Forthcoming, David's short story, "The Drowned" scheduled to appear 2018 in The Flat Water Rises: An Anthology of Short Fiction by Emerging Nebraska Writers, WSC Press.
David is the former editor/publisher of A Slow Tempo Press, specializing in full-length books of poetry by such notable Nebraska poets as former Nebraska State Poet William Kleofkorn, Don Welch, current Nebraska State Poet Twyla Hansen, R.F. McEwen, and Amil Qualye among others. In 1990 he was the recipient of the Mayor's Art Award for Literature, Lincoln, Nebraska. He is a founding member and former editor for The Nebraska Center for the Book. He is an alumnus of the University of Nebraska, Lincoln, where he studied with novelist Warren Fine and poet Greg Kuzma.
From 1989-1990 he hosted "Voices of the Plains" a weekly half-hour radio program of conversations with and readings by Nebraska poets and writers, broadcast on community radio KZUM 89.3 FM with grants for the Lincoln Arts Council and the Nebraska Humanities Council. Some of the guests on the series included Nebraska State Poet William Kloefkorn, Prairie Schooner editor Hilda Raz, Roy Scheele, poet and publisher Greg Kosmicki, Pulitzer Prize winner and former United States Poet Laureate Ted Kooser, novelist Kent Haruf (and other fiction writers), along with student poets, cowboy poets, and members of the Nebraska State Penitentiary's Writer's Workshop.
David has published articles in the Nebraska Humanities Magazine, Lincoln Journal Star, The Nebraska Center for the Book Quarterly, Mid-America Publishers Association Newsletter, Blues Revue Quarterly, American Harmonica Newsletter. With grants from the Nebraska Humanities Council and The Nebraska Center for the Book he co-edited with Kira Gale, Resource Guide to Six Nebraska Authors, Volumes One and Two, A Slow Tempo Press, 1991
He has published two chapbooks of poetry, Visual Language, with photography by Clay Walker, A Slow Tempo Press, 1990; and Seven Poems, Sandhills Press, 1993. His poetry has been published in numerous literary publications. His work has appeared in the anthologies, Forty Nebraska Poets, edited by Greg Kuzma, The Best Cellar Press, 1981; Decade Dance, edited by Mark Sanders, Sandhills Press, 1991; King, Warrior, Magician, Weenie, the Best of Contemporary Men's Humor, edited by Peter Sinclair, The Crossing Press, 1993; Nebraska Voices, Telling the Stories of Our State, Nebraska Humanities Council, 1993; Nebraska Presence: An Anthology of Poetry , edited by Greg Kosmicki and Mary K. Stillwell, The Backwaters Press, 2007 (see below). Forthcoming his short story, "The Drowned" will appear in The Flat Water Rises: An Anthology of Short Fiction by Emerging Nebraska Writers, WSC Press, 2018.
He is currently seeking representation for his his first novel, Grassland, and is at work on a second novel and a collection of short stories.
Nebraska Presence: An Anthology of Poetry
One Book One Nebraska, 2018 Selection
People across Nebraska are encouraged to read the work of Nebraska poets in 2018—and then talk about the poems with their friends and neighbors. Nebraska Presence: An Anthology of Poetry (The Backwaters Press, 2007) edited by Greg Kosmicki and Mary K. Stillwell was selected as the 2018 One Book One Nebraska at the Nebraska Center for the Book’s Celebration of Nebraska Books on October 21.
Poems by more than eighty contemporary Nebraska poets are featured in the collection. This includes Pulitzer Prize winner and former Poet Laureate of the United States Ted Kooser, Nebraska State Poet Twyla Hansen, former State Poet William Kloefkorn, several poets who have had their poems read on Garrison Keillor’s Writer’s Almanac (Greg Kuzma, Marjorie Saiser, Grace Bauer, and Greg Kosmicki), and widely noted poets Hilda Raz, Roy Scheele, Steve Langan, and many others.
Libraries across Nebraska will join other literary and cultural organizations in planning book discussions, activities, and events that will encourage Nebraskans to read and discuss this book. Support materials to assist with local reading/discussion activities will be available after January 1, 2018.
a novel by David McCleery
In June of 2017 David completed Grassland, a 88,000 word historical novel. He is currently seeking representation for the novel and is at work on a second historical novel, The Ferrotypist, and a collection of short stories.
Agents or publishers interested in reading or learning more about Grassland are encouraged to inquire through the contact page of this website.
French traders in the early American West used the word ‘Berdache’ to describe Native Americans who could not be classified as male or female. These individuals would assume the gender identity and were granted the social status of the opposite sex within many tribes. The Pawnee called such persons ‘Ckusaats,' someone of ‘Two Spirits,' a transgender belonging to a third gender. Grassland explores the world of Pakskkiis, a Wichita Shaman with an exceptional past. Born a woman, Pakskkiis assumes the social status of a man to survive in the male-dominated culture of the Pawnee. Set on the Great Plains of the United States in 1833, in the region that is now southern Nebraska and northern Kansas, the narrative follows sixty-year-old Gerhardt Horst who is stricken with a stroke and thrown out on the open prairie. He survives due in part to the care of Pakskkiis. Together, along with a Pawnee crone, a mixed-blood boy, and a foundling infant, the two begin a passage through the uncharted possibilities of the early American West with all its savagery, solitude, and splendor. Coming into intimate and lethal contact with hostile tribes and renegade soldiers, Pawnee priests and Christian missionaries, tornados, and wildfires, this provisional family struggles to survive and overcome the obstacles of language, sexuality, culture, and religion, in a land of unbounded violence and beauty.
a novel in progress
Excerpt from the Ferrotypist, a novel by David McCleery
Beyond the Dark Veil
I worked at the Ferrotypist trade. Laudable Tin, I called it. Others named it such; Melainotypes, Ferrotypes, Tintypes. Deathbeds and babies, mostly. Sometimes both. Memento mori. Brides and murderers, too. Hangings. Families at the beach, brass bands.
From behind my dark and somber veil, I practiced my modest industry with the calm continence of an Undertaker. I sought out the quick and the dead. Stillness was required, eight to twenty seconds. The quick appeared blurred and ghostly, the dead were not a problem, and there was never any shortage.
I entertained every whim, notion, and fanciful suggestion, was content to ferrotype in whatever fashion requested. The deceased proprietor of a successful clothing store, two sisters dramatically drowned in a green and stagnant swamp, a one-eyed accordion player, a beauty queen in sash and gown, the young bride that worked behind the counter of Levy’s Restaurant, a deceased six-year-old, and his older siblings, all were caught up within my dark and toxic art, all visages swam up through my mysterious chemistry of collodion emulsion and potassium cyanide bath.
I was known professionally as the “The Black Hand” due in part to my postmortem ferrotypes and an unfortunate accident early in my career involving the prolonged exposure to a strong solution of silver nitrate. The substance came into contact with the fingers of my left hand. I had no access to water at the time and was unable to rinse the chemical clean. The residue gradually darkened to black over several hours. Silver nitrate stains can be removed from the skin if they are caught early, but once the stain becomes fully developed, it is usually impossible to remove. I was told it would wear off. Naturally, it lingers yet.
I operated out of the Hotel Dieu on the corner of Conti and Rampart, with a small advertisement placed each week in the Picayune stating I could be contacted through the front desk. There I kept my lodgings, and in the alley behind rented a small stable for horse and wagon. A wagon so outfitted and suited explicitly that I could travel to home or local. On hire, a young Negro, Thelonious, to assist, an apprentice of sorts. A boy known for many traits, who shuttled requests from connections both formal and incidental, a boy knowledgeable of the wards, who kept his ears and eyes open, a boy who could lead me to wherever my services might be received, requested, or required.
Prepared and professional, and as I said, supplied with an appropriate wagon in which to make my internet rounds. A wagon so constructed that it resembled a small hearse, soberly painted black with purple and black bunting, black peacock feathers perched. Inside, my chemistry, camera box, plates, and suitable darkness within which to work. And while the moniker ‘Tintype’ was popular, I refused the name, the cheap and shoddy implication. Thus on both sides in broad gilded letters the words, ‘FERROTYPES - MEMENTO MORI.' I even dressed funereal, dark frock coat, starched white shirt, silk top hat.
Spring then, May, Seventy-One, and the citizenry of Cresent City were mad for ferrotypes, hungry for memento mori, for my graven little images of their dear departed. Families, who would not have thought such an expense worthy of a living child, opened their pocketbooks at death. With the wealthier, memorial pins were popular. Passepartout, too, presented in a lovely velvet case. For the poor, the small basic tin would do, and for an additional twenty cents, I’d throw a suitable collar or black ruffled gown over son or daughter and thus hide the shame of their meager funds. For some, no price was too much; fat politicians, gamblers, beautiful women, husbands of beautiful women, retired bankers, quadroons, wealthy widows, and Northerners seeking private gain. For others, I did it on the cheap, for the novelty, for the art; pimps and whores, crippled veterans, addicts, dirty little beggars, Chinamen and Negros, too.
So it was one warm and golden evening that Thelonious knocked upon my door, card in one hand, white rose in the other. Yes? I inquired from out of the thin slip of opened door, for I was still in my chamber robe, still in the twilight of early sleep before stepping out of an evening. Thelonious stretched out his hand. I took the card, the rose.
Soft evening light fell through the yellow curtains of the balcony doors. A slight breeze tinged with gardenia stirred the fabric. I sat on the bed, sniffed the rose, was about to open the card when I pricked my finger on the stem. That alone should have given me pause, portended what was to come. Then and there I should have torn up the request, tossed it aside, flung the rose from my wrought iron balcony to the avenue below. But I am not a man of superstition, as you shall see. Oh no, I am a man of stern and rationale sensibility.
Why I was inclined to bring the parchment to my nose, I cannot say. The paper imparted the slightest hint of perfume and candle wax. I found the card folded once, twice, oddly three times. The penmanship sat awkward, slanted, with a feverish toss and sway to the letters, decidedly feminine. The yellow card bore no name, only an address, St. Andrews Street, a corridor thick with shade and wealth in the Garden District. I read. I set the card down, lay back, rose to my nose, and contemplated the offer to call two days hence, mid-afternoon, and make a negative of a corpse.
Below, the avenue was just beginning to fill with life. I went and stood on the balcony. The twilight, made more golden by the day’s warmth, hung thick and pallid beneath the lining of the small oaks. A gust of wind emerged and tossed the limbs of the tree below. Moved onto the next and set those branches to sway. Then one by one, proceeded to flow up the avenue in the direction of the Théâtre de l'Opéra. Such a strange and beautiful world, the old Creole City, fallen under the blaze of the late afternoon sun. Spanish beard draped through the larger oaks, resurrection fern, dense and gentle, wavered upon the bark. Voices, laughter, Mockingbirds, a piano from down the block, the steel wheels of the beggar Salomon’s box rasping the bricks as he pushed his legless frame into deeper shade. Hackney-coachmen passed, tracing their carriages through the labyrinthine riddle of streets and alleys, shuttling lodgers, dropping off early diners. The scent of French perfume, cigars, onion, and chicory, wafting up each time the Hotel doors were opened.