Check out this interview of me that’s new on Midwestern Gothic today! Thanks so much to Sydney Cohen for her great questions about writing novels, the geo-political landscape of race relations in the Midwest, and some other themes from Kings of Broken Things that I feel like are often overlooked, like how the female condition and the ideal of youth are addressed in the novel.
SC: What interests you specifically about the geographical-political intersection of race relations in the Midwest? How does Omaha in 1919 contradict or reinforce your personal relationship with and ideas about the city?
TW: It surprises a lot of people to learn that Omaha has a long history of race troubles, including efforts to drive out Irish and Greek populations that go back to the city’s founding, through several riots in the 1960s and continuing issues with police and lack of economic opportunity today in the traditional African-American neighborhoods on the north side. It’s no secret that Omaha has been the most dangerous city to be black over the last decade, but it’s not something to be talked about in polite company here, and Omaha doesn’t have enough national prominence to matter on a bigger scale. These pervasive, macro issues don’t get a lot of play unless a riot breaks out.
As far as personal relationship with the city and these issues, it goes back to the idea of being complicit in the system. Though I’m not a bad person, you can trust me, I do enjoy my privilege and the spoils that go along with that. A lot of my interest while writing the book—beyond learning the history itself in a deep, meaningful way—was the idea that many people who live in Omaha now have a family connection to the race riot in 1919, whether they’re aware of it or not. This suspicion has borne out in these two months since Kings of Broken Things was released, as there’s usually somebody who steps forward at the end of an event to tell me about their uncle or great-grandparent who participated in the riot in some capacity. Not that I’m walking around the city staring at people and wondering what their ancestors were up to in 1919. Well, I guess that’s kind of what I have been doing after all.
Check out this interview about my new book and a range of other topics that Creighton MFA alumna Meredith Allison Lea was kind enough to post on her blog this evening!
3) What challenges did you face writing not only historical fiction, but also about this topic in particular?
Depicting the riot was the biggest challenge, on craft and personal levels. In a practical sense, it was difficult to write a series of scenes that depicts an over 10,000-person riot that took place over twelve hours and nearly destroyed downtown Omaha, with the struggle being to let the riot be as big as it was without swallowing up the book’s characters in the process. I like to think about telling a story as building a house, and the ending should be contained within the structure without blowing the roof off. Just by its nature, the riot kept blowing the roof off the house I was trying to build in the rest of the book.
With pub day for Kings of Broken Things rapidly approaching (tomorrow!) a few more interviews and reviews should be coming out this week–including this Q&A I did with the Omaha Public Library for their blog.
Thanks to librarian Erin Duerr for the great questions and for helping to promote my book!
OPL: Kings of Broken Things is set during the Omaha Race Riot of 1919. What drew you to this time in Omaha’s history?
TW: For the last 10 years, I’ve worked as a reporter for a news service and covered a beat at the Douglas County courthouse, which, of course, was the site of the race riot and lynching. I’d first heard of the riot when I was in fourth grade, growing up in Lincoln, and it has stuck in my mind ever since. Spending so much time at the courthouse, it was something I thought about almost every day while walking the halls, stairs, and surrounding neighborhood. Beyond that, it was such a chaotic and inventive age, notably in art, technology, and transportation. The grief over World War I was experienced over this backdrop in such an expansive way–this notion of the “war to end all wars,” that it was so abominable that it couldn’t be repeated. This feeling was echoed in Omaha after the lynching of Will Brown, by the way, that the tragedy would spur society to improve and never repeat its mistakes. Given that context, it’s troubling to think that the U.S. has been at war my entire adult life. Following World War I, you see a lot of intense examination of the psychic damage war causes. These similarities in the art and culture of the era are attractive to me and my art, and the time is still recognizably Modern in other ways too. Like most historical fiction, it’s a convenient way to think about our own times.
The Lincoln Journal-Star has quite a lot of coverage on my new novel Kings of Broken Things on the front of its (402) lifestyle section this Sunday, with a book review and an interview. Be sure to pick up a copy of the paper if you’re in the Lincoln area and check out for yourself the two photos of my giant head. (May not be to scale.)
Thanks so much to features editor Jeff Korbelik for interviewing me, and Andrew Willis for his well-considered review. I especially like how the review mentions that Kings of Broken Things briefly features a Nebraska-Notre Dame football game from 1918, when Knute Rockne brought his Irishmen to Lincoln for a Thanksgiving Day game and my character Jake Strauss was in the crowd.
Be sure to check out the interview and I’ll post a link to the review if it goes online. In the meantime, here’s a little taste:
Theodore Wheeler’s nearly 10-year journey ends Tuesday when publisher Little A releases the Omaha author’s first novel, “Kings of Broken Things.” Wheeler, 35, admitted he’s anxious, having spent seven to eight years writing the book and another year and half to two years working through the publishing process. “I have a 9-year-old daughter, so when I started working on it she was still a baby and now she’s going to fourth grade,” Wheeler said in a phone interview to discuss the novel’s release. “It kind of puts it in a little more perspective.”
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.
Check 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.
Somehow I missed when this essay was posted in September, but it seems so much more appropriate to post here on the eve of Election Day anyway–an essay on the relation of politics and art within my work. So please finds my contribution–“About Writing and Politics in Six Parts”–in Schlossghost #1, a year book for the 2014-16 fellows of Akademie Schloss Solitude.
The essay is a response to two questions posed by the editors of Schlossghost, Paula Kohlmann and Clara Herrmann. “Would you say that your (artistic) practice is political? If so, how would you describe its political dimension?”
Find the whole response at the link above, and here’s a sample for now:
In May, earlier this year, I covered a Donald Trump rally that took place in an aircraft hangar near the Omaha airport. At first I was a little worried about even going, as there had been quite a bit of violence at Trump rallies the month before and I wasn’t sure if I wanted to be a party to all that ugliness. But, on the other hand, of course I did. That’s a big part of my job description, the part of the job I like, to be witness to these things.
The rally itself was mostly dull. Trump spoke for a long time about Japanese tariffs without much insight, and the biggest part of his speech was a 20-minute anecdote about this time he handed out trophies at a charity golf tournament. During the rally a few protestors were thrown out. His supporters for the most part looked bored throughout, except at the beginning and end, when his helicopter landed and when they could chant »build that wall.«
I wondered about my feelings of disappointment after the rally. What was I expecting? Wasn’t xenophobia on display enough? Were the protestors dragged out too peacefully? Or did I miss something, the feeling of the event, the undercurrent? Did I feel the way I did because I wasn’t in the crowd? I sat up in the press section – a platform with tables where journalists were corralled behind a fence. By accident I sat between a Fox News anchor and his producer, to comic effect. Seeing their frustration with having to follow Donald Trump made me a little grateful for my obscure lot, for not having to spend all day working a story and then being told to reduce it to a ten-second clip of a long-haired young man shouting »fuck you« at the police.
Check 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.
Hear below–me reading from my new chapbook On the River, Down Where They Found Willy Brown on the Platte River Sampler radio show (KZUM, 89.3 in Lincoln, Nebraska) and being interviewed by host Phil Schupbach. This was a lot of fun and turned out pretty well, I’d say. Thanks so much to Phil and KZUM for having me.