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.
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 Solitudehere, 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.
A quick note today about the results of the 2013 Summer Literary Seminars Unified Literary Contest. The winners were announced last week here, of which I’m not included. Congrats to them.
While this wasn’t announced publicly, the contest coordinators did let me know that my submission was short-listed as a finalist. Good news there!
This is the fourth time I’ve been on an SLS contest short-list. Somebody there must like me, I guess. Quite a compliment considering the stiff competition the contest brings in. The significance this time is a little different for me in that my submission (“The Hyphenates of Jackson County”) was excerpted from my novel, thus continuing a string of positive momentum for The Uninitiated this year. No agent yet, no publisher. But, if you’ll excuse the recap, the full manuscript did win Tarcher/Penguin’s Top Artist Writing Contest and a different excerpt was accepted for publication in Boulevard under the title “River Ward, 1917”. The book is four years in the making, so it’s very nice to get some little bit of recognition of its quality. Hopefully the string continues to build.
Some day I hope to be a part of a Summer Literary Seminar. It’s a great institution for writers, one I’ve heard nothing but nice things about from folks who have gone out with them. Being immersed in the writing culture of a country on another continent for a month–what’s not to like? Here’s more information on their current seminars in Lithuania and Kenya in case you’re interested.
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 byBoulevard. 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.
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.
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.
I’m excited to share that, this week, my fiction was again chosen to appear in a future edition of Boulevard! Amazingly, this will be my fourth story in Boulevard, which has really become a great home to my work these past few years. (The breakdown of each story is below if you’re interested.)
Here’s the opening of “River Ward, 1917”, which may be familiar to some of you:
It used to be a common thing for a young man to light off secretly in the night, searching for a life different from the one he toiled through at home. Jacob Bressler became an exile in this way. He left under starlight and led his horse over the brawny shoals of what would be his brother’s farm from then on. He didn’t bother with a saddle but merely slid a bridle over the nag’s muzzle and walked into the buggy paths of the river valley. In the dark he found the graveled highway that led to Omaha. There was no need to rush. His brother wouldn’t follow him.
What’s most pleasing about this pub is that “River Ward, 1917” is excerpted from my novel, The Uninitiated, and marks the first time any of this writing will see print. It’s a landmark, of sorts, for me. Four years have past since I began work on the novel. From it’s early shape as The Open City to the early days of The Hyphenates of Jackson County to its current form as The Uninitiated, it has taken a lot of work to get here.
So it’s exciting to get some of the book out there. To have the piece run in Boulevard means even more. Boulevard was my first major publication, running “Welcome Home” in the spring 2008, really launching an encouraging string of success with the short form that saw the story reprinted in Best New American Voices and recognized in a Pushcart Prize anthology. I can only hope that “River Ward, 1917” appearing in Boulevard in the fall of 2013 holds similar portent for my long form work. Regardless, cheers! This one feels good.
Special thanks goes out to Amber Mulholland, Travis Theiszen, Country Club Bill, Mary Helen Stefaniak and any others who helped this particular section through its early phases. And to the Lee Martin workshop at last June’s Nebraska Summer Writers Conference, who gave significant feedback and support in its latest phase. And to Richard Burgin and the editors at Boulevard too, of course. Thanks!
TW stories in Boulevard: “Welcome Home” in Spring 2008, “The Approximate End of the World” in Spring 2010, “On a Train from the Place Called Valentine” in Spring 2012, “River Ward, 1917” is forthcoming.
“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.
What went on in the Wheeler world the past few months, you ask…
-A few bits of feedback returned from the top handful of agents I’d submitted to, and was rejected by, sent me back into a revision cycle, one that is just now reaching completion. I feel a little nuts for going back to the drawing board after only a relative few rejections, but that’s my process and I’ll stick to it. It would be worse to sit on a good idea rather than implement it, right? Anyway, I took six weeks off to rinse my palate and clear my mind–which provided time to paint the outside of our house and stuff a storage facility full of clutter, among other chores to keep my mind busy–and then got back to it. The novel is much better for it, I believe, and slips along much more efficiently. It’s down to 103k words and 321 pages. Amazing how a little drawer time can make some appendages look less indispensable.
-During my off time a few agents requested to look at the novel, so that’s promising. I’ll have the manuscript off to them in January for consideration.
I must say too that the querying game is a lot rougher than I remember it being back in 2008, when I last had to go speed-dating for an agent. Seems like a majority of agents don’t really consider slush in a serious way anymore, and most that do read their mail don’t respond unless they’re interested. This kind of wrecks a carefully made spreadsheet. I understand why agents have taken this approach–as some receive a couple thousand queries a week! It’s logistically necessary on their part. However, this practice can only encourage bad habits among submitting writers. If a writer can’t be sure their query will be looked at, it makes more sense for them to submit to a bunch of agents at once and see what sticks. This really isn’t good for anyone, so I’m trying my best to find ways of getting noticed other than being a bad citizen. I wonder what the end game for this is, as Twitter and blogging become a better way to get the attention of an agent, and direct contact fades away.
-“The Mercy Killing of Harry Kleinhardt” is set to appear in the Winter 2013 edition of Midwestern Gothic. Read about the story here. Get a preview of the issue here.
-My review of Christopher Narozny’s Jonah Man was published on the fall edition of Kenyon Review Online. Jonathan Evison named Jonah Man one of his Favorite Books of 2012. I agree wholeheartedly. It’s a goodie.
–Travel: There was New York in October and El Salvador in November. Realizing today that this will be the first time since 2010, and only the second since 2008, that I haven’t been to Key West after Christmas. I hope the snowbirds can get along without me. Trips to Boston, Los Angeles, and Kansas City are in the works for 2013, and we’re hoping one to NYC becomes necessary as well.
–Sporting: The last time we checked in with the sporting news, Notre Dame was 3-0 headed into a prime time match up with the hated Wolverines of Michigan. I was confident about that game–perhaps a little too confident, as my 87-2 prediction was way off–but I was a little wary of how the rest of the season would unfold for the beloved Fighting Irish of Our Lady. There were still big games with Stanford, Oklahoma, and USC down the road, and ND usually found a way to eke out a come-from-ahead loss to a lesser opponent too. A few months later, ND is sitting at 12-0, ranked #1, and looking at a NCG match up with the hated Crimson Tide of Alabama. Congrats to the team, coach Brian Kelly and star linebacker Manti Teo. I almost can’t believe how well everything has turned out this year, and hope it continues as long as possible. Go Irish!
Dispatch from The Uninitiated
“Fred was around the block when Jacob caught up, ducked behind a barrel. It was known that Fred lost the will to fight too easily. He was doleful and kept out of trouble. His forehead had a white twig of a scar from when he fell out a linden tree. Bullies noticed him. Jacob was the one with a temper, the restless one. Fred, three years elder, often chided Jacob to become humble, being of the mind that the less someone thought of himself, the more likely he’d find the right side of an argument. But Jacob wasn’t so sure of that. He was tall and fair-skinned and athletic. He’d always done well in school. He had things going for him, and modesty appealed less to him than it might to others.”
I’m pleased to announce that my short story “The Mercy Killing of Harry Kleinhardt” was accepted for publication in the great, and newish, literary journal Midwestern Gothic! The story will appear in their next issue, which I believe will be Issue 8, Winter 2013. More specifics will be forthcoming, no doubt.
Here’s an excerpt from “The Mercy Killing of Harry Kleinhardt”:
Aaron never actually knew his mother, not in any real way. When he was a boy he fantasized about her coming back to rescue him from Nebraska, to take him with her to LA, New York, Chicago, wherever she’d landed. Aaron knew so little about her that these dreams seemed like they could be real. His dad never told him what really happened to her. Harry would say, “She’s alive,” if Aaron pestered him enough. “That’s all you need to know. That woman you like to call your mom is still breathing somewhere.”
Aaron didn’t learn much about the world outside Jackson until later, but even as a boy it seemed pretty obvious that things were better elsewhere—and that this was the reason his mother left. There was an old joke about how Jackson was the only town in this free Union state to be named after a Confederate general, and that about summed up how out of step Jackson was with the rest of the planet, Aaron thought.
More than likely his mother met some men in Sioux City and took off from there. Maybe another woman hooked her into a hot lead for some quick money, some liquor or drugs, or a chance to work a back room at a horse track. Over the years, Aaron convinced himself of a thousand scenarios other than those that were likely. He dreamed, at different times, that she was a nomadic bounty-hunter in Texas, a piano teacher in Vienna, a pilot for the US Navy, an Amazon explorer, an African missionary. There was a long string of them. That she was the wife of an extraordinarily rich man was a recurring theme. They were ridiculous dreams. Aaron didn’t have much to work with in creating them.
There is plenty of overlap in this story with my other work. That’s always fun. For starters, the story is set in Jackson, Nebraska; the same Jackson County as is featured in my novel, The Uninitiated. (Read here for an explanation of how my Jackson, Neb. is different from the real Jackson, Neb; and how Sherwood Anderson’s Winesburg, OH differed from the real Winesburg, OH in similar ways.)
Most of the crossover, however, stems from the fact that “The Mercy Killing of Harry Kleinhardt” is part of my Bad Faith series of stories, all of which have been published now. The Aaron Kleinhardt of “Mercy Killing” is the same from “Kleinhardt’s Women” (Fogged Clarity, Dec 2010) and “On a Train from the Place Called Valentine” (Boulevard, Spring 2012), which shares characters with “The First Night of My Down-and-Out Sex Life” (Confrontation, Fall 2011) and “The Man Who Never Was” (Weekday, Summer 2010).
This is the first time I’ve written a series of connected stories so long–maybe testing my stamina before writing a novel?–and it’s exciting to see all of the stories find a home. But with so much murder, sex, drugs, alcoholism, adultery, betrayal, and deception in the cycle, it’s little wonder they’ve found an audience. Midwestern Gothic is a fitting end to this stage of the stories’ publishing life, and an apt home for “Mercy Killing.” I’m glad to have the story picked up, of course, and particularly glad that it was Midwestern Gothic who laid claim to it. Cheers!
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 Boulevardwas 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.
–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.”
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.
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.
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.
The Dark Corner by Mark Powell. Not yet released, but I’m looking forward to it.
It was on August 29 of last year that I finished a full first draft of my novel, then called The Hyphenates of Jackson County. At the time, I anticipated taking another 6-8 months to go through edits and arrive at a refined, fully-edited version of the novel. Maybe declaring Mission Accomplished! was a bit premature, as edits have taken nearly a full year instead, complete with a change in title to The Uninitiated. Overall, the process, starting at my beginning research, took three and half years to arrive at this point. Still, done is done. I finished putting in the final changes on Tuesday this week, and started the process of finding a new agent for the book this afternoon, querying my top four choices.
I ended up doing two more revisions after I felt the book was done, trying to put it under as much pressure as possible before sending it out, which will hopefully pay off. My dedicated panel of readers and conversants–Amber, Bill, Devin, Jenn, Marta, Nicole, and Shannon, em for moral support, the Lee Martin workshop at the Nebraska Summer Writers Conference, various others who happened to inquire after the status of the book–offered some great feedback. Thanks be to them!