It’s publication day for my new novel, In Our Other Lives!!! Writing this book took me to Stuttgart for three months, Lisbon, Jaipur, New Delhi, many times to Chicago, and to new places with my writing in creative and personal ways I doubted were possible. It’s always strangely bittersweet to publish a new book—but I’m excited for you all to read the story and hopefully love it at least a tenth as much as I do.
This is the book I began while on fellowship at Akademie Schloss Solitude, writing around 200 pages of the first draft over an intense seven-week period. Special thanks to Maxi Obexer and Jean-Baptiste Joly for bringing me there. Also, to the creative writing department at Creighton University, where I was an MFA student during this period and was encouraged to experiment with voice, perspective, and other ways to manipulate reader experience. Also, to the emergency department at the University of Nebraska Medical Center for letting me shadow ER nurses and doctors for a day. This was a fun one to research.
If you’re inclined to purchase a copy, my sincerest thanks. For bargain hunters, order here, or support local booksellers here. For a signed copy, order here.
Check out these photos from my return trip to Solitude and Stuttgart last month. The trip was pretty successful, I think. There was a great response at our performance of “Omaha Uninitiated: Stateside Race Riots & Lynching in the Aftermath of World War I,” the multi-media contribution Darren Keen and I put together for Akademie Schloss Solitude’s “Quotes & Appropriation” symposium. The room was nearly filled for the performance. I couldn’t ask for more than that.
It was a lot of fun to bring so much of the research that went into writing my chapbook On the River, Down Where They Found Willy Brown and the related novel (still in manuscript) titled The Uninitiated. Trying to guess how an audience will react (or if they will react at all) to a piece is a constant obsession for most writers, so actually being up in front of a group of mostly strangers and talking to folks afterwards was a nice culmination of sorts, and a commencement too. Knowing that I can get the attention of a room full of Germans and artists from all of the world interested in the history of Omaha is heartening to say the least. There’s still the matter of getting the novel version of this material published, and published well, and then promoting that, but I’ll enjoy this for a little bit, while I can.
Reconnecting with the wildhogs of Rotwildpark.
Not so much traveling around European elsewheres this time–but plenty of exploring Stuttgart.
Hanging out at Super Popular Sanchez in Stuttgart.
The courtyard, host to many events last summer, in a very frosty state.
Darren and Lu getting set up before the show.
(Photos of the presentation were taken by Franzi Ziegler.)
This post has been sitting in post-op for quite a while but I’d still like to make a few points and share a bunch of photos from my last few weeks in Europe this summer. I’ve been back in Nebraska, more or less, since the end of August and have been kept busy readjusting, recovering, and trying to make up for lost time with the girls. So the blogging has been neglected. Hopefully nobody is too crushed by this fact.
My three months at Solitude served me and my body of work very well. Quantitatively, I wrote a whole new novel from beginning to end, sans a few scenes that didn’t quite take off that I’ll get to soon; conceived of and planned out a multimedia project and presentation (more on this in the coming months) that will illustrate a lot of the research and creative process that went into writing my first novel, the historically-set The Uninitiated; yet another small revision of The Uninitiated before sending it off to agents; and one new short story.
Thinking about these things numerically isn’t usually the best, but I think the work is pretty good too. I’m really excited about the new novel–called Safe Haven, for now, or maybe From the Files of the Chief Inspector. It’s kind of crazy thinking about how it took three years to finish a draft of my first novel (with rewrites coming in each of the two subsequent years to get to a draft that I feel is more-or-less done) and that a first draft of the second novel pretty much took about five and a half weeks to get down. The book isn’t quite done, so hopefully I’m not jinxing myself, but it’s interesting to look at the differences of the two projects. The second book is set in in 2008, so obviously there’s a big difference in the amount of time demanded by research. Also, I had a much clearer idea about what the second book would be about and how I’d structure its different parts, which is probably the biggest change. Anyway, now that the first draft is nearing completion, I’m excited to get onto the 1-10 years of revising before it’s ready to let anyone else actually see it.
Just a teaser, a literary crime novel, the book features love stories set in the context of a post-9/11 domestic spying campaign. If you’ve followed this blog for a while and are familiar with my reading obsessions the past few years (Bolaño, D. Johnson, U. Johnson) then you probably could approximate the tone and style of this new project. It’s been fun to write, I’ll say that.
Thanks so much to Mr. Joly, Silke, Marieanne, Claudia, Lu, Clara, Lotte, Sophie, Maria, the other fellows, and everyone else at Akademie Schloss Solitude for their assistance and support during my residency. Solitude is an amazing place made so much more so by the people there.
My final few weeks allowed for just a little more travel in Europe. After taking longer trips to Amman, Italy, and Paris (x2) I decided to keep my last few cities decidedly Germanic, sneaking in a few days in Hamburg, Berlin, and Vienna. Rushing through these cities didn’t do them any kind of justice, but a taste is better than nothing.
I will say that the best Mexican food I had in Europe was at Tin Tan in the Mitte area of Berlin. There were some decent burrito stands in Paris, but Tin Tan was faraway the best. This turned into a running-joke by the time I left Germany, but I was really craving good Mexican food so much. I like paprika and pimento peppers as much as the next guy–probably more–but it wasn’t so easy to go on without a steady supply of chili peppers. (I had plenty of Döner, currywurst, and schnitzl too, don’t worry. Would have liked to live on crepes a few days, but that wasn’t really in the cards.)
Pretty much right after getting home to Nebraska we set off for the Pacific NW to celebrate the weddings of a couple friends. It was a great trip. More travel for the girls–planes, trains and boats this time. Daughter 1 was pretty appalled at how slow and low-tech Amtrak trains are, having worked her way up to a college sophomore level of pretentiousness about rail-travel after summering in Europe. Not everything is the TGV, honey.
While I was definitely not in the mood to spend more time on an airplane at this point, it was great to catch up with so many old friends during my homecoming weekend.
In fact, I was pretty much awed by the reception I received in returning. From Nicole and the girls and the extended family, to the writers at Creighton, even to the security guards at the courthouses I cover for work. People are nice. It was really quite touching, like I’m George Bailey or something.
After that, October saw three trips to Kansas City to following the Royals on their historic run to the World Series. In all, I saw the madcap, 12-inning Wild Card game victory over the Oakland A’s with my brother, drove down for the ALCS rainout with Nicole, and parlayed what we sold the ALCS rainout tickets for into two seats for Game 2 of the World Series against San Francisco. What a crazy run.
-A big one being that I read as part of Solitude Night here at the Akademie on July 5. The experience was a pretty cool one, not the least because my literature compatriots–Irish poet Annemarie Ní Churreáin and German playwright Anne Habermehl–shared their outstanding work. Also, the stage was built on the steps of die Schloss, with the reader facing the castle and the audience seated on the steps, facing the valley. I read from two pieces, some of “On the River, Down Where They Found Willy Brown” and the opening of the new novel I’ve been working on here. It was kind of nerve-wracking to present work that was written only a few weeks ago, but I feel like it went over okay. A number of people have told me they enjoyed the reading–and since they’re passing on good news, I have no reason to doubt them.
Thanks so much to Claudia Gehre for setting up the reading so beautifully and introducing us readers. And thanks to Akademie Director Jean-Baptiste Joly for selecting me to read on the big night.
-Also, if you haven’t seen, Akademie Schloss Solitude is now accepting applications for its next cycle of fellows, with residencies from 2015 to 2017. Residencies are typically pretty long, 6-8 months or so, sometimes longer, sometimes shorter. Stipends, lodging, and studio space are provided, along with some travel and project expenses. Writers, artists, dancers, musicians, mathematicians, chess players, art administrators, philosophers–it’s a pretty big tent out here. I’ll vouch that Akademie Schloss Solitude is certainly an amazing place to write and create, and hike, and is pretty centrally located if you’d want to do some sideline travel while in Europe. The deadline is Oct 31, 2014. Here’s a list of conditions and benefits for the fellowship. Check it out.
-After Jordan I didn’t do much traveling the past two weeks. Explored more of Stuttgart on foot, found new areas of the forest to hike, managed to turn a two hour leisurely walk to the bank into a five hour power-hike after I took a wrong turn in Wildpark. Oops.
-Today I did venture out of Stuttgart again with a trip up to Landstuhl. There really isn’t too much there, except the Landstuhl Regional Medical Center, with Ramstein Air Base also in the area, so it has certain significance to recent US military history–and more to the point, a character in my new novel (Jim Allen from my story “Welcome Home” is a big character in the book) is sent to the medical center for a brief time. So it was kind of research for the novel, kind of just being curious to see what a US military town in Germany is like. I wasn’t sure if I should still go up there. There are a million other places to visit here that offer more in the way of culture and sights. The trip itself was longish, about three hours each way by train, although a lot of that was through the scenic Rhineland area, so not much to complain about there. So I went.
This morning I was surprisingly emotional about going to Landstuhl. The medical center served as the primary hospital to treat injuries suffered in both the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, so it’s seen a lot of traffic in the last decade. I read last night that the hospital was for several years among the world’s most active hubs for organ donations. A sort of benign fact on its face, but devastating in its implication. This really stuck with me this morning.
I didn’t do much while there. Walked up to the medical center and around its gates. Everything is secured so there really wasn’t much to see besides dozens of signs promising that bad things will happen if you take any pictures of the facility. (Note: I really admire those who live by the edict that when someone tells you to stop filming, that’s the most important time to be filming. Further note: I’m not one of those people.) So nothing profound, but I’m glad I went. Like a lot of things, the process of getting somewhere is most of the trip. And I did get a few details that will make it into the first draft of the novel.
-Arriving back into Stuttgart was pretty interesting this evening. There was a big Palestinian demonstration going on all along Königstraße, a pedestrian drag through the main tourist and cultural part of the city. A little different from what I expected walking out of Hauptbahnhof train station. Lots of flag waving, some chanting, many head scarfs, a few burqas. Polizei in full-on paramilitary gear, berets, rifles, some with riot gear handy, just in case. (I’m assuming a lot of the police presence was just in case a group of fascist, anti-immigrant thugs showed up for a confrontation–something becoming more common in some places–but I’m not really sure.) Meanwhile, the Schlossplatz (castle square) is hosting its annual week of free jazz performances. So, while the the protest wraps up, there’s a jazz quintet on a bandstand playing “Everybody wants to be a Cat” from Disney’s The Aristocats (you couldn’t make this stuff up if you tried) with a bunch of hipster swing kids strutting their stuff. Kind of a strange dynamic. And a nice little microcosm for how this whole trip has gone.
I’ve been keeping pretty busy and working hard on a new novel–stories of love abandoned and disrupted in the context of domestic spying. It’s been an interesting project (finding the voice for this has been a lot of fun) and has taken up most of my time here, along with my two daily hikes and all the presentations and performances of the other fellows. Lots of interesting stuff going on. (Check out the Akademie Solitude blog for a taste of life at die Schloss.)
I did sneak in a couple trips the last couple weeks, however. A day trip to Mannheim and Heidelberg (cities near Stuttgart) and then a few days last weekend in Munich and just across the border in Salzburg, Austria.
More to come later, but here are some photos for now:
I’ve been settling in after arriving for my fellowship at Akademie Schloss Solitude in Stuttgart.
Some things from the first week:
-First and foremost, they take their foosball very seriously here. If you’re going to step up to the futbol table, you better bring it.
-Lots of weddings at the castle. This is my sixth day here and I’ve spotted four brides so far–including two this morning. Besides all the art and music and interesting collaboration going on, this place would be a wedding crasher’s dream. Free champagne four times weekly! On the other hand, it seems like a lot of the wedding parties merely come here for pictures and have the reception elsewhere. So far, four brides, but only one beer delivery truck. Caveat emptor, wedding crashers.
-TSA took my toothpaste, so one of my first tasks in Germany was picking out a new tube of toothpaste. I probably should have made more of an effort to learn functional German. Seems to have worked out okay, on the toothpaste score at least. My teeth are intact, and only a little gritty.
-Really enjoying all the courtyard cafes. I’ve noticed a few biergarten, but haven’t stopped in yet. Mostly I’ve been getting by on bread rolls, salami, and granola bars. There’s lunch here for fellows during the week, which is something to take advantage of whenever possible. A bus runs right by the Akademie, but it’s kind of expensive to make a bunch of casual trips. Otherwise it’s at least a thirty minute hike down to the village supermarket. Maybe double that coming back, as Solitude sits at the top of a pretty heady incline. I get the feeling that not many of the other fellows are hiking as much as I’ve been, as I haven’t seen anyone else drenched in sweat all the time, huddled over with shin splints. Oh, well. With my spartan diet and all that hiking, hopefully I won’t be so doughy by the end of summer. Or I could act like a normal person and just take the bus.
-I haven’t done a ton of writing so far. One short story is drafted, a story I’ve been trying to write in some form or another for nearly a decade–I think I found the right form and voice this time around. That seems like good production for what’s been a pretty fraught week. Been doing a lot of thinking about the new novel I’m starting, while hiking, before and after napping. I’ve been reading a lot too, which usually precedes writing output. Anyway, nothing comes easy when mostly I’ve been moping around feeling bad about what an asshole I am for being here in the first place. It was very hard to leave home.
-I’m thinking of doing a little side trip, maybe next week. Friedrichshafen sounds nice. It’s the home of Zeppelin University, which I will repeatedly mispronounce as Led Zeppelin University. Imagine how different my life could have been if, when deciding on colleges while in high school, I’d known (mistakenly) there was a Led Zeppelin University. Anyway. Lake Constance is there. There’s a company that does Zeppelin elevations and rides. It’s pretty close and would be an easy way to test myself on the regional trains. I should do it, right?
Here are a couple more YouTube videos I found that relate to Akademie Schloss Solitude. I’m not sure how interesting these are to anyone else, but it’s my blog, so, yeah. Enjoy!
Der Solitudebolero oder Raskolnikowbesessenheit, a short film by Bulgarian director Javor Gardev that was filmed at and produced by Akademie Schloss Solitude in 1998. I can’t translate the dialogue for you, but I can only assume the film depicts the everyday life of fellows at the venerable Stuttgart institution.
Being that the Stuttgart-area is known for its automotive manufacturing and is regarded as the “Cradle of the Automobile” (see Gottlieb Daimler) it isn’t too surprising that Schloss Solitude doesn’t limit itself to just architectural and artistic wonders, but is also the site of Solitude Racetrack. There hasn’t been much racing activity there since the 1950s, I guess. Although there appears to be an annual race, Solitude Revival, with late-model cars. Of all the benefits and opportunities my fellowship to Akademie Schloss Solitude will grant me, this is probably the first that will truly make my brother jealous.
Posted below are a couple videos that show some of what Akademie Schloss Solitude is all about, since a few people have asked what goes on at an artists’ residency and how I’ll keep busy while there. One about the project a past fellow worked on and another that outlines the history of the Akademie and what it sees as its purpose in the wider world. It’s good stuff, so please check it out if you’re interested.
Watching these videos, and learning more about the program, I’m even more excited to have been selected. I’m sure it’s something all young writers and artists go through–the phases of accepting that they and their work are being validated, I guess–but it’s still strange to think that my stories about Nebraska and its history will go this far. (And hopefully further.) Trying hard not to psyche myself out.
Brazilian dancer/actor/musician Marcelo Gama wrote and directed an opera for his residency project, as this video chronicles. The end result was a performance with sixty singers in a public square in Stuttgart. I’m in awe of this.
Jean-Baptiste Joly (Artistic Director of Akadamie Schloss Solitude) explains how the Akademie approaches writers and the public presentation of literature during residencies in a lecture on on transnational literature. It’s fascinating how the staff tries to present visually and musically something that isn’t performance art. There’s also a nice overview of the history of the Akademie and how it has evolved in its mission.