Saturday, April 15, 2017

Q&A with Eric D. Goodman

Eric D. Goodman is the author of the new book Womb: A Novel in Utero. He also has written Tracks and Flightless Goose. He lives in Baltimore.

Q: How did you come up with the idea for Womb?

A: Most pregnancies take nine months. I like to say that the pregnancy for this book took more than nine years. 

I came up with the idea for Womb more than 12 years ago. In fact, I already had a first draft around that time, and have revised it several times since then.

At the time, I had recently read The Lovely Bones by Alice Sebold, and I was impressed with the narrator. In the first line of the novel, the narrator tells us that she was raped and murdered. The entire novel is narrated by someone who is already dead.

That intrigued me, and I began trying to come up with the most unique narrator I could conjure. 

I didn't have to look far for inspiration, because my wife, Nataliya, was pregnant with our second child. I couldn't think of any literature, at the time, that had been narrated from within the womb.

The closest thing to it was The Life and Times of Tristram Shandy, which was actually narrated from the perspective of an adult who went back to narrate life before he was born. In my book, the narrator is still in utero as he tells his story. 

If it hadn't taken 10 years to sculpt it, to find an agent and then a publisher, and to get it out to the world, I wonder if Womb would have been getting a little more of the attention that another book received last fall. 

Q: What type of research did you need to do to write this novel?

A: A lot of my first draft--fleshing out the novel--came without much more research than my wife and I were already doing, with sources like What to Expect when You're Expecting and general studies of pregnancy--and first hand experience on the outside of a pregnancy.

But after writing the first draft, I did a good bit of research, reading books and magazine articles about studies on fetuses in utero. I also watched a number of documentaries, like Nova, about pregnancy and the first nine months.

During the period between first draft and last, I think there was more and more research on life in utero, and also research was easier to find with better search engines and more available online.

There was definitely a good amount of research that went into this book, but so much of it is complete fiction that a little research went a long way.

Q: Did you know exactly how the book would end before you started writing it, or did you make many changes along the way?

A: Some books start with a plot, others with characters. For Womb, the idea came first and everything else grew from that. So when I began, I was really just exploring the concept without knowing where I would end up.

Once I had a first draft, when I jumped back in, that draft served as a blueprint. But initially, I had no idea where the concept would take me. I didn't really know what the story would be.

But it became obvious to me quickly that it couldn't be all about his thoughts and what life is like in the womb. There had to be some serious outside drama for him to observe, some activity in the outside world. That's where a lot of the drama between his mother and those around her came from.

Q: Ian McEwan's recent novel Nutshell also features a narrator in utero. What do you think of his book?

A: I'm a big fan of Ian McEwan's fiction. I love his work. But when I learned about Nutshell last fall, I was disappointed. I thought, what are the odds that someone else--and someone of his caliber--publishes a novel in utero right before mine was finally going to see the light of day?

I was still doing galley edits and slight revisions to Womb, so I purposely did not allow myself to read it. I still haven't. I look forward to reading it soon. I'm sure I'll enjoy it, and I suspect that, despite the similar narration, they are very different novels. 

By the way, I like to point out that shortly after my first draft of Womb, I submitted an excerpt from it as flash fiction and it was published in the May 2008 issue of The Potomac, a literary journal. It's not a copy cat!

Q: What are you working on now?

A: I always have a few irons in the fire, and I like to move drafts on and off the shelf often. So, when I say that I worked on Womb for 10 years, it was a few months here, then a year or two on the shelf, then a few months there. With that in mind, I have close to a dozen novel drafts in various states.

Two of them in particular are just about ready for prime time, so I'll probably give each one another careful look before submitting them. 

One is Setting the Family Free, a fictional story inspired by the real animal massacre in Ohio in 2011. In my version, the exotic animals of a private reserve are released into the community and begin encountering locals before the sheriff's team is able to intercept them.

The novel tells one story, but in two parts, and from multiple points of view: that of the owner and his wife, the sheriff's hunting party, and others--victims, eyewitnesses, and those who knew them. 

The other is my first thriller, The Color of Jadeite. It's set in China, and takes a private detective from one exotic location to another in search of an artifact from Imperial China.

It's probably the most plot-driven novel I've written, although it's also very much motivated by the settings, so it could be my first "novel in settings." 

Which comes first really depends on finding a publisher interested in one or the other. And who knows, an entirely different novel could see the light of day first. 

Q: Anything else we should know?

A: Writers with small presses really have to work at getting the word out. I'll likely spend as much time spreading the word as I do writing this year. So I'll be doing readings, book festivals and events throughout the year.

The Enoch Pratt Free Library hosted my book launch as part of their Writers LIVE series. I'll be at Greetings & Readings Bookstore on April 22, Baltimore's CityLit Festival on April 29, the Lit and Art Reading Series on April 30.

Anyone interested in coming to an event can check out my website. I'm available to speak at book clubs, too!

Along the same lines, one thing that a reader can do to help spread the word, for my book or any other small-press books they like, is to tell their reader friends about it, write a short review on Amazon or GoodReads, or even just rate it. Every reader counts!

--Interview with Deborah Kalb. For a previous Q&A with Eric D. Goodman, please click here.

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