“Attend the Way” Digitized on Heavy Feather

Published back in 2015 in a print version of Heavy Feather Review, my story “Attend the Way” is now part of their digital archives. Check it out here!

This has always been one of my favorite stories, as it was from a prolonged period when I was dreaming and writing about what our neighborhood in Omaha (near Dewey Park) would have been like 20 to 30 years before we lived there. My car died around then, so I spent a lot of time walking back and forth between home and Creighton, or home and the Douglas County courthouse, for work, which meant I spent a lot of time talking to guys hanging out on street corners and on the steps of rooming houses. As a young writer, meeting folks who ended up in less-than-best circumstances was gold. Midtown was still pretty rough then. It was great.

His room at the Kellogg has a big window, which is what he watches after work now, the downtown buildings reflecting the last light of sunset. And then he watches the fluorescent lights of the offices as they pop on after a while. It’s a drowsy sort of happiness this gives him.

Later in the morning he sits outside on the edge of a flower box and waits to be picked up and taken to where he will work for the day. Rodney has mowed for the city a long time, fifteen years or more. The man Rodney works with has learned a lot about him over the years, but even he doesn’t know Rodney’s mother was a white lady, that she came from Hastings and moved east to work for Mutual of Omaha in the fifties. She held more than a few jobs for them, over three decades, all clerical stuff before there were computers on every desk. Rodney’s father worked at Mutual too, that’s how they met. He was a custodian. They lived together for a few years in the Leavenworth neighborhood. It wasn’t such a great place to live, just as the Kellogg isn’t now, because there were junkies on the sidewalks and slumlords let most of the houses go to shit. But the people who lived there would let you be. They wouldn’t hassle you for doing things differently than most folks wanted you to. Rodney knew this, he understood it well.

His father left their midtown house when Rodney was thirteen years old, but he came back to visit most weekends, even when his life was running short, living alone by then in some innavigable parcel of land north of Cuming, south of Ames, east of 40th, west of the river. The man died and was buried during the three years Rodney was away in the army. Rodney could have had a furlough to return for the funeral, if he’d requested one, but he didn’t. His mother had moved back to Hastings by that time too, since he was in the military and she’d retired early. She was fifteen years older than Rodney’s father, and she worked a long time even after she retired from Mutual, simple stuff she was used to doing with insurance forms, for a while at the hospital in Hastings, a few years after that for a shyster lawyer.

Rodney wished someone would have been there to meet him when he came back from the army, but it wasn’t a big deal. In those days men still had to drive up from base after serving, which was from Arkansas in his case. He rode with a few guys he knew that were heading his way, one other from Omaha and a couple from Sioux City who had the car. They stopped at the dog track in Council Bluffs because the two with the car wanted to gamble. The family of the other guy from Omaha was waiting outside, and he wanted to give Rodney a ride.

“C’mon, buddy. Get in the car,” the man said, but Rodney shook his head and jogged after the two from Sioux City who were entering the track. “I’ll find a ride,” Rodney yelled back. “I’m going to bet some.”

Rodney did like to watch the greyhounds run and that’s what he did for a few hours, even after the guys with the car decided to head on. He sat inside the smoke-dense building with a smattering of others, men bent over the seats to study the odds. Rodney distracted himself by watching the greyhounds pound the earth on the other side of the glass, those long, graceful dogs chasing a mechanical rabbit along the rail. They went around the track and then back into a box.

He hadn’t thought about it in real terms until then, that his father was dead. It made him sad that his dad died young—he didn’t even know what had done it. Rodney wondered if he was a man then, since he no longer had a father.

During an intermission he walked out of the building and across the parking lot, jumped a fence near the interstate, and jogged across the bridge to Omaha. He was in fatigues still, a rucksack sagged over his shoulder. Rodney couldn’t keep his breath running over the bridge and had to stop every so often to look down at the river, as if he were lost in a strange country, a new man in a lonely and desolate place.

 

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Emerging Writers Network Interview

Just when I thought I was out, they pull me back in. Check out this latest interview about my story collection Bad Faith that was posted today on the Emerging Writers Network!

EWN: Where do short stories fit within your life as a reader?

TW: I enjoy magazine or journal short stories as sorts of beautiful found objects. My house is often littered with magazines and books that come in the mail, and it’s a certain pleasure to pick up an object and read a short story inside without knowing what the story is about or even who the author is most of the time. My reading list is often crowded and probably too carefully curated, so that sense of surprise and wonder that comes from spontaneously jumping into something new is often lacking. Short stories, particularly stand-alone stories, fill this need in my life as a reader.

Tethered by Letters Author Q&A

c77vnhlwkaqyaiiCheck out this new interview that features my thoughts on writing, publishing, and MFA programs over at the Tethered by Letters Author Q&A Series!

I’m ecstatic to be featured on the page, as the TbL Q&A Series is a great resource for writers, both beginning and established. It’s well-worth your time to check out the archives, including interviews with Maggie Smith, Dana Gioia,  Sandra Marchetti, Karen Craigo, and Saleh Saterstrom. The Q&As are heavy on the process of becoming an established writer and are great for writing students.

Thanks so much to Tethered by Letters for including my responses, and for Amanda DeNatale for conducting the interview.

Here’s an excerpt:

Probably like most writers, I’ve always had an inescapable urge to tell stories. Some of my earliest memories are of using a George Washington paper-doll my mom made to recreate scenes from a Time-Life series of American history books we had in the house, and I was writing some of these stories down by the time I started elementary school. That’s not a career event, of course, but where things started. For most of my childhood I planned on being either a sports writer for a newspaper or a comic book writer for Marvel when I grew up. What I do now isn’t too far off from that—my day job is as a reporter (but on civil law and politics, not sports) and I write literary fiction instead of super hero comics. Most of my life has been following an impulse to write, which led to different jobs and styles that allow me to keep going in ways that are fulfilling. I don’t think there was ever an epiphany, more just doing what has kept me engaged and happy.

Imaginary Gardens Reading Series in April

Fyi, I’ll reading from Bad Faith at the Imaginary Gardens Reading Series on Tuesday, April 18 at 7pm, with poet Katie Berger. Put on monthly by Michael Skau at Mister Toad’s downtown pub, the series is in its third year. Originally a poetry series, Imaginary Gardens recently opened its doors to prose writers, and I’m certainly excited they did.

This will be my last event to promote Bad Faith before setting my sights on the August 1 release for Kings of Broken Things. Since I’ve already done a few readings in Omaha from the collection, I’ll try something new for this event, I promise.

On a more personal note, the writers group I’m in meets periodically at Mister Toad, so it will be fun to read my work in the space. Their back room is a great space to hang out and read. Usually that’s done quietly, but reading aloud will be fun too!

The event is free and open to the public.

Imaginary Gardens Reading Series
Tue April 18, 7pm
Mister Toad, 1002 Howard St, Omaha

New Stories from the Midwest 2016 is Now Available!

51cxgh58lol-_sx326_bo1204203200_Have an Amazon gift card leftover from Christmas laying around? Looking for a fiction anthology to assign to your students for the spring semester? Lately been wondering what the best fiction to come out of the Midwest looks like?

Well, wonder no more, get your copy of New Stories from the Midwest 2016 now!

In addition to my story “On a Train from the Place Called Valentine” (which originally appeared in Boulevard magazine) the anthology features stories from acclaimed authors such as Charles Baxter, Stuart Dybek, Joyce Carol Oates, Laura Van Den Berg, and Christine Sneed. It’s an impressive lineup.

Thanks so much to series editors Jason Lee Brown and Shanie Latham, and guest editor Lee Martin, for putting together such an amazing anthology, and New American Press for seeing it to print. You’ve all done the region proud!

New Stories from the Midwest is an anthology series that presents the best literary writing published in the Midwest during the most recent two-year period. The editors select from a large pool of stories gathered from distinguished journals and magazines like Cincinnati Review, Glimmer Train, Hobart, Mid-American Review, Narrative Magazine, Ploughshares, Tin House, and dozens more. Writers featured in the 2016 volume include such luminaries as Charles Baxter, Peter Ho Davies, and Joyce Carol Oates, as well as new voices and rising stars such as Laura Van Den Berg and Rebecca Makkai. Be sure to watch for New Poetry from the Midwest as well!

Bad Faith Reassessed for The Story Prize Blog

wheeler-badCheck out my guest blog piece posted today on the blog of The Story Prize: “On Writing Stories from Inside Trump’s America (Before It Was).”

The Story Prize is the biggest book award for short story collections in the US, awarding a $20,000 bounty to an author each spring. In addition, they also open up their blog for authors of new short story collections to write a post about their books or an aspect of their practice, which is where I come into the picture.

Thanks so much to Larry Dark, Director of the prize, for inviting me to write something and for putting up my short essay. Here’s a sample:

Going off my friend’s suggestion, I began to think about who fit into what electoral bucket. Certainly the crotchety Harry Kleinhardt of my opening story, a man who’s forced to face his disappointment of a son while dying from cancer, who spends his afternoons sunning himself in the mudroom listening to Limbaugh and reminisces about how bright life once was, at least before it all went to shit. There’s one vanguard of Trump’s America. Then there’s Anna from “Impertinent, Triumphant,” who met her politician husband while both were congressional interns for Kit Bond, the former Republican Senator from Missouri. It’s easy to see how Anna would coalesce behind the Trump campaign. While not a “build that wall” kind of gal, she wouldn’t be opposed to chanting “lock her up” if others were doing so, say, on the floor of the Republican National Convention, exchanging a loftier political ideal or two in order to take a pantsuit-wearing liberal down a peg.

But there’s some noise in the populous of Bad Faith—as with anywhere, the distance between perception and reality isn’t so clear. Sam and Jacq, also from “Impertinent,” a former travel entrepreneur and an experimental landscape artist, leave Manhattan to settle on a ranch near the Sandhills. And what about the biracial man from Omaha who has to face his fear of being an outsider in a small town (and being exposed to small town police) to attend the funeral of his estranged white mother?

The Uninitiated’s Very Early 2017 Holiday Shopping Guide

Getting an early start on your 2017 holiday shopping list? Lucky for you, my novel Kings of Broken Things is now available for pre-order on Amazon at 25-40% off! The book really will make the perfect gift for family, friends, spouses, speed-daters, and any other folks you might become close with over the next thirteen months. Whether you’re celebrating Christmas or Hanukkah or X-Mas, or even Labor Day or Veterans Day or National Model Railroad Month–Kings of Broken Things will make the perfect gift for that special someone (or hobby enthusiast) in your life.

And if for some reason your didn’t finish shopping for the 2016 season yet, there are still copies of Bad Faith for sale too! BUY NOW!!!

Bad Faith Reviewed on Ploughshares Blog

bad-faith_wheelerCheck out this great new review that was posted today on the Ploughshares blog!

Thanks to Denton Loving for his well-considered and spot-on review, and to Ploughshares for publishing it on their blog. (Btw, Ploughshares is currently looking to hire their regular bloggers for 2017. It’s a paid gig!)

Click on over to Ploughshares to read the whole review. Here’s a sample:

One character points out that the Romans believed whoever summoned the Furies “also ended up getting fucked over in the end.” No character in Bad Faith exemplifies that better that Aaron Kleinhardt. A series of heart-in-your-throat moments lead to a startling confrontation when Aaron becomes entangled with Amy, a young woman almost as confused and lonely as Aaron has been.

By anchoring his collection around Aaron Kleinhardt, Wheeler creates subtle connections. The stories feel linked in an understated but solid way, creating a canvas with more depth than any one short story alone could give. Wheeler’s characters are people we know. They are the people who have failed us, as well as the people we have failed. His stories are reminders that few things in this world are completely random. Not luck or grace or pain or violence. Certainly not death or karmic justice.

In the Contributor Spotlight with Midwestern Gothic

issue12Check out a new interview posted today on Midwestern Gothic, as I talk with Allison Reck about vulnerability, Bad Faith, and finding voice among a diverse cast of characters, along with my thoughts on napping and what is an appropriate time to eat supper on the weekend.

Friends of the blog may recall that my story “The Mercy Killing of Harry Kleinhardt” (the opening story in Bad Faith) was published in Midwestern Gothic 8 back in the winter of 2013. At the time I was also featured in their Contributor Spotlight, which makes for an interesting comparison with the latest interview. (It’s particularly funny that when asked what literary figure I would like to meet (living or dead) that I responded with George Saunders–as I had actually met George Saunders before. Maybe I forgot that I’d bumped into him at the Key West Literary Seminar in 2012–or maybe it was that our conversation then was limited to whether or not the pasta salad looked edible–but somehow that must have slipped my mind.) Thanks so much to Allison Reck for conducting the interview, and Midwestern Gothic for posting it.

Read the entire interview here, but in the meantime, here’s a highlight:

AR: In the advanced praise for Bad Faith, fellow authors hailed you for your “nuanced understanding of human nature” and said that your stories revealed the “malice, confusion, and ultimate frailty of us all.” Do you agree with this commentary, that your collection exposes humanity as confused, malicious and frail? What did you hope to convey about humanity in writing these stories?

TW: I didn’t really intend to write a mean-spirited book, and I don’t think it is. There’s something really compelling to me about vulnerability, particular those who are willfully exposed and those who try to cover up weakness by being cruel to others. There are a few malicious characters in Bad Faith — notably Aaron Kleinhardt, a criminal element who appears in two stories and seven between-story vignettes — but for the most part these are people who are vulnerable and different, but not really that interested in covering up their frailty.