Virtual Memories Show 338:
Simon Doonan

“Drag has been the wallpaper in my life forever.”

Author, fashionista, creative ambassador, and recovering window-dresser Simon Doonan takes us on a guided tour of gender non-conformity with his latest book, Drag: The Complete Story (Laurence King)! Simon & I talked through his personal history with drag, how drag has evolved over the millennia, how the current moment is pushing drag in new directions, and why male British comics were so comfortable performing in it (a long-standing question of mine). We also get into his love of craft and how dressing windows at Barneys New York was the perfect venue for him, the value of having a day job and not making art the center of one’s life, how a kid who failed his 11+ wound up writing a shelfload of books, the joy of his crafting reality show, Making It, why he didn’t get through the auditions for Queer Eye, the TV skill he had to learn, his love of history and his abhorrence at the idea of being anyone’s role model, why it’s life-affirming to wear some color, what sort of drag I’d be able to pull off, and plenty more! Give it a listen (conversation begins at 7:35)! And go buy Drag: The Complete Story!

(NOTE: All of Simon’s proceeds from this book go to the Ali Forney Center for LGBTQ youth at risk for homelessness)

“I think it’s good for writers to get out and work. Like Simone Weil: she used to work in a car factory.”

“The message I got from my parents was that life’s just not that complicated. The idea that they’d have been involved in my college application is absurd!”

“I have the ability get very interested in things that are outside of myself. My windows were often based around that.”

“I thought about being an Artist, but realized how much more fun it was to be a window-display designer.”

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

Writer, Fashionista and Author Simon Doonan is the Creative Ambassador for Barneys New York. His books include Saturday Night Fever Pitch: The Magic and Madness of Football Style, Eccentric Glamour: Creating an Insanely More Fabulous You, Confessions of a Window Dresser, and Gay Men Don’t Get Fat. Simon appears as a judge on the NBC television show, Making It, co-hosted by Amy Poehler and Nick Offerman. His new book is Drag: The Complete Story.

Credits: This episode’s music is Fella by Hal Mayforth, used with permission from the artist. The conversation was recorded at an undisclosed location 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. Doonan by me. It’s on my instagram.

Virtual Memories Show 337:
Amor Towles

“In the back of my mind I knew that if I didn’t write a book that I felt proud of by the time I was 50, I’d probably end up bitter in my old age.”

After a 20-year sojourn in the investment world, Amor Towles returned to his first love by writing the bestselling novels Rules of Civility and A Gentleman In Moscow. We get into how he managed that jump, the lessons he learned from his first failed novel, and the advantages of making a later start in publishing (and whether he could’ve written either of his books when he was young). We talk about his intense outlining and planning process for novels and how it allows for more creativity within the writing itself, his relief at showing his writing teacher (Peter Matthiessen) his books before it was too late, the symphonic model he applies to novels, his best practices for book tours (writing short stories and getting out and seeing the cities he was visiting), the perpetual nostalgia that is New York, his use of recurring characters in his fiction and whether it means he’s creating a Towlesiverse, and more! Give it a listen! And go buy A Gentleman In Moscow and Rules of Civility!

“For a young artist, you don’t need a chorus of support; you need one person.”

“History is not very good at capturing all that is of quality in art. However, history is very good at filtering out all that is mediocre in art.”

“People are always attracted to a New York that’s gone.”

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

Born and raised in the Boston area, Amor Towles graduated from Yale College and received an MA in English from Stanford University. Mr. Towles’s first novel, Rules of Civility, which was published in 2011, was a New York Times bestseller and was named by the Wall Street Journal as one of the best books of 2011. The book has been translated into over 20 languages, its French translation receiving the 2012 Prix Fitzgerald.

Mr. Towles’s second novel, A Gentleman in Moscow, which was published in 2016, was on the New York Times bestseller list for over a year in hardcover and was named one of the best books of 2016 by the Chicago Tribune, the Washington Post, the Philadelphia Inquirer, the San Francisco Chronicle, and NPR. The book has been translated into over thirty languages including Russian. In the summer of 2017, the novel was optioned by EOne and the British director, Tom Harper, to be made into a 6-8 hour miniseries starring Kenneth Branagh.

Having worked as an investment professional for over twenty years, Mr. Towles now devotes himself full time to writing in Manhattan, where he lives with his wife and two children.

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

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.