Akademie Schloss Solitude

My new digs?

I’ve been sitting on some big news for a couple months now. Something very difficult for a guy like me who, while sneaky, is no good with secrets. So I’m excited, very very excited, to announce that I’ve been awarded a fellowship and three-month residency from Akademie Schloss Solitude!

There are many cool things about the fellowship, some of which I will enumerate here. Paid airfare to/from Stuttgart, Germany, where Solitude is based; studio space and lodging in a baroque castle surrounded by forestland (Castle Solitude, pictured); a monthly stipend to cover living expenses; a double-housekeeping benefit to help supplement my rent at home; the opportunity to live in German culture (Swabian to be exact) for an extended period, sort of a reverse of what the characters of my novel do, my German-Americans; a chance to research and work on my next novel, part of which will take place at and near Ramstein Air Base.

A view of the western district of Stuttgart from Castle Solitude.

Best of all, families are welcome to join artists during the residency, so Nicole, Maddie and Clara will be coming over for at least part of next summer. This is a pretty rare thing for residencies. Among the many things I’m grateful to Akademie Schloss Solitude and the state of Baden-Württemberg for, the opportunity to share this with my family is up near the top of the list. In fact, we’re so excited that we’ve decided to change the spelling of our youngest child’s name from the Anglican/Latinate Clara to the Germanic Klara as a sort of tribute to my benefactors.

You can read more about the program here and its vision of Esprit Solitude here, and see what past fellows were up to during their residencies here, but the gist of it is that Baden-Württemberg funds this program in order to encourage emerging artists from around the world to expand and further their work in ways they wouldn’t be able to within the strictures of their normal home life. It’s really an astonishing investments in the arts, and a recognition that personally elicits massive amounts of humility and gratification whenever I think about it. I was actually offered an eight-month residency, but it seemed like that might be too much of a good thing. I’ll be spending the summer of 2014 in Germany.

My sincerest thanks go out to juror Maxi Obexer, who selected me as a fellow, Jean-Baptiste Joly, who is Director of the Akademie, and Silke Pflüger, who, as Grant Coordinator, has been dealing with my many questions.

This continues a good run of recognition for my novel, as my application was accepted based on the strength of a full manuscript version of The Uninitiated. This manuscript also took first prize in Tarcher/Penguin’s Top Artist competition, while an excerpt is forthcoming in Boulevard this fall. A different excerpt was a finalist in the recent Summer Literary Seminars contest. And now, Solitude.

Winter in Review

Karbach block
The Karbach Block in downtown Omaha, where Tom Dennison’s office was located after the Budweiser Saloon closed down.

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 by Boulevard. 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.

Just Finished

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.

Now Reading

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.

Up Next

The Art of Fielding by Chad Harbach.

Circle Gets the Square: Wheeler Wins Tarcher/Penguin Top Artist

You may recall this post from last summer wherein I celebrated the fact that my novel was a finalist for the writing portion of Tarcher/Penguin’s Top Artist competition.

I’m pleased to say that word arrived today that The Uninitiated won first prize!

Here’s the announcement from Tarcher:

“Ted competed with hundreds of terrific entrants and has won the top prize for his work, THE UNINITIATED. His prize consists of $5,000 and a one-page critique of his work from Sara Carder, Tarcher/Penguin’s Executive Editor of the one and only Julia Cameron. We thank everyone who submitted their fine work, and hope you will join us in extending a hearty congratulations to Ted!”

Thanks so much to the editorial and publicity teams at Tarcher. This is great recognition for my work, and an honor I’m very proud to receive. Last year was kind of a hard slog trying to finish the book amid some pretty big life events and challenges, literary or otherwise. And although the book is still unagented, I’m excited for this new progress. The Uninitiated is something I believe in wholeheartedly. It’s nice to know that the folks at Tarcher are in my corner too.

Summer in Review (2012)

It’s been quite a while since I last offered up a review of my activities. All the way back in April! A few things have gone down since then, such as…

-I finished a draft of my novel, The Uninitiated, that I’m very happy with and sent it off to agents for consideration. (Read here about the finishing.) So far I’ve heard back from two of my top five choices that were queried, with one passing and another asking for full manuscripts on both my novel and short story collection! Who knows if anything will come of this–as the one who requested the fulls did so despite not technically considering new clients at the moment–is that a good or bad thing?–but I’ll take good news when I can get it. We’ll be heading off to New York for a few days in October, and it would be nice if I had a couple meetings/interviews to add to the itinerary by then. We’ll see.

-Not a lot of travel over the summer months. A trip to Niobrara for a few days, a weekend in Kansas City for my mom’s graduation from seminary school and Clara’s first Royals game, a week of commuting to Lincoln for the Nebraska Summer Writers Conference. The fall should offer a bit more excitement. NYC, El Salvador. (!!!)

-I was tipped off recently that my story “Welcome Home” from Best New American Voices 2009 and Boulevard was taught at Southern Connecticut State University this fall. I know of three other colleges where the story has been taught–Penn, Drexel, and City College of San Francisco as part of a program for returning veterans–in addition to a high school in Illinois. This is so cool, and delights me to no end.

-My novel was also named a finalist for Tarcher/Penguin’s Tarcher Top Artist writing competition. I haven’t seen or heard anything about a winner being named, so I guess it still is a finalist.

-I left Prairie Schooner after four years plus of service. See post-mortems here and here.

-My book review of Shira Nayman’s A Mind of Winter can be found here, and of Roberto Bolaño’s The Third Reich here, or Richard Burgin’s Shadow Traffic and Ron Rash’s The Cove here. My review of Yannick Murphy’s The Call is in the current issue of Pleiades.

Sporting: As the final couple weeks of regular season major league baseball wind down, the KC Royals look to have a solid hold on third place in the AL Central division. They’re still pretty mediocre (owing to long stretches of horrible play in April and July) but at least haven’t been nearly as disappointing as the Indians and Twins have been for their fans. Or for Tigers’ fans, for that matter. That’s something, I guess. Life in the AL Central isn’t so much about winning games, it’s about being less miserable than your rivals.

Notre Dame is off to a rousing 3-0 start, their best on the gridiron since Ty Willingham’s 8-0 start in 2002. With a home game against Michigan tomorrow night, and with Stanford, @Oklahoma, and @USC still on the schedule, this team could still easily go into the tank. That being said, I’ll still predict an Irish victory over the Wolverines this weekend. I’d feel a little better if ND had a few mini-Ditkas on the team, but I’ll stick with my gut here. Notre Dame 87, Michigan 2.

Dispatch from The Uninitiated

“Fred was the one who found him face down in the creek, over on the other side of their claim. He drank horse cleaner. That’s how he did it. It must have hurt horribly. His eyes lost their pigment. Hair fell from his head. Fred came and got Jacob. He showed their father unmoving in the creek. They wrapped his body in a blanket and brought it to the barn. They didn’t dare bring it in the house. Neither said this, but they both understood. The body stayed in the barn until the Pfarrer came out with the J.P. to get it.”

Just Finished

The Wilding by Benjamin Percy. A readable and well-done book. Nice suspense. I really didn’t like the epilogue, although I pretty much never like epilogues. A good book, though, certainly.

Let the Great World Spin by Colum McCann. This book had been hyped so much before I read it that it couldn’t quite live up to everything I’d heard about it. It was good, but I think This Side of Brightness was better.

A Mind of Winter by Shira Nayman. A post-war mystery set mostly in Shanghai, Long Island, and London in the 1950s, A Mind of Winter offers plenty in the way of sex and drugs, mistaken identity, and ill-fated love affairs. These are characters who believe, explicitly or not, that the rules of society do not apply to them.

Train Dreams by Denis Johnson. A compelling novella about the life of a rambler and the struggle to tame Idaho in the early parts of the last century.

Now Reading

Tree of Smoke by Denis Johnson. Loving this so far. It’s been a long while since I had time to tackle a broad, long novel like this.

Up Next

The Dark Corner by Mark Powell. Not yet released, but I’m looking forward to it.

TW a Finalist for “Top Artist” Writing Competition

Word arrived today that my unpublished novel, The Uninitiated, is one of ten finalists for Tarcher/Penguin’s Tarcher Top Artist competition!

You can read more at Tarcher Top Artist. Here’s some of what the web site says: “The competition consists of two parts – writing and drawing […] entries will be judged on their technical merit as well as their artistic expression.” (Fyi, I’m a finalist for the writing portion, not the drawing.) Finalists were selected based on 10-page samples; the winner will be selected on the basis of a full-length novel, novella, or non-fiction manuscript. (Tarcher is generally a non-fiction imprint, whatever that says about my chances of winning. Also, it was for writers ages 14 and older, which is strange. It’s going to be depressing when I lose out to an eighth grader.) The competition is for unpublished works only.

The winner of the writing portion will be announced in August, and receive $5000 and a manuscript consultation with an editor from Penguin Group. There’s no publication associated with the prize, but getting prize money and retaining the rights to my work isn’t so bad either. Wish me luck.