Dear TCL Readers,
Unspeakable Acts publishes in just about a month. And in this strange ongoing pandemic-inflected world, publicity and promotion looks different, but not so much different than in the Before Time. Here’s what’s planned over the rest of the summer, so far:
I took part in a nonfiction-themed reading series for forthcoming books along with Ravi Somaiya, Morgan Jerkins, Talia Lavin, Spencer Ackerman, and Sam Thielman last week, and it was so much fun. The whole thing’s archived right here. (I show up around the 18 minute mark.)
The virtual launch event for Unspeakable Acts is on publication day — Tuesday, July 28 — at Books Are Magic. (The link isn’t live yet, which is why I’m holding off on further details until next time, but you can RSVP generally for events here.)
The following evening, on Wednesday, July 29, I’ll be moderating a panel of Unspeakable Acts contributors, including Pamela Colloff, Sarah Marshall, Rachel Monroe, and Emma Copley Eisenberg, at an event hosted by Politics & Prose. You can register and RSVP right here.
More events are in the works (including a Canada-centric one!) and I’ll have details as soon as I can share them.
After I sent out my last subscriber-only newsletter about the film Shirley, focusing on one specific issue I had — namely, the complete absence of Shirley Jackson’s children, and how it undercuts the movie entirely — I was asked to expand upon it for an essay that ran a few days later in the Los Angeles Times. And then the New Yorker did something ingenious: they had Jackson’s eldest son, Laurence Jackson Hyman, speak with Elisabeth Moss, who plays his mother in Shirley, for a Talk of the Town piece. All of which gets at the central question I still had: why make this film about Shirley Jackson, when it would have worked even better as an eerie, disquieting tale of a midcentury writer struggling for agency? I guess we’ll never know.
The HBO documentary series based on Michelle McNamara’s I’ll Be Gone in the Dark started airing on Sunday. I’ve seen the first three episodes (thanks to advance screeners), and am extremely impressed with Liz Garbus’s vision, which is as much about the victims of the Golden State Killer as it is about McNamara’s growing obsession, and the catastrophic toll it took upon her as she wrote the book. My only nitpick was when McNamara’s book editor, Jennifer Barth, described getting the proposal from her agent as, “this is a true crime project that transcends the genre” but as TCL Readers well know, this is my least favorite phrase ever, so of course I would wince at it in the wild. (For more serious critique, not of the documentary itself but how true crime sits uncomfortably at the moment, this essay by Jenni Miller is excellent.)
My crime novel reading has fallen way off but there is no question that Rachel Howzell Hall’s And She Was Gone is among the best published this year, with all the hype warranted, and then some. I read it with delight last week, surprised by the fresh twists and the complex characters, all with believable secrets with far-reaching consequences. Other recent recommendations: Megha Majumdar’s stellar A Burning; Brit Bennett’s The Vanishing Half, which completely engrossed me with its ambition and storytelling; and Maggie Doherty’s The Equivalents, on five women writers & artists whose time at the Radcliffe Institute in the early 1960s was a bridge to second-wave feminism.
Some true crime feature reading: Jana Pruden on a viral sensation who became a killer; Kashmir Hill on wrongful arrest by algorithm; Pagan Kennedy on Marty Goddard, the forgotten woman who invented the rape kit; Jason Fagone (a contributor to Unspeakable Acts) and Megan Cassidy on the crisis at San Quentin; and Diana Moskowitz re-evaluating the crime reporting of Edna Buchanan.
This op-ed deserves to be anthologized and taught in schools for centuries to come.
And CrimeReads kindly reprinted my afterword to the recent reissue of Julian Symons’ The Tell-Tale Heart, his 1978 biography of Edgar Allan Poe. It’s an odd book, with an interesting perspective on the writing of biography, and the piece I wrote reflects my admiration for Symons’ project.
Finally, a moment to reflect on the crime fiction & thriller community’s painful reckoning-in-progress, one that resulted in the resignation of most of the board members of Bouchercon and of the International Thriller Writers, one that will persist without serious, systemic change. And by change, I mean asking the deepest and most elemental questions: why do these conferences and organizations exist? Who are they for? Can they ever be held safely when the safety of attendees is not only not guaranteed, but dismissed with such blitheness that for a time, an organization’s statement outed a victim who had lodged a credible accusation of sexual assault? And how can Black, Indigenous, and other authors and participants of color be part of the community fabric without being tokenized and discriminated against?
This is a time to rethink everything and to make ourselves uncomfortable. (I know I am.) Success can’t be measured by endpoints but by steps along a continuum of progress. To that end, it is heartening to see Sisters in Crime’s updated code of conduct and MWA’s announcement that a member had been suspended pending the results of an investigation into allegations of misconduct. Let’s have a lot more of that.
Until next time, I remain,
The Crime Lady