I’ve been settling in after arriving for my fellowship at Akademie Schloss Solitude in Stuttgart.
Some things from the first week:
-First and foremost, they take their foosball very seriously here. If you’re going to step up to the futbol table, you better bring it.
-Lots of weddings at the castle. This is my sixth day here and I’ve spotted four brides so far–including two this morning. Besides all the art and music and interesting collaboration going on, this place would be a wedding crasher’s dream. Free champagne four times weekly! On the other hand, it seems like a lot of the wedding parties merely come here for pictures and have the reception elsewhere. So far, four brides, but only one beer delivery truck. Caveat emptor, wedding crashers.
-TSA took my toothpaste, so one of my first tasks in Germany was picking out a new tube of toothpaste. I probably should have made more of an effort to learn functional German. Seems to have worked out okay, on the toothpaste score at least. My teeth are intact, and only a little gritty.
-Really enjoying all the courtyard cafes. I’ve noticed a few biergarten, but haven’t stopped in yet. Mostly I’ve been getting by on bread rolls, salami, and granola bars. There’s lunch here for fellows during the week, which is something to take advantage of whenever possible. A bus runs right by the Akademie, but it’s kind of expensive to make a bunch of casual trips. Otherwise it’s at least a thirty minute hike down to the village supermarket. Maybe double that coming back, as Solitude sits at the top of a pretty heady incline. I get the feeling that not many of the other fellows are hiking as much as I’ve been, as I haven’t seen anyone else drenched in sweat all the time, huddled over with shin splints. Oh, well. With my spartan diet and all that hiking, hopefully I won’t be so doughy by the end of summer. Or I could act like a normal person and just take the bus.
-I haven’t done a ton of writing so far. One short story is drafted, a story I’ve been trying to write in some form or another for nearly a decade–I think I found the right form and voice this time around. That seems like good production for what’s been a pretty fraught week. Been doing a lot of thinking about the new novel I’m starting, while hiking, before and after napping. I’ve been reading a lot too, which usually precedes writing output. Anyway, nothing comes easy when mostly I’ve been moping around feeling bad about what an asshole I am for being here in the first place. It was very hard to leave home.
-I’m thinking of doing a little side trip, maybe next week. Friedrichshafen sounds nice. It’s the home of Zeppelin University, which I will repeatedly mispronounce as Led Zeppelin University. Imagine how different my life could have been if, when deciding on colleges while in high school, I’d known (mistakenly) there was a Led Zeppelin University. Anyway. Lake Constance is there. There’s a company that does Zeppelin elevations and rides. It’s pretty close and would be an easy way to test myself on the regional trains. I should do it, right?
No big news regarding the novel-writing at this point. I’ve been busy reworking the reworks. Tried half a dozen more ways to do the opening pages and feel like I’m getting closer on that. For a long time I leaned on having a sort of prologue opening, but decided to cut all but four pages of that, as it seemed to be more of a crutch for me as writer than anything that might interest a reader. Always a tricky business figuring out what actually needs to be on the page and what needed to be written for the writer only. Getting closer though.
There was some more tangible news related to The Uninitiated over the season though, as Boulevard published an excerpt of the novel in October, titled “River Ward, 1917.” This is the first bit of writing from the novel that’s been published, so definitely exciting news there.
Meanwhile, in December, another excerpt, “On the River, Down Where They Found Willy Brown,” brought home the Marianne Russo Award from the Key West Literary Seminar. Among the many benefits are free travel and lodging at this year’s seminar, the opportunity to read my work as part of the regular program at the seminar, and an 11-day stay in Key West. It will be sad to miss over a third of Nebraska’s January, but somehow I’ll soldier through.
These two things, along with a fellowship to Akademie Schloss Solitude, winning the Tarcher/Penguin Top Artist contest, a long-list notice in the Inkubate novel contest–all of which was based on work done for The Uninitiated–makes me hope I’m on the right track here.
“Tom thought it over as he paced the brick drive that led up to his house, two days after the vote. Bullet straight and tree-lined, the drive gave the impression of something fantastic as his house slipped into view, large and unreachable, a mirage. The house was wood-framed with finishes of granite at certain edges, the cellar and foundation limestone, highlights of plaster festoons above the front door. A few chimneys rose above beveled eaves. Off the second floor bedrooms were balconies as wide as the patios below, where a tiered-garden overlooked the industrial valley. There were pergolas holding grape vines, arbors abloom with creeping red ivy. Everything here was made for entertaining, for looking at, for admiring, but up close these spaces didn’t serve any purpose. This was an unpeopled luxury, a lonely glutton of riches in and of itself. If Tom was being honest, he had to admit this.
“Years before, an enemy left a bomb on the front doorstep. An ingenious design, the bomb, a simple wooden box with six sticks of dynamite and a pistol inside. A string was tacked to the porch and connected to the trigger of the pistol. If someone had lifted the box, his wife Ada or daughter Frances, the whole house would have been blasted clean off the earth, leaving only a rubbled crater. Frances found the box with a friend, and she told Tom about it. A smart girl, Frances didn’t touch the infernal device at all. Tom noticed the trip wire when she brought him to see. He had police dismantle the bomb. After that Tom closed the grounds. Bodyguards were kept outside around the clock. You had to be a close family friend, a known friend, if there was such a thing, or else you couldn’t get in. The bomb changed things. That’s when Tom put the machine gun across his lap in the car. That’s when everything here, all this bounty he’d won over the years, all of it, started being lonely.”
The 42nd Parallel by John Dos Passos. I’d always avoided the USA Trilogy for some reason. Dos Passos is so often only a foot-note to Hemingway among the great writers of the Lost Generation, although his novels are consistently lauded and canonized as well. I’d just never known anyone who actually read him, so there wasn’t much of a conversation to join, I guess. After reading this first third of the trilogy I can see why Dos Passos is still relevant. So much of his pro-labor and socialist message is probably lost to most contemporary readers–it’s similar to reading The Jungle at times–but the level of energy and innovation is very high here too. Very rich, poetic, and affecting.
The Rings of Saturn by W.G. Sebald. The way these conversational essays seem to be written more for effect–that your mind wanders with the flow of information, sometimes parallel to it, sometimes not–produces an interesting reading experience. I’d read about Sebald’s work a lot before I ever read it, so I kind of knew what to expect. At the same time, I’m still not really sure what to think.
The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford by Ron Hansen. Really enjoyed this. A lot more than I thought I would, frankly. I met Ron when he visited Creighton University this fall, which is what prompted me to finally pull this off my “To Read” book shelf. The psychological depth of the novel is pretty astounding. Plenty of shoot-outs and train robberies too, of course.
The Castle by Franz Kafka. A monster of an unfinished novel. I was compelled to read this after watching Michael Haneke’s film adaptation, and really enjoyed both quite a lot. The idea of reading an unfinished novel always intrigues me, particularly ones of this class that could just as accurately be called “unfinishable” novels. It isn’t so much that the plot line is incomplete, more that the story could never finish. It’s not like K.’s going to find some sort of victory in the end, or defeat for that matter. The novel follows his string of embarrassments and slight advancements and eventually stops as he reaches the end of his inertia. I kind of wondered if the novel wasn’t finished after all.
Hide Island by Richard Burgin. A review I wrote of this collection of short stories will be appearing in Prairie Schooner‘s Briefly Noted online book review, probably in February.
A Constellation of Vital Phenomena by Anthony Marra. This has been pretty engaging so far, although the writing sometimes comes off as haphazard, particularly when it comes to POV. Maybe haphazard isn’t the right word, superfluous?, but I often question some of the strategies Marra uses here to tell the story. A good book nonetheless. I can certainly see why it made so many Best of lists this year, mostly because of the story of an orphaned little girl and two eccentric doctors in war-torn Chechnya is so remarkable.
An American Tragedy by Theodore Dreiser. I’ve been reading this off and on for a few years now. I come across some criticism about Dreiser a while ago that lumped him into a group of American novelists who have novels regarded as classics (Dreiser has two, of course, with Sister Carrie also showing impressive staying power) even though the writing itself isn’t really all that remarkable. I’d tend to agree with the assessment. Nobody is going to confuse Dreiser with Hemingway or Fitzgerald, as far as style and form go, although the story of his novels really is so quintessentially American (for its time, place, and class) that it’s hard to dispute the status of his novels as classics. Steinbeck was the other novelists lumped into this category, which seems to fit as well.
Things slowed down as summer officially began. Not a lot of news fit to print. (Besides the KC Royals making an honest to God playoff run, that is. That 4% chance of making the post-season they’ve been nursing the past month or so has brought me a not small amount of joy.) [EDIT: We also won 7th place in Dole’s Taste of Spain sweepstakes, which includes a free Bag o’ Salad. So the winning streak continues.] A lot of this was by design to savor a couple things that will be in short supply next summer–cash and family time.
Inkubate did select the winners of their Literary Blockbuster Challenge. Although part of the long-list of finalists my work was not selected as one of the cash winners. Apparently they are sharing my work with a group of participating agents and editors, so there’s that.
I also finished the rewrite of my novel and am now hard at work in the revision of the rewrites. All in all I’d declare the multiple POV experiment a success. A main thread emerged through the character of Karel, a nine year-old boy when the novel begins. I’ve never done much with child characters in my work before–with a notable exception coming when “How to Die Young in a Nebraska Winter” was published in The Kenyon Review in 2011–and it’s turned out well.
An excerpt from The Uninitiated will appear as “River Ward, 1917” in Boulevardsoon, so keep an eye out for that.
Dispatch from The Uninitiated
“That night Karel turned on his lamp, just briefly, to take off his shoes and tuck them safely under the mattress. He was a bit drunk and didn’t feel like sleeping right away. At the same time he was too anxious of himself to join the boys at the loud end, so he sat for a while to think about his predicament. He wished that the feeling he created on the baseball diamond when he played ball followed with him once he made it home, but this couldn’t be so. There was too much weight in familiar places. The stuff about his mom he didn’t want to believe. What happened with Braun, the demise of SOSA; and not long after Jacob being ran out of town in disgrace, a thug, a thief, good riddance. And Anna. Karel could do nothing to change what had happened to Anna, and what would.
Instead he was in this dorming house, sitting on the quiet end with his lamp on. He annoyed those around him but they could roll over and grumble, for all he cared. They could order him to douse his lamp. He’d tell them to fuck off. Karel was sitting in the lamplight. That’s all. Something he never did. He’d never wanted to put off the others but he didn’t care now. The room looked strange to him, drunk, the way the shadows were victorious against the lamp in the corners, under beds, up in the airy loft above him when the rafters crossed each other. Sometimes the room reminded Karel of the time he’d visited Anna up at the state home. For she too slept in a long dormitory hall like this one. The two rows of beds. All girls there—as this was all boys—strangers to one another, which made them compatriots in a way. It was always lonely to fall asleep in a row of beds, particularly if you were bracketed by silent neighbors. If he couldn’t hear their breathing, Karel wondered if they’d died in the night, and remembered how it was when he’d shared a bed with his sister, how he fell asleep to her dainty snoring most nights, and the terror of waking up to silence in the middle of the night, Anna’s snoring stopped, and him to speculate why. Karel didn’t like to have a bed to himself, despite believing he did. He’d never slept alone before and wasn’t sure how to do it. He’d stay up late and stare into the rafters. He’d listen to the card players. This night he’d leave the light on.”
The Piano Teacher by Elfriede Jelinek, translated by Joachim Neugroschel. In preparation for my trip to a German arts organization next summer I’ve been acquainting myself a bit with the German-language canon, so as to not appear so much as a self-centered, hegemonic American jerk. The Piano Teacher was really great. I’m not sure that there’s anything so formally striking about it, but the close, close POV (even when split) was remarkably well done, and wonderfully hard to read at times, and the evocation of Vienna in the 1980s very engaging.
Speculations About Jakob by Uwe Johnson, translated by Ursule Molinaro. I’d never heard of this book before, but I’m grateful I came across it and picked it up. Originally published in German in 1959 (the English translation went public in the US in 1963) Johnson provides a striking panorama of what life was like in East Germany in the 1950s, at the time of the Hungarian Revolt–and, more importantly, what East Germans thought of West Germans and why not all East Germans dreamed of becoming refugees in the West. While the style of the narration–multiple, often overlapping points-of-view–can be challenging, the book is a masterpiece. Very highly recommended.
Amerikaby Franz Kafka, translated by Willa Muir. This unfinished novel is kind of known for being factually inaccurate–what? you didn’t know that the Statue of Liberty held a giant stone sword?–as Kafka never traveled to the United States and was kind of writing by the seat of his pants as far as research went. It’s still a pretty good novel, although not always very Kafkaesque, surprisingly. This being one of his earliest works, you can tell he was still feeling out his style by writing what is basically a pretty conventional travel story, at least in the beginning. Things get a lot weirder towards the end.
The Joke by Milan Kundera. It’s kind of interesting to read the so-called “lesser” works of such a well-known author, since it can be hard not to give the novel its own treatment, rather than reading everything through the lens (or in comparison) of The Unbearable Lightness of Being, in this case. So while The Joke is a very good book, I seemed to appreciate it less in the beginning because it wasn’t THE Kundera classic. That being said, The Joke offers its own pleasures. It’s a little deeper experience in some ways, more focused on single events and the ironies of the characters as their plots intertwine.
Eat the Document by Dana Spiotta. A finalist for the National Book Award, Spiotta’s 2006 novel is highly entertaining, and pretty spot on in its portrayal of activist and outsider culture in the United States, both in the 1970s and the early 2000s. I kind of cringed reading the sections set in 2003, remembering how some of my friends and I worked so hard to craft political consciousness through fashion. A lot of times I take issue with novels that try to depict aspects of my generation, particularly if they hit close to home, as everyone does, I’m sure. But Spiotta’s writing is so sharp, her points so precise and intuitive, there really wasn’t much to argue about.
Summer is here in just about every way imaginable, so it’s time to recap what’s gone down the past few months.
First, some news about Tom Dennison’s house at 7510 Military Ave was passed on to me by a reliable source who wishes to remain anonymous. (Previous posts about the Dennison house can be found here and here.) There was some confusion about which side of Military the house was actually located, and my source let me know that the address of the house would have changed at some point after Dennison died. So while it was originally 7510 Military, it would have been on the 7300 block of Graceland Drive for most of the time it was standing, putting it south of Military, on the property of Skyline Retirement Community rather than on Marian’s side like I thought. That the address changed clears everything up.
Some more info from the source:
From the 1960s until it was torn down in 2006, the house was used as a guest house by Skyline Manor, and later as administrative offices. There was an effort to remodel the home before the decision to raze it was finalized, but the cost of a new roof, structural repairs, asbestos removal, etc, etc, was deemed too great. Skyline also offered the house free to anyone who wanted to relocate it to a new property, but, again, the cost of moving the house vastly exceeded its monetary value. The spot where the house stood is now a parking lot.
Other news from what was a pretty busy season:
-I was awarded a fellowship and residency by Akademie Schloss Solitude in Stuttgart, Germany. (Get the whole story here and here.) Summer of 2014 can’t come soon enough. We’ve been busy planning out the trip and addressing all sorts of logistical issues. I thought Maddie would be a little more nervous, but she’s still very excited about the whole thing, just so long as she gets to watch movies on the airplane and have torte for dessert every meal. Not such unreasonable demands.
-Not a lot of travel lately, although we did spend a few days in Los Angeles in April, which was really nice. On the docket for this summer: the Ozarks, Kansas City, and a family trip to Chicago to give the girls a little more flight experience before crossing over to Germany next summer. Tentative plans call for a little jaunt to New York this fall to retrace and expand last year’s bratwurst tour of Manhattan.
Dispatch from The Uninitiated
Tom hadn’t exactly been feeling fit, but he didn’t feel any worse than he had the month before, and maybe he was a little better than the month before that. His daughter had him doing all sorts of things to feel better. Morning ablutions. Evening exercises. A Bulgarian hulk came to stretch his legs with a rubber strap and burn his back with rocks. He had a steambath installed in the back lawn. Tom submitted because she begged him to. Ada had him consuming all sorts of herbs and minerals too, he didn’t even ask what the names of her magic were. Selzter water mixed with salts from the Dead Sea, she claimed anyway. Now why he wanted to drink Dead Sea saltwater he didn’t know. Wasn’t dead the very thing he was trying to avoid? All it did was keep him in the bathroom all morning, and he suspected more than once that maybe this was Ada’s way of getting him to spend less time at work. It surely kept him occupied.
Woes of the True Policeman by Roberto Bolaño. Supposedly this is Bolaño’s final unfinished novel, what he was working on when he died, I guess, and it’s writing that ranks up with his best. A lot of it reads like stuff that was cut out of 2666, which is fine by me. The focus on Óscar and Rosa Amalfitano yields quite a few wonderful stories.
In a German Pension by Katherine Mansfield. A series of sketches about the guests of a German health resort. Mansfield is vastly underappreciated, and this is yet more great work from her. (The Kindle version of this is now free, fyi.)
Laughter in the Dark by Vladimir Nabokov. I’d never heard of this novel before, but picked it up on a recommendation while at Book Soup in Los Angeles, and I’m glad I did. A comedy of manners that romps through Berlin and Italy.
Death in Venice by Thomas Mann. I’ve been meaning to read this for years and finally got to it now that I’m trying to get a feel for the German canon before I’m over there next summer. A masterpiece. Maddie kept asking me to read it aloud for her–a little uncomfortable given the subject matter–because it’s so beautiful. I’m pretty sure she didn’t understand many of the words…hoping anyway.
Freedomby Jonathan Franzen. After all the controversy and hoopla surrounding this book when it came out a few years ago, I decided to give myself some space before reading it. I’m big fan of Franzen, but not so much this book.
The Slippage by Ben Greenman. A solid offering, but not quite on the level of his short fiction.
I suppose it is spring now, technically. Although Nebraska has been in its meteorological spring for a few weeks already and that hasn’t seemed to make much of a difference in the weather. Things have been pretty slow on this space for some time, and while the weather has nothing to do with that, we’ll have to do better. The main reason for this lag is that in January/February/March we sold our old house, bought a new one and moved. Pretty heady stuff for a couple with two little kids who usually have their heads buried in computers something like twelve hours a day anyway. It wasn’t so bad though. We moved from the Benson neighborhood of midtown Omaha all the way over to the Dundee neighborhood of midtown Omaha. A little over three miles. It’s been nice. The schools are better, no small concern with Maddie off to kindergarten in the fall, the sidewalks more plentiful. We traded in the Pizza Shoppe and Baxters for La Casa and Pitch, Jake’s for the Dell, Krug Park for Pageturners, dog fights for dog walkers, Benson Days for Dundee Days. It’s a whole new world. Also, the new house is quite a bit bigger, so my office is no longer a toyroom/office. That’s pretty big news in itself. Also, there’s a cemetery a block down from us, with an obstructed view of headstones from my desk, and Maddie is convinced that Jesus is buried there. We may be in for a dicey Easter this year.
Meanwhile things have been plugging along on the agent front. Nothing to really report yet, but there’s been pretty steady interest, a couple exclusives to bigger agencies, a few nibbles here and there. I always take things pretty slow, so it shouldn’t be a surprise that this process will have to run its full course.
While that’s been going on I’ve been rewriting the novel from the point of views of some side characters, mostly out of curiosity and to keep occupied. I suppose, if no one is interested in the book as written, the process could take long enough for me to rewrite the whole novel in a way that’s more than an academic exercise. Not a bad contingency plan, I guess.
In other news:
-As announced yesterday, an excerpt from The Uninitiated (“River Ward, 1917”) was selected for publication byBoulevard. Also, I failed to mention that Boulevard nominated my story “On a Train from the Place Called Valentine” for a Pushcart Prize. The story was first printed in their Spring 2012 issue. This is a great honor and one I’m pleased to have received. Boulevard rules, by the way. Subscribe to them.
-The big news of the season was that my novel The Uninitiated won Tarcher/Penguin’s Top Artist Writing Contest. Read breakdowns here and here.
-My story “The Mercy Killing of Harry Kleinhardt” was published by Midwestern Gothic in their Winter issue. (Kindle editions of the issue are currently on sale for $1, and print for $6.) I was also interviewed by MG as part of their Contributor Spotlight series. Check out the interview here.
-This weekend we’ll celebrate Clara’s first birthday. She’s been such a healthy and happy baby that it’s almost hard to remember spending her first week in the NICU, huddled around watching her O2 levels on the monitor, and how joyful it was when she came home. Happy birthday, baby!
Dispatch from The Uninitiated
Miihlstein started right away when they arrived in Omaha. In fact, there was work waiting for him in the attic, what the dead man had been toiling over when he died. Miihlstein looked taller than he really was. He was lanky, with long arms, and this made him appear tall. He preferred striped neckties held flat by a now rusty tin pin he’d made himself. He was a happy man, if distant. He was in his workshop most of the day, singing to himself or playing the violin he was working on. He had a thin mustache that was often stained by coffee and what he’d had for lunch. He hummed as he measured string and reinforced the wooden necks of the violas he was charged with reviving. He squeezed the wood with his hands to put it under stress, to find the reason it didn’t sound right anymore. Karel watched his father’s performance daily, called over, at times, if his father remembered him, to see it in detail. A red felt carpet rolled out over the worktable. Even if it was a small job, a restringing, Karel’s father pulled out all the tools in his kit. Slowly he examined them, lost in the smell of that toolkit when it was opened. Little cans of lacquer and thinner placed on the felt. Tools pulled from their nooks and leather slots. Waffled metal files, awls and emery cloth, spools of white string, spare pegs, clamps, chisels, a skinny little metal hammer. Soon wood shavings popped from the block plane as he revealed new fingerboard, then sanded it round. Notches were filed and awled for the strings. It was painted an ebullient, shiny black, endless and distinguished. Herr Miihlstein’s wire-framed glasses rode down his nose on a bead of sweat. He bit his upper lip, sucking the prickles of his mustache into his mouth to concentrate.
To Karel, it shouldn’t take so long to restring an instrument. But his father could remain occupied with a single instrument for a day or more, stretching and tuning, and playing, humming along as he plucked and bowed. Until: “Perfection!”
Karel and Anna waited for this moment: they could help with a delivery and get out of the attic. Otherwise they occupied themselves with some docile and melancholy game as Miihlstein worked. Their games often involved the war. One of Karel’s favorites was to play army surgeon with Anna’s ragdoll. She allowed this. There was great commotion in Karel’s mind as the doll was rushed from an open battlefield, the middle of a circular woven rug strewn with sock garters and newspaper crumpled into balls, and under the great bed where all four Miihlstein kids slept. Once under the bed the real fun began, their legs stuck out opposite sides. Anna was adept at enumerating injuries. She described to Karel what resulted in the field, a simple shrapnel wound in the arm that luckily avoided bone. But then. Then the ambulance was hit by mortar fire. It overturned on the road, the poor souls inside tossed over each other, compounding their maladies. Broken bones now too, fractures, splinters of glass in the wounds. A gash on the head. The driver died instantly, tragically, for he was greatly loved by his family. By the time a second ambulance had come, the poor soul that ragdoll had become was in real trouble. Anna had a nicely dark mind for these details she savored. Karel pinned the doll to the floorboards with his hands as she explained what needed to be done, an amputation. The doll’s dress was lifted to reveal the yellow cloth of its skin.
As Anna finished her treasury, Karel began. Quickly he worked, sawing with the edge of his index finger, and tucking, as if Anna wouldn’t notice, the doll’s arm into the dress. The doll’s dress was back in place, the sleeve folded up. If the poor soul was saved, he’d be pulled out from the operating theater under the bed and slid under the blankets atop the bed. “You’re in luck,” the poor soul would be told. Nothing but orange juice and nurses for a year. If the poor soul couldn’t be saved, Karel and Anna might enclose the ragdoll in a white paperboard box, take it out back of the Eigler house and bury it in the dirt. Then, into the kitchen to find some lunch.
East of Eden by John Steinbeck. A little disappointed (and intrigued) that James Dean’s “Say hello to your mother!” line is only in the Elia Kazan film version. A classic for good reason, nonetheless. The long tracts on the creation of the Salinas Valley and its early settlers are pretty fascinating to a guy like me, along with the more familiar sections filled with high drama and teenage angst.
The Face of a Naked Lady by Michael Rips. Part family history, part treasury of modern Omaha folk lore, Rips presents a pretty compelling story about growing up in Omaha amid racial strife, organized crime, and suburban flight while his mysterious father rose to prominence and then lost his mind. Also, it’s also an interesting treatise on the philosophical and psychological development of the American suburb as emotional landscape for those who couldn’t cope with the city. Very interesting.
The Slippage by Ben Greenman. I haven’t been doing many book reviews lately, but I made sure to secure an advanced copy of Greenman’s latest, which comes out late April.
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.
-“The Mercy Killing of Harry Kleinhardt” is set to appear in the Winter 2013 edition of Midwestern Gothic. Read about the story here. Get a preview of the issue here.
-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.”
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 Boulevardwas 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.
–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.”
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.
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.
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.
The Dark Corner by Mark Powell. Not yet released, but I’m looking forward to it.
-We had a baby! More photos of Clara Lynne Wheeler and family can be found here.
Personal Rejection Notes, Requests for More, and Other Nice Versions of No Thanks
Five Points for “Forget Me”; Massachusetts Review for “Attend the Way”; One Story for “Impertinent, Triumphant”; and, of course, “Shame Cycle” is a finalist for the PRISM Fiction Contest.
The Sojourn by Andrew Krivek. Pretty good. Character deaths seemed to occur at very convenient times, plot-wise. A small thing that is quite common, but it wore on me in this novel. Maybe because death was so frequent.