The Story Behind the Story: “Down at the Doll Plant”

"Down at the Doll Plant" was influenced by my time spent working in various factory settings and Larry Brown's novel "A Miracle of Catfish." When I began writing "Down at the Doll Plant," I wasn't sure what form or direction the story would take. I simply had an image of a middle-aged man leaning in to calm a young girl who's arms got stuck in a press, and as others looked on, waiting for Gill to help save her, I know then that Gill had saved many others already, and that his helping of others would somehow lead to his downfall.

Thankfully, my time spent working in factories wasn't as dangerous as the setting in "Down at the Doll Plant." However, I do recall it could have been easy to get injured or lose fingers or be crushed by giant presses in lots of ways, especially when you were required to slip in through a huge gate and grab pressed material hanging from a 10-ton press and all that went through your mind while do so was what-if I got caught? What would that look like? What if the gate shut while I was in there and the press crushed me, forming me into the shape of an industrial light cover or a car fender or something? How would the supervisor or a co-worker get you out of that? What if the staff couldn't get you out and you were injured and trapped while others watched and waited for something to give? What would that something be? An arm, leg, your last breath? Being a writer, I always think about the worst things that can happen at all times. This is a blessing and a curse. It's a curse because every time I run a circular saw, for example, all I can think about is the saw blade spinning and getting my fingers or hand or wrist; I wonder how quickly it could chew through bone and this almost always changes my desired measurement.

After I completed the initial draft of the story, the ending wasn't right. I had Gill acting out against the front office to force change. So I rewrote the ending multiple times until his actions surprised me and become more of a natural fit. That said, I hope the story surprises the readers as it did me. And if you've never read Larry Brown's "A Miracle of Catfish," you're missing out.

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Keith Rebec

About Keith Rebec

Keith Rebec is a graduate student working on an MA in Writing at Northern Michigan University. His writing has appeared or is forthcoming in Shenandoah, The Portland Review, Monkeybicycle, Hobart, Midwestern Gothic, Devil’s Lake, and The Doctor T. J. Eckleburg Review, among others. He’s also the editor-in-chief of the literary journal Pithead Chapel, and you can learn more about him at