INTERVIEW WITH LEE GOLDBERG
Lee Goldberg is a writing machine.
He has written something like 47 books. Produced something like ten TV shows. I get exhausted just thinking about it.
He’s a New York Times bestselling author for the Fox & O’Hare books written with Janet Evanovich. THE HEIST. THE CHASE. And in November of this year, THE JOB.
He’s produced DIAGNOSIS MURDER and MARTIAL LAW and other TV mysteries. In addition to this he’s written books about TV. He started out as a journalist, writing articles I read as a kid for STARLOG and CINEFANTASTIQUE.
In case you’re wondering, he’s younger than me. He was just a kid when he was writing those articles.
I met Lee at a mystery writer’s convention in Pasadena, when I was just thinking of writing mysteries. He became a mentor to me, teaching me the ropes (and tropes) of writing mystery and horror. I’m proud to call him one of my closest friends.
You, your brother, and both your sisters are writers, right? What was in your childhood that made you all writers?:
When I was growing up, my father was an anchorman on KPIX in San Francisco, my mother was a feature writer for the Contra Costa Times, my grandmother’s brother was a magazine writer, and my Uncle was a Seattle DJ, so I suppose the “media” is in our DNA. Our parents were also big readers, so books were always part of our lives.
You published your first novel when you were in college. How did you have the confidence to do that?
It has less to do with confidence than with ambition…and cockiness. I got the “.357 Vigilante” gig thanks to Lewis Perdue, my journalism professor, who was approached by Pinnacle Books to write a men’s action/adventure series. He passed but recommended me instead.
What was your first paying writing job?
I wrote book and TV reviews for the Contra Costa Times.
What was your first job in television?
A freelance episode of “Spenser: For Hire” that stole liberally from my own life. It was about a fraud who write’s vigilante novels.
When you became a showrunner, was that very different from being a staff writer?
Of course! It meant I had control over every aspect of the show…and the only person who rewrote me was Bill Rabkin, my writing partner. I also made a little bit more money.
You interviewed a lot of writers and actors in your day. Who was your favorite?
I enjoyed interviewing writers the most, for obvious reasons. My favorite would have to be Steve Cannell. I interviewed him many times. We became good friends. And then I ended up working for him (on HUNTER and COBRA), and he worked for me as an actor on DIAGNOSIS MURDER. We also did dozens of panels together at writers conferences around the country. He was such a great guy and storyteller.
Who was your favorite of the actors you worked with?
I’ve worked with a lot of great actors. But my longest relationship with one, and he turned out to be one of the nicest, was Dick Van Dyke. We had our disagreements, of course, but he was a true professional, always prepared, always treated everyone on the set with kindness and respect, from co-stars to the grips.
Who was the most difficult?
That’s a real hard one. I have worked with a lot of difficult actors. But I’d have to say its a tie between Sammo Hung and Arsenio Hall.
What the biggest difference between writing books and writing for television?
You never have to deal with Sammo Hung or Arsenio Hall. Besides that, it’s an entirely different form of writing and story-telling. No producers. No actors. No budgets. It’s just you and the story. You are the writer, director, set designer, and the actor. And its lonely…on TV, you’re in a writer’s room, breaking stories with a lot of very talented writers. You are never alone. There are always collaborators. That’s a plus and a minus of course.
Do you have a writing routine? What is it?
Put my ass in the chair and write. That’s about it. I work all day but I do my best work between 8 pm and 2 am. I get up about 10, and I start the day by rewriting what I wrote the day before. Then I get distracted by self-doubt, Facebook, phone calls, self-doubt, email, twitter, lunch, self-doubt, YouTube, conference calls, business meetings, and self-doubt.