Tagged with travis kiger

“Place de Stalingrad”: The story behind the story

n 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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“Girls”: The Story behind the Story

I think “Girls” will win the prize for the longest gestation period of any story I’ve ever written. The opening sentence is exactly as I wrote it in 1984 as part of my autobiography for Mr Caravello’s sophomore English class. Mr NewImageCaravello liked that so much he had me read it out loud to the class.

I’ve toyed with ideas of what to do with that sentence since then. I tried submitting it on its own as a bit of microfiction and it achieved my first tiered rejection from Fence. I tried turning this voice into a young adult novel, but wasn’t able to make it through the first chapter. 

So I decided to return to the original autobiography. In that piece, the first “chapter” was an absurdist bit about a tractor accident in the farm in my family’s backyard and then I decided that as a dateless sophomore, I would recount my most humiliating rejections. I took as much of that as I could remember and rewrote it and began interpolating some additional nerdy stuff (the π section came to me one morning in the shower as I was thinking about the piece). Not all of the piece is autobiography, but enough is to make it recognizable to a few people. In one instance, I sent the story to a writer friend to get her feedback forgetting that she was one of the girls in the story. Oops.

The piece has a long history of close-but-not-quite responses from various publications, the most notable of which was from The Atlantic (perhaps my most treasured rejection). It was actually accepted by another publication earlier this year, but they wanted edits that I couldn’t agree with including moving the opening sentence away from the opening and rearranging things so that the π section was no longer section 3 which misses half the joke.

Useful feedback along the way came from Josip Novakovich, Resa Alboher, Kerri Allen, Travis Kiger, Kevin McFadden and Benjamin Tier.

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