A product of more than 20 years of labor, the book is a 90-chapter exploration of the life of a criminal lawyer on the make amid the corruption of Chicago’s criminal justice system in the 1970s and 80s, during the federal government’s Operation Greylord. What it may lack in writerly nuance, it makes up for in dramatic plot points and the atmospheric flavor of a Chicago long gone, when Rush Street was still the place to party, people still used the Club as an auto-theft deterrent, and pastels were still reigning in interior design. Consider it also a dive into Goldberg’s psyche.
The book is self-published, but Goldberg had an editor, Dagny Kight—though she wasn’t allowed to change much beyond the punctuation. She had to work to convince him to let her do even that.
Kight was surfing around Vimeo one day when she stumbled upon this trailer Goldberg had produced for his first book, The One and Only:
But finding Goldberg proved difficult, since, as he explained to the Reader, he doesn’t use e-mail and almost never goes to his office. “It took me about a month of pestering him,” said Kight. “I left information for him at his office and even at his home.” Finally, he agreed to meet her at a Gold Coast Argo Tea. When he arrived, she remembers, he parked his big Rolls Royce right outside the door in what was probably not a parking space. He was more interested in discussing The Snake Charmer than his first novel.
“He told me he had a 500-page manuscript in the trunk of his car,” she remembers, “and he’d be willing to let me take a look at it if I was willing to sign a little contract that he wrote right there on a little scrap of paper.” She did and lugged the thick stack of vellum-finish paper home on the bus.
She was surprised by what she found as she began reading. “I don’t want that to come off like I’m seriously dissing The One and Only,” she said, “but I thought The Snake Charmer was so much better. It was [also] the cleanest manuscript I’ve ever worked with professionally. My first job as an editor was in 1983.”
Of course, no manuscript is perfect, and as she set about her work Kight found that convincing Goldberg to make the smallest changes was a challenge. “He had a bad habit of using ellipses quite extensively, so I took a lot of those out. But he seemed to have practically the entire book memorized down to the last comma and period, and I was surprised that he would notice that I had made some editorial changes. I would have to insist to him that even he had to follow grammatical rules and he would only say, ‘You may be right.'”
Ultimately, she wasn’t able to convince him to make the cover more indicative of the subject matter of the book. That’s because its origin had a quasi-mystical significant for Goldberg.
“I was getting a massage and the person’s hands were fantastic and I said ‘Your hands are like an artist!’ And she said ‘I am an artist,'” he recounted to me in an interview. The massage therapist-painter was named Kara Schabacker. Like many who meet Goldberg, Schabacker was drawn to his energy and vision. She became intrigued when Goldberg told her about his book.
“It ended up being serendipitous because he said he was looking for something very specific: A blond woman with blue eyes with maybe a snake wrapped around her neck and a Garden of Eden theme and tattoo style. And I looked at him and said ‘I already painted that.'” He immediately commissioned a slightly tweaked version of the painting for the book cover.
Goldberg found that Schabacker’s image “just evokes a sense of feeling: the danger of the Garden of Eden and of the female holding the apple of corruption. I just felt it symbolized the story. And I’ve never seen a cover like that.”
“There is a great deal of garbage that goes self-published,” Kight acknowledges, but she hopes that The Snake Charmer will set itself apart. Thought most of her clients are business people trying to enhance their personal brands with a book, she says that Goldberg’s is the best fiction book she’s worked with. “I honestly feel like it’s a terrific book, I greatly enjoyed it. I think it has an audience and it could sell well.”