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.

Briefly Noted 1.2 is up on Prairie Schooner Blog

Be sure to check out the Prairie Schooner blog this week, as issue 1.2 of PS: Briefly Noted has been posted, and includes my short review of Roberto Bolaño’s novel The Third Reich.

The issue also features Kwame Dawes on Sadie Jones’ The Outcast, Robert Lipscomb on Rachel Maddow’s Drift, and Claire Harlan Orsi on Sara Levine’s Treasure Island!!!.

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.

January in Review (2012)

-It was a pretty slow month on the blog last month. There are two reasons for this. First, I spend eight days in Key West for the Key West Literary Seminar. (Here’s the recap of my time there.) Second, I received an offer late in the month to take the reins as Online Editor for Prairie Schooner! I accepted. Technically I don’t start until today–and the paperwork hasn’t been started either, so hopefully I’m not jinxing that–but I’ve been getting a feel for the job over the last week or so. I’m very excited to take over the position from Timothy Schaffert. The new website is up and running, and we have an awful lot of cool things in the works. It’s a very exciting time to be involved with the journal.

-The edits for my novel are coming along. I’m hopeful to have it ready for my top readers here in the next month or so. Nothing monumental to announce, but I feel like the book is coming along. It’s tightening up in ways that lead me to believe that it’s close to being done, at least. Of course, the feedback I get from my readers will probably blow a few things wide open again.

-I did add my 2011 Year in Photos post last month, in case you missed it.

-Just two months until the new baby arrives. Eep.

Dispatch from The Uninitiated

“Maria Eigler knew what she liked. She built a world around herself that reflected her preferences. She loved conversation and children and music. She liked to make hearty food and see all of it eaten, to make up beds and see them slept in, to have a full, vibrating house. She tolerated conceit in people she cared for, but found it the most contemptible trait among others. Maria was not pretentious, but she didn’t stoop to putting on an air of ignorance either. She was a wise and deceptively cultured woman. It didn’t surprise Jacob to learn that Maria attended a women’s seminary when she was young, in Missouri. She studied Greek drama for two years before she married August. It was Grenville Dodge who moved them to Council Bluffs, before they moved themselves across the river. Maria would sometimes say a phrase in Greek, to show where an English word came from, like alphabet or apology or muse or martial. The way she talked about Greek drama, all the time in her buoyant kinderfrau voice, she made it sound like those plays could explain everything in life. Love, betrayal, war, language, fate, death. And if you were lucky enough to get the chance to really study them, and understand what they meant, then you’d be well off. You’d know enough to maybe let everything else in the world well enough alone.”

Just Finished

This Side of Brightness by Colum McCann. What a beautiful book. Very affecting and well done. The book begins with a focus on the sandhogs who tunneled under the East River to build the subway tunnel connecting Brooklyn and Manhattan, which I found incredibly fascinating. McCann gets a lot of attention for Let the Great World Spin, but don’t miss out on this remarkable book either.

Bohemian Girl by Terese Svoboda. A coming-of-age novel about a young girl left to fend for herself in the Nebraska wilderness in pioneer times. The book kind of read as a survey course in early Nebraska history at times, although it has its moments too. There are lots of interesting characters that come and go throughout the book. The most interesting ones never stayed as long as I would have liked them to.

Leaf House by Karen Brown. This story collection, Brown’s second, won the most recent Prairie Schooner Book Prize in Fiction. I was lucky enough to get a preview of the manuscript in order to interview her for the PS blog. (Here’s the interview, if you’re interested.) It’s a very good book—Brown is an awesome young writer—and I’m eager to see how the final version comes out.

Now Reading

The Third Reich by Roberto Bolaño.

Up Next

The Marbled Swarm by Dennis Cooper.

December in Review (2011)

Merry Christmas, from the street urchins of the Omaha tenements.

My year in review post will be coming shortly, so I’ll try to keep this brief. The month was more or less uneventful, so brevity shouldn’t come too painfully.

-I finished the second revision of my novel late in December. The book should be in something close to its final shape now, as this cycle included half a dozen rewrites of chapters and sections (plus a couple new chapters) that I hope don’t need to be completely rewritten again. I guess I’ll see if this holds up under the next reading-revision cycle. Assuming I can fit in five work days a week, it takes about a month to revise the whole novel. They key will be getting that time down a little bit. If there’s less and less that needs changed, I should be on the right track.

The Kenyon Review‘s December newsletter featured reading recommendations from contributor’s and staff, including my recommendation of Yannick Murphy’s The Call. It’s such a good book! Go buy it now!

-The new issue of Confrontation was reviewed on BookFox. Here’s a little of what was said about the issue:

Paul Zimerman’s “Full Remittance,” a kind of anti-Rakolnikovian story, is excellent, as well as a shortish story by Theodore Wheeler with the titillating title of “The First Night of My Down-and-Out Sex Life,” which ends up being more somber than you’d expect.

-With the help of some friendly archivists, I was able to track down a bunch of information about the different places Tom Dennison used to live in Omaha. I wrote a bit about it here. In the coming months I’ll have more on the real historical places that are featured in my novel.

-My first real author interview was published on the Prairie Schooner blog. Thanks to Nuala Ní Chonchúir for her generosity and fine responses.

-Happy New Year!

Dispatch from The Uninitiated

“Tom Dennison grinned at me again, like I was being stupid. And I was being a little simple about the election. What I’d described is how it always works in this business, yeah? It’s always a matter of offering more than the other guys and making sure you manage things well enough to get your folks to a poll on time. It was still new to me, and it’s all novel to a guy who doesn’t know what he’s doing.”

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

Iowa Review for “Forget Me” and Crazyhorse for “Attend the Way.”

Just Finished

A Flag for Sunrise by Robert Stone. I love reading books like this—ones that must have been incredibly timely and topical at the time of their publication, and are still great reads even if they aren’t so relevant now. This is a very engrossing novel that shows through a split narrative how an attempted revolution in a banana republic comes together. (There are some sexual escapades with a hot nun too, fyi.) Also, I’ll be part of a workshop led by Robert Stone at the upcoming Key West Literary Seminar. So excited for this.

Omaha: A Guide to the City and Environs compiled by the Federal Writers’ Project. This is so great: the WPA funded study of Omaha from the Depression. Not only does it feature the most complete and concise history of the area I’ve found, there are fantastic gems throughout, like how much beans and coffee cost at a cafe at the time, and how much streetcar fare to the airport was, or where to find the best Chow Mein. There are also a half-dozen walking tours guides of the city, which is really very helpful in understanding how the city was laid out during this period. I was very geeked to find this.

Now Reading

Bohemian Girl by Terese Svoboda.

Up Next

The Third Reich by Roberto Bolaño.

What a Great Time to be Literate – Fall/Winter Book Preview

A couple weeks ago The Millions released their “Most Anticipated” book preview for the second half of 2011, and there are some really great books on the list. Some of these forthcoming releases are pretty exciting. You should check out their article for the full thrust of the season, but, nonetheless, here are the ones that have me on tenterhooks.

Don DeLillo will publish his first collection of short stories in November with The Angel Esmerelda: Nine Stories. The stories included were written between 1979 and 2011, so it’s a pretty big range to draw from–and is clearly a collected stories kind of thing with a different label. It is a new book from DeLillo, however, so I’m eager to read it.

Dan Chaon, probably my favorite contemporary writer of short fiction, comes out with a new collection early in 2012 called Stay Awake. I liked his novels okay, but, for me, Chaon’s short story collections are where it’s at.

Colson Whitehead wrote a post-9/11 zombie novel–Zone One–that comes out in September. It looks pretty interesting. Whitehead’s The Intuitionist is one of my favorite novels, and one I highly recommend checking out if you haven’t yet read it.

Denis Johnson‘s Train Dreams comes out in August. It’s a novella that was originally featured in the 2003 O. Henry Prize Stories anthology.

Roberto Bolano has yet another posthumous release with The Third Reich. The title refers to a war game some Germans get caught up in while vacationing in Spain.

Lauren Groff comes out with Arcadia in 2012, a novel about a utopian sect in rural New York that falls apart.

Yannick Murphy‘s The Call. I’ll be reading this over the weekend. A novel written as diary entries about a family’s difficult year after a son goes into a coma following a hunting accident.

DBC Pierre‘s Lights Out in Wonderland is also an August release. An international, satiric romp that takes its aim on the largesse and iniquities of late capitalism.

Also, Dave Madden‘s The Authentic Animal is out soon–a nonfiction book about the world of taxidermy–and you can win a copy via HTML Giant’s current caption contest.