Someone once described the ambition of getting a novel published as "a slender keyhole through which few have passed."
Rodgers Forge resident Eric Goodman has passed through that keyhole, and has found rewards on the other side — on Monday, June 4, he was in New York picking up the 2012 Gold Medal for Best Fiction in the Mid-Atlantic Region in the Independent Publishers Book Awards for his book, "Tracks: A Novel in Stories."
Goodman, 41, wrote his first short story when he was in third grade, and hasn't stopped since. But it wasn't until 2006 that he got his first story published, and last year his first novel saw the light of day
In between years, he produced reams of short stories and five novels, all of which he sent out — and all of which bounced back at him, often more than once.
"I've talked to a lot of writers who said they could probably wallpaper their bathrooms with all the rejection slips they've received," he said. "I could probably wallpaper my whole house."
"It has been a long road," he said, "but it was never work for me. It was a lot of fun, and I just sort of identified myself as a writer early on, and I kept learning all along the way."
Goodman's first pay-back came last year when the 316-page "Tracks" was published by Atticus Books.
Celebrated novelist and Baltimore resident Madison Smartt Bell called the book "a most cunningly crafted tale — a perfect read for trains, planes and automobiles, or even for your armchair."
Earlier this spring Goodman got another big boost when he won the Independent Publishers Book Awards gold medal, selected from more than 5,000 other entries.
"I think perseverance, just sticking with it, is one of the main ingredients for success in publishing," he said. "But I think luck has a lot to do with it, too. ... Plus, if you throw a thousand stones at a target, one of them is going to hit."
A self-described "military brat," Goodman did much of his early writing on the move, as his family lived, at various times, in South Carolina, California, Virginia Beach, Rhode Island and even Japan for a couple of years. Through those peripatetic years he wrote countless short stories, essays, articles and reviews for school publications and local newspapers.
"A lot of the moving around as a child probably helped me develop this kind of sense of perception that enables me to write from different perspectives and points of view," he said. "I think that also probably helped fuel my desire to write. Writing was also something I could take with me, a friend I could take with me."
He came to Baltimore about 12 years ago after working as a claims adjuster in Columbus, Ohio.
He made the move after getting a job offer in public relations. He's been at that same job ever since, and it has sustained him and his wife and two children, along with his literary endeavors, for the past decade or so.
"This is the longest I've ever lived anywhere, so I consider it home," he said.
Goodman started getting his short stories published in literary journals such as The Baltimore Review, The Pedestal, Writer's Weekly and New Lines from the Old Line State. He's also narrated several of his stories on "The Signal," a program on Baltimore's FM Radio WYPR, with a focus on local arts and culture.
"I think location had a lot to do with finally getting success, because there's a more vibrant literary scene here in Baltimore than there was in Columbus, Ohio, where I lived before I came here," he said.
Goodman says that when he got connected with the local scene is also when he stopped writing in a vacuum.
"One thing that changed is that earlier, when I was getting rejections, I was not as open to criticism," he recalled. "I felt like I knew the story I was trying to tell better than anyone else knew it.
"But once I got involved in the local literary community and had friends that were writers and started to work with them, I found that getting their feedback and using that in my revisions helped me a lot," he added.
He spent about five years taking "Tracks" through revisions. "A rough draft may take me two or three months to write, but the revisions can take years," he said.
Back around 2006 he had a collection of disconnected short stories which, through a lengthy revision process, coalesced into a novel.
"At some point I realized that several of the stories I was working on were all coincidentally set on trains, and it occurred to me that there was a way to do two things at once, since I also wanted to be working on a novel as well as short stories," he said.
"I gradually developed the idea of a train ride and of the passengers affecting each other in different ways," he added. "In my first draft, the stories and characters were a lot less connected; they were just individual stories set on the same Amtrak train," he said. "But as I rewrote it, I would take a side character in one story and replace him or her with a main character from another story, and I made sure that the train conductor appeared in each story. So it was in layers as I was rewriting that I connected them a little more each time."
A couple years ago, when Goodman found a literary agent who was interested in "Tracks," he'd already reworked the book two or three times, and thought his work was done.
"But my agent, had a lot of suggestions for revisions," he said. "Then when my agent found a publisher a year or so later, the publisher also asked for more revisions. But it all benefited the book."
At this point, Goodman already has a second novel placed with his agent, and it's quite different from "Tracks." Its working title is "Womb."
"I've always been fascinated by books that have a narrator with an unusual point of view, so I wrote a book that's told entirely from the point of view of a child in utero," he said.
The book, he said, "takes the perspective that when a child is still in utero he or she is still connected to a greater consciousness."