Tuesday, November 14, 2023

Q&A with Lee Matthew Goldberg


Photo by @muller78



Lee Matthew Goldberg is the author of the new novel The Great Gimmelmans. His many other books include the novel The Ancestor. Also a screenwriter, he lives in New York City.


Q: What inspired you to write The Great Gimmelmans, and how did you create the Gimmelman family?


A: For a long time, I’d been thinking about a novel following a family forced into a life as bank robbers. Originally, it was supposed to take place in the 1930s, but I just didn’t feel like writing about the Great Depression. Spoiler: My next novel, Sublime Evil, which I recently finished, takes place during that era.


A bulk of The Great Gimmelmans was written during the early days of the pandemic, so I wanted it to be fun and an escape from reality. I grew up as a kid in the 1980s, so it seemed like the perfect era to return to, and I switched the 1929 Stock Market Crash to the 1987 one.


Set to pop tunes of the ‘80s, the Gimmelman family began to grow from there. I knew I wanted Aaron, the main character to be 12, but for it not to be a young adult novel, so the patriarch of the family, Barry, would be a main character too. The rest of the family, mother Judith and sisters Steph and little psychotic Jenny, began to emerge.


Q: Did you need to do any research to write the novel, and if so, did you learn anything surprising?


A: I researched a lot about how to rob a bank. The ‘80s were really one of the last times bank robbing was doable, since it was pre-internet and before cell phones.


I watched a ton of bank robbing movies like The Town, Hell or High Water, Killing Zoe, Den of Thieves, Point Break, Heist, Baby Driver. I also wanted it to have We’re the Millers, Little Miss Sunshine vibes.


The other bulk of research was all the places the book would be set. Since I wrote it during the pandemic, I couldn’t travel, so a lot of the research about Virginia, Boca Raton, San Bernardino, was all online.


The rest of the research really was picking out the soundtrack. I wanted it to be poppy to offset the crime element. Tiffany and Debbie Gibson were Steph’s favorite artists, so I listened to a lot of that music.


They never did a concert together, and I think the best scene in the book is when the family takes a break from robbing to go to a dual Tiffany and Debbie Gibson concert at a mall. The media made it out that they were rivals, but it wasn’t true, so it my universe they get to do a show-stopping performance together.

Q: How would you describe the dynamics among the members of the Gimmelman family?


A: It’s complicated, certainly. Barry and Judith, the parents, are madly in love and she follows his life of crime to offset her ennui. Aaron is a genius and 12 going on 35 while his older sister Steph is boy-crazed and his younger sister Jenny is a demon who tortures animals.


Before they started robbing, the family wasn’t really close, but the more they pursue this life of crime, the closer they get.


Aaron wants to please his father, and he’s the one who first robs, but he also becomes the voice of reason when the family goes too far. There’s a lot of love in their RV but greed and infamy pulls the family apart.


Ultimately, the kids rally together at the end against the parents to regain a shred of normalcy in their lives. 


Q: Did you know how the story would end before you started writing the novel, or did you make many changes along the way?


A: Initially, the book didn’t have a prologue and epilogue and ended in the past. But something felt missing, so I added those parts to catch up with Aaron as an adult.


The book is then him looking back on being a child bank robber while he’s picking up Barry who’s finally being let out of prison. All the characters come more full circle now, and it made the book an adult novel rather than be seen as possibly young adult.


Q: What are you working on now?


A: I just finished a very heavy novel called Sublime Evil about the only Jewish man who starts working for a Madison Avenue advertising firm in the 1930s. He deals with antisemitism and begins to suspect that the agency may be run by Nazis who are putting subliminal messaging in the adverts.


This required more research than I’ve ever done, and I’m really proud of this one.


Q: Anything else we should know?


A: Next up, I’m thinking of writing a horror screenplay for a change about an interview…from hell. Working title is simply Interview.


--Interview with Deborah Kalb. Here's a previous Q&A with Lee Matthew Goldberg.

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