roles had been reversed. I might have. I had to give him that in my calculations. He still had his parents, if nothing else. I did not. Sometimes we believe these things are so for a reason.”
Personal Rejection Notes, Requests for More, and Other Nice Versions of No Thanks
The Painted Bird by Jerzy Kosinski. A remarkable book about a Gypsy boy’s travels and travails in Eastern Europe during the Holocaust, based upon Kosinski’s own life story. A remarkably brutal book.
The Third Reich by Roberto Bolaño. About the ways people confront (or confronted, it was written and it is set in 1980s Spain) the lingering presence or (non)presence of Nazism in European culture. It’s not quite in the stratosphere like 2666 and The Savage Detectives, but is still very good.
Jonah Man by Christopher Narozny. A very solid first novel about murder, drugs, and the intrigue of 1920s vaudeville performers. It comes out in May. I will be reviewing it.
In Our Time by Ernest Hemingway. A rereading of this classic after hearing George Saunders and Robert Stone talk about it at the Key West Literary Seminar.
The Snows of Kilimanjaro and Other Stories by Ernest Hemingway.
The Sojourn by Andrew Krivak.
Stay Awake by Dan Chaon.