“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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A Few Updates, Plus Photos from the Durham Museum

SAMSUNG CSCHey, loyal readers. I hope you’re doing well. Things have been busy here around the Wheeler homestead, what with a few more readings to promote Kings of Broken Things, I spoke with Mary Hartnett on Siouxland Public Radio about Tom Dennison’s legacy in Omaha, saw Kings named as having one of the best book covers of the year by Book Riot, and most recently appeared on the Writing Fun YouTube channel to talk about the process of writing historical fiction and whether or not I’m into the MLB post-season even though the Royals didn’t make it this year. (Meh.) Along with teaching fiction writing at UNO again this fall, starting Dundee Book Company, and that whole full-time job and family thing, I’ve been busy.

A couple more things.

First, I’d like to point out that the hardcover edition of Kings of Broken Things is now 49% off at Amazon. I know many of you already have the book, but if you don’t yet have a copy, or don’t yet have the beautiful hardcover version, and have been waiting for the price to drop online, here you go.

Lastly, Carrie Meyer from the Durham Museum was kind enough to send along some images from our awesome Objects of Inspiration event at the museum a few weeks ago with my fellow Omaha historical novelists Timothy Schaffert and Andrew Hilleman. It was such a fun event, made even more special by the select artifacts that Carrie had pulled from the Durham’s archive. Specifically related to Kings, there was a WWI-era doughboy uniform and an amazing zither. See below for the full gallery. (All photos were taken by Dawn Myron and appear courtesy of the Durham Museum.)

Now we’re all caught up.

Kings Under the LJS Microscope

wheeler ljsThe 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.”

“Folding Nebraska into fiction” from the OWH

58e8eeebf4180-imageCheck out this article from last month in the Omaha World-Herald by Micah Mertes that explores how Nebraska has been used as a setting by contemporary novelists.

The article focuses mostly on Dan Chaon and his new book, with some choice quotes from Stephen King, Jonis Agee, Timothy Schaffert, Rainbow Rowell, and a hot young new-comer named Wheeler with a new novel coming out this summer. It’s a fun article, and an honor to have my thoughts included with the titans above.

Here’s the full article if you’re interested, and a quote for now:

Depending on the writer’s aim, that emptiness can yield horror, despair or loneliness. It can yield solitude, serenity, God. It can yield mystery.

“And mystery,” said Omaha author Theodore Wheeler, “is what drives almost all fiction in one way or another. Every story needs something to solve, I guess.”

Wheeler’s next novel will explore a different kind of the unknown, and one closer to home: the immigrant culture of Omaha in the 1910s. “Kings of Broken Things,” on sale Aug. 1, casts fictional characters amid precise historical detail and real-life events — like the Omaha race riot of 1919.

Kings of Broken Things Cover Reveal!!!

I’m so excited to share with you the front cover of my new novel Kings of Broken Things, out from Little A on August 1!wheeler-kings-of-broken-things-final-front-cover

The cover turned out so well, I couldn’t be more pleased and excited to share the book with you all this summer. Thanks are due to Christina Chung, who did the illustration, and Vivian Lee, my editor at Little A, who painstakingly worked through many versions until this was just right. Their hard work paid off big time, in my opinion. What do you all think?

The book is now available for pre-order in hardcover, paperback, Kindle, and audio editions. The audio edition is a new addition, for all you road warriors and commuters out there. If you’re so inclined, put in your order now and have the book arrive on August 1.

 

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?

About Writing and Politics in Six Parts

1-4-00-courtesy-of-the-durham-museum-600x491Somehow 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.

Three Omaha Writers with New Books

Before I get too carried away with my own book launch next month, I wanted to take the time to wish a happy book birthday to Liz Kay and her debut novel Monsters: a Love Story. HBBD, Liz! While we’re at it, be sure to check out these two Nebraska-set historical novels that are now in pre-order–the latest from the much-beloved Jonis Agee and the debut offering from my Creighton MA compatriot Andrew Hilleman.

Monsters: a Love Story by Liz Kay (Putnam’s, 368 pgs. Out now!)

“A cracklingly funny and poignant debut novel about the ways we love, even when we’re not at our best. Since her husband died eight months ago, Stacey Lane’s been a certified mess—a poet who can’t write anymore, a good mother who feels like she’s failing her kids. She’s been trying to redefine herself, to find new boundaries. Tommy has no respect for boundaries. A surprisingly well-read A-list Hollywood star, Tommy’s fallen in love with Stacey’s novel-in-verse, a feminist reimagining of Frankenstein, no less. His passion for the book, and eventually its author, will set their lives on a collision course. They’ll make a movie, make each other crazy, and make love—but only in secret. As Stacey travels between her humdrum life in the suburbs of Omaha and the glamorous but fleeting escape Tommy offers, what begins as a distracting affair starts to pick up weight. It’s a weight that unbalances Stacey’s already unsteady life, but offers new depth to Tommy’s. About desire, love, grief, parenthood, sexual politics, and gender, Monsters: A Love Story is a witty portrait of a relationship gone off the rails, and two people who are made for each other—even if they’re not so sure they see it that way.”

The Bones of Paradise by Jonis Agee (William Morrow, 432 pgs. Aug 2, 2016.)

“Ten years after the Seventh Cavalry massacred more than two hundred Lakota men, women, and children at Wounded Knee, J.B. Bennett, a white rancher, and Star, a young Native American woman, are murdered in a remote meadow on J.B.’s land. The deaths bring together the scattered members of the Bennett family: J.B.’s cunning and hard father, Drum; his estranged wife, Dulcinea; and his teenage sons, Cullen and Hayward. As the mystery of these twin deaths unfolds, the history of the dysfunctional Bennetts and their damning secrets is revealed, exposing the conflicted heart of a nation caught between past and future. A kaleidoscopic portrait of misfits, schemers, chancers, and dreamers, Jonis Agee’s bold novel is a panorama of America at the dawn of a new century. A beautiful evocation of this magnificent, blood-soaked land—its sweeping prairies, seas of golden grass, and sandy hills, all at the mercy of two unpredictable and terrifying forces, weather and lawlessness—and the durable men and women who dared to tame it.”

World, Chase Me Down by Andrew Hilleman (Penguin, 287 pgs. Jan. 24, 2017.)

“A rousing, suspenseful debut novel—True Grit meets Catch Me If You Can—based on the forgotten true story of a Robin Hood of the American frontier who pulls off the first successful kidnapping for ransom in U.S. history. Once the most wanted man in America, Pat Crowe is a forgotten folk hero who captivated the nation as an outlaw for economic justice. World, Chase Me Down resurrects him, telling the electrifying story of the first great crime of the last century: how in 1900 the out-of-work former butcher kidnapped the teenage son of Omaha’s wealthiest meatpacking tycoon for a ransom of $25,000 in gold, and then burgled, safe-cracked, and bond-jumped his way across the country and beyond, inciting a manhunt that was dubbed ‘the thrill of the nation’ and a showdown in the court of public opinion between the haves and have-nots—all the while plotting a return to the woman he never stopped loving. As if channeling Mark Twain and Charles Portis, Andrew Hilleman has given us a character who is bawdy and soulful, grizzled, salty, and hard-drinking, and with a voice as unforgettable as that of Lucy Marsden in Alan Gurganus’s Oldest Living Confederate Widow Tells All—an anti-hero you can’t help rooting for.