It’s the week before Valentine’s Day and the restaurant is crowded. While senior Nathan Goldman waits with his girlfriend to be seated, they start up a conversation with a six-year-old boy.
“Sometime, I should take you in our car. And I should take you to my school. And we should find my room. And I can show you where we keep the stuff. That we color ourselves with. When we paint,” he says suddenly.
Something goes off in Goldman’s brain. What this boy said—it’s sincere, it’s convoluted, it’s completely trusting. He instinctively reaches for his notebook, the one filled with snippets from conversations and notable observations. It’s not there.
Goldman looks around the restaurant waiting area. He grabs a nearby piece of paper and jots down what the six-year-old had said, verbatim.
He looks down at the scrap of paper that just saved him. It’s a contact card so the restaurant can send e-mails about its latest specials. He’ll file it later that night, but this card will be of more use to him than a 2-for-1 deal. It could be used for a story.
“Pretty much anything anyone says,” Goldman said. “If not directly used in a story, can have something to do with getting an idea for one.”
“Watching the birth of new muscle is like watching the growth of a vine in fast motion. It blooms from the seed and wraps, wraps about the bone, forms a coiled spiral.” –Muscle, short story by Goldman
Observing, recording, thinking—Goldman constantly searches for elements he can use in his writing. Whether he’s actively writing or just taking a walk to solidify his ideas, writing is always on his mind. Even amidst failure and rejection, he is wholly committed to his passion. Goldman has written three novels and is currently writing a fourth.
During November of his freshman, sophomore, and junior years, Goldman participated in National Novel Writing Month. This competition challenges writers to complete a “Catcher in the Rye” length narrative during the allotted time. 50,000 words over the course of 30 days. That’s 12,500 words a week. 1,666 words a day.
If you finish on time, you win. In the 2008 competition, that honor went to 17 percent of participants.
In eighth grade, Goldman attempted to write a novel on his own. He got through 60 pages of single-space, point 12 Times New Roman before abandoning it. Goldman was determined to win the competition, steadily writing each day.
“I’m going to do this,” he told himself. “I’m going to do this.”
When he finished by the deadline, he titled his first novel “Reaper.” The rest of his portfolio is filled with short stories and “short-shorts,” stories under 500 words. Goldman is quick to push away the misnomer that a short story is a quick read—in fact, short stories can be up to 40 pages. He even wrote a Frequent Friday for his friend senior Kaevan Tavakolinia called “In the Aeroplane Over the Sea,” based on the album by Neutral Milk Hotel with the same name.
He chose eight of his best pieces and compiled them into a “Senior General Writing Portfolio” that he later submitted to the Scholastic Writing Awards.
“My purpose in writing is simply to use words to illuminate truth,” he wrote at the beginning of his Statement of Purpose, outlining how he came to write each piece. He hoped to change his readers with his writing.
The national competition judges the portfolios of creativity, technique, and originality. Goldman’s won the “Silver Key Award,” equitable to second place, at the Missouri regional awards. Though he won’t go onto the national competition, it is always gratifying when Goldman receives recognition from an outside source.
“Someone had to read your work and score it high enough,” Goldman said. “In a field that is very much known for not giving acknowledgement except from the people close to you.”
In spite of these honors, he gets back a lot of stock rejection letters from the publications where he submitted a piece. A three by two slip of paper, saying “Thank you for submitting, but it doesn’t fit our magazine.” He’s not too offended by its generic nature; he knows that it would take exorbitant amounts of money to hire enough people to write personal letters to all people who submit stories. He’s just disappointed. He still tries though, sending in as much as he can, to as many publications as he can.
“You’re probably going to get a hundred rejections before you get an acceptance,” Goldman said. “So you might as well fill up those rejections first.”
“Damon was something intriguing, an onion with all its layers hidden by the skin. The detective in July longed to peel it back, peel them all back, examine the pulsing alien core within.” –Grief Counseling, short story by Goldman
Goldman doesn’t remember when he started creating works of fiction. His parents tell him that when he first started to talk, he would get them or a babysitter to write down the stories he would dictate. Later, he would scribble illustrations to match the stories.
Sometimes he would play a game—“Action Stories,” he called it. Grabbing a handful of action figures, Goldman would direct a play with his parents, his sister, and whoever else he could find. Recreating his favorite movies, Goldman would have them act out scenes under his instruction. Sometimes “Aladdin” would have the traditional three wishes, Genie, and magic carpet, but it was always up for change. New characters and plot twists could appear at any time.
When he was eight-years-old, Goldman began a series. The first story was twenty pages of computer paper stapled together with illustrations and one sentence per page. It chronicled the stories of Godzilla, Power Rangers, and Goosebumps through an angel in heaven. The climax? Said angel getting hit with a nuclear missile. He didn’t really know what a nuclear missile was, but it sounded pretty awesome.
Alien races, sci-fi sagas, fantasy epics—anything was up for a story. The real fun for the young Goldman was in creating these worlds, while the process of getting the words down on paper wasn’t as enjoyable. Afterwards, once he was finished with his initial writing, he liked reading them over, editing them, making them really good.
Then, in high school English, there came a love for books without dragons and aliens. “Catcher in the Rye,” “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest,” “The Grapes of Wrath.” Everything from the themes to the descriptions inspired him to dig deeper into writing.
Now, as a senior, Goldman enjoys the writing process. He usually handwrites his stories at first, then later types and finishes them on the computer. He doesn’t need to map out the entire plot before starting anymore. He dives right in, sees where it goes, and if something gets confusing, so be it. Working himself out of a hole is fun.
“I think that most of the stories I like best that I’ve written, I started without having any idea where they were going,” Goldman said.
After he finishes a story, he’ll hand it over to his girlfriend senior Charlie Kline even before he’s read it over himself. Kline has been reading and critiquing his work since eighth grade. At first, she tried to “sandwich” her comments, making sure that before a bad one there was always a good one.
“I started thinking that was really stupid,” Kline said. “If I was thinking that ‘this whole paragraph sucked,’ why don’t I just ex it all out?”
Goldman appreciates both her positive comments and criticism. This is a quality he values in anyone who reads his work. Hearing “this is great!” is nice, but not exactly helpful.
“You’re free to disagree with your critic,” Goldman said.
Sitting down and reading his stories is one of Kline’s favorite things to do. She can spot the evolution in Goldman’s writing in the five years she’s been editing his work, and she thinks he has developed as an individual writer.
“At first you could tell what authors he’d been reading,” Kline said. “I could pick a paragraph and say ‘that totally sounds like Douglass Adams!’… Now, it’s like he’s found his own style.”
Last year, Goldman was accepted into the Iowa Young Writer’s Studio, a camp put on by the Iowa Writer’ Workshop, one of the most prestigious writing programs in college. He worked in a class that was part literature seminar, part writing workshop. Students analyzed what makes up fiction, looking at characters, plot, point of view, and other plot devices.
Goldman often e-mails his stories to his teacher from the Studio, Marjorie Celona. She’ll send back her thoughts on the pieces, looking at what works and what doesn’t.
“Nathan’s stories are edgy, subversive, funny, and bold—he isn’t afraid to experiment or explore taboo subject matter—and yet he is just as capable of writing in a traditionalist vein,” Celona said. “[He has] a firm grasp of the craft of writing…but also a willingness and eagerness as a writer to stretch his boundaries, to try on new voices and new ideas, and ultimately find his own voice on the page.”
“…[T]hey’ve forgotten that this is not nature at all – nature is primordial and ugly.” –Aspirations, short story by Goldman
Goldman sits at his computer, scrolling through an Excel document. The entries date back to 2007. “Elijah,” submitted to “Analog Science Fiction & Fact” and “Apex Digest.” Rejected.
His database is filled with information about different magazines, where each story is going, what ended up happening to it. He’s got 20 manuscripts circulating, and he’s gotten about 20 rejection letters.
Even Celona is brutally honest when talking about the likelihood of making it in the fiction industry. Despite her unfaltering support and belief in Goldman’s talents, she calls the chances of success, “Near impossible, but not impossible.”
Regardless of these set-backs, Goldman is still adamant about having a career in writing—not only that, but a thriving career. When someone asks him what he wants to do, he gives an easy answer: writing. They’ll retort, “What’s your back-up plan, how are you going to make money?” His reply is just as easy as the first.
“I don’t have one,” Goldman said. “I’m pretty confident that I’ll be able to do this…however long it takes before it’ll be successful.”
Writing fiction is his passion, but he’s not limiting himself to just that. Right now, he’s searching for other avenues to get into writing. He writes reviews for the Web site Webcuts Music, unpaid, but he gets free CDs. He also writes for Tangent Online reviewing sci-fi and fantasy stories from magazines.
“Someday someone could read a review I write and send me a letter and then I end up getting a book deal out of it,” Goldman said. “You never know, so I’m trying to make as many connections as possible.”
Next year Goldman is planning on heading to St. John’s College, which has campuses in both Sante Fe and Annapolis. At St. John’s, students read the “great books,” like the “Iliad” and “Aenied”, in chronological order. For math, you start by reading Euclid’s “Elements of Geometry.” There are no tests, just 15 person group discussions.
At first Goldman worried about attending St. John’s, since he couldn’t major in creative writing. But he hopes reading these classics will be more beneficial than being forced to write papers. He’ll keep up with writing on his own time, finding ideas at a restaurant, on campus, wherever. Despite those three by two letters, he says he’ll keep observing, keep recording, keep thinking one thing:
“I plan on making it.”