Same as last year, I’m a little slow in posting this, but nonetheless I’m happy to note that my short story “The Current State of the Universe” was named as one of “Thirty Other Distinguished Stories” in the latest edition of New Stories from the Midwest.
This is the second year in a row that my work achieved notice there. I’m pretty proud of that, as this year’s edition features fiction by Mary Morris, Rachel Swearingen, Roxane Gay, Steve De Jarnatt, Ian Stansel, and a bunch of other great writers.
Be sure to check out New Stories from the Midwest 2013, from New American Press. Jason Lee Brown and Shanie Latham do a great job putting this together, and it’s something Midwestern writers in particular should be proud of and support.
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:
–Boulevardnominated 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!
-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’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.
“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.”
I’ve been working on a few new short stories lately, but the majority of May was devoted to beginning the initial drafting process for Part 5 of my novel The Hyphenates of Jackson County—the final section of the book. It’s all kind of a big mess right now, but it’s good to get into it. This always happens after I spend a couple months in revision, and this time was no different. The writing comes tough, in small amounts, 500-1000 words a day. It’s mostly blocking scenes, organizing notes, working out important descriptions and finding where symbolism might emerge. It takes a while to build some momentum and get a feel for how this part of the story should be told.
The narrative style I use is pretty steady throughout the book—third-person, through the point-of-view of my main character Jacob Bressler, although I’m experimenting with some brief first-person sections, too—but the main issue comes from the time scope of the book. The present-time thread of the novel takes place over three years, from 1917-1919, or starting when the United States declares war on Germany in 1917 and ending with the Red Summer and Omaha Race Riot of 1919. It’s not a huge amount of time for a novel, gratefully, although there is a lot going on, and it’s a challenge to account for the lost, un-narrated time between parts. Particularly in first drafts, I think I pay too much attention to what’s happened in the time gaps, instead of just getting into the action at hand. A lot of that will be eliminated soon enough, most of it in the initial edits. But it makes things a little clunky and difficult in the first draft.
Anyway, I’m really excited to be this close to finishing a draft of my first novel. I hope to be done with a rough version of Part 5 by the end of the summer. And since I’ve been editing the other parts as I’ve gone along, there isn’t a tremendous amount of work yet to be done, relatively. (I’ve been working on the book for about two years now.) If all goes well, I should have a decent draft of The Hyphenates of Jackson County finished by Spring 2012. Here’s hoping anyway. It’s not like I’m on deadline or anything.
In other news this past month:
-“The Current State of the Universe” is featured in the new issue of The Cincinnati Review. The story won their Schiff Prize for Prose last year, and I’m very excited to make it into this journal.
–Prairie Schooner accepted my review of David Philip Mullins’ Greetings from Belowfor publication. This will be my third review for PS, where I’m also currently a senior fiction reader.
-On cue, my second review for Prairie Schooner—of Nadifa Mohamed’s Black Mamba Boy—appears in our current summer issue. Check it out. It’s a pretty good one. (The issue, I mean. (The review is okay too.))
-In April we learned that Kwame Dawes was coming in as the new Editor of Prairie Schooner; in May we learned that Managing Editor James Engelhardt was leaving. James secured a position as the acquisitions editor for University of Alaska Press, and leaves for Fairbanks early in June. (Actually, today I think.) I owe a great debt to James for all he’s done for my editing and reviewing career, if I can call it that. James took me on as a reader after I received my MA from Creighton. I was looking to maintain some involvement in the literary world, and volunteering for Prairie Schooner has been a great anchor for me. After a year-and-a-half, I made my way up to a senior reader position; PS accepted my first book review, after some editorial help from James; my first two trips to AWP came with funding assistance from PS as well. I feel very grateful for what Prairie Schooner has done for me, in giving me the opportunity to work, particularly as someone who isn’t otherwise involved in the English Department at the University of Nebraska—and I owe much of that gratitude do James, I believe. Best of luck to him and his family on their Alaskan adventure! (And additional thanks for the fact that now, when I think of Alaska, I won’t think of Sarah Palin.)
-This blog featured a longish post about researching the lynching of Will Brown, and coming across a great NPR feature about the execution of Willie McGee and his granddaughter’s quest to find out the truth about him many decades later.
Dispatch from The Hyphenates of Jackson County
“Jacob returned to Omaha the same morning President Wilson arrived from St. Paul. It was only partly coincidental it happened that way. Jacob was planning on coming back to Omaha that week anyway, to visit his friend Reinhold Bock, and then he read in the papers that Wilson was to arrive by train to the Union Station early Monday morning, before giving a speech on the League of Nations that afternoon. A parade route was planned out where Wilson’s car would meander the city. When Jacob read this, he went down to the station in Lincoln and got a ticket to Omaha for the next morning. He bought himself a suitcase too, at the store there that sold them. It was something simple, with cardboard sides, that didn’t lock. It wouldn’t have to last forever. Jacob didn’t know what he was going to do—he had no plan for the next year, or month, or for the next three days for that matter—but he wanted to see the president. He’d find a spot on Scandal Flats and wait for Wilson’s car to pass by. It felt like it would be significant to do that. Jacob didn’t know why. He just felt he needed to see the man. He needed to see the man as a man, that was it.”
Personal Rejection Notes, Requests for More, and Other Nice Versions of No Thanks
West Branch for “On a Train from the Place Called Valentine”; Southeast Review and Conjunctions for “Attend the Way”; Missouri Review for “Shame Cycle.”
The Cailiff’s of Baghdad, GAby Mary Helen Stefaniak. An excellent historical novel about racism and confronting the Other in depression-era Georgia, with a detour to the more famous Baghdad in ancient times. Very well done.
Quarantineby Rahul Mehta. I really enjoyed this collection—which revolves around the lives and loves of second-generation, homosexual, Indian-Americans—and will be reviewing it.
Our accumulated vacation mail came today, and included was a box full of new issues of The Cincinnati Review! The issue features my story “The Current State of the Universe,” which won their Schiff Prize for Prose last year.
Fiction Editor Michael Griffith had this to say about the story on the TCR blog in the fall. The blog also features my explanation of where the idea for the story came from.
UPDATE: My review of Nadifa Mohamed’s novel Black Mamba Boy has been scheduled for the Summer 2011 issue of Prairie Schooner! This will be my second published review with PS.
It sounds like Flatmancrooked will be running my story “The Housekeeper” in their web journal next Wednesday, January 19.The story will also be featured in their upcoming print fiction anthology, Flatmancrooked 4, which is currently at the printers and should be hitting mailboxes before winter ends.
The first half of 2011 is shaping up nicely. My story “How to Die Young in a Nebraska Winter” will be in the spring issue of The Kenyon Review, in the next couple months I’d wager–no matter what Unadilla Bill has to say–and “The Current State of the Universe” will be published by The Cincinnati Review in May.
This is my 11th short story selected for publication.
…the 13th short story publication.
…the 17th publication overall, counting four reviews.
…the 2nd contest won.
“Attend the Way” is the 5th honorable mention in a contest.
Of all the contests I’ve entered, 4% of the stories have won.
…12% have received some sort of recognition.
Also, the very nice editors of the Cincinnati Review asked me to pen a commentary piece for their blog about the process of writing “The Current State of the Universe.” Fiction Editor Michael Griffith has this to say about the story:
The piece is a fantastic example of a high-concept story that manages to do wonderfully playful, inventive things without ever feeling like a riff or a vehicle for an author who’s showing off his chops. Wheeler perfectly and poignantly balances the psychological plight of his protagonist with the high-wire act of the story’s conceit.
The only thing I’d add to the linked commentary is to mention that “Current State” has gone through quite a few incarnations over the past few years. One early morning in the fall of 2007 I woke suddenly with the first few lines of the story and somehow convinced myself to rise before dawn and start up my laptop—which was a fifteen minute ordeal of loading and errors at that point. I’m not a morning person, so I didn’t write for long, probably less than an hour. As mentioned in the TCR blog, this was a story I’d been kicking around for a while and was just something I wanted to play around with. I did come up with a three or four page vignette that I thought was kind of funny and quirky. It wasn’t really something I thought would turn into a whole story though. The following spring, for the first night of a Susan Aizenberg-led graduate workshop at Creighton University, we were directed to bring in a short piece of our work as a means of introducing ourselves to the group. I brought the vignette because it was funny—plus it’s better to save the dark, rape-and-stabbing-filled material for later in the semester, as to gain some sense of normalcy in the minds of fellow workshoppers before trying to scare them later on with insights of mankind’s dark side. (That’s just a joke, I never actually did anything like that.) To my surprise, the small start I had received a very warm reception. So I kept at it.
This was also the semester when Maddie Annie was born, so this story has some larger significance for me. There were more than a few nights spent in the nursery chair with my laptop working on this story all night, listening to our newborn sleep. There are so many pleasant memories of those wonderful and difficult months: the blue luminescence of her jaundice-fighting lights, playing The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan on repeat because Maddie would sleep if it was on, and being dead tired all the time but having the will to fight through it and work past what used to be the point of no return.
Dispatch from “The Current State of the Universe
“The real trouble started after I left for college. A string of MIPs and DUIs followed my initiation into a fraternity and occasioned my expulsion from the same institution. My grades were adequate but my moral certitude was flagging. My father was a strong believer of so-called ‘small town values.’ He believed in the agrarian movement and intimated that maybe the Capital City, or a libertine school, wasn’t the best place for me. But I didn’t agree and was eighteen years old. It was important I learned to stay out of trouble on my own, I insisted, then remained in school because it wasn’t his decision.
“It wasn’t until eight years later that I saw my father again. He bulged around the middle, but the rest of him was sickly, thin and weak from worry. He was bald then, with just a few whispers of red hair that still hung around the sides of his head and failing mustache. He’d heard a rumor from one of his parishioners about a McCook girl who was forced by circumstance to drop out of college and move back to her parents’ house. This gossip had the stain of sexual misdeed. A freshman coed tricked into dangerous situations by an older man, tempted with alcohol, and, eventually, shuttled to an abortion clinic. I’ve forgotten some of the things they accused me of but they were all true. She was a student at Wesleyan, a confused thing when I found her. A hippie redneck invested in tie-dye tee shirts, hemp purses and cowboy hats. I never saw her again after the termination.
“When he cornered me on it, I told my father that I would never embarrass him again, something neither of us believed.”
Personal Rejection Notes, Requests for More, and Other Nice Versions of No Thanks
Colorado Review and Hunger Mountain for “Attend the Way” and Slice for “The Housekeeper.” Of course, “The Current State of the Universe” was first-prize in the Cincinnati Review’s Robert and Adele Schiff Prize for Prose, and “Attend the Way” received honorable mention in the same contest.
All Quiet on the Western Front by Erich Maria Remarque. This is really a great book. Sometimes you read a classic and kind of wonder why it enjoys a lasting reputation of high standing, and I must admit that I’ve long been dubious of All Quiet—in no small part owing to the fact that Ernest Borgnine and Richard “John-Boy” Thomas are featured on the cover of my paperback edition, which was released after a CBS “Hallmark Hall of Fame” adaptation. But the book does not disappoint. Pretty powerful stuff.
German Workers’ Culture in the United States, 1850 to 1920 edited by Hartmut Keil. This is mostly about Labor movements in Nineteenth Century Chicago and New York, but there were more than a couple things I can probably use in my book.
Some fantastic news arrived today! My short story “The Current State of the Universe” was awarded (and named Grand Champion, I assume) of the Cincinnati Review‘s Robert and Adele Schiff Prize in Prose! It will appear in the journal in May of 2011. As an added bonus, my story “Attend the Way” received Honorable Mention. Both stories are in my unpublished collection How to Die Young in Nebraska.
I’m pretty psyched to have found such a great home for the story, and that it’s done so in prize-winning fashion is that much more exciting.