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Word arrived today that my unpublished novel, The Uninitiated, is one of ten finalists for Tarcher/Penguin’s Tarcher Top Artist competition!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 The competition is for unpublished works only.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

April in Review (2012)

The old von Schiller monument in Riverview Park. This was placed near where the main gates of Henry Doorly Zoo are now. The statue was thrown in a ditch for the duration of World War I (thanks angry mob) but was later pulled out and put back. I'm not sure what happened to it when the zoo expanded, or where it is now. Any guesses?

-My novel (The Uninitiated, for the uninitiated of you reading this) has reached it’s newest stage of done! It’s off to my trusted cadre of readers for feedback and comment. Depending on how soon I hear back from them, I hope to be nearly done-done with the novel early this summer. Then the novel will be off to agents, hoping to find representation. Exciting stuff. I’m rather fond of the book and hope it does well. It’s very exciting to have it completed. Strangely, I kind of care less about publication now that it’s finished than I did when I hardly had any of it written. Maybe I still kind of doubted I could do it. It’s always easier to dream of publishing than it is to write.

-Not much else has been going on, writing-wise. I’ve been working on a few book reviews, and toiling day and night as Web Editor of Prairie Schooner. Some highlights: navigating a reformatting tangle to get our summer issue on Kindle, helping develop a mobile app, and launching (as co-editor with Claire Harlan-Orsi) a monthly book review on Prairie Schooner’s blog. Fun stuff.

-I’m also working on a few photo features for this blog. Mostly historical Omaha stuff, but also contemporary photos of spots where things in my novel happened. I’ll get on this soon.

-Clara has been around for a month now. We’re pretty fond of her as well.

-My grandpa Wheeler died. He was eighty. He was only able to meet Clara once, on Easter, but it was pretty nice. Shouldn’t have rushed around so much. We had four generations of ____ Lynn(e) Wheelers in the same room—Billy Lynn, Dennis Lynn, Theodore Lynn, Clara Lynne. We neglected to snap a photo. Unfortunately, that turned out to be our only opportunity.

 

Dispatch from The Uninitiated

“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 out into the buggy paths of the river valley. Even in the dark he found the graveled highway that led to Omaha. There was no need to rush. He knew his brother wouldn’t follow him, not after what happened the week before. It was the kind of thing that happened a lot in Jackson County, and that’s why Jacob had to leave. He slid from his horse when he arrived on the River Ward, easing down to the pavement to land on one foot, the left one raised limp. His foot pulsed dully. He couldn’t worry about it, the Ward had his attention. It was a dark morning but he saw the dim hash marks of intersections on the hills beyond where sanitation wagons crept along knolls that slanted up from river to prairieland. There were tenements to the south, dirt-yard shacks he passed coming in from the north. The River Ward was pinned between the Missouri and downtown Omaha. It was mostly mills and warehouses, tar-topped and sturdy. There were other buildings too. Townhouses puzzled together from curb to curb, brownstones that had been fashionable once but were too close to the pig iron mills now, the constant hammering of steel and tails of factory smoke rising in the mucid morning ether. These were made extravagant, brownstone, sandstone, a blushing peach shade of brick. Jacob knew he would need money right away if he were going to survive. It hadn’t occurred to him in his rush to leave Jackson County. He was too concerned with making his life of great importance—with getting rich—that he forgot about practical things like having enough money for supper and a room. He would have to sell his horse.”

Just Finished

The Cove by Ron Rash. Set in WWI-era North Carolina, this novel deals with a German musician’s struggle to avoid anti-German violence in the rural south and a young woman’s difficulty living down the stigma of a birthmark in a superstitious town. An often beautiful and compelling novel.

The Missing of the Somme by Geoff Dyer. Really a must for anyone interested in the military history or the symbology of war.

Now Reading

Stay Awake by Dan Chaon.

Up Next

Flatscreen by Adam Wilson.

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.

Photo Album: The Talmadge Sisters

The Talmadge sisters–mostly Norma, but a little bit Constance and Natalie–were the models for Evelyn Chambers, the female lead of my novel, The Uninitiated. I didn’t know much about them when I came across Norma in a pinup calendar from 1918 (pictured below) but they were really quite an interesting phenomena during the 1920s. And Norma in particular is now most famous for the fact that her star faded so quickly once talkies replaced silent film as the convention.

 

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.

November in Review (2011)

Let’s go with a little bullet point action this time around:

-So I’ve decided to switch up the title of my novel with the title of it’s first part. The novel will now be The Uninitiated. Book 1 will be The Hyphenates of Jackson County. Any objections?

-I think two that I’ll combine Books 1 &2 of the novel into one, as they are of similar content and tone. The novel as a whole is coming together much more clearly now that I’ve gone through a draft of the whole book. I’m working my way through a long list of edits and rewrites now.

-I began work as Blog and Social Networking Editor for Prairie Schooner. Here’s me welcoming myself to the blog.

-The newest edition of Confrontation (Fall 2011) came out, with my story “The First Night of My Down-and-Out Sex Life” included. Read more here.

-I turned thirty early in November, and reflected on the experience.

-We learned that Kid B will be a girl. For right now, at least, we’re leaning toward Clara Lynne for a name.

Dispatch from The Uninitiated

“Evie stayed with Jacob until he was better. It was two days. She was an impassioned nurse. She held cool rags to his forehead while she told him stories; she covered and recovered his kicking limbs in Afghans; she changed his sheets if the chamber pot spilled; she kissed his burning cheeks incessantly, even though there was a chance he might make her sick too; she soothed him, she promised he wouldn’t die, and that she wasn’t going to leave him. Somehow Marie Eigler tracked down a crate of oranges—which was a miracle, really, given the rations—and Jacob had to drink their juice, even though it burned his throat. It was a simple matter of whether or not Evie could keep up his strength. She made him drink turnip broth and a beaten raw egg every hour. Evie kept Jacob in line too. She didn’t let him forget for a second that was being taken care of, and that he was going to be fine. And then, suddenly, after two days, he was.”

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

Southern Review for “Forget Me” and A Public Space for “Attend the Way”

Just Finished

Shadow Traffic by Richard Burgin. A solid collection of stories from front to back from one of our mainstay fiction writers.

Best American Comics 2011, Alison Bechdel, ed. A pretty good showing this year, the best edition since the first two. My favorites were Manifestation by Gabrielle Bell, St. Ambrose by John Pham, Nov. 3, 1956 by Joe Sacco (this one was particularly enlightening and horrifying), Soixante Neuf by David Lasky and Mairead Case, Jordan W. Lint to the Age 65 by Chris Ware, Browntown by Jaime Hernandez, The Pterodactyl Hunters (in the Gilded City) by Brendan Leach, Abby’s Road by Noah Van Sciver, The Mad Scientist by Jeff Smith, Winter by Danica Novgorodoff, Benjamin Percy and James Ponsoldt, and Weekends Abroad by Eric Orner. Maybe it would have been easier to just say the whole thing is awesome?

The Unbearable Lightness of Being by Milan Kundera. A classic. Read it for three minutes and you’ll see why.

Upstream Metropolis: an Urban Biography of Omaha & Council Bluffs by Lawrence H. Larsen, Barbara J. Cottrell, Harl A. Dalstrom, & Kay Calame Dalstrom. An interesting history of the city and surrounding area. There’s so much overlap in these local histories, but this one seems to have a little new and interesting information at least.

Now Reading

A Flag for Sunrise by Robert Stone.

Up Next

Bohemian Girl by Terese Svoboda.