creative writing

The Spirit of the City: Kings of Broken Things

 

By: Phil Brown

By trade, Omaha’s Theodore Wheeler is a civil law and politics reporter. That background shines through his moonlight work in fiction. An alumnus of the University of Nebraska-Lincoln who received his M.F.A. from Creighton University, Wheeler has seen publication in various literary magazines across the country, and published a fiction chapbook and a short story collection in the past two years. This August he published his debut novel, Kings of Broken Things, through Amazon’s new literary imprint, Little A.

Representing seven years of work according to the author, Kings is ambitious in scope, attempting to wrangle the entire sprawling city of Omaha into focus a few years into the 20th Century. Wheeler writes about a time fraught with sweeping change and social upheaval, and a particularly formative time for the young city of Omaha, Nebraska. On his website, Wheeler professes the desire to channel DeLillo, Denis Johnson, and Colum McCann, and Ralph Ellison in his work. While he may not yet be included in that pantheon, Kings certainly doesn’t lack for trying.

The narrative follows a few main characters around the city as social tensions rise. There’s Karel, a recently immigrated adolescent from Europe; Jake, a farm boy come to make it big in the city; Evie Chambers, a kept woman who dwindles in a lonely brownstone; and even a few chapters devoted to the infamous Tom Dennison, a true ghost from Omaha’s past: crime lord, political boss, real-life supervillain. The experience a city far removed from the one we know now, but one that resonates with it, a distant echo.

We read about Karel’s attempts to adjust to life in America, learning baseball, attempting to care for his sickly younger sister, and always striving to fit in with the rest of them. Jake begins to sink into the city’s underworld, working for Dennison, sometimes dirty work. Evie works to survive as well, in a part of town not too hospitable to young women. They have intertwining connections to each other; Jake mentors Karel, Jake and Evie strike up an affair, Dennison looms over all.

The spirit of Omaha in the novel is much the same as it is now, although it may not be immediately recognizable. The town grew due to the hunger for growth and labor caused by its position as “Gateway to the West.” The restless insatiability of the city for resources is well-captured in the novel. The plight of laborers, many of whom are immigrants or racial minorities brought in cynically to break the backs of domestic workers, is clearly drawn. The ugly racism and violence that followed as a result of the domestic workers’ fear, instability, and weakness, is also indelibly marked. This is the heritage of Omaha.

Wheeler’s prose is often evocative, particularly when writing about Karel, his youngest protagonist. Rarely a wrong note is struck with his description of the young immigrant’s adjustment to life in Nebraska. Most memorable are the passages devoted to baseball. Even readers who don’t appreciate the sport will have to grudgingly respond to the game as Wheeler writes it. Karel, his adventures, and his young friends, are the strongest parts of the novel.

Old Man Tom Dennison, too, is well-rendered. Presented as pragmatic before anything else, and with a staunch refusal to chew the scenery too much, Wheeler’s Dennison is a cold, yet still human, worthy antagonist. The novel is less effective in degrees when it studies Jake or Evie. The pair are more conventional characters, their plots often falling into well-worn grooves in the American fiction landscape. Nonetheless, time spent with them is rarely unpleasant.

Kings shines in the details: there’s a sense of thoroughness throughout the book, of solidity. Wheeler builds a city in the novel, brick-by-brick, and it feels authentic. Wheeler’s reporter’s hat doubtless comes in handy. The strength of his research and confidence in the city are what make this novel what it is.

Wheeler struggles in more turgid waters. His descriptions of the city vice district venture into the lurid and moralistic, like a graphic description of an aging sex worker in the opening few chapters. All too similarly, the sex scenes are blue without being particularly fun or interesting. These passages are clumsy foibles in an otherwise well-crafted work.

Kings of Broken Things is a highly evocative read, with its portrayal of the historical city of Omaha and its winsome young protagonists. It reminds us where we came from, all of us, and the forces that still run deep underneath our society. Many of us, like the young Karel, are immigrants or descendents of immigrants, and we face similar choices in our own lives. Imperfect like its subject, Kings nonetheless manages to capture this spirit and these messages in a way that leaves an impression, and leaves us anticipating Wheeler’s follow-up.

Kings of Broken Things
By Theodore Wheeler
Published 8.01.17
Little A
322 pages

Creative Writing + Nonfiction

By: Madison Larimore

My mom gets nervous at the thought of my concentration, creative nonfiction.

“Are you going to write about me? What are you going to say? Does the creative part mean you get to lie?” she asked, when I explained my degree to her for the fifth time.

I don’t blame my mom for having so many questions. I even find it difficult to answer those questions as a student who has studied the craft for three years. But creative nonfiction is not unfamiliar to us, no matter how hard to define the term may be.

The last time my mom asked me about it, I mentioned that the way we communicate on social media is a form of creative nonfiction: we use creative tools to best represent the nonfiction elements of our own personal lives.

In the craft of creative nonfiction, the creative tools are generally literary devices commonly found in fiction and poetry to tell the story well by crafting a scene, establishing character, etc. Of course, in creative nonfiction, the subject matter is true.

Creative nonfiction is not an oxymoron.

In other words, nonfiction, or the truth, does not have to be told boring and lifeless, and good writing does not have to be made up or imagined to be creative. Creative nonfiction can have literary merit, and those pieces that do represent the truth in a way that allows the reader to experience it in the most realistic, purposeful way possible. Creative nonfiction gives you an opportunity to directly expand your perspective through experiencing a piece of someone else’s.

In creative nonfiction, instead of the imagination, our main tool is memory. That’s where we get the term memoir, which is one of the largest sub-genres within the autobiography category. Another popular sub-genre is the personal essay, which commonly explores a question in the writer’s life. Sometimes you will hear both creative nonfiction and fiction referred to as prose, as opposed to poetry.

At the University of Nebraska at Omaha, students are lucky to have two departments with programs in creative nonfiction: the Writer’s Workshop in CFAM and the English department in ASH. Both of these departments are great resources to learn more. And of course, 13th Floor magazine, our campus literary magazine, publishes creative nonfiction. If you have any questions, please email me, the Lead Creative Nonfiction editor, at mlarimore@unomaha.edu.

Fall 2017 Issue is Now Available!

Fall Cover

The Fall 2017 issue is here!

Check out some amazing pieces of writing and art for free via Amazon.com. This free edition is only available as an ebook. Make sure to download the Fall 2017 issue before September 1st. Click here to get your free copy.

Print versions of the Fall 2017 issue will also be available on blurb.com for only $11! Get yours here. Hurry, this sale will only last until September 1st!

We will also be selling print issues (while supplies last) at every Writer’s Workshop Reading Series event, starting Tuesday, September 20, from 7:30-8:30 p.m., at the University of Nebraska Omaha Art Gallery or Milo Bail Student Center, depending on where the reading takes place. You can see a list of the reading series dates and locations here.

Save the Date for the 700 Words Prose Slam!

Have you ever wanted to read your work before an audience? UNO’s Writer’s Workshop and English Department will be holding a prose slam at Apollon Art Space on Thursday, April 6, 2017. Come out at 7:00 to read your work. Or, if you don’t have anything to read, stop by and support the readers for free!

New Year, New Edition!

That’s right, folks, it’s finally here! Our 2017 Spring Edition is ripe and ready for your reading pleasure!

Head over to our issues page to get your hands on a print copy or to download the Ebook and start your year off right.

All proceeds go toward printing future issues as we are a non-profit student run and self funded organization, and as always we love and appreciate your continued support.

Bubblegum Cyber Punk

We are very excited to announce a new project from fellow editor and creative mind, Phil Brown!

Bubblegum Cyber Punk is a one-shot publication exploring consumer culture in technology and what fuels it. Phil and his team will be accepting original works of  short fiction, non-fiction, and poetry involving the theme.

Submissions should be sent to Phil directly at phil.brown.midwest@gmail.com. The deadline for submissions is September 30th.

For any further information or questions see here.