Stay Sexy and Don’t Get Murdered: The Definitive How-To Guide
By Karen Kilgariff and Georgia Hardstark
Forge. 304 pp. $24.99
“True crime has always been popular,” Karen Kilgariff says. The fascination may be as old as murder itself, “but now people are acknowledging it instead of hiding in their houses watching four hours of ‘Forensic Files’ by themselves.”
She should know. Together, Kilgariff and Georgia Hardstark host “My Favorite Murder,” one of the most consistently beloved crime-meets-comedy podcasts since its debut in 2016. Each week, in episodes that often span over 90 minutes, the crime-consumed friends swap gory stories for up to 19 million fanatical listeners — aka “murderinos” — across the globe. (They don’t call their fan club the “fan cult” for nothing.) The pair also launched their own podcast network, Exactly Right Media, in 2018.
In other words, they’re busy. Which is why, when publishers approached Kilgariff and Hardstark with the proposition of expanding their empire into books, “We originally wanted it to be a coffee-table book with very large pictures and very little writing,” Kilgariff jokes. “It turned out to be the opposite.”
Titled after their trademark “MFM” sign-off, “Stay Sexy and Don’t Get Murdered: The Definitive How-To Guide” may not be an ideal pick for one’s coffee table. “True crime is not for everybody,” Kilgariff admits. And though their brisk new collection of humorous personal essays obviously sprang from the show’s success (they use their podcast’s classic quips, like “[Screw] politeness” and “You’re in a cult; call your dad,” as section headers), content-wise, the book has surprisingly little to do with crime.
Instead, it focuses on self-preservation, especially for young women, with an overarching message about the importance of self-respect.
The authors say they didn’t intend for the book to be overtly prescriptive, especially when it comes to how women and girls might stay safe. “You shouldn’t listen to us anyway,” Hardstark says. Still, at times the book reads like a series of supportive, snappy pep talks from a cool older sister who’s gone through ... a lot.
“When I was writing, I was thinking about what I wanted my niece to know — the things I got wrong when I was growing up that I don’t want to happen to her,” Kilgariff explains. “I wrote it for Karen’s niece, too,” Hardstark jokes. “No, I was writing to myself and my past. Each story was about something I was shameful about, something I wish I’d known then. [Writing] helped me leave those regrets in the past.”
Established MFM fans will be familiar with both women’s struggles with anxiety and depression, among other issues. But the book’s longer format gives them room to dive deeper into some of the painful stories they’ve mentioned in the show, touching on eating disorders, drug addiction, alcoholism, sketchy men — even ill-conceived brushes with Scientology. “We have this listenership that totally have our back and love us for the [messed]-up stories we’ve told about our lives,” Kilgariff says. “The people who are going to buy this book already speak our language, so it felt very personal and conversational.”
Despite both women’s extensive writing backgrounds — pre-MFM, Kilgariff worked as a comedian and television writer, while Hardstark was a food writer and TV personality — Kilgariff is quick to confess that the process of drafting a book was “very, very intimidating.” Especially when she remembered that people are actually going to read the fruits of their labor.
“It’s such a different experience when you’re sitting in your house typing on your laptop,” Hardstark says. “When we’re in conversation [on the podcast], we’re connected and playing off each other, whereas with these memoirs, we wrote our chapters separately and then blended them. It was like a monologue as opposed to a dialogue.”
The lack of hardcore crime stories in a book by crime buffs may also seem a surprising turn for two women who originally bonded over a shared obsession with all things macabre. As they recall in the book, Kilgariff and Hardstark met at a Los Angeles Halloween party in the late 2010s. When Hardstark overheard Kilgariff — then a stranger — describe witnessing a rogue driver plow into a crowd of pedestrians at Austin’s South by Southwest festival, Hardstark immediately ran over to hear every grim detail.
The rest is history: The women talked for hours, exchanged numbers and met for lunch soon after to continue hashing out their unabashed shared fixation on, well, murder. Though they were each working on their own separate podcasts at the time, they agreed that the moment was right to launch MFM — partly because neither woman had anyone else to talk to about her obsession. “I think women believed for a long time that it was inappropriate for them to be interested in true crime. It made them judge themselves, or feel weird or ghoulish,” Kilgariff notes.
The show and the book have given the authors a way to revel in their mutual fascination — as well as help them cope with the concerns of life as women in a sometimes scary world. “I’ve been wondering why, before bed, I always scroll through the cold case news and crime blogs even though I have so much anxiety,” Hardstark says. “I think it’s a confirmation for me, and for a lot of women, that yeah, the world is as terrifying as you think it is. But you can arm yourself with knowledge.”
Though Hardstark quips that she’s afraid her “mom’s going to sue” for some of the things she spills in the book’s pages, she has no regrets — and both writers are eager to see how fans will take to their entree into publishing. “I’ve always had no filter, like ‘These are my stories and I’m not going to censor them,’” Hardstark explains. “Of course, now that the book is almost here, I’m rethinking that. Jesus, I wish I had just a little bit of a filter. But what are you going to do?”
Barcella is a Brooklyn-based freelance writer and the author of “Fight Like a Girl: 50 Feminists Who Changed the World.”