November in Review (2011)

Let’s go with a little bullet point action this time around:

-So I’ve decided to switch up the title of my novel with the title of it’s first part. The novel will now be The Uninitiated. Book 1 will be The Hyphenates of Jackson County. Any objections?

-I think two that I’ll combine Books 1 &2 of the novel into one, as they are of similar content and tone. The novel as a whole is coming together much more clearly now that I’ve gone through a draft of the whole book. I’m working my way through a long list of edits and rewrites now.

-I began work as Blog and Social Networking Editor for Prairie Schooner. Here’s me welcoming myself to the blog.

-The newest edition of Confrontation (Fall 2011) came out, with my story “The First Night of My Down-and-Out Sex Life” included. Read more here.

-I turned thirty early in November, and reflected on the experience.

-We learned that Kid B will be a girl. For right now, at least, we’re leaning toward Clara Lynne for a name.

Dispatch from The Uninitiated

“Evie stayed with Jacob until he was better. It was two days. She was an impassioned nurse. She held cool rags to his forehead while she told him stories; she covered and recovered his kicking limbs in Afghans; she changed his sheets if the chamber pot spilled; she kissed his burning cheeks incessantly, even though there was a chance he might make her sick too; she soothed him, she promised he wouldn’t die, and that she wasn’t going to leave him. Somehow Marie Eigler tracked down a crate of oranges—which was a miracle, really, given the rations—and Jacob had to drink their juice, even though it burned his throat. It was a simple matter of whether or not Evie could keep up his strength. She made him drink turnip broth and a beaten raw egg every hour. Evie kept Jacob in line too. She didn’t let him forget for a second that was being taken care of, and that he was going to be fine. And then, suddenly, after two days, he was.”

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

Southern Review for “Forget Me” and A Public Space for “Attend the Way”

Just Finished

Shadow Traffic by Richard Burgin. A solid collection of stories from front to back from one of our mainstay fiction writers.

Best American Comics 2011, Alison Bechdel, ed. A pretty good showing this year, the best edition since the first two. My favorites were Manifestation by Gabrielle Bell, St. Ambrose by John Pham, Nov. 3, 1956 by Joe Sacco (this one was particularly enlightening and horrifying), Soixante Neuf by David Lasky and Mairead Case, Jordan W. Lint to the Age 65 by Chris Ware, Browntown by Jaime Hernandez, The Pterodactyl Hunters (in the Gilded City) by Brendan Leach, Abby’s Road by Noah Van Sciver, The Mad Scientist by Jeff Smith, Winter by Danica Novgorodoff, Benjamin Percy and James Ponsoldt, and Weekends Abroad by Eric Orner. Maybe it would have been easier to just say the whole thing is awesome?

The Unbearable Lightness of Being by Milan Kundera. A classic. Read it for three minutes and you’ll see why.

Upstream Metropolis: an Urban Biography of Omaha & Council Bluffs by Lawrence H. Larsen, Barbara J. Cottrell, Harl A. Dalstrom, & Kay Calame Dalstrom. An interesting history of the city and surrounding area. There’s so much overlap in these local histories, but this one seems to have a little new and interesting information at least.

Now Reading

A Flag for Sunrise by Robert Stone.

Up Next

Bohemian Girl by Terese Svoboda.

October in Review (2011)

The big news in what turned out to be a busy month—and this is unannounced news at that, which I hope is okay to make public—is that I’ve been appointed Blog and Social Networking Editor at Prairie Schooner! This is a new editorial position in which I’ve been commissioned to take an active role in the PS blog, social media presence, and other communications with subscribers and contributors. It’s a pretty cool opportunity and I’m excited to move up to the editorial staff. Sadly, I’ll be giving up my Senior Fiction Reader duties, although I doubt anyone would stop me from reading as many slush submissions as I care to.

More to come on this.

In other news:

Boulevard nominated my story “On a Train from the Place Called Valentine” for a Pushcart Prize, and for inclusion in a Best of the Midwest anthology. I’m usually a little wary of touting nominations, but this is awesome news, especially since the story won’t even run in Boulevard until March of next year. Wish me luck!

-“These Things That Save Us” was published in the debut issue of Conversations Across Borders. Here’s what I had to say about writing the story and Cab in October.

-My review of Rahul Mehta’s short story collection, Quarantine, appeared on The Iowa Review Online, just in case you missed it. The review is pretty good, I think. Plus, this marked the first time I’d been paid for a book review, which is something.

The Kenyon Review is offering a new fellowship opportunity to post-MFA/post-PhD writers. It’s pretty awesome. $32,000 a year, for two years, both teaching and editorial opportunities. Plus time to pursue a significant project. Some good stuff is surely going to come out of this; I’m fully prepared to be jealous of whoever receives the first fellowship.

-I got a little love from The Cincinnati Review on their blog recently, in this post by staff member Dietrik Vanderhill about “The Burn” by Craig Davidson. Here’s what Vanderhill had to say, as an aside, about my recent work in TCR:

I’m tempted to write a recommendation for “The Current State of the Universe,” winner of the Robert and Adele Schiff Award in Prose (in the latest issue of CR). This romping story by Theodore Wheeler follows one employee of a company called Make Things Right, Inc., a sort of karmic revenge business. […] a story with passages like this—along with such a provocative concept—can easily sell itself. It provides a direct, satisfying approach to “fixing” the world’s ills, albeit on a small scale.

“The Current State of the Universe” appeared in the Summer 2011 issue of The Cincinnati Review.

-I wrote a long post on this blog about Sherwood Anderson’s connection to the real Winesburg, Ohio–and how a similarly uncomfortable thing happened with my won writing of a fictional small town that turned out to have the same name as a real small town.

-And, finally, let’s not forget that October began with an awesome crossover blogger event, as Adam Peterson and I wrapped up the Royals 2011 season and, mainly, looked ahead to 2012.

Dispatch from “These Things That Save Us”

“Walking the dog allowed me a kind of privacy, which is also why I enjoyed traveling so much. I yearned for the bustling lonesomeness of airport white noise, the freedom to be secluded in public—to appear deeply pensive without someone asking, ‘Whatcha thinking?’ This is also why I liked to walk, to indulge in the secret adventures of a man and his dog, cruising down the sidewalk with nothing in particular owed to anyone. Just a man and his dachshund. We were free to look in our neighbors’ windows from the sidewalk, their domestic projections lit up incandescent. We could kick and sniff at garbage left at the curb. A man walking his dog has a right to be there.”

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

Paris Review and Conjunctions for “Forget Me,” and Agni for “Shame Cycle.”

Now Reading

Shadow Traffic by Richard Burgin.

Best American Comics 2011, edited by Alison Bechdel.

Sin in the Second City by Karen Abbott.

Up Next

The Marbled Swarm by Dennis Cooper.

September in Review (2011)

Here's where the novel draft stands now. There's a whole book in there somewhere.

Just in case you missed it, here’s what happened on here in September:

-I took a few weeks off from working on the novel–using the time to clean up a few new short stories for submission–but am now reading and editing my first complete draft. It’s a lot of fun to read so far, seeing how things come together, and where they don’t.

-The Uninitiated released its comprehensive and authoritative rankings of MFA and PhD programs in creative writing. The University of Texas at Austin took the top spot.

-My review of Rahul Mehta’s Quarantine was accepted for publication by The Iowa Review Online, and will appear shortly in the month of October.

-My review of David Philip Mullins’ Greetings from Below—previously accepted for publication by Prairie Schooner—has been scheduled to run in the Spring 2012.

Dispatch from The Hyphenates of Jackson County

“The noise was so frightening that Jacob couldn’t stand still. He had to move his feet, around in the crowd, or he felt like someone was going to take a shot at him. A block over there was a nervous cop who sprayed shotgun fire into the air whenever someone approached the car he guarded. The cascading noise of tumbling glass was punctuated by the fraught screams of woman in jeopardy. Or maybe that wasn’t it at all, what Jacob thought he heard. Maybe that was the sound of a woman’s prurient cheer as government windows were smashed to shards. There was the roar of voices, people fighting and being hurt. The flash of small arms erupting. The police sirens, their barking orders. The steam valve had been blown clean off and Jacob couldn’t stay where he was. He had to run into it, into the noise and fighting. He had to see everything, to document it in his mind. Speeding cars rushed into the crowds. Young men jumped on the sideboards of cars to swing around to where the action was. There were cars with Sicilians, Lithuanians, Greeks, Serbians. Once word of the melee spread, anyone who wanted to take a swing at a cop made a bee-line to Scandal Flats. A gang hijacked a streetcar and plowed into the mess, clanging the bell to announce their audacity. Teenage boys and musky husbands rushed out of houses with whatever hammer or club or bat they could lay hands on, and then hopped in a taxi to get there fast. A mechanical rumble filled the atmosphere. Roadsters and jalopies, homemade in Little Italy garages, swung recklessly around the blocks. They swerved to miss people and each other. Jacob couldn’t always see the cars but he could hear their pop-pop motors hammering at full throttle a block away, spreading echoes between buildings, echoes that bounced back from the high-rises of downtown. Trucks, commissioned or otherwise, hopped hot over the pavement to load up with furniture or produce or women’s clothes. Taxis slumped cockeyed and labored up the hills, packed full inside, passengers on the footboards.

Sixteenth & Harney Streets, circa 1919.

“People shouted out to groups of strangers any news they heard. There was lots of talk in the mob about the smutty details of the rape—conjecture about Will Brown’s body in relation to the girl’s. They made him out to be huge, a towering man, arms like a gorilla’s, legs like a mule’s. They talked about Agnes Loebeck as if she was a little girl, pious and pure, like she only ever wore little white Sunday dresses, like she picked berries in a pristine field, like she’d never even heard of anything like a dick before.”

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

Bomb for “Shame Cycle.”

Just Finished

Atmospheric Disturbances by Rivka Galchen. Eh.

My Antonia by Willa Cather. I really enjoyed this book, and can see why it’s often noted as Cather’s finest. I was surprised at how Modernist this novel is, it’s really quite innovative, as I’d always thought it was more of a Victorian, continental-style book for young women than anything. I stand corrected. A masterful work.

Also, if you haven’t heard this NPR piece by Bradford Morrow on My Antonia, you should really check it out. Here’s part of what Morrow has to say:

What’s interesting about My Antonia is how it manages to function as a perfectly inviting story for young readers, and how an adult willing to revisit it with a more developed critical eye can appreciate it for the subtly sophisticated narrative it truly is. In this regard, it’s not unlike a wildly different book, Alice in Wonderland. Great fun for kids, psychologically captivating for grownups.

Now Reading

Shadow Traffic by Richard Burgin.

Up Next

Bohemian Girl by Terese Svoboda.

“On a Train from the Place Called Valentine” to Appear in Boulevard

Some excellent news today, as I learned that my short story “On a Train from the Place Called Valentine” will run in the Spring 2012 issue of Boulevard!

This will be my sixteenth published short story, and the third of mine to appear in Boulevard. My work has found a home in the journal, and I’m grateful for the support of its staff, especially editor Richard Burgin. It’s a real privilege to connect with a prestigious journal multiple times like this. Previously, “Welcome Home” ran in the Spring 2008 issue of Boulevard–as winner of their Short Fiction Contest for Emerging Writers–and “The Approximate End of the World” ran in the Spring 2010 issue.

Similar to when I mentioned that “The First Night of My Down-and-Out Sex Life” was selected by Confrontation earlier this year, “On a Train from the Place Called Valentine” is part of a series of short stories that I’ve been working on the past couple years–which combine in my short story collection (How to Die Young in Nebraska) as the novella “Bad Faith.” The other stories include “The Man Who Never Was,” which was in Weekday a year ago, and “Kleinhardt’s Women,” which was on Fogged Clarity in December. “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, Nebraska and through her confrontation with a pathetic but effective ladies man, Aaron Kleinhardt, after she hops off the train in Valentine, Neb. This story is one I’m very proud of, and I’m ecstatic to know that it will be taken care of by a stalwart like Boulevard. Cheers!

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.

“Welcome Home” Used in Veterans’ Class

I learned something very exciting this week, as it looks like my story about an Iraq War veteran returning home from the desert–“Welcome Home”— was in fact used as part of the City College of San Francisco’s Veterans Educational Transition Services! If you look down at the “Homework” section at the link below, my story is listed, right next Tim O’Brien’s The Things They Carried. How awesome is that?! And humbling. It makes me a little nervous and queasy.

You can find a description of the class here: Foundations of Military Experience: Stress, Challenge, and Success.

Throughout time and history all nations face the challenge of how to reintegrate their military service members into the civilain world. Most societies have processes to accomplish this. The Samurai were not allowed back into villages until they spent a month or so in mountain retreat spas. Ancient Greeks had plays where they enacted the challenges faced by returning warriors for the whole society to witness. Native Americans had sweat lodges and story telling rituals to pass on hard won wisdom. 

I’m very excited and proud to have my fiction be a part of this class and program. Hopefully it works well for them, as the program looks to have great potential for improving the lives of our servicemen and their families. Awesome.

“Welcome Home” originally appeared in Boulevard and was anthologized in Best New American Voices 2009. So another round of thanks is in order for Richard Burgin (Boulevard editor), John Kulka and Natalie Danford (BNAV editors), and Mary Gaitskill (BNAV guest editor) for getting this story out into the world. Thanks!

[Please note, btw, that Best New American Voices 2009 is down to $4.09 at Amazon.com right now. So if you’re interested in the story, that’s over seventy percent off the cover price, it might be a good time to buy.]

Also, if you know of any vets who might be interested in participating in one of these classes, please pass along this link. It looks like a lot of the classes are free, they get college credit, and they can participate online if they don’t happen to live in the Bay Area. This is a pilot program, and I’m sure UCSF would appreciate all the help they can get in developing quality courses.

Dermansky Review

My review of Marcy Dermansky’s novel Bad Marie is up on The Millions today!

This is my fifth published review, the fourth with The Millions. Two more are scheduled for print journals this summer, one of Nadifa Mohamed’s Black Mamba Boy in Prairie Schooner and of Richard Burgin’s Rivers Last Longer in Pleiades.

Bad Marie is really a good book and an excellent read. It’s a rare combination of being both literary and a good summer read. Highly recommended, in particular, for any fans of French film. The review goes into this, but its depiction of Paris is very enjoyable.

Item of Interest

I received word today that a review I’ve written of Richard Burgin’s new novel Rivers Last Longer has been accepted for publication by Pleiades and will appear in an issue this June!

This will be my sixth published book review, and my first piece of any kind to be published in Warrensburg, Missouri, where we spent an enlightening few days back in the spring of 2004.