A Few Updates, Plus Photos from the Durham Museum

SAMSUNG CSCHey, loyal readers. I hope you’re doing well. Things have been busy here around the Wheeler homestead, what with a few more readings to promote Kings of Broken Things, I spoke with Mary Hartnett on Siouxland Public Radio about Tom Dennison’s legacy in Omaha, saw Kings named as having one of the best book covers of the year by Book Riot, and most recently appeared on the Writing Fun YouTube channel to talk about the process of writing historical fiction and whether or not I’m into the MLB post-season even though the Royals didn’t make it this year. (Meh.) Along with teaching fiction writing at UNO again this fall, starting Dundee Book Company, and that whole full-time job and family thing, I’ve been busy.

A couple more things.

First, I’d like to point out that the hardcover edition of Kings of Broken Things is now 49% off at Amazon. I know many of you already have the book, but if you don’t yet have a copy, or don’t yet have the beautiful hardcover version, and have been waiting for the price to drop online, here you go.

Lastly, Carrie Meyer from the Durham Museum was kind enough to send along some images from our awesome Objects of Inspiration event at the museum a few weeks ago with my fellow Omaha historical novelists Timothy Schaffert and Andrew Hilleman. It was such a fun event, made even more special by the select artifacts that Carrie had pulled from the Durham’s archive. Specifically related to Kings, there was a WWI-era doughboy uniform and an amazing zither. See below for the full gallery. (All photos were taken by Dawn Myron and appear courtesy of the Durham Museum.)

Now we’re all caught up.

“Folding Nebraska into fiction” from the OWH

58e8eeebf4180-imageCheck out this article from last month in the Omaha World-Herald by Micah Mertes that explores how Nebraska has been used as a setting by contemporary novelists.

The article focuses mostly on Dan Chaon and his new book, with some choice quotes from Stephen King, Jonis Agee, Timothy Schaffert, Rainbow Rowell, and a hot young new-comer named Wheeler with a new novel coming out this summer. It’s a fun article, and an honor to have my thoughts included with the titans above.

Here’s the full article if you’re interested, and a quote for now:

Depending on the writer’s aim, that emptiness can yield horror, despair or loneliness. It can yield solitude, serenity, God. It can yield mystery.

“And mystery,” said Omaha author Theodore Wheeler, “is what drives almost all fiction in one way or another. Every story needs something to solve, I guess.”

Wheeler’s next novel will explore a different kind of the unknown, and one closer to home: the immigrant culture of Omaha in the 1910s. “Kings of Broken Things,” on sale Aug. 1, casts fictional characters amid precise historical detail and real-life events — like the Omaha race riot of 1919.

The Reader on Omaha Lit Fest

The Reader did a cool spread in their latest issue on the upcoming (downtown) Omaha Lit Fest to go along with Leo Adam Biga’s article “Lit Fest delves into what we fear, how we relate in extremis.” The article features some choice quotes from Lit Fest Director Timothy Schaffert and a few participating authors, myself included, for the October 16 & 17 event.

The issue is currently out all over Omaha, so pick up a copy if you see one. Or, read the article here, on the The Reader‘s webpage. Here an excerpt:

Ted Wheeler, author of the chapbook On the River, Down Where They Found Willy Brown and the related novel Kings of Broken Things, says, “So much of interesting literature is about social outcasts. I see that as the central duty of a writer – to tell the stories that shouldn’t be told, to make personal demons public, to dredge up buried history or explore the parts of society that have been pushed out to the margins. The literary writer’s job is to say what can’t be said in polite company.”

Schaffert says the work of Wheeler, Wesselman and fellow panelist Marilyn June Coffey has “a kind of mythology, whether folklore or historical incident or ancient mythology.”

Wheeler explores Will Brown’s 1919 lynching in Omaha.

“My main intention was to give it treatment in a way I hadn’t seen done in any history books. The trick wasn’t really in explaining why this horrible event happened here, but more about resisting the urge to rationalize a mass act of treachery by exploring what it was like to be at a race riot and get caught up it the swerve of violent extremism.

“What’s interesting to me and what’s unspeakable about it in a certain way is this point where mundane life intersects with a notorious crime.”PubQuizcheck

Thanks to writer Leo Adam Biga for this.

Also, one last reminder. Opening night for the Pageturners Lounge Literary Pub Quiz (PTLLPQ for short) is this Wednesday, October 7 at 9pm. (Go here for more information. Or here.) In addition to some first-rate trivia, prizes, drinks, etc., we’re also featuring Timothy Schaffert as our guest co-quizmaster for the night. I’ll have a few questions just for Timothy about this year’s LitFest and his own popular novels (The Swan Gondola, Coffins of Little Hope). It will be fun. Even if the trivia is a total disaster, come laugh at me make a fool of myself. You can’t lose!

Pageturner’s Pub Quiz Starts October 7

Another quick announcement this week. I’m pretty stoked to share that, along with MFA buddies Ryan Borchers and Drew Justice, I’m starting a literary-themed pub quiz at Pageturners Lounge in Omaha. This is a pretty traditional trivia night–21 questions, teams competing for prizes–with the twist that we’ll also feature a celebrity guest to introduce to the community via a short interview and a special category wherein the guest will be asking the questions. This should be fun, I think, and hopefully widen the literary community in Omaha a bit. While at Creighton the past couple years, I thought a lot about how to present authors and their work in a different way than what can sometimes seem like the sterile environment of a reading. This format should allow for a little more interactivity and playfulness. In addition to asking their five questions, the authors will play along in the game (with a five point handicap, of course) and will be around to sign copies of their books or chat or talk trash about who knows more than who. We’ll see how it goes.

Our first night is Wednesday, October 7 at 9pm. Pageturners is at 5004 Dodge Street–where the release party for my chapbook was held earlier this year–with Timothy Schaffert as our esteemed guest. If you can’t make it to the first go, we’ll be back the first Wednesday of every month. (See below for the schedule through February.)

Here’s a link to the Facebook event page if you require more information. Otherwise I’ll just see you there!

PTL Pub Quiz Schedule

October 7: Timothy Schaffert, author of The Swan Gondola & The Coffins of Little Hope
November 4: Jen Lambert & Liz Kay, editors of burntdistrict poetry journal & Spark Wheel Press
December 2: Todd Robinson, author of Note at Heart Rock & noted boulevardier
January 6: Cat Dixon, author of Our End Has Brought the Spring & Too Heavy to Carry
February 3: Wendy Townley and the 1877 Society, young lions of the Omaha Public Library

Treachery at the Omaha Lit Fest

The (downtown) Omaha Lit Fest is coming up on October 16 & 17. I’ll be there talking about my chapbook On the River Down Where They Found Willy Brown on the “Treachery” panel at 2pm on Saturday October 17 with Marilyn June Coffey and Douglas Vincent Wesselmann (aka Otis XII) All events are free and open to the public, and are hosted at the downtown branch of the Omaha library (215 S 15th St).

The theme this year is “Nervosa: Science, Psych & Story.” There’s a great lineup of authors participating, headlined by best-selling and National Book Award finalist Emily St. John Mandel. Just having her come to Omaha is a pretty big deal, so you won’t want to miss her or any of the other great writers, like Joy Castro and Julie Iromuanya. Thanks so much to Timothy Schaffert for putting this together.

The panel discussions are the same day as the Holland Stages Festival–so a pretty big day for free arts events in downtown Omaha. Free writers events at the library all afternoon then cross over the Gene Leahy Mall for free concerts by Conor Oberst, Simon Joyner, and Delfeayo Marsalis in the evening. Not too shabby!

Here’s the schedule of events for Lit Fest. I hope to see you there!

FRIDAY NIGHT, OCT 16 (6:30-9:30 pm)

ANXIETY: the opening night party/exhibits, W. Dale Clark Library
(downtown branch, 215 S. 15th St)

WIRED: THE LITERARY BENT-WIRE ART OF JAY COCHRANE

Featuring wire-and-book sculptures based on Gulliver’s Travels, Pride and Prejudice, Misery, Moby Dick, etc…

PINS & NEEDLES: THE PAINTINGS AND DRAWINGS OF ERIC POST AND SHARI POST

Sometimes-tranquil, sometimes-restless portraits in oil and ink.

THE POETRY BROTHEL

Again hosted by literary journal burntdistrict. The journal’s namesake, Omaha’s historic Burnt District, was infamous for its bordellos, gambling tables, and other unseemly underbellies in the 19th century. Relax in the brothel with your own intimate poetry.

SATURDAY AFTERNOON, OCT 17 (1-5 pm)

PANEL DISCUSSIONS, conducted by lit fest director and author Timothy Schaffert. W. Dale Clark Library (downtown branch, 215 S. 15th St).

DIAGNOSIS (1pm)

Featuring doctors/writers Bud Shaw (Last Night in the OR: A Transplant Surgeon’s Odyssey) and Lydia Kang (Catalyst). Shaw came to Nebraska in 1985 to start a new transplant program that quickly became one of the most respected transplant centers in the world. Kang’s background in medicine has inspired two YA sci-fi novels, scientific thrillers that explore a dark future of genetics.

TREACHERY (2pm)

Authors discuss personal demons, social outcasts, and drastic measures. Featuring: Marilyn June Coffey (Thieves, Rascals & Sore Losers: The Unsettling History of the Dirty Deals That Helped Settle Nebraska); Douglas Vincent Wesselmann (Tales of the Master: The Book of Stone); Theodore Wheeler (On the River, Down Where They Found Willy Brown).

EMPATHY (3pm)

Fiction writers Joy Castro (How Winter Began: Stories), Julie Iromuanya (Mr. and Mrs. Doctor) and Jennie Shortridge (Love Water Memory) discuss emotional depth in novels and stories, sentiment vs. sentimentality, and the process of exploring a character’s psychology on the page.

“STATION ELEVEN”: HEALTH, ILLNESS, AND THE END OF THE WORLD (4pm)

Novelist Emily St John Mandel, author of the best-selling, National Book Award-finalist Station Eleven, with Timothy Schaffert, author of The Swan Gondola.

Happy Book Release Day: The Swan Gondola

Big congrats today to Timothy Schaffert on the release of his latest novel, The Swan Gondola! The book has received quite a strong reception from critics. Publishers Weekly said “it’s easy to imagine this charming novel attaining Water for Elephants–like popularity with readers,” which is quite an endorsement.

The Omaha World-Herald has more on the book here and here, along with information on various local events this weekend to celebrate its publication.

It’s nice to see a Nebraska writer realize such success–particularly with a historical novel set in Omaha. It’s especially fitting for Timothy, as he does quite a lot to advocate for Nebraska authors–through his (downtown) Omaha Lit Fest, as interim editor of Prairie Schooner, and in thousands of smaller ways. All this couldn’t be happening for a better guy.

Way to go, Timothy!

Here’s a description of The Swan Gondola:

On the eve of the 1898 Omaha World’s Fair, Ferret Skerritt, ventriloquist by trade, con man by birth, isn’t quite sure how it will change him or his city. Omaha still has the marks of a filthy Wild West town, even as it attempts to achieve the grandeur and respectability of nearby Chicago. But when he crosses paths with the beautiful and enigmatic Cecily, his whole purpose shifts and the fair becomes the backdrop to their love affair.

One of a traveling troupe of actors that has descended on the city, Cecily works in the Midway’s Chamber of Horrors, where she loses her head hourly on a guillotine playing Marie Antoinette. And after closing, she rushes off, clinging protectively to a mysterious carpetbag, never giving Ferret a second glance. But a moonlit ride on the swan gondola, a boat on the lagoon of the New White City, changes everything, and the fair’s magic begins to take its effect.

Coming Soon: Schaffert’s The Swan Gondola!

Pre-order your copy now of Timothy Schaffert’s sweeping historical novel set in 1898 Omaha, The Swan Gondola.

After the breakout success that was his 2011 novel, The Coffins of Little Hope, this latest from one of the most beloved figures of Omaha’s literary scene is very much anticipated. That it’s historically-set in Omaha, so much the better.

Here’s the teaser:

On the eve of the 1898 Omaha World’s Fair, Ferret Skerritt, ventriloquist by trade, con man by birth, isn’t quite sure how it will change him or his city. Omaha still has the marks of a filthy Wild West town, even as it attempts to achieve the grandeur and respectability of nearby Chicago. But when he crosses paths with the beautiful and enigmatic Cecily, his whole purpose shifts and the fair becomes the backdrop to their love affair.

One of a traveling troupe of actors that has descended on the city, Cecily works in the Midway’s Chamber of Horrors, where she loses her head hourly on a guillotine playing Marie Antoinette. And after closing, she rushes off, clinging protectively to a mysterious carpetbag, never giving Ferret a second glance. But a moonlit ride on the swan gondola, a boat on the lagoon of the New White City, changes everything, and the fair’s magic begins to take its effect.

The book is slated for release on Feb 6, 2014, from Riverhead. I for one can’t wait to see the book, and I hope you’ll reserve a copy too. Timothy is really doing his state and city proud, and it’s great to see the well-deserved heights his work is achieving.

Down and Out at the NSWC

Demonstrating how to cultivate suspense with fellow workshopper Julia Lee McGill.

I was lucky to spend a week in workshop with Lee Martin earlier this month down in Lincoln at the Nebraska Summer Writers Conference. The workshop was great. It was a lot of fun and helped crystallize the main issue of what’s lacking in the first twenty pages of my novel. I’m excited to get to work on resolving that issue now and getting the manuscript out to agents by the end of the summer. I couldn’t have asked for more, really. The group I worked with was very giving; Martin is a skilled workshop leader. I won’t get into the details too much here–although a dispatch of my experience was published last week on the Prairie Schooner blog if you’re interested. Read Lee’s recap on his blog too while you’re at it.

A very nice experience it was. If you have the chance to attend the NWSC in the future, or work with Lee Martin, don’t pass it up. Many thanks to conference director Timothy Schaffert and his ace lieutenant, Sarah Chavez, for having me down there. It was worth the drive every morning, and then some.

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.