Episode 503 – Jonathan Ames

Virtual Memories Show 503:
Jonathan Ames

“I would tell my writing students that it’s okay to be deeply influenced. I was struck when I was watching Ken Burns’ documentary on jazz; every great jazz musician would talk about their influences, like Miles Davis saying he heard Charlie Parker play and wanted to make a sound like that. I’d tell my students, even if you’re trying to make a sound like your favorite writer, it’s going to come out differently, like a player with their own embouchure.”

Author & showrunner Jonathan Ames returns to the show to celebrate his new novel, The Wheel Of Doll (Mulholland Books)! We get into how Lee Child inadvertently led him into writing about a down-on-his-luck PI named Happy Doll, how this new book builds on 2021’s A Man Called Doll, his love of crime/mystery fiction and what he’s learned about the form from re-re-re-reading masters like Richard Stark/Donald Westlake. We also talk about the Buddhist influences in The Wheel Of Doll (& in Jonathan’s life), whether people can change, why he tweaked Happy’s LA setting to mess with reality a little, and what it means to set a character along a new path (if not the Eightfold Noble Path). Plus, we discuss his recent binge-watch of Vikings, the principle of Engagementism, his writing advice (set reasonable goals), and plenty more! Give it a listen! And go read The Wheel Of Doll! (But first, check out A Man Called Doll)

(And go listen to our 2018 conversation)

“It’s like sports; you keep evolving. In the first Doll book, I was learning to shoot free throws and layups; in the second book, I had that down and thought, ‘What else can this voice do?'”

“There are formal constraints to crime fiction, but I do find them helpful, because they give you a frame to put your picture in.”

Enjoy the conversation! Then check out the archives for more great episodes!

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About our Guest

Jonathan Ames is the author of several books, including Wake Up, Sir! and, most recently, A Man Named Doll. His novels The Extra Man and You Were Never Really Here have been adapted into films, and he’s the creator of two television series, Blunt Talk and Bored To Death. His new book is The Wheel Of Doll.

Credits: This episode’s music is Fella by Hal Mayforth, used with permission from the artist. The conversation was recorded remotely via Zencastr. I used a Heil PR-40 Dynamic Studio Recording Microphone feeding into a Zoom PodTrak P4. All processing and editing done in Adobe Audition CC. Color photo of Jonathan & Fezzik by Anne Thornton; b/w photo of them by Adam Amengual for the New York Times. It’s on my instagram.

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