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Paris Always Wins: Behind “The Montparnasse Moon Shot”

Bob’s Spot in Paris

There is a particular spot in Paris I go whenever there. It’s on the west tip of Île Saint-Louis, a prow of a park cutting the Seine into gauche and droit channels. The park is hardly a secret. Thousands of bateaux passengers cruise past it, thousands more stroll the river walks or zip along in the Parisienne traffic crush. But it’s hard-ish to get down there. Stairs and a short walk deter the less resolute. All the better, right? The park is quiet by local standards, shaded in places, and those bateaux passengers are merry (insider tip: wine is involved), and I feel history coursing by.

This nugget did not make “The Montparnasse Moon Shot.” Neither did my forever nipping into bodegas and sandwicheries, nor this friterie I know on the Right Bank. A travelogue of Paris was cut from the early drafts.

2013. I’d been writing France stories, and though one featured Paris already, it was a bit of a love letter. The famous sights, the simmering romance, so forth. Spend time there, and you grasp that Paris is hardly all City of Lights. It’s loud. Restless. Gritty, and if in some places it smells like urine, that’s because someone urinated there. I wanted that real Paris for a next story try. Real Paris seen through the eyes of someone who didn’t care much one way or the other. They had a job to do, and that job could show the myths of Paris as lovely bunk.

Good doggie

Enter that staple of the Paris romantic: café culture and in its analog day the pinball machine. And another from the lore box: the wolves of Paris that set after poor townsfolk centuries before anybody in Rohan or Westeros. The townsfolk got their wolf eventually, and they left architectural nods to the legend if you know where to look.

Plot summary: our young hero Tapp is after a revenge pinball match with a maybe-legendary wizard known as Loup DeLune (in English, Moon Wolf). Using his signature Montparnasse Moon Shot, the Loup beat Tapp’s dad in a maybe-legendary duel years earlier. Now Tennessee boy Tapp is ready to get behind the flippers. The Loup has vanished, though, and Tapp’s city-wide wolf hunt would strip the varnish from Paris–and from the familial legends we tell each other. From why we tell them.

Google Earth is great for orienting but not for experiencing. So I went to Paris. In October 2014, I tacked a few days there onto another France swing. By then, I had the rough first draft, and I mapped out a schedule to go wherever key my main character went. Call it research. With frites.

I started where our hero does: Rue Daguerre, a side street in Montparnasse. The main café was there, mostly because I liked the name, but also it intersected Avenue Du Maine and seemed a place neighborhood regulars might form their haunts.

It was early-ish, chilly, and Montparnasse hadn’t yet gotten going. Some locals bundled at outside tables drinking coffee and reading tabloids. Delivery vans blocked the lane, and navigating past them was to be my problem, not the drivers’. Gold. In those details went. A grocery was open, with its sidewalk rotisserie machine dripping chicken fat onto a rack of baby potatoes (promise me you will try street potatoes). A metaphor just dripping away right there. In it went.

Out it came, years later. Precious little of those nuggets remain in the final “Moon Shot.” There is simply the café and few sketch strokes of Rue Daguerre. Other scouting details were cut entirely. Sceaux well to the south, Quai de Montebello, the Latin Quarter, Belleville. It was a whole thing, a certain someone sending Tapp for jaunts to elevated playfields that mirrored an expert pinball shot. In my zest for giving our hero time to unvarnish his lore problem, I was taking too much time. Setting after setting came loaded with scouting details, to where version of this story hit well over 6,000 words. Tapp even had to mention my favorite park.

Paris. It had me writing another love letter.

And charged me premium hotel and frites rates for the privilege.

Paris smells a mark. A town that outlasted the Romans, the Huns, the plague, the English and the Prussians, the Germans, that town isn’t surrendering because country boy Tapp gets up into its zazou jacket. Paris was always going to roll Tapp. I knew that, but it’d rolled me along with him.

Un parlait, oui?

Just like there are favorite where you always return, there are stories that won’t leave a writer alone, not until they are well-told. I circled back to “Moon Shot” now and again, hacking away research nuggets and darling passages until the shorter it started to find its urgency. Its flow that served Tapp’s real journey unfolding–and unraveling.

What did survive into the published version? The Paris legends. All of them, lovely bunk or not. Legends exist for the most human of reasons: understanding. Wolves long-ago on the loose, café times, what kinda-truths parents tell their kids. Legends, the good ones, are about what best life we want to lead. Where and how we want to lead it. For Tapp, it’s embracing the legend.

That stuff riverside on Île Saint-Louis, that’s all mine.

Mes amis

“The Montparnasse Moon Shot” was published in Lowestoft Chronicle #41, March 2020.

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