Have an Amazon gift card leftover from Christmas laying around? Looking for a fiction anthology to assign to your students for the spring semester? Lately been wondering what the best fiction to come out of the Midwest looks like?
In addition to my story “On a Train from the Place Called Valentine” (which originally appeared in Boulevardmagazine) the anthology features stories from acclaimed authors such as Charles Baxter, Stuart Dybek, Joyce Carol Oates, Laura Van Den Berg, and Christine Sneed. It’s an impressive lineup.
Thanks so much to series editors Jason Lee Brown and Shanie Latham, and guest editor Lee Martin, for putting together such an amazing anthology, and New American Press for seeing it to print. You’ve all done the region proud!
New Stories from the Midwest is an anthology series that presents the best literary writing published in the Midwest during the most recent two-year period. The editors select from a large pool of stories gathered from distinguished journals and magazines like Cincinnati Review, Glimmer Train, Hobart, Mid-American Review, Narrative Magazine, Ploughshares, Tin House, and dozens more. Writers featured in the 2016 volume include such luminaries as Charles Baxter, Peter Ho Davies, and Joyce Carol Oates, as well as new voices and rising stars such as Laura Van Den Berg and Rebecca Makkai. Be sure to watch for New Poetry from the Midwest as well!
Check out this all-star lineup of authors for New Stories from the Midwest 2015, due out this summer from New American Press. I’m so honored to have my story “On a Train from the Place Called Valentine” bring up the caboose for this great anthology. Are you kidding me? Baxter, Oates, Ostlund, Sneed, van den Berg, Weil. Two Dybeks! Congrats to series editors Jason Lee Brown and Shanie Latham, and guest editor Lee Martin, for putting together such a superlative anthology!
Thomas M. Atkinson “Grimace in the Burnt Black Hills”
Charles Baxter “Forbearance”
Catherine Browder “Departures”
Claire Burgess “Upper Middle Class Houses”
Peter Ho Davies “Chance”
Stephanie Dickinson “JadeDragon_77”
Jack Driscoll “All the Time in the World”
Nick Dybek “Three Summers”
Stuart Dybek “Tosca”
Abby Geni “Dharma at the Gate”
Albert Goldbarth “Two Brothers”
Baird Harper “Patient History”
Rebecca Makkai “Dead Turtle”
Monica McFawn “Out of the Mouths of Babes”
John McNally “The Magician”
Emily Mitchell “Three Marriages”
Devin Murphy “Levi’s Recession”
Joyce Carol Oates “A Book of Martyrs”
Lori Ostlund “The Gap Year”
Nicole Louise Reid “A Purposeful Violence”
Christine Sneed “In the Bag”
Anne Valente “The Lost Caves of St. Louis”
Lauren van den Berg “Lessons”
Josh Weil “Long Bright Line”
Theodore Wheeler “On a Train from the Place Called Valentine”
Since it’s been a while since I offered a general state of the blog type post, here’s the latest in the world of the uninitiated.
-A pub date has been set for Bad Faith! My short story collection will drop on July 12, 2016. And while you’re hurriedly marking your calendars, I’ve also set up a pre-release party at Pageturners Lounge for Thursday, June 30, which will the first opportunity to purchase the book, have it signed, and toast with the author.
Between working through final edits on the book, the first blurbs coming in, and setting up events for later this year, it’s been an exciting, sometimes nerve-wracking experience. There will even be a cover before long. It’s happening!
-A few of my short stories will be coming out in the next couple months. “Violate the Leaves” in the spring issue of Boulevard, in March; “The Hyphenates of Jackson County” in Artful Dodge, by the end of February; and “On a Train from the Place Called Valentine” in New Stories form the Midwest.
-You may have noticed a few updates around the site. The last year I’ve slowly been transitioning this space from its blog roots to more of a proper web site befitting a published author with multiple books to his name. Or something. The process should be finished shortly, with a static front page and all that. I’ll still be blogging here every once in a while, maybe even a little more frequently. The whole “travel” part of the blog kind of took a backseat the last couple years, as I wasn’t traveling much, saving up money for potential book tours and bigger trips. Posting the same photos of me at Royals games over and over didn’t quite have the same panache as the posts from my summer touring Europe.
-One last thing, I want to include a note about the success we’ve seen with the literary pub quiz I’ve been putting on at Pageturners with buddies Ryan Borchers and Drew Justice. The turnout has been great, and it seems like the enthusiasm grows each month. The next edition is in a week, on February 3 with guest host Wendy Townley of the 1877 Society. We’re getting some great guest stars lined up for the spring/summer season, and I can’t wait to share the lineup. But I will wait, and hope to have that posted here soon. The series has been a lot of fun and I’m psyched to keep this going through the rest of the year. If you’re around Omaha the first Wednesday of the month, stop on in and talk some literature with a copacetic group of bookish folks.
The last days of 2015 are dwindling, but there’s still a little time to sneak in some good news before the calendar turns. So…I’m happy to share that guest editor Lee Martin has picked my story “On a Train from the Place Called Valentine” to appear in the New Stories from the Midwest 2015 anthology!
The story was originally published in Boulevardand is now part of the title/anchor novella of my short fiction collection, Bad Faith, that will be out this summer from Queen’s Ferry Press. Here’s a post I wrote about the story before, and this one too. In short, “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, Nebr and through her confrontation with a pathetic but dangerous ladies man, Aaron Kleinhardt, after she hops off the train in Valentine, Nebr.
Stories of mine made honorable mention in the two previous editions of New Stories from the Midwest. (“The Approximate End of the World” in 2012 and “The Current State of the Universe” in 2013.) I’m super excited to have one of mine make it in this time!
New Stories from the Midwest 2015 should be out in three months or so, and I’ll have more links, photos, and ordering information closer to the release.
Thanks so much to the Series Editors, Jason Lee Brown and Shanie Latham, guest editor Lee Martin, editor of Boulevard Richard Burgin, and New American Press for publishing the anthology!
I suppose it is spring now, technically. Although Nebraska has been in its meteorological spring for a few weeks already and that hasn’t seemed to make much of a difference in the weather. Things have been pretty slow on this space for some time, and while the weather has nothing to do with that, we’ll have to do better. The main reason for this lag is that in January/February/March we sold our old house, bought a new one and moved. Pretty heady stuff for a couple with two little kids who usually have their heads buried in computers something like twelve hours a day anyway. It wasn’t so bad though. We moved from the Benson neighborhood of midtown Omaha all the way over to the Dundee neighborhood of midtown Omaha. A little over three miles. It’s been nice. The schools are better, no small concern with Maddie off to kindergarten in the fall, the sidewalks more plentiful. We traded in the Pizza Shoppe and Baxters for La Casa and Pitch, Jake’s for the Dell, Krug Park for Pageturners, dog fights for dog walkers, Benson Days for Dundee Days. It’s a whole new world. Also, the new house is quite a bit bigger, so my office is no longer a toyroom/office. That’s pretty big news in itself. Also, there’s a cemetery a block down from us, with an obstructed view of headstones from my desk, and Maddie is convinced that Jesus is buried there. We may be in for a dicey Easter this year.
Meanwhile things have been plugging along on the agent front. Nothing to really report yet, but there’s been pretty steady interest, a couple exclusives to bigger agencies, a few nibbles here and there. I always take things pretty slow, so it shouldn’t be a surprise that this process will have to run its full course.
While that’s been going on I’ve been rewriting the novel from the point of views of some side characters, mostly out of curiosity and to keep occupied. I suppose, if no one is interested in the book as written, the process could take long enough for me to rewrite the whole novel in a way that’s more than an academic exercise. Not a bad contingency plan, I guess.
In other news:
-As announced yesterday, an excerpt from The Uninitiated (“River Ward, 1917”) was selected for publication byBoulevard. Also, I failed to mention that Boulevard nominated my story “On a Train from the Place Called Valentine” for a Pushcart Prize. The story was first printed in their Spring 2012 issue. This is a great honor and one I’m pleased to have received. Boulevard rules, by the way. Subscribe to them.
-The big news of the season was that my novel The Uninitiated won Tarcher/Penguin’s Top Artist Writing Contest. Read breakdowns here and here.
-My story “The Mercy Killing of Harry Kleinhardt” was published by Midwestern Gothic in their Winter issue. (Kindle editions of the issue are currently on sale for $1, and print for $6.) I was also interviewed by MG as part of their Contributor Spotlight series. Check out the interview here.
-This weekend we’ll celebrate Clara’s first birthday. She’s been such a healthy and happy baby that it’s almost hard to remember spending her first week in the NICU, huddled around watching her O2 levels on the monitor, and how joyful it was when she came home. Happy birthday, baby!
Dispatch from The Uninitiated
Miihlstein started right away when they arrived in Omaha. In fact, there was work waiting for him in the attic, what the dead man had been toiling over when he died. Miihlstein looked taller than he really was. He was lanky, with long arms, and this made him appear tall. He preferred striped neckties held flat by a now rusty tin pin he’d made himself. He was a happy man, if distant. He was in his workshop most of the day, singing to himself or playing the violin he was working on. He had a thin mustache that was often stained by coffee and what he’d had for lunch. He hummed as he measured string and reinforced the wooden necks of the violas he was charged with reviving. He squeezed the wood with his hands to put it under stress, to find the reason it didn’t sound right anymore. Karel watched his father’s performance daily, called over, at times, if his father remembered him, to see it in detail. A red felt carpet rolled out over the worktable. Even if it was a small job, a restringing, Karel’s father pulled out all the tools in his kit. Slowly he examined them, lost in the smell of that toolkit when it was opened. Little cans of lacquer and thinner placed on the felt. Tools pulled from their nooks and leather slots. Waffled metal files, awls and emery cloth, spools of white string, spare pegs, clamps, chisels, a skinny little metal hammer. Soon wood shavings popped from the block plane as he revealed new fingerboard, then sanded it round. Notches were filed and awled for the strings. It was painted an ebullient, shiny black, endless and distinguished. Herr Miihlstein’s wire-framed glasses rode down his nose on a bead of sweat. He bit his upper lip, sucking the prickles of his mustache into his mouth to concentrate.
To Karel, it shouldn’t take so long to restring an instrument. But his father could remain occupied with a single instrument for a day or more, stretching and tuning, and playing, humming along as he plucked and bowed. Until: “Perfection!”
Karel and Anna waited for this moment: they could help with a delivery and get out of the attic. Otherwise they occupied themselves with some docile and melancholy game as Miihlstein worked. Their games often involved the war. One of Karel’s favorites was to play army surgeon with Anna’s ragdoll. She allowed this. There was great commotion in Karel’s mind as the doll was rushed from an open battlefield, the middle of a circular woven rug strewn with sock garters and newspaper crumpled into balls, and under the great bed where all four Miihlstein kids slept. Once under the bed the real fun began, their legs stuck out opposite sides. Anna was adept at enumerating injuries. She described to Karel what resulted in the field, a simple shrapnel wound in the arm that luckily avoided bone. But then. Then the ambulance was hit by mortar fire. It overturned on the road, the poor souls inside tossed over each other, compounding their maladies. Broken bones now too, fractures, splinters of glass in the wounds. A gash on the head. The driver died instantly, tragically, for he was greatly loved by his family. By the time a second ambulance had come, the poor soul that ragdoll had become was in real trouble. Anna had a nicely dark mind for these details she savored. Karel pinned the doll to the floorboards with his hands as she explained what needed to be done, an amputation. The doll’s dress was lifted to reveal the yellow cloth of its skin.
As Anna finished her treasury, Karel began. Quickly he worked, sawing with the edge of his index finger, and tucking, as if Anna wouldn’t notice, the doll’s arm into the dress. The doll’s dress was back in place, the sleeve folded up. If the poor soul was saved, he’d be pulled out from the operating theater under the bed and slid under the blankets atop the bed. “You’re in luck,” the poor soul would be told. Nothing but orange juice and nurses for a year. If the poor soul couldn’t be saved, Karel and Anna might enclose the ragdoll in a white paperboard box, take it out back of the Eigler house and bury it in the dirt. Then, into the kitchen to find some lunch.
East of Eden by John Steinbeck. A little disappointed (and intrigued) that James Dean’s “Say hello to your mother!” line is only in the Elia Kazan film version. A classic for good reason, nonetheless. The long tracts on the creation of the Salinas Valley and its early settlers are pretty fascinating to a guy like me, along with the more familiar sections filled with high drama and teenage angst.
The Face of a Naked Lady by Michael Rips. Part family history, part treasury of modern Omaha folk lore, Rips presents a pretty compelling story about growing up in Omaha amid racial strife, organized crime, and suburban flight while his mysterious father rose to prominence and then lost his mind. Also, it’s also an interesting treatise on the philosophical and psychological development of the American suburb as emotional landscape for those who couldn’t cope with the city. Very interesting.
The Slippage by Ben Greenman. I haven’t been doing many book reviews lately, but I made sure to secure an advanced copy of Greenman’s latest, which comes out late April.
I’m pleased to announce that my short story “The Mercy Killing of Harry Kleinhardt” was accepted for publication in the great, and newish, literary journal Midwestern Gothic! The story will appear in their next issue, which I believe will be Issue 8, Winter 2013. More specifics will be forthcoming, no doubt.
Here’s an excerpt from “The Mercy Killing of Harry Kleinhardt”:
Aaron never actually knew his mother, not in any real way. When he was a boy he fantasized about her coming back to rescue him from Nebraska, to take him with her to LA, New York, Chicago, wherever she’d landed. Aaron knew so little about her that these dreams seemed like they could be real. His dad never told him what really happened to her. Harry would say, “She’s alive,” if Aaron pestered him enough. “That’s all you need to know. That woman you like to call your mom is still breathing somewhere.”
Aaron didn’t learn much about the world outside Jackson until later, but even as a boy it seemed pretty obvious that things were better elsewhere—and that this was the reason his mother left. There was an old joke about how Jackson was the only town in this free Union state to be named after a Confederate general, and that about summed up how out of step Jackson was with the rest of the planet, Aaron thought.
More than likely his mother met some men in Sioux City and took off from there. Maybe another woman hooked her into a hot lead for some quick money, some liquor or drugs, or a chance to work a back room at a horse track. Over the years, Aaron convinced himself of a thousand scenarios other than those that were likely. He dreamed, at different times, that she was a nomadic bounty-hunter in Texas, a piano teacher in Vienna, a pilot for the US Navy, an Amazon explorer, an African missionary. There was a long string of them. That she was the wife of an extraordinarily rich man was a recurring theme. They were ridiculous dreams. Aaron didn’t have much to work with in creating them.
There is plenty of overlap in this story with my other work. That’s always fun. For starters, the story is set in Jackson, Nebraska; the same Jackson County as is featured in my novel, The Uninitiated. (Read here for an explanation of how my Jackson, Neb. is different from the real Jackson, Neb; and how Sherwood Anderson’s Winesburg, OH differed from the real Winesburg, OH in similar ways.)
Most of the crossover, however, stems from the fact that “The Mercy Killing of Harry Kleinhardt” is part of my Bad Faith series of stories, all of which have been published now. The Aaron Kleinhardt of “Mercy Killing” is the same from “Kleinhardt’s Women” (Fogged Clarity, Dec 2010) and “On a Train from the Place Called Valentine” (Boulevard, Spring 2012), which shares characters with “The First Night of My Down-and-Out Sex Life” (Confrontation, Fall 2011) and “The Man Who Never Was” (Weekday, Summer 2010).
This is the first time I’ve written a series of connected stories so long–maybe testing my stamina before writing a novel?–and it’s exciting to see all of the stories find a home. But with so much murder, sex, drugs, alcoholism, adultery, betrayal, and deception in the cycle, it’s little wonder they’ve found an audience. Midwestern Gothic is a fitting end to this stage of the stories’ publishing life, and an apt home for “Mercy Killing.” I’m glad to have the story picked up, of course, and particularly glad that it was Midwestern Gothic who laid claim to it. Cheers!
-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.
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.
My contributor copy of the Spring 2012 issue of Boulevardarrived in the mail today!
Not only does the issue contain my short story “On a Train from the Place Called Valentine,” but there’s also fiction by Stephen Dixon, non-fiction by John Barth and Josip Novakovich, and poetry by Albert Goldbarth, Andrew Hudgins, and Floyd Skloot, among many others. (Did I mention John Barth?!) It’s a pretty stellar lineup. One I feel incredibly blessed to be a part of.
Boulevard puts out such a consistently great product. It’s hard to believe this is my third story published by them. “Welcome Home” appeared in the Spring 2008 issue–before it was anthologized in Best New American Voices 2009 and received special mention in the back of Pushcart Prize XXXIV. “The Approximate End of the World” was in the Spring 2010 edition, and will be noted as a “Distinguished” story in a forthcoming edition of New Stories from the Midwest.
Here’s an excerpt of “On a Train from the Place Called Valentine”:
It isn’t until later, when the freezing wind cuts through her, that Amy Gutschow actually considers what she’s doing. This is late December after all and she’s riding north on the bed of a railcar after sunset. She nestles into her downy black coat, shoves her hands deep into its pockets, and waits for the train to pass through a town where she can jump into a grassy ditch and roll away from the rails. She’ll have to call her father, wherever she lands, and beg him to pick her up, the way she did in college. A tall man with a dopey mustache, her father would wear gray sweatshirts and blue jeans, if he came for her on a weekend, or a tweed jacket and corduroy pants if he had to take time off from work. He never asked why she needed him, but just came for her, humming almost happily as they returned home. “My baby girl,” he’d say, as if it were part of an old song. “What has happened to you now?”