The Mail I Get: Rejection Edition

How to never sell your book…

We received a submission at Brash Books, the small publishing company I co-founded six years ago with Joel Goldman. After reading the submission, we decided to pass. This is the entirety of the rejection letter we wrote to the author:

Thank you for thinking of Brash for XYZ. Unfortunately, it’s not a fit for us. We wish you the very best finding the right home for the book.

His reply:

Keep printing The same redundant shit Arrogant ass, just remember the title of this book, u will see it on the best sellers list asshole.

And I’m sure he wonders why he hasn’t sold a book yet. (BTW, his submission was awful). So I decided to respond:

I sincerely doubt it… and I say that as a novelist who has actually been at the top of the New York Times, USA Today, Wall Street Journal, and Washington Post bestseller lists multiple times. To be a successful author, you not only need to write well, and tell a good story… you also need to have some decent people skills. If I lashed out and called every publisher who politely rejected my work an arrogant asshole, I wouldn’t have achieved my success. How do I know? Because I ultimately ended being published by two of the publishers who’d rejected my previous work. You are clearly the biggest obstacle to your success. You might want to rethink your strategy.

He responded a short time later. 

 
This book has a very complex plot and vivid characterization that you couldn’t have possibly ascertain in the brief time you review my story. is a very complex plot, and profound characterization. This story is very unique, and has major shocking twists at the end! A PHD from Western Kentucky, who was a professor for 38 years is editing it, and compared it to Silence of the Lambs. It is very, very unique story, and intertwines orwellian themes, which compare to today’s political and social upheaval. I DO APOLOGIZE FOR LASHING OUT, NOT PROFESSIONAL AT ALL, sorry just have my heart and soul in this book, and you rejected it in record time, this is not my first rodeo, again I do apologize!

Still a little crazy, but at least he apologized. I guess that’s progress.

Sweet Home Alabama

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?”

Lee in Wetumpka

“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 told her I appreciated her faith in me…

S is for Sad

Fellow Kentucky Colonels Lee Goldberg & Sue Grafton

I’m so sad to hear about Sue Grafton‘s death. Not only was she incredibly talented, she was also a very nice woman.

I met her for the first time in the mid-1980s at the Santa Barbara Writers Conference…shortly after her first or second book came out. I had a long, thoroughly delightful lunch with her, my Mom, and Paul Lazarus…and then I think we did a panel together. She wasn’t a celebrity then, but she made a strong impression on me and Mom. We liked her instantly. After that, I ran into Sue often on the “book circuit” and she was always so gracious and nice to everyone…and never failed to ask how my Mom was doing.
 
A few years ago, she was a special guest at the Riverpark Center in Owensboro, KY…we did a panel together during the day and I was honored to interview her at a gala dinner. She was commissioned as a Kentucky Colonel during one of the events. As the Kentucky secretary of state or whomever it was told the audience all the reasons she deserved the honor, she leaned over & whispered in my ear: “This is the third or fourth time they’ve made me a Kentucky Colonel. You’d think they’d keep track of this stuff”. But she went up on stage, thanked the politician for his kind words, and said what an honor it was for her to receive it as a native Kentuckian.
In between, those events, I got together with her and her husband at Denny’s for some nice breakfasts together, where we talked shop.Those were the special times for me.
 
The last time I saw her was at Bouchercon in Albany, where we chatted for a while at the bar and I got to introduce her to some writer-friends of mine, who she immediately treated like old friends of hers, too. That’s the kind of lady she was.

 

Sue, me and Zev Buffman at the Angie Awards in Owensboro, KY

Kentucky Colonels Sue Grafton and Lee Goldberg at Bouchercon

I wish I could remember what I did to earn this delightful inscription! 🙂

Cheesecake

Here’s the main title sequence for SABLE, an awful series that only lasted for a month in 1988. William Rabkin & I wrote an awful freelance script for this awful series that thankfully wasn’t shot — but it had a lasting impact on us.

The show had a terrible, expository character, an African-American tech wizard in a wheelchair, named Cheesecake. We hated that character…because it wasn’t a character. It was a painful cliche. So “Cheesecake” became our shorthand, and is to this day, for a cliche character who exists only to provide dull exposition.

It’s amazing and depressing how many times that EXACT SAME DREADFUL CHARACTER — the exposition/computer whiz character in a wheelchair — has been repeated in shows since then.


Cheesecake came to mind today because I just watched the first regular episode of Bill Bixby’s THE MAGICIAN, from the newly released DVD boxed set, that had that same “Cheesecake ” expository character — though it was a white guy in a wheelchair and aired several years before SABLE premiered. Just goes to show how long that dreadful, lazy writer cliche has existed. 

Our Worst Script

seaquesttitlecard300Here’s an excerpt from “About Face,” the worst script that William Rabkin and I ever wrote…but before I share it with you, here’s the story behind it (which I originally shared on this blog back in July 2006)

We were working as supervising producers on the third season of SeaQuest, a scifi show about a phallic submarine exploring our oceans in the year 2032. We were a day into writing episode 14 when the series got cancelled. But studio and the network were still obligated to pay us for the script — the catch was that we actually had to write it if we wanted our money.

In other words, we had to write a script we knew would never be shot and that we were pretty certain nobody would ever read. But we weren’t about to walk away from $25,000.

So we wrote it in one day…while we were packing up our office. We amused ourselves by writing the worst scenes that we possibly could, reading them out loud to each other as we wrote. We turned in the script as we walked out the door and we assumed it would never be read.

To our horror, we were wrong.

We discovered years later that bootleg copies of this atrocity were showing up at science fiction conventions as one of the “lost episodes” of the final season. Some have even shown up on the Internet. It even became the basis for a fanfic story.

Okay, now here’s the excerpt. All you need to know to follow along is that Piccolo is a man with gills and Darwin is a talking dolphin (I’m not kidding).

EXT. SEAQUEST – CGI/STOCK

as it cruises through the sea.

INT. SEAQUEST – CAFETERIA

Lucas is at a table eating as Piccolo comes in.

PICCOLO

Hey, Lucas, what’s the blue plate special today? I’m starving.

LUCAS

Grilled trout.

PICCOLO

Nothing else?

LUCAS

Scrod casserole.

PICCOLO

Pass.

LUCAS

Wait – I thought you were starving.

PICCOLO

I just lost my appetite.

(re: Lucas’ plate:)

You’d think the Chef could be a bit more sensitive.

LUCAS

The presentation may not be great, but it tastes pretty good.

He holds out a fork of trout.

LUCAS

Here, have a bite.

Piccolo turns away, disgusted.

PICCOLO

Are you nuts? Why don’t you go offer Darwin some dolphin pate.

Suddenly Lucas understands.

LUCAS

Tony, you aren’t a fish.

PICCOLO

I have gills, Lucas. I may not be a fish, but it still feels like
cannibalism to me.

LUCAS

You’re a human being who happens to have gills, that’s different.

PICCOLO

If you could fly, believe me, chicken wouldn’t look very
appetizing.

LUCAS

Chickens don’t fly.

Piccolo glares at Lucas and walks out. Lucas smiles to himself.

Playing Cops and Robbers

I just got back from The Writers Police Academy where I, and two hundred other writers, got to play “cops and robbers.” It was my first time participating in the annual event which, I am told, is as close as you can get to actual police training without becoming a cop. You can see me talking about it on the local news here and here.

The event was held this month at a law enforcement training facility in Green Bay, Wisconsin. It was an amazing opportunity for authors to get hands-on experience and education in crime scene investigation, pursuit driving, arson investigation, improvised explosives, firearms training… the list goes on and on. I learned cool stuff from EMTs, arson investigators, bomb squad members, homicide detectives, uniformed cops, and other professionals that will definitely show up in my books and TV shows. Nothing beats hands-on experience when it comes to discovering those key details that make fiction come alive on the page and on screen.

Rescue simulationThe event organizers had a flair for the dramatic—the conference opened with a rescue simulation involving a gruesome car crash. Cops, fire, EMTs, and even a helicopter showed up to handle the call. Later, organizers staged a “live shooter” simulation with injuries in a crowded lecture hall. Once again, they went for full dramatic effect. Not only was it entertaining, but it was an excellent teaching/learning experience for everyone… participants and audience alike.

In one session, I got the chance to learn tourniquet techniques… and the lesson ended with me entering a dark, smoke-filled room with loud music and strobe lights to find a victim who’d list both legs and was bleeding out (water, not blood) and I had to apply what I’d learned under pressure.

I also cleared a building with an active shooter (on a simulator and in “reality” in a specialized training house), learned to fire a Glock and a rifle, pulled over speeders in simulated night-time traffic stops, and drove a police cruiser “in pursuit” in a training track.

Lee in hot pursuitWe also got to examine up close squad cars, SWAT vehicles, urban assault vehicles, mobile command vehicles and all of the equipment in the vehicles and that the officers carry.

There were so many great seminars that I wasn’t able to attend that I wanted to… which I guess means I’ll have to go to the conference again next year. Authors Boyd Morrison, Melinda Leigh, Robin Burcell, and Kendra Elliot, who have attended many previous WPA conferences, warned me this would happen. Once you go to WPA, you’re in for life.

Like all writing conferences, I also enjoyed catching up with old friends and making lots of new ones. If you write crime novels, I strongly recommend that you sign up for next year’s conference the instant tickets become available.


Pictured: Tod Goldberg (who writes with Brad Meltzer), Robin Burcell (who writes with Clive Cussler), Lee Goldberg (who writes with Janet Evanovich), Maxine Paetro (who writes with James Patterson) and Boyd Morrison (who writes with Cussler) got together at The Writers Police Academy to talk shop and shoot big guns. 

Tod Goldberg and Lee Goldberg: The Jew Team

The Jew Team — Tod Goldberg & Me

Traveling the World for THE PURSUIT

One of best parts of beginning a new Fox & O’Hare adventure for me is traveling to the locales where the story will take place. For our new, #1 New York Times bestseller THE PURSUIT, that meant heading off to Honolulu, Antwerp, Paris, Bois-Le-Rois, and Italy’s Amalfi Coast…and also drawing upon on my past experiences in Montreal and Lohr, Germany.

Exploring Honolulu for THE PURSUIT
Exploring Honolulu for THE PURSUIT

The Antwerp diamond heist at the opening of THE PURSUIT is loosely based on a real incident, so I read lots of articles and books on the subject, sought the advice of the U.S. Ambassador to Belgium, and visited the scene of the crime for myself. It makes it much easier for me to write about a place and make you feel like you’re there, too, if I’ve experienced it first-hand. That’s because it’s the little details that I discover,  the things that stick in my memory, that make the locales come alive for me when I sit down to write..and, I hope, for you in the retelling.

Nick Fox breaks into that Antwerp building behind me...even though there is a police checkpoint right out front...
Nick Fox breaks into that Antwerp building behind me…even though there is a police checkpoint right out front…

For the two heists in Paris in THE PURSUIT, I scouted locations throughout the city (mostly on foot) before deciding on where all the events should take place…then took hundreds of photos, studied maps, and consulted experts, like an infamous “cataphile” who roams the city’s underground catacombs.

This spot in Paris plays a big role in THE PURSUIT
This spot in Paris plays a big role in THE PURSUIT

I also spent a lot of time in Sorrento, Capri, and Positano Italy soaking up the atmosphere (and plenty of limoncello) looking for the right location for the bad guy’s “vacation home.” I found it during a boat trip from Sorrento to Positano, then fictionalized it to suit my devious creative needs. A day trip to Capri gave me some great historical “background” for an an interesting obsession for the villain and his home. If you’ve read the book, then you know exactly what I’m talking about.  I never would have stumbled on either the location or the historical nugget without making the trip.

Sampling limoncello in Sorrento...one of the many sacrifices I make for my art.
Sampling limoncello in Sorrento…one of the many sacrifices I make for my art.

We didn't end up setting any sequences in Positano in THE PURSUIT...but it's bound to show up in future novels the same way my past trips to Lohr, Germany and Montreal made it into this one.
We didn’t end up setting any sequences in Positano in THE PURSUIT…but it’s bound to show up in future novels the same way my past trips to Lohr, Germany and Montreal made it into this one.

I recently returned from a nearly month-long research trip to Australia and New Zealand for the sixth Fox & O’Hare adventure and I can’t wait to take you there on the page…

The Pursuit & Cosmic Coincidences

Yesterday several dreams came true all at once.

Pursuit is number oneFirst off, you can now call me a #1 New York Times bestselling author. THE PURSUITmy fifth Fox & O’Hare book co-authored with Janet Evanovich, debuted at #1 on the ebook bestseller list (and #8 on hardcover, and #3 on print & ebook combined). Hitting #1 is a dream come true… but it got even better thanks to some cosmic coincidences.

As some of you may know, my brother Tod is also an author. His latest book is THE HOUSE OF SECRETS , co-authored with my friend Brad Meltzer, came out in early June …the same day as the paperback edition of THE SCAM, my fourth Fox & O’Hare book with Janet Evanovich, was released. It’s a total coincidence, since we have different publishers. HOUSE OF SECRETS debuted at #6 on the New York Times hardcover bestseller list and last week THE SCAM was #5 on the New York Times mass market paperback list.

Screenshot 2016-06-29 14.43.50But this week we are on the same bestseller list together — THE PURSUIT is #8 and THE HOUSE OF SECRETS is #16 on the New York Times hardcover bestseller list.

Woo-hoo!

We’ve both fantasized about this happening and now it actually has. We both have a hard time believing it. We owe a big thank you to Janet Evanovich and Brad Meltzer for their big roles in making this dream come true…and especially to all of YOU for buying our books.

PS – The great coincidences don’t end there.  Audiobooks superstar Scott Brick reads the audio version of THE PURSUIT and he also reads the audio version of THE HOUSE OF SECRETS. How cool is that?

The Mail I Get – Advice Edition

59_bigPeople are always writing me for advice about TV and publishing, not that I have any great wisdom to impart. But that doesn’t stop me from replying anyway.

Hello Mr. Goldberg:
I was referred to you by a friend of your friend XYZ…I am 64 years old and I have a screenplay that desperately needs a place to go, and your name was delivered as the unquestionable favorite.  Please let me know if you might be able to provide me any guidance or wisdom. Should you not be able or interested, (she tries to put away that big pouty lip), your suggestion of someone else would be greatly appreciated.

Unfortunately, I don’t have good news for you. In fact, I have very discouraging news for you. Everybody in L.A. has a screenplay they want to sell. You are one of thousands…and you’re competing with them all, inexperienced and experienced screenwriters alike. I’m neither an agent nor a studio exec, so there’s really nothing I can do for you. I don’t know of any agents who are taking on new clients (they are having a hard enough time selling the scripts written by the experienced clients they already have).
The best advice I can offer is for you to contact the Writers Guild of America to see if they can give you a list of signatory agents who are accepting unsolicited screenplays. The other thing you should be aware of is that ageism is rampant in Hollywood…and if you haven’t already established yourself in the business by 30, you are considered elderly and out-of-touch with popular taste 🙂 I’m 54 and feel ancient when I go into meetings…and despite my extensive credits, it’s still a hard sell for me. I’m just telling you this so you realise that you’re facing a very steep, uphill battle.

I am sure you get a lot of emails and maybe this may not reach you, but here’s hoping. I am an aspiring actress/model and went to a meeting with XYZ at Culver Studios last week. He claims to have been a director/producer for NBC/Universal but the IMDB just doesn’t seem legitimate. He also claims to be married to actress XYZ but there is hardly any information on her either.
He says he wants me to come and work for him and learn the business to become an assistant producer and star in his upcoming movies, but things just aren’t adding up. I called NBC Universal and asked them if his name was on the employee list and was not.  Due to all of the scams and human trafficking which he spoke a lot about, I want to be safe. Do you know how I can navigate safely through this industry and or have any advice for me on how I can obtain legitimate information and backgrounds on producers and directors?

Well, it sounds like you already checked this guy out and learned that something is very fishy. His picture on Imdb also seems amateurish to me… as if by standing beside the studio gate, which anybody can do, he’s trying to confer legitimacy on himself. I’d steer clear of him. Keep in mind, anybody can rent studio space. Just because their office is on a movie studio lot does not mean they are legitimate. In addition to imdb, you can check out producers with the PGA (Producers Guild of America) to see if they are members… or, if they are writer/producers, you can check with the WGA (Writers Guild of America) to see if they are members (or if their companies are guild signatories). You can find out if a director is legit by contacting the DGA (Directors Guild of America) and seeing if he or she is a member. If they are offering you acting jobs, check them out with SAG (Screen Actors Guild) to see if they are signatories or if there are any issues with their company that the union knows about. Lack of produced credits on imDb and non-membership in one of those guilds would raise a big red flag for me.

A Field Trip to Australia and New Zealand

Nothing beats “boots on the ground” for researching locations for a book. I always pick up details that no guidebook, or Google Earth trawl, will turn up. Not only that, but I love to travel to new places…here or abroad. I just returned from a three week trip to Australia and New Zealand to research the as-yet-untitled sixth Fox & O’Hare book.

2016-03-26 13.45.37My travels this time took me first to Sydney (and Manly Beach and Bondi Beach), where everyone was too damn good looking. Even the old people looked like models. All the women seemed to be wearing black… my theory is that they were morning all the fat, imperfect friends and relatives that had been exiled from the city. After three days roaming Sydney, we headed off to Brisbane, where I was relieved to see not everybody was perfect. My wife desperately wanted to see some Koalas, so we went to a local reserve where we could hold the cuddly animals and get up-close-and-personal with kangaroos. We roamed the city on foot and by ferry, then rented a car and headed off to explore the Gold Coast one day and the Sunshine Coast the next. The two coasts couldn’t be more different. The Gold Coast highly developed, with skyscrapers, high-end stores, and endless beaches…while the Sunshine Coast is more laid-back, less developed, but also with long, flat seemingly endless beaches.

From Brisbane, we flew on Emirates to New Zealand. I’ve never been on an Emirates plane before and was amused by the wood-grain trim around the portholes and the faux-wood toilet seats in the unusually spacious lavatories. We were welcomed in both Auckland (and later in Wellington) by cousins of actress Alexia Barlier, who was one of the stars of my movie FAST TRACK: NO LIMITS.  We spent a day roaming around Auckland on foot, then the following day we took a boat out to Waiheke Island, rented a car, and explored the entire island. We managed to visit all of Waiheke’s beautiful beaches and even visit two wineries for meals and some wine-tasting.

My wife Valerie and me with a furry fan
My wife Valerie and me with a furry fan

We arrived in Wellington in time to enjoy the final day of Cuba Duba, a  vibrant street fair, and were met by more of Alexia’s cousins, who introduced us to the city and entertained us in their incredible, hillside home, where they have breathtaking views of the city. We also met up with Jeroen Ten Berge, the artist who designed the covers for my DEAD MAN books, WATCH ME DIE, KING CITY, McGRAVE, and many other titles. He showed us around and it was a real treat to see the city through his eyes. After that, we rented a car and explored the countryside and the coast on our own, catching some dramatic vistas along the way.

Then it was back  to Australia for a few days in Tasmania, where we explored the city of Hobart and followed the so-called Convict Trail, soaking up the dramatic history of the island…and its roots as a penal colony. We also visited the bizarre, controversial, stunning, and unforgettable MONA Museum…which was like visiting an art galley designed by SPECTRE.

The entire trip was a fascinating and inspiring experience. I’m looking forward now to delving into the history of Australia, Tasmania and New Zealand, searching for those nuggest that will make the places, and the characters who live there, come alive in Nick and Kate’s next adventure. I took hundreds of photos that I can use to refresh my memory as I write. Here are just a few…

My wife Valerie and me on a beautiful beach on Waiheke Island
My wife Valerie and me on a beautiful beach on Waiheke Island

The Gold Coast in Australia.
The Gold Coast in Australia.

The ruins at Port Arthur in Tasmania
The ruins at Port Arthur in Tasmania

A machine/sculpture that eats, digests, and poops food at MONA in Hobart
A machine/sculpture that eats, digests, and poops food at MONA in Hobart, Tasmania.