You know those paperback books that you find at the bottom of boxes at yard sales, collect dust on your great-aunts or grandmother’s bookcase, and are found in the crevices at used bookstores? If those old and awkwardly written noir novels are the books you look for, you will want to listen to the Dirt Cheap podcast from Neon Hum, in partnership with Sony Music Entertainment.
During the podcast, Amanda Meadows, a senior editor at Oni Press, and Geoffrey Golden, a narrative designer for video games, read and react to the noir murder mystery novel Murder in the Glass Room. It’s written by Edwin Rolfe and Lester Fuller in 1946 (so, you can imagine what was considered acceptable in those times). The story follows bookie Phil Norris, who is attempting to figure out who killed his wife Edna, but he is not very good at being a bookie or a detective, so he gets in various odd situations. He must try to stay ahead of the police while trying to catch the elusive killer. The book is filled with questionable grammar, outdated views and actions, and the main character who cannot negotiate. At the same time, though, you cannot walk away without knowing the outcome. Nerds and Beyond were fortunate enough to speak with Amanda and Geoffrey, the hosts of Dirt Cheap.
Note: This interview has been edited for clarity and length.
Nerds and Beyond: I want to start with the origin story. How did the concept for Dirt Cheap come about?
Geoffrey: Absolutely, so from our perspective, there was a Dirt Cheap before we arrived. So, a little bit of background, we worked with Jonathan Hirsch from Neon Hum on a podcast a couple of years ago for Stitcher. It was an audio drama podcast, and we were the writers on the project, and he was the producer. He knew we were fans of weird old books, so I think he must have thought, “Oh, they would be great hosts,” and the rest is history.
Amanda: We had a great time, and a couple of years later, he reached out to us with this hilarious book and the idea of reading it aloud to each other on a podcast, and it was an offer we couldn’t refuse. The book (Murder in the Glass Room) is truly bizarre. Once we got into digging into the book, it was like, “Oh, okay, there is a lot here. There are layers of crap to dig through here.”
Nerds and Beyond: It definitely qualifies as a weird book!
Geoffrey: Oh, yeah, absolutely! There’s nothing usual about this detective story. It really makes you appreciate the tropes when they’re used correctly and when they’re used tastefully.
Amanda: Most definitely, that’s some important story scaffolding all that mystery stuff, and this book is terribly missing a lot of mystery elements. But it has a lot of very weird character study moments and just like non-sequitur type scenes. It leads you down these strange dark paths that you weren’t expecting it to, and naturally, we have a lot of out-loud conversations through this book.
Nerds and Beyond: So, Amanda, you hear the chapters for Murder in a Glass Room as Geoffrey is reading them to you?
Geoffrey: Yeah, that’s right. I am only one chapter ahead of Amanda in the book, so I am also semi in the dark. One of the cool things is that they add sound effects and music to my reading. So it feels like an immersive experience like an audio drama or like an audiobook.
Amanda: Right, you don’t know how things are going to end ultimately; you’re only just a little ahead. And yeah, I’m coming in cold. He’s reading it to me, and that’s the first time I’m ever hearing these words in that order. It releases some unexpected reactions from me; some sounds I didn’t know I was capable of making. It’s like an audiobook with high production value. You know who is talking and when. The music sometimes abstracts the hilarity of some of those scenes in my experience. It’s a good time. I like that you don’t really need to catch up with this podcast. You can start from the beginning and just binge it. I hope a lot of people do that. We are actually getting close, recording-wise, to the end. Episodes will keep coming out through January and February, but you can catch up at any point and just kind of binge it in big chunks as long as your consciousness will allow. There is only so much Phil anyone can take.
Nerds and Beyond: What is the process that goes into creating each episode?
Geoffrey: From my perspective, I will read every chapter twice. I am one chapter ahead, but right before we record, I will reread the chapter, and I’ll make notes. So we tried recording it at home with some of Neon Hums’ equipment, but our apartment building is way too loud to record anything in. We go into the studio, Neon Hum has completely abandoned their office building downtown, so we just go there.
Amanda: We have this safe, sterile place to record, so we go there and record the chapters. That is where he reads the book to me, and we remark on how the book is crumbling before our very eyes.
Geoffrey: Physically, the book is actually disintegrating. I am just hoping it can last another couple of weeks until the end of the show. Then we take the audio files, and then we send them to our producer Carla (Green), and to our sound design team. Carla will do a cut and then send it to the sound designers, who will add music and sound effects and patch it up, and then it goes into the pod feed.
Amanda: Exactly, shout out to producers Carla, Chloe (Chaobal), and Vikram (Patel) for being the folks who pick out the best bits and put together the episodes as you actually hear them. And our engineer Scott Sommerville, he’s adding all those good sounds.
Nerds and Beyond: Do you have any theories on who might have killed Edna?
Amanda: Oh, yes, who has killed Los Angeles socialite Edna Norris? Phil Norris’s estranged wife.
Geoffrey: We talked on the show, and we are convinced that this is a Fight Club situation that Phil killed her but doesn’t remember it. He has like a dissociative personality disorder.
Amanda: He is disassociating and hasn’t accepted that he is the one who killed her, but is also kind of throwing himself into these sort of self-destructive, self-sabotaging behaviors that, if done, you would think would either kill him or put him in jail. Which hasn’t happened yet, so there is a little bit of magic to it, like how has he not been arrested by now?
Geoffrey: So we are assuming he is doing all these things as self-punishment because he wants to be caught. I think that’s what’s going on there. It’s a Fight Club.
Amanda: That’s what we want it to be anyway. It could also be a Sixth Sense, but I think it’s more of Fight Club.
Nerds and Beyond: What are some other podcasts that you both are currently listening to?
Geoffrey: What a great question. I really love a show called Vintage RPG podcast, it’s really funny, and they find weird old role-playing games. I’m a narrative designer for video games, and I’m a game designer for tabletop games, so I really enjoy listening to them go find obscure and weird games and talk about them. I also really love the show There Are No Girls On The Internet (TANGOTI). It’s a great new show. It’s a deep dive into internet history from a lack of feminist perspective. I’m learning a lot about internet culture that I already knew about but seeing things from a different perspective, so that’s really cool.
Amanda: Those are some really good ones. I love that (No Girls On The Internet) show. By trade, I am an editor for a comic book company Oni Press, so I listen to a few podcasts about graphic novels. One that I recommend is Graphic Novel TK. They are on hiatus, but you can go back in their archives and listen to some really interesting conversations with great talented creators and folks who make books at major publishers, which is cool. Another podcast that I am a huge fan of is How to Survive the End of the World by Autumn Brown and Adrienne Maree Brown, two activists and sci-fi writers who also speak a lot to healing and community and pleasure activism. Their podcast is about learning how to survive what feels like an apocalypse right now. It’s a great podcast for kind of fortifying yourself and getting some emotional resilience. Another podcast I really love is Ologies with Alie. It’s a very nerdy podcast where Alie Ward interviews an expert in a very, very specific weird field. There’s one that is like space archeology. It’s literally about the garbage that is found in space. One is about gator poison, just extremely specific things that in the conversation with them about the specific things you learn something kind of bigger and more universal that kind of applies to everyone, so it’s always an interesting, surprising deep-dive into something new.
Nerds and Beyond: Here at Nerds and Beyond, we love embracing our nerdy sides, so what is something that brings out your nerdy side?
Geoffrey: Something that brings out my nerdy side is VHS board games. These were games from usually the mid-80s to early 90s, board games that you would play in conjunction with your VCR with a VCR tape. A classic example would be Nightmare, where there’s sort of a Scottish monster man host who is telling you the players to “stand up and call yourself a worm and worship me the video screen” there are so many. They are just so cheesy and fun and weird, and I really like those things. They also bridge this weird gap between electronic and tabletop gaming. I find them fascinating, and I just love learning everything that I can about those games.
If you want to take a good deep dive into some others, I recommend Party Mania, which is sort of a TGIF sitcom board game that is really cheesy and over the top. The Wayne’s World one is really funny because they did get Dana Carvey and Mike Myers, but it’s very clear that they are filming in two separate locations that they are trying to make look like it’s one location. Oh, If you’d like to have a Klingon yell at you in a completely empty USS Enterprise, the Star Trek one is also definitely worth watching. How about you, Amanda? What brings out your nerdy side?
Amanda: I think the most obvious one for me is cookery, cooking, various chefing. I think that it’s one of those things that I’ve gone off the deep end. I like learning about food science, and if I want to perfect a recipe, I will read every method, technique, or whatever before figuring out what I want to do, and as a result, I am just loaded with just like food information. I also edited the English translation of some cookbooks that were done in comics form, so it’s literally like a graphic novel cookbook, and it’s awesome. It’s called To Drink and To Eat. I got really lucky at my job; I got to go off the deep end and not only get a bunch of food knowledge from a chef person but also French. So I learned a lot of French food specifics that I had no idea about before. I like following fancy chefs on Instagram and stuff like that, and I’m just always obsessed with food.
There are quite a few really great graphic novels about food and about working in the food industry like Relish by Lucy Kinsley, Seconds by Bryan Lee O’Malley, and there are so many. Also, in Manga, there is an entire universe of comics about and around food. Food looks so good when it’s drawn like anime food. It’s a very fun way to interact with food writing is through imagery. It brings up sensory kinds of experiences and kind of feels more immersive.
Nerds and Beyond: Do either of you have any projects on the horizon that we can look forward to?
Geoffrey: Yeah, I would say well, obviously, of course, you can always look forward to more episodes of Dirt Cheap.
Amanda: That’s right, we have new episodes every Thursday, and we are gosh, we are already in chapter 8 of Murder in a Glass Room at this point. But you can start from the very beginning and binge it. They stack together very well. We will be releasing more episodes until this book is finished early next year.
Geoffrey: Also, if you like role-playing games, I run a newsletter called Adventure Snacks, which you can get for free at adventuresnack.com. Basically, I send my player’s tiny role-playing games that they can play in their email, so it’s turning your inbox into an adventure. They are little choose your path adventure games. They have different genres and themes, but they are usually always pretty funny.
Amanda: It’s a nice 5-to-15-minute way to get out of your work head for a minute. I always enjoy the very wacky endings that are possible when I go into my Adventure Snacks.
So another project of mine that I am looking forward to is already out. So I’m looking forward to all of y’all reading it. It is a graphic novel called Smoove City that we put out at Oni Press that I edited. It’s entirely done by Kenny Keil, who is a hilarious cartoonist from Mad Magazine and whose also one of the rare humor cartoonists who has an entire life in the Hip-Hop and R&B world. He’s animated and written music videos for like Big Boy and Ludacris and just really amazing stuff, so we could not wait to work together on a book. He had this incredible idea for a New Jack Swing themed graphic novel; it’s the best music genre everybody knows that. That’s why we are doing all these retrospectives on the genre right now, like the podcast Jacked that just came out and Uptown Records biopic that’s coming out soon. So it follows these incredible scrubby broke young friends who are trying to become a boy band, and they record their demo at a mall kiosk, and they get lucky, and through a bunch of weird events, they end up becoming a hit single sensation. And it turns into a lot of hijinks with schemes and people trying to exploit them, and in the end, they manage to learn something about themselves and manage not to lose their entire buts in the music industry. It’s just such a hilarious ride, so I highly recommend reading that.
Geoffrey: You two worked together so well, it’s very funny, and just Kenny is an incredible talent, and if you love funny comics, you got to read Smoove City. It’s a must-read.
Amanda: It’s a got to read!
Thank you so much to the hosts of Dirt Cheap for their time! You can follow Amanda Meadows on Twitter and Geoffrey Golden on Twitter and his website. Don’t forget to listen to Dirt Cheap on Apple Podcasts or wherever you listen to your podcasts, and you can also follow them on Twitter and Instagram and let them know your theories on who the murderer is.