INTERVIEW WITH LEE GOLDBERG

KILLER THRILLER by Lee Goldberg blends suspense and action, with a lot of humor.  With this series fiction becomes reality.

This plot has a deadly global conspiracy by Chinese intelligence trying to topple the United States. Ian Ludlow, a bestselling author, is known for his thrillers whose main character is larger-than-life operative Clint Straker. Because his stories have a tendency to come true the CIA and other national security agencies have taken notice. But the Chinese intelligence services also believe he and his companion, Margo French, are foreign assets who are using the cover of researching his next novel. This might remind readers of the real-life Department of Homeland Security’s Analytical Red Cell program, which asked authors to come up with scenarios of how the terrorists would launch an attack.

Now in Hong Kong to research details for his next story and to observe the filming of one his novels, he and his assistant Margo get more than they bargained for.  Seeing them as a threat, the Chinese attempt to assassinate both. Suddenly, Margo and Ian find themselves in a real-life adventure where he must use his writing skills to help them escape.

This is a fun read because the humor does not stray into Never Never Land but is a dry, clever, sarcastic banter. The characters are fun, witty, and flawed.  They are not super-heroes so the scenarios are believable.

Elise Cooper:  How did you get the idea for this series?

Lee Goldberg: It was a three-stage evolution. I know so many authors who write kick-ass, high-action thrillers. If put in the same situations as their heroes, they might not fare very well. Many are balding and overweight.  Would they be more resourceful than I might think? After all, while they may not have the physical attributes, experience, and training as their protagonists, theydo think the same way. Many writers have a protagonist who is a deductive genius with incredible observational skills, or is a brilliant thief able to plot elaborate heists, or is a clever con artist who is able to pull off outrageous scams. What if the writers of those characters have the same talents and don’t realize it?”

EC:  What about the other two stages?

LG: My brother Todd was writing a book with Brad Meltzer.  Over dinner Brad mentioned how he consulted with Homeland Security.  I know several authors who did this as well.  They were asked to come in because they have the imagination to create terrorism scenarios that bureaucrats would never think of.  Then I read a column by crime writer Lawrence Block.  He wrote about another author whose identity was stolen and complained that the police were doing nothing.  Block suggested the author should do what he would have his hero do. Basically, approaching the crime, the same way as his hero.  All of this inspired me to imagine what it would be like if an author is put in the same kind of jeopardy as his hero…and has to rise to the occasion.

EC:  You mention in the book UCLA, is that your Alma Mater?

LG:  I wrote four books while I was a student there. I was also a reporter for the student newspaper, The Daily Bruin.

EC:  So who is Ian Ludlow based upon?

LG: He is essentially me.  While I was at UCLA I wrote under the pseudonym Ian Ludlow.  I chose the name ‘Ludlow’ so I’d be on the shelf next to Robert Ludlum, and ‘Ian’ for Ian Fleming. My first book, .357 Vigilante, came out the same week that Bernhard Goetz shot some would be muggers on a subway train, so vigilantes were hot, and my book became a bestseller

EC:  So how are you and Ian similar?

LG: What Ian and I share in common is our physical build, the way we dress, and what we do for a living. We are both slightly overweight, wear jeans and polo shirts. We have our heroes that are far more capable than us with a lot more world experience. And, like him, I’m creeped out by how much of the stuff that I make up to entertain people is coming true.

EC:  This plot seems to be steeped in reality?

LG:  Much of the stuff I made up in Killer Thriller is now fact. I laughed at a critical review that said I was lazy because I just took facts out of the headlines.  Not at all.  For example, every day there is another revelation in the news about how China has hardwired “backdoors” into the technology we manufacture in their country so they can spy on us, whether it’s security cameras and cell phones or children’s toys. I recently had the surreal experience of editing the galleys of my next novel, Lost Hills. Some of the entirely fictional events I described on those pages were coming true on the evening news exactly how I imagined them. It has also been a constant problem while I’ve been writing the third Ian Ludlow, Fake Truth. I kept editing it because the fiction kept becoming reality. I’m forced to frequently decide whether to replot my story or just keep going.

EC: Why the humor?

LG: I am tired of thrillers and police procedurals that have no humor.  I know from my own life experiences that humor arises from the darkest times.  I find books without humor really boring and flat.  I think I am walking a fine line between writing a thriller and poking fun at them, but not like Austin Powers, Maxwell Smart, or Inspector Clouseau.

EC: How would you describe Margo?

LG: She is an innocent person who gets caught up in an extraordinary situation. She’s been a dog walker, folk singer, and author escort, so she has a lot of talents, but she just hasn’t found herself yet. But thanks to her experience with Ian, she finds the perfect job that complements all her talents. They make a great team, but she’s gay, so there is no chance that she and Ian will ever become romantically involved. There’s been some Hollywood interest in the books and the first thing the producers always say is, “she can”t be gay, they have to get together.” There’s no way I’m going to do that. I wanted to write a rip-roaring, man-on-the-run thriller without the cliché that the hero hooks up with the woman he meets along the way. I am actually poking fun at that cliché.” 

EC:  In this book you had the characters traveling all over the world?

LG: I have gone to all the places in this book, except Singapore and Turkey. I think nothing can replace boots-on-the-ground for picking up the smells, objects, and a sense of the place that will make the locations come alive on the page. It is also a great excuse to travel the world. I always post pictures of where I am on social media.

EC:  How would you describe Ian?

LG:  He has an enormous imagination and an uncanny ability to predict the future. He gets caught up in his own plots.  I think Ian is smarter than he realizes. 

EC:  What about your next books?

LG: Lost Hills comes out in September and is a police procedural about the youngest, female homicide detective in the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department. That book will be followed in 2020 by the third Ian Ludlow novel.

THANK YOU!!