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Winter of Wayback: 1944

This week we’ve set the Wayback Machine for 1944, where we’re reading a bit of literary criticism by Raymond Chandler: an essay called “The Simple Art of Murder” (which you can read for free at that link). The essay was originally written in 1944, and then revised for inclusion in Chandler’s 1950 story collection of the same name. In the piece, Chandler argues that too much second-rate detective fiction is rooted in fundamental dishonesty, and he praises the hard-boiled style of fellow writer Dashiell Hammett.

Of course we’ve also got lots of other 1944-related stories, including the origins of the Chiquita Banana jingle and cartoon character. Here she is in “Chiquita Banana and the Cannibals,” saving a man’s life and then making banana scallops with her suddenly human hands.

Also: The story of The Cleve Cartwell affair, in which Cartwell, a science fiction writer, penned a story about an atomic bomb that convinced the government there must be a mole in the Manhattan Project. You can read the two-part story about Cartwell in Asimov’s Science Fiction here, and here.

You can read the interview with Jonathan Franzen we talked about, in which he throws some shade at Jennifer Weiner, here, via Booth.

As always, we’d love to hear what you think. You can send us an email, hit us up on Twitter, or just leave a comment right here on the site. Also, don’t forget: We’re still in the thick of our annual fund drive, so if you haven’t already, please check out our Indiegogo campaign and give us a little bit of your hard-earned cash.

You can stream the episode right here on our site, by clicking on the little player thingy below. Or download the mp3 file. Or, visit us in the iTunes store, where you can subscribe (for free!) and never miss another installment. While you’re there, leave us a rating and a review, which will help us reach new listeners.

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Thanks for listening! And come on back next week!


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Episode 79: Emmanuel Carrere, The Adversary

This week we’re reading the breakout 2001 book by French writer Emmanuel Carrere, the true-crime story of Jean-Claude Romand, who murdered his wife, his children, and his parents, after living a life of, as the book’s subtitle has it, “monstrous deception.”

Adversary

We talk about the line between drama and sensationalism, and speculate about what goes on in the head of a compulsive liar. In the second half of the show we talk about this Paris Review interview with Carrere, in which he discusses, among other things, Truman Capote’s In Cold Blood, a book he calls a masterpiece but also fundamentally dishonest and “morally hideous.”

If you’d like to read the Alice Bolin essay Mike talked about during the show, you can do so here, at The Toast. If you’d like to check out the writer’s thesaurus recommended by Tom, you can do that here: Oxford American Writer’s Thesaurus And if you’d like to give us money (we’re still in the midst of our annual fund drive) you can do so here, via Indiegogo. Every few bucks is appreciated.

Oh, and you can see Mike’s fancy new website here, and read the essay he wrote for it, about driving across the country and losing his mind a little in the California desert.

As always, we’d love to get your feedback on what we talked about during the episode. You can email us, hit us up on Twitter, or just leave a comment here on the site. If you like the show, please consider writing us an iTunes review, and spread the word to your literature-loving friends.

You can stream the episode right here on our site, download the mp3 file, or subscribe (for free) via iTunes, or your favorite podcast app, and never miss another installment.

Thanks for listening!

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Winter of Wayback: 1894

This week we’ve set the Wayback Machine to 1894: We’re reading a Kate Chopin story, “The Story of an Hour,” which was originally published in December 1894, in Vogue magazine, as “The Dream of an Hour.” Considering its very short length, the story has a surprising number of plot twists, including one that may have been tacked on to appease the story’s publishers.

We also talk about a variety of other things going on in 1894, including a whole lot of labor unrest. The 1890s are sometimes referred to as “the gay 90s,” and the decade generally marks the beginning of America’s progressive era, but in dipping into the events of the year we have to conclude that 1894 was neither gay nor particularly progressive. We talk about the Pullman strikes, an even more violent labor uprising in Italy, and an anarchist in Paris who killed one, and injured twenty, when he lit a bomb in a train-station cafe.

You can read the full text of Emile Henry’s interrogation, and his courtroom defense, via the archives at Marxists.org. Here’s a link to a 2009 BBC article considering whether Henry was the first modern terrorist.

We also talk this week about George W. Johnson, one of the first widely popular African American recording artists, whose name is still unfamiliar to most. You can listen to “The Laughing Song” and (the unfortunately titled) “The Whistling Coon” via archive.org.

As always, we’d love to hear what you think. You can send us an email, hit us up on Twitter, or just leave a comment right here on the site. Also, don’t forget: We’re still in the thick of our annual fund drive, so if you haven’t already, please check out our Indiegogo campaign and give us a little bit of your hard-earned cash.

You can stream the episode right here on our site, by clicking on the little player thingy below. Or download the mp3 file. Or, visit us in the iTunes store, where you can subscribe (for free!) and never miss another installment. While you’re there, leave us a rating and a review, which will help us reach new listeners.

Stream:

Download Winter of Wayback: 1894 (right-click, save-as)

Thanks for listening! And come on back next week!


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Episode 78: A.J.A. Symons, The Quest for Corvo

This week’s book is a Mike pick, a 1934 cult classic subtitled “An Experiment in Biography.” Symons, a rare book collector, fell in love with a novel called Hadrian the Seventh, and went off in search of information about its author, one Baron Corvo, also known as Frederick Rolfe, among other pseudonyms. Symons details not just what he found, but how he found it, making this book rather groundbreaking in form, a kind of progenitor of documentaries like Searching for Sugarman.

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We talk about Frederick Rolfe’s rather amazing life, which included a lot of vitriolic letters and burned bridges. We also talk about the book’s handling of Rolfe’s homosexuality, which Symons sees as the central “problem” that led to nearly all of Rolfe’s troubles.

Speaking of sex, here’s a 538 story about OK Cupid’s stats-loving founder, which includes the two graphs Tom references on the show, about ages of attraction for men and women.

Also, we’re still in the middle of our annual fund drive, which you can donate to here, via Indiegogo. Every few bucks is appreciated. We hope the annual fundraising isn’t too annoying, but until we figure out some better, more efficient way to monetize the work we do putting this thing together, this is the best we can do.

As always, we’d love to get your feedback on what we talked about during the episode. You can email us, hit us up on Twitter, or just leave a comment here on the site. If you like the show, please consider writing us an iTunes review, and spread the word to your literature-loving friends.

You can stream the episode right here on our site, download the mp3 file, or subscribe (for free) via iTunes, or your favorite podcast app, and never miss another installment.

Thanks for listening!

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Winter of Wayback: 1941

This week we’re reading Kay Boyle’s short story “Defeat,” which won an O’Henry award in 1941. If you’re a subscriber to the New Yorker, you can read the story here, in their online archives. If not, you’ll have to find it in one of her story collections (we read it in a library copy of Thirty Stories, which seems to be out of print these days).

In addition to the story, we talk about a number of 1941’s big events, including the first televised broadcast of the Mummers parade in Philadelphia, an alien encounter that was almost certainly real, the time-traveling hipster, an attempt to create a new Western state called “Jefferson,” and the world’s longest coma. Spoiler alert: that last one is a real goddamned bummer.

Also, Tom does some live research on Wallis Simpson, who the Mummers spoofed for her “dental troubles,” and whose life is worthy of at least a full episode of some other podcast.

As always, you can stream the episode right here on our site, download the mp3 file, or visit us in the iTunes store, where you can subscribe (for free!) and never miss another installment. we’d love to get your feedback on what we talked about. You can email us, hit us up on Twitter, or just leave a comment here on the site. If you like the show, tell your friends. And give us some damn money!

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Episode 77: Robb Forman Dew, Dale Loves Sophie to Death

We’re back this week with another book-centered episode, this time on the 1982 National Book Award winner for best debut novel (back when that category still existed). We talk about “quiet” novels, and prickly female protagonists, and portrayals of parental anxiety. Also: Why did Tom pick this book, and then so quickly try to disown it? And why doesn’t he like spending time with Mike in the office?

DaleSophie

In case you were wondering – and why wouldn’t you be? – Hungry Hungry Hippos is, in fact, a Milton Bradley joint. Also, the hippos apparently have names, which is just adorable.

Here’s a video of Paula Deen being hit in the face with a ham. Plus, I guess, the “Paula Deen Gets Hit In The Face With a Ham Remix”? The internet is fucking weird.

Finally – though, one might argue, most importantly! – here’s the link to click if you’d like to donate to our annual fund drive. Even a few bucks is appreciated. As we noted on the show, donations are like a vote of confidence, and confirmation that you’re actually out there, listening to and even enjoying the show. Until we figure out some better, more efficient way to monetize the work we do putting this thing together, our annual fundraising jam is the best we can do.

As always, we’d love to get your feedback on what we talked about during the episode. You can email us, hit us up on Twitter, or just leave a comment here on the site. If you like the show, please consider writing us an iTunes review, and spread the word to your literature-loving friends. You can stream the episode right here on our site, download the mp3 file, or subscribe (for free) and never miss another installment.

Thanks for listening!

Stream:

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Winter of Wayback: 1982

Astute listeners will note that there’s supposed to be a book episode this week. Unfortunately, that episode was eaten up by a technical snafu. Fortunately, we had our second Winter of Wayback episode ready to go, and here it is!

But before we get into the details of this week’s episode, let us give you the link to our Indiegogo page, where you can donate a very small portion of your hard earned money to help us meet our annual fundraising goal. We bring you this show every week, for free, so this is your chance to give a little something back. Plus we’ve got some great donor giveaways for you, including a three-pack of bonus holiday episodes for $35, which is, frankly, a pretty amazing bargain. If that’s a bit steep — and, hey, we’re both poor writers, we get it — for only $15 we’ll write you a blurb and read it on the air. And honestly, even five or ten bucks will help. Check out all the details here.

OK, so this week we’re visiting 1982, the year of Tom’s birth, to read a story called “Dancing Ducks and Talking Anus,” by James Ferry. The story appeared in the 1982 Best American Short Stories anthology, selected by John Gardner, after which the author was basically never heard from again. In fact, some internet sleuthing led us to believe this was Ferry’s only published story. Then we ran across Troy Tradup, a writer and publisher who loved this story so much he’d spent nearly 30 years tracking down its author. We caught up with Tradup over email, and he filled us in on as much of Ferry’s story as he’s been able to assemble (see full interview, below).

Tradup eventually acquired the rights to the story and made it available as a 99-cent ebook, which you can purchase through the website of his company, Tough Times Publishing.

We’re also talking this week about all things 1982, including the Commodore 64, which was first introduced that year and became the best-selling computer of all time. More relevant to our show, both of us owned them as children. We also talk about the 1982 World’s Fair, held in Knoxville, Tennessee. Check out this ad for the fair, which we swear is a real thing:

As is our custom on these Winter of Wayback episodes, we’ve got some quick Beatles-related news, and Philadelphia-related news, including this pretty incredible video, of some idiots in Kensington who got their hands on a camcorder:

Also! Here’s the cover of Ringo Starr’s Stop and Smell the Roses, the album which apparently got him dropped by his label in 1982.

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And here’s a picture of Bryan Ferry, formerly of Roxy Music and presently of your dreams:

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Finally, we talk this week about “Lawn Chair Larry,” a truck driver who in 1982 piloted a Sears lawn chair over Los Angeles with the help of helium balloons, his girlfriend, Miller Lite, and moxie. Larry’s story is pretty funny, until it eventually takes a tragic turn. Careful listeners might hear Mike choke up a little at the tail end of the episode, as he recounts the later details of Larry’s life. On a cheerier note, here’s a newsreel from Larry’s flight:

As always, you can stream the episode right here on our site, download the mp3 file, or visit us in the iTunes store, where you can subscribe (for free!) and never miss another installment. we’d love to get your feedback on what we talked about. You can email us, hit us up on Twitter, or just leave a comment here on the site. If you like the show, tell your friends. And give us some damn money!

Stream:

Download Winter of Wayback: 1982 (right-click, save-as)

Full interview with Troy Tradup:

Book Fight: What is it that you love so much about this story?

Troy Tradup: A toughie right off the bat! I think I was initially struck, back in 1982, by the aggressiveness of the writing – that title, that startling opening sentence – and by the unrelenting darkness of the story. I was a young writer myself at the time, and something about Ferry’s prose just spoke to me. I wanted my own writing to be that brave, that confident, that startling.

Over time, I grew to better understand all of the layers Ferry had managed to build into the piece, and its overriding themes of troubled assimilation in a changing (or perhaps irrevocably changed) America. The returning Vietnam vet who can’t quite find his place, the Native American watching his culture fade, the sad woman unable to assert her own feminist power and so instead a victim to a bad relationship – there’s some major stuff going on in this story!

Ultimately, though, what’s most thrilling and lasting about “Dancing Ducks” for me is its gorgeous dark language and its overwhelming sadness for all three characters and the world they’ve inherited.

BF: In your Goodreads review, you said you spent 30 years trying to track down the author. I’d love to know more about that. Where did you even begin? How did you go about trying to locate him? Did you ever come close to finding him? Do you have any sense of how he managed to write this one story then just disappear?

TT: In the early days, I haunted libraries and bookstores looking for any other mention of James Ferry anywhere. Later I moved on to the internet and Google, and eventually – almost by accident – stumbled upon a comment by one of James’s friends on some random blog posting saying that James had died unexpectedly in 1999. That friend – Mary Donovan – helped me track down James’s brother Bill, and that allowed me to start the ball rolling on publishing the new e-book.

I go into more detail in the afterword I wrote for the e-book of “Dancing Ducks,” which includes biographical material about James and some beautiful thoughts from two of James’s friends (one being Mary Donovan) about their time together in a graduate writing program at the Vermont College of Fine Arts.

As for “Dancing Ducks” being something of a one-hit wonder, I do know that James left behind a number of other manuscripts, including at least part of a novel. At some point in the near future, I’m going to discuss with Bill the prospect of getting those materials properly catalogued and perhaps placed with a university or commercial agent. I’m not sure exactly what’s there, but I certainly have hopes for more stories like this one!

BF: Can you describe the process of acquiring the rights to the story? I’d like to think it would be relatively simple, but everything I know about publishing tells me it almost certainly wasn’t.

TT: In this case, once I’d connected with James’s brother Bill, the acquisition process was pretty simple. You’re right, though, it typically is not.

I think Bill was both flattered and flummoxed that someone was fanatic enough to have pursued his brother’s story across thirty years. I made it clear that this was strictly a passion project, and I think it really pleased him to know that James’s story would once again be available to readers.

BF: Is there anything else you learned about James Ferry that maybe you haven’t covered above?

TT: You asked before about this apparently being James’s only published story. I’ve since located another one – a very esoteric combination story/essay called “A Note on the Type” that was published in the journal Fourth Genre shortly after James’s death. That issue of Fourth Genre also contained a fascinating piece by novelist Bret Lott about James Ferry. Lott was a mentor to Ferry, and writes about the surreal experience of having his own novel chosen as an Oprah book at virtually the same time he was trying to process James’s death.

The other interesting thing I learned about James Ferry is how humble he apparently was. He had the huge success of “Dancing Ducks” being chosen for the Best Short Stories anthology and basically never told anyone, not even his closest friends. I wish I would have known him in person; he sounds like a pretty cool dude.

BF: Are you working on resurrecting any other lost fiction for Tough Times? Are there any other white whales like James Ferry?

TT: I started Tough Times back in 2010 to publish my own novel, The Forsaken Boy. That proved quite a spectacular success, so I broadened my mission to publish out-of-print horror, beginning with Michael McDowell’s serial novel Blackwater last year and continuing with a couple of titles this year. The chance to publish “Dancing Ducks” obviously moved Tough Times outside the realm of horror, and I’ve since explored several other non-horror titles I’d like to acquire, but negotiations can take a while.

There are several fantastic publishers right now dealing with exactly the sorts of material that attracts me – most notably the powerhouse boys over at Valancourt Books – so the majority of my “white whale” titles are either already in process elsewhere or hopelessly tied up (at least for now) in one sort of legal chaos or another.

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