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In the Hot Seat: Matt Goldman on GONE TO DUST

Today we turn the spotlight on Matt Goldman, whose debut novel, GONE TO DUST, features an unusual crime—a murdered woman is found covered in dust from hundreds of vacuum cleaner bags, rendering DNA evidence useless.

Library Journal‘s Books for Dudes column called it, “hard-boiled awesomeness” and Booklist said, “Offer this one to aficionados of chilly Scandinavian noir and the new generation of Philip Marlowe fans.”

Macmillan Library: Hi Matt, and thanks for joining us for a Q&A on the blog today! Before we talk about your debut mystery, GONE TO DUST, let’s start with your credentials. You began your career as a stand-up comedian and are now a playwright and Emmy Award-winning television writer for Seinfeld, Ellen, and other shows. You must do so much writing for your day job, why write a novel?

Matt Goldman: I love writing and I’m a first-degree introvert. So much of television writing is done in a roomful of writers. Not the actual script writing (usually), but conceiving characters and stories. Much of the rewriting is also done in a group. Especially in comedy. TV writing and writers have taught me so much about character, story, pace, dialogue, and series construction, I wouldn’t trade a minute of it. But for my personality, it’s exhausting trying to track all those words in the air. I love the process of book writing—I find it energizing. And it’s a chance to write my voice without concern for other writers, actors, studios, and networks.

ML: Was it harder or easier for you to write GONE TO DUST vs writing for TV? What are some of the major differences?

MG: Some of the differences I explained above. I guess I don’t look at it as hard vs. easy. They have their tradeoffs by that measurement. It’s a more whole and rewarding experience for me to write books. I’m a serial daydreamer. That serves me better as a novelist than it does in a room where I’m supposed to be paying attention.

ML: Did you have specific inspirations as you wrote GONE TO DUST? It’s lighthearted, but has a very noir feel.

MG: I started reading the mystery/crime genre relatively recently. When I read Raymond Chandler, I saw how my voice could work in telling those kinds of stories. Chandler’s voice and style are different from mine, and his skill far outweighs mine, but he did inspire me to sit down and give it a shot.

ML: GONE TO DUST has a very unique protagonist—Nils Shapiro is a Jewish-Swedish private investigator living in Minnesota. Is he based on anyone you know? If not, how did you come up with this character?

MG: Nils is actually Jewish and named after a Swede. If anything, I guess he’s based on my experience growing up and living in Minnesota, which was predominantly settled by Scandinavians. Something about either that culture or the land or both is powerful and equalizing. Maybe it’s the harsh winters or abundance of simple pleasures like lakes, trees, and wildlife. I was born into that world, but I have the same ancestral history as Jerry Seinfeld and Larry David. It’s a weird juxtaposition. The Cohen brothers went to my high school (before I did). They sometimes explore the same juxtaposition, but from a different angle and in a far different style. I love their work, and I think they’re as good as it gets, but I don’t try to emulate them. We’re different.

ML: The crime in GONE TO DUST is very unusual—a woman’s murdered body is found covered with the dust from hundreds of emptied vacuum cleaner bags, obscuring all potential DNA evidence. Did this ever actually happen? (We hope not!) How did you come up with the idea?

MG: It has never happened to my knowledge and I hope it never does. The idea came out of what’s often portrayed in crime shows where forensic science has replaced understanding the human condition. Nils gets insight into the crime based on what his life experience has taught him about people and relationships. That universalizes the genre. That’s what makes the story-telling about human beings, not microscopes.

ML: We loved GONE TO DUST, as have many of our librarian pals around the country. They all want to know one thing: when can we see more of Nils Shapiro? Please tell us this is the start of a series!

MG: GONE TO DUST is definitely the start of a series, and I have the contract to prove it. The second book is already finished. I’m working on book three now, and Forge has signed off on my proposal for book four. I love writing these—I hope I get to write twenty-five more. [Ed note: We do, too!]

ML: Thanks for your time, Matt!

GONE TO DUST will be available August 15, 2017 from Forge Books.

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