Virtual Memories Show 336:
Dawn Raffel

“I think Couney understood that no one else was going to save these children if he didn’t.”

Baby incubators and boardwalk sideshows: not exactly a natural fit nowadays, but once upon a time, the best way to save premature babies in America was to bring them to Dr. Couney’s “INCUBATOR BABIES” exhibits in Coney Island, Atlantic City and other midways. Dawn Raffel untangled his story and tells the stories of the children he saved in her wonderful book, The Strange Case of Dr. Couney: How a Mysterious European Showman Saved Thousands of American Babies (Blue Rider Press, out now in paperback). We get into the mysteries of Dr. Couney’s past, Dawn’s fascinations with Coney Island and with interwar America, the flaws in social care in the first half of 20th century America, the offline research that fueled the book, her relationship with some Couney’s surviving babies (now in their 80s and 90s), the obstetrics field’s resistance to Couney’s work, the missing ledger that would have disclosed the fates of many of the babies Dr. Couney treated, and whether she would’ve brought a premature baby to Dr. Couney. We also get into Dawn’s writing life, the outsized influence of her 13-year-old discovery of War & Peace, her predilection for short chapters, how Topsy the Elephant really died, and plenty more! (BONUS: I prattle on for a few minutes about my first half-marathon) Give it a listen! And go buy The Strange Case of Dr. Couney!

“The ethical questions about who gets to live are as relevant now as they were in Dr. Couney’s time.”

“Couney came to the US for the Omaha World’s Fair and was seized with the desire to relocate: Why? Once you’ve seen Omaha you can never return to Paris? There had to be something more.”

“I keep some bad drafts around as a reminder: ‘This was a mess but eventually it worked out!'”

“When you’re writing about the past, you’re writing about a country you can’t visit.”

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

Lots of ways to follow The Virtual Memories Show! iTunes, Spotify, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube, TuneIn, Tumblr, and RSS!

About our Guest

Dawn Raffel‘s most recent book, The Strange Case of Dr. Couney: How a Mysterious European Showman Saved Thousands of American Babies, was chosen as one of NPR’s best books of 2018 and awarded a 2019 Christopher Award for books that affirm the highest values of the human spirit. Previous books include a memoir, The Secret Life of Objects; a novel, Carrying the Body; and two story collections, Further Adventures in the Restless Universe and In The Year Of The Long Division.

Her writing has been published in O, The Oprah Magazine, BOMB, New Philosopher, The San Francisco Chronicle, Conjunctions, Black Book, Open City, The Anchor Book of New American Short Stories, Arts & Letters, The Quarterly, NOON, and numerous other periodicals and anthologies.

She was a fiction editor for many years, helped launch O, The Oprah Magazine, where she served as Executive Articles Editor for seven years, and subsequently held senior-level “at-large” positions at More magazine and Reader’s Digest. In addition, she served as the Center for Fiction’s web editor.

She currently works as an independent editor for individuals and creative organizations, specializing in memoir, short stories, and narrative nonfiction. She teaches at Columbia University, the Center for Fiction, and Summer Literary Seminars.

Pierre would like you to know he is not named after Bezukhov in War & Peace.

Credits: This episode’s music is Fella by Hal Mayforth, used with permission from the artist. The conversation was recorded at Dawn’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. Nice photo of Ms. Raffel by Clair Holt. Double-selfie by me; it’s on my instagram.

Virtual Memories Show 335:
David Shields returns!

“What the movie tries to do is shut up and listen to Marshawn Lynch’s silence.”

He’s just here so he won’t get fined: David Shields joined the show earlier this year to talk about his book-length essay, The Trouble With Men. Now he’s back to talk about his new documentary, Marshawn Lynch: A History (Amazon, iTunes and Vimeo). This time around, we get into the Awfulness of Greatness, whether human beings are capable of change, and the Deion Sanders interview with Marshawn that melted David’s brain and started him on this documentary project. We talk about the racial aspects of black athletes dealing with a white-dominated media, how Lynch made noise by keeping silent in press conferences, the one section of the documentary that led a Seattle audience to boo him, the challenges in structuring the documentary chronologically and thematically, what Pete Carroll was thinking on That Play, the split between “my truth” and “the truth”, the moment he got to meet Lynch after a screening of the movie in Oakland, and more! Give it a listen! And go watch Marshawn Lynch: A History, on Amazon, iTunes and Vimeo!

“I think Marshawn does have a lot to say, but he’s going to say it in his own idiom.”

“I think the awfulness of something and the greatness of something are famously married.”

“The way that I think and talk reflects, for better or worse, my consciousness. So I’m very distrustful of any too lucid explanations.”

“I’m very invested in the transgression of art, and sport.”

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

Lots of ways to follow The Virtual Memories Show! iTunes, Spotify, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube, TuneIn, Tumblr, and RSS!

About our Guest

David Shields is the internationally best-selling author of twenty-two books, including Reality Hunger: A Manifesto (named one of the best books of 2010 by more than thirty publications), The Thing About Life Is That One Day You’ll Be Dead (New York Times bestseller), Black Planet (finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award), and Other People: Takes & Mistakes (NYTBR Editors’ Choice selection). The film adaptation of I Think You’re Totally Wrong: A Quarrel was released by First Pond Entertainment in 2017. A recipient of Guggenheim and NEA fellowships and a senior contributing editor of Conjunctions, Shields has published essays and stories in the New York Times Magazine, Harper’s, Esquire, Yale Review, Salon, Slate, McSweeney’s, and Believer. His work has been translated into two dozen languages. His new book is The Trouble with Men: Reflections on Sex, Love, Marriage, Porn, and Power and his new movie is Marshawn Lynch: A History.

Credits: This episode’s music is Fella by Hal Mayforth, used with permission from the artist. The conversation was recorded at a LES hotel 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. Photos of Mr. Shields by me. It’s on my instagram.

Virtual Memories Show 334:
Caleb Crain

“My first novel was about growth and integration, and this one’s more about death and disintegration in the face of technological change.”

Occupy, telepathy, the surveillance state, and poetic treatment of reversion in 16th/17th century English poetry: Caleb Crain’s brand-new novel, Overthrow (Viking) has it all! Caleb & I talk about the image that evoked his new book, why this one is his “dark novel”, and how its writing was filled with a sense of inevitability (and maybe a little bit of prophecy). We get into the notion of self-surveillance and why he carries a dumb-phone (even though it almost led to his failure to show up for our podcast session), the way gay people have a theory of mind for straight people but not necessarily vice versa, the optimism of Occupy and the dreadful fate of Aaron Swartz, the difference between fiction and nonfiction editing, the importance of unscheduled nap-time, and the challenge of writing a novel about the weaponization of our relationships. Give it a listen! And go buy Overthrow!

“There are these moments now when it feels like the existing governance structure fractures and can’t handle things.”

“Gay life is different than straight life, and it’s different across a wide spectrum of experience, not just in bed.”

“To write, I have to be alone. And if I had a smartphone, I would never be alone.”

“Why should human communication be the exclusive property of one corporation that’s making ethically dubious choices?”

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

Lots of ways to follow The Virtual Memories Show! iTunes, Spotify, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube, TuneIn, Tumblr, and RSS!

About our Guest

Caleb Crain has written for The New Yorker, Harper’s, the Paris Review, The Atlantic, The New York Review of Books, n+1, and The New York Times Book Review. He is the author of the novel Necessary Errors and the critical work American Sympathy: Men, Friendship, and Literature in the New Nation. He was born in Texas, raised in Massachusetts, and lives in Brooklyn, New York. His new novel is Overthrow.

Credits: This episode’s music is Fella by Hal Mayforth, used with permission from the artist. The conversation was recorded at stately Virtual Memories Manor 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. Crain by me. It’s on my instagram.

Virtual Memories Show 333:
Gil Roth AMA

Because of a last-minute guest cancellation, I had no show lined up for this week! Rather than take a second week off this summer, I decided it was time for another Gil Roth AMA episode, since the last one was almost 5 years ago. Thirty-two past and upcoming guests and Patreon supporters came through with questions for me, including (in the order I answered them): Ken Krimstein, Hugh Ryan, Barry Corbett, Joe Ciardiello, Glynnis Fawkes, Kyle Cassidy, Ian Kelley, Kate Lacour, Dean Haspiel, Eddy Portnoy, Kate Maruyama, Tom Spurgeon, Jonathan Hyman, David Leopold, Paine Proffitt, David Townsend, Boaz Roth, Chris Reynolds, Liniers, Caleb Crain, Bob Eckstein, Ersi Sotiropoulos, Andrea Tsurumi, Henry Wessells, Vanessa Sinclair, Jim Ottaviani, Maria Alexander, Mary Fleener, Stephen Nadler, Charles Blackstone, Lauren Weinstein, and David Shields. We cover everything from creative lessons learned from my guests to “why so many cartoonists?”, from what books I re-read and why to who is on my Mount Rushmore list of dream guests, from the comics and GNs that have affected me most to what I think about the Peak TV era, from how running has affected my podcast-practices to who my most obstreperous guest has been, and plenty more! And it was all done in a single two-hour take, so give it a listen!

NOTES:

  • Chris Reynolds’ question included a couple of links, so here’s what he wrote: I’ve been carrying on with “Comics as Radio”, influenced by the KCRW Organist podcast. My friend Alan Jackson did a performance of my Comics as Radio story “Sexton Blake and the 64th Floor” at the Train of Thought Gallery in Worthing, and we discuss it here with John Parke, whose idea it was. So my question is: What do you think of ‘Comics as Radio’?
  • Pre-order Dean Haspiel’s forthcoming collection of The Red Hook: WAR CRY, from Image Comics (comes out Oct. 9)
  • Barry Corbett has started a fundraiser for The Food Pantry, so contribute! You can find his graphic memoir, Terminal Velocity, here
  • Maria Alexander has a new short story collection, 12 Tales Lie | 1 Tells True from Cemetery Dance

BONUS: I’ve got a belated answer to Maria Alexander’s question, “What’s the spookiest thing that’s ever happened to you?” In high school, my English teacher was driving me and another classmate to a creative writing conference in New Brunswick. Somehow, the topic of birthdays came up and — swear to the Unifactor — it turned out that all three of us had the same birthday. I know that’s not ghost-possessed ventriloquist spooky, but it’s still spooky, so I’m going with that one.

SECOND BONUS: When I talked about the movie Magic during the episode, I meant Anthony Hopkins, not Anthony Perkins. If that’s the only mistake I made during the show, I’ll be amazed.

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

Lots of ways to follow The Virtual Memories Show! iTunes, Spotify, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube, TuneIn, Tumblr, and RSS!

About our Guest

Gil Roth is the host of The Virtual Memories Show, a weekly literary-cultural conversation podcast. He’s also the founder and president of the Pharma & Biopharma Outsourcing Association, a nonprofit trade group representing contract manufacturing organizations and other service providers in the bio/pharma sector. His wife is a photographer, he runs for recreation and reads a lot, and their greyhound is named after the prince’s hunting dog in The Leopard.

Credits: This episode’s music is Fella by Hal Mayforth, used with permission from the artist. The conversation was recorded at my house on a Blue enCORE 200 Microphone 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 me & Yorick by me at Cathy B. Graham‘s studio. Header photo is a chapter title card from an episode of Frasier, so it’s not on my instagram.

Virtual Memories Show 332:
Christopher Brown

“If you want to have a healthy society, people need to believe there is justice and accountability for people who do bad things. The problem in this society is that it’s a really bottom-heavy system.”

He wowed us last year with Tropic of Kansas, and now Christopher Brown is back to talk about his brand-new dystopian legal thriller, Rule of Capture (both from Harper Voyager)! We get into his grand jury stint a few years ago and how it brought home to him the inequality of the law and led to this new novel, why there are so few lawyers in science fiction (but so many in comic books), and the challenge of writing a novel about the law as opposed the facts of a legal case. Along the way, we get into his search for utopia and why he’s eschewing dystopia with this next novel, the phenomenon of Texan billboard-lawyers (like his novel’s protagonist, Donny Kimoe), his love of Njals saga, the Icelandic poem about a lawyer who’s ridiculed by other vikings because he can’t grow a beard, the little capitulations we make that lead to the domestication of evil, his unsung legal heroes, and what one should or shouldn’t do if one finds oneself on an escalator behind a certain Supreme Court Justice. Give it a listen! And go buy Rule of Capture! (and check out our 2018 episode)

“This book provided me an opportunity to do things with the character of the lawyer that my evil lawyer twin might wish to do in real life.”

“I want to write a science fiction that’s made up from the material of the observed world, that has a kind of naturalism to it.”

“So many of our social, political, economic and other problems and injustices are rooted in the damaged relationship we have with the land.”

“What astonishes me today, as someone who’s worked in Washington with people on both sides of aisle, is how malleable people’s principles are.”

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

Lots of ways to follow The Virtual Memories Show! iTunes, Spotify, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube, TuneIn, Tumblr, and RSS!

About our Guest

Christopher Brown is the author of Tropic of Kansas, a finalist for the 2018 John W. Campbell Award for best science fiction novel of the year. His new novel Rule of Capture, the beginning of a series of speculative legal thrillers, is out now from Harper Voyager. He was a World Fantasy Award nominee for the anthology Three Messages and a Warning: Contemporary Mexican Short Stories of the Fantastic. His short fiction and criticism has appeared in a variety of magazines and anthologies, including MIT Technology Review, LitHib, Tor.com, and The Baffler. He lives in Austin, Texas, where he also practices law. He’s active on Twitter and Instagram.

(There’s a more comprehensive version at his website.)

Credits: This episode’s music is Fella by Hal Mayforth, used with permission from the artist. The conversation was recorded during Readercon at the Boston Marriott Quincy 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. Brown probably by Mr. Brown, so it’s not on my instagram.