Volunteer Andrea interviews Eric D. Goodman, most recently author of Tracks: A Novel in Stories.
A: Tracks: A Novel in Stories brings together characters with disparate backgrounds and interests. Why did you decide to write a novel in short stories?
Eric D. Goodman: When I wrote the first few stories from Tracks, I didn’t realize I was writing a novel in stories. They just happened to all take place on trains. It was around that time that I read Joan Silber’s collection of linked stories, Ideas of Heaven: A Ring of Stories and then Now You See It … Stories from Cokesville, PA. I fell in love with the concept and decided to try to do the same with these train stories. Since I started about five years ago, the format seems to have taken off with such books as Olive Kitterige and A Visit from the Goon Squad and Here Comes Another Lesson. It’s a format I’d really like to revisit.
A: Baltimore and Chicago feature prominently in “Tracks.” How did you prepare to write a novel with such a strong sense of place?
Eric D. Goodman: It does take a lot of research to get the details of regional fiction right. But it’s a fun kind of field research: visiting sites, going to pubs and restaurants, and getting to know a place. In this case the research was something I’d already done in everyday life because I’ve lived in Baltimore for 10 years and have visited Chicago about once a year for the past 17 years or so — sometimes for months at at time. They were two cities I knew well … and they happened to be linked by Amtrak’s Cardinal line.
A: What story in Tracks did you write first and why?
Eric D. Goodman: The story that opens Tracks is “Prewitt’s Plans.” That version of Prewitt’s story isn’t the first I wrote. But Prewitt’s story is the first I wrote. In my original draft of Tracks, Prewitt had a second story at the end of the book called “Well-Laid Plans.” I ended up editing that out and rewriting “Prewitt’s Plans” to include more from both stories. Readers who are interested in going beyond Tracks can find Prewitt’s second story, “Well-Laid Plans,” in the literary journal Four Cornered Universe. But read the book first!
A: The characters in Tracks don’t take predictable paths through their lives. Which story in Tracks surprised you the most when you finished writing it?
Eric D. Goodman: As many writers will tell you, a character often takes on a life of his or her own and sometimes leads you in directions you don’t expect. When I began writing each story, I knew what they were about and who the characters were, but not always where they’d end up. I didn’t expect Helen (“Live Cargo”) to find what she found at the museum. I thought Demi (“Seconds”) was turning a new leaf and didn’t expect her to do what she did on the train. But the character who may have surprised me the most was Franklin, the conductor (“Idle Chatter” and “Late Lunch.”) He appeared in every story in Tracks as a side character before I decided to give him his own two stories. He’s such a personable character; everyone likes him. Then, in his own stories, we begin to see his flaws, his weaknesses and insecurities. It doesn’t make him less likable … but I think it makes him seem less in control.
A: You’ve published numerous short stories and two books. Do you have any advice for unpublished writers?
Eric D. Goodman: It may sound cliche, but these basic tips seemed to make a difference for me. Read a lot — the more you read the better you’ll write. Get involved with your local literary community, workshop your writing and listen to what others are saying. It’s honorable to stick with your vision, but if two or three people independently don’t get it, it’s time to rewrite. And finally, rewrite. Writing a novel or story is easy. Rewriting is the hard part, and that’s where a lot of authors stumble. It may be good in the first draft, but it’s probably not good enough.
A: What literary projects are you working on now?
Eric D. Goodman: My agent and I are discussing minor changes and edits to my second novel Womb. It’s a novel written from the perspective of a child who hasn’t been born yet. My agent agrees that I’ve pulled it off, but there’s still some fine-tuning to do. Hopefully I’ll have it delivered and my agent will begin pitching it early in 2012.
A: How can readers find out more about Tracks and your other work?
Eric D. Goodman: The best place to learn more about Tracks is www.TracksNovel.com. There, readers can find excerpts, endorsements from authors, excerpts, reviews, media coverage, NPR radio readings, videos, and more. Of course, it’s at Amazon and other online and physical booksellers. I also keep a literary blog which I update two or three times a week with news about Tracks, my other writing, local literary events, tips from authors, and all things literary.