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Flatmancrooked, and a longer piece on Ellen Horan's historical novel 31 Bond Street and the culture of big advances for unpublished authors.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.

Confrontation is Out! The First Night of My Down-and-Out Sex Life Published!

Confrontation (No. 110, Fall 2011) arrived in our mailbox today! The issue features my short story “The First Night of My Down-and-Out Sex Life,” among many other pieces.

“First Night” is part of a series of stories I’ve been working on the past couple years. The other stories include “The Man Who Never Was” (published in Weekday), “Kleinhardt’s Women” (on Fogged Clarity last December), “On a Train from the Place Called Valentine” (forthcoming in Spring 2012 from Boulevard) and a story I’ve rewritten more than a handful of times and only recently seem to have a handle on, “The Mercy Killing of Harrison Kleinhardt.” All four stories are in my unpublished collection of short fiction, How to Die Young in Nebraska. “First Night” is my first published work that’s written from the point-of-view of a woman.

Here’s an excerpt:

It was after a show at Sokol Underground. I’d been driving up to Omaha once or twice a week that semester and having a few drinks near the back of the room while the bands played. Nothing serious. Not like some girls. Just a g-and-t or two in that smoky basement venue under the gymnastics club, listening to the bands. I bought their albums, stuck their pins to the strap of my bag then drove back to Lincoln when the show was over. Things changed when I saw the Zapruder Films.

Information for ordering the issue can be found on Confrontation’s web site. The current issue is $12, a steal for the nearly 300-page journal.

Also, I’d like to issue a huge Thanksgiving salutation to the readers and commentators who helped revise this story and the others in the cycle–Amber Haschenburger, Lucas Schwaller, and Travis Thieszen. Thanks so much! And, I’d be remiss if I didn’t thank Jonna Semeiks (Editor of Confrontation) and her staff for putting together a great issue, and allowing me to be a part of it.

“On a Train from the Place Called Valentine” to Appear in Boulevard

Some excellent news today, as I learned that my short story “On a Train from the Place Called Valentine” will run in the Spring 2012 issue of Boulevard!

This will be my sixteenth published short story, and the third of mine to appear in Boulevard. My work has found a home in the journal, and I’m grateful for the support of its staff, especially editor Richard Burgin. It’s a real privilege to connect with a prestigious journal multiple times like this. Previously, “Welcome Home” ran in the Spring 2008 issue of Boulevard–as winner of their Short Fiction Contest for Emerging Writers–and “The Approximate End of the World” ran in the Spring 2010 issue.

Similar to when I mentioned that “The First Night of My Down-and-Out Sex Life” was selected by Confrontation earlier this year, “On a Train from the Place Called Valentine” is part of a series of short stories that I’ve been working on the past couple years–which combine in my short story collection (How to Die Young in Nebraska) as the novella “Bad Faith.” The other stories include “The Man Who Never Was,” which was in Weekday a year ago, and “Kleinhardt’s Women,” which was on Fogged Clarity in December. “On a Train from the Place Called Valentine” is a psychological thriller that follows heroine Amy Gutschow after she jumps a freight train outside Aurora, Nebraska and through her confrontation with a pathetic but effective ladies man, Aaron Kleinhardt, after she hops off the train in Valentine, Neb. This story is one I’m very proud of, and I’m ecstatic to know that it will be taken care of by a stalwart like Boulevard. Cheers!

April in Review

-April turned out to be something of an uneventful month for me, which isn’t so bad. After all the good news and happening of March, it was nice to have a little more mental space to work in. I took a week off work and did a big revision of my short story collection, How to Die Young in Nebraska. A few stories were cut, I combined a few into a novella, and rearranged all of what was left into something kind of new. I took part in the initial screening for the Prairie Schooner Book Prize this year, and I tried to apply the lessons I learned from that experience as a screener/editor to my own collection. Hopefully it’s much better. I think it is. It’s a little shorter than before, the overall quality is a little more consistent, and the sense of narrative flow has been enhanced. We’ll see if there’s much of a response, as I have it out to a couple contests and small presses now.

-One thing I did a little different in my editing of the collection was to let myself revise older, published stories. My old agent was usually against this practice, maybe afraid that I would undo the magic of a piece by tinkering with it after it had already been edited and published. There’s a certain logic to that, but I felt it was time to make some smaller changes. My main motivation was thinking that I’m not exactly the same writer I was two or three or five years ago, and that the collection read a little too much like a fossil record of my stylistic changes over the period that I’ve been working on the book. Since I didn’t like that, I tried to make the book more consistent in style as well. That seems to make a lot of sense. Common sense even.

-Speaking of PS, Kwame Dawes was officially announced as the new Editor of Prairie Schooner. The last two years have been a little uncertain, as we looked for someone to replace longtime editor Hilda Raz, and I’m excited how it turned out.

-Darren and Lacey had their wedding this past weekend. Congrats to the Keens!

-I finally framed and hung a piece (see photo) that I made when I was at the Kimmel Harding Nelson Center for the Arts in March 2010. It’s pretty simple: an original Sunday supplement insert from the Omaha Daily News, from August 1912, on which I inked different descriptions of women that I wrote during my residency at KHN. I found the newspaper at an antique shop down the street from the arts center. It only took me a year, but I finally got the thing up on the wall, and I like it.

-Flatmancrooked officially called it quits in April. Here’s what I had to say about it.

-Looking ahead to May, The Cincinnati Review featuring my prize-winner, “The Current State of the Universe,” will be out on newsstands and in mailboxes. So get ready to hear more about that.

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

“Attend the Way” was named a finalist in the Summer Literary Seminars’ Unified Fiction Contest. Kind of a slow month for rejections. I don’t really have that much stuff out there right now.

Just Finished

Greetings from Below by David Philip Mullins. A very nice collection that I’m in the process of reviewing. The final three stories are exemplary, and they make for a knock-out conclusion to the book. I can’t recall another collection that sprints to the finish as much as Greetings from Below does. Usually it’s more of a ruminative, self-reflective inching forward that gracefully puts an end to the proceedings, but GfB doesn’t really follow that format too much, which is good.

My American Unhappiness by Dean Bakopoulos. I’m still not really sure what to make of this book. It’s kind of chick-lit for thirty-something men, if that makes any sense. There are long stretches of great, interesting writing, but the first-person narrator is very glib and kind of a frustratingly clueless person at times. MAU will probably reignite some of the debates about unlikable lead characters that raged last year with the release of Jonathan Franzen’s Freedom.

Now Reading

The Cailiffs of Baghdad, Georgia by Mary Helen Stefaniak.

Up Next

Quarantine by Rahul Mehta.

Micro-Interview with The Kenyon Review

A micro-interview I did for The Kenyon Review Online has been posted to their blog. It’s a pretty cool thing. I guess they are doing these interviews with contributors to help promote their upcoming issues–and mine was the first they did! Hopefully it turned out all right.

The post also reveals that their spring issue, which features my story “How to Die Young in a Nebraska Winter,” will be shipping next Thursday, March 10. How awesome is that? I’m pretty psyched. This is something I’ve really been looking forward to.

Thanks so much to Laura Briskman for doing the interview; and to David Lynn, Tyler Meier, John Pickard, James Flaherty, and everyone else at TKR for all their work and help in making this happen. My experience with The Kenyon Review has been exceptional.

How to Die Young in Nebraska Named Semi-Finalist

I learned today that How to Die Young in Nebraska, my collection of short fiction, was a semi-finalist in the Iowa Short Fiction Award. That’s the good news. The bad news is that it is no longer in the running for the publication prize, as the book is not among the finalists. A previous version of the collection was also a semi-finalist in 2009.

According to the letter sent by the contest administrators, there were nearly 400 manuscripts entered, and How to Die Young placed among the final twenty. I think it’s a little dubious to glean too much from such statistics–as you can never really know the quality of the books you were up against–but this is one of the premier first book contests out there and it’s probably safe to say that the competition was strong. It’s disappointing to lose out, but the recognition is nice. Hopefully it’s a sign of good things to come.

Cincy Style

Some fantastic news arrived today! My short story “The Current State of the Universe” was awarded (and named Grand Champion, I assume) of the Cincinnati Review‘s Robert and Adele Schiff Prize in Prose! It will appear in the journal in May of 2011. As an added bonus, my story “Attend the Way” received Honorable Mention. Both stories are in my unpublished collection How to Die Young in Nebraska.

I’m pretty psyched to have found such a great home for the story, and that it’s done so in prize-winning fashion is that much more exciting.

More to come on this.

Weeks of Jun 7 – July 2, 2010

Big Sky

Since returning from AWP in early April, I’ve been preparing to query agents, and I’m happy to report that this week I’ve finally reached the end of this process—and the beginning of the next phase of actually finding new representation. It’s taken much longer than I anticipated, mostly because of a few rewrites that became necessary in these middle stages of editing. (With big thanks to my wife Nicole for helping me to see how the shape/plot arc of Hyphenates Part I was not all it could be.) My first-choice agency requested full manuscripts almost immediately and is now deliberating. Wish me luck! Coincidentally, I received an out-of-the-blue email from a pretty big-time agent at the end of last week requesting some work. That was pretty cool. Maybe I’ll be sending him something before long, depending on how my first-choice responds.

It’s been somewhat of a weird process the last six months. My first agent left her agency right before Christmas last year, which left me without representation. It was kind of jarring at first, to be let loose like that. I’d probably put too much stock in having an agent, let my sense of self-confidence become too large based upon the fact that, like Don DeLillo, Al Pacinco and A-Rod, I had an agent out there stumping on my behalf. We worked together for over a year on my story collection and, what turned out to be failed, first novel. There were a lot of good things that came from the relationship–such as the idea to switch focus to the historical thread I’m telling with Hyphenates–and I feel much richer for the experience. But it was nice to move on, frankly, to have some free space to work out exactly what I was doing with my books, to dig deeper into myself, and to do so as a writer, rather than as a producer of potential market share. It reminded me of the reasons why I really love doing this, having the chance to indulge daily in the small acts of creation and destruction that eventually tease out a story. These six months have given me the opportunity to refine my projects considerably. And I’m thankful for them. But now, it’s time to get back in the game, to pursue book publication with all I’ve got, and to provide for my family as best as I’m able.

Next week it’s back to work on Part II, which is nearly completed in rough draft form. Hopefully by the end of the summer I’ll have it in some kind of acceptable shape and can move on to actually finishing the book by the end of this year. Not to jinx myself or anything.

Thanks a ton to all my readers who helped work my manuscripts into shape before I sent them off, sometimes on very short-notice. Amber, Bill, Mary Helen, Nabina, Nicole, Travis—you’re the best! And likewise for Jonis, Brent, Gregory, Justin, and Timothy, for giving advice and being advocates on my behalf. All of you are also the best.

-Nicole, Maddie and I were off in Fort Collins last weekend at a wedding. The photos in this post are from the trip.

Maddie really loves weddings.

Dispatch from The Hyphenates of Jackson County

“She was in the same clothes as before, the heavy red dress, torn and dirty by then. Her hair was thin, unpinned and breezy about her face. ‘Is that her?’ Strauss asked. ‘That’s the one you were on about last week?’ Jacob said, ‘Yeah,’ still with his hand on the Pfarrer’s shoulder, their faces close together as they stared at the girl. She was only twenty yards away from them, steadying herself against the trunk of a locust tree, one of the trees Jacob had slept under his first night in Omaha. ‘Her betrothed skipped town,’ Strauss said. It was obvious that the girl lived on the street now, that her family had turned its back on her, or she’d gone crazy and willingly exposed herself to the mutilating fractions of a city.”

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

Electric Literature for “The Current State of the Universe”; Alaska Quarterly Review for “On a Train from the Place Called Valentine”; Nashville Review for “The First Night of My Down-and-Out Sex Life.”

Just Finished

The Turk and My Mother by Mary Helen Stefaniak. The first novel of a beloved Creighton professor, this one is highly enjoyable. A kind of folksy post-modern historical novel that seems largely drawn from family history and deals with the tumultuous love lives of our parents and grandparents before we knew them. MHS has a second historical novel coming out this fall, by the way.

We drove up into the mountains in a thunder storm and didn't run over any of the many bicyclers!

Now Reading

What He’s Poised to Do by Ben Greenman.

Up Next

The Lonely Polygamist by Brady Udall.

Books That Came in the Mail

What He’s Poised to Do by Ben Greenman. The Lonely Polygamist by Brady Udall. Novel History by Mark C. Carnes. Bad Marie by Marcy Dermansky. Three Delays by Charlie Smith. The Great Lover by Jill Dawson. Lean on Pete by Willy Vlautin.