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.

**

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  • 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

The Crime Lady: THE REAL LOLITA Around the World; Edna Buchanan's Miami; and More

Dear TCL Readers,

I’ve spent the last few weeks working very hard on my new book in a variety of locales, whether sweltering in my Brooklyn apartment or in the somewhat cooler climes of beachfront Maine and lakefront Sullivan County, New York. As I’ve been immersed in 1960s criminal justice, intellectual history, and book publishing life, news and forthcoming announcements continue to abound with respect to The Real Lolita.

For the rest of the month of July, the Kindle edition is on sale for the ultra-low price of $1.99. (I’m noting this in tandem with Amazon workers continuing to strike, so don’t cross the virtual picket line until the strike is over, please.) Then the paperback edition will be published in the US on September 10. For that new edition, there are two major changes, both of which are reflected in the new cover:

The most significant change is the new afterword, which discusses some new information that came in a few weeks before the book’s hardcover publication last year. And yes, that is indeed a new subtitle. Knopf Canada, my publishers up North, felt a change would give the book an even better chance in the market, and when we ran it by Ecco, as well as my UK publisher, Weidenfeld & Nicolson, they went with the change enthusiastically, too — though their paperback publication dates will be later on, in November 2019 and February 2020, respectively.

I’ll be doing a limited number of events to promote the paperback of The Real Lolita, including an event at the Center for Fiction on September 26; an appearance at Fall for the Book on October 12; and Bouchercon in Dallas from October 31-November 3 (helped, in no small part, by being up for the Anthony Award in Best Critical/Nonfiction Work.) More appearances will be added to the schedule, so look for further details towards the end of the summer.

**

Foreign-language editions of the book are also starting to pop up. This month, Individuum published the Russian edition of The Real Lolita:

The Spanish-language edition will be published on September 17 by Kailas Editorial:

And on October 3, Editions de Seuil will release the book in France:

It is super exciting to see how different countries present and publish The Real Lolita and I really hope to see the book published in many more places, rights and circumstances willing!

**

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Books and anthologies have taken up most of my attention this summer, but here’s what else I’ve worked on, read, listened to, or watched:

  • My newest column for CrimeReads is up this week, and it’s on the fiction and nonfiction of Edna Buchanan, Miami’s queen of crime. I began reading her Britt Montero series in high school (!) and a recent reread of Calvin Trillin’s iconic 1986 profile of her, the year Buchanan won a Pulitzer Prize for feature reporting, in tandem with the recent documentary The Last Resort got me thinking about her career, her influence upon my work, and the roads she’s traveled of late. Some of them were literal: the clipping just above is from a July 29, 1957 Passaic-Clifton Herald-News story about the time when 19-year-old Buchanan (then Edna Rydzik) got into a car accident and hit a 58-year-old man several times. He wasn’t seriously injured, and she got a crash course in how crime reporting works — and wanted more.

  • After The Cut published my big feature on the women harmed before, and after the Central Park Jogger in 1989, I wrote an op-ed for the Washington Post about Linda Fairstein and why her criminal justice legacy is complicated, and should continue to make us feel deeply uncomfortable. (A companion piece that I admired a lot was Meaghan Ybos discussing Fairstein’s “carceral feminism” in The Appeal.)

  • Summer is a time when I try to mix in backlist whenever possible, and books I’ve enjoyed and admired in particular include Eliza Griswold’s deserved Pulitzer winner Amity & Prosperity, which illuminates the perils of fracking through one particular family in rural Pennsylvania; Alexander Chee’s debut novel Edinburgh, gorgeously written and even more relevant now than in 2001; Edith Wharton’s Ethan Frome and The House of Mirth; and the Wonderland Quartet by Joyce Carol Oates.

  • As for new books, the easiest of recs for Trick Mirror by Jia Tolentino; Olivia Gatwood’s debut Life of the Party, a true crime-themed poetry collection; Emily Nussbaum’s I Like To Watch (particularly for the “Confession of a Human Shield” essay); Colson Whitehead’s The Nickel Boys, which I would like someone to compare and contrast to Chester Himes & John A. Williams; My Mother Laughs by Chantal Akerman, a gorgeous, elliptical, dreamlike memoir written a couple of years before her death; Eve Babitz’s assorted nonfiction I Used To Be Charming; Kevin Wilson’s ultra-charming Nothing To See Here; and Attica Locke’s Heaven, My Home, the even-better sequel to the much-loved Bluebird, Bluebird.

  • In podcasts, The Ballad of Billy Balls is iO Tillett Wright’s mix of reporting and true crime memoir and I loved it very much. Man in the Window was good — especially getting living victims of the Golden State Killer on the audio record — but I wanted it to break loose of the Wondery storytelling formula a little more.

  • I basically ignored television this month, but the Toni Morrison documentary, The Pieces I Am, was excellent, and made me ruminate upon what it is to carve out precious time to be a writer, a distinct writer, and to chronicle a world that white people have, deservedly, little to no access. Also, what a gift Morrison has not only for her written word, but for those of others, and for the friendships forged through books.

More very soon. And while I’ve been a little slow at sending out paid newsletters lately, there is also one coming this month, so feel free to click on that button below:

Until next time, I remain,

The Crime Lady

The Crime Lady: The Central Park Narrative

Dear TCL Readers:

Last November, around the time when the Mystery Writers of America awarded, and then rescinded, its Grand Master designation to Linda Fairstein, was when I learned of Ava DuVernay’s limited series Netflix show about the Central Park Five case. I was intrigued because I sensed it would say something new and important about a story that has been written a great deal about over three decades, much of it in wrongheaded, reprehensible ways, but also in illuminating and necessary ways. What happened on the night of April 19, 1989 set in motion all sorts of narratives about America, race, mass incarceration, justice, and society that we’re nowhere close to undoing.

Because there was so much out there on the case, on how five boys were blamed, charged, convicted, incarcerated, and then saw their convictions vacated, it felt, paradoxically, like a story I should never touch. I didn’t know how I could add anything new, or better, or relevant. That is, until I kept seeing how the man actually responsible for the rape and near-murder of Trisha Meili was — and still is — referred to in news accounts and essays: “the serial rapist and murderer Matias Reyes” or “Reyes, a murderer and serial rapist.”

Sarah Burns’ 2012 documentary on the case, The Central Park Five, showed a quick photo of a tabloid story about the murder but didn’t mention the victim’s name (Burns’ 2011 book of the same name did go into more detail, but not a lot.) When They See Us, DuVernay’s show, includes a scene in episode four where prosecutors Robert Morgenthau and Nancy Ryan mention the murder — and the woman’s name, Lourdes Gonzalez — in passing.

Naturally, that led me to wonder: who was Lourdes Gonzalez? How did her murder on June 14, 1989, and more importantly, her life, get subsumed by what happened in Central Park less than two months earlier? How did her violent death break apart her family, one that had been stitched together so carefully, with promise of bright futures, for the children who witnessed her murder? Who were the other women Reyes harmed, and what happened to them, and how were they written out of this larger narrative?

And could these crimes have been prevented had the NYPD and the District Attorney’s office not been so fixated upon a group of teenage boys being the culprits for what happened in Central Park, letting slip one teenage boy on the verge escalating his attacks?

Most of those questions are answered in my newest feature, published at The Cut this week. It’s a story I am particularly proud of and nervous about. Two of the women went on the record using their full names, while two other women shared their experiences for publication for the very first time (one pseudonymously, the other with her first name.) Two of Lourdes Gonzalez’s children also spoke to me for the story. There were many, many more people I talked to, and thousands of documents I consulted, but there would have been no story, no proper parallel narrative to the Central Park Jogger case, without the people, and without the trust they had in me to get it right.

This story was not easy to report out, and I doubt it will be easy to read. But it’s important that the voices of these women — Jackie, Melissa, Amanda, and Meg — be heard, and that someday the voices of the women I could not track down may also be heard. It’s important that Lourdes Gonzalez isn’t forgotten, that she’s remembered not only by her children — Antonio, Amanda, and (though I wasn’t able to speak to him for the story) Carlos. It’s important to know that what happened during the spring and summer of 1989 had so many more victims that we knew, and that it broke people apart, but also brought people closer together.

**

A piece like this cannot exist without the help of many people, so a partial list of credits: Chris Bonanos, who took on the pitch (“why don’t we know more about Lourdes”, basically), put up with my constant doubts and whining, and didn’t flinch when I kept sending him drafts in excess of 10,000 words for him to read; Genevieve Smith for a crucial top-line edit; Nick Tabor for factchecking the daylights out of the story and asking all of the tough questions; Carl Rosen for the copyedit; Liane Radel and Preeti Kinha for the design and photo production; and everyone at The Cut and New York Magazine for being so on board.

Reconstructing a parallel narrative to a much more infamous one also means building on the past work of others. Deepest thanks to Rose Arce, whose original New York Daily News stories on Lourdes Gonzalez’s murder in 1989 were invaluable (and a key source for quotes); Jim Dwyer, for guidance; Harlan Levy, whose 1996 book And The Blood Cried Out was exceedingly helpful (even as it probably cannot be reprinted as is); Helen Benedict, whose 1994 book Virgin or Vamp first got me thinking about this topic; and Sarah Burns, who laid much of the groundwork with her book and documentary film.

Also to my friends, you know who you are, who really had to put up with extra-neurotic texts, DMs, and phone calls for the last few months, and especially the last three and a half weeks.

**

What about When They See Us? I watched the entire limited series over the weekend, and it is a stunning achievement. The acting is superb, the storytelling is full of stark emotional truths, and even the factual liberties taken with the narrative didn’t take me too far out of the story (the closest, I guess, was the confrontation between Korey Wise and Matias Reyes in episode 4; that happened at Rikers Island in 1989, not Attica Prison in the early 90s.) It does what great art should do, humanizing the people behind the headlines. Wise, Antron McCray, Kevin Richardson, Raymond Santana, and Yusef Salaam, then boys, now in their 40s, are fully realized, as is the system that broke them and nearly destroyed them.

The brutality of the system is most personified by Felicity Huffman’s portrayal of Linda Fairstein. It’s a performance designed to make viewers hate her, and based on social media reactions, it seems to be working. I winced most in another episode 4 scene between Huffman and Famke Janssen, playing Nancy Ryan, at a semi-swank restaurant (did it happen? Probably not. But again, artistic license gives way to emotional truth.)

Mostly, though, I felt sad, and more than a little morally culpable. My first freelance book review assignment was for a Linda Fairstein novel. She moderated a panel I was on some years ago and was nice to me, as I know she has been nice to many a woman crime writer. What happened with the Central Park Jogger case was the Thing You Didn’t Talk About, so none of us did in the mystery community. She blocked me on Twitter (then deactivated her account.) I still don’t know if I can bring myself to ask her what happened, why she remains set in a wrong narrative.

That’s what happens with the things you don’t talk about. Soon they become all anyone can talk about.

**

Needless to say, this story took a lot of work, and I do have a book to write. Plus it’s the summer. So dispatches will be fewer, but I’ll check in when I can — and paid subscribers will still get original content on a monthly-or-thereabouts basis, so if you want in:

Until next time, I remain,

The Crime Lady

The Crime Lady: Arthur Ellis Awards, Concerts, and More

Dear TCL Readers,

May proved to be…quite something, much of it good. So much so that I’m splitting the news into two dispatches: this one with awards and appearances, the next one with what I’ve been working on these last few months.

Last week I flew up to Toronto for the Arthur Ellis Awards, Canada’s annual celebration of crime writing excellence, and ended up winning the Best Nonfiction Crime category. It was a lovely evening, spent in excellent company (my table included winners & nominees Linwood Barclay, Lisa Gabriele, and Tim Wynne-Jones.) Here I am with my beloved editor at Knopf Canada, Anne Collins, and the hangman-replica award — which I did take across the border, thankfully with little trouble:

The Real Lolita is also up for the Anthony Award for Nonfiction/Critical, with so many of my friends also nominated across all categories. I was planning on attending Bouchercon already, but I can’t say I’m displeased to have extra incentive (and that it promises to be *quite* the party...)

The paperback of The Real Lolita is out on September 10, and more on that very soon. There’s still some promotional life in the hardcover, as I’ll be reading at the Word on the Street Festival in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan on Sunday, June 9 at noon. It will be my first visit to the city (and to the province!) and look forward to meeting readers there.

Separately, as many of you know, I’ve long been a member of the Brooklyn Conservatory Chorale. Our spring concert will be held at Old First Reformed Church in Park Slope on Sunday, June 2 at 3 PM. It’s an extra-special occasion because it will be the last concert conducted by founding director Nelly Vuksic, who is retiring after 13 years. There will be a post-concert reception. I also have a small solo. Details below, should you be inclined to hear some great choral music from Britain, Spain, Argentina, Portugal, and more:

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  • I’ve been on a pretty good reading run of late, but I wanted to single out two outstanding books: Life With Picasso, Francoise Gilot’s 1964 memoir (cowritten with Carlton Lake, and about to be reissued by NYRB Classics), is a revelatory document of what it is to be a young woman in thrall to a much-older artist, and how to love such a man, without ever losing one’s sense of self or illusions about his egocentrism and cruelty. It makes me wonder if Lisa Halliday read it before writing Asymmetry. But mostly it makes me want to press it into the hands of anyone struggling with how to reconcile great art with monstrous artists.

  • And Anakana Schofield’s new novel Bina zapped itself into my brain from the getgo and refuses to leave, or sit still, which is what you would expect from a book that chronicles a 74-year-old woman who has had enough, is unafraid to tell everyone, and is struggling with grief and guilt over the loss of her best friend. I thought Malarky (its prequel) and Martin John (in the same universe) were both very good, but Bina is in a separate league. I’ve been recommending it to anyone who loved and admired Anna Burns’ Booker Prize winner Milkman.

  • Longform features & essays that have resonated with me recently: Amy Chozick on the sad, messy story behind those Peter Max cruise ship art auctions; an account of the longest-incarcerated prisoner in North Carolina; Lyz Lenz chronicling a Mommy Blogger convention and what it means to brand and make a living off your domestic life; Kellye Garrett on crime fiction pioneer Barbara Neely; and Adelle Waldman on Herman Wouk.

  • I cannot recommend Running From Cops, the six-part podcast hosted and produced by Dan Taberski, more highly. It’s quality investigative journalism about entertainment, that asks the big questions about a show we’ve taken for granted for far too long, that’s probably had more lasting impact in the culture than we know.

  • Booksmart is a funny, life-affirming, feminist, glorious homage to teen films of the past while doing something entirely of its own volition. I loved it, and please see it while it’s still in theaters.

  • And in TV, I am, in fact, watching Fleabag (albeit slowly.) It’s fantastic.

The next dispatch arrives soon. Until then, I remain,

The Crime Lady

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