We talked about my Mormon upbringing, how I tried to avoid writing a novel, what not to do when you're learning to write, and of course the strangest thing that ever happened to me. If could go back and do it over again, I'd tell myself to slow down and take a breath, but you can listen to my exhausting rush of words here:
UPDATE: Mark's funeral service will be Thursday, March 1, in Seattle. (Details here.) A less formal celebration of his life will be held in a few weeks.
Growing older comes with a lot of unexpected benefits. One of those benefits, though, is most definitely not the way that more and more good friends seem to leave this life before their time.
I was stunned yesterday to learn that Mark Bourne passed away on Saturday. Given his history of serious heart problems, I probably shouldn't have been, but you're never really prepared to hear that someone as young as he was has gone.
It's funny. I considered Mark a good friend, even though we only met in person a few times. I think the first time I ran across his name must have been in 1994, when he and I turned out to have come in 9th and 10th place in the balloting for Campbell Award nominations. Our first actual interaction came during an unfortunate online flamewar a few years later. I sent him a note of apology some months later, which he very graciously accepted. This was entirely to my good fortune, as he had no good reason to do so. It didn't take long before we were fast friends.
One occasion when we met in person was at the 2004 Nebula Award banquet in Seattle. Another was on a visit he and Elizabeth made to New York City. Laura and I took them out to Kabab Cafe in Astoria, and Mark talked about how amazing that evening was for the rest of the time that I knew him.
But as I said, mostly we were online friends. We used to trade short stories back and forth, point out great film and theater reviews (sometimes our own) to each other, and for as long as I was making them I used to mail him copies of my monthly CD mix discs. It wasn't that long ago that, having both written science fiction stories about stand-up comics, we started half-seriously batting around the idea of editing an anthology of such stories. I was also trying to persuade him to make Chicago a vacation destination in the near future so I could have him appear at the Tuesday Funk reading series. I'm sad that neither of those things are now going to happen.
If you knew Mark at all, you knew him as an inveterate punster. He was a master at that low art, and sometimes in the comments of our blog entries we would trade the most horrendous puns back and forth for as long as we could possibly sustain it. I hope and suspect he would forgive me for saying that a change for the better is the mark borne by everyone who knew him. I'll damn sure miss him.
We send all our sympathies to Elizabeth Bourne, whose loss is incalculable, and to everyone else who knew and loved him.
It's rare that I'm a) paying attention closely enough and b) on the ball enough to get myself out to one of the local science fiction conventions. Usually at the last minute people start asking me, "Hey, are you going to be at Whatevercon?" And I have to answer, "No, because I'm a dork," and kick myself for not having responded to the con's programming invitation months earlier.
That's why I have to boast about having actually made it out to Capricon 32 in Wheeling for half a day this past Saturday. Mind you, I still didn't get it together enough to get on any programming, but I did attend. I saw a couple of readings, I went to a couple of panels, and I saw Cory Doctorow's scary/hopeful/terrific keynote address "The Coming War on General Purpose Computation." Then, as these things tend to happen at cons, the rest of the items on my schedule went out the window as John Klima and Holly McDowell and I hung out in the bar with three proseccos and a plate of antipasti.
After a panel examining Occupy Wall Street and the Tea Party, I shanghai'd Cory and Klima and (welcome) surprise guest John Scalzi back to Chicago for a Mexican food outing with Laura, for whose sake everyone was (of course) willing to make the trek. We shared grilled calamari, and Scalzi ordered a mango shake that arrived in a goblet roughly the size of his head. Family and dog pictures were passed around. Much merriment was made.
Oh, I also ran into Steven Silver at Capricon, who extracted a promise from me that I wouldn't fail to sign up for Worldcon programming. So I'm going to go do that now. I swear.
Our friend Ali is on TV again. John Klima points me toward this clip from Jamie's American Road Trip, which just recently starting airing in the States. It features Jamie Oliver traveling from Manhattan to Queens to learn Egyptian cooking from Ali El Sayed of the celebrated Kabab Cafe:
(The actual arrival in Queens comes at about 3:28, and you can click here to jump straight there.)
I dragged a very willing Mr. Klima to Kabab Cafe back in 2008, when we both happened to be in New York, and a memorable night it was. If you find yourself in New York and want to get off the beaten path for a culinary adventure, the address is 25-12 Steinway Street in Astoria, Queens. Tell Ali that Bill from Chicago sent you.
TimeIn is a unique outreach program that introduces children from some of the most underserved and impoverished neighborhoods in NYC to the arts through activities such as hands on classes, sketching at museums and galleries and listening to opera.
Please make this the first of your 2012 tax deductible donations and enjoy hors d'oeuvres, bespoke cocktails and a live auction of works including my own Cherry Biter No. 12 as well as works by Takashi Murakami, William Wegman, Nick Cave and many more!
My friend Scott Swanson passed away on January 11, 2010. He had battled a severe heart defect his entire life, and in fact his poor circulation made it so that he could never walk very fast in the time that I knew him. Complications from those heart problems eventually took his life. He was 36.
I first met Scott in 1998, when I joined the online department at the Children's Television Workshop in New York City. (Our group were the ones who built the Sesame Street website.) I was one of the programmers, while Scott was essentially our IT department. He scared me at first. His tolerance for stupidity was low, and his tongue was as scathing as his wit, and I admit I bore the brunt of both as I learned the ropes at CTW. But before long we discovered a large set of geeky mutual interests, and that in turn led to a genuine friendship.
Scott was pained and bitter in a lot of ways, especially when it came to matters of the figurative heart, an area in which he never got particularly good treatment. (By contrast, his medical treatment was probably the best anyone could have received.) But underneath the gruffness, it was not hard to to see that he was one of the most caring people around, who took more responsibility for the people around him than certainly his job required.
We quickly discovered that we shared an affinity for good food and good scotch, which left both our pockets poorer. I don't know how many times we popped downstairs for decadant lunches at one of the obscenely overpriced restaurants around Lincoln Center. We were also, like the rest of the tech crew, obsessed with celebrity sightings (as Andrew Lienhard has documented in his remembrance of Scott). I remember once going out for a cup of coffee, alone, when Scott was having a particularly bad day at work. On the way back I saw, across from the back entrance to our building on West 64th, something that made me call him from my cell phone and tell him he had to meet me downstairs stat. When he joined me on the sidewalk a few minutes later, I pointed across the street to where Kevin Spacey was eating, alone, at a table outside a fancy Irish pub we often frequented. Scott's mood instantly brightened.
The online tech crew at Childrens Television Workshop, circa 1999. Standing (l. to r.): Scott Bernstein, Bill Shunn. Seated: Scott Swanson, Dasha Snyder, Leland Woodbury, Vineel Shah, Chuck Fletcher. Not pictured: Andrew Lienhard, Rob Molchon. Photo by Andrew Lienhard.
Scott loved New York City. He lived way out in Queens with a fiancée until their engagement broke up. It perhaps wasn't the soundest financial decision, but that event prompted him to move to Manhattan and rent a high-rise apartment a couple of blocks from our office. As long as he was living in New York, he said, he wanted to live in the very heart of it where it was easier for him to take advantage of everything it offered. (Punning off his last name, one of his many online handles was swansong. He never expected to live a long life, so he tended to treat each new aspect of it as if it would be his swan song.) Many times I joined him and other friends in that tiny studio apartment to drink scotch and watch sci-fi movies on his giant screen television. His stereo system kicked major ass.
Eventually, though, Sesame Workshop (as it by then was known) laid most of us off, one by one. Scott had always envied the spirit of romantic adventure he saw in the way I'd abandoned everything to move from Utah to New York City in 1995, so, for better or worse, I somewhat unwillingly helped encourage him to abandon everything and move to Arizona, where he jumped into an ill-fated marriage. (Later a small crew of his school chums would drive to Arizona and physically extricate him from that situation.)
Scott ended up back in Chicago, where he was originally from, living with his mother and stepfather. He took a full-time job at the Illinois Mathematics and Science Academy (IMSA) in Aurora, which is where he'd gone to high school. I think he was probably as happy there as he'd ever been, and that's where he ended up doing some of his most important work. Unfortunately, he and I had fallen out of touch by then. One of the bonds we'd shared had been our vehement atheism, but during his time out west he had acquired a new set of spiritual beliefs and practices that I found difficult to understand, so much so that it was hard for me to be around him, even though those beliefs clearly brought him some measure of peace.
This was entirely to my own detriment, and it's my one big regret about our friendship. Laura and I had lived in Chicago for two years before I finally got over myself enough to drop by his family's apartment and pay him a visit. As soon as I walked through the door, I wished I'd done it two years sooner. Scott's physical condition had deteriorated so much since the previous time I'd seen him that I barely recognized him. He was gaunt, skeletal even. He was working remotely by then, no longer able to make the commute to IMSA. We started getting back on track that day. In a painful irony, he told me that I was one of the only people he trusted to talk about his spiritual beliefs with.
Sadly, the next time I saw him was in the hospital. It was also the last time I saw him. He was surrounded by a seemingly unending flow of his friends, coworkers, and schoolmates from IMSA, which was the place that provided him with the majority of the close relationships of his life. For the week or more he was there in that bed, I don't think he was ever without the companionship of his mother and at least a few IMSA friends. He is, in fact, now memorialized at IMSA with the Scott Swanson Fund for Transformative Student Learning and Innovation. I know that technology transformed Scott's life and opened up a world of possibilities he might not otherwise have had.
I meant to write this remembrance of Scott two years ago, but it was too hard. I've never forgotten that I needed to, though, and I got an added push a couple of months ago when I ran into his mother at a Mexican restaurant near our place, where I was picking up a takeout order. It was very strange seeing Gail in a context where the connective tissue that was the only reason we knew each other no longer existed. I promised myself that I wouldn't let another anniversary of Scott's passing pass without making note of some of my memories of him.
Scott was a good man, as you can tell if you scan some of the links in this post. Despite the hand his body dealt him, he had a good heart. He was a good friend to me, and I miss him.
So there's this meme going around on Facebook where you give someone an age and they write about their life that year. I was given 29.
29 ... 1996-1997. Probably one of my most transformative yet miserable years. It was my second year living in NYC, my second year out of the Mormon church, and everything about life in the city was exciting. I landed the job that year, at N2K Entertainment, that introduced me to some of the best friends of my life and set me on the path to success as a web developer. My desperate financial situation began to turn around. I was plowing like mad through books on Mormon history, gaining the foundation I needed to eventually write my memoir, and gaining as reputation as one of the angriest and most outspoken ex-Mormons on the web. But I was also living in Brooklyn with a sociopathic girlfriend who gave me none of the support I needed to get any writing done. That should have been the year I threw her out, but I was still insecure enough to think I wasn't going to be able to make it in New York on my own. The end of that year, my 30th birthday party at Mooney's Pub on Flatbush, was one of the best nights of my life that far, mostly because it showed me how many friends I'd made that year. You were there, and you, and you, and you. And you too!
Laura and I were in San Diego a coupla three weeks ago for the World Fantasy Convention. (Yes, it was awesome to see you there too!) When we arrived, she was immediately captivated by the natural beauty of the area, and by the weather. "Ooooh, do you think they have a good business community here?" she asked. "Maybe we can move here."
You have to understand that neither of us is entirely sold on Chicago, still, though it's hard to pin down a precise source of dissatisfaction. We moved here four years ago from New York City. Laura got a great job right off the bat, and recently she started an even better one. We have a great apartment. And, I host a monthly reading series at a nearby bar, which means I meet a lot of local writers.
True, we've been slow to make close friends here, and our close-friend roster is still weighted heavily with New Yorkers, but that's starting to come along. For a while it was the case that we would make a very close friend here and then they would move out of Chicago, very far away, but that trend seems to be reversing. Now people we know are moving to Chicago, which is an encouraging development. And Worldcon is here next year!
Nevertheless, there's some undefinable thing that still nags at us, so I said to Laura, "You should talk to gregvaneekhout this weekend and see what he thinks of living in San Diego."
It so happened that I ran into Greg first that weekend, at a bar (natch). I said to him, "Hey, Laura's thinking San Diego might be a nice place to live. If you see her, she wants to bend your ear about it."
I thought Greg might say something like Hey, that's great or Awesome, man, but instead he looked a little pained. "I don't know," he said. "It's great here, but I see you on Twitter. You guys are always out doing something cool in Chicago. All the time. I honestly don't think there's enough going on here for you."
My first reaction was, hmm, we're not out doing cool stuff that often. But on Monday this week I was thinking about it. On the preceding Tuesday night, I'd gone to the University of Chicago with some friends to see a panel discussion about the place of the Chicago Manual of Style in the internet era, which included two editors of the manual plus Ben Zimmer and Jason Riggle. (I might have annoyed you with all my tweeting that night.) On Wednesday night, I'd gone to a screening of Jodi Lennon's short film Marc Maron: The Voice of Something, about Maron trying to find a way to do worthwhile standup comedy the week after 9/11. On Thursday night, I'd met with my writing group at a local bar and brainstormed ideas for Holly McDowell's novel. On Friday night, Laura and I had gone to a housewarming party at the apartment of some friends who had finally managed to unload their old condo. On Saturday night, Laura and I had gone to the fifth anniversary party for the Writers Workspace, which is where I do a lot of my writing away from home. And on Sunday night we'd gone to Grant Achatz's Aviary, site of our tenth wedding anniversary outing, for a release party for the new cookbook from Eleven Madison Park (my second favorite restaurant in New York, behind only Kabab Cafe). (Chef Daniel Humm personalized our copy!)
Six nights of cool stuff in a row. Hmm. Maybe Greg was right.
Don't worry, Chicago. No matter what happens, we wouldn't be in a position to leave anytime soon. In the meantime, I should probably learn to accept the fact that this really is my kind of town.
My friend Mark Worthen (nitewanderer) passed away unexpectedly yesterday. He was a horror, crime, and science fiction writer who worked tirelessly behind the scenes of the Stoker Awards for the Horror Writers Association and also served as HWA's webmaster. I wandered around in dark fog yesterday after hearing the news. I can't believe he's gone.
I first met Mark in 1993 when I joined a writing group called Xenobia in Provo, Utah. He was only a few years older than I was, and we bonded over a certain darkness and irreverence in our fiction and our worldviews. I wouldn't have expected it back then, but he's the person from that group that I stayed in closest touch with over the years. Through one circumstance or another, we both ended up moving out of Utah around the same time and leaving some misunderstandings behind. That was another thing to bond over, the feeling that we were outcasts and exiles.
While I went to New York City, Mark's path took him to South Korea. He was a brilliant linguist and specialized in teaching ESL. I was amazed by his adventurousness, but he had lived in Europe and South America already and from the stories he told later he took full advantage of his time in Asia.
Next I heard from him, he was in the Midwest, Missouri to be precise, with the love of his life, J.P. Edwards. It was probably around then that Mark asked if I'd contribute a story to his new online horror magazine Blood Rose (one of the earlier of its kind). I did, and actually ended up hosting the website for him (which I still do). It wasn't much later that I found myself traveling to Jefferson City for Mark and Jeannie's wedding, and found him happier than I'd ever known him.
I didn't see much of Mark in person, though a visit he and Jeannie made to New York for World Horror is particularly memorable, as is the trek we made to Kabab Cafe in Queens. I don't do a great job of staying in touch with my friends, but somehow Mark wouldn't let me get away with dropping off the face of the earth. Months would go by and then he would call or email or text or DM me, often to ask if he could run a story or novel fragment past me, or if he could get a sanity check about one thing or another. Then we'd catch up all in a flurry, bitch about the universe in general, and fall out of touch again for while. We talked about getting together in Chicago, since somehow I'd ended up in the Midwest too, but we never managed to make it happen.
One of the most excited messages I ever got from him was this past spring, when he'd just discovered that his story "Final Draft" was going to make the shortlist for the Stoker Award. He gave a lot of quiet effort to HWA, and it was thrilling to see him get recognition from his peers in front of the scenes for the thing he loved doing most.
I can't believe I'm never going to get another unexpected text message from Mark asking what I'm working on. I can't believe he's the one who dropped off the face of the earth this time. That's not the way it's supposed to work.