Tod Goldberg: The PBJ Interview

Author of Fake Liar Cheat and Living Dead Girl
Columnist for The Las Vegas Mercury
Proprietor of todgoldberg.typepad.com.

Living Dead Girl is a terrific book. How did the idea come about?

I had the idea for Living Dead Girl before I wrote Fake Liar Cheat but knew that, at the time, I wouldn’t be able to write it. Not that I couldn’t do it physically (I am quite a physical specimen) but
that I didn’t think my writing chops were what they’d need to be to write a book with an unreliable narrator who may or may not be the most decent human being. The difference between the two books is fairly vast and that was also intentional. I’d had good commercial success with the sort of funny, angst-y style of Fake Liar Cheat and frankly didn‚t want to be pigeonholed into writing the kinds of books I might not like to read. Also, the commercial success came at the expense of a few critics
declaring it a steaming piece of shit. So, when I started out to write this book about a man whose wife goes missing under odd circumstances and who may or may not have killed his own child as well, it was with the understanding that I was taking some chances with my work that the average seventeen year-old boy who thoroughly enjoyed Fake Liar Cheat might not appreciate but that I knew was closer to my (ahem, pardon me while I put on my all-black outfit and listen to very dark and wearisome music) artistic vision.

The actual idea was spawned out of my interest in anthropology (the main character, Paul
Luden, is an anthropologist) and about what someone who holds a strong belief in science might do when faced with a challenge to the intangible nature of the human heart.

What is your writing process like? Time of day, do you use a computer, what sort of daily
goals do you shoot for, etc?

I treat it like a full time job because, well, it is. So, I work five days a week, except for the weeks I work seven, and try to do it for about six or seven hours per day, except for the days when I do it for 15 or two. My best writing occurs late in the evening somewhere between midnight and four in the
morning when the phone has stopped ringing and all the sports scores have already been logged. I use a computer because I live in America and am not one of those people who feels like they need to “get close to the words” by writing on a legal tablet, or by writing at Starbucks whilst surrounded by all the cool people in soft leather coats, or by sitting on a park bench smelling the stench of humanity while, at the same time, being perpetually whipped, blindfolded, and forced to listen to Shakira songs.

My goals are simple: write as much good stuff as possible. I always try to end when I’m hot so that when I come back the next day it’s not like I have to climb a mountain of crap to get back into the story. That doesn’t always happen, of course, but it’s a goal.

Do you write full-time? What would you be doing if you didn’t write?

I do write full-time, though I also teach creative writing at a number of fine institutions, though primarily for the Writers Program at UCLA Extension, and am a volunteer firefighter, male exotic
dancer, professional roller-derby player (the Los Angeles Thunderbirds) and have twice been the West Coast Inter-Federation Kickboxing Champion. Well, okay, none of that stuff after UCLA is accurate, but I’ve always admired writers who have interesting things listed beneath their pictures on their bookjackets: Tod Goldberg once played professional soccer for the New York Cosmos, worked at a cannery in Walla Walla, Washington and served time in prison for a murder he didn’t commit.

If I didn’t write, I imagine I’d probably work in public relations or advertising, though I guess those are both writing jobs. In the spirit of the “no writing” edict, I suppose I’d have ended up doing something with politics or the law.

What are you working on now, and does talking about a current project hurt the writing process in any way?

I’m nearly done with my new book, which at the moment is titled The Desert Sun but could well end up being called something completely different. What generally happens is that I come up with a
title and then my wife and my literary agent Jennie Dunham conspire against me and come up with something better. I do think talking about a project does hurt it in some way because, while you’re in the middle of writing it at least, trying to break the story down into one compelling sentence steals your thunder – you haven’t finished it yet, how do you know what it’s really about? I don’t need anything to hinder my process any more than video games, the Oakland As, the Oakland Raiders, and my love of Baskin-Robbins already does.

What’s the best advice you have for someone who wants a full-time writing career?

There’s no advice on how to get a full-time writing job other than to write well. When you graduate college, its not as though there are tables and tables at the job fair dedicated to writers. It
would be wonderful if Knopf had a little sign up list for people who think they might have a novel in them, a post-graduate mentor program where you and Richard Ford get to hang out for a few years just shooting the shit (a personal dream of mine, I might add) and then you get a nice, thirty-thousand dollar advance to fuck up your first book but pad your resume with false acclaim (coordinated all advertising for the greater part of Livermore, California; sold forty copies at Powells in Portland on a sunny day in August; was called “the next Rushdie” by the Boston Phoenix). All you can do is write, and write, and write, and not be afraid of the rejection that will surely result from your hard work. I
get asked a lot, particularly at book signings, how people can break into the book world. There is no backdoor, no soda fountain peopled by editors and agents looking for the next face of publishing.
You write well and hope for the very best. A full time job in writing is tough to acquire, but once you get it, the hours and the dress code are tops!

How did the gig with The Las Vegas Mercury come about?

They started up in January of 2001 as a tiny – and I mean tiny – alternative newsweekly with about one ad and literally eleven total pages. It’s now the largest weekly in Nevada, is filled with
advertising, and recently won the top prize for overall excellence by the Nevada Press Association. I’m very proud of the paper and the work I do for it each week (I write a weekly column called GOLDBERG). How it came about is fairly mundane: Geoff Schumacher, my editor at the
Mercury, was previously the editor of another Las Vegas weekly, Citylife, that had interviewed me prior to Fake Liar Cheat coming out and which had awarded me first prize in their annual writing contest and he thought I might add a unique voice to his new paper. He basically said, write whatever you want and I have.

Any frustrating/funny/harrowing stories about trying to sell that first novel, Fake Liar Cheat?

Not really. The whole process was pretty uneventful, aside from the 23 rejections it received in just under two weeks. Other than that, it was just as morally, ethically, and religiously painful as I
might have imagined.

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