TW’s Debut Book to be Published by Queen’s Ferry Press!!!

After a couple weeks of keeping this under my hat, I’m thrilled to share some superlative news today.

This week I signed a book deal with Queen’s Ferry Press to publish my debut collection of short fiction, Bad Faith, in July 2016!

I’m not sure what else to add. This feels like a commencement moment–a capstone of sorts, but more than anything a hopeful start for bigger and better things.

Check out the press release here. Also, here’s a great profile with Editor Erin McKnight on the Ploughshares blog. Queen’s Ferry Press was founded in 2011 in Plano, Texas, and releases 6-12 collections of literary fiction a year. In only four years they’ve already attracted talents like Phong Nguyen, Ethel RohanKristine Ong Muslim, and Michael Nye, with books forthcoming from writers like Sherrie Flick and Tyrone Jaeger, among others. That this caliber of author is being published by QFP was the big appeal of the press. I’m ecstatic that Bad Faith will find itself among this company. Thanks so much to Erin McKnight for the opportunity. (Thanks as well to the editors and journals who helped make this possible by making a home for my work: Boulevard, The Kenyon Review, Five Chapters, The Southern Review, Midwestern Gothic, The Cincinnati Review, Gargoyle, Confrontation, Weekday, Fogged Clarity.)

Obviously there’s a lot of work yet to be done before Bad Faith hits shelves, and then that’s just the beginning of evangelizing to put the book into the hands of new readers. I’ve enjoyed the support of so many of you to get to this point, something I’m truly thankful for, and will need to continue to earn that support to make this book a success.

All right. Enough politicking. Cheers and thanks! I hope to see many of you soon so we can celebrate properly!

New Stories from the Midwest 2013: Honorable Mention

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.

“The Current State of the Universe” was originally published by The Cincinnati Review as winner of their Robert and Adele Schiff Prize in Prose. Buy the issue here.

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.

February in Review (2012)

I’ve decided to fly in the face of Leap Day and post my review of the past month a day early. (Try to have a safe holiday out there today, folks. We don’t need a replay of four years ago, with all the accidents and alcohol poisonings. Use the extra day wisely!)

February was a month of good news. There was my appointment as Web Editor at Prairie Schooner. I’m still not sure my family believes that I actually get paid to work for a literary journal now. Actually, I’m not entirely convinced myself yet, direct deposit aside. The job has been a lot of fun, although a bit frustrating at times. It’s been a long time since I started a new job. There’s a lot to learn. Hopefully I’m picking it up right.  …  Next came word that two of my published short stories will be mentioned among the “Thirty Other Distinguished Stories” in the New Stories from the Midwest anthology series. “The Approximate End of the World” (Boulevard, Spring 2010) will be noted in the back of the 2011 edition. “The Current State of the Universe” (The Cincinnati Review, Summer 2011) will be noted in the back of the 2012 edition. This is a new series, but one that looks very promising. I’m excited to break through in some small way with them. Hopefully it’s only the start of bigger things.  …  That same weekend I learned that my review of Yannick Murphy’s novel The Call was accepted for publication in the Pleiades Book Review. This is my second review Pleiades has taken, and it will run in their Summer 2012 issue.

March brings a lot of promise. There’s AWP in Chicago. Spring is here, apparently. (Our daffodils have breached!) ZZ Packer is the writer in residence at UNL and will make a couple public appearances in Lincoln. Also, lil’ Clara Lynne is due to join us.

Dispatch from The Uninitiated

“Sometimes I scuffled with Neal Davies and his brothers. I ran track with the two younger Davies boys. They weren’t so brazen about what they said, not like Neal had been outside the store. Mostly it was Neal who mumbled something, standing off to the side to watch us run. Neal Davies was short and podgy. He had blonde hair that laid very flat and smooth on his round skull. His brothers looked at me and laughed when Neal made remarks. I’d tackle one of them into the grass, the Davies brother who was slowest getting out of the way. A punch or two would be thrown, but that was all. Other kids would break it up. Whatever happened was chalked up to bad blood. Since I didn’t know what they said, there was nothing more I could say about it. There was lots of bad blood in Jackson County in those years, the war years. It was wrong of Davies to tease me about the ways my folks died, I’m certain. I’m not certain if I would have teased him about such a thing if the roles had been reversed. I might have. I had to give him that in my calculations. He still had his parents, if nothing else. I did not. Sometimes we believe these things are so for a reason.”

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

Alaska Quarterly Review for “Forget Me”; Indiana Review for “Attend the Way”; and “Lycaon” by Midwestern Gothic.

Just Finished

The Painted Bird by Jerzy Kosinski. A remarkable book about a Gypsy boy’s travels and travails in Eastern Europe during the Holocaust, based upon Kosinski’s own life story. A remarkably brutal book.

The Third Reich by Roberto Bolaño. About the ways people confront (or confronted, it was written and it is set in 1980s Spain) the lingering presence or (non)presence of Nazism in European culture. It’s not quite in the stratosphere like 2666 and The Savage Detectives, but is still very good.

Jonah Man by Christopher Narozny. A very solid first novel about murder, drugs, and the intrigue of 1920s vaudeville performers. It comes out in May. I will be reviewing it.

In Our Time by Ernest Hemingway. A rereading of this classic after hearing George Saunders and Robert Stone talk about it at the Key West Literary Seminar.

The Snows of Kilimanjaro and Other Stories by Ernest Hemingway.

Now Reading

The Sojourn by Andrew Krivak.

Up Next

Stay Awake by Dan Chaon.

Good News Department: BotM & PBR

A couple bits of good news today.

Someone has clued me into the fact that two of my stories have been, or will be, noted as part of the “Thirty Other Distinguished Stories” in the New Stories from the Midwest (aka Best of the Midwest) anthology series!

The Approximate End of the World,” which was originally published by Boulevard, will be recognized in the back of the 2011 edition, due out later this year.

The Current State of the Universe,” which was published last summer by The Cincinnati Review, will be recognized in the back of the 2012 edition.

This is an exciting new series. I’m ecstatic to have my work recognized by them!

In other news, I also learned today that my review of Yannick Murphy’s novel The Call has been accepted for publication in Pleiades Book Review! The review will be in the summer issue of Pleiades, I believe, if you’re interested in checking it out. This will be my eleventh published review, and one I’m particularly excited about. I haven’t been too shy about my love of The Call, as it’s a book a feel pretty strongly about. You should definitely buy it, read it, then lend it to a friend.

The Year in Photos: 2011

January brought plenty of rewrites on the novel; "The Housekeeper" was published on now-defunct Flatmancrooked; my collection How to Die Young in Nebraska, was once again a semi-finalist for the Iowa Short Fiction Award.
February meant attending the AWP conference in Washington DC, and visiting the National Christmas Tree just weeks before it was blown over; my review of Marcy Dermansky's novel Bad Marie was published on The Millions; and we celebrated Valentine's Day with a heart-shaped black forest cake from Zum Biergarten.
In March, "How to Die Young in a Nebraska WInter" was published in The Kenyon Review; I also gave an interview for Kenyon Review Online; did a longer piece on the role of trickster characters in fiction; and "The First Night of My Down-and-Out Sex Life" was accepted for publication in Confrontation.
April was something of a slow month, but it did include a postmortem on Flatmancrooked, and a longer piece on Ellen Horan's historical novel 31 Bond Street and the culture of big advances for unpublished authors.
Nicole and I celebrated our fifth anniversary in May with a trip to San Francisco; "The Current State of the Universe" was published in The Cincinnati Review; my review of David Philip Mullins' Greetings from Below was accepted for publication in Prairie Schooner; I wrote a longish post on the case of Willie McGee and lynchings.
In June, Mixer published "The Housekeeper" on Amazon; my review of Nadifa Mohamed's Black Mamba Boy was published in Prairie Schooner; and my review of Richard Burgin's novel Rivers Last Longer ran in the Pleiades Book Review.
July suddenly took us to Tel Aviv; "On a Train from the Place Called Valentine" was accepted for publication in Boulevard; my review of Suzanne Rivecca's Death is Not an Option ran on The Millions; and we went to the Syracuse dachshund races.
August brought me to the completion of a rough draft of my novel. I also wrote a longer blog piece on what it's like to write about lynchings and other bad things.
September saw "These Things That Save Us" accepted for publication in Conversations Across Borders; I was awarded a partial scholarship to attend the 2012 Key West Literary Seminar and Workshops; and I unveiled my own ranking of MFA programs to little fanfare.
In October, "These Things That Save Us" was published in Conversations Across Borders; my review of Rahul Mehta's Quarantine ran on The Iowa Review Online; and I did a longish piece on the real Winesburg, Ohio and how Sherwood Anderson's experience connected to my own writing of a suddenly not ficitional Jackson, Nebraska.
I turned thirty in November, and took stock of what that meant; we announced that we are having our second girl; and "The First Night of My Down-and-Out Sex Life" was published in Confrontation.
And, finally, graciously, December. With the help of some local archivists, I was able to track down the location (and a photo) of Tom Dennison's famous house. I also started in my new position of Blog and Social Networking Editor for Prairie Schooner.

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.

Three Questions for Adam Peterson About the Kansas City Royals

Lucky for all of you, fellow writer and baseball fan Adam Peterson and I decided to do a review of the KC Royals season–and in the ever-popular blog crossover format!

The Royals finished 71-91 on the year, which was good enough for 4th place in the perennially weak AL Central and a four game improvement over last year’s record. That’s not good, of course. But anyone who’s paid attention to baseball this year knows that the intrigue surrounding the Royals these days has little to do with their current record and nearly everything to do with the young players who look poised to lead a resurgence. We’ll see if KC can actually make the playoffs again in the next few years–which would be their first appearance since 1985, sadly–but there’s an excitement surrounding the team that we haven’t seen in quite a while. One, I felt, warranted the first ever sports post here on the site.

Below are three questions I asked, answered by Adam. On his site, Stock Photography Museum, you can find the three answers I provided to questions asked by Adam. Pretty simple.

Without further ado, here are a bunch of words about the Royals.

Adam Peterson is the co-editor of The Cupboard, a quarterly prose chapbook series. His series of short-shorts, My Untimely Death, is available from Subito Press, and his fiction can be found in Alaska Quarterly Review, Cincinnati Review, Indiana Review, The Southern Review, and elsewhere.

TW: On a scale from 2-70, how good has the Royals starting outfield been this year? There are all the doubles (136 combined), all the outfield assists (49!), the stolen bases (59), the consistency. They’re averaging a 20/20 hitter with plus defense, and all this from a group who came into the season without much in the way of positive expectations aside from Alex Gordon’s often mocked promise to “dominate.” One he followed through on, by the way. Personally, I would have thought it was more likely that all three of these guys would be playing in the minors or Japan by now than what we saw on the field. It seems improbable that Alex Gordon, Melky Cabrera, and Jeff Francouer will all be able to sustain their production after all three had career years this summer. Perhaps the better question, then, is which of the Royals outfielders will regress back to the mean next year, and by how much?

AP: Well, I think you did a pretty good job of illustrating exactly how good they were this year, Gordon especially who might (and certainly should) get some down-ballot MVP votes. Advanced stats have him being as valuable to the Royals as Melky and Francouer combined which is pretty remarkable when you think that both were also having career years. Now, if I can have my own Gordon-like moment of redemption, here’s what I wrote about him before this season started:

Here’s what I’ve been saying about Gordon recently: he’s either going to shock people or fall apart completely. And this is the season. I don’t think he’s going to be just average. There’s too much talent and too much that says his problems are mental. I think he either becomes a .280/.370/.500 guy or is somewhere in Nebraska hanging out with Eric Crouch next year. And, frankly, I still think he’s going to put it together. Yes, I know this is stupid, but I don’t care.

Well, well, well, look what wasn’t stupid. Alex’s line on the season was .303/.376/.502. Yes, I predicted Alex Gordon’s remarkable season to within .08 of his OPS (though, and I’ll take full responsibility for this stunning failure, his actual numbers were slightly more batting average driven. I’m sorry). I’m just kidding about my stunning prediction—well, not really, I feel pretty good about it—but what I didn’t predict would be the much lower offensive environment this season and how it makes Gordon’s numbers even better. Over on Royals Review they’re arguing that he put up the best season of a Royal since Beltran in 2003 which was itself the best season by a Royal since Brett in 1985. Yep. We should all be talking about this more: Alex Gordon is one of the best players in baseball. Finally. If I were him, I’d be screaming it at everyone in Kansas City. Hell, I’m not him and I’m still bragging about predicting his numbers.

Which I did. I totally did.

But next season is next season. I’m not worried about Gordon (except in getting him resigned). He may not be this good again, but he’s a player who could play a key role on a contending team and the Royals need to hold onto all of those they can get. Frenchie has already been locked up—for some reason—and I’m honestly okay with this. Nothing about his season seems like it couldn’t be repeated and there’s no one in the system that he’s blocking anyway. And hey, maybe he figured something out and will continue to walk a bit more and stay away from stupid pitches. (I have no confidence in this happening. I want to get him and Miguel Olivo in a room then lower a baseball from a ceiling to see which one swings at it first).

Melky is a different story. I want Lorenzo Cain. I love Lorenzo Cain. I love his name, his attitude, his scouting report, everything. Melky is the one outfielder most likely to regress and a smart GM would take this opportunity to sell high and try to get back some starting pitching. He’s a terrible defensive CF (despite the arm) and Kauffman stadium requires someone with some range out there. I don’t think he will be traded and Cain himself seems more likely to go (as does, gulp, Gordon). I hold no ill will towards Melky. He was great this year at the plate and that signing was by any accounts a brilliant one by GMDM, but he’s got to go.

Gordon, Cain, and even Francouer could be a part of a competing Royals ballclub in 2013 but Melky won’t be. The only way he resigns to the type of deal the team would want would be if he struggles and if he struggles, what would the point of having him on the team this year be when there’s a perfectly capable player at AAA? Hell, Dyson is a perfectly capable player at AAA too. Melky needs to go, and I have every reason to believe this won’t happen and instead he’s out there again next year only without the bat to justify his waddling defense.

TW: Should Steve Balboni be nervous about next year? (He holds the Royals single-season record with 36 home runs, in 1985, for those who don’t know.) I know you’re on record saying that Billy Butler is due to hit 30 some day, and there are three other guys I see as capable of hitting 30 or more homers—those being Gordon, Eric Hosmer, and Mike Moustakas. Is 2012 the year that the Great Balboni’s record falls? And, for bonus points, do more than one guy surpass Balboni’s total the year his 36 comes off the books as the Royals’ best?

AP: He should certainly be nervous, but I’ll go ahead and say that next year isn’t the year. You named the three players capable of breaking his record (and, yes, I’d optimistically add Billy to that list as a darkhorse candidate), but only Gordon seems particularly likely of making it happen next season. But I say he hits 31 and we’re all very happy.

That’s not to say Hosmer and Moustakas aren’t capable of doing it next year. I mean, Hosmer this year showed remarkable power when he came up, and I don’t think anyone was expecting so much so soon. Could he keep it going and shatter the record? Absolutely. Will he? I don’t think so. Something tells me that, while he’ll be great next year and solidify himself as a future star, he’s still going to have moments where he struggles and there’s a reason why this record, even though it’s pathetic, has lasted so long. Kauffman Stadium is just unforgiving on homeruns and while Hosmer will get his 36+ one season, I don’t think it’s next season. He still seems like Adrian Gonzalez 2.0 to me—though he certainly started faster—and just as Petco sapped Gonzalez’s power, I think the same think will happen to Hosmer. Still, Gonzalez managed to hit 36 or over twice there, and I’d expect the same from Hosmer.

Moustakas, actually, might have a better chance, as stupid as that is to think (and it is stupid and yet I do sort of think it). He’s all power, and is certainly capable of having one of those Hank Blalock-y kind of seasons where he hits .250 with few walks yet somehow ends up with 30 homeruns. You know, the sort of hitter Mike Jacobs was supposed to be. Let’s stop talking about this, actually. It’s making me sad.

To sum up: I think two of three will hit 36 homeruns someday while in a Royals uniform, but I don’t think any will do it next season.

TW: Of all the great rookie performance in 2011, which excited you the most? There’s a lot to choose from here. The game-changing, all-around play of Hosmer; Moustakas finally coming around to show the kind of hitter he is; Salvador Perez arriving a year early and looking like he’ll be an All-Star catcher sooner rather than later; the bullpen throwing fire, and showing great depth; the fact that Johnny Giavotella is not Chris Getz. A lot to choose from, a lot to like.

AP: Absolutely a lot to choose from but I’m just going to go ahead and ignore the bullpen. Not that they’re not great, just that, you know, they’re the bullpen. I’m certainly going to be happy to have them when this team is ready to compete, but I’m so concerned with the rotation that my enthusiasm for guys like Holland and Coleman and Tiny Tim Collins is a little bit tempered. It was, however, great to see Crow come up and perform. I have no idea what this means for his future—I’m not sure the Royals do either—but you’ve got to move him to rotation. I don’t even think it’s a discussion.

So Hosmer, obviously, excites me the most. One of the other smart things I said before the season was that Hosmer was our best prospect because guys like him never miss. And it’s true (it’s also what everyone was saying so I’m not going to take too much credit). I already threw out the Gonzalez 2.0 which is no faint praise no matter what people in Boston are currently thinking about him. Hosmer is good. He will likely be great. It would shock no one if he’s one of the best players in baseball as early as next season, and any reasonable observer should have him in the top-2 of his Rookie of the Year ballot. (Which he certainly has a shot at winning, but he’s not a sure thing given when he came up. A small part of me hopes he doesn’t win it for motivation/curse reasons, but he probably deserves it).

I’ve already talked about Moose, but I should say this: I’m not resigned to him being a .250/.300/.480 hitter, but I think it’s a distinct possibility. That’s still a useful player, especially if he can play a serviceable third base. But, unlike with Hosmer, I think there’s a real chance that line is in play and possibly even optimistic on both his on-base and slugging percentages. I think he can still put up great numbers and be a legitimate clean-up hitter, but next year is going to be telling. Can he make enough contact and can he walk enough to be a star? The jury is still out, obviously, but there are some question marks with him both offensively and defensively that there aren’t with Hosmer. If nothing else, it might just take him longer to get it figured out. I still want him to be Butler with power and the ability to play third. We’ll see. That potential hasn’t gone anywhere.

Perez? Who knows, honestly. Nobody thought he was going to perform like that offensively. The Royals love the kid and I sort of do too. I don’t expect him to hit nearly that well going forward, but if he’s even average, then he’s a great young player and can lead this team from behind the plate. I’m a fan. Future all-star? It’s possible though something tells me he’ll have problems standing out on this Royals team. If this were a bigger market? Absolutely in play.

Giavotella is really the hardest to predict. He certainly didn’t set the world on fire when he came up though, you’re right, not being Getz is its own special skill. I don’t think the Royals are very high on him, frankly, and it’s not hard to see why (though it does make me wonder what they thought they were getting when they took him in the 2nd round a few years back). I’m rooting for him, and there was certainly a time when I, like any fan, thought he could be Pedroia-lite but…I don’t know. He’s still a trainwreck defensively (though it does seem to be mental as much as anything) and offensively his skill set might be a tougher sell in the majors than it was in the minors (doubles power with a high batting average). Could he be a .300/.350/.420 hitter? Sure. I’m not holding my breath, however, and I think the Royals would love for Colon to step up and take over 2nd as soon as he’s ready (sadly, that doesn’t seem to any time soon).

And let me end by putting in a good word for Lorenzo Cain. I like Lorenzo Cain. The last and least smart thing I said in my Royals preview was this: He sounds like a guy who beat up a train. Like, in a folk song. Who wouldn’t want that on their team?

Don’t forget to check out the other part of this literary, Royals, TW, AP, crossover event here, at the Stock Photography Museum and blog. We both had a lot of fun putting this together, and hopefully a few of you enjoy it too.

July in Review (2011)

July was kind of a cluster, what with spending a week in Tel Aviv, and needing the week before takeoff getting ready for the trip. There wasn’t a whole lot of time to write, but I did manage to add another thirty pages or so to the final part to The Hyphenates of Jackson County, my novel. It wasn’t a ton of work to get done. But seeing how I spent most of May and June working on short stories, it was nice to get some momentum going on the novel again, and I think I did that. The ten hour flight from New York to Tel Aviv provided a big block of time to work, especially since I couldn’t sleep on the flight over. I also had three days of writing and revising in Israel, two days in a park and one at the beach. (Supposedly Jonathan Safran Foer moved to Tel Aviv to finish work on his latest book, so I’m in good company there. My hopes of becoming a superstar Jewish author are pretty slim, however. You know, because of this, among other reasons.) The change of scenery on the Mediterranean helped quite a bit, as a change often does. It’s almost always easier to think about home (or familiar things) when you’re far from home (surrounded by unfamiliar things). Being jarred out of my routine helped to get some gridlocked scenes moving again. I’ve kept writing outside this week too back in Omaha, working on the porch with a cold beer this afternoon. Not too shabby.

In other news:

-The big news of the month, in the small world of my writing, was that “On a Train from the Place Called Valentine” was selected for publication in Boulevard. The story will be featured in the noted journal in March 2012.

-Earlier in the month, my review of Suzanne Rivecca’s debut collection (Death is Not an Option) appeared on The Millions.

Nouvella Books unveiled their web site late in July. A spin off from Flatmancrooked’s Launch program, Nouvella is keeping the good fight going in helping to kick start the careers of some deserving writers. Best of luck to them!

-I received a small blurb in The Kenyon Review monthly newsletter about my prize-winning story “The Current State of the Universe” appearing in The Cincinnati Review in May. I think it’s very cool of TKR to do that kind of stuff. It’s a small bit, but very much appreciated.

-There was a great article about Daniel Orozco and his debut fiction collection in the recent Poets & Writers (print only) about dealing with agents and editors before you’re ready. Some very instructive stuff. Orozco’s first published story appeared in Best American Short Stories 1995 to quite a lot of fanfare. “Right after that I was getting calls from agents and publishers asking to see my other stories, to see my novel,” Orozco tells us. “But there wasn’t anything else. I was frantic for about a year–they all wanted something now. After a while they stopped calling and things quieted down, and I just settled back into my routine.” A mere sixteen years later, the collection has been published–and, again, Orozco is an author on the rise. It’s heartening to hear stories like this after my own experience in finding and losing an agent. The promise burns so bright when you’re in that situation—flying out to NYC to read, having agents contact you, hearing the sirens’ call of major publication and large advances—that when life slows back down, when that promise isn’t fulfilled, it feels like you’re washed up at twenty-eight. It’s rare enough to even get one real chance in this business. But as Orozco’s trajectory demonstrates, there are second chances too. If the writing is good enough, and if you’re persistent about putting yourself on the line, there’s opportunity yet.

Dispatch from The Hyphenates of Jackson County

“It’s something I wondered a lot about over the years since it happened. What would have gone through his mind? What would he have been thinking of, or could he even think at all, when the cops finally handed him over to that mob? Could he still see or hear, was his tongue a useless mass, did his skin still feel, once that first bullet ripped through him? It’s something I wondered about a lot. I wondered about that boy, Willy, and how it happened to him, and how, once it was all over, the war, the election, my time in Lincoln, I knew it wasn’t going to happen to me. But for a time that could have been me who had that happen to him. Not exactly the same, but something like that. So I wondered how it felt to be picked up by a lynch mob. Would his eyes and ears work, or would he be too afraid? Would he have been able to hear what that mob promised to do to him?”

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

Conjunctions for “Shame Cycle.”

Just Finished

A Visit from the Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan. I never really fell in love with this one. I can see why people really like it, but it didn’t happen for me. For one thing, several of the stories were eerily close to some episodes from Season Two of Californication. The book seemed too trendy—in its formal choices and content—almost intolerably so. A good book, but one that gnawed at me.

The Call by Yannick Murphy. This is a very good novel. I’ll be reviewing this soon, so I won’t say much here now.

Now Reading

A Sport and a Pastime by James Salter.

Up Next

Winesburg, Ohio by Sherwood Anderson.

May in Review (2011)

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 Hyphenated American"

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 Below for 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.)

-Nicole and I celebrated our fifth anniversary in San Francisco!

-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.”

Just Finished

The Cailiff’s of Baghdad, GA by 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.

Quarantine by 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.

Now Reading

The Names by Don DeLillo.

Up Next

The Call by Yannick Murphy.