I’m very excited to introduce today’s guest, Emmy-nominated writer and filmmaker Eve Goldberg. I had the opportunity to speak with her about her first novel, Hollywood Hang Ten, as well as discuss what pushed her towards fiction and more.
Q. What’s the story behind the title of your book Hollywood Hang Ten?
A. I wanted a title that evokes the setting in which the story occurs, as well as one that gives a hint of the content. The novel takes place in 1963, primarily in Hollywood and Venice Beach. Our hero-detective is a surfer on his first solo investigation. The murder at the center of the book’s plot has its roots in the Hollywood blacklisting era of the 1940s and 50s, when the Congressional House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) was investigating left-wing “subversion” in the motion picture industry.
Long ago I took a workshop from Allen Ginsberg in which he had us blindly combine unlikely words together. I used that technique to come up with the title. I wrote a messy list of about 60 or 70 words and phrases, then started madly mix-and-matching until I found the combination that felt right. “Hang Ten” is a surfing maneuver done on the long boards of the 1960s. The “Hollywood Ten” were a group of screenwriters who were blacklisted and went to prison for refusing to cooperate with HUAC.
Q. How did you create the plot for this book?
A. Hollywood Hang Ten didn’t start out as detective fiction. It started out as a story about a boy who runs away from home. But as I began writing, I realized that I wanted to write it as a murder mystery. I trashed what I had written and began again. Unlike some other forms of fiction, when writing a murder mystery it’s crucial for the writer to know how the story ends, so I wrote an outline of the entire book, then based my first draft on that. In subsequent drafts, I added period details and deepened the characters and their relationships to make the story come alive.
Q. You have numerous accolades in the documentary film industry, including the Emmy-nominated “Legacy of the Hollywood Blacklist”, “Cover Up: Behind the Iran-Contra Affair” and “Maestra”. What made you gravitate towards writing a fiction novel this time instead?
A. In 2007, I was diagnosed with acute leukemia. I came close to dying, way too close. After recovering, I didn’t have the stamina to do much film work, so I began to focus more on writing for print media. I wrote several non-fiction essays which were published, then turned to fiction. I had the core of the story for Hollywood Hang Ten floating around my brain for years; finally I sat down and wrote it. There’s nothing like a brush with death to get a person moving.
Q. Having worked in both the film and writing industry, is there one you prefer? If so, why?
A. It’s a toss-up. I feel very fortunate to have worked for many years as a writer, editor, and eventually a producer-director in the film/video industry. It’s wonderful to be part of a creative community, to collaborate with others, to work both on mainstream projects that reach a huge audience and on independent documentaries which attempt to speak truth to power. On the other hand, the freedom of working alone on my writing has so many upsides. I can set my own schedule, answer to no one but myself, and indulge my imagination and quirky pet interests.
Q. What’s one thing that you wish you knew as a teenager that you know now?
A. I was a somewhat cynical but basically optimistic teenager. I was certain that history, pushed forward by movements for social change, moved inexorably towards less suffering, more peace, more equality. What I’m really glad I did NOT know then is that the president of the U.S. in 2017 would be Donald Trump, the divide between rich and poor would be growing by the minute, and we would be involved in who knows how many never-ending wars. It might have put a damper on my energy and hope.
Q. What’s one of your favorite quotes?
A. My favorite quote comes from Salman Rushdie. It’s a saying that swirls around my mind again and again, especially when faced with difficult challenges: “Our lives teach us who we are.”
Part of the quote’s appeal to me is its context. Following the publication of Rushdie’s novel Satanic Verses in 1988, Iran’s Ayatollah Khomeini called the novel “blasphemous against Islam” and ordered the author’s execution. Forced to live underground for several years, Rushdie continued to write, including the personal essay “In Good Faith.” Here are the final sentences of that essay:
“And I feel sad to be so grievously separated from my community, from India, from everyday life, from the world.
Please understand, however: I make no complaint. I am a writer. I do not accept my condition. I will strive to change it; but I inhabit it, I am trying to learn from it.
Our lives teach us who we are.”
“Our lives teach us who we are” reminds me that while our lives can change unpredictably in an instant, the measure of who we are is based on how we meet each challenge. It reminds me to relish and embrace life, including all the ups and downs. It reminds me that the only thing I can control is how I respond to what life presents.
Q. Do you have a routine for writing? Where and when do you prefer to do your writing?
A. Like a lot of writers, my best time to write is in the morning. If I don’t write in the morning, chances are that I won’t write at all that day. I can fool myself and say that I’ll write “after a walk” or “after I call so-and-so” or whatever, but it probably won’t happen.
I go through periods where I write nearly every day for a couple of hours. I also go through periods when I don’t write at all. A few years ago, I joined a small writing group. We meet twice monthly. For me, the feedback from other writers is super-helpful. Also, knowing that our next meeting is fast approaching motivates me to buckle down and write so that I’ll have something to read at the meeting.
Q. What’s the hardest thing you’ve ever had to write? Why?
A. Hollywood Hang Ten was without a doubt the hardest thing I’ve ever written. Writing non-fiction has always come relatively easy for me, and that’s where most of my writing experience lies. In terms of fiction, I’ve written a few short stories and a few movie scripts, but this is my first novel. Plotting a fictional story, especially one that must cohere to the tropes of a murder mystery, was a challenge. My natural inclination is to say, Could this really happen? Does that seem real? My comfort zone during the writing process was in the research — grounding the fiction in real mid-century Southern California history, culture, and architecture.
Q. What are you working on now?
A. Right now I’m working on what might be a novel and might be a novella. It’s titled Lankershim Nights, and genre-wise it’s about as far from a murder mystery as you can get. It’s a story about three generations of idiosyncratic women. The main characters are a gender-fluid 28-year-old with impulse control issues, and her alcoholic grandmother. I don’t want to say much more about the book, except that it includes underground bunkers, multiple POVs, and an adventure in New Zealand.
Eve Goldberg is a writer and award-winning documentary filmmaker. Her screen credits include the Emmy-nominated “Legacy of the Hollywood Blacklist” (co-writer), “Cover Up: Behind the Iran-Contra Affair” (writer) and “Maestra” (writer).
Her writing has been published in American Popular Culture, The Reading Room, The Gay & Lesbian Review, Hippocampus, and Censored: The News that Didn¹t Make the News. Hollywood Hang Ten is her first novel.