As the July release date for my story collection, Bad Faith, inches ever closer, we’ve been pulling together some of the promotional materials. Here are the blurbs, if you’re interested. Thanks so much to Jonis, Amina, Brent, and Mark for their generosity in taking the time to plug my book! (And check out below for a teaser of the front cover that I’ve been sending out on postcards.)
“These stories turn the reader’s expectations on their head as Wheeler spins stunning arabesques, scoring the surface of his characters’ reality to reveal the malice, confusion, and ultimate frailty of us all.” – Jonis Agee, author of The Bones of Paradise
“Theodore Wheeler’s debut collection of fiction Bad Faith is a perfect lesson in perfidy, deception, and duplicity, a contemplative exploration of the vagaries of the double-minded human heart.” – Amina Gautier, author of The Loss of All Lost Things
“Wheeler’s characters occupy the edges of their lives, the gray places of the heart. They yearn for inclusion at the same time that they feel pulled into isolation. At the heart of this brilliant book is the desire to connect—with others, with the world around us, and with the lost parts of ourselves. Filled with powerful insights and a nuanced understanding of human nature, Bad Faith is a major achievement, and Theodore Wheeler is a writer to be reckoned with.” – Brent Spencer, author of Rattlesnake Daddy: A Son’s Search for His Father
“Superbly chiseled prose conveying extraordinarily hardscrabble lives, Bad Faith explores dark alleys within the epiphany that some of us are more fated to hell than heaven on earth. Theodore Wheeler is the real deal and then some.” – Mark Wisniewski, author of Watch Me Go
If you haven’t already, please check out the first issue of PS: Briefly Noted on the blog of Prairie Schooner‘s website. This is a feature that Claire Harlan-Orsi (Blog and Social Networking Editor for PS) and I have been developing for the past couple months–a book review in brief, with short reviews written by the staff of Prairie Schooner.
It’s really exciting to put something like this out there. Brent Spencer and Jonis Agee (two of my beloved writing professors and mentors, who also happen to be married to each other) instilled a strong emphasis on contributing to the community of writers, principally by teaching, creating opportunities for writers to read their work publicly, and reviewing. PS:BN isn’t all that fancy, but hopefully it gives back to a community that has given so much to me.
Plus, not only am I Co-Editor and Co-Founder of the feature–but I also contributed two reviews of excellent books! Specifically, there are reviews I penned of Richard Burgin’s Shadow Traffic and Ron Rash’s The Cove. Claire will be compiling the reviews for next month’s edition; she’s already limited me to only one review (Roberto Bolaño’s The Third Reich) which is kind of bullshit.
Let me know you think of PS:BN. I’m excited to see where it goes.
“These Things That Save Us” was published today as part of the launch of new online literary journal Conversations Across Borders! The individual story is available for $2, or you can buy the entire issue for $10. The debut issue features poetry by Ilya Kaminsky, Gary Lemons, and Samuel Green, non-fiction by Nahid Rachlin, and my short fiction. All proceeds from the issue go to support literacy and literary programs, and writers. (When I first typed that sentence, my fingers accidentally put, “All proceeds go to supper…”, which is partially correct, I guess, as far as the writers are concerned.) Here’s how CAB explains their mission on the web site:
Conversations Across Borders is a 501(c)3-pending nonprofit literary-arts organization that presents fine literature and journalism from around the world; connects writers across borders; and supports underserved schools, literacy programs, literary programs, and individual writers through financial grants. By purchasing individual poems, essays, and short stories, you enjoy new, vital work from some of the finest writers in the world. You also make a direct contribution to schools and literacy programs in underserved communities. These contributions are given directly to the local school to assure that your gift directly invests in both education and the local economy, supporting local teachers and suppliers.
Not too shabby. The first program CAB supports is Yipirinya School of Alice Springs, Australia. Yipirinya School’s curriculum is at the forefront of “two-way” education. Students learn both their own indigenous culture and language, in addition to skills that will allow them to thrive economically and culturally in Westernized society.
I’m very excited and proud to be a part of Conversations Across Borders, and hope they’re able to accomplish a great deal with this important work. It’s an interesting project, using literature (and online literature in particular) as a means to directly improve the quality of life and literacy of people around the globe. Let’s do all we can do help them succeed.
As for “These Things That Save Us,” it is my fourteenth published short story. (Number fifteen, “The First Night of My Down-and-Out Sex Life” will be out in Confrontation this November; and number sixteen, “On a Train from the Place Called Valentine” will be in Boulevard in March 2012.) This is a story I worked on in a Brent Spencer-led workshop at Creighton University while getting my M.A. there. So thanks to him, as well as my cohorts in the class, Lucas Schwaller and Travis Thieszen. I also workshopped “These Things…” while at the Port Townsend Writers’ Conference, in an amazing and lively workshop led by the incomparable Chris Abani. So thanks to all those folks too! I think the story turned out well. As well as any story that gets its seed from thinking about off-color wife jokes can anyway. Further, thanks to Jordan Hartt and everyone else at CAB for getting this going, and for including me in the fun.
One of the more fulfilling aspects of writing this book is that it affords me the opportunity to look further into my own family history. Most of the research I’ve done pertains to historical figures and the circumstance of their lives, and to 1918 Omaha itself more broadly, its social functions, clothes, shops, music. But I’ve been filling in a lot of Jacob Bressler’s character (who is entirely fictional) with my family history. And lucky for me, my grandma Cleo Blankenfeld Croson is also very interested in this topic. She’s helped me learn about my great-great-great grandfather Henry Blankenfeld, who was born near Danzig, West Prussia (present-day Gdańsk, Poland) in 1843 and his wife Maria Eigler Blankenfeld, who was born in Rudig, Austria (which is near Innsbruck, I believe) in 1852. We’re hoping to find out more on their arrival to America, but we do know they were married in Geneseo, Illinois in 1869. They did many jobs around Illinois and the Dakotas (and presumably before then too, wherever they landed) before homesteading near Niobrara, Nebraska, where my grandma grew up. We’ll be going there in July for a family reunion, which should be exciting. I’ve been there many times in my life, but never with this kind of active knowledge, I suppose.
For the past two years I’ve been reading up on German history, just to have some background in it, to understand where my title hyphenates were coming from. I wondered what kinds of stories their parents and relatives would have told them about their fatherland, since none of my German-American characters would have ever even been to Germany themselves. Why were so many of their fore-bearers emigrating? What drove their families (and my family for that matter) to America in the first place? There was constant war in Europe during this period, of course, and the Franco-Prussian War would have directly affected Henry. Many young men fled Prussia to escape conscription, which is what I assume Henry’s reason was too, although I can’t really know that for sure. There were many difficulties in those years associated with the Unification of German states. The Kulturkampf came a bit later, so I doubt the Blankenfelds would have been involved in that. It’s unlikely they were Catholic or Socialist anyway.
And Henry would have been too young to be a Forty-Eighter, one of the many failed democratic revolutionaries who came to North America from Europe. So there’s so much I can’t really know. Maybe a trip to Ellis Island would prove lucky, but very few of the databases I’ve found online go back far enough to be helpful. I’d like to go to Europe and root around, but no one kept records in that part of the world, or they were destroyed. Gdańsk itself has been under a dozen different governments in its history—and four of those since Henry Blankenfeld’s birth.
The interesting part for me—coming from the standpoint of a novelist—is that it’s almost better to not know. When I was his student at Creighton, Brent Spencer often referred to the art of fiction as pursuing the mystery, which I’ve always loved. It’s kind of a mystic, Jesuit way of filling in the blanks. On a personal level, I’d love to have all the details of my family history. It would be incredible to know exactly where we come from—to be able to go there and place my hands on that earth. But as a writer, it’s better to avoid that sort of conscriptive knowledge. The character Jacob Bressler is better for my lack of knowledge in this sense, because it gives me enough blanks to come to the story I’m telling, not the history behind it.
Dispatch from The Hyphenates of Jackson County
“’You know they used to call Dennison the King Gambler.’ The Pfarrer was up on the balcony again, a new glass of wine in hand. ‘Did you know this about your boss? He swindled a $100,000 on a boxing match in Louisiana. A fixed fight. He started as a bouncer and a sportsman out west, when he was your age, clearing out whole card halls in Denver playing faro. He hooked on here after winning big on the Louisiana fight, got the Daily Bee and the Perpetual Mayor on his side. Whole books have been written against Dennison and his underworld sewer, but he slips retribution. Nothing sticks to him.’”
Personal Rejection Notes, Requests for More, and Other Nice Versions of No Thanks
Ragtimeby E.L. Doctorow. Along with Edward P. Jones, Doctorow is one of the two most famous historical novelists who claim to have done little to no research for their novels, relying rather on memory and imagination. I’m a little skeptical about this, but can see how it could be true. (For one, there were a few moments when I knew he was off.) Doctorow writes with such authority on well-known figures, but he mostly focuses on private moments that cannot really be refuted as the basis of his work. Who can say what Houdini was thinking at a particular moment, hanging upside-down from a building? And if the writing is entertaining, why would you want to intrude with literal truth anyway? As above, the less you know, the more freedom you have to invent. A great book. The movie adaptation was pretty good too.