Inhuman Swill : Podcasts

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.

ShunnCast #56

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Epidode #56 of "ShunnCast" is now available, in which Bill urges you with all urgency to support the Glitter & Madness Kickstarter campaign, then rewards you with a reading of his story "Care and Feeding of Your Piano."

http://www.shunn.net/podcast?id=56

ep29cover600x600.jpg My good friend Cesar Torres recently had me on Episode 29 of "The Labyrinth," his fine podcast about the strange and unusual.

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:

Cesar and I are in a writing group called Error of Judgment together. He has also interviewed our fellow workshoppers Eden Robins and Holly McDowell, plus lots of other fascinating people. Check it out.

I'm in New York City today to hang out with writers, editors, and agents at the annual SFWA Reception for Industry Professionals, so maybe it's an appropriate day to post this radio interview. Gary K. Wolfe and I appeared this past Thursday night on WGN's "Extension 720 with Milt Rosenberg" to talk about science fiction, not to mention the new Library of America collection American Science Fiction: Nine Classic Novels of the 1950s which Gary edited.

We had a great time talking with Milt Rosenberg. You can listen to WGN's podcast of the interview online at WGNRadio.com, or hear the two segments of the show embedded below. Commercials and news breaks deleted!

10:00 - 11:00 p.m.  (43:59)

11:00 p.m. - midnight  (41:48)

UPDATE!  After this blog entry was written, I emailed the text of it to John Hodgman on a whim. A few hours later, to my surprise, I received a response. His Honor told me he would endure my "gut punches" if I disagreed with him, but that I should not ask him to answer for Martin Amis.
Dear Judge John Hodgman:

I must take great exception to your summary judgment in a recent episode of the "Judge John Hodgman" podcast, to wit, that Shaun of the Dead is a comedy only and not a horror film.

Your Honor, this opinion is, if you'll permit me, patent hogwash. If we are to accept your definition of a horror film as one designed to provoke terror and dread in its audience and to help that audience confront and process their own existential fears as their on-screen proxies battle horrors from beyond the grave, then in what way does Shaun of the Dead not meet that definition? Yes, we may be laughing at the same time, and we may chuckle wryly here and there in recognition of nods to earlier classics in the zombie canon, but that in no way reduces our identification with Shaun, Ed, and the rest of our heroes, nor does it diminish our well-justified fears for their safety or our investment in their fates. Whatever yuks may be afoot, these characters are in very real peril, and we can't help experiencing that peril along with them. Shaun of the Dead clearly manages the feat of being effective comedy and horror both, at the same time.

shaun-meta-david.jpg I am weary to my bones of the tired assertion that a thing that is one thing cannot also be another thing, particularly when the one thing is seen as high art and the other as low. I recall years ago attending a lecture by literary enfant terrible Martin Amis at the NYU library. His New Yorker short story "The Janitor on Mars" had just been named by Locus Magazine as one of the year's top works of science fiction. During Q&A, a young woman asked Amis if the publication of that story meant that he was now a science fiction writer. Amis hemmed and hawed, eventually asserting that, while he had read and absorbed copious amounts of science fiction as a youth and certainly wasn't embarrassed by that fact, "The Janitor on Mars" merely deployed the tropes and language of science fiction to a higher literary end. It was not itself, he claimed, science fiction.

This, Your Honor, is so much mealy-mouthed rot. Something that quacks like a duck, though it may do so in an erudite, hipper-than-thou cadence with its bill raised snootily in the air, is nonetheless still a duck. There may be some "meta" purpose at work, but if we po-mo roughnecks have learned nothing else in the course of our rude existences, is it not that the very definition of "meta" is to be the thing being referenced? Have we failed to heed the lesson of the yin and the yang, which is that a thing can, nay, must embrace, embody, and give rise to its apparent opposite?

They in their towers of ivory glass may not like it, but I'm sure such an enlightened nerd as Your Honor must agree that science fiction can also be literature, that comedy can also be horror, and that from time to time even a judge can be wrong.

Yours humbly,
William Shunn
Science Fiction Writer

Epidode #61 of The Accidental Terrorist Podcast is now available, in which Bill explains how you can bid to win your very own privately printed copy of his memoir The Accidental Terrorist. Listen up! (Or simply click here to learn more and bid now.)

http://www.shunn.net/podcast?at=61

Epidode #55 of "ShunnCast" is now available, in which Bill explains how you can bid to win your very own privately printed copy of his memoir The Accidental Terrorist. Listen up! (Or simply click here to learn more and bid now.)

http://www.shunn.net/podcast?id=55

Saturday, August 27, 2011
Dear Marc Maron

For some reason this is a hard letter to write. I'm a relatively new fan of your podcast and your comedy, having come to it all through the broadcasts on WBEZ, but it seems like ages I've been trying to compose a thank you to you in my head. I mean, how hard should it be just to say I appreciate what you do and your show means a lot to me? Especially for a writer like me.

WTF with Marc Maron I'm 44 years old. My wife and I live in Chicago. I'm a writer, mostly of science fiction. Nothing glamorous like film or TV—I'm talking the basic stuff, prose on a page. None of which really explains why I've been chewing my way so voraciously through your podcast archive, or why I feel such a connection to what you do.

Part of it, I guess, is some of the weird correspondences with my life. I was born in Highland Park, for instance, where you now live, though I only lived there until I was six. (I was in L.A. in February, and I called my mom in Utah and told her I was planning to go visit the old house on Aldama Street. She said, "Oh, I don't think that's a very good idea." I went anyway with my buddy Ashir—the neighborhood was fine—and was surprised to see how small the house was, to remember how steep the hill was, and to hear parrots or some shit squawking in the big old trees.) I lived in Astoria for a long time, same as you, and it might be the best place I've ever lived. (Did you ever eat at Kabab Cafe on Steinway near 25th Ave? My favorite place in the world.) 5340 Aldama St. You have hassles getting into Canada—I can't even go to Canada, thanks to a ridiculous incident in Calgary when I was a stupid young 19-year-old Mormon missionary. (It's a long story.) I was on Air America ... um, one time, when Ron Kuby interviewed me a couple of years ago about a podcast I was doing. (See how I'm grasping at straws already? I should reassure you that I don't think there's some mystical, brothers-under-the-skin bond here. Cats are nice, but I'm a fucking dog person, okay?)

And I've pretty much toiled away at my chosen craft, the the thing I wanted to do from the time I was a kid, for the past twenty years without much tangible reward. I mean, other science fiction writers know me, and I have a handful of fans, but I've somehow managed to dodge widespread attention and financial security all these years. I've published about thirty short stories and novellas, and one slim collaborative novel, but the most popular thing I've written by far is a guide to professional manuscript formatting that gets thousands of times more hits online than my fiction ever has.

Whoa, let me veer back from the precipice of bitterness here for a minute. Didn't mean to go there so quickly.

A big, big part of what I love about WTF is the sheer joy of hearing two professionals talk about their craft with intelligence, passion, and familiarity. It doesn't matter that your craft is comedy and ours is making up stories about spaceships and virtual reality. There is a tremendous pleasure in listening in while people who have thought hard about their art, worked tirelessly at it, and internalized the history and craft of it reflect on what a life dedicated to that pursuit is like. I identify with it. I hear things that seem like they're lifted right out of my own life and out of my friends' lives, and it strikes a deep chord in me. (It also makes me miss my writer friends in New York, and explains why I take every opportunity to meet up with them and others at conferences around the country and talk about writing and get smashed together at the hotel bars.) Damn, there's just something about the way professional artists talk—especially ones to whom language is so crucial—that sucks me in and takes me to a better place.

But okay. If listening to WTF helps me feel a little bit more connected to a community of artists, helps me feel a bit smarter and more insightful about my own art, the absolutely biggest part of what inspires me is your personal journey.

I feel like I've walked a lot of those roads. Early promise, steady publication, but not much notice. Near misses with success. Projects I poured my heart into that went nowhere. Shitty agents who didn't get what I was about, content to sit back and wait for me to generate my own buzz. Good reviews, respect from my peers, even major award nominations—great things that nevertheless mean fuck-all to anyone outside the industry or to my ability to support myself. Professional jealousy—the soul-killing bitter envy at seeing my friends' names on best-seller lists, or getting optioned for movies or TV—that has led me to pull away from important friendships, to my own detriment. Undermining myself in a thousand other ways. Asking myself time and time again whether it's worth it to keep on doing what I do, worth the cost of my sanity, worth the cost of lying awake at night knowing the clock is ticking, I'm 44, and what the fuck have I done with my life so far? Wanting to give up, stop writing, but unable to because there are still things to say, and still a little, perverse, unkillable germ of hope down in there somewhere.

Listen, Marc, I know you're not rolling in dough, and I know you've still got plenty of demons. But goddammit, you hung in there and did stuff even when it seemed like there was nothing left to do. The fact that you kept yourself in the game and turned it around in what must have seemed like the bottom of the ninth—that is a giant fucking inspiration to me.

And I'm trying to hang in there. I have a good agent now, who is also a friend and who gets my stuff. Finally, after twelve years of work, I've finished the Big One and handed it in, the memoir about that missionary incident in Canada. (It really is a good story.) He'll start shopping the manuscript around after Labor Day, and I will try to stop thinking about it and start working on the next thing, a novel. Because I'm a professional, you know, and that's just what you do.

Look, we both know that talent and craft and hard work are not in and of themselves guarantees of anything. But what you and your show remind me, and what I need so badly to believe, is that sometimes the final necessary ingredient for success is just fucking hanging in there long enough. Just fucking gunning the engine until the tires stop spinning in place and some traction catches. Thank you for that from the bottom of my heart. Thank you.

Please believe me that I mean it as the highest of compliments when I say that listening to WTF is the next best thing to sitting around and talking about science fiction. With my friends. Which is what you seem like.

Best wishes,
Bill Shunn

P.S. I fucking love your new album, This Has to Be Funny. I keep playing bits from it for my wife. I think she's getting annoyed with me and amused by me in equal measure.

Missing the mark

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I end up with some very interesting Google Ads showing up on the page for my Accidental Terrorist podcast. Just now there was a big splashy banner ad for the Front Sight Firearms Training Institute ("Gunfights don't give second chances"). Apparently the Googlemind doesn't want you potential terrorists going out into the world without firearms training!

The mighty Dave Slusher has posted the new episode of his fine Reality Break podcast, an interview series focusing on science fiction and other genre literature. In this eighth episode, he talks to yours truly about writing and podcasting The Accidental Terrorist.

This interview was recorded in 2007 but has not been heard until now. Besides my own book, we talk about memoirs in general, writing after 9/11, my experiences growing up Mormon, and how those all have informed my fiction.

Dave is a terrific interviewer, and while I usually wince when listening to myself, I'm very, very happy with the way this session turned out. I hope you'll have a listen. If you enjoy it, thank Dave!

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William Shunn

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