Lee Goldberg Interview

When Lee Goldberg was still at student at UCLA, while most of his classmates were slacking off on their homework or snoozing through class, he managed to produce not just one novel…but four! The first was called .357 Vigilante and appeared in 1985, and its story followed freelance helicopter pilot Brett Macklin who goes on a city-wide rampage for justice after his cop father is burned to death by a local gang. The novel, now titled Judgment, is everything you want in an action novel: driving plot, blockbuster-worthy spectacle, fights, explosions, and just the right amount of humor to rebound from all the destruction and keep things enjoyable. Three more books quickly followed in the series (the last of which went unpublished until recently). These action classics have since been re-titled the Jury series and are available as a collection either in print and ebook formats.

That was only the beginning for Goldberg. Since then, he’s been busy not only as a novelist, but also as a writer and producer for TV shows such as Diagnosis Murder and Monk. Speaking of those shows, he’s also written a number of highly acclaimed tie-in books for both series. And speaking of tie-ins, Goldberg is the co-founder of The International Association of Media Tie-In Writers (along with Max Allan Collins).

Goldberg’s latest endeavor is The Dead Man series of novels, which originated as an idea for television with co-creator William Rabkin. (Book one reviewed here.) The Dead Man follows Matt Cahill, a lumberjack whose life suddenly changes after being nearly buried alive while skiing. Now he can literally see evil all around him—rotting flesh, maggots and worms, and a specter known only as Mr. Dark that won’t let him alone. Fusing elements action, suspense, and supernatural horror, The Dead Man series is a sure-fire bet for entertainment. The first three installments are out and—with future installments to be written by the likes of James Reasoner, Bill Crider, Mel Odom, Matthew P. Mayo, Harry Shannon, and many others—things are only going to keep getting better. Book 3 is Heaven in Hell, another winner for Goldberg and Rabkin, and it is available in print and ebook. Long live The Dead Man!

For more information, be sure to check out Lee Goldberg’s website and blog, as well as The Dead Man blog and Top Suspense Group.

Lee Goldberg was kind enough participate in a Q&A for Pulp Serenade.

Pulp Serenade: Your first novel, .357 Vigilante (retitled Judgment) has recently been reissued along with the whole Jury series. What's it like going back and reading those early works again?

Lee Goldberg: Embarrassing. Some of the writing, particularly the overuse of adverbs, make me cringe. But I am also surprised by how confident, consistent and snarky the voice is. They don’t read to me like books written by someone who had never written books before.

PS: Why the change in titles for the reissue?

LG: Actually, it was Joe Konrath’s idea. We had a little bet. You can read about it here.

PS: The Afterward mentions that you wrote this series in college, while your classmates were probably either studying or doing keg stands. Having just finished grad school, it was difficult enough to find time to blog -- yet you managed to write multiple novels! How long did each of the four novels take to write?

LG: It took me about 90 days to write each one. I wrote them in class, on the bus, in the bathroom, anywhere and anytime that I could. I put myself through school as a freelance writer, so I was already used to writing quickly under deadline and managing my time.

PS: Now that the books are back in print, did you ever consider writing a fifth book in the series and bringing Brett Macklin into the 21st Century?

LG: I have...and will...but as a book in the Dead Man series.

PS: The Dead Man is in full swing, so I'd like to ask a few questions about that series...You and William Rabkin are credited as co-writers on the first and third Dead Man novels -- how does your collaborative writing process work?

LG: We write the books differently than we write our scripts, which makes sense, given they are two very different ways of telling stories. So far, the way we’ve done it is that one of us writes the first draft and the other one does the revisions (or suggests revisions that the other writer does). But we talk to one another throughout the process. I won’t tell you who wrote the first draft of which book…you’ll have to figure that one out for yourselves.

PS: What are the advantages and challenges about writing in a team as opposed to solo?

LG: In TV, it’s being able to do twice as much work in half the time it would take a single writer. It also allows us to get a lot more work done. One of us can be writing a script while the other one is rewriting another. Or one of us can write while the other preps with the director. It also means that you have someone always making sure that you don’t take the easy way, that you do your very best. We never let one another get lazy in our writing. There are also times when I just can’t seem to get the scene where I want it to go…and I know that Bill can take a look at, know exactly what I was trying to accomplish, and take it where it couldn’t. And vice versa. It’s harder to co-write a book. But we have written together for so long now that we are very good at writing in a shared voice.

PS: What do you think are the qualities that make a good action hero, and how did you try to work them into Matt Cahill's character?

LG: Vulnerability, humor, a clear point-of-view, understandable goals, and something personal at stake in what is happening around him.

What brings out all of those aspects of his character are stories with strong conflicts and obstacles that challenge our hero in ways that make him test his own abilities, confront his fears and limitations, and question his own judgment. We really wanted Matt to be an everyman, a regular guy, someone who genuinely cares about people, feels pain, and experiences self-doubt and fear. But we also wanted him to embody the classic traits of the western hero…a personal sense of honor, rugged determination, uncommon courage, and a loner’s wanderlust… combined with a very un-Western sentimental humanity, a sadness and longing for connection that makes him sympathetic and relatable. He’s The Man with No Name combined with Dr. Richard Kimble in TV’s The Fugitive. He’s a working class, decent guy who finds himself in an extraordinary situation who wants nothing more than to just go home and lead a normal, quiet, unremarkable life again.

PS: What is your vision for the future of The Dead Man series? Is there a finite end to the story, or would you like it to go on for hundreds of volumes like The Executioner?

LG: I would like it to go on like The Executioner…but more grounded in an emotional reality, if that makes any sense. I never want Matt Cahill to become a superhero. I never want him to lose that regular guy persona, even as he becomes more accustomed to violence and to the supernatural.

PS: What does your desk/writing station look like?

LG: See attached photo.

PS: How many bookshelves do you have, and is there any rhyme or reason to how you organize them?

LG: I have 27 in my office and they are mostly filled with signed, first edition mysteries, thrillers and westerns and some reference books. On the second floor landing outside of my office, I have another 30 shelves of unsigned fiction, reference books, art books, film & TV books, etc. All the novels are arranged alphabetically by author, all the reference and art books by subject.

PS: Token goofy question: Favorite writing snack?

LG: Roasted, lightly salted almonds.

PS: What's the most challenging book you've written yet and why?

LG: I would have to say Diagnosis Murder #5: The Past Tense. It told the story of Dr. Mark Sloan’s first case. It was set present day, and told in the third person…but then flashed back for a good third of the book to one week in February 1962 and was written in first person. It was a real challenge for me to switch POV and to accurately evoke another time period. It was also the best reviewed, and best selling, of my Diagnosis Murder novels. In much the same way, I’d say Mr. Monk in Trouble was equally challenging, since half the book was set in the old west and told from a different narrator’s first-person POV.

PS: When you wake up in the morning, what makes you want to sit down and write…and on those days when you don't want to write, how do you get yourself going?

LG: The answer to both questions is the same: my mortgage. I make my living as a writer. If I don’t write, I can’t pay my bills. I don’t have the luxury of just waiting around for inspiration to strike.

PS: Big things are happening in the publishing world right now. What is the most encouraging change that you see? And what is the most discouraging?

LG: The most encouraging is the rise of the ebook and the ability now for writers to successfully…very, very successfully…self-publish. Authors have viable options for the first time in, like, ever and finding value in work they thought was valueless - namely, their out-of-print backlists. The most discouraging, and inevitable, aspect is how the rise of ebook is bringing about the demise of the bookstore. I love bookstores.

PS: What are you working on now?

LG: In books, my 13th Monk book, a crime novel called King City, and The Dead Man series. I’m also out there pitching TV series and, with luck, it looks like my feature adaptation of Victor Gischler’s novel Gun Monkeys may finally be heading towards production with a major, A-list actor attached (I can’t reveal who just yet).

PS: And lastly, any advice to up-and-coming writers trying to make their start in the writing world (like myself)?

LG: Write. No matter how bad it is. Just write. Give yourself permission to suck. Sometimes, all it takes is just hitting that one good line or paragraph to break the creative log jam. I also recommend taking a break and reading a good book. Reading forces you to work with words and your imagination.

There are mistakes I see so many aspiring writers make…and that you should avoid.

1. Looking for short-cuts. The biggest danger right now is the ease of self-publishing. So many aspiring writers are putting out their awful, cringe-inducing, unpublishable crap as e-books, simply because they can. They don’t realize that you only have one chance to make a first impression. I don’t think most aspiring writers realize how many awful, unpublished novels successful writers have in their drawers...and how many rejections they’ve received before they finally sold a book. In most cases, it’s because those early books were awful…and those authors are glad today that those books didn’t see print (that desperation for a short-cut also makes aspiring writers easy prey for scammers like fee-charging agents and vanity presses like Authorhouse, PublishAmerica, etc.)

Just because you can self-publish with ease doesn’t mean that you should. You only get one chance to make a first impression, and self-publishing a book that’s amateurish and awful and best left on your hard drive is not going to help your career. I still urge writers to do everything they can to be professionally published first… you can always go back to self-publishing. Even a bad deal with a reputable, established publisher will pay off for you in the long run in terms of editing, experience, prestige, and, hopefully, readership and name recognition that you can bring with you if you ever decide to self-publish

2. Not editing & rewriting. Believe it or not, your first draft isn’t gold. It’s probably crap. It needs work. And if you aren’t open to editing, if you can’t take a note without being offended or overly-protective, then you aren’t going to make it as a writer and you aren’t going to grow creatively. As one mentor once told me, writing is rewriting.

3. Doing too much self-promotion. Some authors forget that it’s the writing that counts the most, not the relentless salesmanship. It’s also a major turn-off to readers and your fellow authors. It’s a delicate balance, one I haven’t always managed well myself.


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