I had a great time as a guest of honor at two conferences in Alabama last weekend — Murder in Magic City in Birmingham and Murder on the Menu in Wetumpka. But things got off to an embarrassing start.
I arrived in Birmingham airport late on Friday. The volunteer who was picking me up texted me a message as I got off the plane — “I’m the blond in the blue Honda Pilot parked outside of baggage claim.”
So I stepped outside, spotted the blond in the Honda Pilot, knocked on the window, opened the back door, tossed my luggage on the seat and climbed in.
We drove a couple of yards and she glanced at me in her rearview and said “Are you John Ballard?”
“No, I’m Lee Goldberg.”
“Then what the hell are you doing in my car?”
“You’re a blond in a Honda Pilot parked at baggage claim.”
She came to a hard stop. I began to explain when another, identical blue Honda Pilot with a blond at the wheel drives up.
I said, “Oops, wrong blond.”
I apologized, grabbed my luggage, and hopped out. I felt like an oaf…but at least she saw that it was a genuine mistake.
Things went more smoothly after that, I am pleased to say. I joined Sue Ann Jaffarian (who arrived in her new RV), Matt Coyle, Stacy Allen, Hank Early, Carrie Smith, JD Allen, Emily Carpenter, Christopher Swann, Toni Kelner, and many other authors to discuss mysteries, the business of writing, and our journeys into print. The first conference was held at a library in Birmingham and we stayed at a hotel that had a free soft drink dispenser in the lobby. Free-flowing Diet Coke. That’s a perk I could get used to.
On Sunday, we were taken an hour or so away to Wetumpka, an adorable little town on a river that was nearly wiped off the map by a tornado a few months ago. We were greeted warmly by the Mayor, given our own library cards by the library staff, and then went out to speak to an enthusiastic audience.
I had a great time. That said, during the signing, a reader caught me off guard with this comment:
“I keep falling asleep while reading the first chapter of your book so I jumped to the last chapter & it put me to sleep too… but I’m not giving up on you.”
I opened up to CrimeReads about my addiction to Ralph Dennis’ amazing HARDMAN novels and how it led me to launch a publishing company, Brash Books, with Joel Goldman. Here’s an excerpt:
My expensive, life-changing addiction began six years ago when a man approached me in a nameless hotel in a city I don’t remember.
“You’re really going love this,” Bill Crider said, almost in a whisper. “And I’m not going to let you leave here until you buy it.”
We were standing in front of a used bookseller’s table at a writer’s conference. I looked down and saw that Bill was holding a yellowed, brittle paperback out to me. It was entitled Hardman #1, The Charleston Knife is Back in Town by Ralph Dennis. The slug line across the top of the cover read “Brace yourself for broads, bullets, and bare-fisted action!”
It was obvious from the numbered title that it was one of those cheap, men’s action adventure paperbacks, a genre I knew well, having written, under the pseudonym “Ian Ludlow,” a series called .357 Vigilante in the mid-1980s for the same publisher that released this book. While there were some gems in the genre, most of them were hack work, badly written excuses for explicit sex and graphic violence that were sold in grocery store spinner racks nationwide. And a book called “Hardman”—wink, wink, nudge nudge—promised to be among the worst of them.
Bill must have seen the skepticism on my face so he smiled and said, “Trust me. You won’t regret it.”
This is how it often is with pushers. Have a taste, they say, it won’t hurt you.
And Bill was particularly good at pushing old paperbacks and forgotten authors. He was a kind, decent, warm man, an acclaimed author, and an expert on crime fiction. People trusted him. I trusted him…
I think you’ll enjoy the essay… and I strongly, enthusiastically, passionately recomment that you check out the HARDMAN novels.
Research is absolutely necessary when you’re writing thrillers…and it’s a part of the process I love, perhaps because I come from a family of journalists (and I was one once). The danger, for me, is that the more I learn about a topic, the more I want to learn…and it’s easy for me to end up spending far more time than is necessary on the research (it’s also a great form of procrastination.. you can fool yourself into thinking you’re working instead of actually avoiding work). I can talk to dozens of experts, and read three or four books and countless articles, for what might end up being only a few lines of dialogue or description in the book (or, OTOH, what ends up being the core of the story). But that’s always better than writing pages of exposition, description, or dialogue to show off how much research you’ve done. I’m a big believe that one sentence offering a telling detail is far better than a paragraph of description. That said, having the “extra” knowledge on a particular topic in the back of your mind as you write ends up deepening the story and the characters in subtle ways… and often, at least for me, research inspires new characters or plot twists that I never would have come up with otherwise.
Travel is my favorite part of research (and it was a lot of fun to do for KILLER THRILLER, my latest release). Sure, you can use guidebooks, watch Bourdain or Rick Steves episodes, and do a deep dive into Google Earth to fake it, and I’ve done that a few times out of necessity, but I truly believe that nothing beats “feet on the ground” to get that tiny detail, smell, taste or sound that will bring a place, a moment, or a character to life. It’s important to truly experience the place you are writing about. That means not just hitting the tourist spots, but the places where the “locals” live and work. It also means being gregarious and talking to those people — so you can create realistic characters who truly reflect the places you’ve been. I usually already have my story in mind before I travel for research… but inevitably, my story changes dramatically after what I learn from actually experiencing a place I only imagined as I was plotting.
To write my books, I’ve traveled to France, China, Australia, Belgium, Canada, Germany, and all over the United States, among other places. But travel research can mean just stepping outside your door and seeing your own city in a new way.
I’ve lived in Los Angeles for over 30 years. In my novel THE WALK, a guy is stuck in downtown in LA when the big one hits and has to walk across a landscape of destruction back to his gated community in the San Fernando Valley. I know the L.A. well, but I still read a bunch of books and articles on the city, the architecture, and the neighborhoods that make it up, on earthquakes and what experts expect the damage from The Big One is likely to be. I had the story plotted out but then decided, if I was going to do this right, I really needed to take the walk myself. And when I did (not all at once, like my character), I saw things that made me rethink my plot and I picked up the key details of place and character that made the book come alive. When it was over, I had a better understanding, and a new affection, for the city I live in and thought I already knew.
I attended a homicide investigators training conference almost two years ago — I was one of only three civilians invited — as research for a book I was thinking about writing (and had already loosely plotted). While I was there, however, I learned about a case that I couldn’t get out of my head. I was smart enough to throw out my story and to focus instead on using this real case as the inspiration for my novel. I introduced myself to all of the detectives, forensic specialists, etc. who were there to present the case, told them I intended to write about it, and asked if they would let me talk with them in more depth in the weeks following the conference. They all agreed. The novel that came out of that wonderful research experience, LOST HILLS, is being released this fall and I’ve already signed to write the sequel. The book would never have happened if I hadn’t done the research my story…and been open to the inspiration that can come when you begin exploring the “reality” that is the foundation for our fiction.
I’m so excited about this! Yesterday KILLER THRILLER launched and today my novel LOST HILLS, the first in a new series, is now available for preorder on Amazon.
Here are just some of the pre-release blurbs:
“Lost Hills is what you get when you polish the police procedural to a shine: a gripping premise, a great twist, fresh spins and knowing winks to the genre conventions, and all the smart, snappy ease of an expert at work.” Tana French, New York Times bestselling author of the Edgar, Anthony, Barry and Macavity award-winning Into The Woods and a winner of the Los Angeles Times Book Prize.
“Lost Hills is a tense, pacy read from one of America’s greatest crime and thriller writers. We have a sense of real characters doing real police work, not snatching answers out of the air.” — Garry Disher, the Ned Kelly Award-winning, international bestselling author of the Inspector Challis series
“Thrills and chills! Lost Hills is the perfect combination of action and suspense, not to mention Eve Ronin is one of the best new female characters in ages. You will race through the pages!” — Lisa Gardner, New York Times bestselling author
“Lost Hills is a top-notch procedural that shines like a true gem.” —Craig Johnson, New York Times bestselling author of the Walt Longmire mysteries, the basis of Netflix’s Longmire
“A winner. Packed with procedure, forensics, vivid descriptions, and the right amount of humor. Fervent fans of Connelly and Crais, this is your next read.” —Kendra Elliot, Wall Street Journal bestselling author of A Merciful Secret
“Brilliant! Eve Ronin rocks! With a baffling and brutal case, tight plotting, and a fascinating look at police procedure, Lost Hills is a stunning start to a new detective series. A must-read for crime fiction fans. –-Melinda Leigh, Wall Street Journal and #1 Amazon Charts Bestselling author
To celebrate the upcoming release of KILLER THRILLER on 2/12, Amazon Publishing has dramatically slashed the prices on everything I’ve ever written for them. Here’s the rundown…
THE BIG DISCOUNTS:
The ebook edition of TRUE FICTION is only $1.99 and the print editions are 50% off.
“Thriller fiction at its absolute finest—and it could happen for real. But not to me, I hope.” —Lee Child
“This may be the most fun you’ll ever have reading a thriller. It’s a breathtaking rush of suspense, intrigue, and laughter that only Lee Goldberg could pull off. I loved it.” —Janet Evanovich
The ebook edition of KING CITY is only 99 cents…and the print edition is 20% off.
“I could tell you that Lee Goldberg’s King City is one of the best reads of the year or that Lee is one of my favorite writers for so many reasons—plotting, character, or his incredible sense of humor—but that might ruin the surprise of reading King City for yourself. Suffice to say that Goldberg is one infinitely readable master of crime fiction, and King Cityis Lee at his best.” —Craig Johnson
The seven volumes of THE DEAD MAN series, each one containing three action/adventure/horror novellas, are only 99 cents each…and the print editions are 25% off. You can find the entire series here.
“Buckle up! THE DEAD MAN starts at full-speed and never lets up. This is big-ticket horror with characters you care about who are driven to the very edge. Highly recommended!” —Jonathan Maberry
The character of “Ian Ludlow” is based on your first pen name. If you were writing your own story, would it read like these novels?
Not at all. My life isn’t as exciting as his…
I lead a very normal, domestic home life. I’m your average husband and father…I walk the dog (and pick up poop), I go shopping at Costco, I grill a lot of meat, I buy clothes at the outlet mall, I embarrass my daughter, I exasperate my wife—nothing very glamorous or exciting. And I love every minute of it. The only difference between me and a million other dads out there is that I get paid to make stuff up.
What Ian and I share in common is our physical build, the way we dress, and what we do for a living. And, like him, I’m creeped out by how much of the stuff that I make up to entertain people is coming true.