We had a chance to catch up with best-selling author, screenwriter, and publisher Lee Goldberg. You will want to hear what he has to say. Here’s a brief bio:
Lee Goldberg is a #1 New York Times best-selling author. His mother wanted him to be a doctor, and his grandfather wanted him to go into the family furniture business. Instead, he put himself through UCLA as a freelance journalist, writing for such publications as American Film, Starlog, Newsweek, the Los Angeles Times Syndicate, The Washington Post, and San Francisco Chronicle (he also wrote erotic letters to the editor for Playgirl at twenty-five-dollars-a-letter, but he doesn't tell people about that; he just likes to boast about those "Tiffany" credits). While he was still a UCLA student, he published his first book, .357 Vigilante, under the pseudonym "Ian Ludlow," so he'd be on the shelf next to Robert Ludlum. 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. (But the books are available on Kindle as The Jury Series) Welcome to publishing, Lee. Goldberg broke into television with a freelance script sale to Spenser: For Hire. Since then, his TV writing and 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), comedy (Monk), and utter crap (The Highwayman). 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. He later wrote fifteen best-selling novels based on Monk, another show that he worked on. He also teamed up with Janet Evanovich to write the #1 New York Times best-selling Fox & O'Hare novels (The Heist, The Chase, The Job, The Scam, and The Pursuit). His most recent titles include the thriller True Fiction and the police procedural Lost Hills." Goldberg lives in Los Angeles with his wife and his daughter and still sleeps in Man From U.N.C.L.E. pajamas.
[Kelp Journal] Lee, you've had a long and very successful career as a professional writer in Hollywood, traditional publishing, and with your own press. When did you know that you wanted to write for a living? And what did success look like to you at that time in your life?
[Lee Goldberg] I've always known that I wanted to be a writer. Going back to kindergarten, when I wrote on a piece of lined paper, in big-child scrawl: "I want to tell storys." My mom had it framed, and I have it in the garage somewhere. I wrote dozens and dozens of "novels" throughout my childhood and teens. Being a pack rat, I still have them, too. For me, success was just entertaining my friends with my stories.
[KJ] Can you tell us briefly about your first big break getting published? How old were you? When did you get your first big break in Hollywood?
[LG] I was fortunate that I had success early. My first novel, .357 Vigilante, was published when I was nineteen and still a UCLA student. Bernard Goetz was kind enough to blow away some muggers on a New York subway train at the time the book came out. Vigilantes were hot, and my book became a bestseller. New World Pictures bought the movie rights, hired me and fellow UCLA student William Rabkin to write the script, and my dual careers as an author and screenwriter were launched. My first produced screenplay was an episode of Spenser: For Hire that I co-wrote on spec with Bill and that we stupidly sent to the producers. They bought it and shot it without changing a word—and hired us to write four more scripts. And that's how my TV career began.
[KJ] You had a number of writing partners over the years, including the talented Bill Rabkin and the household name Janet Evanovich. How have those experiences been? Do you prefer solo work versus collaboration? Would you recommend writers in the early stages of their careers to consider a writing partner?
[LG] Those experiences were wonderful. Bill and I wrote and produced TV together for over twenty years, which involved collaborating with many, many other writers and producers. I loved working with him, even when the shows were terrible. It was a totally amicable, slowly evolving split. I ended up transitioning into novels, and he moved into teaching and international TV consulting. Janet and I were good friends before we ever decided to write together. I think that made all the difference in our professional partnership. We wrote five books together, and it was a joy. I learned so much from the experience. She made me a far better novelist than I was before. I wasn't available when it was time to write the sixth book, and it worked out fine, because otherwise I never would have written True Fiction or Lost Hills, the biggest commercial successes (novel-wise) of my solo career.
While both of those collaborations are over, at least for now, I still collaborate all the time. Robin Bernheim and I co-wrote and co-created the current hit Hallmark movie series Mystery 101 together, and I've co-written two new Darrow & Darrow movies with Phoef Sutton (who created that series) for the same network.
I love working with other writers, and I love working alone. They aren't mutually exclusive. You can have a career as a single writer and as a collaborator. I think it’s valuable to learn how to collaborate. It makes you a better writer—you become much more open-minded in your approach to story, more flexible in your writing, and more adept at revision. You get a thicker skin and also gain more objectivity about your work and your strengths and weaknesses as a writer. You are also more likely to have a long, successful career if you are able to easily work with others. I think it’s much easier to collaborate on a screenplay than it is on a novel. I prefer to write novels on my own, but I equally love writing scripts alone and with others.
[KJ] You co-founded an independent press called Brash Books. I really enjoy what you are doing there. Can you tell us a little about your process identifying and acquiring rights to out-of-print crime authors? Are these authors that you read years ago and wanted to revive?
[LG] Yes, at least initially. All mystery writers have them—the cherished, often underappreciated, out-of-print books that we love and that shaped us as writers. They are the books that made an impression on me growing up and still feel new and vital to me today. They are the books that I talked about to friends, thrust into the hands of aspiring writers, and that I wished I’d written. They are the yellowed, forgotten paperbacks that had fallen out of print, and that I kept buying out of pure devotion whenever I saw them in used bookstores…even though I had more copies than I’ll ever need.
I’ve been at this long enough that many of my own books had fallen out of print, too. But I brought them back in new, self-published Kindle and paperback editions, and, to my surprise and delight, they sold extremely well. It occurred to me that if I could do it for my books, why couldn’t I do the same thing for all those forgotten books that I love? At the time, which was six years ago, I was obsessed with the Hardman novels by Ralph Dennis, so I reached out to my friend Joel Goldman, a lawyer-turned-author, for his advice on how to acquire the rights and reprint the books.
Joel got this funny look on his face and said, “That’s a business model. I think we could really make some money at this.”
It turned out that, like me, he’d been getting hit up constantly by author-friends who were desperate for his advice on how they could replicate his self-publishing success with their own out-of-print books—many of which had won wide acclaim and even the biggest awards in our genre. He’d been trying to think of a way he could help them out.
Now he thought he had the solution. What if we combined the two ideas? What if we republished the books that we’ve loved for years as well as the truly exceptional books that only recently fell out-of-print?
It sounded great to me. And at that moment, without any prior intent, we became publishers of what we considered to be the best crime novels in existence. It was a brash act, and that’s how, as naturally as we became publishers, we found our company name:
One of the first calls I made was to Tom Kakonis, whose books were a big influence on me, to ask if we could republish his out-of-print titles. He was glad to let us take a crack at it. He also mentioned that he had a novel that he wrote some years ago, but had stuck in a drawer because he’d been so badly burned by the publishing business. I asked if I could read it, and he sent it to me. I was blown away by it and so was Joel. We couldn’t believe that a book this good, that was every bit as great as his most-acclaimed work, had gone unpublished. It was a gift for us to be able to publish it. And that’s how, unintentionally, we decided to publish brand new books, too.
Tom’s unpublished novel, Treasure Coast, became our lead title when we launched in September 2014 with thirty books from authors as diverse as Barbara Neely, Dick Lochte, Gar Anthony Haywood, Dallas Murphy, Maxine O’Callaghan, Bill Crider, and Jack Lynch, to name just a few. We started off our first year publishing eight to ten novels each quarter, one of which was a brand new, never-before-published book. We recently published our hundredth title.
It’s a business that’s very much a labor of love for us both. (Contrary to what Joel said, we haven't made a dime. Our authors have, but not us.) We get a bigger thrill now out of seeing new copies of our authors’ books than we do our own. The widow of one of our authors got teary eyed over the Brash’s editions of her husband's out-of-print books, because we were treating them the way he’d always wanted. We got tears in our eyes, too. We started Brash Books for moments like that and for Tom’s dedication in Treasure Coast:
“For Lee Goldberg, who may have rescued me.”
Our goal is to introduce readers, and perhaps future writers, to great books that shouldn’t be forgotten and to incredible new crime novels that we hope will be cherished in the future.
[KJ] You also curate a stable of current crime writers with Brash Books. Can you tell us a little bit about that list of writers, and how they came to be?
[LG] Brash started with a wish list of novels. But after we plowed through that, writers we respect and admire started pointing us to their favorite, out-of-print books, and we snatched many of those up. And soon authors, agents, and estates started soliciting us with their titles.
Our niche is crime novels and thrillers originally published between the mid-1970s and the late 1990s and that have been out of print ever since. The book has to have a strong voice, a unique POV, and either critical acclaim, major award nominations, or a “cult favorite” status within the genre.
What we look for in a never-before-published manuscript is a strong voice, a fresh approach, a compelling plot, well-developed characters, and absolutely no clichés—in phrases or situations. If we aren't wowed in the first twenty-five pages, we know our readers won't be, either. We also look to our cocky Brash motto—"We publish the best crime novels in existence"—as the bar each manuscript has to meet. If we can't say that we honestly believe the book lives up to that hype, we can't publish it.
At the moment, we are closed to submissions of out-of-print or new stuff. We have acquired more titles than we can handle right now.
Cutting Edge Books is a new, separate imprint for out-of-print books I like that don't fit into the Brash niche or genre. By spring, we'll have fifty titles available, mostly reprints of paperback originals from the late 1950s by authors like James Howard, Sterling Noel, Bart Spicer, and Robert Dietrich. But we also have a collection of short stories by Ralph Dennis (Tales of a Sad, Fat Wordman), an incredible novel by Jan Huckins and Carolyn Weston about racial segregation in the Deep South (Face of My Assassin), and the re-release of two nonfiction titles by my late mother, Jan Curran; one that was originally published in the late 1970s (The Statue of Liberty is Cracking Up) and another shortly before her death ten years ago (Active Senior Living).
[KJ] Regarding your upcoming book, Face of My Assassin, you didn't feel like this fit the vibe of Brash Books, so you published it on another press you founded, Cutting Edge. What makes this book different? What are you most excited about in bringing this book back to print?
[LG] Our sweet spot at Brash is crime novels published after the mid-1970s. Face of My Assassin was released in 1959. Although there is a murder and a trial in the book, it's not really a crime novel. It's more of a literary novel, a melodrama about a town defying a Supreme Court order to desegregate their schools. It's very much of its time, which means it has content and language that many will find—and should find—offensive. But the themes, conflicts, issues, and lessons of the book are as relevant today as they were sixty years ago. This is a controversial, powerful, and provocative book that should never have fallen out of print and that deserves a wide audience. Incidentally, it was co-authored by Carolyn Weston, who later wrote three crime novels that were the basis for the classic TV series The Streets of San Francisco (and were acquired and republished by Brash)
[KJ] You also have a new book coming out with Thomas and Mercer, Fake Truth. It is the third in the series. Can you give us the logline for this book?
[LG] Author Ian Ludlow writes thrillers that have an uncanny tendency to come true, and now he's discovered that the Soviets are taking fake news to a whole new level—manufacturing a "reality" that could provoke the United States into a devastating war.
[KJ] Finally, as a best-selling author, can you give aspiring writers a word of advice? I think many writers are rife with self-doubt to begin with, and added to that is the seemingly endless amounts of rejection they face. Any thoughts to help them through?
[LG] If you want to write books, read books. If you want to write movies, watch movies. The key is to have a fresh voice, to write what you are passionate about, not what you think will be commercial or that will sell, because what is hot now will be a cold cliché tomorrow. Be open to rejection. You know that it’s coming, so learn from it to be a better writer, because most of the time the rejection is deserved.
David M. Olsen is the Editor-in-Chief of Kelp Journal. In his spare time, he is a commercial insurance broker, writes fiction, poetry, and essays. Check him out at www.DavidMichaelOlsen.com.