“Every one of my novels has had at least a portion where I’ve thought, ‘if I do this badly, it’s going to be terribly embarrassing and I’m going to have to hang my head in shame forever, but if I pull it off, it’ll probably be pretty cool!'”
Novelist Matt Ruff joins the show to talk about how his fantastic novel Lovecraft Country began as a TV pitch 10 years ago, and is now on its way to becoming an HBO series. We get into cultural appropriation issues (Matt’s white and LC‘s about a black family dealing with racism and the supernatural in 1950s Chicago), the pros and cons of genre-hopping, the differences between mid-century racism in the North and the South, growing up over the course of his first three novels and learning to be happy with his voice, becoming friends with one of his favorite authors (past and future pod-guest John Crowley), his ambivalence toward HP Lovecraft and Philip K. Dick and his affinity for their imitators, why he loved the descriptions of late Heinlein novels but was disappointed by the books themselves (when he was 12!), bucking his family’s religious traditions, missing his opportunity to babysit Thomas Pynchon’s kid, and more! Give it a listen! And go buy Lovecraft Country!
“I intended for Lovecraft Country to be a TV series, so I thought, ‘What if I do the literary equivalent of a season that you binge-watch?’ That’s why the novel is structured very much like an 8-episode TV season.”
About our Guest
Matt Ruff is the author of the novels Fool on The Hill (1988), Sewer, Gas & Electric: The Public Works Trilogy (1997), Set This House in Order: A Romance of Souls (2003), Bad Monkeys (2007), The Mirage (2012), and Lovecraft Country (2016), which was recently greenlit as an HBO series.
Credits: This episode’s music is Nothing’s Gonna Bring Me Down by David Baerwald, used with permission from the artist. The conversation was recorded at Mr. Ruff’s home on a pair of Blue enCORE 200 Microphones feeding into a Zoom H5 digital recorder. I recorded the intro and outro on a Heil PR-40 Dynamic Studio Recording Microphone feeding into a Cloudlifter CL-1 and a Mackie Onyx Blackjack 2×2 USB Recording Interface. All processing and editing done in Adobe Audition CC. Photo of Mr. Ruff by me. It’s on my instagram.
“I love finding people who are obsessed with things. People who devote their lives to things are my obsession.”
Writer and Twitter provocateur Hayley Campbell joins the show for a conversation about her inability to describe her job (don’t call her a “content provider”). We talk about growing up in comics royalty (her dad is the great cartoonist Eddie Campbell), Alan Moore’s magic tricks, nearly losing a comic-shop job because of her lack of a college degree, the celebrity retweet she’s proudest of, and having an accidental career path, no fixed home, and a traumatic brain injury that gooses with her memory (and whether those three things are somehow connected). Also, we get into how she recently embarrassed Jonathan Safran Foer, and more! Give it a listen! And go buy her first book, The Art of Neil Gaiman (Ilex/Harper). And for God’s sake, go follow her on Twitter!
“I think I’m more of a loser in real life than I am on the internet.”
We also get into her obsession with obsessives, becoming the oldest person at her BuzzFeed office in her early 30s, the insanely creepy Moebius comic she read as a kid, the glories of Australian dentistry, digging through old girlie magazines to research her book on Neil Gaiman, and why she loves writing about boxing. We also compare notes on doing interviews with people whose work you love. Now go listen to the show!
“Dad won’t join Twitter because he’s afraid I’ll have more followers than him, and he’ll be ‘Hayley Campbell’s dad.'”
- Scott McCloud
- Irvine Welsh
- John Clute
- Ron Rosenbaum (2013)
- Ron Rosenbaum (2014)
- David Jaher
- Rupert Thomson (2015)
About our Guest
Hayley Campbell writes for a bunch of places but then who doesn’t. She’s written a book about Neil Gaiman (The Art of Neil Gaiman, Ilex/HarperCollins) and if her face looks familiar it’s probably because she sold you comics once. Find her stuff on BuzzFeed, New Statesman, VICE, McSweeney’s, the Guardian, The Debrief, The Comics Journal, The Rumpus, Channel 4 News, Front, Planet Notion and Boing Boing.
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 a pal’s apartment in NYC on a pair of Blue enCORE 200 Microphones feeding into a Zoom H5 digital recorder. I recorded the intro and outro on a Heil PR-40 Dynamic Studio Recording Microphone feeding into a Mackie Onyx Blackjack 2×2 USB Recording Interface. Photos of Ms. Campbell by me.
“The reality of this marketplace is that true professional writers aren’t being recognized.”
Dan Cafaro, publisher of Atticus Books and the Atticus Review, joins the show to talk about indy publishing, building a writers’ community, taking on the diversity challenge, making the transition from sportswriter to bookseller to book-blogger to publisher, the importance of a supportive spouse, the trick of balancing print and digital (and publishing and a day job), making the investment in a book designer, and more! Give it a listen, and go check out the great catalog of Atticus Books!
“It can be easier to get a good review than to understand how it may translate into sales.”
BONUS: You get to hear me lament about my days as a small press publisher (1998-2004), while Dan & I try to figure out how to market books effectively in This Distracted Age. We also reminisce about a long-gone bookstore in Hackensack, NJ, and make somewhat oblique sports references. We recorded this show at Short Stories Community Book Hub, in Madison, NJ (photo below). It’s a wonderful space, and a neat bookstore, so go visit if you’re in the area!
“Building a writers community is my dream.”
Also, if you want to find out who Dan is reading nowadays (non-Atticus titles) 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 Dan is reading and why.
About our Guest
Dan Cafaro is the founder and publisher of award-winning independent press Atticus Books and the Atticus Review, a weekly digital literary magazine. Dan founded Atticus in 2010 after working as a sportswriter, bookseller, editor, and publications manager. He is currently at work on his first novel, The Next Activist, and swears that it has all the makings of a really great reality TV show.
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 wonderful Short Stories Community Book Hub, in Madison, NJ, 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. Cafaro by . . . somebody . . .
“When I was young, I always wanted to be a writer, but I thought that one could write science fiction and then also write ‘serious’ literature . . . that I could be Samuel R. Delany, but I could also be F. Scott Fitzgerald. That I could be Dorothy Parker, and I could be Angela Carter. But I found that you tend to get pigeonholed.”
Award-winning author Elizabeth Hand joins the Virtual Memories Show to talk about her new novel, Wylding Hall! We also talk about her need to try different genres, that pigeonholing process, how abandoning the supernatural for her Cass Neary novels was like working without a net, how her success at writing may be attributable to the Helsinki Bus Syndrome, what it was like to be at the punk scene in the mid-’70s, how she learned to strip down her prose for her recent (and excellent) noir crime novels, just how she ended up in coastal Maine, and more! Give it a listen!
“In the ’70s, I really wanted to be a photographer. I wanted to be a lot of things that I wasn’t. I wanted to be Lester Bangs. I wanted to be Patti Smith. I wanted to be all these things, but I had no talent for any of them. I was in the position of being the fan, the participant observer.”
The conversation also covers the changing models and markets of genre writing, the importance of fan interaction, why she loves coming to Readercon (where we recorded this episode), why it ultimately paid off to opt in favor of experience over college classes, and why her protagonist Cass Neary is like her “if my brake lines had been cut when I was 20 years old and I’d never been able to come back.”
We talk about a lot of books in this episode. Here’s a list of ’em:
- Elysium – Jennifer Marie Brissett
- The Modern Antiquarian: A Pre-Millennial Odyssey Through Megalithic Britain – Julian Cope
- I’m with the Band: Confessions of a Groupie – Pamela Des Barres
- Afterparty – Daryl Gregory
- Wylding Hall – Liz Hand
- Generation Loss – Liz Hand
- Available Dark – Liz Hand
- Mortal Love – Liz Hand
- Glimmering – Liz Hand
- The Silence of the Lambs – Thomas Harris
- Lipstick Traces: A Secret History of the Twentieth Century, Twentieth Anniversary Edition – Greill Marcus
- Hold Still: A Memoir with Photographs – Sally Mann
- Please Kill Me: The Uncensored Oral History of Punk – Legs McNeil
- Tapping the Source – Kem Nunn
- Edie: American Girl – Jean Stein, George Plimpton
- The Red Pony – John Steinbeck
- The Hobbit; or, There and Back Again – JRR Tolkien
- Find Me – Laura van den Berg
- Electric Eden: Unearthing Britain’s Visionary Music – Rob Young
- John Crowley, Scott Edelman
- Michael Dirda, part 1 and part 2
- Theodora Goss, Valya Lupescu and Nancy Hightower
- Maria Alexander
- Brad Gooch
About our Guest
Elizabeth Hand is the bestselling author of 13 genre-spanning novels and four collections of short fiction. Her work has received the World Fantasy Award (four times), Nebula Award (twice), Shirley Jackson Award (twice), International Horror Guild Award (three times), the Mythopoeic Award, and the James Tiptree, Jr. Award, among others, and several of her books have been New York Times and Washington Post Notable Books. Her recent, critically acclaimed novels featuring Cass Neary, “one of literature’s great noir anti-heroes” (Katherine Dunn) — Generation Loss, Available Dark, and the forthcoming Hard Light — have been compared to those of Patricia Highsmith. With Paul Witcover, Hand created DC Comic’s early 1990s cult series ANIMA, whose riot grrl superheroine dealt with homeless teenagers, drug abuse, the AIDS epidemic and racial violence, and featured DC Comics’ first openly gay teenager (the series also once guest-starred Conan O’Brien). Her 1999 play “The Have-Nots” was a finalist in London’s Fringe Theater Festival and went on to play at the Battersea Arts Center. She has written numerous novelizations of films, including Terry Gilliam’s Twelve Monkeys, and a popular series of Star Wars books for middle grade children. She is a longtime critic and book reviewer whose work appears regularly in the Los Angeles Times, Washington Post, Salon, the Boston Review, among many others, and writes a regular column for the Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction. Her books and short fiction have been translated into numerous languages and have been optioned for film and television. She teaches at the Stonecoast MFA Program in Creative Writing, and recently joined the faculty of the Maine College of Art. She divides her time between the coast of Maine and North London, and is working on the fourth Cass Neary novel, The Book of Lamps and Banners.
Credits: This episode’s music is Three Hours by Nick Drake. The conversation was recorded at 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 Ms. Hand by Norman Walters.
“I like that we live in an age that’s increasingly curious about this dark side, and not merely in terms of its pure darkness, but of how seemingly ordinary or normal people can commit atrocities.”
Daniel Levine joins us to talk about his debut novel, HYDE, an inventive and gorgeous retelling of The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. It’s a fun conversation about our public and private selves, the ways we define evil, the mechanics of storytelling, the luck of human evolution, and more! Give it a listen!
“Art and torture occupy opposite ends of the same spectrum. Art is the attempt at beauty on a superfluous level . . . while torture is pain taken to an almost artistic, a musical level.”
About our Guest
Daniel Levine studied English Literature and Creative Writing at Brown University and received his MFA in Fiction Writing from the University of Florida. He has taught composition and creative writing at high schools and universities, including the University of Florida, Montclair State University, and Metropolitan State College of Denver. Originally from New Jersey, he now lives in Colorado. Hyde is his first novel.
Credits: This episode’s music is Dr. Jekyll by Miles Davis. (It was either that or Dr. Heckle & Mr. Jive by Men at Work.) The conversation was recorded at Daniel Levine’s childhood home on a pair of Blue enCORE 200 microphones, feeding into a Zoom H4n recorder. The intro and outro were recorded on Blue Yeti USB Microphone. Processing was done in Audacity and Garage Band. Photo of Daniel Levine by me.
“There’s a sort of romance in riding a bicycle across the country. It’s something that some people would fantasize about, and when they saw me ride into their town, it brought them back to their own dreams, their own wishes about what they wanted to fill their life with.”
Maya Stein is a poet, a teacher, a photographer, and more. We sat down in her restored trailer, M.A.U.D.E. (Mobile Art Unit Designed for Everyone), to talk about her life as an artist, how she built an audience for her work over the years with her 10-Line Tuesdays, how she got the idea to ride a bicycle (towing a typewriter, folding table and folding chair) from Massachusetts to Wisconsin, and how she got that Type Rider journey funded on Kickstarter.
“I think about ‘making a living’ as ‘making a life’. I don’t think about money being the driving force behind the decisions I make as a writer or artist.”
We also talk about writing prompts, her new initiative to build Little Free Libraries via Type Rider II, and her epiphany in Elkhart, Indiana. And you get to hear my theory on how the internet makes us all normal (except for the crazy people)! Give it a listen!
About our Guest
Maya Stein is a Ninja poet, writing guide, and creative adventuress. Among her latest escapades are a 1,200-mile bicycle journey with a typewriter, a cross-country poetry trip, a French crepe stand at a Massachusetts farmers market, a relocation from San Francisco to suburban New Jersey and most recently, a collaboration — Food for the Soul Train — turning a vintage trailer into a mobile creative workshop space. (She also ran a catering business for six years and specialized in hors d’oeuvres and the finer points of napkin folding.) Her favorite body part is her left hand, as it has gifted her with the ability to sink a nearly invincible hook shot, peel a whole apple without a break, and transcribe the poems living in her heart. You can learn more about Maya’s adventures at www.mayastein.com.
Credits: This episode’s music is Typewriter (Tip Tip Tip) by Kisore Kumar & Asha Bhosle. The conversation was recorded at M.A.U.D.E on a pair of Blue enCORE 200 microphones, feeding into a Zoom H4n recorder. The intro and outro were recorded on Blue Yeti USB Microphone. Processing was done in Audacity and Garage Band. There was a space heater going, so I used a noise removal filter in Audacity. Photo of Ms. Stein (solo) by me, and photo of Ms. Stein and me by Amy Roth.
“When people talk about the death of books, they couldn’t be more wrong. Physical books may exist the way vinyl records do, for collectors or fanatics, but people read more today than they have at any time in history.”
It’s time for a new episode of The Virtual Memories Show!
“I think that the New York publishing industry has missed a large section of readership. For a long time, they always thought ‘those people’ didn’t read books.”
Our latest episode features a conversation with Scott Hoffman, co-founder of Folio Literary Management, about his transition from Washington, DC lobbyist to New York literary agent, the fate of the mid-list author, why zombies are hot, his agency’s e-publishing initiatives, the importance of globalization and developing markets for authors, the likelihood that the Random House / Penguin merger will go through, the diminishing relevance of publishing’s gatekeepers, the explosion of the YA market, and why he now reps much more non-fiction than novels.
“You get stabbed in the back just as often in publishing as in Washington, DC, but in publishing it’s with a cocktail toothpick.”
We also talk about the most important books in Scott’s past, and how some of his adolescent faves did or didn’t hold up.
Photo by Amy Roth.
About Our Guest
Scott Hoffman co-founded Folio Literary Management in 2006. Scott has served as Vice-chairman of the board of SEARAC (the only nationwide advocacy agency for Southeast Asian-Americans), a board member of Fill Their Shelves, Inc., a charitable foundation that provides books to children in sub-Saharan Africa, and a member of the Metropolitan Opera’s Young Associates Steering Committee. Before entering the world of publishing, he was one of the founding partners of Janus-Merritt Strategies, a Washington, DC strategic consulting firm. He holds an MBA from New York University’s Leonard N. Stern School of Business, and a BA from the College of William and Mary.
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Credits: This episode’s music is the end credits for 28 Days Later by John Murphy. The conversation was recorded in Mr. Hoffman’s home in New York City on a pair of Blue Encore 100 mics, feeding into a Zoom H4N recorder, and I recorded the rest on a Blue Yeti mic into Audacity. All editing and processing was done in Garage Band.
What I’m reading: I took last week off so’s I could keep our new dog, Otis B. Driftwood, from getting into trouble. To that end, I spent a lot of time on the loveseat, trying to give affection to both doggies (I didn’t want Rufus to feel like he’s being ignored/replaced). So I had some reading time on my hands.
I read Stephen King’s On Writing this week. One of my author-acquaintances asked me, “Why would you read a book about writing by an author whose writing you’ve never read?” I’d heard the memoir section was good and, even if I have no other experience with his prose, I was curious as to what he’d offer about the practice of writing. So it was illuminating, although I don’t know when I’ll get around to reading his fiction.
I continued to slog through Bill Simmons’ Book of Basketball, which has some good points but is poorly written in a way that the author would likely contend is its strength. He’d be wrong about that; huge swathes of it are just extended columns with overwritten jokes. He once described writing the book out of sequence and eventually figuring out the overall structure for it. After 250 pages, I can see the incoherence but not to emergent order.
And I read Jeff Lemire’s Essex County trilogy. This is a collection of comics by Lemire about a small farm-town in western Ontario, and several families whose lives have intertwined over generations. While his artwork is expressionist, the stories themselves aren’t filled with any formal trickery, outside of extensive use of flashback in the second book (about a guy with Alzheimer’s, so hey). I enjoyed the collection overall. It’s no George Sprott, which continues to subtly blow my mind, but I thought it was a good, solid collection by a young cartoonist.
And I started Walter Kirn’s Up in the Air, after reading the sample chapter on my Kindle. I know I don’t really travel too much for work, but an awful lot of the narrator’s Airworld observations resonated with me. Apparently, the movie is All That. I’m kinda jarred by how so many of the airport scenes are pre-9/11.
What I’m listening to: Not a lot. I didn’t drive much this week, and the dogs & I mainly hung out in the living room, away from my iTunes liberry.
What I’m watching: Chandni Chowk to China, a Bollywood movie about a poor potato-slicer who gets mistaken as the reincarnation of an ancient Chinese warrior and has to go save a small village. I was aghast when our Netflix DVD showed up and the movie turned out to be 2 hours and 30 minutes long (!). But it’s actually pretty darn entertaining (we split it up into two viewings), even if the Indian lead looked like John Turturro’s handsomer brother. We also watched The Third Man, which I’d never seen before. Loved it, and returned the next day to Ron Rosenbaum’s essay on Kim Philby.
What I’m drinking: Desert Juniper gin and Q-Tonic.
What Rufus & Otis are up to: Ru is just taking things as they come. He and Otis are getting along fine in the house. Otis, however, is still pretty hyper when we go for walks. He doesn’t bark, but he pulls pretty powerfully when he gets his prey-drive on.
Where I’m going: Nowhere. (Well, maybe a dinner or two in NYC next weekend.)
What I’m happy about: Having a nice Thanksgiving meal at the home of my neighbors across the street.
What I’m sad about: Being too on-the-verge-of-sick to make it to my 20-year reunion in Philadelphia over the weekend. And discovering that our water heater was leaking and needs replacing, an hour before I was supposed to get together with old friends in NYC on Sunday.
What I’m worried about: Not a lot. I mean, I’m a little burned out on my low-level anxiety of trying to train Otis to walk without going after everything he perceives as prey (squirrels, chipmunks, other dogs, deer, crows, etc.). I guess the draining aspect of this is that I have to exert power in a way that I can’t just “explain” to the dog. It’s tough on me, Having to be the Big Boss and pull him along when he starts going into his statue mode. So I guess there’s a worrisome aspect to that: my discomfort at the exercise of force. Boy, this has been one long What It Is post, huh?
What I’m pondering: The eschatological significance of my father’s decision to shave his beard, which he’s been sporting since before I was born.