Leaving Europe, Coming Home

From inside the Wiener Riesenrad, the giant wheel in the Prater.
From inside the Wiener Riesenrad, the giant wheel in the Prater.

This post has been sitting in post-op for quite a while but I’d still like to make a few points and share a bunch of photos from my last few weeks in Europe this summer. I’ve been back in Nebraska, more or less, since the end of August and have been kept busy readjusting, recovering, and trying to make up for lost time with the girls. So the blogging has been neglected. Hopefully nobody is too crushed by this fact.

My three months at Solitude served me and my body of work very well. Quantitatively, I wrote a whole new novel from beginning to end, sans a few scenes that didn’t quite take off that I’ll get to soon; conceived of and planned out a multimedia project and presentation (more on this in the coming months) that will illustrate a lot of the research and creative process that went into writing my first novel, the historically-set The Uninitiated; yet another small revision of The Uninitiated before sending it off to agents; and one new short story.

Thinking about these things numerically isn’t usually the best, but I think the work is pretty good too. I’m really excited about the new novel–called Safe Haven, for now, or maybe From the Files of the Chief Inspector. It’s kind of crazy thinking about how it took three years to finish a draft of my first novel (with rewrites coming in each of the two subsequent years to get to a draft that I feel is more-or-less done) and that a first draft of the second novel pretty much took about five and a half weeks to get down. The book isn’t quite done, so hopefully I’m not jinxing myself, but it’s interesting to look at the differences of the two projects. The second book is set in in 2008, so obviously there’s a big difference in the amount of time demanded by research. Also, I had a much clearer idea about what the second book would be about and how I’d structure its different parts, which is probably the biggest change. Anyway, now that the first draft is nearing completion, I’m excited to get onto the 1-10 years of revising before it’s ready to let anyone else actually see it.

From the Files of the Chief Inspector, or, Safe Haven, or, More Work, a novel.
From the Files of the Chief Inspector, or, Safe Haven, or, More Work, a novel.

Just a teaser, a literary crime novel, the book features love stories set in the context of a post-9/11 domestic spying campaign. If you’ve followed this blog for a while and are familiar with my reading obsessions the past few years (Bolaño, D. Johnson, U. Johnson) then you probably could approximate the tone and style of this new project. It’s been fun to write, I’ll say that.

Thanks so much to Mr. Joly, Silke, Marieanne, Claudia, Lu, Clara, Lotte, Sophie, Maria, the other fellows, and everyone else at Akademie Schloss Solitude for their assistance and support during my residency. Solitude is an amazing place made so much more so by the people there.

My final few weeks allowed for just a little more travel in Europe. After taking longer trips to Amman, Italy, and Paris (x2) I decided to keep my last few cities decidedly Germanic, sneaking in a few days in Hamburg, Berlin, and Vienna. Rushing through these cities didn’t do them any kind of justice, but a taste is better than nothing.

I will say that the best Mexican food I had in Europe was at Tin Tan in the Mitte area of Berlin. There were some decent burrito stands in Paris, but Tin Tan was faraway the best. This turned into a running-joke by the time I left Germany, but I was really craving good Mexican food so much. I like paprika and pimento peppers as much as the next guy–probably more–but it wasn’t so easy to go on without a steady supply of chili peppers. (I had plenty of Döner, currywurst, and schnitzl too, don’t worry. Would have liked to live on crepes a few days, but that wasn’t really in the cards.)

Pretty much right after getting home to Nebraska we set off for the Pacific NW to celebrate the weddings of a couple friends. It was a great trip. More travel for the girls–planes, trains and boats this time. Daughter 1 was pretty appalled at how slow and low-tech Amtrak trains are, having worked her way up to a college sophomore level of pretentiousness about rail-travel after summering in Europe. Not everything is the TGV, honey.

While I was definitely not in the mood to spend more time on an airplane at this point, it was great to catch up with so many old friends during my homecoming weekend.

In fact, I was pretty much awed by the reception I received in returning. From Nicole and the girls and the extended family, to the writers at Creighton, even to the security guards at the courthouses I cover for work. People are nice. It was really quite touching, like I’m George Bailey or something.

After that, October saw three trips to Kansas City to following the Royals on their historic run to the World Series. In all, I saw the madcap, 12-inning Wild Card game victory over the Oakland A’s with my brother, drove down for the ALCS rainout with Nicole, and parlayed what we sold the ALCS rainout tickets for into two seats for Game 2 of the World Series against San Francisco. What a crazy run.

A bunch of photos:

Ma Vie à Stuttgart: Solitude Nacht, Landstuhl, Stuttgart

solitude 8
Reading on the steps of the castle during Solitude Night. (Photo by Kai Linke.)

A few highlights from the past couple weeks:

-A big one being that I read as part of Solitude Night here at the Akademie on July 5. The experience was a pretty cool one, not the least because my literature compatriots–Irish poet Annemarie Ní Churreáin and German playwright Anne Habermehl–shared their outstanding work. Also, the stage was built on the steps of die Schloss, with the reader facing the castle and the audience seated on the steps, facing the valley. I read from two pieces, some of “On the River, Down Where They Found Willy Brown” and the opening of the new novel I’ve been working on here. It was kind of nerve-wracking to present work that was written only a few weeks ago, but I feel like it went over okay. A number of people have told me they enjoyed the reading–and since they’re passing on good news, I have no reason to doubt them.

Thanks so much to Claudia Gehre for setting up the reading so beautifully and introducing us readers. And thanks to Akademie Director Jean-Baptiste Joly for selecting me to read on the big night.

-Also, if you haven’t seen, Akademie Schloss Solitude is now accepting applications for its next cycle of fellows, with residencies from 2015 to 2017. Residencies are typically pretty long, 6-8 months or so, sometimes longer, sometimes shorter. Stipends, lodging, and studio space are provided, along with some travel and project expenses. Writers, artists, dancers, musicians, mathematicians, chess players, art administrators, philosophers–it’s a pretty big tent out here. I’ll vouch that Akademie Schloss Solitude is certainly an amazing place to write and create, and hike, and is pretty centrally located if you’d want to do some sideline travel while in Europe. The deadline is Oct 31, 2014. Here’s a list of conditions and benefits for the fellowship. Check it out.

-After Jordan I didn’t do much traveling the past two weeks. Explored more of Stuttgart on foot, found new areas of the forest to hike, managed to turn a two hour leisurely walk to the bank into a five hour power-hike after I took a wrong turn in Wildpark. Oops.

-Today I did venture out of Stuttgart again with a trip up to Landstuhl. There really isn’t too much there, except the Landstuhl Regional Medical Center, with Ramstein Air Base also in the area, so it has certain significance to recent US military history–and more to the point, a character in my new novel (Jim Allen from my story “Welcome Home” is a big character in the book) is sent to the medical center for a brief time. So it was kind of research for the novel, kind of just being curious to see what a US military town in Germany is like. I wasn’t sure if I should still go up there. There are a million other places to visit here that offer more in the way of culture and sights. The trip itself was longish, about three hours each way by train, although a lot of that was through the scenic Rhineland area, so not much to complain about there. So I went.

landstuhl
Landstuhl, stadtmitte.

This morning I was surprisingly emotional about going to Landstuhl. The medical center served as the primary hospital to treat injuries suffered in both the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, so it’s seen a lot of traffic in the last decade. I read last night that the hospital was for several years among the world’s most active hubs for organ donations. A sort of benign fact on its face, but devastating in its implication. This really stuck with me this morning.

I didn’t do much while there. Walked up to the medical center and around its gates. Everything is secured so there really wasn’t much to see besides dozens of signs promising that bad things will happen if you take any pictures of the facility. (Note: I really admire those who live by the edict that when someone tells you to stop filming, that’s the most important time to be filming. Further note: I’m not one of those people.) So nothing profound, but I’m glad I went. Like a lot of things, the process of getting somewhere is most of the trip. And I did get a few details that will make it into the first draft of the novel.

-Arriving back into Stuttgart was pretty interesting this evening. There was a big Palestinian demonstration going on all along Königstraße, a pedestrian drag through the main tourist and cultural part of the city. A little different from what I expected walking out of Hauptbahnhof train station. Lots of flag waving, some chanting, many head scarfs, a few burqas. Polizei in full-on paramilitary gear, berets, rifles, some with riot gear handy, just in case. (I’m assuming a lot of the police presence was just in case a group of fascist, anti-immigrant thugs showed up for a confrontation–something becoming more common in some places–but I’m not really sure.) Meanwhile, the Schlossplatz (castle square) is hosting its annual week of free jazz performances. So, while the the protest wraps up, there’s a jazz quintet on a bandstand playing “Everybody wants to be a Cat” from Disney’s The Aristocats (you couldn’t make this stuff up if you tried) with a bunch of hipster swing kids strutting their stuff. Kind of a strange dynamic. And a nice little microcosm for how this whole trip has gone.