The Crime Lady V2, #6: The Year That Was, The Year That Will Be

Dear TCL Readers,

As 2018 draws to a close, I can make one promise for 2019: I’ll be sending more newsletters, and at a reasonably regular (if still occasional) pace, than I did this year. It did get a little busy: The Real Lolita, its publication and book tour, occupied most of my waking moments. And truth be told, it was a lot easier, and lazier, to tweet or post photos on Instagram than get into a regular posting rhythm here. But not only will it be less sporadic, I’m cooking up some original content that would be newsletter-exclusive, which means The Crime Lady’s going paid (sometimes.) I’ll have more details on how that will work after the New Year.

Summing up things since the last newsletter:

  • Harlan Coben recommended The Real Lolita on the TODAY Show, an honor I will never get over, and Esi Edugyan recommended it in the New York Times, another honor I won’t get over. The book also featured on best-of lists from the Washington Post, NPR, Vulture, the National Post (which counted it among the 10 best of the year), BuzzFeed, CBC Books, and CrimeReads.

  • BuzzFeed also asked me to pick my own favorite crime books of 2018, and I obliged.

  • Published a few more pieces, including an essay on Tana French’s new novel, The Witch Elm, for Bookforum; a review of Stephen L. Carter’s Invisible for the New York Times Book Review; my most recent Crimereads column, on the life and work of Merriam Modell, who wrote as Evelyn Piper; and an essay on Rosemary Ridgewell, the “Showgirl Who Discovered Lolita”, for Literary Hub.

  • I appeared at book festivals in Austin, Chicago (here’s video!), Portland OR, and Miami, that last one in a delightful conversation with Washington Post critic Ron Charles. I also read at an all-nonfiction/true crime Noir at the Bar at Kew & Willow Books, along with the likes of Bob Kolker, Carolyn Murnick, Piper Weiss, Jonathan Santlofer, and Cutter Wood. And I was on a couple of podcasts: Gangrey, to talk about my book and career; and Says Who, hosted by Maureen Johnson and Dan Sinker, to get silly about the political situation.

  • And two major events that are related: I sold the next book to Ecco and Knopf Canada, and left Publishers Marketplace after eight years to pursue the full-time writing life.

So first, that new book project, officially announced right after Thanksgiving. The working title is The Convict and the Conservative, and it’s about a time, five or so decades ago, when William F. Buckley so believed in the innocence of New Jersey Death Row inmate Edgar Smith, incarcerated for the 1957 murder of a teenage girl named Vickie Zielinski, that he not only helped free him, but helped launch Smith as something of a literary celebrity. This, shall we say, did not end up being a good idea.

There are so many strands to knit together — true crime, American history of the late 1950s through mid-1970s, neoconservative politics, book publishing, the human capacity to believe and to be manipulated, then duped — that it’s going to be a challenge, but a challenge I cannot wait to spend the next few years of my life meeting. I’ve already spent about four years on the story, off and on, which did turn out to be a very good idea. Unlike The Real Lolita, where I had to fill in gaps when the historical record grew sparse, The Convict and the Conservative is rich in archival material, court documents, media coverage, and (thankfully) living sources, though a few of them need to be tracked down sooner rather than later…

I actually sold the proposal for this book over the summer, but delayed announcing it until promotion for The Real Lolita was mostly complete. Over those intervening months, I realized that I could no longer split my time between a day job and a book, and that it was time to take the calculated risk of full-time writing.

Working at Publishers Marketplace was, without a doubt, the best job I ever had, and Michael Cader is the best boss I ever worked for. I’m going to miss it, and the day-to-day hum of book trade news and gossip, very much. But I’m so ready to commit to this book project, and future ones. I’m a book writer now. This is what I do. And it’s good to take risks, something I want to do much more of in the future.

That’s it for 2018, a banner year for me, a hard one for America and for the planet. Here’s to 2019 being wonderful for us all and less terrible for the world.

Until then, I remain,

The Crime Lady