December in Review (2011)

Merry Christmas, from the street urchins of the Omaha tenements.

My year in review post will be coming shortly, so I’ll try to keep this brief. The month was more or less uneventful, so brevity shouldn’t come too painfully.

-I finished the second revision of my novel late in December. The book should be in something close to its final shape now, as this cycle included half a dozen rewrites of chapters and sections (plus a couple new chapters) that I hope don’t need to be completely rewritten again. I guess I’ll see if this holds up under the next reading-revision cycle. Assuming I can fit in five work days a week, it takes about a month to revise the whole novel. They key will be getting that time down a little bit. If there’s less and less that needs changed, I should be on the right track.

The Kenyon Review‘s December newsletter featured reading recommendations from contributor’s and staff, including my recommendation of Yannick Murphy’s The Call. It’s such a good book! Go buy it now!

-The new issue of Confrontation was reviewed on BookFox. Here’s a little of what was said about the issue:

Paul Zimerman’s “Full Remittance,” a kind of anti-Rakolnikovian story, is excellent, as well as a shortish story by Theodore Wheeler with the titillating title of “The First Night of My Down-and-Out Sex Life,” which ends up being more somber than you’d expect.

-With the help of some friendly archivists, I was able to track down a bunch of information about the different places Tom Dennison used to live in Omaha. I wrote a bit about it here. In the coming months I’ll have more on the real historical places that are featured in my novel.

-My first real author interview was published on the Prairie Schooner blog. Thanks to Nuala Ní Chonchúir for her generosity and fine responses.

-Happy New Year!

Dispatch from The Uninitiated

“Tom Dennison grinned at me again, like I was being stupid. And I was being a little simple about the election. What I’d described is how it always works in this business, yeah? It’s always a matter of offering more than the other guys and making sure you manage things well enough to get your folks to a poll on time. It was still new to me, and it’s all novel to a guy who doesn’t know what he’s doing.”

Personal Rejection Notes, Requests for More, and Other Nice Versions of No Thanks

Iowa Review for “Forget Me” and Crazyhorse for “Attend the Way.”

Just Finished

A Flag for Sunrise by Robert Stone. I love reading books like this—ones that must have been incredibly timely and topical at the time of their publication, and are still great reads even if they aren’t so relevant now. This is a very engrossing novel that shows through a split narrative how an attempted revolution in a banana republic comes together. (There are some sexual escapades with a hot nun too, fyi.) Also, I’ll be part of a workshop led by Robert Stone at the upcoming Key West Literary Seminar. So excited for this.

Omaha: A Guide to the City and Environs compiled by the Federal Writers’ Project. This is so great: the WPA funded study of Omaha from the Depression. Not only does it feature the most complete and concise history of the area I’ve found, there are fantastic gems throughout, like how much beans and coffee cost at a cafe at the time, and how much streetcar fare to the airport was, or where to find the best Chow Mein. There are also a half-dozen walking tours guides of the city, which is really very helpful in understanding how the city was laid out during this period. I was very geeked to find this.

Now Reading

Bohemian Girl by Terese Svoboda.

Up Next

The Third Reich by Roberto Bolaño.

Weeks of Dec 26/09 – Jan 26/10

Novel Work

I’ve finally decided to split The Open City into two novels, rather than continue working on it as one project with two distinct threads. Part of the concern was that the single book would be very long, around 700 pages or so. It just didn’t seem feasible to get something like that published, seeing that it would be my first novel. And it would probably take another two years to just get it roughed in. The other things that worried me were more novelistic in nature. The two threads certainly play off each other—and the two novels will still be related—but I’d structured them to alternate in parts rather than chapters. That is, there would be a seismic shift every 100 pages or so, rather than smaller shifts every 20 pages. (Most of the hybrid-historical-novel models I’m using are structured more on the alternating chapters style, such as Aleksander Hemon’s The Lazarus Project and Jonathan Safran Foer’s Everything Is Illuminated. Junot Diaz’ The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao gives more space to the individual threads instead of alternating, but his threads were separated by only a generation and collide in the end in a way mine wouldn’t.) These seemed too jarring. Just as the story is getting roaring it would jump into another thread. One that’s starting from scratch, essentially. I didn’t really anticipate the historical thread being this interesting or engrossing, which is part of the problem and part of the exciting part. It’s something I feel much more compelled to write, something I feel needs to be done.

Nicole and Maddie flying outside the courthouse.

In any event, I’ve finished a first draft of Part I of what is now titled The Hyphenates of Jackson County, which should be about one/third of the book. The writing of this has gone so smoothly so far. Maybe it’s writing historical fiction, in that I have many sources, photos, and books to draw on when I’m feeling stuck. Or maybe it’s that I’ve been working near-daily as a novelist for almost two years now and am actually getting better at it. Plus a little bit of the family life settling down a bit more, becoming more comfortable as a father, having real office space without radon gas to contend with, and having a nice chunk of property that demands constant physical activity. Let’s say all of the above. But whatever the cause of this good streak, it’s been very much enjoyed. Now it’s just a matter of finishing. And making it great. The rest should take care of itself.

Dispatch from The Hyphenates of Jackson County

“There was something about Jacob that triggered Mrs. Eigler’s mothering instinct. The way he stared blankly into the street when they chatted in the evenings, as if someplace else; how he merely smiled in silence when at a loss for words, his mind grinding. Women often fell towards mothering Jacob. From the way his hair flopped over his forehead to the cowlick spiking up in back, Jacob unaware until a woman was there to tamp it down for him; and in how he dressed, not quite sloppily, but merely hinting at neatness with an informal comportment.”

Personal Rejection Notes, Requests for More, and Other Nice Versions of No Thanks

Crazyhorse for “How to Die Young in a Nebraska Winter”; Lake Effect and StoryQuarterly for “The Housekeeper”; Michigan Quarterly Review, Indiana Review, and One Story for “These Things That Save Us”; Barnstorm for “From Indiana.”

Just Finished

Kapitoil by Teddy Wayne. This novel is nearly very good. It’s a book driven almost entirely by the voice of its narrator, which is something I don’t usually enjoy that much beyond the first few pages. Yet, protagonist Karim Issar is very compelling. A programmer from Qatar who strikes it rich in Manhattan while doing some pre-Y2K debugging, Karim is the kind of uninitiated character who so effectively provides context to the culture he’s being introduced to. The main problem I have with Kapitoil is that the secondary characters are flat and ineffective as foils. They can’t challenge Karim, which leaves the main character two-dimensional in important ways as well. It looks like much of Wayne’s background is in doing short, satirical pieces for magazines, so maybe this is telling in that the novel shines when it is merely a matter of voice and gags, but falters on the level of extended plot. This one is really worth picking up, however. Highly recommended.

Should I run for office? Do I look like a county chair?

Now Reading

American Tragedy by Theodore Dreiser.

The Underworld Sewer by Josie Washburn.

The Book of Genesis illustrated by R. Crumb.

Up Next

The Unnamed by Joshua Ferris.

And big props to my friend and colleague Nabina Das, who has been named an Associate Fellow for the City as Studio 2010 initiative in Delhi. Awesome work!