books

National Novel Writing Month, it’s Happening Now!

By: Iona Newman

November is in full swing, and for writers across the country this means one thing: National Novel Writing Month.

If you are a writer or are friends with a writer, chances are that you have heard about National Novel Writing Month, aka NaNoWriMo, through panicked social media posts or a friend’s sudden radio silence. For those who have not heard of it, NaNoWriMo is a writing marathon during the month of November in which participants challenge themselves to write a complete 50,000 word draft of a novel. This means writing about 1,667 words every day in November.

The purpose of the challenge is to give writers permission to finish a first draft and help propel them further into the novel writing process. This can help writers at any level of experience, and can be particularly useful for students who may or may not have completed their first longer manuscript.

But students also know that November is the time of looming final projects and preparing for final exams. Whether or not you choose to participate in NaNoWriMo, below are three reminders for student writers going into November and the pressure this month brings.

1. Health is the top priority.

Mental and physical health should be the top priority regardless, but this is also a practical reminder for writers. Writing is a much harder task when you feel ready to collapse. Scheduling enough time to sleep is as important as scheduling time to study or write the day’s word count goal. Make sure to stay hydrated by drinking water, not just cup after cup of coffee, and to eat real food.

For college students, November is full of stressful school projects and preparing for the spring semester. Taking on a writing marathon at the same time will be hard work, but it should be enjoyable hard work. Make sure to take breaks when you need them. Putting a self-challenge writing project to the side is better than letting yourself burn out, believe me.

2. Take advantage of the opportunities and resources that are available.

The purpose of NaNoWriMo is to make time for your writing. Whether or not you participate, writers can use this spirit of dedication at any time of the year. Give yourself permission to skip the occasional social event to write 1,000 words instead. Use Netflix as a reward for when you finish something, not for procrastination. Carry a small notebook with you or write on your phone while on the bus or waiting in line. Schedule twenty minutes between study sessions or class periods to sketch out the day’s mini creative project. Developing these habits allows us to take ourselves seriously as writers. NaNoWriMo gives us permission to carve out time for our passion and let our first draft be imperfect.

What makes NaNoWriMo attractive is that there is a community of writers out in the world who are also visibly making time for creativity. Through the event’s official website, you can find local write-ins, online forums, social media posts, and pep-talks from established writers to support you. This support does not have to be limited to NaNoWriMo. Instead, NaNoWriMo can serve as a way to practice developing a support system for the rest of the year. Get in contact with local writing communities through social media or your university, follow writing blogs you find inspiring, and create a list of author role models. Store those writing relationships and resources for the long winter ahead.

3. Success is in the eye of the beholder.

As a NaNoWriMo participant, I have only won the 50,000 word challenge once. As a student, I am a great believer in personal successes. My goal for November may be very different from the goals of other NaNoWriMo participants in my area. Maybe I will write 15,000 words by November 30th . Maybe I will finish one short story during this month. For me, completing these goals will still be an accomplishment. 50,000 words is a worthy goal, but any extra words I write this month will be words I might not have written otherwise.

The world needs flash fiction, short stories, narrative essays, blog posts, and prose poems just as much as it needs 50,000 word novels. Get out there and try writing something new this November! Word count doesn’t have to hold you back.

And remember: there is always the camp session of NaNoWriMo in the summer.

13th Floor Magazine: The Meaning of Our Name

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By: Madison Larimore

October is special. Fall has settled in, the leaves are turning, Halloween is fast approaching, and another Friday the 13th is behind us. This time of year like no other marks change, transition, tradition, and superstition, and this October, we are thinking about our origins.

13th Floor Magazine was born in 2013. The original members, all graduated now, were searching for a unique, evocative name to call their new publication. One of the members lived on the thirteenth floor of an apartment building in downtown Omaha. 13th Floor Magazine had a nice ring to it, and though it was important that the publication name was catchy, it was more important for it to be meaningful.

The number thirteen has a bad reputation, scaring people so much with the threat of bad luck that most thirteenth floors are skipped altogether. But it can also be thought of as a number associated with things that are strange, misunderstood, weird, quirky, or unexpected. We strive to make our magazine just that—an outlet where students can be honest, creative, and best of all, where they can defy expectations.

This magazine doesn’t skip floors. We do not exclude. We embrace and we celebrate.

Share your unique voice with us by our next publication deadline: Halloween.

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!

It’s Kind Of A PSA

A speaker last week jokingly said to my class, “Always tell writers you admire that you admire them, they like that”.

And then I remembered something— a longstanding regret.

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cover of Vizzini’s novel, published 2006

For those who are unaware of who Ned Vizzini is, he wrote many quirky takes on sci-fi, such as the Other Normals and Be More Chill, but is most well known for his novel, It’s Kind of A Funny Story, originally published in 2006, and made in to a movie in 2010 starring Ema Roberts.

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cover of the 2010 film adaptation

The book was about a teen who commits himself to a hospital after phoning a suicide hotline and his interactions and reflections with and about the people he encounters. Vizzini was very open about the fact that the book was inspired by his own hospitalization for depression in 2004.

I read this book when I was 16, when I was battling my own demons along with the other side effects of my high school career. It felt like fate.  I became engrossed in the novel, sitting on that last page and sobbing like I was saying goodbye to a person who really understood me. Afterwards, I took to the library and was thrilled to find Vizzini’s autobiography entitled Teen Angst, Naaah.

I had expected to find a dreary, self-deprecating man, instead I found a charming, awkward individual. I am fully aware, as a writer, that we don’t always tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth when it comes to stories about ourselves. But since he was so open about his mental health, it was surprising to me to find such a wonderful voice within. I found myself at times commenting on how normal he seemed.

In the back of his autobiography there was a link to his website where he encouraged people to email him about writing, books, and their lives. I wrote four drafts of an email but never sent it. I convinced myself that even if he did read it I would get the generic, “just keep writing”, or “it’s so nice to hear you say that”.  Even though I had spent so much time with this voice, I didn’t think I could connect the way I’d wanted to.

And honestly, I still don’t know if I would’ve. Authors are busy after all. But when I found out that his demons had gotten the better of him in 2013, there was nothing I had wished for more. Even if he didn’t respond— even if he didn’t read it, I wish I had emailed him to tell him how impressed I was with his storytelling, his character development— how much I wanted to mirror that skill in my own writing. I wish I had told him how much he had meant to me as a person when I read about his teenage years, his awkward but entertaining thought processes; how well spoken, and witty he was in interviews.

I admired him for all he was, and still cherish what he’s left behind on the page.

With May being Mental Health Awareness Month, I encourage you all to tell those whom you admire— that you do. I bet they’ll like that.

You can see his website here

To read more about National Mental Awareness month, see here