Catching up with Stethoscope: Daniel Goldman

Will Miller ’12, an editor at Stethoscope, tells us: I worked with Daniel Goldman ’12 on a book of short fiction. We had a really good back-and-forth, mostly because we have similar aesthetic preferences and like similar authors, which made it easier to be on the same wavelength. I’m normally used to editing in a workshop environment, so it was a new experience for me to work one-on-one with a writer, being able to hyper-focus on several pieces over the course of the school year.  All in all, it was a lot of fun having this kind of a relationship/dialogue about his pieces––I think that I definitely prefer this kind of one-on-one criticism to workshop formats.

Here’s what Daniel has to say about the process of creating his own book:

Tell us about your final product.  How has it changed since you first envisioned it?

At the very beginning I wanted to write one long piece, but it quickly became clear that that wasn’t going to happen. So it turned into three short stories, which are thematically similar but (hopefully) stylistically very different — coming at one idea from three different angles was sort of the idea.

Not sure what exactly to tell you about the stories themselves. One’s about a man who owns a business that lets people monkey with their own brains. One’s about a writer who discovers that she’s been unwittingly plagiarizing another writer. One’s about a guy who smokes something that he’s never heard of. It starts with an epigraph and ends with acknowledgements. Jason Katzenstein, also in Stethoscope, drew the title page. That’s all you need to know, and more.

What was it like working one-on-one with an editor? In what ways was your editor the most helpful?

I’ve been friends with Will Miller since we met freshman year, and we currently live in the same house, so when we were paired together I was worried it would get weird. Luckily, that worry was only about 20% justified.

Basically, I’d send Will my first drafts (which were never really my first drafts), he’d write comments, and we’d meet to discuss. He’s a talented prose writer and a perceptive reader — sometimes eerily so — so hearing his reactions and advice was very useful. We have similar literary tastes, so he was good at picking up on what I was aiming for, even when I was far from reaching it, and good about calling me out when I was just aping other writers I admire.

The thing is, I think I’m just not built to work with an editor. I don’t like showing people unfinished work. I don’t like talking about my writing or explaining my choices. I’m kind of an obstinate asshole.  Looking back, I probably should have taken more of Will’s suggestions.

I’m sure he won’t let me forget that I just admitted that.

What was the most frustrating part of putting together the book?

Starting “What I Know,” which is the last story in the collection, and the last one that I wrote. For a while, I just had this vague notion of what I wanted the story to feel like, but I couldn’t actually get anything on paper that I didn’t hate. Once I got some momentum going, it was actually a fun one to write, but getting over that first hump was brutal. There was lots of staring at a blank screen, pacing around the room, crumbling up notebook pages. Things like that.

What most surprised you about the process of creating your book?

I initially didn’t realize we’d be getting so much feedback about our work as we were writing, both from our editors and from our little workshops we would sometimes have with all of the other Stethoscope members. I quickly came to see that just sending someone off to write a book — especially somebody as inexperienced as I am — without any sort of feedback system in place would have been completely insane.

I also didn’t realize how much work it would be to design the book itself. I came into this with exactly zero experience in design and layout and such, so Leia had to walk me through most of it. She may be the most patient person I’ve ever met.

Are you satisfied with your final product?  What are you planning to do with the copies that you receive?

Hmmm, I hadn’t really thought about it. I think first I’ll give copies to my closest family members and nicest friends, so I can just bask in the judgment-free compliments. Then I’ll give copies to my more blunt, critical friends and hope for the best. There’s at least one person whom I drew certain details and experiences from for one character, so I’ll be curious to hear what he was to say. Maybe I’ll annotate a copy. That could be interesting. Probably not though.

I’m definitely happy about the way the collection as a whole took shape. I’d say that I’m generally satisfied with the stories themselves as well, though to be honest, there are still some parts that I can’t look at without cringing a little. It’s the same feeling as when you find an old notebook from 1st grade or something and you just want to incinerate it. Except I wrote these in the last couple of months, so there’s really no excuse.

That’s a depressing note to end this on, so let me say this: One thing I’m unequivocally satisfied with is my experience with Stethoscope. The whole Stethoscope team — writers and editors — was a great group to work with and to be around, and I’m very glad I got to be a part of it.

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