I had the pleasure, just recently, of meeting with an Omaha book club to discuss its reading of my new novel, Monsters: A Love Story. The novel is many things – part love story, part cultural critique, part celebration of the city I’ve grown to love over the past 17 years, the City of Omaha.
I must read a dozen novels a year set in Brooklyn, but the last book I read set in Omaha was Timothy Schaffert’s The Swan Gondola. It’s a gorgeous novel, but set in 1898, it’s not exactly representative of my experience of this town. So it was exciting to hear the book club readers identify the many iconic spots in Midtown, the Old Market, and west Omaha where the protagonist of my novel hangs out. She eats a carrot dog at M’s Pub; one son teases the other about the scariness of the zoo’s Kingdom of the Night exhibit. Borsheims, or at least its signature wrapping, makes an appearance.
On the one hand, the novel is a Hollywood-esque fantasy. There’s a love affair, a handful of movie stars, and Stacey, our Omaha-based protagonist, finds herself jetting off to luxurious locations. Omaha, with its realness, offered a contrast to that fantasy element, a grounded-ness that allows even the more rarified scenes to feel accessible. Interestingly enough, when I talk with readers beyond Nebraska, it’s not Turks and Caicos or Los Angeles they want to hear more about.
I expect I’ll be reading more and more stories set in Omaha in the coming years. There’s such a vibrant and supportive writing community here working in a broad range of genres. We have amazing poets and YA novelists and people writing historical fiction and crime fiction and romance. Our colleges and universities aren’t just teaching writing, but sponsoring community events bringing more writers into the community through their reading series. We have tremendous support from our local bookstores—The Bookworm and Barnes & Noble. And we have arts organizations like the Nebraska Writers Collective and KANEKO providing outreach opportunities that bring new audiences to working writers and help foster new writers and readers along the way. So Omaha is a great place to write about, but even more importantly, it’s a great place to be a writer.
Liz Kay is an acclaimed poet and founding editor of Spark Wheel Press and the journal burntdistrict. Liz lives in Omaha with her husband and three sons. Monsters: A Love Story, her debut novel, was selected as a “Summer Beach Read Pick” by Harper’s Bazaar, the Associated Press, Purewow, and Refinery29