Would you rather be an enlightened barista or a working writer?

My brother Tod did an interview with the Association of Writers and Writing Projects blog about his approach to running the low residency MFA program in Creative Writing & Writing for the Performing Arts at the University of California, Riverside. This brief excerpt pretty much says it all: 

Caleb J Ross: You said something at last year’s AWP which stuck with me. Paraphrased, of course, you said that you teach your MFA classes like an instructor of any trade program might, with the end goal of providing financial opportunities for the students. This seems like a radically different approach than most MFAs which may instead focus on non-definable, creative signposts to gauge student success. First, am I expressing your idea correctly? Second, how is this goal compromised by a low-residency program, if it even is?

Tod Goldberg: Pretty close. Essentially my philosophy is that if you’re in an MFA program, your goal isn’t to become the most well-read person on earth with a handful of literary quotes at your disposal at all times, it’s to be published. It’s to be produced. Graduate programs in creative writing are some of the few that seem entirely esoteric because they don’t seem to be training you for anything tangible, apart from maybe being a particularly enlightened barista, because, well, that’s frequently the case.  But I think that has to change. Being a professional writer is a job. And if you want to write books, or write screenplays, or write poetry, simply for personal edification, you certainly don’t need an MFA program to do that. But if you want to become a professional writer, I think an MFA program can and should be a clear stepping stone in that direction. Most aren’t. Most entirely eschew the idea of life after the MFA — in fact, most programs tend to herald your acceptance into the program as the “making it” part of your writing career, which is silly. It’s school. It’s what you do afterward that makes a difference…


Fatal Beauty


My Uncle Burl Barer's latest true crime book, FATAL BEAUTY, explores yet another bizarre and compelling homicide with a cast of outrageous characters straight out of an Elmore Leonard novel:

Jimmy Joste was a powerhouse in the oil and gas industry, but he was a weakling when it came to his gorgeous, athletic, longtime lover, Rhonda Glover. Addicted to her sexual prowess and madly in love, Joste gave her homes, cars, cash, and a $350,000 engagement ring. Their fifteen years of passion and excess ended the day Rhonda drove directly from a shooting range to the Austin home they once shared. After pumping ten bullets into him from a Glock 9mm, she stood over Joste's blood-splattered body and shot him six more times – twice below the waist..

How can you resist reading more? Uncle Burl is already getting rave reviews from the crime writing community, including this one from Kevin Sullivan, author of THE BUNDY MURDERS.

Anyone familiar with Burl Barer, understands what they're getting in a book written by him long before they turn that first page: In-depth research, exceedingly revealing interviews, and straight-forward answers as to what exactly occurred in each case. And with FATAL BEAUTY he does just that. It's a quick paced narrative that keeps one on the edge of their seat, and sparks that unmistakable feeling that it's all happening right before their eyes. I highly recommend FATAL BEAUTY for anyone who wants to know what a body can do when a mind is in turmoil.

And he got a rave from the True Crime Book Review blog.  They say, in part:

While the book may be more focused on how to prosecute (or not) a person suffering obvious mental disorders, it’s very interesting. Also mind-boggling, so don’t expect to read it in a couple of days – give yourself time to savor each chapter like a fine wine

If you like colorful and unusual tales of true crime, this book is for you.

Tod is Reformed

My brother Tod reveals the inside scoop today on the writing of his latest BURN NOTICE book, THE REFORMED. Here's an excerpt:

 Julia Pistell, whose name appears in this book as a person who has had their identity stolen, went to graduate school with me and is one of the best humans alive. She happened to be visiting Wendy and me last January, when I was in the middle of the book, but didn't have a title yet. However, the fine people at Penguin needed a title and needed it right now, except that right now happened to be while Julia, Wendy and I were eating lunch at a deli in Palm Desert. So I said to Wendy and Julia, hey, anyone got a title? And Julia came up with The Reformed. (This was after The Godfather was rejected.)

Mom with Celebs

I spent Thanksgiving day sorting through boxes of my Mom's photos, figuring out which ones we wanted to keep and have digitized. It was actually a great way to spend the day. There was a lot of laughter and good memories. 

My Mom was a newspaper "society editor," which is a fancy way of saying that she got paid to go to parties and write about them. It was the perfect job for her. So we came across quite a few pictures of her with celebrities over the years. Here's a very small sampling.



My Brothers Are Selling TV Shows

Carl Beverly and Sarah Timberman, the producers of JUSTIFIED, have sold a TV series pilot to FX based on my brother Tod Goldberg's short story Mitzvah. Crime writer Joel Goldman is often mistaken for my brother, so I suppose it's only fitting that those same producers just sold CBS a TV series pilot based on Joel's short story Knife Fight. Now if either pilot goes to series, I am expecting my brothers to play the nepotism card and insist that I be brought on staff.


Jan Remembered

I am just catching up on all the comments, tributes and blog posts about my mother Jan Curran, who died last week.  Desert Sun reporter Bruce Fessier, who wrote my mother's obituary, also wrote this touching blog post:

Jan Curran, my dear friend and an enormously popular society editor for The Desert Sun and Palm Springs Life in the 1980s and ''90s, died Tuesday night at her “active senior living” home in Calabasas. Her four adult kids were at her bedside.

She survived Lupus for more than 35 years and was given so many terminal diagnoses for cancer, we stopped believing she was mortal.

Late last year, they ran out of chemotherapy drugs to give her. She had used everything they had to offer and grown immune to each and every one. But she not only survived with a smile on her face, she published a novel after she was supposed to have been dead.

It was based on her life after being forced to move from La Quinta to be closer to her daughters and eldest son. It was called “Active Senior Living.”

I have the unpleasant task of writing an obituary about this woman who made society writing an art form.

In many ways, I like this post even more than the obituary that he wrote for her.  My cousin Danny Barer shared some thoughts about my Mom on his blog. He wrote, in part:

I've been watching the Japanese animated series "Tegami Bachi," in which one of the underlying conceits is that a person's humanity, or "heart," is a quantifiable and finite energy, and that letters or other writings are like batteries that store within them the "heart" of the person who writes them — an energy into which the reader taps. Jan undoubtedly poured a lot of her heart into her writings. And her writings remain — on her blog, in her Facebook posts, in the two books she wrote, and in her children's writings. The ability to preserve the energy of humanity through writing is one that should never be taken lightly. It allows portions wonderful people like Jan to remain after they themselves have left us.

Mom's old friend Ann Erdman blogged about her as well. She remembered Mom's campaign to make sure chemotherapy patients had plenty to read as they underwent treatment:

Aside from the obvious, one of the things that annoyed Jan about chemotherapy treatments was the lack of enough current magazines and books to go around. So she began taking her own magazines to the hospital to share with fellow chemotherapy patients, and the Jan Curran Fan Club was born.

A few years ago I headed to the desert for the inaugural gathering of the Jan Curran Fan Club. I stayed at her house (she lived in La Quinta then) and we drove to the Palm Springs Tennis Club for a wonderful luncheon where 50 or 60 people gathered in an outdoor pavilion. Magazines and paperbacks were everybody's ticket in. It was a long but productive day, and Jan was exhausted by the time we got back to La Quinta. We had a fun yet low-key slumber party, just the two of us, and lingered over breakfast and a long visit the next morning.

Everyone who was there that day took a vow to donate magazines and paperbacks to chemotherapy units, and the word spread to as far away as England and Germany.

Recently Mike Barer established a Facebook page for the Jan Curran Fan Club. How about joining it in Jan's memory?

My Mom's cousin David Zarkin blogged about her, too. He said, in part:

More than a cousin, she was my friend. She was an amazing journalist and storyteller with a great sense of humor. She will be well remembered by many wonderful people in Palm Springs where she has supportive friends and was a reporter with the Sun for many years. Jan could count among her friends the late President Ford, Sonny Bono, Artie Shaw and the actor Mel Ferrer. The collection of photos in her home of fabulous people she knew in her Palm Springs life is fresh in my memory.

Some of the most touching and moving comments about my Mom came from complete strangers…people who got to know her through her book, "Active Senior Living." Here are the ones that I shared in my eulogy. K . Jacobson said:

After reading your mom's book, she and I exchanged several emails and I treasure them. She changed my life and my attitude towards senior living and the obstacles that I faced. I can only imagine what it would have been like to know her in person. Please share that my thoughts and prayers will be with the family and her friends.

Elaine Benizzi said:

Lee, your Mom's book "Active Senior Living", was read by me during a unsettling time in my life and gave me great hope for my husbands health. I was prompted to write her a note which she responded to so gracefully. I am truly sorry for your loss, she was a kind and wonderful woman.

Sheri Bell said:

Oh, Lee, I am heartbroken to hear this news. Your mother's book was the very first book I purchased and read on my Kindle. As others have mentioned, we feel almost as if we knew your mother through her writing… and as such, she (and her marvelous sense of humor) will be sorely missed. My thoughts and prayers are with you and your family at this time of loss and sadness. May your mother's courage, sense of humor and enduring spirit live on through the writing — and the intimate part of her life — that she shared with us all.

Irene Shaw said:

I'm crying as I write this, because I felt as I know many people did, that I knew Jan. Her book was the first download on my new Kindle back in February. I so wish I could have met her. She fought the damn big C for so long, with such grace and humor. RIP, girl! And prayers for you and your family, Lee.

These are just a few of the hundreds of comments, emails and condolences that me, my brother Tod, and my sisters Linda and Karen have received over the last week. We have shared and read them all. On behalf of my family, I want to thank you for your kind words and good wishes. They have meant a lot to us.

Jan Curran

My mother, Jan Curran, passed away on Monday night with her family at her side. Those of you who have read my blog for some time know she was an out-going, funny, and very talented woman and, like me and siblings, was a writer. She had been ill for some time and moved to Ventura to be closer to her family. She wrote about her new life in an active senior living home in a funny and touching self-published book entitled "Active Senior Living." The incredibly enthusiastic and warm response that she got from hundreds of readers all over the country gave her enormous comfort and joy over the last year. Bruce Fessier wrote a great obituary for my mother for the Palm Springs Desert Sun, the newspaper where she worked. Here it is.

Jan Curran, a popular society editor and features writer for The Desert Sun and Palm Springs Life, died Monday night at her assisted living home in Ventura — almost 35 years after being told she had six months to live.

Curran, 73, contracted lupus when she was a single mother of four kids working at the Contra Costa Times in the East Bay. Her youngest son, Tod Goldberg of La Quinta, said the family created a contingency plan for her death and “There was the very real sense that somebody would take us away.”

Curran had battled different types of cancer since 1995. But she also wrote two books and lived to see all of her children become published authors.

Her physician, Dr. Joel Hirschberg, said, “No matter what happened to her medically, she just had the most wonderful attitude.

“She had an illness that potentially could have been very severe and disabling, yet you would never know to look at her that she had any problems,” he said. “She would just smile and look at everybody else around her and just decide that her problems were very manageable compared to the rest of those out there.”

“I think she was the funniest, bravest person I ever knew,” added society journalist Gloria Greer. “Such great humor, and she was sick for so long.”

Curran, who covered society events for the Contra Costa Times and Oakland Tribune in the 1970s, joined the Jones Agency as an advertising executive in 1985 and soon began covering events for Palm Springs Life magazine.

She was The Desert Sun's society editor from 1988 to 1996, following Allene Arthur. She was the newspaper's last full-time society editor, but covered the rapid growth of social activities in country clubs and fundraising events as the desert population grew east from Palm Springs.

“There was a time that Jan knew everybody,” said Hirschberg, who was active in the Arthritis Foundation's Coachella Valley chapter.

“There wasn't a social event that would actually go on without her being involved in it. And she always brought bright sunshine to the room.”

Current director of society coverage for The Desert Sun Betty Francis said Curran brought her own humor and glamour to the position.

“I thought Allene was the most fair and balanced and kind society (editor) we ever had,” she said. “Jan came along with a little more edge and glamour and was pretty enough and well dressed enough to compete with the various celebrities she was interviewing. Looking at the big picture of society, she brought more glamour.”

Funeral services in her native Walla Walla, Wash., are pending. Goldberg also said a memorial will probably be held in the Coachella Valley.

Besides Goldberg, she is survived by her brothers Stanley Barer of Seattle and Burl Barer of Stevenson Ranch; son Lee Goldberg of Calabasas; daughters Karen Dinino of Thousand Oaks and Linda Woods of Castaic; and three grandchildren.


My Brother Tod is Funny

This week my brother Tod wrote what may be his funniest Letters to Parade column ever.  Here's an excerpt.

…Elizabeth Chambers, hailing from Los Angeles, CA, and presumably reading Parade in the LA Times, as I do, has a question that made me realize that the reason people end up voting for complete fucktards like Sarah Palin is that they don't realize politicians aren't fictional characters. You see, Elizabeth is very curious about that nice young President we have…on THE EVENT:

"Blair Underwood is great as President Elias Martinez on NBC's The Event. Does he have any political experience in real life?" 

Jesus fucking Christ on a bed of wild rice, Elizabeth. Do you really think you somehow missed out on the two terms Blair Underwood spent as a United States Senator? Or what about when he was a Congressman? Or those years when he was Attorney General? Personally, I'll never forget what it was like meeting Blair Underwood when he was just a state Senator –this was during his downtime after his seven year stint on LA Law ended and before he landed his next role four minutes later. I knew then that one day he would eventually either be President or at least play the President in something. He just had that gravity, you know? But then when he was on The New Adventures of Old Christine a few years ago, I was like, whoa, he's just a school teacher in this! Well, he was a school teacher on the show, and, of course, was the Dept. Secretary of Defense, too, but, anyway, I just felt like he was selling himself short. 

For fuck's sake. I mean it. People this stupid shouldn't be allowed to watch television. It's clearly not good for them and thus it's not good for America and, thus, it's bad for the Jews.