This is one of those Must-Hear episodes of The Virtual Memories Show, people! I know I love all my kids, but I admit this one’s pretty special; give it a few minutes and you’ll understand why.
“What I’m passing on to people is . . . the capacity to have fun. To have a life that you can build around. Not branding, and not the demands of the marketplace, but what you really think and what you want.”
After a remarkable 40-year career, publisher Malcolm Margolin is retiring from Heyday Books in Berkeley. He joins the show to talk about the liberation of being unimportant, building a roundhouse to fall apart, the “dress code” necessary to make things palatable to a mainstream audience, his efforts to chronicle California Indian culture, his next act(s), and more! Give it a listen!
“In some ways I feel regret; the irony is that I was so active in preserving other people’s cultures and languages, but I let mine go.”
We also talk about the craziest golf foursome ever, the two-week-plus run of LSD that may have changed his life, his hatred of salesmanship (and environmentalists), the publishing revolution of the ‘70s, how we learn to live in a world bigger than our capacity to understand it, the inscription he’d want on his headphone e’d what drew him to publishing all those years ago (the beautiful women)! Give it a listen!
And become a patron of this podcast via Patreon or Paypal to get access to bonus conversation with Malcolm and a list of all the books we talked about! (Also, here’s a free bonus page of all the great quotes from our conversation.)
“I’m an emotion junkie. If I can go more than a few hours without breaking into tears, it’s a wasted day.”
About our Guest
Malcolm Margolin is an author, publisher, and the founder and executive director of Heyday Books, an independent nonprofit publisher and cultural institution in Berkeley, CA. In 1974 he founded Heyday with the publication of his book The East Bay Out: A Personal Guide to the East Bay Regional Parks. Malcolm is the author/editor of eight books including The Ohlone Way: Indian Life in the San Francisco-Monterey Bay Area, named by the San Francisco Chronicle as one of the hundred most important books of the 20th century by a western writer. His essays and articles have appeared in a number of periodicals including The Nation, Small Press, National Parks, the San Francisco Chronicle, and the Los Angeles Times. He retired from his role as publisher at Heyday Books this year.
Credits: This episode’s music is Nothing’s Gonna Bring Me Down by David Baerwald, used with permission of the artist. The conversation was recorded at the offices of Heyday Books on a Zoom H2n digital recorder (because I screwed up with my main recorder). I recorded the intro and outro on a Blue enCORE 200 Microphone feeding into a Mackie Onyx Blackjack 2×2 USB Recording Interface. Processing was done in Audacity and Logic Pro. Photos of Malcolm by me.
“I’d always been really wowed by the idea of artistic freedom, but that was all just an idea and not a reality. Actually being on the street and talking about artistic integrity is a joke. It’s a joke that’s laughing at you.”
In his new comix memoir, Chicago (Fantagraphics), Glenn Head follows Orwell’s maxim, “Autobiography is only to be trusted when it reveals something disgraceful.” We talk about how he approached his first long-form comic after decades in the field, what prompted him to chronicle his mid-’70s self, the allure of underground comix, how his next work may mirror another bit of Orwelliana, why it’s always good to delate your heroes, what he’s working on next, and more! Give it a listen, and go buy Glenn’s new book!
“I think fools are always sympathetic, because they don’t know better.”
We also talk about our favorite comic stores, what he discovered about storytelling in the process of making Chicago, how he balanced the joys (and hassles) of editing comics anthologies, what he learned studying under Art Spiegelman at SVA, who his toughest (and best) critics are, how becoming a dad revised his understanding of his old man, and what it was like living in NYC through the AIDS years! Go listen!
“I learned that I’m not going to do my best work unless I risk vulnerability and putting myself out there.”
Also, if you want to find out who Glenn is reading nowadays and get a list of the books we talked about in this episode, join our Patreon and become a monthly contributor to The Virtual Memories Show! At the end of March, the new episode of our patron-only podcast, Fear of a Square Planet, will go up with a bonus segment about who he’s reading and why.
About our Guest
Glenn Head was born in 1958 in Morristown, NJ, and began drawing comics when he was fourteen. His work has appeared in many places—from The Wall Street Journal to Screw. Others include The New York Times, Playboy, New Republic, Sports Illustrated, Advertising Age, Interview and Entertainment Weekly. Glenn’s fine art has been exhibited in New York and across the country: Exit Art’s travelling cartoon art show, “Comic Power”; “Art and Provocation: Images from Rebels” at the Boulder Museum of Fine Art; and “The New York Press Illustrator Show” at CBGB’s Gallery. His editorial cartooning appeared in the Inx show at Hofstra University. In the early ‘90s Glenn co-created (with cartoonist Kaz) and edited Snake Eyes, the Harvey Award-nominated cutting-edge comix anthology series. His solo books include Avenue D and Guttersnipe – underground urban comix that capture the intense, gritty underbelly of streetlife. Head was a frequent contributor to the Fantagraphics’ comix anthology quarterly Zero Zero. The Simon & Schuster’s comic book anthology Mind Riot featured Glenn’s work – a collection of personal stories depicting teenage angst. His project, Head Shots, a sketchbook of cartoon art, followed. From 2005 to 2010 Glenn edited and contributed to the Harvey and Eisner-nominated anthology Hotwire (three issues). Over the past six years Glenn created his graphic epic, Chicago. This coming-of-age memoir centers around a starry eyed 19-year-old with dreams of underground comics glory as he encounters his heroes, faces homelessness, despair, insanity . . . and somehow survives.
Credits: This episode’s music is Nothing’s Gonna Bring Me Down by David Baerwald, used with permission of the artist. The conversation was recorded at Virtual Memories Headquarters on a pair of Blue enCORE 200 microphones feeding into a Zoom H5 digital recorder. I recorded the intro and outro on the same setup. Processing was done in Audacity and Logic Pro. Photo of Mr. Head by me.
It’s time for our year-end Virtual Memories tradition: The Guest List! I reached out to 2015’s podcast guests and asked them about the favorite book(s) they read in the past year, as well as the books or authors they’re hoping to read in 2016! More than 30 responded with a dizzying array of books. (I participated, too!) So now that you’ve got your Hanukkah and/or Christmas gelt, the Virtual Memories Show offers up a huge list of books that you’re going to want to read! Get ready to update your wish lists!
This year’s Guest List episode features selections from nearly 3 dozen of our recent guests! So go give it a listen, and then visit our special Guest List page where you can find links to the books and the guests who responded.
About our Guests
The guests who participated in this year’s Guest List are Derf Backderf, Anthea Bell, John Clute, Michael Dirda, Matt Farber, Jonathan Galassi, Brad Gooch, Langdon Hammer, Liz Hand, Jennifer Hayden, Ron Hogan, Dylan Horrocks, David Jaher, Kathe Koja, Jonathan Kranz, Peter Kuper, Lorenzo Mattotti, JD McClatchy, Scott McCloud, Michael Meyer, Dan Perkins (a.k.a. Tom Tomorrow), Summer Pierre, Witold Rybczynski, Dmitry Samarov, Elizabeth Samet, Liesl Schillinger, Posy Simmonds, Levi Stahl, Rupert Thomson, Irvine Welsh, Warren Woodfin, Jim Woodring, Claudia Young, and me, Gil Roth! Check out their episodes at our archives!
Credits: This episode’s music is Nothing’s Gonna Bring Me Down by David Baerwald, used with permission from the artist. Most of the episode was recorded at Virtual Memories Manor on a Blue Yeti USB Microphone. A few segments were recorded by the guests and e-mailed in (which is to say: don’t blame me!). Processing was done in Audacity and Logic Pro.
“Like most people, I associated the Jazz Age with gaiety and decadence, but what I came to recognize was the underlying fear that, after World War I and the influenza epidemic, rather than heading toward a new enlightened era, the world was headed to a new Dark Age.”
There’s a reason I don’t do those “best books of the year” until the end of the year; you might come across a fantastic one in November or December! David Jaher‘s new nonfiction book, The Witch of Lime Street: Séance, Seduction, and Houdini in the Spirit World (Crown), might be my absolute fave from 2015! It’s both a ridiculously entertaining page-turner about Houdini’s duel with a high-class medium in Boston in the 1920s, and a remarkable study of the Spiritualism craze and humanity’s deep-rooted need to hear word from beyond the grave. David and I have a great conversation about the book,the origins of ectoplasm, his history with Houdini, researching and writing the Jazz Age, the nature of fame, David’s career as an astrologer, and more! Give it a listen!
We talk about some books in this episode. Here’s a list of them:
- The Witch of Lime Street: Séance, Seduction, and Houdini in the Spirit World – David Jaher
- Ragtime: A Novel – E.L. Doctorow
- A Collection of Essays – George Orwell
- U.S.A.: The 42nd Parallel / 1919 / The Big Money (Library of America) – John Dos Passos
- “A Short Trip Home” – F. Scott Fitzgerald
- Houdini!!!: The Career of Ehrich Weiss : American Self-Liberator, Europe’s Eclipsing Sensation, World’s Handcuff King & Prison Breaker – Kenneth Silverman
- Moby Dick – Herman Melville
About our Guest
David Jaher received a BA from Brandeis University and an MFA in Film Production from New York University. At NYU, he was the recipient of the WTC Johnson Fellowship for directing. Jaher has been a screenwriter and a professional astrologer. A New York native and resident, this is his first book.
Credits: This episode’s music is Nothing’s Gonna Bring Me Down by David Baerwald, used with permission of the artist. The conversation was recorded at his home on a pair of Blue enCORE 200 microphones feeding into a Zoom H5 digital recorder. I recorded the intro and outro on a Blue Yeti USB Microphone. Processing was done in Audacity and Logic Pro. Photo of Mr. Jaher uncredited.
“Middle age is such a perfect term. You’re right in the middle of life. You could not be more in the middle of everything. Your parents are old, your kids are little. Life is just swirling around you.”
Time for another LIVE episode of the Virtual Memories Show! Jennifer Hayden (The Story of My Tits) and Summer Pierre (Paper Pencil Life) join us at Labyrinth Books in Princeton, NJ to talk about comics, cancer, middle age, art vs. work, learning compassion through memoir, and more! Give it a listen!
“With my mom dying, I thought, ‘Oh, I’m gonna die? Great, I work well with deadlines!'”
According to Labyrinth Books’ promo for the event, “Art is not something we create in isolation. Art happens between the diaper change and the trip to the vet. Between the car accident and the roast chicken. Every day we fight to seize a little more art from the jaws of this wild existence. And if we’re lucky we catch the spark while it’s rising. Autobiographical cartoonists and graphic novelists Jennifer Hayden, and Summer Pierre discuss their graphic lives with moderator Gil Roth of the Virtual Memories Show.” It’s a great conversation about making art in the interstices of life, so go listen! (And go buy The Story of My Tits!)
About our Guests
Jennifer Hayden came to comics from fiction-writing and children’s book illustration. Her new book, The Story of My Tits (Top Shelf, 2015), is a 352-page graphic memoir and breast cancer narrative. Her previous book, the autobiographical collection Underwire (Top Shelf, 2011), was excerpted in the Best American Comics 2013 and named one of “the best comics by women” by DoubleX. She is a member of Activate (the premier webcomics collective in New York City), where she posts her webcomic S’crapbook, which earned a Notable listing in the Best American Comics 2012. Jennifer currently posts the daily diary strip Rushes at thegoddessrushes.blogspot.com. Her comics have appeared in print anthologies such as The Activate Primer, Cousin Corrine’s Reminder, and The Strumpet. After hours, Jennifer plays electric fiddle with The Rocky Hill Ramblers and The Spring Hill Band. She lives in Central New Jersey with her husband, their two college-age children, two cats, and the dog.
Summer Pierre is a cartoonist, illustrator, writer, and teacher living in the Hudson Valley, NY. She makes an autobiographical comic called Paper Pencil Life, and is the author of The Artist in the Office: How to Creatively Survive and Thrive Seven Days a Week (which the Boston Globe called, “A virtual bible for artists and day jobs”) and Great Gals: Inspired Ideas for Living a Kick-Ass Life. Her writing and art have appeared in The Rumpus, Hobart, The Nashville Review & Booth Literary Journal, among other places.
Credits: This episode’s music is Nothing’s Gonna Bring Me Down by David Baerwald, used with permission of the artist. The conversation was recorded at the Labyrinth Books in Princeton on a pair of Blue enCORE 200 microphones and a Blue enCORE 100 microphone feeding into a Zoom H5 digital recorder. I recorded the intro and outro on a Blue Yeti USB Microphone. Processing was done in Audacity and Logic Pro.
“One of my favorite things is to take a character, figure out what’s most important to them, and then take it away and see what they do.”
Stona Fitch joins the show to talk about balancing his careers as a novelist, a publisher, and a freelance writer with family life. We discuss his new novel, the crime thriller Third Rail, why he he wrote it under the nom de plume Rory Flynn, his influences and favorite crime writers, the challenges of writing a sequel, the futility of debating genre categories, and more! Give it a listen!
“My mentor Russell Banks told me, ‘Go to Miami, you’ll see everything.’ He also said I’d be a great plumber.”
We also talk about what possessed him to write Senseless, which is one of the most disturbing novels ever written. But don’t worry; it’s not all crime and horror! There’s also Stona’s role as the founder of the Concord Free Press, an innovative, generosity-based publishing house! Plus, we explore the benefits of doing corporate work by day and learning about fields you’d otherwise never have any experience in.
“My wife said, ‘Stona, I think you’ve found a brand-new way for writers not to make money.'”
We talk about a bunch of books in this episode. Here’s a list of ’em (Note: if I ever go to a Patreon crowdfunding model for the show, this is the first thing that goes subscriber-only):
- Third Rail: An Eddy Harkness Novel – Rory Flynn
- Dark Horse: An Eddy Harkness Novel – Rory Flynn
- Senseless – Stona Fitch
- Strategies for Success – Stona Fitch
- Give + Take – Stona Fitch
- Printer’s Devil – Stona Fitch
- The Friends of Eddie Coyle: A Novel – George V. Higgins
- The Girl on the Train – Paula Hawkins
- Gone Girl – Gillian Flynn
- The Next Queen of Heaven: A Novel – Gregory Maguire
- Beautiful Ruins: A Novel – Jess Walter
- Citizen Vince – Jess Walter
- I Served the King of England – Bohumil Hrabal
- The Street of Crocodiles and Other Stories – Bruno Schulz
- Book of Numbers: A Novel – Joshua Cohen
- The Goldfinch: A Novel – Donna Tartt
- Against the Day – Thomas Pynchon
About our Guest
Via Stona’s site:
Praised by critics and readers, Stona Fitch’s novels are published widely throughout the world and have inspired other works, from graphic novels to films. His latest novel, Third Rail (2014, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt), marks the debut of the Eddy Harness series of Boston-based crime novels – published under the pen name Rory Flynn.
Give + Take (2011) crosses genres with a noir-inflected, hilarious road tale. Printer’s Devil (2009) updates A Clockwork Orange to create a post-apocalyptic parable. Critics cite Senseless (2001) as a prescient novel that anticipated violent anti-globalization protests, online hostages, and use of fear as a political tool. It is often described as one of the most disturbing novels ever written. Senseless is now an independent feature film, a graphic novel, and a cult classic.
In 2008, Stona founded the Concord Free Press, a revolutionary publishing house that publishes and distributes original novels throughout the world, asking only that readers make a voluntary donation to a charity or person in need. The first nine CFP books have inspired nearly $500,000 in generosity.
Stona lives with his family in Concord, MA, where he is also a committed community activist. He and his family work with Gaining Ground, a non-profit farm.
Born in Cincinnati, Ohio in 1961, Stona Fitch grew up in the midwest and south. While an undergraduate at Princeton, he received the Creative Writing Program’s Lannan Award for Fiction. He also served as chairman of The Daily Princetonian, and wrote for The Anchorage Daily News.
After graduation, Stona reported briefly for The Miami Herald before moving to Boston and joining its burgeoning underground music scene. In 1984, he joined the seminal Boston-based pop group Scruffy The Cat, playing electric banjo, mandolin, accordion, and organ–as well as writing songs. He recorded two albums–High-Octane Revival (a New York Times top release of 1986) and the highly regarded (and rare) Tiny Days–before leaving the band in 1987. During this time, he worked as a dishwasher and cook at the Hoodoo Barbeque, a notorious punk-rock hangout/crime scene in Kenmore Square.
Credits: This episode’s music is Nothing’s Gonna Bring Me Down by David Baerwald, which seems to have become our unofficial theme song. The conversation was recorded in the Boston Marriott Burlington on a pair of Blue enCORE 200 microphones feeding into a Zoom H5 digital recorder. I recorded the intro and outro on a Blue Yeti USB Microphone. Processing was done in Audacity and Logic Pro. Photo of Mr. Fitch by me.
“I wanted to explore the idea in this novel that despite love, some families simply cannot survive.”
British author Christie Watson joins the show to talk about her new novel Where Women Are Kings (Other Press). We talk about the process of adoption, her history with Nigeria (and why she loves its literary scene), the trick of balancing cultural differences and societal norms, and how she became a published writer in her 30s, after years of planning her book tour outfits. We also discuss the growth of writing programs in the UK, choosing her secondary school on whether they required uniforms, and her take on New York vs. London. Give it a listen!
“When you write a book, it’s going to be sitting next to Salman Rushdie’s book on the shelf, so by the time you publish, you have to be at the top of your game.”
About our Guest
Christie Watson is a British novelist. Her novels, Tiny Sunbirds, Far Away, and Where Women Are Kings have been widely translated. Christie won the Costa First Novel Award, the Waverton Good Read Award and was named Red Magazine’s Hot Woman of the Year (Creative).
Credits: This episode’s music is Will My Mother Know Me There? by The Carter Family. The conversation was recorded at the Other Press offices on a pair of Blue enCORE 200 microphones feeding into a Zoom H5 digital recorder. I recorded the intro and outro on a Blue Yeti USB Microphone. Processing was done in Audacity and Logic Pro. Photo of Ms. Watson by me.
“When you look at the history of northeast China, it’s all successive regimes that have tried to import their version of civilization into this area, and they’ve all failed.”
When he was a kid in Minnesota, Michael Meyer papered his walls with National Geographic maps. A Peace Corps stint in 1995 began his 20-year odyssey in China, yielding two books, true love, and a unique perspective on the world’s most populous country. We talk about his latest book, In Manchuria: A Village Called Wasteland and the Transformation of Rural China (Bloomsbury), life in rural China compared to suburban MN, the country’s changes in the past two decades, the flexibility of the Communist party, China’s uses and abuses of history, the tortured history of the Manchuria region, the need to explode Americans’ myths about the country and its people, our favorite jet-lag remedies, and the Chinese use of “uh” as a conversational placeholder. Give it a listen!
“China isn’t a billion-plus people marching in lockstep. Nor is it some mastermind sitting in some opulent room in Beijing and declaring, ‘Now we will do this!'”
We also get into the time the Beijing police took Michael in so he could teach them American curse-words, why it’s safe to be a writer but not to be a journalist, China’s transition from individual farms to an agribusiness model, why the time to write a book is when the book you want to read doesn’t exist, the differences in storytelling modes between Americans and Chinese, his debts to Bruce Chatwin, Pearl S. Buck, and Ian Frazier, and how tens of thousands of Jews wound up in the town of Harbin.
About our Guest
Michael Meyer is the author of the acclaimed nonfiction book The Last Days of Old Beijing: Life in the Vanishing Backstreets of a City Transformed. He first came to China in 1995 with the Peace Corps, and for over a decade has contributed from there to The New York Times, Time, the Financial Times, Los Angeles Times, Chicago Tribune, Architectural Record, Reader’s Digest, Slate, Smithsonian, This American Life and many other outlets.He is the recipient of a Whiting Writers’ Award, a Guggenheim Fellowship, and a Lowell Thomas Award for travel writing, as well as residencies at the New York Public Library’s Cullman Center for Scholars and Writers, and the Rockefeller Foundation’s Bellagio Center. He recently taught Literary Journalism at Hong Kong University’s Journalism and Media Studies Center, and wrote the foreword to The Inmost Shrine: A Photographic Odyssey of China, 1873, a collection of Scottish explorer John Thomson’s early images. He is a current member of the National Committee on United States-China Relations‘ Public Intellectuals Program, and an Assistant Professor of English at the University of Pittsburgh, where he teaches Nonfiction Writing. Michael’s new book, In Manchuria: A Village Called Wasteland and the Transformation of Rural China, was published by Bloomsbury in February, 2015.
Credits: This episode’s music is Life in a Northern Town by Dream Academy. The conversation was recorded at the Bloomsbury offices on a pair of Blue enCORE 200 microphones feeding into a Zoom H5 digital recorder. I recorded the intro and outro on a Blue Yeti USB Microphone. Processing was done in Audacity and Logic Pro. Photo of Mr. Meyer by me.