Ten Things About the Color Blue

Winter BabyThis morning Lit Hub published a personal essay I wrote that they titled “Writing and Confronting Terror in the Form of a Color: Theodore Wheeler’s Notes on Blue.” (I’d titled it the much pithier and more mysterious “Ten Things About the Color Blue,” but I digress.) The essay delves into the many ways I’ve tried writing about creating art while being a parent and, in particular, trying to work through the trauma we experienced when our second daughter turned blue in the delivery room shortly after being born.

In the years since, I’ve written several short stories, a novel, and now an essay that uses the color blue as a leitmotif. There’s some discussion about the real life stuff that is behind my new novel In Our Other Lives, but mostly it focuses on the healing process and why this became such an obsession for me.

Read it on Lit Hub today!

An hour after my second daughter was born, she turned blue in my arms.

The first time it happened I didn’t say anything. Her skin tinted bluish, just a little, but she pinkened right away and that was all fine. She was healthy and large, we were happy. Minutes later, my wife holding her this time, her skin blued again and my stomach sank. “Do you see that?” I asked my wife. “Does she look a little blue?” But Cee was apparently breathing; her chest rising and falling. “Should we ask a nurse?”

When the nurse answered our call, she immediately slapped a button on the wall that announced a code blue over the entire floor. Cee was snatched from our arms by a dozen doctors and nurses and taken to an incubator across the hall. Although her chest was rising, Cee was not taking enough oxygen to stay alive. In less than an hour she would be moved downstairs to the neonatal intensive care unit, then would undergo a spinal tap to make sure she didn’t have meningitis. There were alarms that chimed when her oxygen levels dipped too low, something that happened over and over her first hours. There were a lot of things that happened over the next four days, too many to mention. We stayed in the NICU until her lungs cleared and we could take her home. And then she was fine. After she learned, Cee has never forgotten how to breathe.

In Our Other Lives is Published!

 

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It’s publication day for my new novel, In Our Other Lives!!! ‬Writing this book took me to Stuttgart for three months, Lisbon, Jaipur, New Delhi, many times to Chicago, and to new places with my writing in creative and personal ways I doubted were possible. It’s always strangely bittersweet to publish a new book—but I’m excited for you all to read the story and hopefully love it at least a tenth as much as I do.

This is the book I began while on fellowship at Akademie Schloss Solitude, writing around 200 pages of the first draft over an intense seven-week period. Special thanks to Maxi Obexer and Jean-Baptiste Joly for bringing me there. Also, to the creative writing department at Creighton University, where I was an MFA student during this period and was encouraged to experiment with voice, perspective, and other ways to manipulate reader experience. Also, to the emergency department at the University of Nebraska Medical Center for letting me shadow ER nurses and doctors for a day. This was a fun one to research.

If you’re inclined to purchase a copy, my sincerest thanks. For bargain hunters, order here, or support local booksellers here. For a signed copy, order here.

Cheers!

NEA!

nea logoSince November I’ve been waiting to tell you all that I’ve been awarded a creative writing fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts–and today is the day it’s official!

The fellowship–which grants winners $25,000 over a two-year period to advance their career and develop a new project–comes at an especially fortunate time for me to actually address that dictate. My new novel In Our Other Lives comes out on March 3, of course, so having travel funds available to get out an promote the book is such a boon. The opening chapter of Other Lives was part of my winning application packet and it’s nice to get that boost of confidence too.

I’m also in the early stages of a new novel project that’s set in Western Europe during early years of World War II and follows a group of foreign news correspondents as they report on and address a rise of Fascism. I’ve been trying to start this novel for a few years while crawling along through research, character sketches, and the opening lines of narration (a completely normal process). The fellowship will enable me to jump into this book in a way that wouldn’t be possible otherwise.

It’s a fact that Kings of Broken Things wouldn’t have turned out so well and that I might not have been able to write In Our Other Lives at all if it wasn’t for the three-months I spent as a fellow at Akademie Schloss Solitude in the summer of 2014. It’s a dream to have such generous support to dive into a more ambitious new novel. And to be able to write much of it while in Europe near the sites where the history occurred… I don’t know what else to say, except, THANKS, NEA!

Also, congrats to the other 35 winners! Our work was selected from nearly 1,700 applications. This was the fourth time I’ve applied. The first time, a decade ago, I felt so honored to even be eligible, as you need one book or five recent journal publications to even throw your hat in the ring. To be included with the other winners, and the tradition of authors before us, is very humbling.

WheelerTHeadShot_Photo by Patrick MainelliAfter sitting on the news for about two months (Nicole wanted it pointed out that this is the longest she’s ever kept a secret) it feels a little funny to have this become official. I’m bursting with pride, of course, and soaking in all the kind wishes while they last. But I want to mention too that my day actually started off by getting a rejection notice in my e-mail. This was just a garden-variety magazine rejection, so nbd. And though it was a form rejection, it was the nice kind that said they admired my work and would like to see more from me in the future. Those are a kind of victory, something to feel encouraged about as I move forward. It’s a good reminder how humbling the business of being a writer can be, and that usually its rewards are not financial.

Something Nicole and I talk about sometimes–as we’re doing work with our Dundee Book Company book cart and, especially, coordinating Omaha Lit Fest–is that we’re usually the only parties involved who aren’t getting paid to be there. Don’t get me wrong, I love our partners and appreciate all the work they do for writers, literature, and the city, and I know they put in hours well beyond what they’re compensated for, but it is something we notice from time to time. It’s an issue among both booksellers and event organizers, this whole thing of how to pay yourself and keep your venture above water. My point, I guess, is that I feel like things always even out for me. Maybe I volunteer my time for Lit Fest, but I was paid a stipend to attend grad school (twice!) and having my name tied to events maybe helps books sales, so whatever. I get to spend most of my time around books and writing my own books, I have a beautiful family that loves and (often) respects me, I get to travel around the world, so I try to never put a hex on all that by complaining. Plus, every once in a while, some money comes along unexpectedly and  helps balance the scales in an enormous way. Today is one of those days.

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OMAHA—Today, the National Endowment for the Arts announced that Theodore Wheeler is one of 36 writers who will receive an FY 2020 Creative Writing Fellowship of $25,000. These fellowships enable the recipients to set aside time for writing, research, travel, and general career advancement. Fellows are selected through a highly-competitive, anonymous process and are judged on the artistic excellence of the work sample provided.In Our Other Lives

“The National Endowment for the Arts is proud to support our nation’s writers, including Theodore Wheeler, and the artistry, creativity, and dedication that go into their work,” said Mary Anne Carter, chairman of the National Endowment for the Arts.

Theodore Wheeler was selected from nearly 1,700 eligible applicants. Fellowships alternate between poetry and prose each year and this year’s fellowships are to support prose writers. The full list of FY 2020 Creative Writing Fellows is available here.

Theodore Wheeler is author of the novels In Our Other Lives (Little A, March 3, 2020) and Kings of Broken Things (Little A, 2017), and a collection of short stories, Bad Faith (Queens Ferry Press, 2016). He has been recognized with a Marianne Russo Award from the Key West Literary Seminar and a fellowship from Akademie Schloss Solitude in Stuttgart, Germany. A graduate of the creative writing program at Creighton University, Wheeler teaches at the University of Nebraska at Omaha, covers a civil-law and politics beat for a national news service, co-directs Omaha Lit Fest, and sidelines as a bookseller for the Dundee Book Company roving book cart, one of the world’s smallest bookstores.

An excerpt from Wheeler’s new novel, In Our Other Lives, was featured in his winning application. More information about the novel, which will be published on March 3, is attached.

Since 1967, the Arts Endowment has awarded more than 3,500 Creative Writing Fellowships totaling over $55 million. Many American recipients of the National Book Award, National Book Critics Circle Award, and Pulitzer Prize in Poetry and Fiction were recipients of National Endowment for the Arts fellowships early in their careers.

Visit the agency’s Literature Fellowships webpage to read excerpts by and features on past Creative Writing Fellows and recipients of Literature Fellowships for translation projects. For more information on literature at the National Endowment for the Arts, go to arts.gov.