Inhuman Swill : Writing

ShunnCast #52

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Epidode #52 of "ShunnCast" is now available, in which Bill reads a restored and revised chapter from the brand-new draft of his memoir The Accidental Terrorist.

See also [info]shunncast.

Accidental draft

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I have finished the new draft of The Accidental Terrorist and sent it off to my new agent for comments.

Just a quick note from O'Hare, where I'm on my way to Utah to visit my dad, who is gravely ill.

If you're a member of Denvention 3 or were a member of Nippon 2007 and you haven't sent in your Hugo nominations yet, don't forget! The deadline is coming up fast—Saturday, March 1.

For the record, my two original stories from 2007 were:

"Not of This Fold" (PDF) (audio)

Short Story
"Objective Impermeability in a Closed System" (audio)

"Not of This Fold" appeared on the preliminary Nebula ballot, while "Objective Impermeability" will be reprinted in Hartwell and Cramer's Year's Best SF 13. Both stories were originally published in my chapbook An Alternate History of the 21st Century, still available from Spilt Milk Press.

Hugo nominating form:

Last April I wrote the first draft of a story called "Care and Feeding of Your Piano." It's a short, humorous piece written entirely as excerpts from the interactive instruction manual for a bioengineered piano*.

Armed with some suggestions from my writing group, I sat in my Baltimore-area hotel room a month and a half later and spent two hours applying some heavy revisions to the sucker, which including reordering many chunks of text to achieve more comic juxtapositions. I sync'd the laptop with the USB memory stick I always carried as backup—at least, I presume I did, because that had long been my habit—then rushed over to Balticon for my scheduled reading. I read that story and one called "Timesink" (which was then and is still forthcoming in Electric Velocipede) directly from my computer screen. The reading seemed to go over pretty well, at least according to Jamie Rubin, who was there.

In June, as I prepared to attend the Blue Heaven workshop, I got frustrated with all the cruft slowing down my laptop, so I wiped it and reinstalled Windows XP. At the end of that month, we moved to Chicago. As we unpacked, I became more and more uneasy the longer my black Manhattan Portage shoulder bag, which I was looking for, failed to turn up. I always carried my USB memory stick in a little Velcro'd pocket on the front of it. The shoulder bag has never turned up, one of the very few casualties of our move.

It wasn't until we'd been here a month or more that I went to the desktop machine to take another look at my revised version of "Care and Feeding." I was going to give it a quick polish-and-trim and get it out there—first stop, New Yorker "Shouts & Murmurs" submission. (Why not, right?)

But what appeared before my eyes was not my lovely revised version of the story but my first draft. Apparently, in all the excitement of preparing for the move, I had never sync'd the memory stick to my desktop machine. Fine, I figured, I'll just have to get it off the laptop.

But it wasn't there either. That's when I remembered I had wiped the machine in June, and the story directory there was identical to the one on the desktop machine. With mounting horror, I tried a couple of different low-level scans on the laptop, but to no avail. The revised draft was gone.

It took me about another six months to work up the energy to tackle re-revising my first draft. That's what I did Sunday, taking a break from the minor revisions to The Accidental Terrorist that are my focus here for the next week or so. It took me all day to achieve what felt like a reasonably successful recreation of what I did in that Baltimore hotel room, far longer than those original revisions had taken. At the end of the day, I printed out the story and read it aloud to Laura while she cooked.

I made some notes on the manuscript as I read, as I usually do. Yesterday I went to the desktop machine to pull up the story and fix the elements I'd noted. What appeared before me was the original, untouched first draft. I was puzzled. I clearly recalled syncing the laptop to the desktop machine after printing the manuscript the day before, but perhaps I had goofed something up.

I turned on the laptop, which is where I had done the revisions. I brought up the story. I felt a knot in my stomach at the realization that this, too, was the original draft.

I had sync'd the wrong way, overwriting my revised draft with the original. I swear, something in my subconscious is out to get this story.

At least this time I have a printout of what I did. All I need to do is type it back in. (No scanner here for an OCR shortcut.) Of course, all the stalling blogging I've done so far today will demonstrate how mountainous even that simple task seems to me right now.

I remember reading recently how Stephen King has lost a couple of partial novel manuscripts without a trace, so I don't feel like quite the dumbass I might. Anyone have a similar tale of woe?

* The Maedong & Daughters pNano® cG Mark VI.2, to be precise, the only autotropic concert grand piano with true Biostatic Action™.

Don't drown!

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I am a huge fan of the warnings and advisories from the National Weather Service. It's something about the matter-of-fact cataloging of the various ways weather phenomena can take life. These reports are marvels of terse concision, and I recommend them to anyone who delights in language.

This, for example, from today's flood warning for Northern Illinois:

Masterful. If you don't hear the music, there's nothing I can do for you.

Discover Magazine, February 2008 Hey, I have a reporting credit in the February issue of Discover magazine!

Discover does a humorous monthly column at the back of the magazine called "20 Things You Didn't Know About..." February's column was "20 Things You Didn't Know About Science Fiction," and its posting online seems to have stirred up a small pot of controversy over at io9, Gawker's SF blog. Seems as if a lot of people were not amused, and in turn Discover was not amused that they were not amused. (Thanks to John Joseph Adams for being one of the voices of reason in the io9 comments, and defending my honor.)

For the record, my reporting duties consisted of supplying the Discover writers with about a dozen pieces of SF trivia, of which they borrowed maybe four, putting their own inimitable spin on the material. I'm happy to say I gave them the one about Gene Wolfe and Pringles. But to balance that out, I also gave them the one about some fans not liking the term "sci-fi." (An example of one of my nuggets that didn't make the cut was that Heinlein Crater in the Hellas Southeast Quadrangle of Mars is named after Robert A. Heinlein. So there you go.)

I would have posted about this sooner, except that I didn't become aware that the column was online, or about the attendant flamewars, until early last Saturday morning as we were preparing to leave for a weekend in Iowa. And to be perfectly clear, having my name in Discover is totally awesome.

Oh, hey, did you want the list in Spanish?


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Let's hear it for some of my Blue Heaven cohorts this week.

Tim Pratt is interviewed this week at Sci-Fi Weekly about his burgeoning career, which includes selling film and television options to his Marla Mason stories and novels.

[info]paulmelko's excellent debut novel Singularity's Ring gets well-reviewed over at Sci-Fi Weekly as well, even if it's a bit of a slapdash writeup. You should go out and read this novel now. I loved it.

And last but not least, congratulations to [info]gregvaneekhout on selling his debut novel NorseCODE to Bantam! This is a terrific novel, too, or at least the earlier drafts I read were, and I have no doubt it grew even more awesome in revisions. In a perfect world, you would be able to go out and read this novel now too.

Way to go, gentlemen!

Don't knock it

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I was reading a major novel from a major genre publisher last night (okay, it was Half the Blood of Brooklyn by Charlie Huston, from Del Rey), when a character suddenly "knocked" an arrow into his bowstring.

Not to knock the book's copy editor, but the nock is the notch at the end of the arrow into which the bowstring fits. When you slide the arrow into place against the string, you have nocked it.

But this was also a book where "puss" leaks from one character's eyes, so maybe I shouldn't snatch at hopes that the copy-editing will improve.

My novelette "Not of This Fold" made the preliminary Nebula ballot for 2007. John Klima, publisher of the chapbook where it originally appeared, is making a free PDF of the story available on the Electric Velocipede website:

Not of This Fold (PDF)
This link is for anyone, not just for the SFWA members who might soon be voting on the preliminary ballot. I hope that you Worldcon members will read it before making your Hugo nominations.
There's also an audio version of "Not of This Fold," slightly abridged, available as Episode 10 in my ScientiFicShunn podcast:
Not of This Fold (MP3)
The audio is taken from a 2006 broadcast of "Hour of the Wolf."
By the way, the other original piece from my chapbook, "Objective Impermeability in a Closed System," will be reprinted in David G. Hartwell & Kathryn Cramer's Year's Best SF 13, from Eos. Doesn't that kinda make you want to pick up a copy of the chapbook for a mere five bucks today?

Old shoe week

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Going home to New York City is as comfortable as slipping on an old shoe. I flew there Tuesday afternoon with just a backpack and the parka on my back, and I was immediately at ease and confident in a way I don't yet feel in Chicago. The only bad part was that I was alone, since Laura was on a concurrent business trip to Rochester.

But I wasn't solitary for long. I took a cab from Laguardia to my borrowed apartment in Astoria, Queens, dumped off most of the contents of my pack, and headed into the city. After a quick stop at my old office, I met John Klima, in from Iowa way, at the Tor offices in the Flatiron Building. I acquired an advance copy of Cory Doctorow's Little Brother, I chatted with Patrick Nielsen Hayden for a minute or two, and John and I hauled his bags back to Astoria on the subway.

We had a full evening ahead, but before I tell you about it I have to back up several months and remind you of the segment of Anthony Bourdain's "No Reservations" that Laura and I caught back in July:

Kabab Cafe is our favorite restaurant on earth, and Ali El Sayed our good friend. John had eaten Ali's appetizers once before at a party at our place, but despite our best efforts we had never managed to get Shai and him out to the restaurant itself for a real meal. What's more, John had seen the above segment on "No Reservations." Since he and I were staying right there in the neighborhood, how could we not head over for dinner? I promised him, though, that we'd have fare other than sweetbreads and testicles.

My promise turned out to be half hasty.

John eat BRAINS! Ali, I'm happy to say, was as delighted to see us as we were to see him. He gave John and me the same booth that Zimmern and Bourdain had taken on TV, and as we split a bottle of wine and a beet salad and a mixed appetizer plate Ali somehow talked us into trying the sweetbreads, brains, and tongue for one of our entrees.

As John later said, if I'd tried to get him to Kabab Cafe by telling him that's what we were going to eat, it would have been an uphill battle. But there with Ali urging us on, we both felt bold enough just to dive right in. And you know what? It was all uniformly excellent. John Twittered about brains! all the while.

Ali has balls What we didn't feel quite bold enough to try were the "mountain oysters," which Ali was preparing for a party in from Seattle who had come specifically for the meal they'd seen on TV.

As Ali was preparing our dessert plate, and since our wine bottle was empty, he slipped us a bottle of Woodford Reserve bourbon and joined us in a furtive shot. I asked him what he was doing after hours, and he invited us to come back at eleven and meet him at the hookah bar across the street.

Carrie-oke! Stuffed, John and I took the subway back into the city, where we joined my friend Carrie's birthday karaoke outing. Many of the old CDMOM gang was there, and a great time was had by all. John and I got into the action when no one would claim Journey's "Don't Stop Believin'" and it was pressed on us. My rendition of Steely Dan's "Cousin Dupree" went over like a turd in a punchbowl, though, doing nothing to refute Carrie's constant repetitions of a memorable quote from Knocked Up: "Steely Dan gargles my balls."

Hmm. I suppose "balls" was something of a leitmotif that evening.

John and Ali toke in synchrony After karaoke, John and I hopped a cab and headed back out to Astoria. Ali saw us through the window of the hookah bar where he was holding court, and we joined him and a couple of friends there for water pipes and tea. A bizarre Technicolor Egyptian musical from the '60s was playing on the giant-screen TV, but sadly without subtitles. John and I were warmly welcomed there, but we both wondered how welcome we would have felt if we had entered without Ali as our Virgil.

We ended up making a whirlwind tour of ethnic after-hours spots. After the Egyptian hookah bar, we hit Bohemian Hall, where we visited John's roots with Czech beer and harder spirits. Roti Boti Then, hungry anew, it was off to Roti Boti, an Indian spot on 21st Street where the three of us enjoyed a repast of cow foot and other spicy delicacies.

Ali dropped us off at the apartment at 2:30 am.

Morning came awfully early, especially considering that the unshaded windows faced east. Breakfast was giant omelettes at Igloo on 31st Street, after which John and I returned to the city to pursue our various agendas. I met Paul Witcover for beer and burgers at Waterfront Ale House, where we caught up and talked about our newly aborning novel projects.

Next I headed downtown to New York Adorned to have a broken curved barbell in my right ear replaced. (I went a gauge thicker in each ear as long as I was there.) While I was paying up front, our friend Victoria Tillotson, Geoffrey Fowler jewelry-maker to the stars, wandered up to the counter. I'd hardly seen Vic except on TV in about three years, so it was great to catch up with her for a few minutes. She relayed the awesome news that she's just sold a book on jewelry making to Random House.

With my new jewelry installed, I headed over to my friend Geoff Fowler's apartment for a surprise drop-in, then walked to d.b.a. where I settled down with a Talisker 25yo to wait for people to appear. John appeared first, followed in rapid succession by Paul, Colin Poellot, and [info]rajankhanna.

Laura Peterson and Jon Pope At 6:30 we wandered over to KGB, which was precisely the event that had drawn John and me to town. It was an unofficial Electric Velocipede, with readings by two contributors, Marly Youmans and Dan Braum. I was delighted to see Laura Peterson and Jon Pope there, the two New York friends Laura and I have probably seen more often than any others since moving, because they're so often in Chicago and we're so often in Gotham.

Other folks there I hadn't seen in a while, sometimes a long while, included Jonathan Kopp (holy shit!), Craig Engler, Jae Brim, Jim Freund, Alaya Johnson, Bill Shunn and John Klima Matt Kressel, Doug Cohen, Rick Bowes, John Joseph Adams, Tempest Bradshaw, Will Smith, and of course hosts Ellen Datlow and Gavin Grant. After a Chinese dinner and then beers at a nearby pretend dive bar, John and I poured ourselves into yet another cab and lit out for the outer boroughs.

The next morning we were up at four, blear-eyed, each to make his own way back home. I had more good times and saw more good friends then I had thought would be possible to pack into two short days, but now it is good to be back home in Chicago with my wife and dog.

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William Shunn