Check out this interview about my new book and a range of other topics that Creighton MFA alumna Meredith Allison Lea was kind enough to post on her blog this evening!
3) What challenges did you face writing not only historical fiction, but also about this topic in particular?
Depicting the riot was the biggest challenge, on craft and personal levels. In a practical sense, it was difficult to write a series of scenes that depicts an over 10,000-person riot that took place over twelve hours and nearly destroyed downtown Omaha, with the struggle being to let the riot be as big as it was without swallowing up the book’s characters in the process. I like to think about telling a story as building a house, and the ending should be contained within the structure without blowing the roof off. Just by its nature, the riot kept blowing the roof off the house I was trying to build in the rest of the book.
Some exciting news for a Tuesday, as Kings of Broken Things was recognized by Book Riot as having one of the best book covers of the year! Check out the full list for what look like some great books, and kudos to Book Riot for going there and judging a bunch of books by their covers. As I mentioned last week, it’s a beautiful cover, so I’m glad to see it get some much deserved recognition.
Some other news:
-An excerpt from Kings was posted this morning on Schloss-Post. Thanks to Akademie Schloss Solitude and online coordinator Clara Herrmann for putting together the post. Most all the promotion for the novel has focused on the race riot, so it’s nice to bring a little focus to one of the more character-driven elements. In this case, the chapter introduces Evie Chambers, the female lead in the novel, and sets up her life as a kept woman on Omaha’s Capitol Avenue.
-I have a few events in Omaha and Lincoln coming up in the next week or so, which includes being on a panel of historical novelists at Oak View Barnes & Noble on Sat Aug 19, a reading at Indigo Bridge Books in Lincoln on Tue Aug 22, and a cocktail reception with the 1877 Society and Omaha Public Library Foundation at Mercury Lounge on Wed Aug 23. If you’re in the area, come on out and say hi.
Earlier in the process of putting together Kings of Broken Things as a book, there were a number of sketches from artist Christina Chung that we went through before the team zeroed in on the concept that would become the image that’s on the cover. Personally, I really fell in love with the idea of the riot igniting a fuse that runs under the institutions of the city, in particular the level of detail that went into depicting actual buildings from that era of Omaha. The kind of attention makes the cover so very special to me, and, along with the image being mirrored on the actual hardcover itself, takes the packaging to a new level. All the great work put in by Christina, my editor Vivian Lee, and title sequence designers Faceout Studio is very much appreciated. Still, it’s interesting to think about the other early concepts we didn’t pick and what it would have looked like if one of them had evolved into the final cover.
Talking over email this week, Christina Chung sent me a gif of another of the sketches that she developed into a full-fledged piece of art. It’s so cool I wanted to share it with you all as well!
Of the image, Christina said, “A personal piece drawing parallels between the events of the summer of 1919 in Omaha, Nebraska to the problems we face as a society in 2017.” Check out a sharper version of “Omaha, 1919” on more of her work at www.christina-chung.com/2017/2/7/2017/2/7/omaha-1919, and, in the meantime, wonder what might have been.
Have a great weekend! I’ll be back with much more in this space soon, including some photos from my book launch party and my first Kings of Broken Things reading at the Bookworm on Sunday!
A new review of Kings of Broken Things was posted on the website of the Historical Novel Society!
The heat and violence are vivid, and although almost one hundred years in the past, the political machinations that stirred up the mob and the racism feel all too contemporary right now.
I felt disquieted at the end of this book, in part I think because Karel, Jake, and Evie had done nothing to stem the violence, and Karel actually participated in it. There are no heroes because in extraordinary circumstances, many ordinary people will still do ordinary things. It’s a bleak conclusion, but a prescient one. Readers who like their fiction gritty and realistic will appreciate this book.
The day is here, it’s pub day for Kings of Broken Things!
Thanks to all of you who have supported me throughout the process of writing this book and now through its publication. In particular, quickly, my agent Stephanie Delman and editor Vivian Lee, two rising stars in the industry who I’ve been so blessed to work with; my whole team at Little A who have been busy perfecting and promoting Kings; the faculty and staff at Creighton University, especially Mary Helen Stefaniak for working with me clause by clause on straightening out the early drafts of the book; my mother-in-law Karen West, who for years made sure I could both have time for family and to write; Akademie Schloss Solitude and Key West Literary Seminar; and of course Nicole and my family for always sticking with me and showing me that we’re worth too much together to settle for less than the best. And, last but certainly not least, thanks, Mom, for teaching me how to read and to appreciate the importance of good books. I’ve dreamed of this day so long and am not sure what more to say. So, CHEERS will have to suffice.
With pub day for Kings of Broken Things rapidly approaching (tomorrow!) a few more interviews and reviews should be coming out this week–including this Q&A I did with the Omaha Public Library for their blog.
Thanks to librarian Erin Duerr for the great questions and for helping to promote my book!
OPL: Kings of Broken Things is set during the Omaha Race Riot of 1919. What drew you to this time in Omaha’s history?
TW: For the last 10 years, I’ve worked as a reporter for a news service and covered a beat at the Douglas County courthouse, which, of course, was the site of the race riot and lynching. I’d first heard of the riot when I was in fourth grade, growing up in Lincoln, and it has stuck in my mind ever since. Spending so much time at the courthouse, it was something I thought about almost every day while walking the halls, stairs, and surrounding neighborhood. Beyond that, it was such a chaotic and inventive age, notably in art, technology, and transportation. The grief over World War I was experienced over this backdrop in such an expansive way–this notion of the “war to end all wars,” that it was so abominable that it couldn’t be repeated. This feeling was echoed in Omaha after the lynching of Will Brown, by the way, that the tragedy would spur society to improve and never repeat its mistakes. Given that context, it’s troubling to think that the U.S. has been at war my entire adult life. Following World War I, you see a lot of intense examination of the psychic damage war causes. These similarities in the art and culture of the era are attractive to me and my art, and the time is still recognizably Modern in other ways too. Like most historical fiction, it’s a convenient way to think about our own times.
As promised, here’s a link to the book review by Andrew Willis that was published yesterday in the Lincoln Journal-Star. It’s really quite a perceptive take on the book and the moral argument I’m trying to make through sports analogies, particularly since the review is pretty short.
I’m very grateful for the amazing coverage provided by LJS this weekend. It’s the newspaper I grew up reading, so that makes it more special. In fact, I believe they were my first publication outside of articles I wrote for my high school newspaper, when they published a letter to the editor I’d submitted in support of reading banned books in school.
Here’s an excerpt from the review:
“Kings of Broken Things” is a subtly powerful novel that sneaks up on the reader. Only after the race riots and lynching of Willie Brown does the reader question the justice of the mob’s earlier apprehension of a criminal known as The Cypriot. Only after the kids discussed the race riots “like this was a football game with a rival team” does the reader understand Jake’s earlier reaction to 1918 Cornhuskers/Notre Dame football game he attended: “The game ended in a 0-0 tie, and Jake couldn’t figure what good the struggle did either squad. For hours they pushed and shoved and threw bombs downfield as hard as their might allowed. They punched and scratched and shouted and swore. Traded territory. Were injured. And for nothing. Not even one lousy point.” How could Karel and Jake and all the others compromise their consciences to be swept along with the mob? Perhaps the reader already knows; perhaps the reader is already subconsciously complicit. Consider these damaged characters, a torched courthouse, and a dark stain on Omaha’s history. Among these broken things, Wheeler is crowned royalty.
The Lincoln Journal-Star has quite a lot of coverage on my new novel Kings of Broken Things on the front of its (402) lifestyle section this Sunday, with a book review and an interview. Be sure to pick up a copy of the paper if you’re in the Lincoln area and check out for yourself the two photos of my giant head. (May not be to scale.)
Thanks so much to features editor Jeff Korbelik for interviewing me, and Andrew Willis for his well-considered review. I especially like how the review mentions that Kings of Broken Things briefly features a Nebraska-Notre Dame football game from 1918, when Knute Rockne brought his Irishmen to Lincoln for a Thanksgiving Day game and my character Jake Strauss was in the crowd.
Be sure to check out the interview and I’ll post a link to the review if it goes online. In the meantime, here’s a little taste:
Theodore Wheeler’s nearly 10-year journey ends Tuesday when publisher Little A releases the Omaha author’s first novel, “Kings of Broken Things.” Wheeler, 35, admitted he’s anxious, having spent seven to eight years writing the book and another year and half to two years working through the publishing process. “I have a 9-year-old daughter, so when I started working on it she was still a baby and now she’s going to fourth grade,” Wheeler said in a phone interview to discuss the novel’s release. “It kind of puts it in a little more perspective.”