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“Place de Stalingrad”: The story behind the story

In both Paris and Brussels, there are metro Image of the rotunde at Place de Stalingrad with a fountain in frontstops called “Stalingrad,” a fact I found fascinating, especially since the city of Stalingrad was renamed Volgograd in the wave of de-Stalinization under Nikita Krushchev. On my last visit to Paris, I decided I had to see what was at the stop with this name so one evening while my pregnant wife convalesced in our AirBnB I headed out to the 19ᵉ arrondissement to see for myself.

The immediate environs of the metro stop are not particularly interesting. It’s a nondescript neighborhood of shops and Hauptmann apartment blocks. But turn a corner and you find yourself at the actual plaza that gives the station its name. Situated at the southern end of the Bassin de la Villette, and far from the tourists who congregate in the lower-numbered arrondissements, it’s a place of tranquil beauty with movie theaters and restaurants facing the water.

With this place in mind, I started wondering what sort of story might come out of the place and thinking about the artists selling their wares out of stalls at the top of Montmartre, I came up with my characters and their mysterious and absent classmate. It took a fair amount of rewriting and reorganizing to get the story in the shape that it finally took, but I am pretty happy with the end result. You can read it here.

Feedback on drafts of the story came from Barbara Richstone, Gerald Winter, Robyn Ringler, Steven Thomas Howell, Travis Kiger, Maaza Mengiste, Monica Zarazua, Dan Portincaso, Davy McNell and Lori Barrett, 

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Writerly resolutions: April status

Another interesting graph month. Graph of progress in April. Things slowed down on April 8th while I was writing the new chapter, plus life intervened. I did get the first draft of the new chapter plus a rewrite done this month.This time the odd shapes are because I added a new chapter to the book (and life intervened a bit more than usual). I got a bit stuck on the new chapter since I wanted it to be about more than the chapter title and historical event that I was relating and I needed to figure out how it affected the characters and the story. I still have to do a revision round on the chapter, but it’s overall in a good place.

Story revision is going slowly as I realize that the story at the top of the pile needs a lot of work.It will probably end up going back to workshop before it goes on submission as I’m doing some major surgery on the piece.

News about a new publication tomorrow.

The new story is plodding along although I’ve taken another procrastination break from it to write something very short and strange. I think it has a chance of not being bad.

Sonnet 18 after much machine translation

Do I cut your summer?
You are very beautiful and very sweet.
Can change by a strong wind.
And put the summer in a short time.
It’s hot in the eyes of the sky,
It’s a gold weight.
The best time of this time is correct
Activity or change
But all the summer never passes.
To lose damage;
His garden not dead when the time
If time is over for permanent calling,
Men can take breath or water,
That’s why it’s a long life, and gives.


Writerly resolutions: March status

Sometimes a graph doesn’t tell the My progress for March. Steadyish progress from abour 40,000 words to about 47,000 words then it looks like I stall out for a week and a half before more progress but this is why there's a blog post and not just a picturewhole story. My graph looks like for about a third of the month I didn’t make much progress but in fact, even though my word count didn’t move around much (and even dropped a bit), that was a result of wrestling with a troublesome passage in the first draft and making it much better on the rewrite. I feel a bit like the flat bits on the graph show more work happening than the steep slopes.

Got two more story revisions kicked out the door, one of which is a chapter in the novel, the other was accepted for publication fairly quickly so there will be more news about that soonish.

The new story is gaining more clarity as I get more of a sense of what it’s about. I was to have workshopped this Thursday but a bout of Covid in the family is keeping me out of the rotation but I’ll be getting a new slot in two weeks and maybe it will be ready then?

Writerly resolutions: February status

Even though there was one less day and I Progress on the novel in February. An almost straight diagonal line upmissed a day of writing, I managed to get more words rewritten for the novel this month than last. I’ve also been in a bit of a research binge of late with even more books added to my list and more books read. Israel Joseph Singer’s¹ novel The Brothers Ashkenazi was a wonderful read.

On the revision front, I finished revising one story and got it into submissions. Another story is in progress and being a bit shorter and perhaps in somewhat better shape, should be quicker to get kicked out the door

On the new story front, I ended up, in procrastination over this story, writing a whole other piece which got workshopped in February. The procrastination may have worked a little because I think I‘m a bit unblocked on the new story. There’s a lot that will need to be cut as I figure out what the story is about.

  1. Yes, this is the older brother of the better-known Isaac Bashevis Singer. And perhaps a more rewarding author to read as well.
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Writerly resolutions: January Status

I succeeded in Graph showing generally steady progress on the novel from 12680 words to 24614 wordsgetting at least a little bit of writing done on the novel every day this month. At the current pace I’ll have draft two finished in mid-July. Of course there are always bits of research digressions which can throw me off (like I wanted to know what the name of the railroad tracks that divide Lawndale from the Near West Side was in the 1930s. Talking with my dad was not especially helpful, although I did manage to find a historic map which identified them as “C.T.T. R.R.” and further research turned up that this was the Chicago Terminal Transfer Railroad which was absorbed by the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad, so I’m referring to them as the B&O tracks unless I get better information than that.¹

The revision work on workshopped stories continues. I’m currently doing a complete rewrite of a piece which was originally written in an invented pidgin² which I’m retaining for some of the dialog, but not for the whole piece like in the previous drafts. It will need at least one more revision round after the rewrite, but that should be less time-consuming. I’ve also found a number of problems with the mechanics of the story in the course of the rewrite (mostly minor inconsistencies in action or characterization) which I think the pidgin made harder to find.

The new story, which I had thought I’d be able to knock out in a month or less continues to challenge me. I’ve been creating a growing deleted text file from the story. I have realized that these things tend to be more aspirational than practical (sort of like those beautiful hardcover notebooks that so many of us will buy, write on the first 5–10 pages and then never use again) but it does make it emotionally easier to jettison stuff that needs to go. 

  1. To complicate matters, it’s not uncommon for Chicagoans to refer to things by long-changed names. There’s the obvious case of the Sears Tower, but there’s also things like Crawford/Pulaski or Northwestern Station, which was torn down and renamed twice and even the conductors on the Metra trains going into it still called it Northwestern Station.
  2. I can overindulge myself in linguistic things like this.

Three poems in new anthology

I had three poems come out this weekCover of Rising Voices in the anthology, Rising Voices: Poems Toward a Social Justice Revolution. These are all part of my Chicago Sonnets series.

Chicago Sonnet #4 has its origins in a research paper I wrote in high school where, somewhat enamored of my role on the school paper, I decided to focus on journalism and picked two books from the school’s library to write about. One was Mencken’s Minority Report, a collection of short notes and observations. The other was a collection of articles written by Carl Sandburg for the Chicago Daily News about the 1919 race riots in Chicago.¹ Reading about this stuck with me (and it’s interesting that so few people are aware of this chapter in Chicago history) and when it came time to write sonnet #4, I decided to have it focus on this particular event. Of course, since I originally wrote it, the poet Eve Ewing has written a whole book of poems on the subject which covers it far better than I could ever have accomplished.

 Chicago Sonnet #27 tells of the fate of Cabrini Green, long the bogeyman of Chicago’s public housing, its location was far too valuable to be squandered on poor people and so the community that did exist there (Mary Schmich’s² articles in the 1990s for The Chicago Tribune were a great source of my own knowledge of the neighborhood even when I lived less than a mile away while reading them) was erased so that luxury housing could take its place.

Chicago Sonnet #29 was inspired by free-style rap and how rhyme was retained and meter largely discarded. Using this to give the perspective of a young Black man on the streets of the West Side is something that I’m still not entirely comfortable with and perhaps should the sonnets ever be collected it may find itself replaced with a different poem but for now it will stand in that number’s place.

  1.  One of the distinct memories I have about writing this paper was going to the downtown Chicago library to pull up microfilms of contemporaneous reporting on the riots. At that time, the original main library in what is now the Chicago Cultural Center was closed and the Harold Washington Library had not yet opened so there was a temporary facility on a couple-three floors of a high rise somewhere in Streeterville. 
  2. Schmich’s greatest claim to fame is being the author of “Wear sunscreen” which has been widely circulated as being a graduation speech given by Kurt Vonnegut. She deserves the full credit for a brilliant piece of writing (which I’d first read when it was published in her column space in the Tribune. She also is a Claremont Colleges graduate (Pomona College to be precise) which is another big plus for her. I’d say something about the shared mascot for Pomona and Pitzer where I got my degree but I don’t think in my years in Claremont, I ever met anyone who ever attended any sort of athletic event who wasn’t participating in some fashion.
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Writerly resolutions for 2022

My goals for the year:

  1. Goals are nice, but remember that they don’t really matter. I’ll get done what I’ll get done, acceptances are out of my control.
  2. Get We, the Rescued through the rewrite and revision stage and then get some people to read the whole damned thing.
  3. I’ve got eight stories that have been workshopped but not gotten post-workshop revision. I need to prioritize getting those kicked off my computer.
  4. I need to get myself finishing some of those unfinished (or unstarted) stories that are lurking about, but trying to workshop monthly is a bit insane. It’s fine to pull back a bit if necessary.

Writerly resolutions for 2021–the post mortem

I set ambitiousGraph of the progress on the novel showing the completion of the first draft and the beginnings of the rewrite goals for 2021 and I failed at them all. Perhaps I should set less ambitious goals? Or perhaps I should remember that the goals don’t matter in the end and that creativity doesn’t follow schedules and spreadsheets.

I had two goals for the year:

  1. Work on We, The Rescued daily until I’ve got it ready for other eyes to look at.
    I didn’t do too bad on the daily part. I only missed 5 days’ work on the novel, but I didn’t get the first draft done as quickly as I would have liked and I’m still some distance from finishing the rewrite.
  2. Workshop a new piece of fiction monthly.
    I workshopped something every month, but I had to dig into my stash of rejected stories that I still want to submit most of the time. I did succeed in getting two new pieces into workshopping, but that’s ten less than twelve.

But even with missing my goals, I did have two stories and five poems accepted in 2021, so there’s room to not be too hard on myself over my performance.

2021 in rejections (and acceptances)

2021 was a pretty good year for me publication-wise. I’ve not been that good about getting stuff out the door, but what I have submitted has been well-received. In fiction, I managed to have fewer responses this year than last despite the fact that in 2020 I didn’t actually submit anything¹ and this year I did. I do feel like my new writing group has done a lot to up my game so while my acceptance rate was only marginally higher, my tiered response rate was my best ever.

Graph showing my total acceptances, tiered responses rejections and lost submissions since 2007. This year 37% of responses were tiered or acceptances with a 3.8% acceptance rate

Publications this year were “Saint Anthony in West Hollywood” and “The Norton Anthology of Self-Destructive Behaviours.”

 Poetry was also a pretty good scene for me this year, I had my best acceptance rate ever and my best rate of tiered responses as well.

Graph of poetry rejections I sent more stuff out this year, but more stuff got accepted too.

Most of the publications are coming out later in 2022, with just one poem, “Chicago Sonnet #19,” coming out in 2021.

  1. All of my 2020 rejections and acceptances were for pieces submitted in 2019.