Log in

Is there a religious equivalent to the term "civil disobedience"? As in, a term for defying one's church leaders when you find their edicts unjust or immoral? Something more warm-sounding than "heresy"?

Oh, well. For lack of a better term, I'd like to challenge a Mormon bishop to commit heresy.

Before I get to that, I'd like to talk about the Boy Scouts for a minute. I was very happy last month that the LDS Church decided not to sever its ties with the Boy Scouts of America over the issue of permitting troop sponsors to allow openly gay men to serve as Scoutmasters.

The church sponsors about 37% of all Scout troops in the country. Pulling out would have dealt the organization a crippling blow. And Scouting does a lot of good for boys, not the least of this being that it encourages them to geek out.

Yes, Scouting is all about geeking out. And geeking out, when you get down to it, is all about immersing yourself in a subject or activity and learning how it works. Taken as a whole, with all the different merit badges offered, this means that Scouting is really about learning how the world works.

Unfortunately, until very recently, Scouting implicitly taught that one way the world works is that gays are dangerous monsters who will somehow harm you by association. The fact that the organization has begun taking steps to change that message is wonderful. The fact that the LDS Church decided to stick with the Scouts even so is, at the very least, decent.

Because the way the world really works is that you will grow up to work alongside gay people in the office. You will live alongside gay people in your community. Yes, you will even worship alongside gay people at church. And you may even realize at some point that you, yourself, are a gay person. If you came of age in an organization that teaches you gay people must be shunned and feared, you are ill-equipped to live responsibly in the real world as a good citizen.

Scouting is at long last catching up to that fact.

I'll get to the bishops in another minute or so, I promise, but first I want to talk about lobbying churches for social change.

On one level, I truly do not understand why anyone would try. It has long been my point of view that, when you can't live with your church's teachings, you leave that church, and if you find that church's teachings harmful and morally repugnant enough, you try to encourage other unhappy people to leave that church too. That's an effort I spent several years of my life vocally engaged in, and which I still support.

Some churches are naturally more tolerant and progressive than others, and lobbying for change in how gay members are treated makes sense. But when it comes to behemoths like the LDS Church, which claims to have direct authority from God, it seems to me that efforts toward change from within are doomed. After all, if God said yesterday that homosexual behavior is a sin, and today he says that it is not, then all the power and authority it claims over its members is undermined—and the Mormon church wields a huge amount of power and authority over its members.

However, in the past couple of years it has begun to dawn on me why it's so important to agitate for change from within. Regardless of whether or not I think Mormonism is true, it is a the source of social attitudes for a significant number of people. If all the dissidents leave, then the church only consolidates its stranglehold on the people who stay. The only way to truly achieve broad change is to speak out, act boldly, and demand change from within. The more people's beliefs are challenged, the more they hear alternative voices speaking, the more ideas of tolerance and moderation spread. The culture within the church begins to soften.

We've already seen this start to happen, with the church essentially being forced to admit that simply being gay is not a sin. It's also worth pointing out that change has happened in the church many times in the past as a result of societal pressures, in everything from the practice of polygamy to the ordination of blacks to the removal of uncomfortable parts of the temple ceremonies.

Social and societal attitudes do matter within the Mormon church. They do bring about change, even if it's slow and small.

Which brings me to my challenge. I'd like to see brave gesture from a man who truly believes in tolerance that can demonstrate to the church that gay people are not to be feared. That gay people are welcome in church and in the community. That even if church doctrine doesn't fully embrace them, at least the kind, Christian people of the church can.

I don't expect to see same-sex couples getting married in Mormon temples any time soon. However, Mormon bishops can and do perform civil weddings in regular Mormon meetinghouses.

I would like to see a bishop stand up and become a hero for heresy—or let us call it "ceremonial disobedience" instead. I'd like to see this bishop become as much of a symbol for forward-looking tolerance and love as Kim Davis has become a symbol for reactionary retrenchment and hate.

The law does not compel churches to perform same-sex marriages. But it certainly now allows them to, if they want.

I want to see a Mormon bishop marry a same-sex couple in a Mormon church.

Maybe this has already happened. If so, I'd like to hear about it and publicize it.

If not, it needs to happen. What brave bishop will rise to the challenge? Who will stand up for what he knows deep-down is the right thing to do. The American thing to do. Who will show that Mormon church walls, rather than keeping the world out, are more suited to keeping hatred and division out instead?

Maybe it's Bishop Steve Smith of the Astoria Ward in Queens, New York, where I live. Maybe not. But maybe it should be. That would be cool.

Mormon same-sex couples—ask your bishop to marry you in a Mormon chapel. What can it hurt? And look how much it could help.

Bishops, find your hearts. Find some guts. Show us what you're made of.

I know you're out there, Bishop. We're all waiting to meet you.

Crossposted from Inhuman Swill
Good news, Accidental Army! (That's what I've been calling you in my head for some time now. I hope you don't mind.) Last night I reviewed and approved final proofs from my printer, and I placed the first official order for The Accidental Terrorist. Printing is underway! The first copies should reach me in a week or so.

If you pre-ordered the signed hardcover, I'll probably be spending the bulk of my remaining evenings this month stuffing books into boxes and padded envelopes and getting them back out in the mail. I'm going to start with those of you who are farthest away—yes, that means you, Rev. Ould!—working my way through the buyer list from the U.K. to Canada to the West Coast and so on, with my fellow New Yorkers saved for last. That way, hopefully everyone will get their orders at about the same time.

God, I can't wait to get these books to you. Thanks for being so patient, friends.

And speaking of books, my publicist received a blurb last night that was just a smidgen too late to make the cover, but you can be sure I'll find a way to squeeze a portion of it onto a later printing. One of the many humiliating aspects of a writer's life is the necessity of begging (ahem, or of having one's publicist beg) one's writerly friends and acquaintances to read your little book and then possibly maybe, if it isn't too much of an inconvenience and of course only if they feel like they can do so honestly and free of compulsion, to proffer a tiny blurb in support.

Well, I feel very fortunate in the blurbs my memoir has received so far, and now I feel doubly fortunate to have an exceedingly kind one in hand from the amazing and gracious Kristine Kathryn Rusch.

Kris has been such a presence and master and force of nature on the genre scene for so long that you might find it startling to hear that she and I first became acquainted thirty years ago, before either of us had sold any fiction. Today, Kris has published so many dozens of novels in so many genres under so many names and won so many awards that it seems impossible that she hasn't always been around, like air. She also has one of the sharpest heads for the business of writing and publishing that you will ever encounter.

But yes, there we both were with fifteen other eager and terrified students at the Clarion Writers Workshop at Michigan State University in 1985. I was only seventeen at the time, and while my Clarion experiences for the most part did not make it into the final draft of my memoir, the influence of it certainly hovers in the background of the whole narrative, at least for me.

Anyway, enough of my blather. Here's what Kris had to say about The Accidental Terrorist:

“I met William Shunn before the events described in this book took place. While I've heard bits and pieces of the tale over the years, I never knew the entire story. Nor did I have any real idea what Bill had been thinking at the time. The Accidental Terrorist provides the complete story and puts it into an essential context. In addition, the book grabs you on page one and never lets go. Fantastically written, beautifully paced, The Accidental Terrorist reads like a novel instead of a memoir. Only in novel form, no one would have ever believed these events could have happened. Believe it. William Shunn lived every word of this book. That he can share it so eloquently is a tribute not just to his writing skill, but his strengths as a human being.”
—Kristine Kathryn Rusch, USA Today bestselling author
Believe it or not, Kris was also the editor who gave me my first break in the science fiction field. By the time my stuff was approaching publishable levels, she had already succeeded Ed Ferman as editor of The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction, and it was Kris who bought my first published short story. I guess what I'm saying is that she's been very generous to me over the years, but she's still a tough enough editor and critic that I know she's not blowing smoke when she says she likes something. So this blurb is very precious to me indeed.

Crossposted from Inhuman Swill
So I had dinner the other night with Paul Witcover, the brilliant speculative fiction writer whose books you should be reading—and who happens to be copy-editing The Accidental Terrorist for me. I'm happy to report that he reported he was well over halfway through the book.

William Shunn, photographed by Colin Poellot at SingleCut Beersmiths, Sunday, August 16, 2015
In fact, last night Paul emailed me what he had so far so I could get started on my corrections. It turns out he's more like 80% of the way through.

What does that mean? It means we're very close, kids. We're very close to having an absolutely finished book. It means we're probably about a week away from when I can place my order for the first batch of hardcovers, and that means I will absolutely be getting signed books out to my gracious early supporters before the end of September. I couldn't be more delighted.

Colin Poellot, photographed by William Shunn at SingleCut Beersmiths, Friday, August 7, 2015
In other book news, what you see above is my more-or-less-official author photo for the book jacket. It was taken by my friend Colin Poellot, quite an accomplished photographer. We have a couple of his prints hanging on our walls, and we thought he'd be the perfect choice for a jacket photo.

We were right, of course, but funny story. Colin does much of his shooting on film with an entirely mechanical Mamiya C330F. On two different days, with Laura assisting, we ventured out into parks and cityscapes for what can only be described as full-on photo shoots. At the end of the second session, after all the film was exhausted, Colin and I were sitting at SingleCut Beersmiths in our neighborhood in Queens, enjoying a couple of fresh brews, when he rather quietly stood up and took a few shots with his iPhone.

I wasn't really paying much attention when he did it. And while many of the film shots turned out very well, everyone who weighed in agreed that the best of the bunch was the one above. So that's the one we're using.

Crossposted from Inhuman Swill
The articles are beginning to pile up in my queue again, so it's time to clear them out and fill you in on some of the fascinating things happening in the world of Mormonism...

What do Utah Mormons have in common with the Orthodox Jews of Brooklyn? According to this fascinating Time article by Jon Birger, both religious communities are in matchmaking turmoil thanks to an excess of single women.

The wide-ranging piece is excerpted from Birger's new book Date-onomics: How Dating Became a Lopsided Numbers Game, and it explains how the gender imbalance has arisen in both populations, and what unexpected consequences have followed.

Along the way it touches on such topics as Mormon apostasy rates, breast implant rates in Utah, the lowered age for Mormon mission service, anorexia among Orthodox women, skyrocketing dowries, how Hasidic Jews have avoided the Orthodox "Shidduch crisis," and why religious leaders scolding young people only makes a bad situation worse.

While the piece makes it sound like Birger focused on these two religious communities because their demographics support his pet theories about dating, this is still an absorbing article full of unexpected insights. I highly recommend it.

And dating is not all that's disrupted in the state of Utah. This article from The Salt Lake Tribune looks at the effect the lowered ages for mission service is having on Utah's universities, as the first wave of younger missionaries now arrive home and dive back into college.

I'll probably have more to say about this soon, but The Salt Lake Tribune reported last week on a new study showing that a large majority of Utah Mormons think their church should drop its connection to the Boy Scouts of America, now that the organization is allowing local sponsors to decide for themselves whether or not to allow openly gay men to serve as scoutmasters.

Since more than a third of Boy Scout troops are sponsored by the church, such a move could cripple or even kill Scouting, period. But hey, I guess tolerance and acceptance are only important when you're asking for them for yourself.

[UPDATE: And such a move is now off the table. As I was preparing this post, I saw the good news that the Mormon Church will retain its ties with Scouting.]

And finally, in Mormon personalities, meet Lucky Blue Smith, a home-schooled Mormon teenage boy who also happens to be a top model with more than 1.3 million followers on Instagram. His rabid fans around the world trade tips on Twitter about where he's likely to pop up next, leading to mob scenes reminiscent of Beatlemania. But despite the soapbox this might give him, what's the one subject he and his family won't discuss with the press? Their religion.

Crossposted from Inhuman Swill

Books and reviewers and blurbs, oh my!

I've been making Stamps.com work overtime as I mail out a ton of advance reading copies of The Accidental Terrorist, and it's beginning to pay off. My little book—okay, okay, it's not so little—is attracting some crucial early bits of critical attention.

Most gratifying, the first actual review to be posted appears at the web site of the Association for Mormon Letters. The AML is a pretty important organization out west for promoting LDS-related titles, and with a book like mine I was rather nervous about what their reaction would be. But reviewer Richard Packham turned out to be a most sympathetic reader. You can read his review in full here.

I have a couple of advance quotes in hand as well, so the blurbs that will appear on the cover are beginning to take shape. They will likely consist of the three quotes below, though I'll have to do more compressing so the cover isn't overwhelmed by text:

“This just may be my favorite true-life amazing-but-true tale—never has threatening an aircraft been funnier or more thought-provoking.”
—Cory Doctorow, author of Little Brother and Homeland

“I devoured the more than four hundred pages of this memoir in what was essentially one sitting . . . Yes, it was that gripping. . . . This memoir is a welcome addition to the library of Mormon autobiography—educational and highly entertaining.”
—Richard Packham, Association for Mormon Letters

The Accidental Terrorist provides vivid glimpses into the American phenomenon of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. . . . You will read few other books as smart, funny, honest, and heartbreaking as [this], and I unreservedly recommend it to you as both a home-grown cautionary tale and a highly original coming-of-age saga.”
—Michael Bishop, author of Ancient of Days and editor of A Cross of Centuries

I think that's a pretty broad and excellent trifecta, myself. Okay, okay—yes, I'm bouncing up and down on the inside. I'm more eager than ever to get this book out and into your hands.

Crossposted from Inhuman Swill
Not many people outside of Utah may be aware of it, but a controversy is brewing—and it has to do with Mormon underwear.

Specifically, it has to do with the portrayal of Mormon underwear on network television. As reported by Scott D. Pierce of The Salt Lake Tribune, next month's premiere episode of the new ABC series "Quantico" will feature a scene in which a young FBI recruit appears on screen in only his "garments," the sacred underclothes that many Mormons wear next to their skin.

Why is this controversial? It's not like garments are very racy, since they're meant to cover the body from the shoulders to the knees. (I, in fact, find them downright offputting, though I'm sure garments have their fetishists.) The problem is that most Mormons consider garments—which are stitched with arcane though unobtrusive symbols meant to remind the wearer of covenants made in the temple—to be sacred, and not intended for the prying eyes of outsiders.

This apparent secretiveness and sensitivity about garments has made them ripe for mockery. Most people, even if they know nothing else about the church, "know" that Mormons wear "magic underwear" to protects them from physical and spiritual harm. One of the most frequent questions I get, in fact, when someone finds out I'm a former Mormon, is: "Is it true about the magic underwear?"

Mormon"s Secret Men"s Magical Mesh Top
Mormons first don their garments during a solemn washing and anointing ceremony in the temple that is a prelude to the even more solemn "endowment" ceremony. I myself can testify to the power and significance with which these rituals imbue the garments. I went through my first endowment in 1986. By 1995 I was several years into a slow slide out of the church, but a kind of terror over the state of my soul had not yet allowed me to feel safe about not wearing my garments.

I was living in Seattle that summer, and I went to see a local production of Tony Kushner's play "Angels in America." A lot of the politics of it went over my head, but what I remember to this day is how shocked and disturbed I was to see a Mormon character appear on stage in just his garments.

Sacrilege! I thought, my stomach in knots. Blasphemy!

I wrestled for weeks with my reaction to that casual moment in the play, so I can understand why Mormons now are reacting with concern and disquiet to the prospect of seeing garments portrayed on "Quantico." They don't want what is sacred to them held up to ridicule and mockery.

But the problem with that attitude is twofold. First, I doubt the producers of the series are intending any mockery or sacrilege. They're simply trying to offer a realistic portrayal of a Mormon in a normal, everyday situation.

Second, the garments are already a subject for ridicule. The very secrecy and mystery around them is what makes them ripe for mockery. The only way to defuse that is to make them less mysterious. And the only way to do that is to tolerate open discussion about them, which includes portrayals in popular culture.

Open, respectful discussion, in fact, is probably what the Mormon Church had in mind last year when it released an informational video about garments on its web site. The topic is out there. Even the church has had to admit that it's not practical to keep its garments entirely hidden, even if it's still trying to control the narrative.

Taboo areas like this are why, I think, Mormons as a people have been so slow to develop a literature, theater, and cinema that are accessible to general audiences and can stand with the best works those fields produce. Unlike works by, say, Catholics or Jews, what does break through tends to come from artists who have put themselves entirely outside of Mormon practice and society.

The tendency within the church is to expect that works by and about Mormons can only be valuable insofar as they are instructive or uplifting. This discourages artists from tackling taboo subjects (unless it's from a doctrinaire standpoint), or even from mentioning sacred cows such as garments. This approach does not produce art—it produces propaganda, not to mention an unwillingness to engage with or even tolerate depictions of "sacred" subjects. This is an insularity that only feeds back on itself.

Nor is this just a problem for the consumers of art. The fear of audience censure may prevent otherwise worthwhile works from even being created, or at least from achieving their full power. When I was writing the first draft of The Accidental Terrorist, I had already been out of the church and out of Utah for a few years, but still I did not want to write about my experience of the endowment ceremony. Not only did I fear offending family and friends and alienating potential readers, but those experiences, however scarring, were so deeply internalized as sacred and unmentionable (see what I did there?) that I felt dread every time I contemplated committing them to paper. I did everything I could to find a way around it.

In the end, the book won, as it probably always should. The endowment was a signature experience in my life, and there was no way for me to tell my story honestly and make it understandable without attempting to portray that. Sacred and oath-bound or not, it had to be in there for the story I needed to tell to make sense.

If it seems like we've strayed far from the topic of weirdly unrevealing underwear on television, we really haven't. Mormons often complain about being misunderstood. Well, if they really want the rest of us to understand them, then sometimes that means letting us see them with their pants down.

Crossposted from Inhuman Swill

Calgary Herald, February 24, 1987

Bomb threat sends crews into action

Photograph from Calgary Herald, February 24, 1987. (Click image to return.)

Crossposted from Terror on Flight 789
They call me the working man by William Shunn, on Flickr
I started a full-time job on Monday, my first in eight years, so I haven't had much spare time for the progress report I've been intending to make. But today is my birthday, dammit, so I'm taking the time to check in.

Everything is on schedule with The Accidental Terrorist. Revisions are all done. My copy editor is copy-editing. (Hi, Paul!) Uncorrected ARCs have started making their way out to reviewers (and potential blurbers), and in fact we've already heard back from one who says a "very positive review" will be forthcoming. Shh.

Pre-orders for the signed hardcover edition are now closed. To everyone who ordered one, I'm happy to report that it looks like I'll be able to get everyone's books out to them before the end of September. To everyone else, the regular editions have begun showing up for pre-order on Amazon. I'm hoping they'll soon be listed on Indiebound too.

I'm beginning to get a bit of travel squared away too. With the new job, I won't make it to as many places as I had hoped, but it looks like things are lining up for me to get to Salt Lake City in October for the Exmormon Foundation Conference and Chicago in November for Tuesday Funk.

So that's the latest! The books look really, really good so far, if I do say so myself. Less than three months left before they start making their way out into the world. Hurry up and get here, November 10th! Hurry!

Crossposted from Inhuman Swill

Joseph Smith's "capital" idea

As I was working through the very final set of revisions on The Accidental Terrorist, I had to hunt down the original source of a well-known Joseph Smith quote on the topic of the accuracy of the Bible. I found what I was looking for in his History of the Church, but I also found a nearby paragraph that was equally interesting.

Joseph was obviously frustrated by the persecution he and his people had been suffering, and was perhaps even more frustrated by his inability to get protection or redress from the courts, or even much sympathy from President Martin Van Buren in a face-to-face 1840 meeting. In Volume VI, Chapter 3 of History of the Church, he wrote:

The Constitution should contain a provision that every officer of the Government who should neglect or refuse to extend the protection guaranteed in the Constitution should be subject to capital punishment; and then the president of the United States would not say, "Your cause is just, but I can do nothing for you," a governor issue exterminating orders, or judges say, "The men ought to have the protection of law, but it won't please the mob; the men must die, anyhow, to satisfy the clamor of the rabble; they must be hung, or Missouri be damned to all eternity." Executive writs could be issued when they ought to be, and not be made instruments of cruelty to oppress the innocent, and persecute men whose religion is unpopular.

Think about that for a minute. The death penalty for failing to protect everyone's rights under the Constitution. Can you imagine the irony had Joseph's fancy become an actual amendment? Can you imagine the implications for the attorney generals and county clerks who refused to issue marriage certificates to same-sex couples? Can you imagine the implications for district attorneys who failed to indict white officers for shooting black civilians?

Clearly this is a ridiculous idea. But I find it fascinating that Mormonism's founder felt disenfranchised enough to commit it to paper. I wonder what he would have made of the civil rights fights of our day? Would he have realized his church should really be on the same side as today's crusaders for equality?

Probably not. But it's fun to think about. Probably as fun as it was for him to think about men like Van Buren or Governor Lilburn Boggs of Missouri swinging from a hangman's rope.

Crossposted from Inhuman Swill

Indenting paragraphs without the tab key

A reader writes to ask:

I want to submit a novel manuscript to a small press in the US and their guidelines say "indented, not tabbed."

What's the difference? Usually I just hit the tab key once. Should I be doing something else?

I have Word Starter 2010, and I can't see any distinction between "indent" and "tab."

How do I make sure I'm indenting and not tabbing? If I'm tabbing, how do I change it to indent?

This is an excellent question, and I'm sure the cause of much confusion among word-processing novices. There is in fact a distinction between tabbing and indenting—or rather, it might be more accurate to say that tabbing is only one way to indent a paragraph. I will try to explain a method for indenting paragraphs that makes your document more portable* and easier for your publisher to use.

Paragraph formatting box from Microsoft Word 2010
Back in the Stone Age, when we still used typewriters, there were two ways to indent a paragraph. You could hit the space bar five times at the start of your first line, or you could set up a tab stop half an inch in from your left margin and just hit the tab key once. "Tab" is short for "tabular," because tab stops were useful for helping a typist arrange figures in tables.

You can still use the tab key in your word processor, but that's not the best way to indent a paragraph. Using the tab key inserts an actual invisible tab character into your text, which can mess up the formatting later when your publisher tries to reformat your document for publication.

It's better to apply paragraph formatting to your document. This means defining a set formatting rules that get applied to all paragraphs in your document. One of these rules should be that the first line of each paragraph gets automatically indented half an inch.

In Word 2010, you can do this very easily before you even start to type the first paragraph of your story. Simply put the cursor on the line where you're going to start typing, then go the Home tab in the ribbon and click Paragraph to bring up the paragraph formatting dialog box.

As you can see in the accompanying graphic, there are two important settings you'll want to apply to your paragraph. Under Indentation, set Special to "First line" and By to 0.5". Under Spacing, set Line spacing to "Double." Click OK, and these formatting rules will be applied to this paragraph and to every paragraph you type after it (assuming you don't change the formatting of a later paragraph).

The advantage of using this method is that you never need to use the tab key to indent a paragraph—each one is indented automatically. This keeps extraneous tab characters out of your document, and makes it easier for your publisher to apply her own formatting rules to your story or novel when it's time to get it into print.

Now, for a pro tip, you can take this idea one step further and define a basic paragraph "style" for your document, so that all your regular paragraphs get this same formatting applied automatically—and so that you can easily change that formatting for all paragraphs at once. I'll talk more about that in a future post, but for now if you're eager to learn about styles, check out the PC World article "10 Microsoft Word Style Secrets" by Helen Bradley.

One last thing. You also asked how to change over from using tabs if your manuscript is already full of them.

This is going to take a couple of steps. First, do a find and replace in your manuscript for the text ^t. (That's a caret, which you'll probably find above the 6 on your keyboard, followed by a lowercase letter t. No period.) This special character sequence will match all tabs in your document. Choose Replace All, and all the tabs in your document will vanish.

This will make your manuscript look pretty strange, so next place your cursor in one of your regular paragraphs and apply the indentation formatting as indicated above. When that paragraph looks correct, place your cursor in it again and right-click (or whatever the equivalent is if you're on a Mac). This will bring up a pop-up menu. Choose Styles from this menu, then choose Update Normal to Match Selection. Assuming that you haven't messed around with any of the document styles, this will more than likely apply the same indented formatting to all the paragraphs in your manuscript (that is, to all the paragraphs which already use the "Normal" style, which is probably all of them).

*By "portable," I don't mean easily carried. I mean setting up your document so that it can be exported more cleanly into other formats.

Crossposted from Proper Manuscript Format


William Shunn

Latest Month

October 2015



RSS Atom
Powered by LiveJournal.com