Interview with the Persnickety Proofer

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. 

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Q&A with the Omaha Public Library

logoWith 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.

“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.

Tethered by Letters Author Q&A

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

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

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

Here’s an excerpt:

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

TW a Finalist for Disquiet Literary Prize

v-eqgjozI’m happy to share that my story “Me Too” was named a finalist for the 2017 Disquiet Literary Prize!

Thanks so much to the judges and Guernica magazine for thinking enough of my work to give it final consideration for the prize, which was won by Gwen E. Kirby of Cincinnati. Gwen’s story will be published by Guernica and she receives a full tuition scholarship to this year’s Disquiet International Literary Program in Lisbon, Portugal.

This continues a spectacular run of “nice rejection” for this story, including a few personal notes from big magazines that number among my nicest rejections ever. (!!!) That’s a strange sentiment to express, but for those who spend a lot of time submitting work for publication, it’s worth something. I’ll appreciate the tailwind while it lasts, at least.

Some more information about Disquiet, if you’re interested, as they’re still accepting applications for this year’s program:

The DISQUIET International Literary Program is a two-week program that brings writers from North America and from around the world together with Portuguese writers in the heart of Lisbon for intensive workshops in the art and craft of writing.

The program is premised on several beliefs: That the conversations and exchange of ideas that result from meeting writers from around the world pushes one’s own work beyond the boundaries of the self. That all writers need a community to support and sustain them. That stepping out of the routine of one’s daily life and into a vibrant, rich, and new cultural space unsettles the imagination, loosens a writer’s reflexes… To those ends: Come be DISQUIET-ed with us!

 

 

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.

In the Contributor Spotlight with Midwestern Gothic

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

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

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

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

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

“Violate the Leaves” Published in Boulevard

tumblr_o59mwifpuo1tx58ago1_1280According to the Internet, the new issue of Boulevard has arrived from the printers and is headed out to subscribers as we speak! In addition to my story “Violate the Leaves” the Spring 2016 edition features new work from Stephen Dixon, Amit Majmudar, Miriam Kotzin, Adrian Matejka, Phong Nguyen, Joyce Carol Oates, William Trowbridge, and Mary Troy, and a symposium on the future of literary publishing.

To get the issue, head to the Boulevard web site, where you can get a three issue subscription for $15. If you want a real steal, go for the three-year subscription, 9 issues for $30.

“Violate the Leaves” is a story I kicked around for a long time, with the original pages written circa 2003 when I was an undergrad at the University of Nebraska. It’s something I picked at every once in a while until the right elements finally came together during the summer of 2014 when I was at Akademie Schloss Solitude. It’s a father-and-son story about how the two deal with each other during a summer when the boy’s mother is overseas in Iraq. A spare, reticent voice has almost always been a hallmark of my work and this story pushes things even further in that direction. Also, it seems notable that this was the first thing I worked on while a resident of Schloss Solitude. It should come as no surprise that the major features include: 1) a parent who leaves his/her family for an extended period, 2) a central character who is nearly incapable of expressing himself verbally, 3) an examination of nationality, and what it means to be a an American, if anything. There you have it, autobiographical fiction!

This is the fifth time I’ve had a story published in Boulevard, something of a milestone, I guess. I can’t wait to get my copy.

Here’s an excerpt from “Violate the Leaves”:

In the evening there were video calls with Mom. She was just getting up. Or just going to bed. I don’t remember what time it would have been over there. She was tired. My father dialed in the PC that sat on the floor next to the television, but he went outside before she answered. I brought the fishbowl downstairs to brag how I was keeping my goldfish alive.

She talked about the food she ate, once the PC was dialed in, the kinds of equipment she had around her neck and in the pockets of her med kit. Her stethoscope, her thermometer. Rubber gloves. Her voice digitized, sometimes doubling over itself in echoes. She always wore her hair up, over there, wore khaki tee shirts that fit tight around her. She smiled big when she saw me. So big the video broke up in pixilation. She asked how my day went and told me about her day. She tried to tell me about the people she worked with, or the bunker she rushed to if the Sense & Warn detected incoming, she said; and the geography, the mounds of desert that blew in under the doorways; and on the airplane going over, watching the sunset and sunrise only three hours apart over the Arctic Ocean.

I didn’t hear any of that. 

If she told me to shut up about asking when she was coming home, I would.