Scott Nadelson on Fictional Autobiography and Surprising Details

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Our Spring 2010 issue includes the story “Dolph Schayes’s Broken Arm” by Scott Nadelson, who recently wrapped up his duties as a Get Behind the Plough blogger. The story’s narrator recalls the physical manifestations of lost love during his twentieth summer, as he struggles to cope with a job he isn’t cut out for and an obsession with a slowly failing basketball team.

The story can be read in full on our site.
Here, Nadelson reflects on the story’s autobiographical beginnings and how a seemingly obscure detail can bring a story to life:

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As with many of my stories, “Dolph Schayes’s Broken Arm” began with autobiography. When I was twenty years old, I had a summer job selling newspapers over the phone. In the next cubicle was a grouchy old man who tripled my sales numbers every week. The young woman I’d been seeing during the spring was obviously pulling away from me, and I tied my romantic hopes, foolishly, to the Knicks’ elusive championship. Beyond those details, however, there wasn’t much of a story. The old man and I hardly spoke. All summer we stayed isolated in our separate miseries, until I quit the job and went back to school.

When I began drafting the piece, I knew that Stanley’s failures and disappointments would have to be central, that they would provide the soft nudge that would send the narrator in a new direction, though I didn’t yet know what that direction would be. Since I already had the Knicks in mind, basketball provided a logical starting point, but Dolph Schayes came as a gift. I was researching New York Jewish basketball players of the ’40s when I read that Schayes had broken his arm in the middle of a season and kept playing. As soon as I discovered this detail and imagined Stanley playing beside him, I knew what the story was about–an impossible striving toward unattainable goals, and the mixture of dignity and humiliation that follows. In the shadow of Dolph’s greatness, Stanley can’t cease striving and failing, and punishes himself as a result. Faced with Stanley’s suffering, the narrator relinquishes his own hopes and abandons an essential part of himself, the part that desires and strives and accepts each new disappointment as it comes.

Scott Nadelson is the author of two story collections, The Cantor’s Daughter (Hawthorne Books, 2006) and Saving Stanley: The Brickman Stories (Hawthorne Books, 2004). His work has recently appeared in Glimmer Train, Alaska Quarterly Review, Post Road, and Puerto del Sol, and his new collection, Aftermath, will be published by Hawthorne Books in September.
You can read his stories “With Equals Alone” and “The Cantor’s Daughter” at Hawthorne Books.