The Shambling Guide to New York City Listen-a-Long: Chapter 1

Welcome to the first installment of The Shambling Guide to New York City Listen-a-Long, covering Chapter 1 of Mur Lafferty’s The Shambling Guide to New York City. There’s a bit more to this installment than will be usual, as we get to also talk about Lafferty’s introduction to the podcast, and, well, a bit about my listening history where it comes to her other podcasts. First a warning, that I’ll repeat each episode, that the discussion here is oh-so-spoilerific, so if that’s a concern, pop over and take the 15 minutes to listen to the podcast episode first. On to…

Cover art by Jamie McKelvie

Cover art by Jamie McKelvie

The Shambling Guide to New York City: Chapter One
by Mur Lafferty
Runtime: 15 minutes

I find it hard to count how many hours of Mur Lafferty‘s voice I’ve heard over the past few years now. I met Mur in late 2009, and soon after started checking out her I Should Be Writing podcast (where I learned that “It’s OK to suck” — a better mantra for me probably doesn’t exist) and then her Afterlife series, starting with Heaven, then (and still) available as a free Podiobook. I’ve listened to her host dozens and dozens of Escape Pod episodes, and narrate quite a long list as well. (Inlcuding “You’re Almost Here” by Melinda Thielbar, in which Mur drops the F-bomb with some verve and panache; for several mostly selfish reasons one of my favorite episodes.)

Still, even after all those episodes, all those intros and outtros and narrations, there’s still something very exciting that happens between my ears when I press “play” on Chapter One of Mur’s latest podcast, for her forthcoming novel The Shambling Guide to New York City. While the other projects were well-ongoing before I knew what a podcast even was, for this one, I’d get to be listening along right from the first episodes.

The intro here for episode one is pretty short, though we find out that the idea for this book has been rolling around since 2005. We hear just a bit about selling the book to Orbit (and somehow selling Hachette Audio on the idea of the free podcast as well) and get the plans for the podcast: one chapter a week, for free, for 29 weeks, then remaining up for one month afterwards. Of course, the novel and full audiobook will go on sale on May 28, so those of us who can’t wait to find out what happens next in any given week will have a pretty easy time of scratching that particular itch.

Then it’s right into the “real” audiobook, complete with “Hachette Audio presents…” and intro music. Having gotten to sit in on one studio session, to hear the care and attention to detail from Mur’s editor and recording engineer, I knew I was in for a high-quality recording, and, no surprise, here we are. “Chapter One.”

We meet former travel guide writer Zoë Norris, browsing through a strange New York City bookstore that isn’t in the guidebook. Well, Zoë’s guidebook at least. After passing by a few even stranger titles, such as “How to Make Love, Marry, Devour, and Inherit in Eight Weeks”, Zoë picks up a book on hounds from hell from the Pets section. With a sticky leather binding. That makes its way onto Zoë’s sweater. Of course.

Upon trying to actually buy the strange book in this strange bookstore, though, Zoë runs into some difficulties, as the clerk responds to Zoë’s inquiry about the book’s price with an unsmiling: “We cater to a specific clientele.” As a man who was posting a flyer turns to regard the rising confrontation, we get a peek into Zoë’s paranoid inner voice as she struggles to remind herself that: Not everyone is out to get you.

The man begins to diffuse the situation, but Zoë’s interest in the book is thrown by the wayside when bigger quarry is spotted. The man had just posted a flyer for a travel guide writing job on the bulletin board, and, as we find out immediately, “She needed a job.”

Of course, she gets the job, the book ends, everyone’s happy.

No, of course not. Instead, she gets pretty much the same treatment from the man about the job posting as the clerk was giving her about the hound book. Through the resulting exchange, we find out a bit of Zoë’s backstory: a former head researcher and writer for Misconceptions Publishing (“the second biggest travel book publisher in the USA”) laid off after finding herself as the “other woman” to her boss, Godfrey’s, wife.

Still, Zoë presses on. Who is this pudgy guy in a T-shirt and jeans to tell her that she wasn’t “what they’re looking for”? Just Phillip Rand, the owner, president, and CEO of the company, Underground Publishing, of course.

And yet, still, Zoë pushes on, listing her qualifications, lining up her qualifications and experience as the perfect fit. Shot down yet again, she asks, “Isn’t this illegal?” Though Rand assures her that she’s not being discriminated against based on gender or race — though going by the clues given by the cover art and chapter so far, we might suspect the “human” race, mightn’t we? — and that, as they say, is that.

Finding no help in the self-help section (“Get the Salary You Deserve! Negotiating Hell Notes in a Time of Economic Downturn”) she heads for a long bath, via a “tall caloric caffeine bomb” stop on the way. Finally, chapter one closes with an “Excerpt from The Shambling Guide to New York City”, in which we find out a bit more about the bookstore in which this has all just happened.

And, the chapter finished, the podcast episode ends with a brief outtro, in which we learn about Orbit’s wallpaper images for the book, and an official necklace at Surlyramics.


Well, I’m biased, but I’m also very pleased. We’re starting to get to know Zoë — needs a job, smart, knows she’s got what it takes to write, juuuuust a bit paranoid, maybe a bit slow on the “every book in here seems non-a-joke directed towards mythical beings” uptake, but hey, it’s New York City, every subculture has its hole-in-the-wall bookstore, right?

So! Chapter Two is already up, which is a more meaty 24 minutes. See you next week! Will Zoë find her caffeine bomb? Will she end up dressed as a sandwich, or will better employment opportunities come her way? Tune in, and see you next week for the listen-a-long discussion!

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