Bad Faith Reassessed for The Story Prize Blog

wheeler-badCheck out my guest blog piece posted today on the blog of The Story Prize: “On Writing Stories from Inside Trump’s America (Before It Was).”

The Story Prize is the biggest book award for short story collections in the US, awarding a $20,000 bounty to an author each spring. In addition, they also open up their blog for authors of new short story collections to write a post about their books or an aspect of their practice, which is where I come into the picture.

Thanks so much to Larry Dark, Director of the prize, for inviting me to write something and for putting up my short essay. Here’s a sample:

Going off my friend’s suggestion, I began to think about who fit into what electoral bucket. Certainly the crotchety Harry Kleinhardt of my opening story, a man who’s forced to face his disappointment of a son while dying from cancer, who spends his afternoons sunning himself in the mudroom listening to Limbaugh and reminisces about how bright life once was, at least before it all went to shit. There’s one vanguard of Trump’s America. Then there’s Anna from “Impertinent, Triumphant,” who met her politician husband while both were congressional interns for Kit Bond, the former Republican Senator from Missouri. It’s easy to see how Anna would coalesce behind the Trump campaign. While not a “build that wall” kind of gal, she wouldn’t be opposed to chanting “lock her up” if others were doing so, say, on the floor of the Republican National Convention, exchanging a loftier political ideal or two in order to take a pantsuit-wearing liberal down a peg.

But there’s some noise in the populous of Bad Faith—as with anywhere, the distance between perception and reality isn’t so clear. Sam and Jacq, also from “Impertinent,” a former travel entrepreneur and an experimental landscape artist, leave Manhattan to settle on a ranch near the Sandhills. And what about the biracial man from Omaha who has to face his fear of being an outsider in a small town (and being exposed to small town police) to attend the funeral of his estranged white mother?

“Impertinent, Triumphant” Nominated for a Pushcart Prize

I’m very pleased to share that my short story “Impertinent, Triumphant” has been nominated for a Pushcart Prize!

The story was nominated by Mark Wisniewski, a contributing editor with the small press vanguard, and a fine writer in his own right.

“Impertinent, Triumphant” appeared on FiveChapters in February of this year. Check it out if you haven’t read the story yet. I haven’t written too many new short stories the past few years, and this is probably my favorite from the period. It was great to have it accepted such an incredible venue as FiveChapters in the first place, and even better to receive this recognition for the story now.

This is my fourth nomination for a Pushcart, with no wins yet tallied. “Welcome Home” (featured in both Boulevard and Best New American Voices 2009) was listed as a “Special Mention” story in the 2010 Pushcart anthology.

Here’s a bit about the Pushcarts, in case you’re wondering, from their web site:

The Pushcart Prize: Best of the Small Presses series, published every year since 1976, is the most honored literary project in America.

Since 1976, hundreds of presses and thousands of writers of short stories, poetry and essays have been represented in our annual collections. Each year most of the writers and many of the presses are new to the series. Every volume contains an index of past selections, plus lists of outstanding presses with addresses.

The Pushcart Prize has been a labor of love and independent spirits since its founding. It is one of the last surviving literary co-ops from the 60’s and 70’s. Our legacy is assured by donations to our Fellowships endowment.

Wish me luck!

“Impertinent, Triumphant” Going Up on Five Chapters!

The serialization of my story “Impertinent, Triumphant” on Five Chapters began tonight! Look for Part 2 on Tuesday, and so on, throughout the week. In lieu of making five posts, I’ll just update the links here. Let’s get started:

All five parts are posted here.

I wrote a bit more about the story back in November when it was accepted, and you can read that here if you’re interested.

It’s exciting to see this story go up on such an interesting and vital venue. Be sure to click around in their archives too while you’re there. 5c has really put out some remarkable work. Thanks again to David Daley for taking the story.

Cheers!

Autumn in Review (2013)

No big news regarding the novel-writing at this point. I’ve been busy reworking the reworks. Tried half a dozen more ways to do the opening pages and feel like I’m getting closer on that. For a long time I leaned on having a sort of prologue opening, but decided to cut all but four pages of that, as it seemed to be more of a crutch for me as writer than anything that might interest a reader. Always a tricky business figuring out what actually needs to be on the page and what needed to be written for the writer only. Getting closer though.

There was some more tangible news related to The Uninitiated over the season though, as Boulevard published an excerpt of the novel in October, titled “River Ward, 1917.” This is the first bit of writing from the novel that’s been published, so definitely exciting news there.

Meanwhile, in December, another excerpt, “On the River, Down Where They Found Willy Brown,” brought home the Marianne Russo Award from the Key West Literary Seminar. Among the many benefits are free travel and lodging at this year’s seminar, the opportunity to read my work as part of the regular program at the seminar, and an 11-day stay in Key West. It will be sad to miss over a third of Nebraska’s January, but somehow I’ll soldier through.

These two things, along with a fellowship to Akademie Schloss Solitude, winning the Tarcher/Penguin Top Artist contest, a long-list notice in the Inkubate novel contest–all of which was based on work done for The Uninitiated–makes me hope I’m on the right track here.

There was more publishing news in November, as Five Chapters accepted “Impertinent, Triumphant” for publication. The story will run sometime in March, probably. Really looking forward to that too.

Also, some interesting thoughts on living abroad are offered here in this article.

Finally, congrats to emily m. danforth and her novel The Miseducation of Cameron Post for taking the “Woman Writer” award at the High Plains Book Awards. So happy for emily and all of her success.

Dispatch from The Uninitiated

“Tom thought it over as he paced the brick drive that led up to his house, two days after the vote. Bullet straight and tree-lined, the drive gave the impression of something fantastic as his house slipped into view, large and unreachable, a mirage. The house was wood-framed with finishes of granite at certain edges, the cellar and foundation limestone, highlights of plaster festoons above the front door. A few chimneys rose above beveled eaves. Off the second floor bedrooms were balconies as wide as the patios below, where a tiered-garden overlooked the industrial valley. There were pergolas holding grape vines, arbors abloom with creeping red ivy. Everything here was made for entertaining, for looking at, for admiring, but up close these spaces didn’t serve any purpose. This was an unpeopled luxury, a lonely glutton of riches in and of itself. If Tom was being honest, he had to admit this.

“Years before, an enemy left a bomb on the front doorstep. An ingenious design, the bomb, a simple wooden box with six sticks of dynamite and a pistol inside. A string was tacked to the porch and connected to the trigger of the pistol. If someone had lifted the box, his wife Ada or daughter Frances, the whole house would have been blasted clean off the earth, leaving only a rubbled crater. Frances found the box with a friend, and she told Tom about it. A smart girl, Frances didn’t touch the infernal device at all. Tom noticed the trip wire when she brought him to see. He had police dismantle the bomb. After that Tom closed the grounds. Bodyguards were kept outside around the clock. You had to be a close family friend, a known friend, if there was such a thing, or else you couldn’t get in. The bomb changed things. That’s when Tom put the machine gun across his lap in the car. That’s when everything here, all this bounty he’d won over the years, all of it, started being lonely.”

Just Finished

The 42nd Parallel by John Dos Passos. I’d always avoided the USA Trilogy for some reason. Dos Passos is so often only a foot-note to Hemingway among the great writers of the Lost Generation, although his novels are consistently lauded and canonized as well. I’d just never known anyone who actually read him, so there wasn’t much of a conversation to join, I guess. After reading this first third of the trilogy I can see why Dos Passos is still relevant. So much of his pro-labor and socialist message is probably lost to most contemporary readers–it’s similar to reading The Jungle at times–but the level of energy and innovation is very high here too. Very rich, poetic, and affecting.

The Rings of Saturn by W.G. Sebald. The way these conversational essays seem to be written more for effect–that your mind wanders with the flow of information, sometimes parallel to it, sometimes not–produces an interesting reading experience. I’d read about Sebald’s work a lot before I ever read it, so I kind of knew what to expect. At the same time, I’m still not really sure what to think.

The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford by Ron Hansen. Really enjoyed this. A lot more than I thought I would, frankly. I met Ron when he visited Creighton University this fall, which is what prompted me to finally pull this off my “To Read” book shelf. The psychological depth of the novel is pretty astounding. Plenty of shoot-outs and train robberies too, of course.

The Castle by Franz Kafka. A monster of an unfinished novel. I was compelled to read this after watching Michael Haneke’s film adaptation, and really enjoyed both quite a lot. The idea of reading an unfinished novel always intrigues me, particularly ones of this class that could just as accurately be called “unfinishable” novels. It isn’t so much that the plot line is incomplete, more that the story could never finish. It’s not like K.’s going to find some sort of victory in the end, or defeat for that matter. The novel follows his string of embarrassments and slight advancements and eventually stops as he reaches the end of his inertia. I kind of wondered if the novel wasn’t finished after all.

Hide Island by Richard Burgin. A review I wrote of this collection of short stories will be appearing in Prairie Schooner‘s Briefly Noted online book review, probably in February.

Now Reading

A Constellation of Vital Phenomena by Anthony Marra. This has been pretty engaging so far, although the writing sometimes comes off as haphazard, particularly when it comes to POV. Maybe haphazard isn’t the right word, superfluous?, but I often question some of the strategies Marra uses here to tell the story. A good book nonetheless. I can certainly see why it made so many Best of lists this year, mostly because of the story of an orphaned little girl and two eccentric doctors in war-torn Chechnya is so remarkable.

An American Tragedy by Theodore Dreiser. I’ve been reading this off and on for a few years now. I come across some criticism about Dreiser a while ago that lumped him into a group of American novelists who have novels regarded as classics (Dreiser has two, of course, with Sister Carrie also showing impressive staying power) even though the writing itself isn’t really all that remarkable. I’d tend to agree with the assessment. Nobody is going to confuse Dreiser with Hemingway or Fitzgerald, as far as style and form go, although the story of his novels really is so quintessentially American (for its time, place, and class) that it’s hard to dispute the status of his novels as classics. Steinbeck was the other novelists lumped into this category, which seems to fit as well.

Up Next

The Third Book about Achim by Uwe Johnson. The follow-up novel to Speculations about Jakob. These books can be difficult to locate, but I happened to find one at the always excellent Jackson Street Booksellers and was lucky enough to get the other from Nicole for Christmas.

Five Chapters to Publish “Impertinent, Triumphant”

Some excellent news to share on this Friday, as the marvelous online journal Five Chapters has selected my short story “Impertinent, Triumphant” for publication!

If you’re not familiar with Five Chapters, it’s a pretty unique publication, as they serialize a single short story every week, running the piece in, you guessed it, five chapters, one per day, Monday to Friday. And they’ve been doing so since October of 2006. (Read an interview of FC Editor David Daley here for more info.) To go along with that impressive consistency, FC’s authors include a who’s-who of young writers, winners of the Pulitzer Prize, National Book Award, PEN/Faulkner award, among others, like Jennifer Egan, Ron Rash, Lauren Groff, Julie Orringer, Nam Le, Rick Moody, Peter Orner, Ben Greenman, Samantha Hunt, Patricia Engel, Lori Ostlund, Dean Bakopoulos, Jami Attenberg, Marcy Dermansky, Teddy Wayne, Jacquira Díaz, Molly Ringwald…really, so many great writers it’s foolish to try and list them all. You get the point: a very high quality fiction publication on a small scale. I couldn’t be happier that “I,T” will find its way into these ranks in a few months, sometime around March.

As for the story itself, “Impertinent, Triumphant” is sort of a newish one. I haven’t put as much time into my short fiction the past few years as I used to, as the novel took more and more of my focus. That being said, I did manage to give a good deal of attention to this a few other stories along the way. This one in particular was fun to write, as it started off as an homage to Chekhov’s “The Lady with the Dog,” a style of drafting I’ve never really tried before.

Here’s an excerpt:

“She looked beautiful, of course. She had a long neck and a small face, lovely gray eyes. That’s why I kept looking. Her hair was wavy from some chemical treatment, and a dull, dull orange meant to be blond. She wore a terrycloth shirt, khaki shorts and leather sandals. She was really quite common. Modest chest, soft legs, a little bump where her stomach rose. I’d never seen a grown-up look so bored before. She was childish. I thought she was stunning.

“There was a toy radio she listened to at her table, a tier below me on the hotel terrace, three patio umbrellas over. I noticed because the radio wasn’t an iPod. It was just a yellow plastic toy with a drawstring that fit over her hand, black rubber grips, and built-in speakers so everyone had to listen to what she played, a political call-in show.

“I couldn’t turn away. Her face was round. Baby fat on her cheeks made her look younger than she was. She was nearly thirty, I’d learn. Her skin was firm and limpid as she sipped an Arnie Palmer with lips imperceptibly open.”

More on this later, of course, when the story starts to go up. Special thanks to David Daley for selecting the story, along with Amber Mulholland and Country Club Bill for their help in pounding this story into shape.

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.

June in Review (2011)

June turned out to be all about new short stories for me. I completely reworked one short story, wrote a new one, and put the final touches on yet another. I’d planned on drafting new material for the novel this month, but was really swept up in the short form for a few weeks and had to put off any new writing for the novel. It had been so long since I had much passion for writing short fiction, I didn’t want to miss the opportunity. It felt pretty good to pump out a few stories in a small period of time, after working on one project for nearly two years now. To hear some new voices, to deal with different types of problems—those faced by married people, by people alive in this century, by those from the middle class—was kind of nice. It will also be nice to have some new stories to send out to journals this fall, which hasn’t been the case for a while.

In other news this past month:

The frontyard flower garden is in full bloom. Bumble bees rejoice.

-Mixer Publishing released my short story “The Housekeeper” on Amazon, available for download on Kindle or PDF. The story was originally published on Flatmancrooked earlier this year, but they have apparently taken down their entire site. That sucks.

-And if you’re already on Amazon, you might as well download the spring issue of The Kenyon Review, which features my short story “How to Die Young in a Nebraska Winter.”

-A story that just so happened to be reviewed on the blog Perpetual Folly as part of its Short Story Month 2011.

-Also, The Kenyon Review released their summer reading recommendations, including two of my picks.

-My review of Richard Burgin’s novel Rivers Last Longer appeared in the Pleiades Book Review.

-In other review news, The Millions will be running my review of Suzanne Rivecca’s debut short story collection Death is Not an Option sometime this month.

We traveled to State Center, IA, for a wedding of one of Nicole's cousins, and were greeted by a donkey.

Dispatch from “Impertinent, Triumphant”

“We talked about marriage for a long time. About the good stuff, then the bad, then the qualifications and excuses of what we’d said before. Something happened to Anna, she was emotional, she calmed down, something else happened a few weeks after that, and it wasn’t until later that she remembered the first thing, the original outrage, and by then it was too late for her to do something about it. My stories were the same, structurally. Eventually we turned listless and bleak, hearing about each others’ marriage wounds. They lacked finality. We wanted firm endings, closure, but that wasn’t possible.”

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

Florida Review for “Attend the Way.”

Just Finished

The Names by Don DeLillo. I’ve read nearly all of DeLillo’s work now, and this is by far the most underappreciated novel of his I’ve come across. It’s really pretty good. One from his espionage meme, with a domestic twist, about a spy for the CIA who doesn’t know he’s working as a spy for the CIA. The only thing I can think of to explain its lack of recognition is that The Names, for one, comes from DeLillo’s first period of work, before he was famous, and, secondly, that it covers a lot of similar ground as some of his later intelligence novels, like Mao II, Underworld(my favorite!) and, to some extent, Libra.

Now Reading

A Visit from the Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan.

Up Next

The Call by Yannick Murphy.