Inhuman Swill : Page 2
Why is my blog called Inhuman Swill? Because you can unscramble the pieces to make William Shunn.

The Accidental Terrorist: Our book may not be free, but at least it won't cost you 10% of your income.
The publication date for my memoir The Accidental Terrorist inches ever closer. We're a little more than four months away from rolling out the book, and things here at Accidental Army Headquarters (a/k/a my house) are busy as ever.

The most important news to share is that last week I received my final set of editorial notes from the brilliant and insightful Juliet Ulman. I was breathlessly awaiting her verdict on the heavily rewritten draft I turned in at the end of March, and the news was good. Here's a bit of what she said:

This book went exactly where I wanted it to go, and it's so much stronger, not just because of the added historical context, but because of the additional work you put into trimming fat and pulling all of your threads tight. This is the book we were aiming at, its bones and body solid, and all you're doing now with these final edits is stepping back to look it over last time and polish it until the shine is satisfactory to you. I hope you're proud of what you've accomplished with this text, because you certainly should be.

I have to admit that the room got a little dusty when I read that. It's nice finally to hear an editor say "Good job" after sixteen years of work.

Full entry

To Young Men Only by Boyd K. Packer
A handful of links have been accumulating in my to-be-posted queue over the past couple of weeks. Time to toss them out there for consumption.

First, longtime Mormon apostle Boyd K. Packer died last Friday at the age of 90. To many of us who grew up in the church, Packer was the "scary apostle," the one most likely to give talks on uncomfortable topics, and to do it in frightening ways. He was the closest thing we had to an old-fashioned fire-and-brimstone preacher.

Packer will long be remembered for his influential talk (later published as a pamphlet) called "To Young Men Only," which could have been subtitled "Why You Should Feel Like an Evil Dirty Shit If You're Weak Enough to Masturbate." And this is the same talk in which he unconvincingly pretends not to endorse violence against men who make passes at other men. "I am not recommending that course to you," he says with a broad wink, "but I am not omitting it. You must protect yourself."

Full entry

This will be a pretty technical post, so feel free to skip it if you're not interested in Perl coding and things of that nature.

When I started building my Accidental Terrorist Missionary Name Tag Creator, I knew I wanted to use the Perl interface to ImageMagick to overlay a name in bold white text onto the blank space on a name tag image like this one:

What's more, I wanted the name to look like it had actually been drilled out or stamped into the name tag, with maybe a slightly pebbled white surface to give things a nice feeling of texture.

I had used ImageMagick before for some simple applications, and I knew it was a very powerful graphics-processing package. However, it's also very arcane, without much in the way of user-friendly documentation. (Oh, there's plenty of documentation. It just helps to be fluent already in graphics-processing-ese to grok it.) Stack Overflow, to name just one forum, overflows with questions about how to do this or that with ImageMagick.

Full entry

We had no idea that what we were really doing was a cover shoot for my memoir.

It was the late summer of 1987. I was stationed with my assigned mission companion, Elder Tim Bishop, in Bonners Ferry, Idaho. We lived rent-free in a small house owned by a local Mormon farming family. The house was a couple of miles outside of town, in the middle of a vast swath of wheat fields. The Kootenai River meandered nearby. Occasionally a moose would wander by or a bald eagle would sail overhead.

I'd been there since May, so I'd gotten to watch much of the growing and harvest process. At the end of the season, the farmers let us know that they would soon be burning the stubble of one of the fields, which would lie fallow the next year.

Even with advance warning, it was quite a shock when Bish and I, returning home in the late afternoon from a day of whatever missionaries do to occupy their time, spotted the smoke rising in the distance. Driving up the dirt road between the burning fields was a surreal experience, even with the greatest part of the fires having died down. It was so surreal, in fact, that we did exactly what you would expect from bored 19- or 20-year-old kids.

Full entry

The Accidental Terrorist Close the Book Campaign
My sixteen-year quest to publish my memoir The Accidental Terrorist is nearly over. I feel like I've been fighting my way down the field all that time, sometimes making progress, sometimes getting stopped cold, sometimes losing big ground. But now that it's fourth and inches, and I need your help to cross the goal line.

Okay, enough with the bad sports metaphors, and I'll try not to waste much of your time. What I'm asking is simple:

  • If you'd like to help, all you need to do is pre-order a copy of the book.

    Possibly you were planning to wait to buy The Accidental Terrorist at a book signing, or to order it this fall from your favorite independent bookstore. (Or possibly you don't give a rats' ass, in which case I'm not really addressing you right now.) I can't fault you for that, and I don't even want to try to dissuade you. But the fact is, you will help me more if you pre-order a copy of the hardcover today, directly from me.

    Full entry

  • Tourists in Times Square
    Blocking the sidewalk to gape
    At an ambulance

    Full entry

    Our Dependency on Foreign Keys, art by Hayrettin Karaerkek
    The second and concluding part of my new science fiction novelette, "Our Dependency on Foreign Keys," is available today at the online magazine Across the Margin. (Part One appeared yesterday.)

    When last we left our not-so-heroic hero Pell "Franny" Franziskaner, he was no closer than he was at the start to figuring out who is sabotaging his cocktail party and threatening to kill him, nor to completing or even figuring out the task he's been given by the super-duper advanced A.I. called Hondo. But at least he's invented a cool new party game called dueling holaoke! Will Franny unravel the mysteries before it's too late? And will Hondo ever make an appearance at the party?

    Learn all the answers now...

    Part One:

    Full entry

    Our Dependency on Foreign Keys, art by Hayrettin Karaerkek
    A brand-new story of mine, "Our Dependency on Foreign Keys," is available today at the online magazine Across the Margin.

    Or actually, the first half of this 11,000-word story is available today. The second half will go live tomorrow morning.

    And to be honest, it's not exactly brand-new, either, though this is the first time readers are seeing it. According to an old blog post, I was working on this story during a trip to Malta and the Middle East in May 2008. It was one of those stories that started with the title, and as I worked out the basic situation of the story the plot and its world, things grew very complicated indeed, even given that I decided to set it in the same near-future historical continuum as a couple of my earlier stories. I clearly remember the bar in Chicago's Bucktown neighborhood where I was sitting when I named the main character Pell Franziskaner. According to my records, I finished the first draft around the time Barack Obama began his first term as president.

    The story was a difficult one to write because I needed it to be light and frothy but dense at the same time. I took the Jeeves and Wooster stories as my model, though I think you'd be hard-pressed to see that in this final version. Connie Willis's screwball comedies like "Blued Moon" were an inspiration too, though again...

    Full entry

    The Falcon and the Snowman: Original Motion Picture Soundtrack In 1985, I was a far bigger fan of jazz guitarist Pat Metheny than just about any other musician. The album that infected me was 1982's Offramp, which sounded unlike anything else I'd ever heard. I became a hardcore consumer of any and all vinyl featuring either Metheny or his compositional partner in the Pat Metheny Group, pianist Lyle Mays. (My friends and I could and did spend hours debating the meaning of the 20-minute title track from As Falls Wichita, So Falls Wichita Falls. Yes, we were not normal.)

    Thus it was inevitable, thirty years ago, that I would buy the new album from the Pat Metheny Group as soon as it appeared, even if it was the soundtrack to a movie I had not seen. I had a vague understanding of the true-life espionage case behind The Falcon and the Snowman (based on the book by Robert Lindsey), which told the story of Christopher Boyce and Daulton Lee, two young men from southern California who were arrested in 1977 for selling intelligence secrets to the Soviet Union. (Boyce was a falconry enthusiast and Lee a cocaine dealer, which is where their sobriquets came from.) I always meant to see the film, but never did.

    But that didn't affect my enjoyment of the soundtrack. In fact, it might have enhanced it, as I could listen and try to imagine what was happening on screen during each passage. It wasn't my favorite Metheny album by any means, but parts of it I liked quite a lot. I even grudgingly came to enjoy the collaboration with David Bowie that kicked off side 2 of the record, "This Is Not America"—though I disliked the way the credits on the single made it seem like the Pat Metheny Group was just Bowie's backing band.

    Anyway, it was late in 1985, when I was 18, after I'd been living with the album for eight or nine months, that a close friend of mine, whom I call "Andy Kilmer" in The Accidental Terrorist, came to me with a request. This passage is from the book:

    Full entry

    I'm not here to tell you about Justified, the Elmore Leonard–based FX television series that ended this week after six terrific seasons. I'm not here to tell you why it was my favorite show, or why I look forward to rewatching it even more than Breaking Bad. I'm not here to praise the writing, the directing, or the acting, or to lament the fact that it never found more than a cult audience.

    I'm just here to present this playlist I assembled of some great Justified moments, so you can see for yourself how much fun it was—that is, if sarcastic gunslinging U.S. Marshals tangling with colorful, loquacious criminals in rural Kentucky is your idea of fun:

    And here are a few appreciations of Justified from around the web:

    Full entry

    Featured Book

    William Shunn