www.leegoldberg.com. I’m going to do my best to ask Lee questions that cannot be found on his site.
Mary: I love your work, just to get that out of the way to begin with. And before I start grilling… er I mean asking you questions about your life as a writer, I’m going to get personal. Well not embarrassing or anything, but if you’d like tell us an embarrassing story about yourself we’d love to hear it. LOL. Anyway tell us a bit about Lee growing up. Pre- UCLA days.
Lee: I spent the first ten years of my life in Oakland, California and then we moved to the tract home sprawl of Walnut Creek (at least that’s what it was like in the 1970s-80s). My mother Jan Curran was a socialite-turned-feature writer for the Contra Costa Times and my father Alan Goldberg was an anchorman on KPIX (later news director at KTVU). I am the oldest of four kids… all of whom are published authors. My brother Tod, author of Other Resort Cities, Living Dead Girl, and the Burn Notice tie-in novels, is a Los Angeles Book Prize finalist and runs the graduate creative writing program for UC Riverside-Palm Desert. My sisters Karen Dinino and Linda Woods are the authors of Visual Chronicles and Journal Revolution. During high school, I worked at a local bookstore and wrote articles for the Contra Costa Times, the San Francisco Chronicle, and other newspapers. I also used to write lots of “novels.” In one of them, the hero was born in an underwater sperm bank. I have no idea why it was underwater, or how guys made deposits, but I thought it was really cool.
Let’s see, as far as embarrassing stories are concerned, when I was in pre-school, I ran away from home to the Mormon Temple, which was on a hill above our house. I knocked on the Temple door, and when they opened it, I said “I’m here to play with Shirley,” and then ran all over the place singing “On the Good Ship Lollipop.” It was only after the cops and my parents came that they figured out that I thought the Mormon Temple was where Shirley Temple lived.
Mary: OMG, that is so funny. I live in Utah that is probably more hilarious to me than others.
Is that true about the ‘Man from Uncle’ pajamas? (Those of you who are saying ‘Huh’ you better go to Lee’s web site to find out.)
Lee: No. I sleep in a Teletubbie outfit.
Mary: Aw, you changed! LOL Tell us a bit about you, now, as a person. What do you like to do for entertainment? Are you a movie buff, or do you read at home?
Lee: I read a lot, and watch a lot of TV…basically, the same stuff I was doing when I was a kid. Only now I can write it off my taxes. I also like to travel.
Mary: No one will care about this but me, but that’s okay. Are you a wine drinker or a beer drinker? And if you love wine as much as I do, recommend something!
Lee: Neither. I don’t drink alcohol at all. I never developed a taste for it. In fact, I have never been drunk in my life… or even buzzed. I also don’t drink coffee. The strongest beverage I drink is Diet Coke…and I drink a lot of it.
Mary: Wow, I love my wine too much! I'm a Diet Dr. Pepper fan. One more question before I start asking questions about your career. If you could take your family on vacation—all expenses paid—where would it be?
Lee: We’ve done a lot of traveling. My wife is French, so we go back to France every year, and I have done a lot of consulting for studios and networks overseas, and that has taken me all over Europe as well. We love Hawaii, so I guess that’s what I’d pick. Boring choice, huh?
Mary: I loved your web site ‘About Lee’ great sense of humor. You write books and you write screenplays. I’ve heard they are completely different animals. Do you find it hard to do both? Or in your mind do they complement each other?
Lee: They do compliment each other. I was a reporter first… and that taught me how to write tightly, to say more with less, and to craft strong leads. It also trained me to meet deadlines and to be a ruthless editor. I became a screenwriter when one of my books was optioned for film and I got hired to write the script.
I think that being a screenwriter, particularly for TV, has made me a much better novelist. You have to write outlines for TV, so it has forced me to focus on plot before I start writing my books. I’m not figuring things out as I go along as some authors do. I know exactly where I am going…though I may change how I get there along the way.
Being a TV writer has also trained me to focus on a strong, narrative drive, to make sure that every line of dialogue either reveals character or advances the plot (or both), and to cut anything that’s extraneous or bogs the story down. I also suspect that being a TV writer has given my books a faster pace and more of a cinematic structure.
Mary: While we’re on the subject of screenplays, I love dialogue and have always wanted to write a screenplay. However, I have no idea how to go about it. You have one Successful Television Writing, I’m not sure how this would apply, if it does great—let us know and I’ll be the first to purchase it. But, what I’m asking is something for those of us who are starting from scratch. Who do not have time to take a course, what can you recommend that would give a bare bones illustration of how to go about writing one.
Lee: There is no short cut, Mary. If you don’t have time to take a course, or to read books on screenwriting, then you shouldn’t be doing it. It’s like saying “I’d like to be a dentist, but I don’t have time for dental school.” For some reason, people seem to think that screenwriting is easy. It’s not. Writing a script is a skill that has to be learned. It’s a craft and a medium that has its own rules that you need to understand, inside and out, in order to be successful. You can’t just “format a book” into a script. It’s much more than that. It’s a way of telling stories that’s very different, structurally and philosophically, from writing novels. For instance, in a screenplay, everything --character, plot, backstory, motivation, etc -- has to be revealed through action or dialogue. That’s not an easy feat to accomplish.
Mary: It sounds like I better be looking into taking a class.What do you like to do? Writing a novel or writing a screenplay? In other words, what is your passion when it comes to writing?
Lee: My passion is writing, whether it is novels or screenplays. I am not more passionate about one medium over the other. They both have their pluses and minuses.
Mary: Is there another direction you’d like to take your career in the future?
Mary: Can you tell us a little bit about the journey you had to take to accomplish what you have? How many attempts did it take before they (whoever ‘they’ are) bought Monk or Diagnosis murder?
Lee: I didn’t create MONK or DIAGNOSIS MURDER. I was a hired hand on both of those TV series and on the books based upon them. I was also an executive producer and writer on DIAGNOSIS MURDER… a gig that grew from writing some freelance episodes in its run.
My journey, as you call it, was pretty simple. When I was a UCLA student, I wrote a book, .357 VIGILANTE under the pen-name “Ian Ludlow”, that was optioned for the movies and I got hired to write the screenplay, which I wrote with William Rabkin. The movie was never produced, but I enjoyed screenwriting. So Bill and I wrote a spec episode of SPENSER FOR HIRE, which the producers of that series bought and shot…and then hired us to write three more. My TV career took off after that.
Mary: One last thing, what advice would you give to a new writer or screenplay writer?
Lee: Write. Write. And Write. And if you want to be a screenwriter, watch lots of movies and TV shows. Not just for entertainment, but to study the how the conflict is created and sustained, and the way the stories are told and character is revealed.
Thank you, Lee Goldberg, for agreeing to let me interview you. Lot's of wonderful information, I really appreciate you taking the time for us.