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Interview with Eric D. Goodman, Author of Tracks

Tracks by Eric D. Goodman (my review) is one of the best novel in stories I’ve read in a long time, and it will likely end up on my best of the year list. It not only reads like separate short stories, if you just want to read something satisfying in a short slot of time, but also is a connected story by the train, the conductor, and the mystery/action storyline.  In many ways, I’ve thought about how it reminds me of Agatha Christie’s Murder on the Orient Express, but the reader is the detective.  However, there also are deeper themes at work of feeling stuck and unable to move on or wanting to change, but unable to accomplish that goal because of an inability to take a risk or the inability to let go of the past.  I digress, just go read the review, you’ll see what I mean.

I’ve got a great treat for my readers today, as Eric agreed to an interview about his book and his writing experiences. Please give him a warm welcome.

1. Since Tracks takes place on a train traveling between Baltimore
and Chicago, it is clear that trains are important to you. When did
you first realize that you loved trains and what do they mean to you?

As a child, I think I had a love of trains that many children share:
toy train sets, a need to watch trains as they passed by, an urge to
place coins along the tracks to be warped and smashed by the
locomotives. And there was always a spirit of adventure involved with
coming across a line of tracks and walking along it.

I was probably about six when I took my first trip on Amtrak. It was
exciting, an adventure, and much more fun than the usual cross-country
driving trips my family took. But then there was a long period of no
trains. Unfortunately, trains seem to be underfunded in our country
and, therefore, are sometimes more expensive than planes and certainly
cars and busses.

It was when I was a college student traveling in Russia that I
rekindled my interest in trains. Trains were a popular and
inexpensive way to get around. I took sleeper cars on overnight trips
often while in Russia. Sometimes, that was the most fun part of a
trip.

2. Baltimore is almost like its own character in the book, looming
ominously over some of the characters while anchoring others to a
sense of home. Was it hard to show both the darker and lighter sides
of Baltimore given its reputation as a high-crime city? And how do
you view Baltimore, as a resident and a writer?

Baltimore is a wonderful place to live if you’re a writer or an
artist. The literary community is tight knit and most of the writers
I know are very supportive of their fellow authors. As far as the
crime goes, I think Baltimore is a lot like any other large city:
there are areas with high crime, areas with virtually no crime, and
much of the violent crime exists in its own little sub-culture. I’ve
lived in Ohio, California, Rhode Island and lots of places in between.
I won’t pretend they’re the same, but I will say that I’ve personally
encountered no more crime here than in the other places I’ve lived. In
other words, it exists, but it’s easy to avoid.

Baltimore has a lot of character; it was easy to set certain scenes
from Tracks in rich locations with exciting backdrops.

3. When writing Tracks did you find that one scene or character
surprised you? If so, which one and how so?

My writing tends to be inspired by an idea or theme or some nugget of
conversation that I found interesting. It doesn’t begin with plot;
the idea comes first, then the character, then the plot. So my
characters surprise me often. I know what I want the theme or idea to
be, when I begin writing, but not always exactly what they’re going to
do.

The Conductor, Franklin, sort of surprised me. His two stories were
actually the last two I wrote. In the original manuscript, he didn’t
even have his own stories. He appears in everyone else’s story and
always seems like such a nice, chipper, friendly guy. And he is. But
when I began to dig deeper and write about him in his own stories, I
discovered that he had another side.

4. The conductor and the Amtrak train tie the stories together, but
the stories also could stand on their own. Was there any point in the
process where you thought that Tracks should just be a short story
collection and not be a novel in stories? What convinced you to stay
with the novel in stories format?

I had written three stories individually before I decided that I
should make this a collection. Then, as I continued to weave the
stories closer together, I thought it would be nice to create a sort
of hybrid—to write a novel and a set of stories at once. Part of it
was with the goal of both working on a novel and having stories to
submit to journals at the same time. But part of it was just out of
curiosity—could I pull off a “novel in stories?”

Coincidentally, by the time this went to print, there seemed to be a
revival in the format: A Visit from the Goon Squad, Olive Kitteridge,
Later at the Bar, The Civilized World. But I wasn’t riding a wave; I
was doing my first draft before it started!

5. From first draft to publication, how long did it take to complete
Tracksand find it a home on bookstore shelves? Have you had any
champions behind the book that spurred you to get it published and who
have helped hand-sell (I use this term lightly — noting that social
media and the Internet could help spread the word) copies?

It’s been a long line of track. I think it was back in 2006 when I
wrote the first draft. I tend to write a manuscript, then put it away
for a year or longer, then rewrite it. So although I didn’t spend
time each year working on the manuscript, about five years passed from
first draft to bookshelf. During that time I wrote a couple other
book drafts (one of which is with my agent now) and did a lot of
tinkering and polishing. I had it ready to submit to agents in 2009,
got an agent in 2010, and secured a publisher later that same year.
Then it was released in 2011.

I’ve been overwhelmed by the kind reception Tracks has received from
other writers. Some of the biggest include Madison Smartt Bell,
Thomas Steinbeck, Bathsheba Monk, Jessica Anya Blau, Rebecca Barry,
and Victoria Patterson. I even got notes of congratulations (but not
official blurbs) from Jonathan Franzen, Jennifer Egan, T.C. Boyle, and
Junot Diaz! It’s felt good to be noticed, even if sometimes only as
an insect.

Thanks, Eric for answering my questions. If you are in the Washington, D.C., area and interested in reading Goodman’s book, he’ll be reading at the Open Door Series at the Writer’s Center in Bethesda, Md., on Feb. 12 at 2 p.m. Register for the event.

 

Additionally, this is a stop on The Literary Road Trip since Eric is a local author in Baltimore, Md.

  • Great interview! I think Tracks would be a good book for my mom, who loves trains.

    • I loved this book, and I hope your mom likes it too.

  • I love books about trains. There aren’t many where I am but one of my dreams is to take the one we do have through the mountains some day. Its a bit of a trip to get to where it leaves from but that’s ok. I’m not much for short stories but this book really intrigues me. Great interview today!

    • I would love to take a train ride through the mountains…Like the Amtrak Vermonter line…I’d also like to take a train out west too.

  • I want to thank you, Serena, for the interview and for your kind words about Tracks. And thanks to everyone else for the comments. I hope to see some of you at the Writer’s Center this weekend!

    • Not sure who will be joining me on Sunday, but I’ll be there…with my book for you to sign!

  • Ooh, fantastic interview — I’m getting this collection. After reading Ivan and Misha last year and loving it, the connected short story/vignette model for a novel is very appealing. I adore place as character so I’m keen to see Baltimore through Goodman’s eyes, and I find something very romantic about train travel. Whenever we have the time, my wife and I try to travel by train — you see so much of the country that way, especially urban areas. Really eye-opening!

    • I’m glad you enjoyed the interview. I really loved this novel in stories, and I cannot wait to read Ivan and Misha later this year. I love traveling by train…

  • I enjoy riding the train, but haven’t taken any really long trips. I think I’ll have to borrow this book from you at some point. I’m curious about the conductor!

    • I really enjoyed this book…The conductor is interesting….but the whole thing is excellent.

  • Beth Hoffman

    I so enjoyed this interview (and reading your previously posted review). Eric’s book is being added to my list right now!

    • I’m sure that list is as long as mine is, Beth!

  • It’s tough being a train lover in this country. Amtrak comes through our town – late at night. I love the trains in Europe. You’re making this book sound better and better.

    • I love books about trains and the promise that riding the train gives. Riding Amtrak between DC and NYC for book expo is the best part of the trip for me sometimes.

  • Diane (bookchickdi)

    I’ve heard lots of good things about this book, and I am a fan of linked short stories and novels in stories. I’m going to look for this book. Great interview!

    • I hope you check out the book and let me know if you enjoyed it.