The Crime Lady: A Late Summer Update

Dear TCL Readers,

The mood is grim, the news is awful, and it’s necessary to take breaks. So perhaps it is strange to write this newsletter in a state of anticipation and, dare I say it, excitement, but that’s how I am feeling right now. Some very good news relating to the new book project came in last week, which means I am now sorting out how to spend serious time in the fall and winter doing archival research at an Ivy League institution. The writing continues, too, but that will happen more as I run away from New York for cooler climes (and better access to beaches) this month.

And, with the paperback publication of The Real Lolita growing closer, I’m pleased to announce some forthcoming appearances:

  • On Friday, September 20 at 7 PM, I’ll be reading as part of the Brooklyn Book Festival-week Noir at the Bar at Kew & Willow Books in Kew Gardens, Queens.

  • On Thursday, September 26 at 7 PM, I am hosting a panel at the Center for Fiction on what it is to read Lolita in America, today. Joining me are novelists Susan Choi (Trust Exercise) and Catherine Chung (The Tenth Muse) as well as the nonfiction writer Morgan Jerkins (This Will Be My Undoing).

  • I’ll be at Fall for the Book at George Mason University, in conversation with the wonderful Art Taylor on Saturday, October 12 at 10:30 AM.

  • On Wednesday, October 23 at 6:30 PM, I’m teaching a master class on narrative nonfiction at StoryStudio Chicago. This is the first time I’ve taught a master class and I am particularly excited (and nervous!) about it. Click on the link for further details and, if you are in and around Chicago, how to register.

  • Bouchercon falls between October 31 and November 3. It’s the 50th anniversary of the convention and it’s in Dallas, TX. I was already planning on being there, and then I got nominated for the Anthony and Macavity Awards so that added some extra incentive.

More events are being added, and I’ll announce those as soon as I can.


I’ve been writing and publishing fairly steadily this summer. For TCL subscribers, I wrote about the rape trial that Canadian writer Mordecai Richler attended in the early 1960s, which he used as material for his 1971 novel St Urbain’s Horseman. You can read it at this link, and if you’d like to subscribe, hit the button below:

For The Walrus, I wrote about the process of writing The Real Lolita while going through cancer treatment. It was, unsurprisingly, a complicated journey. That said, writing a book while not in treatment isn’t easier, just different. Like writing a book while having a full-time day job versus being a full-time writer. Every project has different, and taxing, demands, and it’s important to meet them as they happen and not necessarily extrapolate that experience to the next project, beyond having the confidence to know that if you finish a draft of a book, you’re more likely to have the stamina to finish the draft of another book.

This essay is also, I think, the midpoint of a mini-series that I didn’t expect to write. But I can tell I’m not quite done with writing about cancer — I’m researching a fourth piece as we speak, and thinking seriously about a fifth — even as I hope cancer is very much done with me.

The Poetry Foundation publishes my essay today on the making of the first, and arguably the best, book on the Manson Murders: The Family by Ed Sanders (1971). Sanders, better known as a poet and co-founder of The Fugs, covered the trials for the Los Angeles Free Press and ended up tangling in court with a secretive group called the Process Church of the Final Judgment, which is why the first edition of the book reads different from the version that circulates today. Sanders didn’t speak with me for the piece, likely because he was working on an essay of his own for the New York Times on the enduring fascination with the case.

I’d filed the piece before watching Quentin Tarantino’s Once Upon A Time…In Hollywood so there’s hardly anything about the film in the essay (I did read Tom O’Neill’s recently published Manson book, Chaos, a fascinating portrait of a man swallowed up by a rabbit hole of his own making. I would also like to see someone else unpack the grandiose mythmaking of Vincent Bugliosi and the harm done by that myth to the women in his life.)

I do understand the criticism of Once Upon a Timenow that I’ve seen it. Tarantino has always wanted to have it all ways with his films, because his subject is the movies, and everything is in service to recreating and re-imagining those formative emotional responses to the films he most loves (this is also why, with respect to the foot fetish stuff, it’s less about the fetish and more about the visual depiction of the fetish.) That’s why his films bend reality to the will of film, why history isn’t revisionist so much as narrative fantasy, and why real people — like Sharon Tate — can feel less “real” than the characters of Rick Dalton and Cliff Booth, whom we never forget are Leonardo DiCaprio and Brad Pitt, albeit in glorious TechniColor or grainy black-and-white.

As a result, the twist ending was less of a twist and more of a continuing theme of filmmaking being more “real” than reality itself. I don’t know if it’s a love letter to a bygone Hollywood, or acceptance that the self-immolation of bygone Hollywood was inevitable, or something else. But I’m fine with not knowing. And even more fine with remembering the victims of the Manson spree as humans, not as symbols.



  • We have reached the full postmodern-meta stage of the current explosion of true crime content, which I am now terming the “true crime industrial complex.” For the Washington Post Magazine, Britt Peterson covered CrimeCon in the company of Bill Thomas, whose sister Cathy was murdered by the unknown individual dubbed the Colonial Parkway Killer, and who has decided to face the complex head-on in the hopes it might bring much-needed answers about who killed Cathy. It’s a terrific feature, one that interrogates all the uncomfortable questions arising from loving (and writing, and writing about) true crime.

  • The same meta-reckoning has come to podcasts, too, with The Clearing, Josh Dean’s examination of the serial crimes of Edward Wayne Edwards in the company of Edwards’ daughter, April. The most recent episode, where April confronts a former police officer whose unhealthy obsession has convinced him the killer was responsible for all sorts of major cases that he is clearly not responsible for, is pins-and-needles riveting. I do think there are some gray-area ethics issues about The Clearing, well-covered in this recent Vulture piece by Nicholas Quah, but I am going to keep listening to the end, because the podcast, so far, strips away the layers of outlandish conspiracy and focuses attention on the crimes (if perhaps too much on Edwards himself, albeit for justifiable reasons.)

  • Is it too early to start recommending 2020-published books? Well, I’ll do it anyway, because the year in crime will begin well with Liz Moore’s outstanding new novel Long Bright River (Riverhead, January) and Emma Copley Eisenberg’s gorgeously written gut-punch nonfiction The Third Rainbow Girl (Hachette Books, January).

With that, I’m getting ready to pack for my next travels, working more on the new book project, as well as some smaller ones. I’ll return here after Labor Day (and perhaps, for subscribers, a little sooner.)

Until then, I remain,

The Crime Lady

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