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. The only way for the artist to save his life was to have the tumor removed — but that would have meant sacrificing his art as well.
Robert Steven Goldstein – 21 June 2022
The Back Flap
“At times hilarious and at times deeply moving, Will’s Surreal Period is a richly satisfying novel, featuring a rollickingly dysfunctional family, a seemingly endless array of succulent foodstuffs, and a brain tumor that transforms a mediocre painter into a virtuoso. The book’s characters are alluring, its ideas are seductive, and its plot is irresistible — this is a story that will hook you fast and captivate you till the end. ”
–KEN JAKOBS, librettist, director, and producer of opera in the San Francisco Bay Area
About the book
What is the book about?
Will’s Surreal Period delves into the often humorous, but sometimes serious and moving machinations of an eccentric and dysfunctional family. The personal journeys of various family members are explored — one of the most compelling concerns Will, a San Francisco artist who has struggled for years in obscurity. When Will suddenly and inexplicably finds himself painting in a startlingly new, surreal style, he is embraced by the art world. Soon though, health issues lead him to a neurologist, where Will discovers that his new artistic style is the result of a brain tumor threatening his life. He must decide whether to have surgery to remove it, which will likely relegate him to painting in the drab style that defined his years of anonymity, or allow the tumor to grow and, most likely, kill him.
When did you start writing the book?
I began writing Will’s Surreal Period in 2019. That was prior to the start of the Covid pandemic — as a result, the novel is blissfully free of any mention of masks, vaccinations, social distancing, or the various other grim realities to which we’ve all recently become so unwillingly accustomed.
How long did it take you to write it?
It took about a year-and-a-half, but I was not able to work on the book full-time. Will’s Surreal Period is my fourth novel — my second novel was published in 2020, and my third in 2021 — so the hours I could devote to writing Will’s Surreal Period had to be balanced against the demands made by the publishers and publicists for the two prior books — things such as editing, proofreading, cover design, publicity, and marketing. It was always a joy to get back to writing Will’s Surreal Period though, because like most authors, while I fully understand the importance of publishing and publicity work, the aspect of the job I enjoy most is writing.
Where did you get the idea from?
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. The only way for the artist to save his life was to have the tumor removed — but that would have meant sacrificing his art as well. According to the article, the artist had not yet made a decision about what to do. But that was just a starting point for me. From there, the overall plot for Will’s Surreal Period needed to be fleshed out, which meant inventing a full storyline, and dreaming up a host of other characters with their own problems and paths. That was the point for me where the effortless twinkle of inspiration gave way to significant, albeit joyful, work.
Were there any parts of the book where you struggled?
Not really. Will’s Surreal Period was pretty smooth to write. I did have to do a bit of research about the brain, and how trauma to it may affect creativity and personality. I always hesitate, though, to complain in any way about research. I grew up in the 1950’s and 1960’s, when research meant spending hours in a library, combing through dozens of books and taking notes which then had to be painstakingly reviewed and organized. Today, when I write, I have a computer window open for Microsoft Word for the actual writing, and another window or two open for Googling research topics. It’s embarrassingly effortless compared to the bad old days.
What came easily?
There’s a central theme throughout the book related to food and drink. I love all aspects of cuisine — cooking, mixing cocktails, pairing wine with food — and of course, eating and drinking. And although I personally have been a vegetarian for well over half-a-century for spiritual reasons, not every character in Will’s Surreal Period shares that culinary conviction, and I found it interesting to vicariously explore other approaches to meal planning while I was writing.
Are your characters entirely fictitious or have you borrowed from real world people you know?
As is the case with every character I’ve ever dreamed up for a novel or short story, the process is a combination of recollection and imagination. Each of my characters starts off with aspects of two or three people I’ve known, and then my imagination fills in the gaps in an effort to make their personalities entertaining and multi-dimensional. I also have to say (and I’ve heard other authors make this same claim) that once the story gets going, my characters take on a life of their own, and wind up doing and saying things that surprise even myself!
Do you have a target reader for this book?
I’ve been fortunate to have a fairly good number of alpha and beta readers offer me feedback on the novel prior to publication, and I’ve been extremely pleased by the diverse demographic who’ve reported that they liked it — males, females, older people, and younger people. I hope this holds up for the general public.
How was writing this book different from what you’d experienced writing previous books?
Although I’ve used the technique in short stories, Will’s Surreal Period is my first novel told in third person. My three prior novels were narrated in first person, a technique which allowed me to delve very deeply into one character’s thoughts, but then forced me to see all the other characters through the eyes of that narrator. Will’s Surreal Period is populated by a rich ensemble cast of characters — and though narrated in third person, each segment is seen from the primary perspective of one of the characters who appears in it — thus the reader becomes privy to the thoughts and motivations of a variety of the players. I found it very interesting and rewarding as a writer to tell a story this way.
What new things did you learn about writing, publishing, and / or yourself while writing and preparing this book for publication?
As an introvert, I’ve never been comfortable with sales or marketing. Even during the time I worked in corporate settings, where I eventually got promoted to executive level positions, my superiors knew better than to ever send me on a sales or marketing expedition. I was very good at managing large projects and coaching individuals, but not at all adept at selling, and I even dreaded the thought of it. Now, as an author, I fully realize how crucial it is to get new novels out there in front of people, so that the books can at least be considered for literary consumption. This is my second novel for which I’ve had the pleasure of working with a very gifted young publicist named Rachel. She’s somehow made the work of publishing and marketing a book something that I find stress-free and even enjoyable — a feat I honestly did not think possible.
End of Interview: