“The Hyphenates of Jackson County” Published in Artful Dodge

dodgeheaderMore late spring publication news, as my story “The Hyphenates of Jackson County” was published late last week in the recent issue of Artful Dodge!

Get your copy of the issue here.

Thanks so much to editor Daniel Bourne for all his work with the story, and to Erin McGraw, who selected “Hyphenates” for an AWP Intro Journals Project award while I was a student in the Creighton University MFA program. The story was nominated by CUmfa, so thanks to Dave Mullins for that.

Long-time friends of the blog will surely recognize the title of the story, as this was the original title of my World War I novel, what has since become Kings of Broken Things. In its earlier versions the novel focused entirely on the character of Jake Strauss (fka Jacob Strauss fka Jakob Strauss fka Jacob Bressler) and his introduction to the underworld elements of Omaha after being forced to flee his rural home of Jackson County. This short story is basically the opening scenes from that iteration of the novel.

More generally, the story is set in a fictional Jackson County, Nebraska, during World War I, and deals with a German immigrant and his two sons’ struggle to hold together their family, church, and farm amid threats both local and global.

Here’s an excerpt:

With the war in Europe raging late that summer, Jake was awakened by his father in the middle of the night more than once, the Pfarrer compelled to voice a worry that the German army would claim Fred and Jake, somehow, conscript them into service over on the Eastern Front, because that’s the side of Germany the Pfarrer was born to, in West Prussia, south of Danzig. There were always rumors of Kaiser Wilhelm’s reach, but the Pfarrer’s mania was peculiar and unfounded, as it always boiled over in the middle of the night. With all that had happened, he felt something was lacking in their connection to the Lord. “There’s a debt there,” was how the Pfarrer put it.

Jake and Fred agreed. But what was there to do about it?

That August, Jake found his father sprawled in the creek on the other side of their claim, water damming up and washing over his naked body. His clothes lay out on the grass. The jacket was on top, a shirt showed under the lapels. His pants were below with a shoe at the bottom of each leg, laces tied. It looked like the Pfarrer had been sucked out of his clothes, the way they’d been arranged. Two bottles of wine nearby, a half empty jar of horse cleaner. Jake didn’t know if his father had poisoned himself or not, if he’d soon die. Jake had heard of people doing that—eyes lost pigment after drinking horse cleaner, hair fell from heads. It hurt horribly. His father was naked in the cold creek, rolling to be facedown. He was pale, his breathing slow as Jake yanked him from the water and demanded to know what he’d done. He woke looking into Jake’s eyes. “I couldn’t do it,” he said. “The horse cleaner?” Jake asked. “No. I didn’t.”

Jake lifted the Pfarrer to his shoulder and carried him up the hill. His father was large, but Jake showed no struggle. He had urgency on his side and his muscles responded to the charge. The Pfarrer glanced to Jake, almost shy in his drunk, tepid and put-off as he was set to the porch, surprised again at how his younger boy had grown. Jake felt it well up in his gut, in his muscled shoulders and forearms, the anger and guilt, the tension of struggle. What did his father want to accuse him of?

Spring/Summer Schedule for PTL Literary Pub Quiz

51fzkloefyl-_sx327_bo1204203200_Some pub quiz news to share, as last week we finalized the schedule of guest hosts for the Pageturners Lounge Literary Pub Quiz through July. As a refresher, this is more or less a traditional trivia night–21 questions, teams competing for prizes, we meet at 8pm on the first Wednesday of every month–with the twist that we feature a literary guest to introduce to the community via a short interview and a special category of questions that the guest presents. Fellow Omaha writers Drew Justice and Ryan Borchers co-host the event with me. It’s been a lot of fun so far and the reception has been great.

Some of the categories so far include more usual topics like US Cities, Christmas Stories, and 20th Century Literature, and range to saucier topics like Buryin’ the Librarian, Hollywood Hunks, and Hotboxing with Baudelaire. See how much fun this is?

Having authors and editors come in to share a little about their work has been an interesting aspect to manage, particularly with the eclectic group of novelists, poets, editors, and librarians we’ve had in during the first five months. A lot of the time the whole idea of an author event can be kind of awkward in the sense that it’s typically an opportunity to sell the persona of the writer, and not necessarily their actual written work. That’s the cynical view anyway–and the pub quiz kind of cuts to the chase as far as this goes, hopefully generating some exposure for our authors and their projects. All the guests have seemed to enjoy themselves at least. And I’m really excited about who we will be welcoming the next few months. (JCC!)

Here’s a link to the Facebook page for our March 2 event, if you’re looking for more specific information. Otherwise, check out the extended schedule below.

PTL Pub Quiz Schedule (First Wednesday, 8pm, 5004 Dodge Street, Omaha, Neb.)imp-final

March 2: Britny Cordera, author of Wingmakers.
April 6: Blue River, literary journal run by the MFA students at Creighton University.
May 4: Jennine Capó Crucet, author of Make Your Home Among Strangers and How to Leave Hialeah.
June 1: David Philip Mullins, author of Greetings from Below.
July 6: Monsters of Short Fiction Tour, feat. Tyrone Jaeger (So Many True Believers), Dave Madden (If You Need Me I’ll Be Over There) and Theodore Wheeler (Bad Faith).

Pub News: The Southern Review!!!

Some exciting news to pass along this week: The Southern Review has accepted my short story “The Missing” for publication!

I’m beyond thrilled about this. First, because The Southern Review has felt like it might be my white whale as far as lit journals go. A journal that is nearly unrivaled in its strong contemporary reputation and oft-cited tradition. (Robert Penn Warren and Cleanth Brooks were famously among its first editors in 1935.) For a few years now my stories have felt like they were getting closer and closer without getting there, despite some very nice feedback and encouragement from former editor Cara Blue Adams that kept me trying. Thanks so much to fiction editor Emily Nemens for taking a chance on the story.

Second, I’m very pleased to find such a good a home for “The Missing,” a story that marks a more ambitious path for my work, begun last year with this story (after Key West) and continued while writing a new novel of a similar bent during my fellowship at Akademie Schloss Solitude. More episodic and fragmented, voice-driven, stylized prose used as characterization, and, in this case especially, writing candidly about the anxieties of fatherhood. There are much bigger risks to take in life than writing a new way, of course, and much bigger tragedies than having your work being poorly received. But, still, I worried, and am ecstatic to have this story on board with TSR.

A bit about the story: “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.

Here’s an excerpt:

Worthy told him wild stories about El Salvador. Bus rides up chuck-holed alleys into ghettos where even police were afraid to go because gangs controlled that territory—that San Salvador was the murder capital of the world, no matter what claims were made by Kabul or Baghdad or Tegucigalpa. Worthy told about getting drunk on something called coco loco. And girls dancing in clubs where the Salvadoran Geddy Lee played bass with one hand and keys with the other. And girls dancing in clubs who were on the hunt for American men, for the green card, but were often left behind in San Salvador if pregnant, and there was little recourse for a woman of that kind. In long phone calls Worthy told about girls dancing in a nudie bar called Lips that had a taco bar next door that was also called Lips. Worthy was persuasive. Even the plastic baggies filled with soft, slimy cheese that Worthy bought on the street, that was called queso fresco, even that sounded attractive when Worthy talked about it. Even when the Mrs grabbed the phone and told Worthy that if anything bad happened she’d know who to hold responsible.

Do you understand? the Mrs told Worthy. If he doesn’t come back, I will come down there and fuck you up.

This will be my 26th published short story, and joins a group of forthcoming publications for 2015 that includes “Shame Cycle” in Gargoyle, “Attend the Way” in Heavy Feather Review, and “Forget Me” on Cosmonauts Avenue, along with the February release of On the River, Down Where They Found Willy Brown, a chapbook published by Edition Solitude. Things are going to be busy.

Special thanks to CCB, Amber Mulholland, Dave Mullins, Ryan Borchers, Drew Justice, Amy O’Reilly, Charlotte Spires, Felicity White, and everybody else who helped this story along.


March in Review (2012)

Maddie holding Clara.

This is going to be short and late. He’s a recap of what went down here on The Uninitiated in March. It was eventful. Still recovering.

-“On a Train from the Place Called Valentine” was published in Boulevard! Read the recap here.

-“Shame Cycle” was short-listed for the PRISM Fiction Contest. Final word should be coming down any time now. Eagerly awaiting the results.

-My review of David Philip Mullins’ Greetings from Below was published in the new Prairie Schooner.

-I interviewed Sigrid Nunez for the Prairie Schooner blog.

-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.

Just Finished

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.

Signed, Mata Hari by Yannick Murphy.

Now Reading

The Missing of the Somme by Geoff DyerA fascinating examination of the mechanisms of remembrance in relation to war.

Up Next

Flatscreen by Adam Wilson.

The Year in Photos: 2011

January brought plenty of rewrites on the novel; "The Housekeeper" was published on now-defunct Flatmancrooked; my collection How to Die Young in Nebraska, was once again a semi-finalist for the Iowa Short Fiction Award.
February meant attending the AWP conference in Washington DC, and visiting the National Christmas Tree just weeks before it was blown over; my review of Marcy Dermansky's novel Bad Marie was published on The Millions; and we celebrated Valentine's Day with a heart-shaped black forest cake from Zum Biergarten.
In March, "How to Die Young in a Nebraska WInter" was published in The Kenyon Review; I also gave an interview for Kenyon Review Online; did a longer piece on the role of trickster characters in fiction; and "The First Night of My Down-and-Out Sex Life" was accepted for publication in Confrontation.
April was something of a slow month, but it did include a postmortem on Flatmancrooked, and a longer piece on Ellen Horan's historical novel 31 Bond Street and the culture of big advances for unpublished authors.
Nicole and I celebrated our fifth anniversary in May with a trip to San Francisco; "The Current State of the Universe" was published in The Cincinnati Review; my review of David Philip Mullins' Greetings from Below was accepted for publication in Prairie Schooner; I wrote a longish post on the case of Willie McGee and lynchings.
In June, Mixer published "The Housekeeper" on Amazon; my review of Nadifa Mohamed's Black Mamba Boy was published in Prairie Schooner; and my review of Richard Burgin's novel Rivers Last Longer ran in the Pleiades Book Review.
July suddenly took us to Tel Aviv; "On a Train from the Place Called Valentine" was accepted for publication in Boulevard; my review of Suzanne Rivecca's Death is Not an Option ran on The Millions; and we went to the Syracuse dachshund races.
August brought me to the completion of a rough draft of my novel. I also wrote a longer blog piece on what it's like to write about lynchings and other bad things.
September saw "These Things That Save Us" accepted for publication in Conversations Across Borders; I was awarded a partial scholarship to attend the 2012 Key West Literary Seminar and Workshops; and I unveiled my own ranking of MFA programs to little fanfare.
In October, "These Things That Save Us" was published in Conversations Across Borders; my review of Rahul Mehta's Quarantine ran on The Iowa Review Online; and I did a longish piece on the real Winesburg, Ohio and how Sherwood Anderson's experience connected to my own writing of a suddenly not ficitional Jackson, Nebraska.
I turned thirty in November, and took stock of what that meant; we announced that we are having our second girl; and "The First Night of My Down-and-Out Sex Life" was published in Confrontation.
And, finally, graciously, December. With the help of some local archivists, I was able to track down the location (and a photo) of Tom Dennison's famous house. I also started in my new position of Blog and Social Networking Editor for Prairie Schooner.

September in Review (2011)

Here's where the novel draft stands now. There's a whole book in there somewhere.

Just in case you missed it, here’s what happened on here in September:

-I took a few weeks off from working on the novel–using the time to clean up a few new short stories for submission–but am now reading and editing my first complete draft. It’s a lot of fun to read so far, seeing how things come together, and where they don’t.

-The Uninitiated released its comprehensive and authoritative rankings of MFA and PhD programs in creative writing. The University of Texas at Austin took the top spot.

-My review of Rahul Mehta’s Quarantine was accepted for publication by The Iowa Review Online, and will appear shortly in the month of October.

-My review of David Philip Mullins’ Greetings from Below—previously accepted for publication by Prairie Schooner—has been scheduled to run in the Spring 2012.

Dispatch from The Hyphenates of Jackson County

“The noise was so frightening that Jacob couldn’t stand still. He had to move his feet, around in the crowd, or he felt like someone was going to take a shot at him. A block over there was a nervous cop who sprayed shotgun fire into the air whenever someone approached the car he guarded. The cascading noise of tumbling glass was punctuated by the fraught screams of woman in jeopardy. Or maybe that wasn’t it at all, what Jacob thought he heard. Maybe that was the sound of a woman’s prurient cheer as government windows were smashed to shards. There was the roar of voices, people fighting and being hurt. The flash of small arms erupting. The police sirens, their barking orders. The steam valve had been blown clean off and Jacob couldn’t stay where he was. He had to run into it, into the noise and fighting. He had to see everything, to document it in his mind. Speeding cars rushed into the crowds. Young men jumped on the sideboards of cars to swing around to where the action was. There were cars with Sicilians, Lithuanians, Greeks, Serbians. Once word of the melee spread, anyone who wanted to take a swing at a cop made a bee-line to Scandal Flats. A gang hijacked a streetcar and plowed into the mess, clanging the bell to announce their audacity. Teenage boys and musky husbands rushed out of houses with whatever hammer or club or bat they could lay hands on, and then hopped in a taxi to get there fast. A mechanical rumble filled the atmosphere. Roadsters and jalopies, homemade in Little Italy garages, swung recklessly around the blocks. They swerved to miss people and each other. Jacob couldn’t always see the cars but he could hear their pop-pop motors hammering at full throttle a block away, spreading echoes between buildings, echoes that bounced back from the high-rises of downtown. Trucks, commissioned or otherwise, hopped hot over the pavement to load up with furniture or produce or women’s clothes. Taxis slumped cockeyed and labored up the hills, packed full inside, passengers on the footboards.

Sixteenth & Harney Streets, circa 1919.

“People shouted out to groups of strangers any news they heard. There was lots of talk in the mob about the smutty details of the rape—conjecture about Will Brown’s body in relation to the girl’s. They made him out to be huge, a towering man, arms like a gorilla’s, legs like a mule’s. They talked about Agnes Loebeck as if she was a little girl, pious and pure, like she only ever wore little white Sunday dresses, like she picked berries in a pristine field, like she’d never even heard of anything like a dick before.”

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

Bomb for “Shame Cycle.”

Just Finished

Atmospheric Disturbances by Rivka Galchen. Eh.

My Antonia by Willa Cather. I really enjoyed this book, and can see why it’s often noted as Cather’s finest. I was surprised at how Modernist this novel is, it’s really quite innovative, as I’d always thought it was more of a Victorian, continental-style book for young women than anything. I stand corrected. A masterful work.

Also, if you haven’t heard this NPR piece by Bradford Morrow on My Antonia, you should really check it out. Here’s part of what Morrow has to say:

What’s interesting about My Antonia is how it manages to function as a perfectly inviting story for young readers, and how an adult willing to revisit it with a more developed critical eye can appreciate it for the subtly sophisticated narrative it truly is. In this regard, it’s not unlike a wildly different book, Alice in Wonderland. Great fun for kids, psychologically captivating for grownups.

Now Reading

Shadow Traffic by Richard Burgin.

Up Next

Bohemian Girl by Terese Svoboda.

May in Review (2011)

I’ve been working on a few new short stories lately, but the majority of May was devoted to beginning the initial drafting process for Part 5 of my novel The Hyphenates of Jackson County—the final section of the book. It’s all kind of a big mess right now, but it’s good to get into it. This always happens after I spend a couple months in revision, and this time was no different. The writing comes tough, in small amounts, 500-1000 words a day. It’s mostly blocking scenes, organizing notes, working out important descriptions and finding where symbolism might emerge. It takes a while to build some momentum and get a feel for how this part of the story should be told.

"The Hyphenated American"

The narrative style I use is pretty steady throughout the book—third-person, through the point-of-view of my main character Jacob Bressler, although I’m experimenting with some brief first-person sections, too—but the main issue comes from the time scope of the book. The present-time thread of the novel takes place over three years, from 1917-1919, or starting when the United States declares war on Germany in 1917 and ending with the Red Summer and Omaha Race Riot of 1919. It’s not a huge amount of time for a novel, gratefully, although there is a lot going on, and it’s a challenge to account for the lost, un-narrated time between parts. Particularly in first drafts, I think I pay too much attention to what’s happened in the time gaps, instead of just getting into the action at hand. A lot of that will be eliminated soon enough, most of it in the initial edits. But it makes things a little clunky and difficult in the first draft.

Anyway, I’m really excited to be this close to finishing a draft of my first novel. I hope to be done with a rough version of Part 5 by the end of the summer. And since I’ve been editing the other parts as I’ve gone along, there isn’t a tremendous amount of work yet to be done, relatively. (I’ve been working on the book for about two years now.) If all goes well, I should have a decent draft of The Hyphenates of Jackson County finished by Spring 2012. Here’s hoping anyway. It’s not like I’m on deadline or anything.

In other news this past month:

-“The Current State of the Universe” is featured in the new issue of The Cincinnati Review. The story won their Schiff Prize for Prose last year, and I’m very excited to make it into this journal.

Prairie Schooner accepted my review of David Philip Mullins’ Greetings from Below for publication. This will be my third review for PS, where I’m also currently a senior fiction reader.

-On cue, my second review for Prairie Schooner—of Nadifa Mohamed’s Black Mamba Boy—appears in our current summer issue. Check it out. It’s a pretty good one. (The issue, I mean. (The review is okay too.))

-In April we learned that Kwame Dawes was coming in as the new Editor of Prairie Schooner; in May we learned that Managing Editor James Engelhardt was leaving. James secured a position as the acquisitions editor for University of Alaska Press, and leaves for Fairbanks early in June. (Actually, today I think.) I owe a great debt to James for all he’s done for my editing and reviewing career, if I can call it that. James took me on as a reader after I received my MA from Creighton. I was looking to maintain some involvement in the literary world, and volunteering for Prairie Schooner has been a great anchor for me. After a year-and-a-half, I made my way up to a senior reader position; PS accepted my first book review, after some editorial help from James; my first two trips to AWP came with funding assistance from PS as well. I feel very grateful for what Prairie Schooner has done for me, in giving me the opportunity to work, particularly as someone who isn’t otherwise involved in the English Department at the University of Nebraska—and I owe much of that gratitude do James, I believe. Best of luck to him and his family on their Alaskan adventure! (And additional thanks for the fact that now, when I think of Alaska, I won’t think of Sarah Palin.)

-Nicole and I celebrated our fifth anniversary in San Francisco!

-This blog featured a longish post about researching the lynching of Will Brown, and coming across a great NPR feature about the execution of Willie McGee and his granddaughter’s quest to find out the truth about him many decades later.

Dispatch from The Hyphenates of Jackson County

“Jacob returned to Omaha the same morning President Wilson arrived from St. Paul. It was only partly coincidental it happened that way. Jacob was planning on coming back to Omaha that week anyway, to visit his friend Reinhold Bock, and then he read in the papers that Wilson was to arrive by train to the Union Station early Monday morning, before giving a speech on the League of Nations that afternoon. A parade route was planned out where Wilson’s car would meander the city. When Jacob read this, he went down to the station in Lincoln and got a ticket to Omaha for the next morning. He bought himself a suitcase too, at the store there that sold them. It was something simple, with cardboard sides, that didn’t lock. It wouldn’t have to last forever. Jacob didn’t know what he was going to do—he had no plan for the next year, or month, or for the next three days for that matter—but he wanted to see the president. He’d find a spot on Scandal Flats and wait for Wilson’s car to pass by. It felt like it would be significant to do that. Jacob didn’t know why. He just felt he needed to see the man. He needed to see the man as a man, that was it.”

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

West Branch for “On a Train from the Place Called Valentine”; Southeast Review and Conjunctions for “Attend the Way”; Missouri Review for “Shame Cycle.”

Just Finished

The Cailiff’s of Baghdad, GA by Mary Helen Stefaniak. An excellent historical novel about racism and confronting the Other in depression-era Georgia, with a detour to the more famous Baghdad in ancient times. Very well done.

Quarantine by Rahul Mehta. I really enjoyed this collection—which revolves around the lives and loves of second-generation, homosexual, Indian-Americans—and will be reviewing it.

Now Reading

The Names by Don DeLillo.

Up Next

The Call by Yannick Murphy.