Thursday, April 16, 2015

Award Finalist Steve Wiegenstein

Steve Wiegenstein is the author of Slant of Light and This Old World, the first two novels in an anticipated multi-book series. Slant of Light, published in 2012, was the runner-up for the David H. Langum Prize in American Historical Fiction, and This Old World, published in September 2014, is currently a finalist for the M.M. Bennetts Award for Historical Fiction. Both books were published by Blank Slate Press, a literary small press in St. Louis, Missouri.

Steve grew up in the Missouri Ozarks, the setting for his novel series, and worked there as a newspaper reporter before entering the field of higher education. He is an avid hiker and canoeist who hits the trails and float streams of the Ozarks every chance he gets.

Steve's historical fiction grows out of his academic fascination with utopian societies of the Nineteenth Century. He first became interested in the Icarians, a French-origin emigrant group that settled in the American Midwest from 1848 to the 1890s, and his interest spiraled out from there. The conflict of ideals and reality, passion and reason, and individual desires versus community welfare inspired him in creating his series; the Southern Literary Review called the first novel "an exciting and original take on the history of America becoming America, full of complex characters and rich, realistic dialogue." In their award announcement, the Langum Prize judges said, "At a deeper level it is also a meditation on the decline of order – social order, sexual order, and political order."

This Old World takes place in the years immediately following the American Civil War, when many of the soldiers returning home still harbored resentments or felt the aftereffects of battle, while others simply wanted to forget the past and return to their former lives. But the war has unbalanced everything and everyone. The characters must remake themselves in the postwar reality and try to reconstruct their old lives, loves, and ideals.

Steve lives in Columbia, Missouri, where he works as the associate dean for academic affairs at Columbia College. He loves to speak at libraries, civic organizations, and other groups as part of the Missouri Humanities Council's "Show-Me Speakers Bureau." His short fiction has appeared in the Southern Humanities Review, Nebraska Review, Louisiana Literature, Beloit Fiction
Journal, and elsewhere. His next novel will continue the same themes in the same setting, but will take place in the late 1880s, with future novels planned for later years as well.

Jim Bencivenga, a retired book critic from The Christian Science Monitor, writes:

"Since I did not read its predecessor, I came to This Old World, by Steve Wiegenstein, only on the terms inside its covers.

"It is a heart rendering tale in a time of personal and national trauma. Such lasting wounds. Such healed wounds. For Wiegenstein, the war that divided a nation is but background. The hopes and anguish of common people, and more pointedly aspiring women, dominate this book. Utopian hopes, racial hopes, and especially gender hopes play out. The cadenced voice, the agricultural pace of the characters colloquial, regional dialog, is the blood flowing through the veins of the narrative.

"The civil war and the Ozark mountains hold near mythic status in the American experience. Wiegenstein populates these myths with flesh and blood characters literally or psychological bathed in the blood of battle. Home, family, children – identity – are overwhelmed. He is true to the hymnal inspiration used in the title and which echoes on every page: 'This old world is full of sorrow, full of sickness, weak and sore —If you love your neighbor truly, love will come to you the more.'

"I couldn't help but connect the psychological and emotional moods of this narrative work with poems by William Butler Yeats. Both Yeats and Wiegentein embed the worn and known facets of their nation's pivotal rebellion/war as spiritual heft for the human hearts animating their writing.

"Yeats's sentiment about humanity's connection with God in 'The Circus Animal's Desertion': 'Now that my ladder's gone, 
I must lie down where all the ladders start.
In the foul rag and bone shop of the heart,' is where 'This Old World', begins. Things indeed fall apart in the widening gyre of the Civil War. And, much more than in Yeats, the women of 'This Old World' (one advantage of a novel over a poem or hymn) are given full voice to speak.

"I am convinced Charloette Turner would more than hold her own should she sit down with Crazy Jane to lecture the Bishop. By voice, example, and especially sincere doubt, Charloette lectures us throughout. Want to know how common folk from a proto-typical American locale not only 'survive, but prevail,' as Faulkner would have it? Read 'This Old World'."F

Final judge Edd Morris writes:

"This Old World Undoubtedly a novel I’ll return to, This Old World grabbed me from its opening chapter. For me, there’s a humanity - and an understanding of people and communities - at the very heart of this novel, which makes it simply irresistible.

"I adored the interwoven, intensely personal tales set against a backdrop of political upheaval: exploring the difficulties of rebuilding in a world wracked by poverty and distrust.

"I loved the device of each chapter being told through the perspective of a different individual: and the characters sparkled. For me, every figure was brilliantly realised:

"Marie, who 'had thrown her life away; she had done it her own damn self.' Tyler; and the masterfully-drawn Flynn. In terms of language and literary skill, This Old World left me breathless. The prose was remarkably deft: Angus’ body 'bobbing to the surface, eyeless and accusing.'

"In terms of language and literary skill, This Old World left me breathless. The prose was remarkably deft: Angus’ body “bobbing to the surface, eyeless and accusing,” the quick-fire dialogue; the way that the words which made Tyler begin to slowly escape him.

"A beautiful and brilliant book."

Steve's Website

Blog

Publisher's website

Facebook

Twitter: @swiegenstein

Book availability: Available at all independent and chain bookstores. Electronic versions available at Barnes & Noble.com, Amazon, and the Apple Store. Also available directly from Blank Slate Press or from Steve's Facebook page.

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