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#1 New York Times Bestselling Author Lee Goldberg broke into television writing with a freelance script sale to Spenser: For Hire. Since then, his TV writing & producing credits have covered a wide variety of genres, including sci-fi (seaQuest), cop shows (Hunter, The Glades), martial arts (Martial Law), whodunits (Diagnosis Murder, Nero Wolfe), the occult (She-Wolf of London), kid’s shows (R.L. Stine’s The Nightmare Room), T&A (Baywatch, She Spies), comedy (Monk) clip shows (The Best TV Shows That Never Were) and total crap (The Highwayman, The New Adventures of Flipper).
He published his first book “.357 Vigilante” (as “Ian Ludlow,” so he’d be on the shelf next to Robert Ludlum) while he was still a UCLA student. The West Coast Review of Books called his debut “as stunning as the report of a .357 Magnum, a dynamic premiere effort,” singling the book out as “The Best New Paperback Series” of the year. Naturally, the publisher promptly went bankrupt and he never saw a dime in royalties.
His TV work has earned him two Edgar Award nominations from the Mystery Writers of America.
His two careers, novelist and TV writer, merged when he began writing the “Diagnosis Murder” series of original novels, based on the hit CBS TV mystery that he also wrote and produced, and later wrote the 15 bestselling novels based on “Monk,” another show that he worked on.
Lee has written more than thirty novels, including Washington Post bestsellers Killer Thriller and True Fiction, as well as King City, The Walk, and the internationally bestselling Fox & O’Hare cowritten with Janet Evanovich.
His latest book, Lost Hills, which has been universally lauded by seasoned crime writers and reviewers, is the result of meticulous, full-immersion research (which we talk about during the interview).
Latest Book From Lee Goldberg
More Book by Lee Goldberg
Brash Books – Lee Goldberg’s publishing company. Excellent crime thriller books.
Lee Goldberg’s television credits.
You’re listening to me to Meet the Thriller Author. The podcast where I interview writers of mysteries, thrillers and suspense books.
I’m your host Alan Petersen and this is episode number 88. In this episode of the podcast will be meeting Lee Goldberg who is a two time Edgar award and Sheamus award nominee, and the number one New York Times bestselling author of more than 30 novels, including Washington Post bestsellers, KILLER THRILLER and TRUE FICTION, as well as KING CITY, THE WALK, 15 Monk mysterieS, and the internationally best selling Fox and O’Hare books co written with Janet Evanovich. Lee has also written and produced scores of TV shows including Diagnosis Murder, Sea Quest, Monk and The Glades and he co created the hit Hallmark movie series Mystery 101, his latest novel LOST HILLS was published on January 1 2020. And it features a compelling new character Eve Ronan, who’s an ambitious young LA County Sheriff’s detective who is in over her head but determined to prove herself even if it costs her life.
I really enjoyed this book. It’s out on January 1 2020, I highly recommend you go check it out. We’re going to talk about the book and Lee’s amazing career and whole lot more. Coming right up my interview with Lee Goldberg.
Alan Petersen 1:20
For this episode of the podcast I have bestselling author Lee Goldberg on the phone. How are you doing this morning?
Lee Goldberg 1:25
I’m doing just great.
Alan Petersen 1:27
I want to thank you so much for being on the podcast this morning. I really appreciate it.
Lee Goldberg 1:31
I’ve been trying so hard to get on. I’ve been bombarding you with letters I’ve been offering you bribes. I’m glad it finally worked that the begging finally succeeded.
Alan Petersen 1:41
What can I say you wore me down. And actually, for the listeners. It’s actually the other way around. But so glad to have you here. When I asked you I was checking out your website and I’ve discovered that you come from a family of writers and artists. What was that like? And Was there anyone in particular in your family that inspired you to become a writer yourself.
Lee Goldberg 2:01
Well, our family’s highly competitive. I’m the oldest so I have the edge. But my father was a TV anchor man on the on the San Francisco station. When I was growing up. My mom was a society editor for the local newspaper. My father talked like this his entire life, always is that he was on the air ready to give a report, which is funny for about five seconds. it great. It’s grating after decades. But TV and writing are always your big things in our lives. They’re always there. So never seemed like something out of reach. So I was writing stories and articles and stuff from a very early age. In fact, I put myself through college writing about the film and television industry, four blocks and the kid American film, starlog magazine, a bunch of others. And my first novel was when I was 19. So I got a very early start, and that really inspired my brother. He figured, well, if Lee can do it, I can do it. And my brother has written a whole bunch of books and He’s a New York Times bestselling author. And Amazon just announced that they’re developing a TV series based on one of his books. So he’s doing great. And my two younger sisters, although they don’t write fiction, they write nonfiction about art, and scrapbooking and things like that. So we’re very artistic family.
Alan Petersen 3:19
That must make a very interesting family reunions.
Lee Goldberg 3:23
My brother Todd actually writes crime fiction as well. So sometimes we we step on each other’s toes. There was one great week though, a couple years ago, when we both had brand new books out and we were both on the New York Times bestseller list together. I was number one, and he was number six. It was just so great. It was a dream come true for both of us.
Alan Petersen 3:44
And I’m sure you didn’t rub it in or anything that you were number one. He was number six in New York Times bestselling list.
Lee Goldberg 3:50
Oh, course I did. Of course I did. Yeah, maybe someday you’ll make it as high as me. But to be fair, both pod and I were holding on to other people’s faces. Hotels my number one book was co authored with Janet evanovich. And Todd’s number six book was co authored with Brad Meltzer. So we couldn’t brag too much about our positions because of a list because they weren’t entirely due to our name recognition but rather than name recognition of the authors we were working with.
Alan Petersen 4:21
So you published your first thriller as a 19 year old. I believe it was the
57 vigilante you’re using a pen name.
Lee Goldberg 4:24
I used the name Ian Ludlow. So I’ll be on the shelf next to Robert Ludlum. And Ian Fleming, so people would go look for Fleming and Ludlow and I am thinking of read something by him. It wasn’t bad.
Alan Petersen 4:37
Sounds like a sound strategy. And now I know you came up with the character name for your Ian Ludlow thriller series.
Lee Goldberg 4:43
Yes, I did. That is a little homage to myself.
Alan Petersen 4:46
This might sound a bit mean, but I chuckled reading on your website that the publisher of your first book, The 57, vigilante went out of business soon after publishing it and you never saw diamond royalties. That’s a rough start in the business. Did that give you a positive Mickey Consider careers and novelists
Lee Goldberg 5:01
it may be take a huge pause I got out of the business, at least the publishing business, after technical books without a business and took my vigilante series, which was a best seller with them along with all of my royalties, I focused primarily on my television career. And I wrote and produced hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of hours of television, Hunter diagnosis, murder, Baywatch. Sea Quest, Spenser for hire the glades month budget shows, and around the books I wrote as a as a teenager came out in the mid 80s. And around 1994 95, somewhere in there, I got nominated for an Edgar award for one of my TV scripts and my book agent who I thought I’d forgotten I even existed, called me up and said, Hey, you got Edgar nomination? That’s like the Oscars of mystery writing. If you were to write a book proposal, I could get you a three book deal by the end of the week. Okay, so I was stuck in a hotel room in Canada at the time doing a terrible show, called Cobra starring Michael do the And I wrote this, this proposal about the mob bringing their style of business to television. They don’t cancel shows, they kill them. I just hacked out this thing really quick. And my agent got me a three book deal. So in 1994 95, somewhere in there, I was back in publishing was a book called my gun has bullets that was released by St. Martin’s Press. And then I did a follow up called Beyond the beyond. And then again, I didn’t write novels for quite some time and again, I got pulled back in because of TV, Diagnosis Murder, a TV show, I was the head writer on and executive producer. Penguin Putnam was doing books based on Murder She Wrote, they looked at Diagnosis Murder and said, Hey, that could be another great franchise for us and offered me a deal to write Diagnosis Murder novels. So I got back in. I wrote eight diagnosis, murder novels, and then I subsequently wrote 15 Monk novels, and also a few original novels in between. So there was a period where I did The two career simultaneously writing for TV and producing for TV.
Alan Petersen 7:08
That must have been challenging writing for both television and for books. Was there a big difference between writing the for the two?
Lee Goldberg 7:14
Oh, there’s a massive difference or two entirely different mediums. On television, a story is conveyed through action and dialogue. Whereas in a book, you’re everything, you’re the director, you’re the, the wardrobe or you’re the the actors. You’re everybody and it’s told through prose and internal monologue and multiple points of view. You are the entire universe and TV what you’re writing is a script is essentially a blueprint that other talented people use to do their work. It’s more like being a contractor. A few months ago, I interviewed dp Lyle for the podcast, and he shared that you’re the one who got him into the world of tiny novels. When you passed on writing the novels for the Royal Pains TV show. Welcome Dr. Doug and I are old friends is actually my doctor. He was also also my consultant on medical consultant on Diagnosis Murder. He and I have been friends for decades. So real pays the TV show about a doctor and I thought Doug would be perfect for it. Now he hates me because I put him through that. He has me do all kinds of unnecessary medical tests just to torture me.
Alan Petersen 8:20
Are you still writing TV novels? And do you prefer to write stories set in your own universe?
Lee Goldberg 8:29
No, I’m not doing any tie ins. But I still do a lot of television. And I prefer to write my own books. But I’m very comfortable writing characters created by others, because that’s 90% of what you do in television. You don’t usually create the shows you’re working on and you’re ended up channeling the artistic point of view of whoever is running the show that you’re working on. So that’s something I’m familiar with and and enjoy doing. So. In terms of books, I prefer to write my own books and TV. It’s the nature of the game that you’re primarily writing characters other people created except now I have my own series on Hallmark called mystery 121. I’m not producing it. But I co created with my friend Robin Bernheim. And we’ve written a couple of the movies and there are other movies being written by others in the series.
Alan Petersen 9:17
Oh, yeah, I’ve seen that on tv. I didn’t realize you were behind that. What’s the show about?
Lee Goldberg 9:25
It’s about a woman who teaches writing fiction at a college and she solves mysteries.
Alan Petersen 9:31
Oh, like a cozy mystery.
Lee Goldberg 9:36
Yeah, that’s right. It’s Hallmark so they don’t do too much of the hardcore stuff.
That’s true. It’s not part of the Hallmark brand. So I really enjoyed reading the advance copy that I received for Lost hills, which is going to be published in January of 2020. I liked the ambience and the characters especially Eve Ronin, it was a great read. How did that story and character come into being for you?
Lee Goldberg 9:54
It came out, sideways. I mean, it wasn’t something I set out to write. I had a whole different continent. in mind that I wanted to do, and as part of the research for that novel, I went, I finagle my way into a homicide investigators training conference in Wisconsin. These are training seminars held for professional homicide investigators to bring them up to date on the latest techniques and and, and things it’s the homicide detectives are required to take 24 hours of training every year to recertify. This keep them up to date. So I finagle my way into one of these conferences. I was one of only two civilians invited. And I just want to get some color and some details and some techniques. I really wasn’t going to get a new story I was going to enhance the one I had but one of the cases presented at that conference presented as a example of a case that would not have been solved if you walked into it using any police common sense. You had to enter it as if you’d never solved the case before was a bizarre, really fascinating case. I could not get it out of my head and I decided I would Throw out the book I was doing and write about that and since the case required the detective in order to solve it to throw away everything they already knew I saw one of my hair My hero, my lead character was a brand new detective, somebody who had no prior experience a drop on, which was a stretch because homicide detectives usually are experienced in other areas are promoted to homicide homicide is a position detective strive to achieve. So I thought, what if I have a character who gets the job not because of experience, but through politics. And I had just been logging in a way to get back to a voice I used in the monk novels. I wrote the monk novels from the first person point of view of a woman and I really liked that character. So I thought I’d make my new character a woman and just add to her problems. So in their new jobs should have a glass ceiling and and have deal with sexism. And so that’s how he wrote in was born. He wrote in this the youngest female how homicide detective in the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department and she gets her job not because of experience but because as a detective in a different Bureau, she was in burglaries in Lancaster. She was just riding a bike up in the mountains of Mulholland and witnessed a Academy Award winning movie star beating the shit out of his girlfriend. And she interceded, and there are people witnessed it in the video went viral. And suddenly she was a celebrity, a celebrity at the time at a time when the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department was in during a lot of scandal about beatings of the prisons and whatnot. So to get more positive press and to keep that story in the news rather than the scandalous stories. The sheriff promotes Eve to homicide. So yeah, so now she’s in a job that she didn’t earn. resented by the detectives around her, resented that only because she got this job without the merit but also because she’s a woman and she’s only in 20s and then she lands this triple homicide case that will either is going to make her career or reveal which is a total fraud who doesn’t deserve the badge. So it added a lot of interesting levels to the story. And I just, I was really swept up in it. I really enjoyed writing that book. And it was based on a true a true crime. And I was able to contact all the detectives and forensic investigators and medical examiner’s and prosecutors involved in that case, to get more information and facts that would help me tell my fictional version.
Alan Petersen 13:33
Yeah, no surprise to learn that the case is based on a real life case from Ohio, right?
Lee Goldberg 13:38
Yeah. And the real case is so bizarre that had I written it verbatim. No one would have believed that it was so outrageous, so I, I toned down. Some of the more outrageous stuff actually didn’t turn down it took it out and focused on some other of the bizarre stuff that was in the book and streamlined it and moving it to LA also made some changes. So it’s more like a law and order story and that it’s ripped from the headlines. It’s inspired by a real case, but took an awful lot of liberties with it. And yet the things in my book that may come across as the most bizarre are actually the stuff that’s true. actually happened in the real case. Wow. So in that case, it does seem this this truth was Stranger Than Fiction. Yes. And I knew if I tried to write about the cases that originally played out, nobody would buy it. Oh, come on, that could never happen. So I had to really tone it down.
Alan Petersen 14:32
You mentioned earlier that you actually spoke to the actual law enforcement personnel that was involved in the real case in Ohio, including the detectives and a blood splatter analyst. Did you find them be receptive to talking to you to take it to a writer,
Lee Goldberg 14:44
They were very receptive and they understood exactly what I was doing, and they really liked it. In fact, they, they felt that the novel tells the story in some ways, more truthfully than a particular nonfiction book that came out around the same time after the actual case occurred.
Alan Petersen 15:02
Looks like you did a lot of research for LOST HILLS, is that always a big part of your writing process?
Lee Goldberg 15:07
It’s one of the most exciting aspects of writing any book for me because all my books require me to learn about a world I know nothing about. So I end up doing quite a bit of research, whether it’s it’s about something as bizarre is not bizarre, but about paper currency. People collect paper currency, or if it’s about the catacombs of Paris, or whatever I do a lot of travel and I do a lot of research is I believe that it adds a level of reality that makes the unbelievable stuff believable. Do you prepare an outline before you start to write or do you just start to read the story? Oh, um, I have an outline or no question about it. I’m not one of these guys who writes 600 page outlines my outlines are about 12 pages. And I call them living outlines because I finished the outline about a week or two before I finished the book. I have always revised the outline as I go. The outline is a roadmap. It tells me where I’m going but doesn’t mean I can’t Side trips along the way. And the reason I’m always revising my outline is always making new decisions as I go. So it impacts the way the plot unfolds. But I think it’s essential to have an outline when you’re doing a murder mystery. So the clues are all there that the story makes sense. You don’t want to be making that up as you go along. And I can always tell when I’m reading a book, it’s a murder mystery. When the authors just making up as they go along, it doesn’t all fit together, the ending feels stitched together in a crazy way. And you can almost see the writer treading narrative water while it tries to figure out where to go next. I hate that. So my books are always tightly plotted, and then I go back and and rewrite and tighten up. I like a real tight book.
Alan Petersen 16:44
Yes, that’s something I enjoy from your books. They’re like you said, they’re very tightly written and real page Turners. The story just goes on from page to page, and you want to know what’s going to happen. And so yeah, so that’s I really enjoyed that.
Lee Goldberg 16:57
Well, my feeling is that every scene Do something from TV and film, every scene should reveal character or further the plot or it shouldn’t be there. Every line of dialogue should reveal character or for the plot or shouldn’t be there. So I cut a lot of stuff, even stuff that I find amusing or emotional that I don’t think, really moves the story along. And plus, I think every book has its own beat its own rhythm. It’s almost like a piece of music, its own pace. And sometimes I cut scenes just because I feel it’s slowing the the beat. It’s not. It’s out of step, and the rhythm is lost. So I do feel a real sense of, of, of the musicality in a way of of a story, and cutscenes for those purposes or dialogue for those purposes,
Alan Petersen 17:44
Not to spoil anything here but there was a massive wildfire that rages through the Santa Monica Mountains in your book and lost hills. That fire was fictional when you wrote it, but fiction became reality with the Woolsey fire in November of 2018. And I read that she would have evacuated as You were working on the book, how surreal was that? And hopefully everything’s okay with your family in your home.
Lee Goldberg 18:05
It was absolutely surreal. So I had written about this fire that sweeps through the Santa Monica Mountains and about Kanan Dume road turning into this tunnel of flame and I made it all up and I got my galleys a couple days before the wildfires the Woolsey fire erupted here. I live in Calabasas erupted here in Southern California. I found myself evacuated and editing my book editing the scenes about the wildfire at the same time. I’m seeing the wildfire on screen in the places I wrote about. It’s like, Oh, my description was actually quite accurate. It was surreal. The fire came right up to our back fence, but our home our home was fine. But still it was it was so strange to have something I only imagined fictionally actually occur and then to be editing those descriptions while watching it happen. It was just weird.
Alan Petersen 18:57
Yeah, that reminds me of Tom Clancy. I read this Several of the things that he had predicted in his books actually came true and real life in the future.
Lee Goldberg 19:05
This happens to me all the time, particularly with my Ian Ludlow novels, I write these outrageous spy situations. And and they come true, they all come true. And what’s really frustrating is the book I have coming out in April fake truth, the third book in the series, the stuff was coming true. While I was writing the book, I had to keep rewriting my book, because I didn’t want my book to feel like old news, but the rewriting, it got to the point where look like I miss my deadline. So I finally had to just accept the fact that some of what I was writing about was going to become true. And sure enough, so much of what’s in fake truth has happened now that I’ve had to put an afterword on there saying it wasn’t real from the headlines. It was all fictional, and I came up with it a year ago. It was
Alan Petersen 19:52
Oh, wow. Like, what kind of things?
Lee Goldberg 19:55
Oh, these deep fake videos that they’re talking about. Those were in my book, but they weren’t news at the time. I mean, All kinds of stuff. It’s really frustrating. It was so fresh and original and I wrote about it now I look at it like, well, people are already mad the news. Oh man. Yeah,
Alan Petersen 20:09
That’s got to be so frustrating. So I noticed the second book in the series, Bone Canyon is already scheduled to be published in 2021.
Lee Goldberg 20:15
Yeah, it’s already written.
Alan Petersen 20:18
Can you give us a little sneak peek of what it’s about?
Lee Goldberg 20:21
Yes, that book picks up three weeks after the end of last tells. You don’t have to read last hills to follow bone Canyon, but it picks up three weeks later. And the aftermath of the wildfires and the flames that have swept through Santa Monica Mountains have revealed a whole bunch of bodies, bones and all these old missing persons and murders are coming to light and that’s based on reality. After the fire swept through here and cleared away all the underbrush and canyons and things they found cars, bodies, airplanes, all kinds of things that would have been lost. Over the decades, in the canyons and stuff, the canyons were revealing their dead. That was so fascinating. A woman who disappeared 10 years ago, wandering out of a museum her body was found. They found the bodies of gang members, they found a couple who disappeared on the way back from LA x A few years ago. They found all these they found a plane crash, they never do happen. They’re trying to figure out what the plane is and so many things that were lost and buried and under all this brush is invisible from view until the fire swept through and denuded the mountains. So it was a natural opportunity for me to write a sequel. No, that’s fascinating. I
Alan Petersen 21:40
I hadn’t heard about that before. Looking forward to that book.
Lee Goldberg 21:43
The book was also interesting because some of these bodies fell or were thrown off canyons into the brush and we’re caught in Bush’s on a steep incline. So after the fire, these bodies the bones rolled down into into flatland. people’s yards are into Canyon. So they not in the places they originally were, but well below where they’ve been deposited. So there were debris field of bones in some cases. So it’s very interesting stuff.
Alan Petersen 22:13
Oh, wow, that is interesting. I can see why you wanted to write about that
Lee Goldberg 22:15
Exactly. It was irresistible to me.
Alan Petersen 22:19
Before I let you go, I want to ask you about the Brash Books. I’ve read the one time legacy A few years ago, and I didn’t realize you were behind brush books. And I think so. So cool. I hear you’re bringing back awesome, old and out of print thrillers back to life and into digital print. Such a cool story how brass books came to be. Can you share it with the listeners?
Lee Goldberg 22:42
Brash Books is a small publishing company I founded with my friend Joel gobind, who’s also an author and we republish terrific crime novels, many of them multiple award winning highly acclaimed crime novels that have fallen out of print for various reasons or books that had a huge influence on me. Angeles as writers as we were coming up, we also publish original novels as well. But what’s been exciting lately with brash is all the last manuscripts we’ve been discovering from authors that we’ve been publishing we published an author named Ralph Dennis, who passed away in the in the 1980s. But wrote this terrific series of paperbacks, the hard man series that inspired Joe Lansdale happened Leonard series and Shane Black lethal weapon that were obscure and few people knew about but were very influential to a generation of crime writers. So I sought out the hard man novels, I found his route Dennis’s errors, and I acquired the copyright, not just to his Hartman novels, but also all of his published and unpublished work. And I’ve been finding all these manuscripts of his that were never published. And I’ve been republishing them and finally, Ralph is getting the acclaim he was denied in his lifetime, which is wonderful, but also very sad that he never got to see it. But it’s been a real thrill to be able to To bring these books back and there’s another writer named Jimmy Sangster, who’s very well known more as a writer, director of hammer horror films and as a novelist, but he he won a bunch of terrific crime novels in this 70s and 80s and passed away in the in the mid 20 2012 2011. Somewhere in there, and we’ve been republishing his out of print backlist and also stumbled on a novel of his that was never previously published. And we’re publishing it in February.
Alan Petersen 24:27
That is so cool that does authors are getting their do so many old mass paperback books from the 60s and 70s that are no longer around. So it’s great to see that you’re bringing them you’re bringing some of those back.
Lee Goldberg 24:42
Yeah, there’s so many great books that have fallen out of print and are not available in digital format out there. And we’re just republishing a small fraction of those. We’ve also published a lot of original novels that have gotten quite a bit of acclaim. One of our books double wide by a guy named Leo banks was a double Speaker award winner two years ago for Best Contemporary Western and best new novel and he has a new book coming out in March called champagne cowboys. It’s been great to publish the first books by a new generation of crime writers as well. So, it were both sides of the coin. We’re rediscovering and releasing great books by wonderful crime writers of the past and introducing brand new crime writers. We hope it will be big names in the future. I’m curious what it’s like for you to be on the other side of the table. Now we’re in the publisher hat. It’s been fun. I’ve been able to take everything I have learned as a writer, being published by multiple companies and use it to help other writers, brash books does not publish anything by me or Joel. It’s not a vanity press. It’s a full fledged publisher. Our books get reviewed in Publishers Weekly and book list and all the trades and have been very well reviewed. We’ve had a few star reviews and Publishers Weekly over the years. It’s great fun and we’re at Random House or Simon and Schuster. We’re a small publisher, but We really enjoy it.
Alan Petersen 26:01
So what’s the best place for our listeners to find you LeeGoldberg.com?
Lee Goldberg 26:06
That’s that place or walking the streets of Ventura Boulevard.
Alan Petersen 26:10
All right, Lee, thank you so much for being on the podcast. Really appreciate it.
Lee Goldberg 26:15
Alan Petersen 26:16
Thanks for listening to the meet the thriller author podcast. Be sure to visit Thriller authors.com. To join the conversation, access the show notes and discover great thrilling reads. If you enjoy the podcast I’d love to for you to subscribe rate and give a review with to it wherever it is that you’re listening to this podcast via iTunes, Apple podcast, Google podcast, Stitcher tune in Spotify, wherever it is that you are listening to this right now, I would appreciate it. And please do check out my own thriller novels over at my website at Alan petersen.com. Until next time,
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