The Thriller Zone

The Thriller Zone Podcast Episode Synopsis

On this exciting episode of The Thriller Zone, host David Temple welcomes author Todd Goldberg to discuss his latest novel, "Gangsters Don't Die." David introduces Todd as one of the funniest, most engaging, and educated authors to ever grace the podcast. They dive into a variety of topics, including Todd's prolific writing career, his fascination with gangsters, and the inspiration behind his characters.

Todd shares that his interest in organized crime stems from growing up in Palm Springs, a city with a history of mob activity. He talks about the influence of his family's storytelling tradition and the cultural appreciation for reading and writing. Todd also reveals that he has received emails from people who have just gotten out of prison, expressing their appreciation for his book.

The conversation takes an interesting turn as Todd discusses the moral ambiguity of his characters and the appeal of gangster stories. He believes that Americans are fascinated by organized crime because it represents the idea of getting away with breaking the rules. Todd also emphasizes the importance of character development and creating complex, multi-dimensional protagonists.

David praises Todd's latest book, "Gangsters Don't Die," and highlights the gripping prologue and the morally conflicted protagonist, Sal Cupertine. He expresses his admiration for Todd's ability to make readers both despise and love the main character simultaneously.

The discussion then shifts to Todd's career as a professor and his role in directing the low-residency MFA program at UC Riverside. Todd shares his philosophy of teaching and his goal of positioning his students for success in the writing business. He emphasizes the importance of treating writing as commerce and not settling for struggling as an artist.

David and Todd briefly touch on Todd's previous podcast, Literary Disco, which was highly regarded in the literary world. They mention that the podcast is currently on hiatus but may return in the future.

The episode concludes with David asking Todd for his best piece of writing advice. Todd shares a valuable lesson he learned from author Donald Westlake: a story is over when the reader could write the next page. He explains that this advice has shaped his approach to writing and has led him to constantly surprise readers and avoid predictability.

Overall, this episode of The Thriller Zone provides listeners with an engaging and insightful conversation about Todd Goldberg's writing career, his fascination with gangsters, and his approach to storytelling.

To learn more about Tod visit his website: TodGoldberg.com and purchase his book on Amazon here. Who knows, maybe Tod will give you a bonus prize when you mention you heard about his book while listening to The Thriller Zone Podcast.

Listen: TheThrillerZone.com and ALL Podcast Channels. Watch: YouTube.com/thethrillerzone

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TIMESTAMPS:
00:00:00 - Introduction and appreciation for the book from people who have just gotten out of prison
00:01:25 - Todd Goldberg's head cold and his role as a director of a low residency MFA program
00:02:07 - Todd Goldberg's surprise at not being on the podcast earlier
00:03:13 - Todd Goldberg's thoughts on the talent of his family and the influence of his parents
00:04:50 - Todd Goldberg's hope that his parents are proud
00:05:40 - Todd Goldberg's excitement about being featured on Rising Stars month
00:06:43 - Todd Goldberg's thoughts on the fascination with gangster stories and the appeal of getting away with it
00:08:10 - Todd Goldberg's personal connection to the desert and his research on organized crime
00:10:49 - Todd Goldberg's encounter with an actual gangster at a book signing
00:14:57 - Todd Goldberg's reflection on the impact of his books and the changes in his career
00:17:12 - Todd Goldberg's appreciation for the prologue and the significance of the first and last lines
00:25:27 - Todd Goldberg's personal story about a friend with cancer and its influence on the character development in the book
00:26:28 - Todd Goldberg's perspective on happy endings and the ambiguity of right and wrong
00:27:48 - Todd Goldberg's belief in leaving endings open and allowing readers to create their own resolution
00:29:30 - Todd Goldberg's discussion on the fascination with the dark side of human nature and the influence of cultural upbringing
00:30:44 - Todd Goldberg's emphasis on resilience and fighting for what you love
00:34:42 - Todd Goldberg's experience as a professor and his philosophy of treating writing as a business
00:36:50 - Todd Goldberg's plans for the adaptation of "Gangsters Don't Die" into a screen project
00:40:19 - Todd Goldberg's mention of the hiatus of the "Literary Disco" podcast and the continued friendship with co-hosts
00:42:58 - Todd Goldberg's advice on writing endings from Donald Westlake
00:48:54 - Closing remarks and gratitude from Todd Goldberg


The Thriller Zone with David Temple is sponsored in part by Blackstone Publishing.

What is The Thriller Zone?

Join podcast host and thriller author David Temple as he gives you a front-row seat to the best thriller writers in the world. If you like thriller fiction in Books, Movies, and TV Shows, you’ll love The Thriller Zone Podcast.

Tod Goldberg:
What I can tell you is that I get a lot of emails from people who have just gotten out of prison who appreciate the book.

David Temple:
Hello, and welcome to The Thriller Zone. I'm your host, David Temple. And on today's 162nd episode of The Thriller Zone, I am jazzed to spend some time with one of the funniest, most engaging, and quite possibly one of the most educated authors to ever grace this podcast. Mr. Todd Goldberg joins us to discuss his latest novel, Gangsters Don't Die. As you'll quickly see, Todd, part of the Lee and Todd Goldberg Hall of Fame, is a dream guest, because not only does he deliver the laughs, but he's one of the most natural storytellers you'll ever meet, and you'll see. Our conversation covers a variety of topics including Todd's prolific writing career, covering 15 best-selling novels, many of which wrap around the world of gangsters. We'll also hear some of Todd's magic as to how he approaches writing characters, and perhaps a favorite part of the show, is when Todd shares his thoughts on Happy Indians. Besides being a terrific writer, he's also a popular professor and directs the low-residency MFA program at UC Riverside. There is a lot of ground to cover and a very little time, so let's get to it. Please welcome my new friend, Todd Goldberg. Where did you get a head cold in the desert?

Tod Goldberg:
Well, I am the director of a low residency MFA program. Yes, there were 100 students here in the desert up until yesterday at 1pm. And every single one of them at some point hugged me. That is where I acquired this. That's what she does if it's going around into plastic surgery or a head cold at all times.

David Temple:
Well, it's either it's because you're such a huggable guy that you, uh, well, that is also true. Yeah.

Tod Goldberg:
Well, welcome to the thriller zone. Thank you. I've been looking forward to it. I can't believe you haven't had me on previously. What the fuck?

David Temple:
What the F indeed, sir. Well, it's funny when I ran into you at BowserCon, I was like, how could, and I think I said this to you, how could I not have had you on yet?

Tod Goldberg:
It's surprising, frankly.

David Temple:
I know. I know. I know. Kick me in the shorts. Well, I know, especially since I had your brother on and you're probably thinking, oh, well, here's here's what I've learned over the many years of being Lee's brother.

Tod Goldberg:
Yes. It is OK to follow him, provided I'm better looking, skinnier and funnier. And that's always been the case.

David Temple:
See? To this very day. I, I, I've got many things to talk about. Of course, we're talking about gangsters that don't die. We're going to be talking about this, but there is a crazy question and it's kind of more rhetorical. I said this to my wife, I'm like, I don't know how, and this is going to sound like I'm blowing it right up your skirt. So just bear with me. But I'm like, how did so much talent getting two guys, two brothers of all things, because you guys are pretty dang prolific with your work.

Tod Goldberg:
Well, it's not just the two of us. We also have two siblings, um, sisters who are equally prolific. We have my sister, Linda, who is an artist. Um, and you've seen her work all over the world. You just don't realize it. Um, and my sister, Karen, who's a lawyer who spends a lot of time defending me and Lee. But Linda and Karen have written several books together about art. So between the four of us, it's a tremendous amount of books. I think part of it comes from our parents, for sure. We had very creative parents. Our mother was a journalist and wrote books about divorce because she'd done it a lot. Our dad was a TV newsman. So, you know, the written word was always a part of our family, but sort of, you know, historically as Jews, there's always been an appreciation in our family culturally for reading and writing and for expression. That Lee and I have turned it into a murder business, that might be something about trauma or about the need to settle chaos in our own lives. But I often think, like, if Lee hadn't done it first, would, would I have fallen into this? Or would I have become quarterback for the Raiders for straight to the A's? Both those things seemed like distant thoughts. Sure, because I'm still five foot 10 in Jewish. But you know, our entire family is a bunch of storytellers, every single one of us, and even the unpublished ones are storytellers.

David Temple:
Wow, well, your parents must be proud.

Tod Goldberg:
Well, I hope so. If you hear from them, let us know. It's a long distance call.

David Temple:
I'll accept charges. Well, we met at Basher Con. I'm very excited about that. And this book, I'm going to get to it. I want to drill down. But I knew I was going to do Rising Stars for December. And when we bumped into each other, I thought, oh, how am I going to how am I going to work Todd in? I want to get him as close to his launch. But I'd already had everything stacked up. I didn't want to wait till next year because then you'd look at me like, really, Dave? You want to wait till 24? So I'm basically shoehorning you in December. However, you're kind of the da-da-da-da on our rising stars month, even though, of course, you are already in your own galaxy.

Tod Goldberg:
I am my own satellite.

David Temple:
And the funny thing is we dropped the shows on Mondays and I was going to drop you on Monday because I know you celebrate Christmas. So I just thought I must have to push him off to Tuesday to really give him the biggest bang for his buck.

Tod Goldberg:
Perfect. Perfect. I appreciate that. Well, you know what, though? It's interesting. This book of mine, you know, it's actually the fourth book in a trilogy because I did three novels and a short story collection. But in terms of you shoehorning me into the rising stars, even though I've written 15 books, these four books really changed my career. Each one did something else for me. In this book, I'd never been an Amazon Best Book of the Year. I got that the other day. Um, you know, I'm sure I'll lose a bunch of awards to Sean Cosby later in the year. Look forward to that. Um, cause that's what happens. Every book I have, Sean puts out a book at the same time and then I lose an award to him. Not that I'm angry. Not that I'm angry with that.

David Temple:
No, there's no bitterness. And he didn't make the cover.

Tod Goldberg:
So he's right there on the top. That's all. So I figured they'd let me win one award when he's up for something. Um, but I, I do feel like these books changed the, um, change the, the way my career was going for sure, but also changed the way I was viewed by my peers. And that's, you know, that's a nice thing.

David Temple:
Well, you know, when you handed it to me and I don't know why I didn't get you to autograph it. So next time I see you, I'll get you to do that. But when you added to him, like, Oh, I can't wait because I love gangsters, mobs. And I, as I was preparing, I'm like, wait a minute, let me think about this. I'm going back to all the movies that I grew up watching that I loved. I mean, let's look at it. Godfather in 72 and 74 once upon a time, America, 84. Goodfellas, probably maybe my all-time favorite, if not the second, and Miller's Crossing. And there's a dozen I could do, but those are like the four big ones that came to me, and I thought, my rising question, both for you, kind of, and for myself, and for my listeners, you know, what do you think it is that makes this obsession with gangster stories, especially you? I mean, this is, you said number four. I mean, I love this, four in a trilogy. So I'm trying to go, is that another? Phrase that I- Archaeology quartets. Async, that would be fine, wouldn't it? Anyway, what do you think this is? Have we just always, we've always been this way, haven't we?

Tod Goldberg:
Yeah, you know, I've given a lot of thought to this over the years. Because the movies you just listed are also all of my favorite movies. And I am both fascinated and repelled by organized crime. I am a pacifist, of course, at heart. But I'm interested in systems and closed ecosystems. And so I'm really interested in this notion of omerta, which we wouldn't know about unless all these gangsters opened their mouths and talked about it. Um, you know, that's the worst secret organization on earth is organized crime. Um, but you know, I think the reason Americans are so fascinated by the mafia and organized crime in general, it's street gangs also, is the notion of getting away with it. You know, we all like, I think the idea of the American dream, you know, go west and, you know, you know, white picket fence and all that has really changed to go west and get away with it. Right. How can you how can you push the boundaries of the law so far that you can get away with it? And, you know, you see that in everyday life. You see that in our political system, for sure. And I think each of us harbors a fantasy of getting away with it, whatever it might be. It might be stealing a pack of gum. It might be blowing up your neighbor's car if they leave the garbage cans out too late. Not that I'm saying I'd do that. Whatever it is, that idea of being just on the line of criminality is appealing to us. And I think that's a big part of our fascination with organized crime. But also, as organized crime has slipped into the main part of our culture, and I think about this in, you know, books, TV, movies, film, music, of course, you know, rap music is filled with gangster mythology. It also is just like a lifestyle choice. Oh, I'm going to live like I don't give a fuck. You know, I'm gonna be Tony Soprano. I don't give a fuck. Yeah, the problem is Tony Soprano gave a fuck. Yeah. And Michael Corleone gave a fuck. Yeah, all these guys that we look up to in our cinema, Jay Z, you know, all these people that we look to, they reveal themselves because in fact, they're not sociopaths. They care about how they are perceived. They care about their families. They have things that they can lose. And I think that becomes an appealing part of how we look at gangsters. They're not Jeffrey Dahmer. They're not going to eat your face. They're not going to kill you unless you're in the game. I think that's part of what makes them appealing to us.

David Temple:
So I know you live in the desert. I know a lot of this book takes place in the desert. Most of your books in this gangster trilogy took place in the desert. And I'm wondering how close did you have to get to the topic in your research?

Tod Goldberg:
Well, thank you for asking this question. It's an important part of my life. I am, in fact, a gangster. No, I'm not. I'm neither a gangster nor a rabbi. but I think probably more like a gangster than a rally. Well, so here's the thing. I live in Palm Springs, and Palm Springs has always been a city that's a mob-run city. It's an open city. And what that means is that the mafia can operate here without the normal sort of tribal lines. The Gambinos aren't gonna do business with the Bananas, et cetera. The Chicago Outfit isn't gonna do business with the Memphis Mafia, all that stuff. But here, as long as you don't cross anyone in business, you can operate without a problem. And they won't kill you in the desert, which is an important part of it. There hasn't been a mob killing in the desert in, I think, 70 years, something like that. But I grew up... I grew up with kids whose last name were Bonanno in St. Gary, and they were the grandsons or nephews or the cousins of all of these gangsters. And so that was always a big part of my childhood. Um, like to date sort of C level crime bosses and B level actors. Like that was her. She always dated guys that owned like suit stores or tuxedo companies or limousine shops. There was this one guy she dated. This guy actually wasn't a gangster, but I've never forgotten this. He owned his own limousine. And this was actually when I was a little kid up in Northern California. He owned his own limousine and he'd pull up in front of our house to take our mom out on a date. But in order to impress the neighbors, he'd climb through the window between the driver's seat and the backseat so he could get out the backseat. Like he wasn't driving it. This is the kind of person my mom dated. So that was always a part of our lives, you know, and then I lived in Vegas for a little while and that was a very, you know, real part of living in Las Vegas. The mafia is alive and well in that city for sure. Um, but I've always, you know, I've always been fascinated with it. Um, what I can tell you is that I get a lot of emails from people who have just gotten out of prison, um, who appreciate the books. The last time I had an interaction with an actual gangster, who seemed verifiable, I was doing a book signing at the Mob Museum in Las Vegas, which is a bizarre place when you think about it. Like, a museum dedicated to organized crime. It's very bizarre. And, you know, it's a historical building. It's where the 1954 hearings were held. You know, that's just Kefauver and everything. But anyway, I was doing this event, and there was a dude at the back of the room, you know, in a sweatsuit, And he's watching and listening and nodding his head and shaking his head the whole time. And he gets in the back of the line to get his book signed, and he comes through, and he says, hey, I heard you on NPR this morning, because I'd been on local NPR that morning. I was like, oh, great. He's like, yeah, I was taking my kid to work or to school. And I heard you, and I liked the way you talked about us. I think you gave us respect. And I was like, what is happening? Yeah. I'm talking to. And he says, you know, we're not, we're not bad guys. We're just in a different business. And I was like, yeah, okay. He's like, and you, you seem to understand the sense of humor. Like, you know, it's a lot of bullshit. And I was like, yeah, okay. And he's like, so, uh, yeah, it came by to us to pay respect and get a book. I was like, that's, that's great. I was like, well, who'd you like me to sign this to? He's like, Tommy D. And I said, is that D E E or is that just D? He's like, just D. Tommy D it is.

David Temple:
Oh my God. Well, this is all right. I'm going to say, I was going to say it for a little bit later. This is one of my favorite books of the year, Todd. I'm not even, I'm not saying that cause you're just here. It's the minute I picked it up, it does everything I want in a book. Here's how I'm going to start. There's two things. There's the first line and almost the last line, not the last line of the story. Cause that would really F it up. But so the first line, if dark Billy Cooper team had to kill a guy, he preferred to do it up close with his bare hands. Well, I'm in for the ride. I don't care what else you say. And then my last thing, it's down here in acknowledgment, so it's perfectly safe. But one of my favorite things you said, and you just referred to it a second ago, I'm not a mobster, nor a rabbi, nor an employee of a funeral home. So before you write to tell me I got something wrong, I know I make stuff up to suit my purposes. Beautiful. thanks sir thank you but that prologue the prologue alone just the folks it's worth buying the book for the prologue and it's only like 10 i couldn't read the next line because it's so rattled with profanity my uh if my mother were listening god rest her soul so it's just it is it is one of my top 10 favorite books. My wife comes to me and people who've listened to the show know this all the time. Tammy will usually swing through the room when I'm really engrossed in one. And I usually get up really early to read so I can bang out a lot of volume when it's quiet. And she goes, how you like it? I'm like, there's I'm like, babe, this is non-stop. I'm like, it's up there with, and I would say this if you weren't even sitting there. I'm like, this is up there with, it's up there with good fellas. because it's the personalities that are so big. And Sal Cupertine, you despise him and you love him all at the same time, which is one of the most unique and promising traits that an author like yourself can do, that you can make me detest and love the guy simultaneously.

Tod Goldberg:
Right. And that was the goal from the first book on. It was a real challenge to... I knew that I wanted to write three books, I should say. So when I wrote Gangsterland, which came out almost 10 years ago now, it came out in 2014, I knew that I wanted to write a character that would flip the paradigm in a crime novel. I was going to have a hitman who kills innocent people, be pursued by an FBI agent who is also a good guy for the most part. And by the end of the book, make you root for the hitman to kill the FBI agent. Yeah. And like, that's not, that's not how it works. You know, that's not how these books work. And so it was a real challenge and a constant challenge in writing the South Cooper teen character to make him both believable as a terrible human being. And believable as a person that you could root for and love, and third part, make him into a good rabbi eventually. I absolutely loved writing that character. It's hard to end a series like this with a character that I've enjoyed so much writing, but I also came to the point where I was like, if I do it any longer, it's just going to become pastiche, you know? And I didn't want that. I wanted to tell a full story about this character, and maybe leave a door open for something else down the line, you never know. You know, I'm not dumb. But to end this chapter of his life in a believable way, and in a way where he has an arc that reveals him to be something more than himself, and that was such a challenge. But I gotta tell you, a thing happened to me during the writing of the books that also changed my approach to this book specifically. So it's a slightly long story, but you'll have to bear with me. I got all the time in the world. So the main adversary for Sal Cooper team, Rabbi David Cohen in this book, is an FBI agent named Christie Levine. And she actually appears in my book, The Low Desert, also, in a short story called Mazel, where in that short story you find out that she has cancer and that she's going to die, and she goes to the cemetery where Rabbi David Cohen works and buys a funeral plot from him. So it's a very weird short story, because as readers, it's not from Rabbi Cohen's perspective, as all the other books are. It's from her perspective. And you know, if she says the wrong thing as an FBI agent to this rabbi, that he's going to fucking kill her. Right. So that's like, that's a whole other tension in that short story. Well, that character is based on a friend of mine, a friend I never met in real life. Her name was Christy Cade, and Christy was my number one fan for my entire career. When my first book came out, Fake, Lie, or Cheat, it got terrible reviews that it earned, that it deserved, I should say. And this was 23 years ago, I should tell you. And I don't remember if I found her on the internet or she found me. I feel like probably I found her because I was looking for good reviews. And she had written like this glowing review of my book on her live journal. This is how long ago it was on the live journal. She was 20 years old. And so we started this correspondence for two decades. When I met her, she was a single mom. She'd just gotten out of a marriage. She had a daughter. She had dropped out of high school, but she loved reading books. And she just started talking to me about books. We just sort of had this long correspondence about books and writing. And eventually she went back to school, she got her degree, she even got her master's degree. She became, I believe she was the registrar at a local college in Tampa. Her son became her daughter. You know, every life change you could possibly have happened. She met a man that she really loved who ended up committing suicide. And we wrote back and forth to each other, first via email, then via social media for decades. And she was just this lovely person, and I introduced her to my friends who are writers, and she started reading all of their books and talking to them on the internet. She was just great. And, you know, I've been speaking of her in past tense, so you know where this is going. But she wrote me when I was writing the book The Low Desert. And so what I would do when I would finish a book, because she was my number one fan, is I would just email her the book. I'd just email her the manuscript. So she had read the previous 14 books that I had written in manuscript, and she knew I was writing the short story collection The Low Desert, and she said, I've got a rare cancer. I don't know if I'm going to live to see The Low Desert. Will you send me the stories as you write them? And I said, absolutely, absolutely. So I started doing that. I started sending her the stories. And then one day she wrote me and she said, maybe you can use this. She said, something incredible happened to me today. And I said, okay. And so we were chatting on Facebook and she said, I got pulled over by a cop today. She said, I was driving home from chemotherapy and I realized that I might die never feeling the wind in my hair again. And so I rolled down the windows and I sped on the highway, and I let the wind whip through my hair, and it was pulling the hair off of my head. And she's like, I was going 85 in a 55, and I got pulled over by a cop. And she's like, you know, this is Florida. They might bury me under the freeway. And she said the cop pulls her over and comes up to her window and says, what are you doing? And she says, I'm dying of cancer. I wanted to feel the wind through my hair. The cop says, get out of the car. And she's like, I'm going to jail. Like I was going 40 miles over the speed limit. She gets out of the car and the cop hugs her and says, I'm not going to let you die today. I'm not going to let you speed and die today. I'm not going to let you die before you beat this cancer's ass. You are going to survive this. You are going to win." Hugged her, put her back in the car, and followed her home. Let her drive as fast as she wanted. And she's like, can you use that? And I was like, yes, I can use that. And so in the short story, Mazel in the low desert, I wrote a scene where she encounters Rabbi David Cohen, after having gone through essentially the same thing. And he has that same conversation with her. And she just loved it. I mean, it was like, you know, it made her year and she ended up eating that cancer, which was great. And I got to write this amazing, badass, bald FBI agent for her in low desert. And then a year later, I'm writing Gangsters Don't Die, and she emails me and she's like, I've had a recurrence of the cancer, but I'm sure I can beat it. And I didn't hear from her for like three weeks, and a friend of hers emailed me and said, I don't know if any of her friends know that you guys are friends. I don't know if anyone in her life knows how close you guys are, but she passed away. The cancer overtook her body and she died in three weeks. And she was like, you know, your books were really important to her and I wanted you to know that she had passed away. And I was just in the beginning phases of the novel at that time. And I knew that that character was gonna be in the book. And I decided, you know, these other gangster novels I've written haven't had a single hero in them, not one, not one hero. And I decided I'm gonna put a hero in this one. And so I made Christie Levine the hero of this book. And that changed the way I looked at writing these gangster novels.

David Temple:
Wow, that was worth the price of admission right there. All right, so I want to back up one quick thing. I'm going to sound like an idiot when I ask you this question. You will not, I promise. I think you've already answered it. And I just want to be crystal clear, because I'm so enamored with this book. So are you telling me that Sal Cupertino started with that first book of the trilogy then, right?

Tod Goldberg:
Actually, he started in a short story called Mitzvah. that appeared in my short story collection of the resort cities.

David Temple:
Okay. And then you picked them up. Right. Okay. So now I know that I'm going to, in my spare time, whenever that is, I need to, I have to go back and start the whole series because I was so taken with him. And now, so I don't say anything, give anything away. Now that I have heard this story, it gives even more punch and more significance to this book. I mean, it's, You know, I'm not one for cliches and modeling and being overzealous and blowing up your skirt and so forth, but it's just such a powerful good book. So there.

Tod Goldberg:
Thank you.

David Temple:
Yeah, I feel good about it. You should. And I got a two part question and it's funny. Would you call yourself a, um, A fan of classic happy endings first part and secondly do you think they're do you think right and wrong or absolute so it's kind of a double whammy loaded question that for those who've read the book will really appreciate that.

Tod Goldberg:
I do not believe in happy endings there's actually feel like. I mean, and this is crazy, because of course it's in like half the crime novels you and I both love. Sure. I hate a crime novel where the badass detective or whatever, he's killed like 17 fucking people in a novel, he saved the girl, and at the end he turns to her and says, That was something. And they kiss and they walk up into the sunset or whatever. I'm like, dude, you're going to have PTSD for the rest of your life. You disemboweled a Cuban gangster. You're going to cut someone's throat. Or even like the end of the movie Speed, which I'm a big fan of. I love Keanu. Keanu and Nathan is good. At the end of Speed, Keanu and Sondra Bullock embrace and they make out on the tarmac or whatever. And you're like, really? After all that? Your best friend just blowed up. Yeah.

David Temple:
Okay. So that, yeah.

Tod Goldberg:
So I believe in ellipses at the end, not periods.

David Temple:
Well, it's funny that you made a comment and is it the Talmud? You said, did you, you're speaking to this one particular person and you said, did you, have you got to the end yet? And she says, I think it's, she says no. And you said, yeah, it ends with an ellipses. And I thought, Oh, I love that. Now, having grown up in a super strict Christian home and having shifted some of my belief systems since then, we'll just leave it at that. I'm like, Jesus, why couldn't there be an ellipsis at the end of Revelations and have somebody go, and another thing? I'll figure it out, you know? Exactly.

Tod Goldberg:
Yeah, and you know, look, when I believe books are supposed to be a, you know, an imagination of your life, and nothing, nothing ends until the end, you know, nothing ends until that last day, you never know who's going to pop back up into your life. And so, you know, I believe in in, in concluding storylines in a satisfactory way. But no one ends happy in anything, you know, and in this book, I was trying to give everyone the ending that they deserved or that they'd earned, which is two different things, from the previous three books to satisfy the readers, but also to satisfy the story itself. I'd left a lot of stuff hanging, and I wanted to make sure that I tied up what I could. But also, I'm not one of those people that feels like you have to tie up everything. There's some things that last forever, some mysteries that never die.

David Temple:
I was just going to say one of my favorite things about a good movie is let let it hang. Let me figure it out. Let me think about how I want it, because then the filmmakers giving the viewer a gift by saying, I've laid all this out. I've spent years creating this. Now, how about you create your own resolution?

Tod Goldberg:
I love that. Right. And that's why I loved for as a kid, not getting to the end of a choose your own adventure. Like I would read those books and I would flip forward and if it's at the end, I'd just keep going. I'd just find some other page and keep reading.

David Temple:
Well, when I mentioned the Christian upbringing and then your Jewish upbringing, I was sitting there going, do you suppose that part of our being drawn to the dark side of human nature is because we were in this overly protected world? And I use that term specifically because Christian, well, both of us have a certain have grown up with a certain faith that is enclosed in a belief system that is protective. I have a lot of friends who didn't grow up around any of it and go, this is free-for-all for everything. I wonder if that is part of the mechanism by which we are drawn to that darker side, if that makes any sense at all.

Tod Goldberg:
Yeah, it does though. My family, we're not religious at all. My mom was first-generation American. Our family escaped from Ukraine in 1919, and my mother was born in Walla Walla, Washington. Our family was not devout even then. By the time our grandparents were adults, they were not devout. They went to temple and that sort of thing, but they didn't wear yarmulkes or anything. But of course they couldn't because they were in Walla Walla, Washington, and they had to try not to draw too much attention to themselves. Though they ended up running the city and all that sort of thing. But nevertheless, we were not raised necessarily with faith. What we were raised with was culture. And there's a difference in that. But specifically, the conversations I had with my grandfather were a lot about what it means to be a Jew culturally, but also what it means historically to be a Jew. I wrote a piece for the LA Times a couple weeks ago on Thanksgiving about memory and about what's shared from generation to generation. And I have this very vivid memory of my Papa Dave telling me as a young boy that we are not hide in the attic Jews, we are fight you in the street Jews. And I've used that in the book because it tells you about resilience. And it tells you about passivity. And it tells you about the willingness to fight for the things that you love. And those were the kinds of lessons that were passed down to me. More than any religious stuff, it was like, you will take care of your family. The family is the most important part of it. And by extension, you will take care of other people that are in need. I found out an amazing story the other day, David, that I had never heard before. There's this graphic novel that came out a couple weeks ago, and the title I've forgotten, but it's about fishmongers. I swear this will come around to us. It's about fishmongers in Seattle and their relationship with the Jews of Seattle. And this article came out about this book, and the author was interviewed, and he was talking about, you know, the history between oppressed societies in the Pacific Northwest, particularly during World War II, because of course the Japanese in Washington State were interred. And just sort of as an offhand comment, this guy's being interviewed and he says, well, you know, historically the Jews have always been very good to the Japanese locally. You know, for instance, the Behr family of Walla Walla paid for the mortgages of all the interred families. And I'm reading this and I was like, that's my family. My middle name is Behr, that's my grandfather. And I was like, what is this? And like it opened up this, Vessel to find out this story and it turns out that When these when these Japanese families were interred during World War two my grandfather and his cousins Paid their mortgages never told them who did it They just did it and also paid and kept their business taxes current to keep their businesses open And I was like, why didn't anyone tell us this story? Like, why did I have to go research this to find this out? Why did I stumble on this in an interview with someone I don't even know? And so that's the kind of thing that…that's the kind of Jews we were. And that's always been the kind of Jews we were. Not religious, but about helping others and about articulating injustice where we see it.

David Temple:
That explains to me or helps me understand that the heart and the heart in your story, because that doesn't just happen. You're not just a softy guy. There's something that really has to resonate.

Tod Goldberg:
Well, I'm also soft.

David Temple:
Well, you're a softy, yeah. You and your brother, I can see that.

Tod Goldberg:
Lee is not soft. He's doughy.

David Temple:
Oh, he's going to so get you for that. This isn't going to be good. So this is the thing about this story, between the heart and the moral ambiguity, I'll use that phrase, the way it does that dance throughout the entire book is probably the single best piece, my favorite part of the whole story, besides the characters, but I mean, I don't want to belabor that point, but it's just so good. Uh, I don't want to keep you all day long. I do want to touch on something because, uh, Tammy was my wife and I were talking last night. We'd come off of a movie marathon. And she knew I was interviewing you today. And she asked, why was I intrigued with you? And I said, because there's always a reason. Almost for every book I'm reading, there's a reason I'm reading it. And she always asks the good questions. Why are you intrigued with him? I said, well, it's not just that he's a good writer. It's because he's a smart writer. And I know that sounds fluffy, except for the fact that I'm like, the guy The guy has an mfa in creative writing he's you know he's an adjunct professor he directs a low residency mfa program at uc riverside you don't get wrapped up in that world and live that all day long and not have this. a profound, uh, wisdom and knowledge. So I said, I want to, I want to hear the way he thinks. And I, cause I know how he thinks in the, in storytelling, which is so outside the box and, and dense, but I do want to hit on the education. Did you start, and I'm going to do this was teaching and higher learning always something that you wanted to do, Todd?

Tod Goldberg:
Yeah, I love being a professor. It was always something I want to do. And to be fair, you know, it's something that my brother really hammered home, which was that you always got to have a second thing. Because there's going to be years between projects. Yeah, if you want to eat, there's always got to be a second thing. And so my second thing has always been teaching. Excuse me. Um, so I always wanted to be a professor and you know, for me, as soon as my first book came out, I got a job at UCLA. And that sort of just set me off this this path. And then when I got hired by UC Riverside in 2007, to start an MFA program, that was sort of the culmination of sort of a dream that I had had, that I have a philosophy of teaching that I think is successful, and I think that can help other people. And we just celebrated the 15-year anniversary last month, when you're listening to this, but yesterday, in real time, of the MFA program. And in 15 years of running this MFA program, and it's a program for writers who write fiction, nonfiction, screenwriting, TV writing, and playwriting, I've had over 500 graduates of this program, and over 75% of them have gone on to publish or produce their work, which is a huge number. It's a huge number. And we had this great anniversary party where 250 alums came back, which is also a huge number. And how I got this head cold that you can hear, because I hugged every single one of them. But what I've tried to do as a professor for these many years is instill in them the notion that this is a business. It's not the writing gallery. It's the writing business. and to treat their art as commerce, and to not be satisfied with this notion that you have to struggle for your art. Like, we should get paid, and we should get paid well for the things we do. And so what I try to do running an MFA program is position my students to be successful in the real world. I don't want a bunch of enlightened baristas. I want people with their novels out. I want people working on TV shows and making movies. And that's what's happened. I've been extraordinarily lucky to have amazing students who've come to the program, and each and every one of them have gone out there and done it.

David Temple:
Well, in the last part of that conversation that I was having with Tammy, I'm like, and if I call her in here, she'd go, yeah, he actually said that. I'm like, if I had the time and the money and the proximity, I would so come get an MFA under your tutelage.

Tod Goldberg:
But here's the thing, David, you don't need proximity. It's a low residency. You only need to be there 10 days twice a year. Get that cash, bro. Oh, that's it? That's it. You're online, and then you're in person for 10 days in June, 10 days in December. Oh.

David Temple:
Yeah. Okay. I don't have any excuse now except the money.

Tod Goldberg:
Or if you really promote this, I could probably just move some cursors around and get you an MFA. I got that kind of power.

David Temple:
Wow. Yeah. That is, it's worth that. Oh yeah.

Tod Goldberg:
Look, I bring that gangster mentality to higher education. You want a degree? Let's see what you can do for me. Yeah, what can you do for me? What can you do for me?

David Temple:
Come over here, man. Come over here. Get closer.

Tod Goldberg:
I will tell you an amusing story or another brief one. Our MFA program, the low residency meets at a resort in the desert that actually was a popular mob destination in the 50s. And this is a few years ago, they had this AV company that came in and they wanted to charge us a bunch of money that wasn't in the contract for stuff. And my associate director is a business guy. And so he usually handles these meetings. And I was like, let me handle this meeting. And he said, okay. And so we get to the meeting and he's like, are you sure about this? He's like, because these people are trying to juice us for like $100,000. And I was like, I'm sure I know how to handle this. We get in the meeting, and these guys are like, yeah, we lost a lot of money in the pandemic. The prices are going up. I know renting a microphone was $9. Now that's $16. And I said, OK, well, how about this? How about I give you nothing? And the AV guy was like, what? And I was like, how about I pay the fine for breaking the contract, and you get nothing? And we go somewhere else. How about I give you nothing?" And he's like, what? What? What are you saying? And the people from the hotel were like, you know what? No, it's fine. It's covered. We got it handled. We got it handled. And my associate, Agam, was like, what was that? I was like, that was the godfather. Yeah.

David Temple:
How about I give you nothing? I give you nothing. I love that story. All right. Next to the last thing, because you and I were chatting back at BowsherCon when you're talking about and I said I should get you on the podcast and you said almost quote, well, you you do know that I had one of the most top and most impressive literary podcast in the entire world. And I'm like, really? Yeah, what's it called? Literary disco. And I'm like, Okay, I want to listen to it just for the title alone. So a couple of questions here real quick. Are you still doing it? Because I drilled down on it last couple of days. And the last gig was I want to say November of last year.

Tod Goldberg:
We are on hiatus. As our co host writer strong is currently hosting one of the most popular, no matter the subject, podcasts on the planet called Pod Meets World, which is a re-listen of his show that he starred on as a kid, Boy Meets World. And so while he's been doing Pod Meets World, and I've been writing a new book, and Julia has been raising a child and doing her own stuff, we sadly put it on hiatus, but David. Yes. 12 years of shows. That's impressive. 12 years. 12. Yeah. 12.

David Temple:
Yeah, I'm feeling good at two and a half. And I I'm feeling about this tall right now.

Tod Goldberg:
I believe it was the Washington Post who called us the best literary podcast on the planet.

David Temple:
Oh, you mean that little rag? It might make it one day.

Tod Goldberg:
We this is the true story. We not that I've lied previously. Good housekeeping. Uh huh. named us the best literary podcast. I was like, number one, good housekeeping still in business. And number two, like, who's reading good housekeeping? Yeah. And then number three, it's like, and they're listening to me and the star of Boy Meets World talking about books. Yeah, wrong. Very curious. No, we absolutely loved doing Literary Disco. And I think we'll do it again at some point. But Ryder has been so successful with Pod Meets World. They do live shows in arenas. Oh, geez. With thousands of people. And you can't stop a man from doing that.

David Temple:
No, it's like Smart List, the way that thing is blown up.

Tod Goldberg:
And very, very similar. Very similar. And we always did very well with Literary Disco. It was always very popular. But it wasn't like that. But for listeners, so for those of you who are picking this up, because I'll be promoting my appearance here, if you're wondering, do Ryder and Julia and I still speak on a regular basis? The answer is yes. The conversation continues unabated on our texts.

David Temple:
Nice. Well, that's good to know. Two more things. Does this book, Gangsters Don't Die, is this going to be, please tell me yes, and if there's anybody on the planet between you and your brother, you're gonna be saying yes to this. Are there plans that we can see this on either a large screen or a smaller one, say, in our living room? Yes. Yes! How far into it? You don't have to tell me any details, just give me an idea.

Tod Goldberg:
Well, here's what I'll tell you. We have a brand new deal and it will be announced probably by the time this show comes out. Okay. And when we're done recording, I'll tell you what it is. But it'll be significant, and you'll be excited by it. Previously, it was in development for several years at Amazon. And unfortunately, it got turned around during the pandemic. But we were very far along with it at Amazon. And I wish it had gone, it was a great team that we had working on it there. But this new team that we have, this new deal, this new network. That's all you're gonna say?

David Temple:
That's all I'm gonna say. Okay. Then I'm gonna leave you with the closing question, because this is how I close every show, and I ask my guests what is their best piece of writing advice. And you're gonna have a doozy because you're out there doing it, you're doing it with this trilogy of four books, you're doing it with your MFA program, what is that best writing advice?

Tod Goldberg:
Best piece of writing advice I can give, I actually got from Donald Westlake, the great Donald Westlake. I had the wonderful time of spending a day with Donald Westlake. Actually, Lee was there too, so I had interviewed him at the LA Times Festival of Books, And then we just palled around all day. We went to a party together. It was me and Lee and Donald Wesley. And it was, it's one of those days that in memory, I can't believe it happened. Like, why did he want to hang out with me and Lee? But he was so charming and so kind and such a gentleman and had such great stories to tell. But at one point we were chatting about craft and I said, you know, This is early in my career, this is way before I'd written these books. I had just started writing my collection of stories, Other Resort Cities, which came out in 2009. And I said, you know, I'm having real trouble with endings in my books and my stories. When do you know when to end? And he said, I know a story is over when the reader could write the next page. And it seems like simple advice, but when you think about it sort of broadly across the entire novel, it's like, right, be constantly surprising. If the reader can write the next page, chapter to chapter, scene to scene, book to book, whatever, go back and rewrite it. And I have to tell you, it fundamentally altered the way that I look at writing. It changed the way I looked at building scenes. Because now, in every single scene, I try to make sure that there's something strange, something beautiful, and something unexpected, so that the reader could not write the next page.

David Temple:
That is so powerful, dude.

Tod Goldberg:
And from Westlake.

None:
God.

Tod Goldberg:
Because look, if Donald Westlake wasn't born, I'd be selling insurance and You know, Boise or something.

David Temple:
Oh, that is so well done. Well, folks, once again, the book is Gangsters Don't Die. If you want to learn more, go to Todd Goldberg dot com. Visit him on all the social groovy websites like I do. Dude, this has been so good. Thank you.

Tod Goldberg:
Thank you. It's been a dream to be on here. Good times. And hey, listeners, just remember, I'm the better Goldberg. Let's never forget that. OK.

David Temple:
Thanks again, Todd. What a genuine pleasure. Okay, folks, we are closing in on the end of 2023. And as we've done in the past, the Thriller Zone is putting together our year-end extravaganza hosted by yours truly, but more importantly, co-hosted by my lovely, brilliant, and talented wife, Tammy. On this Friday's 163rd and final podcast of 2023, tune in as we share some of the highlights of the past year. and a stack of our favorite books, movies, and television shows we've enjoyed this past year. As always, it promises to be all sorts of holiday fun. So until then, I'm your host David Semple saying enjoy the rest of your holidays and I'll see you next time for another edition of The Thriller Zone.