In case you missed it on Sunday, the Omaha World-Herald had a huge feature on my book Kings of Broken Things and the history of the summer of 1919 here in Omaha that serves as the backbone of the novel.
It’s really a great portrait of those months that led up to the Omaha Race Riot of 1919 and lynching of Will Brown, from the labor struggles and use of scab labor to a spike in the cost-of-living to the political intrigue and machinations of boss Tom Dennison to the migration of African-Americans to Omaha.
Honestly, it was a great relief to see that my research lined-up with theirs on all these important factors. (I’d feared that when this day came and the article came out that it would focus on how much I’d messed up the details–this the showing-up-to-the-first-day-of-class-only-in-underwear nightmare for a historical novelist.) Anyway, it was heartening to see that all my fears and attention to detail paid off.
Thanks so much to Micah Mertes and OWH for running the feature and for all the work they put in to bring attention to this important part of Omaha, Nebraska, and national history.
Many years later, Wheeler worked as a reporter for Courthouse News Service, the job bringing him to the Douglas County Courthouse several times a week. Repeatedly at the scene of one of Omaha’s most shameful acts, Wheeler once again became fascinated with the story of the 1919 riots.His fascination led to his newly released debut novel, “Kings of Broken Things.” The book, which took Wheeler seven years to write, takes place in Omaha during and before the “Red Summer of 1919,” tracking three key characters in the tense days prior to the riot. “It really was a powder keg,” Wheeler said. “The riot itself was completely irrational, but the fact that it happened was somewhat logical based on everything else that happened.” “Everything else” included union strikes and economic hardship, migrations of blacks from the South to Omaha, yellow journalism that stoked the flames of racial resentment and a corrupt political machine led by Tom Dennison, who would stop at nothing to discredit Mayor Smith and his reformist government. It was an era rife with drama, and it now serves as a compelling backdrop for a novel.
The event schedule for the launch of my novel Kings of Broken Things is coming together for the next couple months, with a dozen regional events already on the books. Check out the events page to see where you can find me, with new events being added through the end of the year.
In the likely case that I’m not coming to your town and you’d like to purchase a signed-copy, just email firstname.lastname@example.org at the Dundee Book Company and it can arranged for a personalized copy of Kings of Broken Things to be sent your way. Or if you’d like to send one to a friend, just let me know who to inscribe the copy to and where to send it.
Fyi, Dundee Book Company is the roving bookstore that my wife Nicole and I are starting this fall. We’ll be setting up our new custom-made barnboard bookcart (newly built by our friends at Barnboard & Salvage in Des Moines) that we’ll be setting up at three or four events each month in Omaha. For a while we’ve lamented the need for an indie bookshop in our neighborhood, and hopefully DBC helps fill that need in some way. We’ll see where it grows (we’ll have an online store open soon) but for now we’re excited to get our cart and its six shelves of awesomeness out around Midtown!
This is some special news I’ve been sitting on for several months–so it’s with great pleasure that I share that my novel Kings of Broken Things is a Kindle First selection for July!
For those who don’t know, Kindle First is a free program that offers early access to select books from across Amazon Publishing at a discounted price. So, while my publication date remains August 1 for the print and audio editions, anyone in the US can get the Kindle edition early for $1.99, or for free if you’re a Prime member.
Anyway, click on the link for more information. It’s a great deal and a special honor for APub authors. Only six books a month are chosen and they must be nominated by their edition to be considered. Thanks so much to my amazing editor Vivian Lee and the rest of the team at Little a for pulling this together.
Here’s what Vivian had to say about Kings and why she nominated it for the program:
“It is 1917 and Omaha is home to a diverse array of refugees and immigrants from war-torn European countries. Jake, Karel, and Evie are coming of age in a time of increasing nationalism, xenophobia, and political corruption. And with wounded soldiers returning from war but finding their jobs have been filled by black migrants from the south, Omaha now looks to be a tinderbox of racial resentment, gleefully stoked by the corrupt, moneyed politicians running the town. Wheeler masterfully creates multiple layers and hidden depths in these characters and the worlds they inhabit in restrained, yet powerful language. Intertwining scenes of the annual Interrace baseball game, a town navigating a false accusation that leads to the real-life lynch mob that burns down parts of Omaha in what is now called the Red Summer of 1919, and the characters’ acts of love and survival in all their complicated forms, Kings of Broken Things is heavy, yes, but will stay with you for a very long time. To quote PEN/Faulkner finalist Julie Iromuanya, ‘This book’s relevance, in the context of today’s concerns, cannot be overstated.'”
A few updates on events surrounding the release of my chapbook (On the River, Down Where They Found Willy Brown) and some info on how to obtain a copy for yourself, if you’re so inclined:
– The e-book version is available right now on Amazon for the bargain price of 99 cents. If you’re a Kindle user, check it out here.
– I’ve confirmed that the paper pamphlet version will be sold through the online store of Edition Solitude–which you can find here. Well, you can’t find it there now–unless you’re reading this in the future–but it will be there soon. Probably in March.
– Promotional materials are starting to come out for the “Quotes & Appropriation” event Darren Keen and I (and many others) will be a part of at Akademie Schloss Solitude later this month. There’s more information on the event here and here and here, if you’re interested. Here’s the flyer for the event.
– A chapbook release party has been organized, and the good news is you’re all invited! The other good news is that I talked Darren into stopping by Omaha on his way to SXSW, so we’ll have our entire reading/music/film/photography presentation ready to share to a local audience too, which is important. Join us on Wednesday, March 11, at Pageturners Lounge (5004 Dodge Street/Omaha). Here’s a link to the Facebook event page, with all the details. This will be the easiest way to obtain a copy of the paper version if you’re in the Omaha-area, as we’ll have copies for sale at the event, with all proceeds benefiting the Urban League of Nebraska.
Here’s the cover image for my forthcoming chapbook (“On the River, Down Where They Found Willy Brown”) that will be published by Reihe Projektiv/Edition Solitude later this winter, in late February, to be exact.
This will be the first writing I’ve had published about the Omaha Race Riot of 1919 and the lynching of Will Brown at the Douglas County Courthouse. I’ve posted here many times on the subject, one I’ve been researching and writing fiction about for over five years now. I’m both excited and nervous to finally be sharing this work with audiences. Hopefully it’s found to be pertinent and well-considered work.
The chapbook will be released in conjunction with my upcoming presentation at Akademie Schloss Solitude as part of their two-day, cross-discipline workshop titled “Quotes and Appropriation.” DJ Darren Keen and I have been hard at work on our opening night event that will feature readings from the chapbook and a DJ set from a melange of music that was important to the writing of the chapbook, plus a presentation of photographs and film from my research. It will be a good time.
If you heard me read at the Key West Literary Seminar in January, Solitude Nacht in July, or in December at the Fair Use Reading Series in Benson, this is some of the same material. It includes what I read then and quite a bit more.
If you’re interested in acquiring a copy of the book, the best way would be to just stop in at Akademie Schloss Solitude in February and pick up a copy at the event. If Stuttgart is a little far afield, other options will be available thereafter, hopefully in both hardcopy and digital editions. More on that to come.
Many thanks to Todd Seabrook (editor/designer with The Cupboard) for his work on the cover and book design. He’s great. If you’re looking for someone to work with on a chapbook project, he’s your guy.