Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Shaking Things Up With Joel Goldman

It's my pleasure to have author Joel Goldman as my guest today. Joel has written six thrillers and his latest of his Jack Davis series is The Dead Man

I'm always curious what makes a writer choose a particular genre and what makes them begin to write. Joel says, "I started writing thrillers when one of my then law partners complained to me about another partner. I told him we should write a murder mystery, kill the son-of-a-bitch off in the first chapter and spend the rest of the book figuring out who did it. So, I did and I never looked back"

Joel shares a bit about the type of characters he likes to write and why.

I explore life through the stories I write, starting each book with the same question in mind. What happens when things go wrong, especially when no one is looking? Character and characters are measured by the answer to that question. Crime fiction poses that question when the stakes are the highest, when the answer determines not only who lives and dies but how well we do both.

Flawed characters make the most interesting subjects because authors and readers can identify with them, recognizing our own shortcomings and wondering what we would do in their place without having to bear any of the consequences. Creating Jack Davis allowed me to take this process one step further and learn more about myself as I asked what happens when the same thing goes wrong in my life and my protagonist’s life.

I practiced law for twenty-eight years, trying lawsuits all across the United States. In March 2004, I was in trial in San Francisco. I awoke one morning and, while shaving, began to shake uncontrollably. As Perry Mason and Denny Crain proved, you can get away with a lot in the courtroom but uncontrollable shaking is not one of them.

It took over a year and a half and examinations by doctors in New York, New Orleans and Phoenix to get a definitive diagnosis of my condition. I have tics, a neurological disorder with no known cause or cure and a name so totally unimpressive that no self-respecting telethon would ask it out on a date. It occurs so rarely in mid-life adults, that little is known about it. Its closest living neurological relative is Tourette’s Syndrome.

Tics is very idiosyncratic, meaning that there is no set pattern or typical course. The more I do, the more I shake, spasm and stutter. My symptoms vary over time, familiar shaking patterns fading into the background, replaced by spasms that hyperextend my neck, arch my back and twist my torso in ways that makes Cirque du Soleil jealous. Tics is not life threatening or life shortening but it is life annoying and it forced me to give up my law practice.

Fortunately, I already had a second life – crime writer. My first series, four books featuring trial lawyer Lou Mason, allowed me to channel the legal career I’d only imagined. Tics gave me the chance to explore the life I’d won in the be-careful-what-you-ask-for sweepstakes by creating a new character, Jack Davis, an FBI Special Agent, forced to give up his career by a movement disorder that makes him shake when he should shoot.

Jack’s life shakes apart in Shakedown (2008) in the middle of an investigation into a drug ring that claims the lives of everyone in a drug house and threatens the people closest to him. In The Dead Man (2009), Jack he struggles to find purpose in a life that is forever throwing him off balance while he tracks a serial killer who specializes in making deadly nightmares come true.

For more about my books and me, visit my website,, send me a friend request on Facebook at and click here to watch the video preview of my new book, The Dead Man -

Joel became a ten-year overnight success with the publication of his first book, Motion To Kill, in 2002, introducing trial lawyer Lou Mason. Lou made his second appearance in 2003’s Edgar® nominated The Last Witness. He managed to keep getting in and out of trouble in Cold Truth (2004) and Deadlocked (2005), which was nominated for a Shamus award and has been optioned for film. Joel retired from his law practice in 2006 and still hasn’t looked back.

Joel and his wife have three kids, all out in the world happily doing what they want where they want to do it. They also have two cockapoos, Roxy and Ruby, sisters born on Valentine's Day that may never grow up. Joel is a fourth generation Kansas Citian and am named after his great grandfather who came to the United States in 1881. Legend has it that he overheard his parents arranging his marriage and decided to take his chances in the New World, leaving under cover of darkness. As Joel says, “I don't know whether the story is true but I subscribe to this quote from one of my favorite movies, The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance: When legend becomes fact, print the legend.”

"Enter a drawing for a free, autographed copy of The Dead Man, by posting a comment about me and my books with a link to my website or the video preview of The Dead Man on your Facebook page, My Space page or website and sending me the link by midnight, May 21 at I'll write the names down, put them in a hat, close my eyes and pick a winner."


~Sia McKye~ said...

A warm welcome to Over Coffee Joel. I've been looking forward to it.

"Flawed characters make the most interesting subjects because authors and readers can identify with them..."

I agree. I think we can use our stories to show people that not all characters are 'perfect' and being flawed they can still do extrordinary things. Heroes don't have to be the most gorgeous, the heroines the most beautiful. If built on real life, heroes come in all sizes, shapes, and abilities. Those sorts are much easier for readers to identify with.

Kat Sheridan said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Kat Sheridan said...

Ack! I should never post before coffee! What I said (with better spelling!):

Joel, so very glad to meet you! What an interesting career, and I love the way you've turned lemons into lemonade (or my latest favorite, limoncello!) I, too, am fond of flawed characters, and authors willing to make the hero less than perfect. There's just something wonderful about seeing a character achieving his or her objectives in spite of the flaw, whatever it is. I'm not that fond of reading about the perfectly beautiful women or studly, sculpted men. I'm more interested in their scars and shortcomings. It enables us to imagine *ourselves* as heroines and heroes.

I haven't read your books, but am definately putting you on my list now! Sia, as always, you have the most interesting guests!

~Sia McKye~ said...

Thank you Kat, my friend. I do get some wonderful people. I'd appreciate it if you set your FB status to show my blog, Kat.

Kat Sheridan said...

Easy request, Sia, and done!

VA said...

Joel, interesting life path, would you say that your writing is merely a different manifestation of what you did as a lawyer? Truth and justice, but in a different forum.

Fabulous writers Sia, envious just imagining how you get them all.

~Sia McKye~ said...

Deborah J Ledford made a comment about your note "Shaking Things Up With Joel Goldman":

What a great article, Joel. Fascinating that you turned your personal adversity into a realistic and powerful story-line for your Jack character. I look forward to reading "The Dead Man."

Sia, I am a firm believer that the genre picks the writer--not necessarily the other way around.

Cheryl Tardif, author and book marketing coach said...

Joel, I'm always fascinated by a lawyer-turned-author! The concept for your first novel made me laugh. I too have someone in my life I'd like to kill off fictitiously. lol

You mention you suffer from Tics. It made me think of the character of Jerry from Boston Legal. I think he brought the condition to light in an interesting way, although I'm sure living with it isn't as comical as they made it out to be. Did they base him on you, I wonder. :-)

What is great to hear is that you've found another love--writing--and that you seem to have seemlessly transformed into a serious novelist. Kudos!

The book cover is awesome, by the way! Your publisher did a great job.

Since I love legal thrillers, I'm sue I'd enjoy your novels. I also like to discover new authors (new to me).

Sia, thanks for introducing me to Joel. I'll be looking for his books.

Cheryl Kaye Tardif
Bestselling author of The River

~Sia McKye~ said...

Ann Marie Gamble at 12:01pm May 20

I've decided the more satisfying revenge is to make that person the powerless bureaucrat trapped in a dead-end job. their office has no windows and the coffee is always burnt. ;)

Jamie C. said...

Jack Davis sounds like a fascinating character. Interesting story on his creation. In my fiction-writing volunteer-work (it's all volunteer until I actually get paid to do it), I've created several flawed characters - morally, emotionally, physically, or mentally flawed. Never all at once, obviously. It is possible to make a character too flawed, but a few imperfections add to the realism. I'd say I work with emotionally damaged characters on most occasions. A great challenge was writing about a blind character and trying to make her reactions and experience real, because I'm not blind and don't really know anyone who is. I'm not sure I pulled that one off, but I enjoyed the challenge.

I'm prattling again. Great blog, Sia. Impressive guests.

Pat Bertram said...

When people talk about writing flawed characters, it always makes me wonder if it's possible to write a character that isn't flawed. Because a character with no flaws would be so obnoxious, that in itself would be a flaw.

Still, I know what you mean.

That's a great question: what do characters do when no one is looking? It's the true measure of character, both fictional and real life.

Anonymous said...

Nice to meet you Joel.

Writing human characters is the goal I aim for. To be human is to be flawed. I don't necessarily hunt for flaws to write around though.

Chronic repetitive motion syndrome sidelined me. I never thought to be a stay at home mom, let alone an author.. I was blessed with both.

How we chose to live with what we've been given is indeed a great indicator of character.

~Sia McKye~ said...

Cheryl, thanks for stopping by. I like this storyline too and have it on order. there are a couple of other ones I really like the look of on Joel's website. Sounds much more fun than Grishams.

~Sia McKye~ said...

Thank you Jamie. I love flawed characters too. I love seeing something negative and made into a positive. It adds a twist.

Volunteer fiction writer, lmao! You crack me up. You have some wonderful stories and I happen to love your flawed characters--they're fun.

Pat and Sherilyn, thanks for your observations. I learn much from reading all the comments. :-)

Joel Goldman said...

Thanks to everyone for their kind comments. As for Jerry on Boston Legal, he had Asperger's Syndrome which, although it includes tics, is a diffferent condition.

I'm glad to see that many of you share my fascination with flawed characters. As fiction writers, we draw on our life experiences and few of us have ever known or met someone who was perfect and, if we did, we didn't like them very much.

Other Lisa said...

I'm with Joel and the rest of the commenters - characters with no flaws are no fun. WIth deeply flawed characters, you always have the added suspense of wondering what will get them first - the bad guys or their own demons?

These books sound like my kind of fun - thanks!

And..."Denny Crain."

Judi Fennell said...

Joel, love the "ten year overnight success" comment. :) And the book trailer. Definitely putting this on the TBR list.

Anonymous said...

Joel, what an interesting journey you've had. It's amazing what brings people to where they are and always interests me. I loved what you said about killing the s.o.b. off. It reminds me of my favorite T-shirt that I got for Christmas. "Careful or you'll end up in my novel." I guess it's right!

Joel Goldman said...

I've got a sweatshirt with the same slogan. I wear it to all family gatherings.

~Sia McKye~ said...

How funny. I need to get one of those t-shirts, lol!

Anonymous said...

Good interview.

John Philipp said...

A fascinating story, Joel. Gives us all hope.

Now I just need to dig up some flaws ...

Joel Goldman said...

Let me know if you need a shovel.

SueO said...

Hi Joel,

It's good to meet someone whose door closed behind just as the window was opening in front.

I agree with Cheryl that the cover is awesome. A classic look that never grows old.

I wouldn't be 'me' if I wasn't contrary to someone, so here goes: "flawed" or just plain "real"? We all have things that make us unique (such as my nephew starting almost every sentence he utters with the words "well, actually..."), and I really DO touch with those things because they turn the automaton into a person with whom I make a connection. I can recognize this person when he/she entered the imaginary world created by my friend the Author. With so many imaginative authors out there, it's getting trickier sorting these worlds out. Godspeed to you having done so!
Best regards,
Sue O'Shields

~Sia McKye~ said...

John, I'm sure we can help, lol!

Sue, you're right, they make your characters real and we tend not to forget those types of characters.

aries18 said...

Nice to meet you Joel! Your works sounds like it's right up my alley. I love crime procedurals of all kinds. I've added your latest to my Must Have list.

The idea of flawed characters is truly a profound one, because no one is flawless. I always wonder about those people who present to the world a flawless exterior. It seems to me they must have such horrible flaws they need to cover them up and bury them deep.

My grandpa once told me, while I was playing solitare (with real cards, before the days of PC solitare) that you could tell your own character by whether you cheated at solitare when you were playing all alone. I was only 9 when he said that but it stuck with me in a profound way.

Sia, you bring the best guests to us! Joel, I really appreciate learning your own story and finding your work to all to my list of favorites.


~Sia McKye~ said...

Wanda, I have a deep confession to make...I sometimes cheat at solitare (with real cards). * hanging my head. I'm so flawed...

Sheila Deeth said...

Nice to meet you Joel. Interesting story.

I had a friend who used to cheat at "cheat."

Dana Fredsti said...

Joel, a very fun post and I can totally relate to your reason for writing that first mystery.
By way of strange coincidence, I have a friend who worked in your law firm back in the day and was, in fact, the person who told me about your books!

Netti said...

I love flawed characters (mainly because who need perfect anything!?) and your books sound so interesting, will definitely check it out!

Thanks Sia for yet another great post!

~Sia McKye~ said...

You'll have to get this for your bookstore Netti! Thanks for coing by. :-)

Joel Goldman said...

Thanks again to Sia for inviting me to join her discussion today and for all of you who took the time to read my post and offer their comments. It's always good to hear from people who love reading and writing.

~Sia McKye~ said...

Joel, it was my pleasure, I assure you. Good discussion and participation.

I'll be letting you know when I read your books. You and the family have a great weekend!

Christine Husom said...

Joel, you have led an amazing life and I appreciate your candor about your health issue. You took a situation most would consider a problem and turned it into a wonderful opportunity. All the best and blessings for continued great success. I will need to read your books!

Anonymous said...

Nice to meet you, Joel! I enjoyed reading about you and your books and look forward to seeing more on the shelf. Best of luck to you in all you do!

Adina Pelle said...

I enjoyed reading this post and I am looking forward to reading Joel's books.
I think everybody is flawed somehow, it's just a matter of spotting that and exploring it :)