Friday, August 10th, 2012
Tod Goldberg, prolific author and chair of the master of fine arts in writing program at the University of California, Riverside, the Palm Desert Center, is funny, very funny and that’s the first thing you should know about him. His appearance as part of Eduardo Santiago’s Idyllwild Authors Series on Sunday, June 24, should be a very thought-provoking and entertaining ride.
“I write about undercurrents surrounding issues of identity,” said Goldberg. “Identity is a very fungible thing. We can be very different based on where we are.”
Goldberg will be talking about his collection of stories, “Other Resort Cities,” and his characters — denizens of desert communities, refugees seeking to rebuild lost lives, in communities such as Palm Springs, Las Vegas and Scottsdale, Ariz.
“I’m fascinated by the settings, the crimes people commit. They have to go there [to these resort cities] but want to be somewhere else. Their public personas are often not who they really are. They’ve come to these hot and searing places to lose or reinvent themselves,” Goldberg said.
Among his eccentrics in “Resort Cities” are a Chicago hit man hiding in Las Vegas as a respected rabbi of a money-laundering temple, a father, whose wife cheated on him, lives as a squatter in model homes with his abducted children, a sad and deserted husband who turns his luxury home in a gated community into a Starbucks, and a former sheriff and cancer survivor who returns to the toxic environs of the Salton Sea where he lost his first wife.
“As a writer, you have to find the thing you’re avoiding, that scary place in your own head,” Goldberg advised his graduate students. “That which I don’t know affects my writing. I try to find the answers to a single person’s issues. The popular adage is that writers write what they know, but I believe differently. The best writers write what they don’t know, the things that are just out of reach, the aspects of life they need clarity on. All writers try to find the things they’re obsessed about — identity. That’s where I come from. Who am I?”
Goldberg said that setting and place play an important part in his writing, especially when writing a short story. “I sometimes reverse engineer from place to person — seeing a cocktail waitress in an Indian casino, I’ll want to know why and how she got there, who a person would be in that particular place.”
Siblings who write is a common attribute among many of this year’s authors. Amy Ephron, last week’s author, has three writing siblings and is the daughter of writers. This week features a husband and wife duo, both writers. Goldberg has three sibling writers and is married to a writer. Goldberg talks about the challenges he and his siblings faced growing up in a difficult household and how those shared experiences groomed them to be writers.
“We each escaped into words from an early age,” he said. “That’s the sad truth that lives under the happy result.” He said he finds comfort and emotional support in being able to reach out to his siblings, as a writer, when he has questions or needs their points of view. “One of the great things in my life, wonderful and horrifying too, is that we’re all writing about the same things but we don’t know it, and that we can share the highs and the lows. Everyone in my close circle is intimately connected with failure.”
Goldberg writes how sense memory, flowing from individuals’ histories, marks their unique passage. For him, a defining influence when he was young was the group the Beastie Boys. “When you’re young and Jewish and want to make art, role models aren’t exactly thick on the ground, but there were three guys who looked like me who were making art. It would eventually be great art. The Beastie Boys have been playing behind me since I was 14 and so I’ve tended to think of them as belonging to me, which is ludicrous I know. But that’s what makes some art great; it comes so close to you that you forget it’s just words, or pictures, or sounds that played while you were young, when you were older, but still so young, and then again today, when you weren’t so young at all.”
Santiago interviews Goldberg, who actually taught Santiago at UCLA Extension, at 2 p.m. Sunday, June 24 behind INK Bookstore on North Circle.