NEA!

nea logoSince November I’ve been waiting to tell you all that I’ve been awarded a creative writing fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts–and today is the day it’s official!

The fellowship–which grants winners $25,000 over a two-year period to advance their career and develop a new project–comes at an especially fortunate time for me to actually address that dictate. My new novel In Our Other Lives comes out on March 3, of course, so having travel funds available to get out an promote the book is such a boon. The opening chapter of Other Lives was part of my winning application packet and it’s nice to get that boost of confidence too.

I’m also in the early stages of a new novel project that’s set in Western Europe during early years of World War II and follows a group of foreign news correspondents as they report on and address a rise of Fascism. I’ve been trying to start this novel for a few years while crawling along through research, character sketches, and the opening lines of narration (a completely normal process). The fellowship will enable me to jump into this book in a way that wouldn’t be possible otherwise.

It’s a fact that Kings of Broken Things wouldn’t have turned out so well and that I might not have been able to write In Our Other Lives at all if it wasn’t for the three-months I spent as a fellow at Akademie Schloss Solitude in the summer of 2014. It’s a dream to have such generous support to dive into a more ambitious new novel. And to be able to write much of it while in Europe near the sites where the history occurred… I don’t know what else to say, except, THANKS, NEA!

Also, congrats to the other 35 winners! Our work was selected from nearly 1,700 applications. This was the fourth time I’ve applied. The first time, a decade ago, I felt so honored to even be eligible, as you need one book or five recent journal publications to even throw your hat in the ring. To be included with the other winners, and the tradition of authors before us, is very humbling.

WheelerTHeadShot_Photo by Patrick MainelliAfter sitting on the news for about two months (Nicole wanted it pointed out that this is the longest she’s ever kept a secret) it feels a little funny to have this become official. I’m bursting with pride, of course, and soaking in all the kind wishes while they last. But I want to mention too that my day actually started off by getting a rejection notice in my e-mail. This was just a garden-variety magazine rejection, so nbd. And though it was a form rejection, it was the nice kind that said they admired my work and would like to see more from me in the future. Those are a kind of victory, something to feel encouraged about as I move forward. It’s a good reminder how humbling the business of being a writer can be, and that usually its rewards are not financial.

Something Nicole and I talk about sometimes–as we’re doing work with our Dundee Book Company book cart and, especially, coordinating Omaha Lit Fest–is that we’re usually the only parties involved who aren’t getting paid to be there. Don’t get me wrong, I love our partners and appreciate all the work they do for writers, literature, and the city, and I know they put in hours well beyond what they’re compensated for, but it is something we notice from time to time. It’s an issue among both booksellers and event organizers, this whole thing of how to pay yourself and keep your venture above water. My point, I guess, is that I feel like things always even out for me. Maybe I volunteer my time for Lit Fest, but I was paid a stipend to attend grad school (twice!) and having my name tied to events maybe helps books sales, so whatever. I get to spend most of my time around books and writing my own books, I have a beautiful family that loves and (often) respects me, I get to travel around the world, so I try to never put a hex on all that by complaining. Plus, every once in a while, some money comes along unexpectedly and  helps balance the scales in an enormous way. Today is one of those days.

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OMAHA—Today, the National Endowment for the Arts announced that Theodore Wheeler is one of 36 writers who will receive an FY 2020 Creative Writing Fellowship of $25,000. These fellowships enable the recipients to set aside time for writing, research, travel, and general career advancement. Fellows are selected through a highly-competitive, anonymous process and are judged on the artistic excellence of the work sample provided.In Our Other Lives

“The National Endowment for the Arts is proud to support our nation’s writers, including Theodore Wheeler, and the artistry, creativity, and dedication that go into their work,” said Mary Anne Carter, chairman of the National Endowment for the Arts.

Theodore Wheeler was selected from nearly 1,700 eligible applicants. Fellowships alternate between poetry and prose each year and this year’s fellowships are to support prose writers. The full list of FY 2020 Creative Writing Fellows is available here.

Theodore Wheeler is author of the novels In Our Other Lives (Little A, March 3, 2020) and Kings of Broken Things (Little A, 2017), and a collection of short stories, Bad Faith (Queens Ferry Press, 2016). He has been recognized with a Marianne Russo Award from the Key West Literary Seminar and a fellowship from Akademie Schloss Solitude in Stuttgart, Germany. A graduate of the creative writing program at Creighton University, Wheeler teaches at the University of Nebraska at Omaha, covers a civil-law and politics beat for a national news service, co-directs Omaha Lit Fest, and sidelines as a bookseller for the Dundee Book Company roving book cart, one of the world’s smallest bookstores.

An excerpt from Wheeler’s new novel, In Our Other Lives, was featured in his winning application. More information about the novel, which will be published on March 3, is attached.

Since 1967, the Arts Endowment has awarded more than 3,500 Creative Writing Fellowships totaling over $55 million. Many American recipients of the National Book Award, National Book Critics Circle Award, and Pulitzer Prize in Poetry and Fiction were recipients of National Endowment for the Arts fellowships early in their careers.

Visit the agency’s Literature Fellowships webpage to read excerpts by and features on past Creative Writing Fellows and recipients of Literature Fellowships for translation projects. For more information on literature at the National Endowment for the Arts, go to arts.gov.

Book Deal!!!

deal
The listing in Publishers Marketplace!

I’m very excited to share that my next novel will be coming out with Little A in the Spring of 2020! It’s a pleasure and a privilege to again work with editor Vivian Lee on the book.

This is the novel I started working on in 2014 when on fellowship that summer at Akademie Schloss Solitude. I began with the basic idea that I wanted to tell a story from the perspective of an NSA spying investigation after reading about how government contractors became so acquainted with some targets of surveillance that it became like a reality TV show for them, except surreptitiously through a web cam, and without consent. And not just the vulgar things they witnessed, but when relationships started and ended, when siblings or children died, jobs were lost, etc. I’d just read Uwe Johnson’s Speculations About Jakob, a novel that features a Stasi detective who becomes enmeshed with the lives of the East German family that’s the object of his surveillance, and the premise seemed so alive and relevant that I had to try my hand at the contemporary American equivalent. My novel didn’t exactly end up like Johnson’s, and it was turned by dozens of additional influences, but Speculations made for an invigorating model, particularly as I wrote that first draft of the book in Germany.

A much-deserved thanks goes to my agent Stephanie Delman for her tireless work in helping me get to the heart of this story and working out a deal to have the book published with Little A, my second with them, of course, after Kings of Broken Things. Many thanks to those who helped this book along with notes and emotional support, including Nicole Wheeler, Amy O’Reilly, Drew Justice, Kassandra Montag, CCB, Ryan Borchers, Felicity White, Bob Churchill, Ryan Norris, Doug Rice, Jean-Baptiste Joly, Jeff Alessandrelli, Trey Moody, Brent Spencer, Dave Mullins, the creative writing program at Creighton University, and many others I’m surely forgetting. More soon!

Kings Makes Book Riot Best Covers List

wheeler-kings-of-broken-things-final-front-coverSome exciting news for a Tuesday, as Kings of Broken Things was recognized by Book Riot as having one of the best book covers of the year! Check out the full list for what look like some great books, and kudos to Book Riot for going there and judging a bunch of books by their covers. As I mentioned last week, it’s a beautiful cover, so I’m glad to see it get some much deserved recognition.

Some other news:

-An excerpt from Kings was posted this morning on Schloss-Post. Thanks to Akademie Schloss Solitude and online coordinator Clara Herrmann for putting together the post. Most all the promotion for the novel has focused on the race riot, so it’s nice to bring a little focus to one of the more character-driven elements. In this case, the chapter introduces Evie Chambers, the female lead in the novel, and sets up her life as a kept woman on Omaha’s Capitol Avenue.

-I have a few events in Omaha and Lincoln coming up in the next week or so, which includes being on a panel of historical novelists at Oak View Barnes & Noble on Sat Aug 19, a reading at Indigo Bridge Books in Lincoln on Tue Aug 22, and a cocktail reception with the 1877 Society and Omaha Public Library Foundation at Mercury Lounge on Wed Aug 23. If you’re in the area, come on out and say hi.

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.

Here Lies Memory: A Pittsburgh Novel

Happy book birthday this week to Doug Rice and his newest book Here Lies Memory: A Pittsburgh Novel! A deeply felt and deeply considered novel that deals with family trauma, the echoes of the Vietnam War, and extended contemplations on how we experience and are shaped by memory, Here Lies Memory is an interesting addition to the Doug Rice catalog of experimental, speculative, and intensely personal writing. Buy your copy here.

I’m really excited that Doug found a home for his novel with Black Scat Books. We met in 2014 while at Akademie Schloss Solitude and I heard a lot about the book those days, sitting out on the castle steps and walking the forests. Both of us were working on historical novels at the time and we had a lot to talk about. It’s pretty cool to see Doug’s in print, with mine coming along next year. Congrats, Doug!

HERE LIES MEMORY explores the place of memory in living, daily, scarred and sacred lives. Two Pittsburgh families struggle to survive trauma and love. A man wills himself to go blind, not to forget, but to remember in new ways. Another man drinks beer after beer until he can no longer drink away what he must face directly. This novel explores what language and photographs do to memory, desire, and love, and what gentrification is doing to the souls of families and neighborhoods.

 

More Press for Bad Faith

owhIt’s nearly been a month since Bad Faith was released. I’ll have some photos from the book tour posted here before long, as it’s been an exciting month of travel to get out and talk to as many people as possible about my first book. After 17 out of 30 days spent on the road, in 12 different cities around the Midwest and both coasts for 11 readings and events, some family vacation mixed in along the way, it’s nice to be home in content exhaustion. I met and reconnected with so many great friends and booksellers along the way, the last month was a real privilege. More on this soon.

In the meantime, here’s a gaggle of links to press the book has received.

The Rumpus said that “Bad Faith builds a world that exists for its own purposes. The collection is interspersed with vignettes that lead like breadcrumbs from the opening piece to the last. The finale, also titled ‘Bad Faith,’ unfolds in a three-part structure, guiding us back around to the beginning and answering the question that has been on our mind since page 23. It ties the whole collection together and ends the book on a different—and more intriguing note—than it opened on. To say more would be to spoil the treat. Suffice it to say that if a novel is meant to end with a sense of opening out, then this collection leaves us eager for more of Wheeler’s dark, quiet world.”

The New Territory said that, “In Bad Faith, Theodore Wheeler’s debut collection of short stories, it is certainty that causes trouble. Ideas become boundaries, lines any reasonable person might draw for him or herself: beliefs in who they are or were, that what they’re doing is the best thing for them. Marriages, homes, children, careers. And yet here, at the borders of identity and place, is where Wheeler makes his incision.”

Fiction Advocate says that “Wheeler’s characters are hopeless but resolute, savvy and unremorseful. They face the world head on, acknowledging its ugliness and its dark side. Like Rodney, we readers remain alert to the presence of danger and death—the entire collection hints of it. Yet as the title suggests, this is a promise made in bad faith. Wheeler makes us think we know what will happen, and from what direction the danger will come, only to show us just how mistaken we are.”

Blue River literary journal interviewed me on their blog, posing 10 questions about the writing life after grad school and my path to publishing books. I’m not sure how insightful my responses are, but I did my best. Here’s a sample: “Like a sea turtle, those first few steps outside the shell can be treacherous, but I didn’t have to explain to anyone why I was still writing and that was tremendous. Not that there haven’t been a lot of bumps along the way. Having some success to point to never hurts, though.”

The Daily Iowan previewed my reading at Prairie Lights, saying that “Wheeler, who also works as a reporter covering civil law, takes a different approach to the concept of belief in his début, Bad Faith.”

The Omaha World-Herald featured a few quotes from me about local bookstore The Bookworm (along with the above photo) and earlier gave a preview of Bad Faith in its Bookends section with a nod to my forthcoming novel.

And Akademie Schloss Solitude very generously featured an excerpt from Bad Faith on it’s Schloss Post web portal.

Also, we’re doing a Goodreads Book Giveaway. Please stop by and enter if you’re on Goodreads.

Goodreads Book Giveaway

Bad Faith by Theodore Wheeler

Bad Faith

by Theodore Wheeler

Giveaway ends August 31, 2016.

See the giveaway details
at Goodreads.

Enter Giveaway

 

“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.

Wheeler’s Debut Novel Sold to Little A

The last week has been pretty exciting around here.

First off, the announcement from Publishers Marketplace:

Creighton MFA Theodore Wheeler’s KINGS OF BROKEN THINGS, that follows two young immigrants to and through the Omaha Race Riot of 1919, shedding light on a tragic period in American history, to Vivian Lee at Little A, for publication in spring 2017, by Stephanie Delman at Sanford J. Greenburger Associates.

I couldn’t be happier that Kings of Broken Things has found a home with Little A, and I’m thrilled to be working with Vivian Lee. After spending eight years researching the history and creating characters who could not only live within the existing history, but also bring out the events in a compelling way, I’m finding great comfort that Kings has found a home with a publisher who can both push the work further artistically and find a wider audience to expand its reach. (Check out The Hundred-Year Flood by Matthew Salesses for a standout example of a book Vivian edited.) If you’ve followed this blog over the years, you’re with me. From the first drafts of The Hyphenates of Jackson County to the middle stages of The Uninitiated and the brief term of Red Summer and now Kings of Broken Things, a lot of well-meaning words met their ultimate demise to make this possible.

Friday happened to be my birthday. Receiving an offer to publish my novel was quite the way to celebrate! (Publishing this post from the press file room at the DNC debate is kind of cool too.)

Really, it’s been quite a year. A second trip to Germany to perform Omaha Uninitiated: Stateside Race Riots & Lynching in the Aftermath of World War I, which coincided with the publication of my chapbook, On the River, Down Where They Found Willy Brown, by Edition Solitude; Queen’s Ferry Press accepting my short story collection Bad Faith for publication (in July 2016, it’s coming up!); a string of publications highlighted by my first story to be featured in The Southern Review and more of my historically-based “hyphenates” fiction about German-Nebraskans winning an AWP Intro Journals Award; some amazing travels in Europe, New York, Chicago, Kansas City; the Royals winning the World Series; Notre Dame in the hunt for a national championship. I’m one lucky dude, obviously.

The success I’ve had the last couple years in getting this story about the Omaha Race Riot and these old immigrant communities has been very encouraging. The three months I spent at Akademie Schloss Solitude in 2014 were instrumental to refining Kings of Broken Things in a way I couldn’t have done otherwise. My experiencing Esprit Solitude really did wonders for this novel, and for my next novel, which was largely written while I was in Germany. Beyond that, Akademie Schloss Solitude helped create a wonderful platform to gain exposure for this historical project of mine, this redemptive art, as we called it, by publishing an excerpt of the novel in chapbook form and supporting a multi-media performance (Omaha Uninitiated) that focused on historical and cultural documents as objects of creation. Thanks to Director Jean-Baptiste Joly and literature juror Maxi Obexer for bringing me to Stuttgart and facilitating my work in such a generous way.

This is about to get sappy, but there are so many people to thank for their help reading, critiquing, and talking about the manuscript, and their sticking with me through the grueling process of writing a novel. Obviously this is far from over. But I should take this opportunity to thank my wife Nicole. She puts up with a lot, being married to a writer. I don’t know what I had to endure in a previous life to deserve her generous and enthusiastic love, but I’ll take it. My mother-in-law Karen West was instrumental in my writing process, tending to our girls during the day when they were little and understanding that time is something very precious to a writer. My own mom too, Marta, for being there and helping out whenever help is needed, and for teaching me to read and write, and for imparting the belief in storytelling as something sacred. My grandmother, Cleo (Blankenfeld) Croson, for all the work she’s done passing on a rich family history, and for her openness and honesty when discussing the finer, sometimes tawdry, elements of our history, a rare quality. My agent Stephanie Delman for championing the book and her tireless work in finding a great home with Vivian Lee and Little A. Also, “Country Club” Bill Sedlak, Amber Haschenburger, Ryan Borchers, Drew Justice, Sam Slaughter, Gregory Henry, Nabina Das, Mary Helen Stefaniak, Brent Spencer, Susan Aizenberg, Dave Mullins, Jonis Agee, Kwakiutl Dreher, Bob Bergstrom, Shannon Youngman, Jenn Ladino, Dave Green, Devin Murphy, Doug Rice, Darren Keen, Timothy Schaffert, Nicole Steen, Travis Thieszen, Miles Frieden, Arlo Haskell, Mary Morris, Richard Burgin, Lee Martin, Robert Stone, Kimmel Harding Nelson Center for the Arts, Key West Literary Seminar. I’m sure I’m forgetting to include some vital people in this cloud of gratitude, but this is just the pre-acknowledgement acknowledgments.

So I’ll stop with this: It feels pretty great to be able to remove the aspiring part from aspiring-novelist. I can’t wait to bring this book to you in Spring 2017!

More soon. For now, cheers!

The Southern Review Shipping Now–featuring “The Missing”

Late on Friday I heard from The Southern Review that their autumn 2015 issue (featuring my story “The Missing”) is currently shipping and should be out in the world soon. If you’re already a subscriber, keep an eye out this week. Otherwise, TSR is offering a “friends & family” discount that I’m able to share here for 25% off the purchase of single copies of the journal or any subscription. Use this coupon code: FRIEND514.

The issue also contains fiction by Erin Flanagan, Steve Amick, and Matthew Baker, and poetry by Floyd Skloot, David Kirby, Fleda Brown, and David Wojahn, among others. (Check out the table of contents here.) I haven’t seen the issue yet, but I’m really looking forward to it. Some exceptional company to keep, as I’d expect.

Here’s what I wrote when “The Missing” was originally accepted for publication back in January, if you’re interested in some deeper background. In short, “The Missing” follows a young father who runs off to visit a friend in El Salvador rather than face the prospect that both his wife and daughter-to-be could die during childbirth. This story represents a couple different progressions for me. One being an engagement of a more dynamic style, something I worked on extensively while on fellowship at Akademie Schloss Solitude last summer while working on a new novel. And the other development being that the story addresses issue of fatherhood and anxiety about childbirth and responsibility from that point-of-view. Usually it takes me a long time to digest things emotionally–so a five-year lag between becoming a father myself and being able to work on a story like this isn’t so bad.

Thanks again to Fiction Editor Emily Nemens for taking the story and for all her hard work editing “The Missing” into the best shape it could be.

Soaking it up down at the beach.
Costa del Sol, El Salvador.

This is going to be a good week, I think. I had a great time at the Omaha Lit Fest this weekend, and held my own during my panel. (Thanks so much to Timothy Schaffert for putting everything together this weekend, and to Douglas Wesselmann and Marilyn Coffey for sharing the panel with me.) Plus, Notre Dame beat USC in an entertaining rivalry game; the Royals are up 2-0 in the American League Championship Series after yet another huge comeback and could clinch a World Series spot in the next couple days. We harvested a bumper crop of carrots and beets from the garden today. My contributor copies of The Southern Review are on their way. What’s not to like?