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Elder Shunn
I never expected it would take so long to make this announcement, but my Mormon missionary memoir The Accidental Terrorist will be published by Sinister Regard in 2015.

Although it might end up with a different title. And the cover definitely won't look like the one below. And Sinister Regard is actually me.

I'm very excited, nevertheless.

The Accidental Terrorist (charity auction edition)
It's hard for me to pin down exactly when I started work on this book. The events it chronicles took place mostly between September 1986 and March 1987, when I was a Mormon missionary serving in Alberta. But before that time span had even ended, I was already learning to tell bits and pieces of the story to an audience. In 1988, I told the full story to a few fellow missionaries—with a tape recorder running. Here's an excerpt, in which you can hear me at age 20 with my Utah accent still fully intact:

In 1993 I started relating the story in email to a non-Mormon acquaintance, but the telling required so much backstory that it eventually grew to three dozen installments. I soon began posting these chapters to a science fiction roundtable on GEnie, where they generated plenty of discussion and interest. In 1995, when I had my first personal web site, I started posting the chapters again, and they've remained a perennial draw.

But it wasn't until early in 1999 that I began trying to spin these slapdash reminiscences into an actual, substantive book. My agent at the time immediately set about trying to sell the partial manuscript, and my first blog post about the submission process dates from October 2000. There followed a long series of outright rejections and heart-breaking near-misses, not to mention a terrorist attack in 2001 that rendered a light-hearted book about a bomb threat virtually unpublishable, and then a major scandal in 2006 that nearly killed the market for non-celebrity memoirs altogether.

That year, frustrated, I began serializing the book as a regular segment of my personal podcast. Again, it went over very well, attracting a lot of attention. In 2009 I cut-and-pasted those segments into their own standalone podcast, again attracting plenty of notice.

All through this, I was frequently asked when the podcast would become available in book form. But despite the heroic efforts of one agent after another, traditional publishers continued to pass on the manuscript—sometimes in the most effusive terms possible.

The Accidental Terrorist (podcast edition)
Eventually, my kind and wise agent Barry Goldblatt sat me down. He knew how important this book was to me, and how much the more than fifteen years of effort I'd put into it was costing me. "We know there's an audience for this book," he said, "even if no editor can see that. You need to get it out there. I think it's time for you to self-publish."

Laura and I had been thinking about that ourselves for quite sometime. The precise timetable is not yet set, but you can probably look for both print and ebook publication in the spring of 2015, maybe summer. Never fear. It is happening.

We're taking time to get everything right because I don't want to put out a substandard product. We've hired a very respected book editor as our, um, book editor. I'll get my first round of edits from her right at Christmas—my own gift to myself! After another round of edits, we'll run it through a professional gauntlet of copyediting, book design, and art. Who knows? We'll probably even change the title back to one of my early favorites—Missionary Man.

I know some of you have been waiting for this book for a very long time. You've probably given up hope that you would ever see it. It's been through plenty of different permutations over the years, and I plan to give you the best version I'm capable of producing. I hope you look forward to getting it half as much as I look forward to giving it to you.

Thank you so much for hanging in there with me.

To make sure you stay in the loop about all news of my upcoming memoir, please sign up for my email newsletter.

Crossposted from Inhuman Swill

Ella throws for home, not for the runner

It's been several months since I posted an Ella video, so I figure we're overdue. Here's one I took this past Saturday at Astoria Park during off-leash hours.

Ella spies a squirrel foraging far out on the meadow. For a while she just watches, until I nudge her into action (about 0:27). The thing to note is how Ella bends her trajectory not directly toward the squirrel but to where she predicts the squirrel is heading. She trying to cut it off before it reaches its tree.

Spoiler alert: She doesn't catch the squirrel, but I still hope she will someday.

Crossposted from Inhuman Swill

October's mix of the month

The Writing's on the Wall It's been a long time since I posted a mix of the month, but the CD Mix of the Month Club hasn't been mixing it up very often lately. A few of us convened for karaoke earlier this month, though, so I figured that was enough of an excuse to whip up a new mix.

My contribution for October, most emphatically not a Halloween mix, is called The Writing's on the Wall. Eleven of the fourteen tracks are available on Spotify, so you can check out a good 78.6% of the mix below:

(The story so far.)

Crossposted from Inhuman Swill
Today is the 200th anniversary of the London Beer Flood. I'd tell you all about, but Kyle Thiessen explains it far better than I ever could (and the Boston Molasses Flood too) in his Fake Month at the Museum series:

So wherever you are, raise a glass today to the empire where the suds never set!

Crossposted from Inhuman Swill
[Amazon customer support chat session in progress]

Me: Thanks for the help.

Amazon: awesome and tell me, is there anything else i can do to make you smile today?

Me: You could tell me a joke. Otherwise, that's all.

Amazon: Well i can :-)
three old folks are sitting on a bench in the park
the first one says: its windy huh?
the second one says: no!! its Thursday
and the last one says: me too!! lets get a beer

Me: Good one.

Amazon: It has been a pleasure helping you out, thank you very much for being part of Amazon family, and i hope you have a great day

Crossposted from Inhuman Swill
This post about The Bone Clocks contains mild spoilers.

When grappling with works of genre fiction, most mainstream literary critics can be counted on to demonstrate a peculiar tone-deafness. Take the case of The New Yorker's James Woods, who calls David Mitchell's new novel The Bone Clocks "weightless," "empty," and "demented." So "frictionless" does Wood find it, in fact, that it prompts him to call into question the soundness of such earlier Mitchell works as Cloud Atlas.

Upon reflection, I have to admit that The Bone Clocks is probably my least favorite of Mitchell's novels (The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet being the only one I haven't yet read). But I found it for the most part extremely engaging, even thrilling, and I dispute Wood's contention that "the realism—the human activity—is relatively unimportant" when stacked up against the novel's science-fictional premise.

The Bone Clocks: A Novel by David Mitchell
The Bone Clocks is built, like much of Mitchell's work, around a structural conceit that passes the duty of first-person narrator, like a baton in a relay race, to a new point-of-view character every hundred pages or so. Each of the book's six sections becomes, in essence, a novella of its own, conveying the overall narrative from its intensely realistic beginnings with a runaway teenager in 1984 to its apocalyptic, post-oil conclusion in 2043.

Each subsequent section shows us earlier characters through new, illuminating sets of eyes, while in the background we get glimpses of a long-running secret war between two groups of more-or-less-immortal combatants. The fifth section immerses us fully in this ancient conflict before the sixth returns us to the point of view of our original narrator, Holly Sykes, though 59 years have passed since we first met her.

Critic Wood finds the novel entertaining enough, and skillfully written, though he complains that the supernatural shenanigans rob our lowly mortal heroes of their agency. The story turns these sad "detectives of drivel" into mere puppets marched here and there at the whims of their scheming author-god.

It's true that some of the genre material clunks and clangs, most particularly the fifth section's climactic battle between the good Horologists and the evil Anchorites. (I found it perversely reassuring to see that Mitchell doesn't do everything well.) But this does nothing to rob any of the mortal characters of their agency. Far from being puppets, they continue to love, hate, yearn, rage, seek vengeance, and forgive, just like real people, even as they struggle to resist the larger conflict that periodically disrupts their lives in ugly ways. Yes, sometimes the irresistible forces of the novel alter the trajectories of ordinary lives, but no differently than might a traffic accident, or a job loss, or a chronic illness. A narrowing of options does not imply a loss of agency.

Wood insists that the larger-than-life conflict drains the rest of the story of meaning, that what happens "in the novel between people has meaning only in relation to what occurs in the novel between Anchorites and Horologists." I disagree. Mitchell has plenty to say in this book. It's just that critics of Wood's ilk miss it because it's rendered in a register they can't hear (the register of ideas), not the one they're listening for (the register of the human heart). (The irony is, The Bone Clocks is filled to the brim with matters of the human heart.)

So what is Mitchell up to in The Bone Clocks? The key, for me, is in that strange sixth section, depicting the days when our teetering civilization finally teeters too far and slides irrevocably toward collapse. This is when we realize that the battle between Horologists and Anchorites, like all mankind's internecine battles, is what is truly insignificant. Holly's lifelong struggle to ignore the battle waging around her, to carry on with her life despite everything, is the entire point. It mirrors humanity's own struggle to carry on while helpless to oppose the gargantuan forces dismantling our ecosystem and our very society. How often do we raise our heads above the parapet, survey that epic destruction, then do our best to pretend it isn't ever really going to affect us?

It's a bleak view, yes, but one not devoid of hope. The last few pages of the book remind us that, even if our own generation is doomed, the fight is still worthwhile—perhaps only worthwhile—if there's a chance of saving the next.

James Wood closes his analysis by implying that humanity since Milton has had no need of the good-versus-evil story. "The novel takes over from the epic," he says, "not just because inwardness opens itself up as the great novelistic subject but because human freedom asserts itself against divine arrangement." But from where I'm sitting, as feckless, sluggish governments battle titanic, rapacious corporations with the fate of our species and countless others in the balance, human freedom seems as illusory as ever, and an epic like The Bone Clocks every bit as necessary.

Crossposted from Inhuman Swill

Quotations at the beginnings of chapters

A reader writes to ask:

I'm finalizing a manuscript and your templates are so helpful. One thing I can't seem to find addressed is the use of quotes - a poem or just a quotation from a person, at the beginning of a chapter. Since I would like to have one in my first chapter and it would then be the first thing an agent sees, I am worried about how to do it right. Can you help?

All you need to do is indent the quote one half inch from both the left and the right margin and put a line space after it. You can single-space the quote if you like. Otherwise, everything else is the same. You still start the quote on the same line of the page where you otherwise would have begun the chapter.

Crossposted from Proper Manuscript Format

Page headers in electronic submissions

A reader writes to ask:

I enjoyed reading your article about formatting short story submissions, but wondered whether the Name/Title/Page# thing is necessary for electronic submissions. I have a story ready for submission to EQMM.

There are essentially two kinds of electronic submissions: text pasted into the body of an email, and email attachments. Obviously, with text pasted into an email, there's no place for page headers. But if you're sending a file as an attachment (as would be the case with Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine), then page headers are still absolutely necessary. It doesn't matter that the document may never be printed out on actual paper. The editors still expect to see that header at the top of every page.

Crossposted from Proper Manuscript Format

Poem: Taxonomy

Little neighbor girl
Waving to a cardinal:
"Parrot! Hi, parrot!"

Crossposted from Inhuman Swill
This poem debuted live at Tuesday Funk #48 in Chicago on September 4, 2012, the same day it was written. I've submitted it to a few editors since then, but since they (probably sensibly) turned it down, my birthday present to myself is to publish it here.

It was the early 23rd and I was just the latest turd
Of a miner to get dumped on Harkin's Moon.
I had finished my first shift and took the slow repulsor lift
Up to a weightless bar called Betsy's Grand Saloon.

We were sipping bulbs of beer in artificial atmosphere
And watching servers flit around that hollow space.
My hair still caked with sand, I said the place it sure was grand,
And my new buddies smirked and pointed 'cross the place.

"You see that mope sitting alone like some sad king up on his throne?"
They said. "That bastard is the grandest of the grand.
And if you go and ask him why and make it back, why, then we'll buy
Your drinks all night, and we'll know you're a real man."

But they said, they said, "You have to ask him, sucker,
How he ever got to be such a grand motherfucker."

And then they shoved me in the chest and I was drifting past the rest
Of all the patrons, and the place grew deathly silent.
And I could only stop my flight by grabbing on and holding tight
To that guy's table, and the look he flashed was violent.

Well, I was barely hanging on, my heart was banging like a gong,
And that guy said, "You got a question? Well, then ask it."
Before those hundred pairs of eyes, I had no witty, quick replies,
And though I knew it just might mean an early casket,

I said, "Sir, I don't mean to push my luck, uh...
But how'd you get to be such a grand muthafucka?"

The whole bar's sharp intake of breath was like a harbinger of death,
And I was ready for that mope to grab his blaster.
And though his eyes were filled with rage, I saw the clues to his true age,
The biomods that smoothed his skin to alabaster.

He said, "No one has asked in years, which makes you braver than your peers."
He raised a jeweled fist as if to call my bluff.
"What can you tell about this ring?" It was a massive, gleaming thing.
I said, "That's rhodium? I only mine the stuff."

He snapped his fingers, called for drinks. Amidst the hubbub and the clinks
Of glassware, flunkies Velcro'd me into a chair.
And he took his sad Manhattan from a server clad in satin,
And said, "I'm the one who pays for all this air.

"So if you came here for a kiss, it's time to pucker,
'Cause this is how I got to be this grand motherfucker."

And this is what he said. He said:

It was the mid 22nd,
I was second in my class,
Ph.D. in physics just within my grasp.
Trying to unravel time travel,
Testing theories in my lab.
Could I grab all the glory, Nobel Prize?
Built a model down to size, miniaturized,
Fusion-powered on my finger.
At the zero hour, fired up the power.
Blinding flash, blinked my eyes.
Where was I?
Found a paper and I found to my surprise
It was the late 21st.
I was the first to jump through time,
But the bubble shortly burst.
I pressed the button on my ring
To go back. Not a thing. All alone,
Stranded sixty years from home.

How to get back, back on track?
Hack a passage to the future,
Stitch a suture in the spacetime fabric.
Found my way to my old college,
Newer now, seeking knowledge
From the sages of the time.
Showed up during office hours
Of a prof named Dr. Powers,
Told my tale to his assistant,
Was insistent that she listen,
Saw her eyes glisten. Frisson
Of familiarity came over me,
there and gone, she was on the intercom.
She shook her head.
She said, "Professor regrets he
Can't see you, but I'm Betsy.
I'm on my way to lunch, but I've a hunch
A bunch of stuff I know could help,
If you let me."

So we talked. Physics.

Noon turned to evening,
Thoughts of leaving fled.
21st century's not so dead,
I was thinking in my head.
But Betsy was believing in my story.
Took the ring apart in her lab,
Put it back together
With some parts from inventory.
She touched my hand,
Said, "Let's test it in the morning."

And she took me home.
But not to sleep.

What more is there to tell? Hurt like hell
To say goodbye, but it worked well, the ring.
She really was a genius.
Safe but aching back at home,
22nd, my time, my apartment,
Walked in. I saw the photos on the wall.
There was my mother as a small girl.
A photo I had seen my whole life,
Like a knife stabbing, shook my head.
My hands were grabbing at the frame,
One name on my tongue,
'Cause holding my mom's hand
Was my brilliant Betsy.
Do you get the point yet?
But I'd known her best as Liz, see?
Grandma Liz. I grew dizzy,
And it hit me like a mountain,
Like a fountain of my DNA,
Circling recursively through time,
Cursèd strands that recombine
In a loop I can't escape, no extraction,
And it's real, it's no abstraction.
I'm a
grandmother fucker.

The bar was deathly still. There were still some gaps to fill,
Like how he'd traded patents for this lonely moon.
And all the rhodium we mined to fuel forays back in time
Went to the government. What they did no one knew.

He said, "I'll never leave this place 'cause I can never show my face
On the rock of my conception and my birth.
Five years, your contract expires and you'll head home to the spires
Of the place I'll never see again—the Earth!"

And he waved his jeweled hand, just a bitter, broken man,
And my pals they dragged me off to rent some tail.
But the girls in the brothel all wore 21st century costumes,
And I realized this moon was just a jail.

We're inmates trapped without the hope of succor
In the prison that's the mind of the Grand Motherfucker.

Crossposted from Inhuman Swill


William Shunn

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October 2014



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