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Festival of Books: author Tod Goldberg

April 23, 2010 |  1:21 pm

Todgoldberg_bwTod Goldberg runs the UC Riverside Palm Desert MFA program in creative writing and has a new, serious collection of short stories, "Other Resort Cities." Neither of those achievements goes anywhere toward explaining how funny he is in person, but if you catch him at the L.A. Times Festival of Books -- on the Saturday panel Fiction Behind Closed Doors or moderating the Sunday panel Fiction Bloody Fiction -- you'll see for yourself. He answered Carolyn Kellogg's questions via e-mail.

Jacket Copy: Your short story collection, "Other Resort Cities," includes pieces set in and around Palm Springs. How does place inform your writing?

Tod Goldberg: Place is of paramount importance to me. I really believe the people in stories and in real life are fundamentally altered by where they are at a particular time, so the shifting locales of life cause a lot of inherent conflict. In the case of resort cities like Palm Springs, I'm most especially interested in the people who exist to serve the tourists -- the waitresses, the dealers, the pool people -- who end up being these nameless people who make other people's vacations enjoyable. I find a real darkness in the glitter of places like Palm Springs and Las Vegas because of the false identities people live under in their jobs. 

JC: What are you currently reading?

TG: I'm actually reading "The Godfather" by Mario Puzo right now -- I'm teaching a class on adaptations and am reading the book again for the first time in 20 some years. What I can say is that it's a really good movie. But I can tell you the one book I've been telling everyone to read, and that's "Next" by James Hynes. 

JC: What's your favorite thing about the Festival of Books?

TG: The right thing to say here is that I love meeting all of the fans and meeting all of the other authors and spending time talking to so many people interested in literature -- all of which is absolutely true 100 times over -- but what all the authors really love, and this is completely true, is that as a guest you get this awesome Festival of Books coffee cup that holds four to five (!) cups of coffee at one time. The cup is super thick and durable, has a great design on it, keeps the coffee very warm and, in total truth, is the only thing I've ever stolen from the festival. (I left mine at a panel and then I think I might have said I was Christopher Hitchens and took another one.)

JC: Do you have a favorite book or movie about Los Angeles?

TG: "Get Shorty" by Elmore Leonard is a favorite on both the page and the screen, though I'd say the one book about Los Angeles that has influenced me the most over the years would be "The Day of the Locust."

JC: Seth Grahame-Smith, who wrote "Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter," and Chris Farnsworth, whose book "Blood Oath" is about a vampire sworn to protect the president, are both scheduled to appear at the festival -- and you're moderating their panel. Worried?

TG: I'm worried that the panel will be overrun with members of the "tea party" concerned that vampires are messengers of socialism and that these two nonfiction books are part of some Masonic plan to slowly turn America into a land of undead bloodsucking communists with a taste for human flesh. But apart from that? No. I think it will be fine as long as no one's eyes sparkle.

-- Carolyn Kellogg