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

I don't remember whether or not I reported this on Twitter and Facebook, but I know I haven't mentioned it here on the blog. The latest revision of The Accidental Terrorist is finished!

I completed this new, significantly revised draft on March 29. Over the next week I glanced at it from time to time, fixing bits and tinkering a little, but overall I'm pretty happy with it—happier than I've been with any of the previous drafts. Last week I sent the manuscript to Juliet Ulman, my brilliant editor. Hopefully I'll have my final revision notes before the end of May, and then a final draft of the book that I can get to my copy editor before mid-summer.

This book is happening, friends.

Now a question for you. I'm going to put the book out in trade paperback form, as well as various flavors of ebook. I've been toying with the idea of making a signed hardcover version available as well, for a little extra money, but I would have to place a bulk order for those to make it financially worthwhile, and that would mean having people place pre-orders so I know how many to print.

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When I announced last October that I would be self-publishing my memoir this year, I optimistically thought I could have it out by the spring. Spring is now right around the corner, and I think I can say with some confidence that ... er, The Accidental Terrorist will be available no sooner than this fall.

But that's the only bad news I have to report! I've been very busy these past five months, and I'd like to tell you a little about it. As many drafts of this memoir as I've done, I've never quite been happy with it, so my first order of business was hiring an editor. Fortunately for me, I know one of the best in the business, Juliet Ulman, and she was willing to work with me on the book. She worked at Bantam Dell for eleven years, and since striking out on her own she has since continued to do amazing things, like for instance editing a little novel you may have heard of, The Windup Girl. She herself has two Hugo Award nominations for Best Professional Editor. I'm very lucky to have her input.

Juliet delivered her first set of notes and edits to me at the end of December. All her observations were very helpful, but by far her biggest suggestion was that I widen out the scope of the book, to make it more than just my own story but an investigation into Mormonism itself.

Needless to say, that sounded like a lot of work. But at the same time, it jibed completely with my original vision for the book. In fact, if you listened to the podcast version of The Accidental Terrorist, then you know that I did interpolate a lot of material from Mormon history into the narrative. For some reason, it seemed like a good idea to me to take that material out in a later draft. (This is why I can't have nice things.)

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A previous outtake from my memoir The Accidental Terrorist ended with these lines:

Women wield a strange power over the male missionary—even women who don't exist. Perhaps especially women who don't exist.

There's another scene in the book that addressed what I was alluding to there—at least, I thought there was. When I went looking for that scene, I couldn't find it. I had to dig way back to the second draft of the book to locate it, and now I'm not sure what possessed me to take it out. Believe me, it's going back into the latest draft.

Names, of course, have been changèd.

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In a message exchange a few months ago, a friend and former colleague from my missionary days reminded me of a funny story from 1988 involving the elder who was then my companion.

I didn't immediately recall the incident, but then when I was rooting around the other day in a very old draft of my memoir The Accidental Terrorist, I found that I'd remembered it well enough a dozen years ago or more to include it.

Here's that deleted excerpt. My friend who reminded me of the incident is the "Sister Evans" who appears below, by the way, and the Word of Wisdom is the strict Mormon commandment against using alcohol or coffee.


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I've always believed that I have a pretty good memory—in particular, that I can recall formative events and conversations from years or even decades ago in reasonably good detail. When I started work on my memoir The Accidental Terrorist, I made a list of incidents, events, and bits of lore from my mission that I wanted to include. The more of these that I wrote down, the more others I started to remember. My notes ran pages and pages and pages.

I'm now working my way through a revision of the book with notes from my editor, Juliet Ulman. The occasional query scrawled in the margin questions details I seem to recall clearly. I've started wondering how much I can trust those old memories, especially the smaller moments I could easily have misremembered or invented. I've started looking for bits I can actually confirm.

Last night I came to the passage below, which seemed like it should be eminently verifiable. The scene is southern Alberta, October 1986:

On Friday of that week, we were talking heavy metal when I mentioned that the only band I liked of that sort was Rush.

"Ah, so you're one of those," said Fowler. "Same as every other missionary in Canada. You know last winter they had a concert scheduled up in Edmonton?"

"That was the Power Windows tour. What a great show. I saw it in Salt Lake."

"Well, I was serving in Edmonton at the time. I swear half the elders in town must've had tickets."

I gaped. In my civilian life, I had the right to choose to see a rock concert if I wanted, whether or not the Church or my father approved. But for a missionary, ordained and set apart as a representative of Jesus Christ, the rules were different. No music, especially not rock music, and especially not live rock music. That was just handing Satan the keys to your soul's front door.

"Including you?" I asked.

"Naw, Rush ain't my thing. But anyways, the day of the show this massive blizzard hits. No joke. Shuts everything down. No planes in or out. Concert canceled."

"Whoa."

"You're telling me. You think God wanted all those missionaries rocking out in clouds of dope smoke? No way. It would have killed the Spirit dead in Edmonton for a month."
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Mormon Stories Podcast
As reported yesterday in the New York Times, Mormon podcaster, critic, and activist John Dehlin faces excommunication at a church disciplinary hearing later this month. Dehlin runs the Mormon Stories family of podcasts, which cover topics important to members struggling with doubt, identity, mental health issues, and more. The charges against him essentially boil down to teaching "false doctrine," but there's of course more to it than that.

Dehlin is a Ph.D. candidate in psychology and counseling who has researched the effect Mormon teachings have on gay members. And despite his embrace of those whose beliefs and/or lifestyles clash with Mormon doctrine, his default stance seems to be to help those folks find a way to stay in the church.

I'm sympathetic to the effort, though it's pretty foreign to my own experience with Mormonism and doubt. My response, when I could no longer deny the overwhelming historical evidence that the claims of the church were false, was to get the hell out. When I started writing about my questions and conclusions, my goal (besides venting a lot of anger) was to help people who were miserable in the faith or damaged by its oppressiveness to realize that they could leave. They didn't have to stick around and hide their true selves and feelings. They could just walk away.

Of course, I also learned that this isn't so easy, or even possible, for everyone. Some of those who come to have crippling doubts about the church must choose between following their consciences or losing their families. Some value the sense of community they get as church members, or their cultural identity as Mormons, too much to want to give it up. And why should they, really?

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SPOILERS

Yep. As predicted, I was.

As soon as I woke up this morning, I downloaded the final episode of Serial. I listened to it while making coffee and feeding the dog and fixing a lunch for Laura. Besides the tantalizing and ultimately frustrating mention of the thin possibility that Hae was murdered by a known serial killer, the episode unfolded without any surprises, right down to Sarah Koenig's admission that, while there probably wasn't enough sufficient evidence for a fair conviction, she can't really make up her mind about Adnan's innocence or guilt.

Maybe this wouldn't have felt like such a letdown if the series hadn't been stretched out to such a length that even vague, unrelated rumors become fodder for investigation and interminable discussion. Serial was certainly worthwhile as an examination of what can happen in our legal system when a crime is prosecuted without rigor, but for me that aspect of the story was undercut by all the tedious minutiae.

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Tomorrow morning I expect to be disappointed.

Like many of you, I've been following the Serial podcast for the past few months. My reactions to the previous eleven episodes have ranged from bored to enthralled to confused, but I'm pretty sure that tomorrow's final episode will leave me feeling disappointment.

I'd love to be wrong. I'd love for Episode 12 to pull everything together, to fill me with a transcendent sense of the ephemeral nature of truth, or to turn up the final damning piece of evidence that either implicates or exonerates Adnan Syed. I don't have much confidence in either outcome.

Maybe part of this comes from my own unreasonable expectations. When I first started listening to this true-crime story, I assumed that Sarah Koenig was well ahead of the game and had unraveled the mystery already. I assumed from the very title, Serial, not just that twists and turns and cliffhangers and reversals lay ahead, but that a sure hand on the tiller was guiding the ship to a known destination.

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Newtown Literary Issue 5
Newtown Literary is our homegrown literary journal here in the borough of Queens. Its fifth issue, devoted to speculative poetry and prose, just appeared, and features my new short story "Sparkler." The issue can be purchased now at The Astoria Bookshop in Queens, and will soon be available for ordering online.

In celebration of the new issue, Newtown Literary will be hosting a launch party on December 17. The event takes place at Terraza 7 Train Café in Elmhurst, Queens. The lineup for the evening also includes Laura Grow-Nyberg, Jennifer Morell, Crystal Rivera, Joan Willette and more.

Wednesday, December 17, 7:00 pm
Newtown Literary #5 Launch
Terraza 7 Train Café
40-19 Gleane St
Elmhurst, NY 11373

Terraza 7 can be reached via the 7 train to 82nd Street in Queens, or (a bit less conveniently) via the M train to Elmhurst Avenue. I hope to see you there!

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Ella-Phantile 2014 13-Month Calendar
Hi, gang! Laura and I are happy to announce that the new Ella calendar for 2015 is available now from Lulu.com. It features thirteen months of all your favorite Ella photos from from the past year—all right, all right, our favorites—and for a limited time you can get it for the discounted price of only $11.99 plus shipping and handling. What a fetching bargain!

Click below to buy now, and you can keep Ella-porting around NYC with your favorite soft-coated wheaten terrier all year long.

Ella-Portation 2015 13-Month Calendar

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William Shunn

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