The Brothers Goldberg

Posted on December 4, 2010

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You may not have heard of Lee and Tod Goldberg, but you’ve probably heard of their books. Or at least, of the TV shows their books are based on: Lee writes the Monk novels, while his younger brother Tod writes the Burn Notice tie-in series, writes Melanie Sheridan.

The brothers Goldberg come from a writing family. Their sisters, Linda Woods and Karen Dinino, are also authors, as is their uncle, true crime writer Burl Barer, and their mother, Jan Curran; their father was a TV news journalist. “So it’s certainly in our DNA,” says Tod, who also married a writer. “My dogs aren’t terribly prolific though, but I’m sure if they had opposable thumbs they could crank something out,” he jokes.

It’s hardly surprising then that they both started young. Tod, who was profoundly dyslexic as a child, wrote despite – or perhaps because of – being told he’d never read or write above a 4th grade level. Lee, meanwhile, was “pecking novels out” on their mother’s typewriter when he was 10 or 11. “The first one was a futuristic tale about a cop born in an underwater sperm bank,” Lee notes. “I don’t know why the bank was underwater, or how deposits were made, but I thought it was very cool. I followed that up with a series of books about gentleman thief Brian Lockwood, aka The Perfect Sinner, a thinly disguised rip-off of Simon Templar, aka The Saint. I sold these stories for a dime to my friends and even managed to make a dollar or two. In fact, I think my royalties per book were better then than they are now!”

Both graduated to writing professionally while at university; Lee’s detective stories got him into UCLA’s School of Communications, and freelance writing paid his way through school, while Tod studied English at college, where he “wrote a bunch of terrible stories that eventually became competent short stories which then became moderately good short stories that magazines and journals eventually published,” before he sold his first novel, Fake Liar Cheat, to Simon & Schuster in 1998.

“I wrote it as Ian Ludlow so I’d be on the shelf next to Robert Ludlum.

It was Lee who got them both started writing television tie-ins. He had long been writing for and producing television shows, a career that evolved from a men’s action adventure book series he’d written – “sort of the male equivalent of the Harlequin romance” – that his UCLA journalism advisor threw at him because Lee was “desperate enough, hungry enough and stupid enough to do it”.

That book was called .357 Vigilante. “I wrote it as Ian Ludlow so I’d be on the shelf next to Robert Ludlum. I ended up writing four books in the series. Naturally, the publisher promptly went bankrupt and I never saw a dime in royalties. But New World Pictures bought the movie rights and hired me to write the screenplay. I didn’t know anything about writing scripts. Luckily, I had a good friend who did: William Rabkin.”

The movie never got made, but Lee enjoyed screenwriting and continued to write scripts with William [who now writes the tie-in novels for the TV series Psych], his writing partner and best friend for over 20 years.

When Lee’s publisher, Penguin, approached him to write the Burn Notice tie-ins, he recommended Tod for it instead, as he was busy with his own series of Diagnosis Murder and Monk books. “I knew he’d do a fantastic job and, to be honest, I wanted him to share the tie-in experience with me so I’d have a shoulder to cry on.”

There’s no rivalry between the brothers though, “because we write very different things,” notes Lee. “But I’m a lot more attractive and talented than he is.”

And while Lee continues to work extensively in television, writing episodes for shows such as Monk and The Glades, Tod juggles his TV tie-in work with “dark, sad, literary fiction” and award-winning journalism. His short fiction has twice received Special Mention for the Pushcart Prize Best of the Small Presses series, one of the most honoured literary projects in America; he also received a Distinguished Story of the Year award in the 2009 Best American Mystery Stories. His essays, journalism, and criticism appear regularly in many publications, and have earned four Nevada Press Association Awards for excellence.

But he may soon be following Lee into the television industry proper, as a short story of his, Mitzvah – about a hit man who becomes a rabbi – “has been bought to be turned into a TV series. Though who knows how that will go at this point in the game, as the script is still being written.”

For Tod, the best thing about being a writer is that he’s doing exactly what he always hoped he’d get the chance to do. “The opportunity to tell stories is a dream come true. I also really enjoy all of the yacht parties with Jay-Z and Beyonce but, you know, that’s more in my free time.” For Lee, it’s simply “getting paid to sit at the computer and make stuff up.”

Tod Goldberg’s Burn Notice books are published in Australia by Penguin; Mitzvah is available in Tod’s Other Resort Cities collection, published by Other Voices and available through Borders. For more information visit his website.

Lee Goldberg’s Monk books are available on his website.

To view a PDF of the published article click here.

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Posted in: Books