Friday, January 10, 2020

In the Limelight: Lee Goldberg Goes Rogue

Lost Hills by Lee Goldberg
Submitted by Robin Burcell

I first met my friend Lee Goldberg at a writer's conference decades ago, having a fangirl moment when I found out that he wrote for a few of my favorite TV shows, and tie-in novels to go with them. He's not only a talented and prolific author, but he's a super nice guy. Here are 9 things you might not know about Lee. Enjoy!

1. Which is harder: writing the first or last sentence?
By far the first. It not only has to set the stage, establish the tone and introduce the voice for the story to come, but it also has to grab the reader’s interest. Here are some of my first lines:
“The assassin wore only a Speedo and his lean body was slathered with sunscreen that made him smell like a baked coconut.” True Fiction
“Conrad Stipe sat in the bar of the Spokane Marriott nursing his sixth Old Grand Dad, flashing his nicotine-stained teeth at the big-busted woman in the too-tight silver space suit.” Dead Space
“It’d never gone so long without a murder.” Mr. Monk Gets Even
“The northern stretch of Mulholland Highway ended in a T-intersection with Mulholland Road.” Lost Hills
Now, I know what you’re thinking, the opening line of LOST HILLS sounds awfully flat compared to those three previous examples. But that was intentional. I wanted to immediately establish that LOST HILLS is a just-the-facts-ma’am police procedural, that the “authorial voice” wouldn’t be clever, flashy, or opinionated, and that any observations would be made by the characters, not the third-person narrator. That said, there is a hook in that opening sentence, albeit a subtle one: The highway and the road have the same name? Why is that? Isn’t that confusing? Yes, it is. And it’s the crux of the story.
By the time you get to the last line of a novel, you already have the reader in your grasp. All you’re doing is tying the bow on the story and characters…and, if the book is part of a series, leaving the reader wanting more. That line is always easy. The first line? That is hell. I rewrite it constantly as I am writing the book (and sometimes, I’m still tweaking it through copyediting and the final galley!).
Author Lee Goldberg
2. What's your favorite word?
Schmootz.
3. Where do you like to write?
Because I travel a lot, and spent decades working in TV, where I often am on-location wherever we're shooting, I've learned to write anywhere and under almost any circumstances. I've written in airplanes, cars, hotels, factories, boats, trains, garages, abandoned warehouses, hospitals, and once even in the waiting room of an insane asylum while a relative was being admitted for care. I've written on the beach, in a forest, in a maternity ward, under an overpass, and on an oil derrick. I've written in the snow, in the rain, and in sweltering heat. But I suppose I do my best work in my home office, between 8 p.m. and 2 a.m, listening to TV & movie soundtracks and drinking caffeine-free Diet Coke.  

4. What do you do when you need to take a break from writing?

After I’ve finished a novel, after months of carrying all the characters and plot in my head, and feeling the heavy pressure of a deadline, I need a week or two to clear my mind and decompress. Half of the time, I will get a bad cold or some other ailment. It's like my body has been in battle mode for months and, the instant I let my defenses down, I catch something. But after two or three weeks, I feel the immediate desire to write again. My life feels empty if I don’t have a book or script to work on. Plus, I make my living as a writer... and if I am not writing, I am not getting paid :-)

5. If you could have lived in a different time period, what would that be?

The future…because it’s unknown and full of challenges & potential. I’m not someone who enjoys living in the past, or who pines for an earlier time. My best days are now and tomorrow. 

6. What's your favorite drink?

Diet Shasta Cola. If you're talking about alcoholic beverages, I didn't touch the stuff until five years ago. My favorite alcoholic beverage is a manly, rugged lemon drop martini. 
7. When you were ten years old, what did you want to be when you grew up?
A writer. I am one of the very, very lucky people who is living exactly the life he dreamed of when he was a kid. A day doesn’t go by when I don’t appreciate my good fortune…or realize that I am doing in my fifties exactly what I was doing in my childhood (writing stories while listening to TV & movie soundtracks).
8. Do you have a literary hero? A teacher, mentor, family member, author who has inspired you to write stories?
I am the writer I am today largely because of Michael Gleason. And in some ways, I am the man I am today because of him, too. Michael is perhaps best known as the writer/co-creator of Remington Steele, but he also worked on scores of other series (McCloud, The Six Million Dollar Man, etc.).

He gave me, and my former TV writing partner William Rabkin, our first TV staff jobsMichael was warm and encouraging and took an instant, fatherly interest in us. He taught us everything he knew. He brought us into casting, editing, music spotting and every other aspect of production and post-production…and gave us far more responsibility than we deserved. He became our professor of television. Our mentor. Our dear friend.

Michael took us with him to lunch every day at La Serre, where he had his own table marked with his name on a brass plaque, and liked to schmooze with his industry friends. We loved it but it was bankrupting us. After a week or two, we told him that we couldn’t afford to eat like that every day. He understood. We kept eating there…but he picked up our check. 

Michael wasn't a perfect person. He had his demons. But he used his mistakes, both personal and professional, as life lessons for me. He gave me some advice that I’ve lived by ever since and have passed on to others:

Don’t get divorced.

You are a writer, first and foremost. Don’t fall in love with your producer credit, no matter how high you climb, or you’ll limit your opportunities. The goal is to get paid to write. The rest is gravy.  

Don’t get divorced.

Live below your means. Your show could be cancelled tomorrow… or maybe in five years…but after that you might not work for a long time, or not as often, or not get paid as well. So sock your money away. Don’t buy a Rolls Royce or build a tennis court on a cliff. 

Don’t get divorced.

Michael was full of love, creativity, and boundless energy. Nobody. NOBODY, could tell a story like he did. The stories and anecdotes were wonderful, but the real pleasure for me was the obvious joy he took in sharing them. In fact, he taught me how to pitch by insisting that I sell our episodes to the network myself. His notes on my performance would either be: “Less Gleason” or “More Gleason.” And I knew exactly what he meant.

Every time I tell a story, I hear Michael Gleason in my ear. I know that I always will.

9. Do you write what you know or what you want to know?

Always what I want to know. I’ve yet to write a book that didn’t require me to do a lot of research into a subject (or many subjects) that I know nothing about. It usually means reading books and articles, interviewing experts, and traveling to places near and far that I’ve never been. I always learn something from every book I write.

Lee Goldberg is a two-time Edgar Award and two-time Shamus Award nominee and the #1 New York Times bestselling author of more than thirty novels, including the Ian Ludlow thrillers Killer Thriller and True Fiction, King City, The Walk, fifteen Monk mysteries, and the internationally bestselling Fox & O’Hare books (The Heist, The Chase, The Job, The Scam, and The Pursuit) co-written with Janet Evanovich. He has also written and/or produced many TV shows, including Diagnosis Murder, SeaQuest, and Monk, and is the co-creator of the hit Hallmark movie series Mystery 101. As an international television consultant, he has advised networks and studios in Canada, France, Germany, Spain, China, Sweden, and the Netherlands on the creation, writing, and production of episodic television series. You can find more information about Lee and his work at www.leegoldberg.com.

7 comments:

  1. Lee, thanks so much for visiting us Rogues! I loved reading about your writing process. And I think your friend's advice was spot on!

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  2. Welcome, Lee -- great to have you here on our Rogue website. Your "work ethic" and routines are so interesting. I've so enjoyed your stories, including the ones you wrote with Janet Evanovich (a friend and neighbor). Thanks for being with us.

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  3. I am surprised and a bit sheepish to realize I have no idea what ‘schmootz’ is!

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  4. What a wonderful interview, and what terrific advice from Michael Gleason. I have such fond memories of those days, Lee, and Dennis's and my friendship with you. Congratulations on your great books!

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  5. Great interview, Lee and Robin. I loved the Michael Gleason memories and advice. I found it fascinating that I learned so many new things about you! And I love the work ethic and the work process you describe and demonstrate. I'm inspired to go rewrite my latest first sentence!

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  6. I remember reading somewhere that Remington Steele gave Pierce Brosnan his US break out role. Had no idea Michael Gleason wrote it. Gleason sounds like he was wise and and generous. Great to see you here and congratulations on the launch of LOST HILLS!

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