Leaving Europe, Coming Home

From inside the Wiener Riesenrad, the giant wheel in the Prater.
From inside the Wiener Riesenrad, the giant wheel in the Prater.

This post has been sitting in post-op for quite a while but I’d still like to make a few points and share a bunch of photos from my last few weeks in Europe this summer. I’ve been back in Nebraska, more or less, since the end of August and have been kept busy readjusting, recovering, and trying to make up for lost time with the girls. So the blogging has been neglected. Hopefully nobody is too crushed by this fact.

My three months at Solitude served me and my body of work very well. Quantitatively, I wrote a whole new novel from beginning to end, sans a few scenes that didn’t quite take off that I’ll get to soon; conceived of and planned out a multimedia project and presentation (more on this in the coming months) that will illustrate a lot of the research and creative process that went into writing my first novel, the historically-set The Uninitiated; yet another small revision of The Uninitiated before sending it off to agents; and one new short story.

Thinking about these things numerically isn’t usually the best, but I think the work is pretty good too. I’m really excited about the new novel–called Safe Haven, for now, or maybe From the Files of the Chief Inspector. It’s kind of crazy thinking about how it took three years to finish a draft of my first novel (with rewrites coming in each of the two subsequent years to get to a draft that I feel is more-or-less done) and that a first draft of the second novel pretty much took about five and a half weeks to get down. The book isn’t quite done, so hopefully I’m not jinxing myself, but it’s interesting to look at the differences of the two projects. The second book is set in in 2008, so obviously there’s a big difference in the amount of time demanded by research. Also, I had a much clearer idea about what the second book would be about and how I’d structure its different parts, which is probably the biggest change. Anyway, now that the first draft is nearing completion, I’m excited to get onto the 1-10 years of revising before it’s ready to let anyone else actually see it.

From the Files of the Chief Inspector, or, Safe Haven, or, More Work, a novel.
From the Files of the Chief Inspector, or, Safe Haven, or, More Work, a novel.

Just a teaser, a literary crime novel, the book features love stories set in the context of a post-9/11 domestic spying campaign. If you’ve followed this blog for a while and are familiar with my reading obsessions the past few years (Bolaño, D. Johnson, U. Johnson) then you probably could approximate the tone and style of this new project. It’s been fun to write, I’ll say that.

Thanks so much to Mr. Joly, Silke, Marieanne, Claudia, Lu, Clara, Lotte, Sophie, Maria, the other fellows, and everyone else at Akademie Schloss Solitude for their assistance and support during my residency. Solitude is an amazing place made so much more so by the people there.

My final few weeks allowed for just a little more travel in Europe. After taking longer trips to Amman, Italy, and Paris (x2) I decided to keep my last few cities decidedly Germanic, sneaking in a few days in Hamburg, Berlin, and Vienna. Rushing through these cities didn’t do them any kind of justice, but a taste is better than nothing.

I will say that the best Mexican food I had in Europe was at Tin Tan in the Mitte area of Berlin. There were some decent burrito stands in Paris, but Tin Tan was faraway the best. This turned into a running-joke by the time I left Germany, but I was really craving good Mexican food so much. I like paprika and pimento peppers as much as the next guy–probably more–but it wasn’t so easy to go on without a steady supply of chili peppers. (I had plenty of Döner, currywurst, and schnitzl too, don’t worry. Would have liked to live on crepes a few days, but that wasn’t really in the cards.)

Pretty much right after getting home to Nebraska we set off for the Pacific NW to celebrate the weddings of a couple friends. It was a great trip. More travel for the girls–planes, trains and boats this time. Daughter 1 was pretty appalled at how slow and low-tech Amtrak trains are, having worked her way up to a college sophomore level of pretentiousness about rail-travel after summering in Europe. Not everything is the TGV, honey.

While I was definitely not in the mood to spend more time on an airplane at this point, it was great to catch up with so many old friends during my homecoming weekend.

In fact, I was pretty much awed by the reception I received in returning. From Nicole and the girls and the extended family, to the writers at Creighton, even to the security guards at the courthouses I cover for work. People are nice. It was really quite touching, like I’m George Bailey or something.

After that, October saw three trips to Kansas City to following the Royals on their historic run to the World Series. In all, I saw the madcap, 12-inning Wild Card game victory over the Oakland A’s with my brother, drove down for the ALCS rainout with Nicole, and parlayed what we sold the ALCS rainout tickets for into two seats for Game 2 of the World Series against San Francisco. What a crazy run.

A bunch of photos:

A/V Club: The Electric Kool-Aid No-No

With MLB entering the stretch run, I’d thought about doing a post on the Royals and what it means to be in a playoff run for the first time in ten years, but decided against it. (Mostly I just pester my wife with my Royals-related musings.)

Instead, here’s something a little more fun: an incredibly entertaining animated short about Dock Ellis throwing a no-hitter while on LSD. I’d never even heard of this before. Whether it’s completely true or not, this still makes for a great story. Big thanks to Brenden McGinn for bringing this to my attention. Enjoy!

 

Summer in Review (2012)

It’s been quite a while since I last offered up a review of my activities. All the way back in April! A few things have gone down since then, such as…

-I finished a draft of my novel, The Uninitiated, that I’m very happy with and sent it off to agents for consideration. (Read here about the finishing.) So far I’ve heard back from two of my top five choices that were queried, with one passing and another asking for full manuscripts on both my novel and short story collection! Who knows if anything will come of this–as the one who requested the fulls did so despite not technically considering new clients at the moment–is that a good or bad thing?–but I’ll take good news when I can get it. We’ll be heading off to New York for a few days in October, and it would be nice if I had a couple meetings/interviews to add to the itinerary by then. We’ll see.

-Not a lot of travel over the summer months. A trip to Niobrara for a few days, a weekend in Kansas City for my mom’s graduation from seminary school and Clara’s first Royals game, a week of commuting to Lincoln for the Nebraska Summer Writers Conference. The fall should offer a bit more excitement. NYC, El Salvador. (!!!)

-I was tipped off recently that my story “Welcome Home” from Best New American Voices 2009 and Boulevard was taught at Southern Connecticut State University this fall. I know of three other colleges where the story has been taught–Penn, Drexel, and City College of San Francisco as part of a program for returning veterans–in addition to a high school in Illinois. This is so cool, and delights me to no end.

-My novel was also named a finalist for Tarcher/Penguin’s Tarcher Top Artist writing competition. I haven’t seen or heard anything about a winner being named, so I guess it still is a finalist.

-I left Prairie Schooner after four years plus of service. See post-mortems here and here.

-My book review of Shira Nayman’s A Mind of Winter can be found here, and of Roberto Bolaño’s The Third Reich here, or Richard Burgin’s Shadow Traffic and Ron Rash’s The Cove here. My review of Yannick Murphy’s The Call is in the current issue of Pleiades.

Sporting: As the final couple weeks of regular season major league baseball wind down, the KC Royals look to have a solid hold on third place in the AL Central division. They’re still pretty mediocre (owing to long stretches of horrible play in April and July) but at least haven’t been nearly as disappointing as the Indians and Twins have been for their fans. Or for Tigers’ fans, for that matter. That’s something, I guess. Life in the AL Central isn’t so much about winning games, it’s about being less miserable than your rivals.

Notre Dame is off to a rousing 3-0 start, their best on the gridiron since Ty Willingham’s 8-0 start in 2002. With a home game against Michigan tomorrow night, and with Stanford, @Oklahoma, and @USC still on the schedule, this team could still easily go into the tank. That being said, I’ll still predict an Irish victory over the Wolverines this weekend. I’d feel a little better if ND had a few mini-Ditkas on the team, but I’ll stick with my gut here. Notre Dame 87, Michigan 2.

Dispatch from The Uninitiated

“Fred was the one who found him face down in the creek, over on the other side of their claim. He drank horse cleaner. That’s how he did it. It must have hurt horribly. His eyes lost their pigment. Hair fell from his head. Fred came and got Jacob. He showed their father unmoving in the creek. They wrapped his body in a blanket and brought it to the barn. They didn’t dare bring it in the house. Neither said this, but they both understood. The body stayed in the barn until the Pfarrer came out with the J.P. to get it.”

Just Finished

The Wilding by Benjamin Percy. A readable and well-done book. Nice suspense. I really didn’t like the epilogue, although I pretty much never like epilogues. A good book, though, certainly.

Let the Great World Spin by Colum McCann. This book had been hyped so much before I read it that it couldn’t quite live up to everything I’d heard about it. It was good, but I think This Side of Brightness was better.

A Mind of Winter by Shira Nayman. A post-war mystery set mostly in Shanghai, Long Island, and London in the 1950s, A Mind of Winter offers plenty in the way of sex and drugs, mistaken identity, and ill-fated love affairs. These are characters who believe, explicitly or not, that the rules of society do not apply to them.

Train Dreams by Denis Johnson. A compelling novella about the life of a rambler and the struggle to tame Idaho in the early parts of the last century.

Now Reading

Tree of Smoke by Denis Johnson. Loving this so far. It’s been a long while since I had time to tackle a broad, long novel like this.

Up Next

The Dark Corner by Mark Powell. Not yet released, but I’m looking forward to it.

Three Questions for Adam Peterson About the Kansas City Royals

Lucky for all of you, fellow writer and baseball fan Adam Peterson and I decided to do a review of the KC Royals season–and in the ever-popular blog crossover format!

The Royals finished 71-91 on the year, which was good enough for 4th place in the perennially weak AL Central and a four game improvement over last year’s record. That’s not good, of course. But anyone who’s paid attention to baseball this year knows that the intrigue surrounding the Royals these days has little to do with their current record and nearly everything to do with the young players who look poised to lead a resurgence. We’ll see if KC can actually make the playoffs again in the next few years–which would be their first appearance since 1985, sadly–but there’s an excitement surrounding the team that we haven’t seen in quite a while. One, I felt, warranted the first ever sports post here on the site.

Below are three questions I asked, answered by Adam. On his site, Stock Photography Museum, you can find the three answers I provided to questions asked by Adam. Pretty simple.

Without further ado, here are a bunch of words about the Royals.

Adam Peterson is the co-editor of The Cupboard, a quarterly prose chapbook series. His series of short-shorts, My Untimely Death, is available from Subito Press, and his fiction can be found in Alaska Quarterly Review, Cincinnati Review, Indiana Review, The Southern Review, and elsewhere.

TW: On a scale from 2-70, how good has the Royals starting outfield been this year? There are all the doubles (136 combined), all the outfield assists (49!), the stolen bases (59), the consistency. They’re averaging a 20/20 hitter with plus defense, and all this from a group who came into the season without much in the way of positive expectations aside from Alex Gordon’s often mocked promise to “dominate.” One he followed through on, by the way. Personally, I would have thought it was more likely that all three of these guys would be playing in the minors or Japan by now than what we saw on the field. It seems improbable that Alex Gordon, Melky Cabrera, and Jeff Francouer will all be able to sustain their production after all three had career years this summer. Perhaps the better question, then, is which of the Royals outfielders will regress back to the mean next year, and by how much?

AP: Well, I think you did a pretty good job of illustrating exactly how good they were this year, Gordon especially who might (and certainly should) get some down-ballot MVP votes. Advanced stats have him being as valuable to the Royals as Melky and Francouer combined which is pretty remarkable when you think that both were also having career years. Now, if I can have my own Gordon-like moment of redemption, here’s what I wrote about him before this season started:

Here’s what I’ve been saying about Gordon recently: he’s either going to shock people or fall apart completely. And this is the season. I don’t think he’s going to be just average. There’s too much talent and too much that says his problems are mental. I think he either becomes a .280/.370/.500 guy or is somewhere in Nebraska hanging out with Eric Crouch next year. And, frankly, I still think he’s going to put it together. Yes, I know this is stupid, but I don’t care.

Well, well, well, look what wasn’t stupid. Alex’s line on the season was .303/.376/.502. Yes, I predicted Alex Gordon’s remarkable season to within .08 of his OPS (though, and I’ll take full responsibility for this stunning failure, his actual numbers were slightly more batting average driven. I’m sorry). I’m just kidding about my stunning prediction—well, not really, I feel pretty good about it—but what I didn’t predict would be the much lower offensive environment this season and how it makes Gordon’s numbers even better. Over on Royals Review they’re arguing that he put up the best season of a Royal since Beltran in 2003 which was itself the best season by a Royal since Brett in 1985. Yep. We should all be talking about this more: Alex Gordon is one of the best players in baseball. Finally. If I were him, I’d be screaming it at everyone in Kansas City. Hell, I’m not him and I’m still bragging about predicting his numbers.

Which I did. I totally did.

But next season is next season. I’m not worried about Gordon (except in getting him resigned). He may not be this good again, but he’s a player who could play a key role on a contending team and the Royals need to hold onto all of those they can get. Frenchie has already been locked up—for some reason—and I’m honestly okay with this. Nothing about his season seems like it couldn’t be repeated and there’s no one in the system that he’s blocking anyway. And hey, maybe he figured something out and will continue to walk a bit more and stay away from stupid pitches. (I have no confidence in this happening. I want to get him and Miguel Olivo in a room then lower a baseball from a ceiling to see which one swings at it first).

Melky is a different story. I want Lorenzo Cain. I love Lorenzo Cain. I love his name, his attitude, his scouting report, everything. Melky is the one outfielder most likely to regress and a smart GM would take this opportunity to sell high and try to get back some starting pitching. He’s a terrible defensive CF (despite the arm) and Kauffman stadium requires someone with some range out there. I don’t think he will be traded and Cain himself seems more likely to go (as does, gulp, Gordon). I hold no ill will towards Melky. He was great this year at the plate and that signing was by any accounts a brilliant one by GMDM, but he’s got to go.

Gordon, Cain, and even Francouer could be a part of a competing Royals ballclub in 2013 but Melky won’t be. The only way he resigns to the type of deal the team would want would be if he struggles and if he struggles, what would the point of having him on the team this year be when there’s a perfectly capable player at AAA? Hell, Dyson is a perfectly capable player at AAA too. Melky needs to go, and I have every reason to believe this won’t happen and instead he’s out there again next year only without the bat to justify his waddling defense.

TW: Should Steve Balboni be nervous about next year? (He holds the Royals single-season record with 36 home runs, in 1985, for those who don’t know.) I know you’re on record saying that Billy Butler is due to hit 30 some day, and there are three other guys I see as capable of hitting 30 or more homers—those being Gordon, Eric Hosmer, and Mike Moustakas. Is 2012 the year that the Great Balboni’s record falls? And, for bonus points, do more than one guy surpass Balboni’s total the year his 36 comes off the books as the Royals’ best?

AP: He should certainly be nervous, but I’ll go ahead and say that next year isn’t the year. You named the three players capable of breaking his record (and, yes, I’d optimistically add Billy to that list as a darkhorse candidate), but only Gordon seems particularly likely of making it happen next season. But I say he hits 31 and we’re all very happy.

That’s not to say Hosmer and Moustakas aren’t capable of doing it next year. I mean, Hosmer this year showed remarkable power when he came up, and I don’t think anyone was expecting so much so soon. Could he keep it going and shatter the record? Absolutely. Will he? I don’t think so. Something tells me that, while he’ll be great next year and solidify himself as a future star, he’s still going to have moments where he struggles and there’s a reason why this record, even though it’s pathetic, has lasted so long. Kauffman Stadium is just unforgiving on homeruns and while Hosmer will get his 36+ one season, I don’t think it’s next season. He still seems like Adrian Gonzalez 2.0 to me—though he certainly started faster—and just as Petco sapped Gonzalez’s power, I think the same think will happen to Hosmer. Still, Gonzalez managed to hit 36 or over twice there, and I’d expect the same from Hosmer.

Moustakas, actually, might have a better chance, as stupid as that is to think (and it is stupid and yet I do sort of think it). He’s all power, and is certainly capable of having one of those Hank Blalock-y kind of seasons where he hits .250 with few walks yet somehow ends up with 30 homeruns. You know, the sort of hitter Mike Jacobs was supposed to be. Let’s stop talking about this, actually. It’s making me sad.

To sum up: I think two of three will hit 36 homeruns someday while in a Royals uniform, but I don’t think any will do it next season.

TW: Of all the great rookie performance in 2011, which excited you the most? There’s a lot to choose from here. The game-changing, all-around play of Hosmer; Moustakas finally coming around to show the kind of hitter he is; Salvador Perez arriving a year early and looking like he’ll be an All-Star catcher sooner rather than later; the bullpen throwing fire, and showing great depth; the fact that Johnny Giavotella is not Chris Getz. A lot to choose from, a lot to like.

AP: Absolutely a lot to choose from but I’m just going to go ahead and ignore the bullpen. Not that they’re not great, just that, you know, they’re the bullpen. I’m certainly going to be happy to have them when this team is ready to compete, but I’m so concerned with the rotation that my enthusiasm for guys like Holland and Coleman and Tiny Tim Collins is a little bit tempered. It was, however, great to see Crow come up and perform. I have no idea what this means for his future—I’m not sure the Royals do either—but you’ve got to move him to rotation. I don’t even think it’s a discussion.

So Hosmer, obviously, excites me the most. One of the other smart things I said before the season was that Hosmer was our best prospect because guys like him never miss. And it’s true (it’s also what everyone was saying so I’m not going to take too much credit). I already threw out the Gonzalez 2.0 which is no faint praise no matter what people in Boston are currently thinking about him. Hosmer is good. He will likely be great. It would shock no one if he’s one of the best players in baseball as early as next season, and any reasonable observer should have him in the top-2 of his Rookie of the Year ballot. (Which he certainly has a shot at winning, but he’s not a sure thing given when he came up. A small part of me hopes he doesn’t win it for motivation/curse reasons, but he probably deserves it).

I’ve already talked about Moose, but I should say this: I’m not resigned to him being a .250/.300/.480 hitter, but I think it’s a distinct possibility. That’s still a useful player, especially if he can play a serviceable third base. But, unlike with Hosmer, I think there’s a real chance that line is in play and possibly even optimistic on both his on-base and slugging percentages. I think he can still put up great numbers and be a legitimate clean-up hitter, but next year is going to be telling. Can he make enough contact and can he walk enough to be a star? The jury is still out, obviously, but there are some question marks with him both offensively and defensively that there aren’t with Hosmer. If nothing else, it might just take him longer to get it figured out. I still want him to be Butler with power and the ability to play third. We’ll see. That potential hasn’t gone anywhere.

Perez? Who knows, honestly. Nobody thought he was going to perform like that offensively. The Royals love the kid and I sort of do too. I don’t expect him to hit nearly that well going forward, but if he’s even average, then he’s a great young player and can lead this team from behind the plate. I’m a fan. Future all-star? It’s possible though something tells me he’ll have problems standing out on this Royals team. If this were a bigger market? Absolutely in play.

Giavotella is really the hardest to predict. He certainly didn’t set the world on fire when he came up though, you’re right, not being Getz is its own special skill. I don’t think the Royals are very high on him, frankly, and it’s not hard to see why (though it does make me wonder what they thought they were getting when they took him in the 2nd round a few years back). I’m rooting for him, and there was certainly a time when I, like any fan, thought he could be Pedroia-lite but…I don’t know. He’s still a trainwreck defensively (though it does seem to be mental as much as anything) and offensively his skill set might be a tougher sell in the majors than it was in the minors (doubles power with a high batting average). Could he be a .300/.350/.420 hitter? Sure. I’m not holding my breath, however, and I think the Royals would love for Colon to step up and take over 2nd as soon as he’s ready (sadly, that doesn’t seem to any time soon).

And let me end by putting in a good word for Lorenzo Cain. I like Lorenzo Cain. The last and least smart thing I said in my Royals preview was this: He sounds like a guy who beat up a train. Like, in a folk song. Who wouldn’t want that on their team?

Don’t forget to check out the other part of this literary, Royals, TW, AP, crossover event here, at the Stock Photography Museum and blog. We both had a lot of fun putting this together, and hopefully a few of you enjoy it too.