For more than a decade, Rudy Serafin showed up to his makeshift office underneath the 10 Freeway as the sun came out and the roar of the morning commute shook the ground below his feet.
With a generator, his cellphone and a portable toilet, the 49-year-old immigrant from Michoacán, Mexico, worked alongside a dozen others operating small businesses in spaces they rented between the concrete columns holding up the interstate. They were mechanics, truckers, garment suppliers, recyclers and pallet distributors, struggling to get by in the region’s economy. They paid rent to a Calabasas businessman who leased the land from Caltrans and, according to court records filed by the agency, illegally sublet it to them at far higher rates.
On Saturday, many of the renters’ dreams went up in the pallet-fueled inferno that caused such severe damage to the freeway that it is expected to be closed for weeks.
While officials say the cause of the fire was arson, many who worked there, with no fire alarms or sprinklers, say it was a disaster years in the making.
My new thriller CALICO, a genre mash-up that (to my relief) is getting fantastic reviews, is out today. But that’s not all. I’m all ove the Internet, writing essays about the book and doing interviews to explain myself…and my decision to write this seemingly sharp departure from my usual work.
Today, in CrimeReads, I out myself as a closeted wesstern writer.
I decided to do it by writing a gritty western set in 1883 in the Mojave desert mining town of Calico, which is now a cheesy roadside attraction off the I-15 between Los Angeles and Las Vegas. It’s actually a notion I’ve had in the back of my mind for years…maybe even decades.
But there have been a thousand westerns. What could I bring to the genre that nobody else had? How could I make it my own?
The answer was obvious: I’d use the novel to reconcile my creative, split personality. And I’d do that by combining a seemingly traditional western with a present-day crime novel… a seemingly straight-forward police procedural set in the Mojave in 2019.
Notice the repetition of the word seemingly in the previous paragraph.
That’s because, to truly make it mine, I’d have to acknowledge the tropes of both genres…and then ruthlessly subvert them. That’s my brand, or so I am told, exemplified by my “Ian Ludlow” trilogy of spy novels (True Fiction, Killer Thriller, and Fake Truth)
What would connect the two storylines?
The answer was easy.
They would share the same corpse.
And I visited my friends at Rogue Women Writers to talk about how I wrote the book:
When you read a contemporary police procedural or a period western, you go into them with certain expectations about the stories, the characters, and the themes you’re going to find. Those expectations are what defines those very different genres. While some of those tropes are necessary, many of them are tired, ridiculous cliches. I set out with my thriller Calico to honor the tropes of those two genres while twisting them in new ways and bringing them together in a single, propulsive thriller.
And over at The Dossier, I was grilled about how I work.
DOSSIER: When and where do you write, and what kind of environment do you prefer? (Music/silence/ocean-front veranda where sea nymphs emerge from the water to serve you chilled Bollinger and Oreos?)
GOLDBERG: Sadly, no sea nymphs. Just my dog laying on my office couch, loudly licking his ass or barking in a dream.
I do my best writing between 8 p.m and 2 a.m. in my home office. I like to listen to instrumental TV and movie soundtracks while I work (and to drown out the canine farting). If I am writing action, I might listen to Goldfinger (or other Bond scores), The Bourne Identity, or Mission Impossible (mostly Lalo Schifrin’s original TV soundtracks, and a couple of the features). If I am writing “procedural” scenes, I might listen to Jon Burlingame’s excellent collection of Quinn Martin TV series soundtracks (Streets of San Francisco, Cannon, Barnaby Jones, etc), or Jerry Goldsmith’s Police Story, or Morton Steven’s Hawaii Five-O, for example. I have a collection of hundreds of soundtracks to choose from.
I wish I could munch on Oreos and potato chips while I write, but these days it’s Keto Bars and roasted almonds… washed down with Diet Coke.
I hope you enjoy all of that…but, most of all, I hope you will grab a copy of CALICO. It’s a book I’ve wanted to write for decades and I’m so excited to finally have it out there in the world.
Crown Vic is a slim new volume from Cutting Edge Books containing two previously unpublished stories about Ray Boyd, an ex-con traveling the open road in an old cop car. Ray is the anti-Reacher. He doesn’t help people in trouble. He helps himself.
Fair warning, these two violent, sexually explicit stories — “Ray Boyd isn’t Stupid” and “Occasional Risk” — are very different from anything I’ve written before (with the possible exception of “Lost Shows,” a short story I wrote for Lawrence Block‘s Collectibles anthology). I shared the stories with Larry, my agent, my brother Tod & a few friends, who all really liked them. But I didn’t know what to do with the stories after that (who publishes short stories like these anymore?) and I had two books to write, so I set Ray aside. That was a few years ago.
Recently, my brother asked me to write a new Ray Boyd story for an anthology he’s editing…and once I got into it, I realized how much I missed the character.
But should I write more about Ray Boyd?
That will depend on you and the response I get to these two stories, which Cutting Edge Books is publishing as a test run. If you like them, let me know by posting a comment here or leaving a positive review on Amazon.
Like SPECTRE agents, I’m everywhere… at least during the month following the release of a new book. Over the last two weeks, I’ve done a ton of interviews for podcasts, radio shows, video programs, and newspapers, discussing MALIBU BURNING, my sordid career, and the craft of writing. If you missed any of them, you can watch, listen, or read some of them below…
I did a lively interview with David Temple of The Thriller Zone, which you can see here.
My brother Tod and I were interviewed together by Erik Pedersen…and it’s by far the best one that’s ever been done with the two of us. You can read it in the Orange County Register. You can also find it in the Los Angeles Daily News, The Boston Herald, Long Beach Press Enterprise, The Pasadena Star Newsand many other newspaper sites nationwid
You can watch me and Tod being interviewed by Sandra Tsing Loh on Bookish. It is hosted on the Southern California News Group’s YouTube channel.
I was cross-examined at length by Toni Marcolini on her show It May Interest You To Know. You can see it here.
I got In Between the Pages with James Lott Jr., which you can see here.
I talked about how I create my stories with Steven James at The Story Blender. You can listen to it here.
R.G. Belsky held my feet to the fire for an interview you can read in The Big Thrill.
I had a lot of fun talking with author Sara DiVello for her Mystery Mavens show, which you can watch here.
You can also watch me being interrogated by Cyrus Webb on his Amazon Live show, here.
Speaking of interviews, a few years ago, I interviewed author Craig Johnson, and the cast & producers of LONGMIRE, the TV series based on his books, for a live, ticketed LiveTalksLA event. That event was filmed, and it’s finally shown up on YouTube. You can see it here.
I hope you enjoy the interviews… and that it inspires you to read MALIBU BURNING!
I’ve been remiss in talking about some of the TV and movie reference books I’ve read over the last year…so here are a few short reviews…
tie-ins and novelizations, perhaps, than Alan Dean Foster. His anecdotes about novelizing movies and TV shows can be enjoyed on so many levels –. as a primer on the business and creative life of a working writer, as a history of tie-in,as an inside look at movie marketing, as history of film-making over several turbulent decades, and as a collection of amusing anecdotes/vignettes about Hollywood and writing. And on every level, it’s a resounding success.
I’m sad to hear that Barry Humphries has passed away. One of the absolute highlights of my career was writing a DAME EDNA movie for him. It was initially developed for the A&E network and was meant to be the first in a series. What the network wanted was a mystery solved by Dame Edna. I got the gig because Barry had read my book Watch Me Die (then called The Man with the Iron-On Badge) and had really liked it. The opportunity was too good to pass up …and, incidentally, would also be the biggest payday I’d ever had as a screenwriter (and my first solo script without my then-writing partner Bill Rabkin).
But could I actually do it?
I watched just about everything Barry had ever done as Dame Edna, or at least everything I could get my hands on, and read all of his books, as well as John Lahr’s book about him. I was confident in my ability to write a mystery, and to be funny, but not anywhere near as funny as Dame Edna. The project scared me. How could I even try to be as funny as him? To capture his unique voice? It was insane. Moreover, so much of Dame Edna was also rooted in Australian culture, which I knew nothing about.
So when I met with Barry, in his suite at a Beverly Hills hotel, the first thing I told him was that I will never be as funny as you. If I’m lucky, I’ll get you a script that 40% of the way there joke-wise, and you’ll have to do a major pass to make it your own…to make it Dame Edna. But he shrugged that off. He had great faith in me — a lot more than I had in myself.
I worked on the outline with him and his good friend, producer Gary Hoffman, for the next several weeks. It was so much fun. I don’t think I’ve ever laughed so much developing a story. Then it came time to pitch the project to the head of A&E in person. The three of us went in. I was counting on Barry to do the pitch with me. We’d never actually talked about that — I’d assumed it was a given. Why else would Barry be coming? We needed his star power and his wit.
I started things off. When we got to the first scene where Dame Edna appears, I turned to him to take over… and he just looked at me with a smile. I didn’t know it then, but he wouldn’t do Dame Edna unless he was in the make-up and outfit. He could only talk about her in third-person…and he wouldn’t even do that.
I was on my own.
I ended up having to imitate Dame Edna in front of the man who’d created the legendary character. I was terrified and furious at the same time. It was like trying to imitate Robin Williams or Jonathan Winters in front of them. But I had no choice. I wanted to sell the project. So I pretended he wasn’t there and gave it my all. Everybody was laughing. I wasn’t sure if it was at me or with me.
It didn’t matter. The president of A&E loved the pitch and I got the greenlight to write the script. I left that meeting soaked in sweat, embarrssed and angry despite our success. But Barry couldn’t have been happier or more supportive. He told me I did great.
Barry was very easy to work with, which I honestly didn’t expect. Whenever I approached him with questions or ideas, he was always gregarious, friendly, open-minded. There were a couple of times that I called him when he happened to be preparing to go on stage as Dame Edna, or had just come off-stage. Whenever that happened, he talked to me in character, even if he was alone in his dressing room. That’s because once the wig, glasses, and outfit were on, he refused to break character (that was also why, he once told me, doing his guest role on ALLY McBEAL was incredibly exhausting for him — he was Dame Edna playing a role. So even when he was “off-camera” he was still “on-camera.” He never was able to relax. He couldn’t be himself until he got back to his hotel room and out of the make-up). Those calls with Dame Edna were hilarious, and a bit unsettling, but also very helpful. I could ask the character herself the questions I had about her. It also felt like I was getting a private Dame Edna performance… and, in essence, I was. My only regret is that I never recorded one of those calls.
Barry loved my script — and, to my shock and delight, he didn’t change a single word. So Gary turned it in to the network and we waited. The network president loved it, too. I was so excited. We all were. But then the president was unexpectedly pushed out and the new regime rethought their programming strategy…and a series of DAME EDNA movies didn’t fit in. They dropped the movie.
But Gary refused to let the project die. He was able to get the project going as a feature in the UK thanks to, if memory serves, a big tax rebate. But then, shortly before pre-production was about to begin, the rebate was pulled, the funding gap couldn’t be filled, and the project was over. I was heart-broken. There were times over the next few years when it seemed like it might come back, but it didn’t happen. The problem was that Dame Edna was big in Australia and the UK, but not big enough elsewhere to get the necessary money or presales internationally.
That was it. We all moved on.
Some years later, after my career as a novelist really took off, Gary self-published my script as an ebook on Amazon, perhaps to generate new interest in the movie. I honestly wasn’t too happy that he did that, especially because the cover was amateurish and the interior formatting was wonky, but I didn’t own the script or the character, so it was out of my hands. I never included the ebook in my bibliography nor shared its existence with anyone. The truth is, I haven’t looked at the script in at least 12 years…probably longer. But you can. The ebook version of the script is still available. I don’t know if the script holds up after all this time. You’ll have to tell me.
I lost touch with Barry after the project fizzled, but I’ve always cherished the memory of working with him, and not just for the laughter or the paycheck. The experience undoubtedly made me a better writer. Certainly a funnier one, and I’m sure whatever lessons I learned from him, a true master of comedy and character, are still shaping my work today.
This is a terrific book, but I am biased. Bill is my oldest friend, and was my TV writing and producing partner for over twenty years.
The book’s introduction alone, both a revealing history lesson and a perceptive overview on the state of the television industry, is worth the purchase price. The explosion of streaming services has changed the business of television and, with it, the way series are conceptualized and written. It’s not enough to have a good idea, you must understand the underlying forces, both creative and financial, reshaping TV. Luckily, there’s William Rabkin to make sense of it all…and guide you through it. This is essential reading for anyone hoping to break into streaming television…or any television.
An acclaimed screenwriter, showrunner, development executive, international TV consultant, and beloved professor, absolutely nobody is better suited than Bill to guide you through the creative landscape of streaming television today, envision where it’s going tomorrow, and teach you how to shape your series ideas to succeed in this ever-changing business and dramatic medium.
With this book, Bill will be your own personal Yoda, teaching you how to master the Force of streaming television success. This book is an essential manual for creating streaming television series that can succeed, not only in the business as it exists today, but what it’s likely to become tomorrow.
I was sad to hear about Raquel Welch’s passing today. I had one encounter with her, back in the early 1980s, when I was a reporter for the UCLA Daily Bruin. She came to campus to speak, and I interviewed her beforehand, then walked with her and her husband to the event. Afterwards, I spoke with her again and walked with them back to their car. She was very friendly and it was a pleasant interview.
Much to my surprise, I got a call from her a day or so later… apparently, the National Enquirer, or some other scandal rag, was reporting that a fan came up to her at UCLA on her way back to her car and that her husband (I think his name was Andre, or something similar) physically assaulted him.
She asked if I’d be willing to make a statement that it wasn’t true. I said, of course, that I would be glad to. I don’t recall who I talked with after that… whether it was her lawyer, or somebody else, and if the story was either quashed or corrected instead after it ran… but I do remember that she sent me a nice note afterwards thanking me for my help.
It was an experience that left me feeling fond of Welch…and gave me an early lesson in the misery that fame can bring.
My new thriller Malibu Burning, is now available for pre-order and will be out in September. It’s a standalone novel, but it’s set in the same “universe” as my Eve Ronin series. In fact, it takes place at the same time as Lost Hills. Here’s the story:
Hell comes to Southern California every October. It rides in on searing Santa Ana winds that blast at near hurricane force, igniting voracious wildfires. Master thief Danny Cole longs for the flames. A tsunami of fire is exactly what he needs to pull off a daring crime and avenge a fallen friend.
As the most devastating firestorms in Los Angeles’ history scorch the hills of Malibu, relentless arson investigator Walter Sharpe and his wild card of a new partner, Andrew Walker, a former US marshal, suspect that someone set the massive blazes intentionally, a terrifying means to an unknown end.
While the flames rage out of control, Danny pursues his brilliant scheme, unaware that Sharpe and Walker are closing in. But when they all collide in a canyon of fire, everything changes, pitting them against an unexpected enemy within an inescapable inferno.
I’m fortunate that the book has earned some early praise from some fantastic authors.
“Malibu Burning is a blistering thrill ride full of Southern California thieves, cops, and firefighters, all facing high stakes and imminent danger. Superbly researched and told, fast-paced, and downright fun, this is Lee Goldberg at his best!” —Mark Greaney, #1 New York Times bestselling author of the Gray Man series
“By turns tense and rambunctious, wildly entertaining, and breakneck-paced, Lee Goldberg’s splendid Malibu Burning is pure storytelling pleasure from beginning to end.” —Megan Abbott, Edgar Award–, Anthony Award–, Thriller Award–, and Los Angeles Times Book Prize–winning author of The Turnout
“An inventive, twisty, and funny caper from one of crime writing’s true pros. Elmore Leonard and Donald Westlake would’ve loved this wild heist.” —Ace Atkins, New York Times bestselling author of Robert B. Parker’s Bye Bye Baby and The Heathens
“This is a book I couldn’t put down. Lee Goldberg is a master when it comes to building tension and writing heart-pounding action scenes. Malibu Burning is a roundhouse kick of a thriller, a true nail-biting race against time.” —Simon Gervais, former RCMP counterterrorism officer and author of The Last Protector and Robert Ludlum’s The Blackbriar Genesis