Friday, June 24, 2022

Q&A with Robert Steven Goldstein




Robert Steven Goldstein is the author of the new novel Will's Surreal Period. His other books include the novel Cat's Whisker. He is a former healthcare information executive, and he lives in San Francisco.


Q: What inspired you to write Will's Surreal Period, and how did you create your character William Wozniak?


A: A brief twinkle of inspiration was spurred by an article I read—a sculptor who had developed a unique style of work learned that his much-admired artistry was actually the product of a life-threatening brain tumor.


I thought that a character faced with that dilemma, in the context of a novel I was already contemplating about sibling rivalry within a dysfunctional family, would work well. But now I needed to flesh the character out.


Throughout my life I’ve met a number of struggling artists who were eventually forced to find paying jobs in other fields—a few had become teachers of one sort or another, and they came to find that calling very personally meaningful. William Wozniak began to take shape in my mind.


Q: Author Michael Rose said, “A Jiu-Jitsu master of literary plotting, Robert Steven Goldstein flips the script on a dysfunctional family comprised of two emasculated adult sons and their cantankerous wealthy father, who, with petulant vagary, reallocates their respective inheritances at the fulcrum of his paternal control.” What do you think of that description?


A: It’s very apt. I was especially gratified that Mr. Rose praised the novel’s plotting.


Will’s Surreal Period chronicles the often humorous, but sometimes serious and emotionally-moving machinations of an eccentric and dysfunctional family. Like all of my novels, it’s primarily character-driven, but I do believe that Will’s Surreal Period is the most compellingly plotted novel I’ve written.


Q: How was the book's title chosen, and what does it signify for you?


A: It’s an unwritten rule in the publishing industry that publishers, rather than authors, have the final say on a book’s title. I never before had an issue with this, as my publishers have liked and accepted my proposed book titles, but not in this case.


The original title I submitted for this novel was Dali-esque, because the character William Wozniak suddenly and inexplicably begins painting in a style that some people find reminiscent of Salvador Dali. My publisher was unhappy with the title for two reasons.

First, she posited that the -esque served to diminish Will’s work as a painter, characterizing it as more derivative and less original than is actually the case as depicted in the novel.


Second (and this was a surprise to me) it seems that Dali is out of favor with some people these days. While many still regard Dali as a great artist, there are others who feel that he was more of a self-promoter who usurped the surreal movement, and that there were actually lots of other artists doing far better work in that arena.


My publisher wanted the title to reference surrealism in general, rather than Dali in particular—and she came up with Will’s Surreal Period, because the cadence and implication inherent in that title were similar to a title she’d given a novel a few years back, which wound up selling quite well.


Q: What do you hope readers take away from the book?


A: First and foremost, of course, I hope that readers enjoy it. That’s really a novelist’s primary duty—to offer readers a book they’ll find engrossing and entertaining. Over and above that, I do think the novel has some good and possibly inspiring things to share about yearning, aspiration, growth, and healing.


Q: What are you working on now?


A: I’ve begun work on my fifth novel, and am about 90 pages in. It’s shaping up to be more thematically ambitious than anything I’ve tackled to date, and I’m very happy with my progress thus far. Beyond that, it’s probably too early to say much else about it.


Q: Anything else we should know?


A: Occasionally, we writers come up with a snippet that continues to amuse us every time we reread it. I just have to share this brief bit-of-business from Will’s Surreal Period, which occurs between Joyce, the director of a senior home, and her friend Sybil, when the two are dining together in a Chinese restaurant:


“Sybil, do you remember that handsome younger man I told you about who made a pass at me in my office at the senior home?”


“You mean the sexy art teacher you’d been seducing for months, who you then mercilessly tormented once he succumbed to your feminine wiles?”


Joyce tried to stifle a laugh but failed, and the pulverized amalgam of beef, peanuts, and spicy pepper that had already slithered halfway down her esophagus lurched back into her throat, where she inadvertently inhaled just enough of it to send her into a fit of spasmodic coughing. She hacked ignobly into her napkin for half a minute, then finally took a couple of gulps of jasmine tea from her tiny porcelain cup, at which point she felt relieved enough to speak.


“Yes,” she said, chuckling and coughing. “That guy.”


--Interview with Deborah Kalb. Here's a previous Q&A with Robert Steven Goldstein.

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