Crime Writer Inspires Young Talent

New York Times and international bestselling author Tod Goldberg joined Glen Hirshberg’s Creative Writing Fellows for an informal discussion about the writing process.
His popular crime detective novels have garnered critical acclaim as well as a devoted fan base. Mr. Goldberg is a Professor of Creative Writing at the University of California, Riverside where he founded and directs the Low-Residency MFA program in Creative Writing and Writing for the Performing Arts. He is also the co-host of the podcast Literary Disco where he and his co-hosts/fellow authors discuss books and writing.

Mr. Goldberg, with his wry and sometimes dark humor, delved into the undercurrents of his work. His novels, set against the backdrop of the Coachella Valley’s barren desert landscape where he grew up and currently lives, prompted Fellows to ask some detective-like questions of their own.

What about the desert inspires you?
Resort towns are strange places. Palm Springs is a city that exists for your relaxation - hospitality is the thing we export - but there is an underbelly to these resort towns. The desert is home to a lot of people who are recreating themselves. This invites grifters, conmen, and schemers. The place itself is dangerous. In the summer, temperatures rise to 120 degrees - you are always a broken a/c unit away from dying. I can see the San Andreas fault line from my backyard! Living here is a different kind of folly.

Do you believe that there is some innate value to the desert?
Yes, for sure. It’s beautiful and I see value in beauty. There’s nothing I like more than driving across the Valley at night in the summer, playing sad, gothic music from my childhood and looking at the stars. You are part of an ecosystem here, but you’ve got to want to be here and have to want to survive it. In some ways there is an existential value to the desert. You are aware of the passage of time because you are living in a continuum where you can literally see the past. There are shells in the desert because it used to be under water.

How do you write contemporary crime fiction without making assumptions about groups of people?
I write about people who do the crimes, not about heroes. The Wire changed the way American crime fiction was written, illustrating that everyone has the potential for good and the potential for bad. It’s a kaleidoscopic view of where crime comes from. Ultimately, every detective novel is about the failure of police work -- it is a power struggle between the state and the people.

Mr. Goldberg also outlined the origins of the crime novel. When Westerns went out of fashion, he explained, the gunslinger morphed into the hard-boiled crime detective. In the fashion of one of his idols, Elmore Leonard, whose work helped usher in the crime detective genre, Goldberg’s novels center on the anti-hero. He says of his and Leonard’s works: “We make readers care about people they shouldn’t.”

Click here to find Tod Goldberg’s books, including his latest release The Low Desert.
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