Tag Archives: novel

Ren
ais
sance 
Man

April 13, 2017 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

A boozy brunch between girlfriends, a meeting of coworkers over coffee, a couple splitting a glass   of wine—conversations captured around the city, all serve as fodder and inspiration for Brion Poloncic’s work. In the quiet corners of Omaha’s local coffee shops and wine bars, Poloncic puts pen to paper, his ear tuned into the surrounding babble, creating art that he feels represents those around him and the experiences they discuss.

But don’t expect a still life of women gossiping between sips of their Venti mochas. As a visual artist, author, and former musician, Poloncic is a man of many hats but always remains a creator of thought-provoking and idiosyncratic work that paints middle America in a psychedelic wash.

“I’ve always fancied myself an artist,” Poloncic says. “My art is an affirmation of my peculiar skill set, and it just so happens to make me happy. It’s my own blend of therapy.”

It was through chance that Poloncic was first bitten by the creative bug. After he didn’t make the baseball team, he traded mitts for guitars and started writing music. A fan of everyone from Pink Floyd to Johnny Cash, he parlayed his early love for listening to his parent’s records into seven albums, all released under the moniker “A Tomato A Day (helps keep the tornado away).” A prolific songwriter, his discography is filled with character and colorful song titles, including ditties like “You Little Shit” and “Weirdo Park.”

For Poloncic, music wasn’t enough. He needed to sink his teeth into his next artistic outlet. So when a friend needed help setting up an Iowa art studio, he asked Polonic to draw pieces that illustrated his career. With no formal training or experience, unless coloring backpacks with magic markers counts, he dove in.

Two years later, Poloncic sold his first piece at a gallery in Lincoln. He has also shown work in Omaha and Kansas City and has a collection represented at Gallery 72, all those diploma-yielding pros be damned.

“My art isn’t constrained by my knowledge or training, and I think this makes me naturally less critical of my work,” Poloncic says.

Filled with abstract shapes, haunting faces, and stark use of color, his off-kilter yet original drawings mirror the tone of his written work. Through The Journal of Experimental Fiction, he published his first book Xanthous Mermaid Mechanics in 2012, following this up in 2014 with his second printed work On the Shoulders of Madmen. Both explored concepts of the subconscious mind, and the novel he is currently working on will follow suit.

“I’ll be surprised if anyone can read it,” Poloncic says. “It’s got no characters, no story arc, and isn’t about anything in particular.”

And he admits this is his niche, comparing his art to improvisational jazz or free-style rap where “things just happen.” For whatever he’s working on, he says the hardest part is just getting started. Once that happens, everything else just falls into place, and if he can’t get over a block, he always has another craft to turn to.

“If I stumble off the creative wagon with drawing, I get back on with writing and vice versa,” Poloncic says. “As you work on one, the other comes right along with it.”

This article was printed in the March/April 2017 edition of Encounter.

Elaine Jabenis

May 21, 2014 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Omaha native and icon Elaine Jabenis has had a full life and career, from working a stint at the New York Times to being on both radio and television in Omaha. Now, at 93, she’s adding a new job title to her long resume—author of fiction.

Before her first fiction book entitled Georgia’s Secret was released in late February, Jabenis had done other writing, starting with writing for the Omaha World-Herald while on Central High School’s newspaper. When she got married, her husband’s job with the Air Transport Command moved the two to New York City. One day in the pouring rain, she walked into the New York Times Building for shelter, and got her first real shot.

“I thought, ya know, I got nothing to do, I think I’ll go up there and just make out an application just for the heck of it.”

20130827_bs_9064

After getting hired for a temporary secretarial position and working in a few other departments throughout the publication, Jabenis and her husband returned to Omaha. It was here where she worked in theater, radio, television, and, most importantly to the book, fashion.

“As I progressed in my position at Brandeis, I became the fashion merchandising director for all of the stores,” Jabenis says. “I began to realize they were bringing a lot of people in for training for this kind of thing, [but] the schools have had no textbooks. They had a lot of textbooks about merchandising, but not this particular area.”

Jabenis contacted one of her friends in New York, who was editor of Seventeen Magazine at the time, about writing a textbook of this nature. Jabenis was then put in contact with the editor at John Wiley & Sons publications.

“I sold it to them on the basis of an outline and chapter breakdown, but I hadn’t written one word of the book and they signed me,” Jabenis says. “And they signed me on my credentials only.”
The textbook, which the Fashion Institute of Technology bought 300 copies of right away, was used for 10 years, was adapted to fit both women and men in the industry, and was even translated into Japanese.

Jabenis left Brandeis after a 23-year career, and went into business of being her own producer, which gave her control of her time and work. The process of moving from television and textbooks to fiction started 10 years ago.

“It was going very well for awhile, but then I began to lose my sight, and I had four eye operations … four cornea transplants,” Jabenis says. “And every time I had one, I had to stop writing because I didn’t have any vision and I didn’t think there was any way of doing it otherwise so it took me years to get this book out.”

The book is a story about a 22-year-old who works in a department store . She is burdened with an unbearable secret that puts her in a situation to be blackmailed.

“[She is] very successful, but all the time, this secret is keeping her imprisoned. She’s not just trying to assume any place in the sun for herself, but she does try to help others,” Jabenis says. “It’s a romance suspense novel.”

Though much of the background knowledge included in the story stems from Jabenis’ time working in fashion, she says none of the people or places are based on true events.

“Writing a book, I was able to make a composite of characters that you meet throughout your life or you envision or that you have witnessed or that you just make up and of course that’s what the fun is, the making up these people that never existed except in your mind, and they become so real to you, and once I got going on it the characters really take over,” Jabenis says.

Even though her first book just hit the shelves, she already has plans for a second and third book, both of which cover other industries she has worked with in her life.

“I read the concept to someone, to my daughter first, and she said: ‘Oh mom you’ve just got to write this, you gotta promise me you’ll write this.’”

“I thought, ‘Gee, this is great. It gives me something to look forward to,’” she says.

“I’m just so glad I had this urge to do this, and all I really want out of it is to have people open it and read it and say I enjoyed this, I had a good time reading it, and it was informative and I had fun with it or it made me feel, whatever.”

Lydia Kang is in Control.

December 16, 2013 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Lydia Kang has delicate, tiny hands. A long ponytail. She wears simple jewelry: a couple bracelets and some earrings.

That’s nearly as much detail as you’ll get about the characters she writes. Kang’s debut novel, Control, will be released the day after Christmas. “I would say I write for the impatient reader,” she says with a laugh. “I won’t spend three pages discussing why a certain scene is meaningful. I’ll try to get to the core of what is important and emotional and move onto that.”

A young-adult novel with a sci-fi twist, Control follows a young woman named Zelia as she overcomes her father’s death, her sister’s kidnapping, and her own introduction to a society of misfit teens that the government wants the world to forget.

While Zelia is kind of a blank slate, Kang does allow a couple extra descriptors for some of Control’s more unique characters. “Hex is Asian,” she says, describing a young man with four arms, “and Vera is Latina, although you can’t really tell because she’s green.” Oh, and Wilbert has two heads. He switches his sentience between them so he never has to sleep.

This is the kind of medical-thriller world readers get when it’s provided by a sci-fi fan who also happens to be a doctor. Kang, a New York City transplant, has worked at University of Nebraska Medical Center for the past seven years as a general internal medicine physician. She minored in English and has been published in a few medical journals, but, she says, “I have to credit Omaha—this is where I really started writing.” 

Shortly after moving to Omaha with husband Yungpo Bernard Su and giving birth to her youngest of three children, Kang took a stab at writing some poetry. “And it was really horrible poetry, really bad stuff,” she says, “but I thought, you know, this is kind of fun.”

After a few writing seminars and a couple of what she calls “practice novels,” Kang was ready in 2010 to put her latest idea to the test—a story centered around a young woman living with Ondine’s curse, an ailment that can cause respiratory arrest during sleep. “I was studying for my boards recertification,” she recalls, “and I couldn’t remember hearing about it in medical school. And I thought it was really fascinating and horrific and sad. And wouldn’t it be interesting to have a character with that?” She wrote her first draft in three months, she signed on with an agent in 2011, and a couple weeks later Control was picked up by Penguin.

To make herself more attractive to the publishing world, Kang also began blogging in 2010. But what to blog about other than the challenges of writing? “There are a million blogs out there like that,” she recalls thinking. “Do I have anything else to offer? And I sat there wondering, what makes me different, what do I have to offer, do I have any skills that I can share with people? And then—oh. I’m a doctor.” She laughs now at how completely she had separated her life in medicine from her writing life.

Kang spread the word online that if a writer were struggling with a fictional medical scenario, she’d assist them with authoritative advice. For example, an author might need a character to wake up after, say, a half hour; Kang could suggest a drug that might work in such a situation. She’s advised on medical situations that have been published in other books, and one author even gave her a cameo appearance in a book as Dr. Kang.

For the foreseeable future, she’ll remain Dr. Kang in both literary and real life. Though she plans to release Control’s sequel, Catalyst, in early 2015 and is currently revising a fantasy novel for her agent’s consideration, Kang says it would take a lot to make her give up practicing medicine to write full-time. “I really love my patients. It’s a bit hectic at times,” she admits, laughing, “but I’m managing.”

 A book release party for Control will be held Jan. 18 from 2-4 p.m. at The Bookworm in Countryside Village, 8701 Pacific St.