Inhuman Swill : Page 19
Why is my blog called Inhuman Swill? Because you can unscramble the pieces to make William Shunn.

On December 14th, in the wake of the Sandy Hook massacre, I popped off with a quick, frustrated, angry tweet that seemed to me to be the simplest way to express the political situation in this country when it comes to gun laws:

shunn:  Can we just come out and say that the NRA, when its position is stripped down to basics, favors civilian shootings?

This didn't excite much comment on Twitter, but when the tweet reached Facebook it was a different story. The first comment, right out of the blocks, from a friend, was this:

Loved M. Gunns:  We could say that but we'd be stupid assholes for saying it.
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"Why aren't you married yet?"


No, this post is not about my marriage, which marks its 12th happy anniversary this year. This post is actually about writers and sensitivity.

Imagine yourself at the wedding of a close friend. You're there alone, having failed again to find a date to yet another big occasion. And it's not as if you didn't try hard. The frustrating thing is that things were looking really good with ol' what's-his-name for a while there. He seemed really interested, he did. You thought there was a good chance he might even be the one. But that was before he started acting all weird and distant, and stopped calling, or even returning your emails and texts.

So here you are alone at the wedding, again.

Oh, you're not alone alone. Most all your friends are here, and they're all happy to see you, but the thing is, they're mostly all married themselves. Everyone's nice enough to you, but you can sense a certain distance developing. It's nothing personal, you know that. It's just that for married people it seems somehow easier to relate to other married people. There are new concerns, new problems, new joys that come along with marriage, and that sets you apart from their world.

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We shout at the chatroom!


Generation Swine Let me tell you about the night I hung out with Mötley Crüe.

Okay, to be honest, it was only half of Mötley Crüe, and it's not like we were out clubbing it up with groupies and blow. But we were at a club. I was reminded of this story the other day when I happened to hear "Shout at the Devil" on the stereo for the first time in quite a while.

This was June 1997. I was working in New York City as technical producer for a website called (sadly now long deceased). Our company, N2K Entertainment, ran a variety of genre-specific music sites, all meant to drive traffic to our online CD store, Music Boulevard. At Rocktropolis we ran rock music news, contests, curated streaming radio, artist chats, and—coolest of all—live concert webcasts.

Some of our live shows were simply streamed versions of special syndicated radio broadcasts, but more and more we began to arrange our own on-location webcasts. We would get a temporary DSL line installed in the venue (if they didn't already have one—and they usually didn't), hump our equipment over there, tap directly into the soundboard, and stream the feed out to users via RealAudio. (Believe it or not, this was trailblazing stuff at the time.)

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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.

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Some time ago, Halsted M. Bernard tagged me in the Next Big Thing meme that's been going around. The intent is to share details about one's current writing project by answering a canned set of questions, so here goes.

  1. What's the title of your latest story?
  2. I've actually been working on various non-fiction projects lately, big and small, including a new epilogue for my memoir The Accidental Terrorist (which, yes, is still being shopped around). I'll soon be diving into a new short story for the Glitter & Madness anthology project, but that one doesn't have a title yet. So instead I'll talk about the novel I finally finished in November, which is called Waking Vishnu.

  3. Where did the idea for the story come from?
  4. For more than a decade I've been envisioning a fictional universe where physical items can be "magically" manipulated via hand gestures, as if they were blobs in an object-oriented programming system. I'd tried again and again to work out the story of the person who stumbles onto this magic system, but when I finally pictured the protagonist as a teenage girl the whole thing started clicking into place.

  5. What genre does your story fall under?
  6. Young adult science fiction, though it's designed to look a whole lot like urban fantasy at first.

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I wrote my own mailing list software for this website at least a decade ago, but I've grown a bit tired of trying to maintain it on my own. I'm switching over to MailChimp for all my email newsletter needs. The old mailing list is going to quietly expire. If you'd like to sign up for the new one, you can do so right here, or from the Mailing List link in the site menu:

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Character revolt

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So a few weeks ago I mentioned to an editor I know (let's call her "Editor") that I'd had an interesting conversation with a third party (let's call him "Subject").

"That sounds really fascinating," Editor said. "Would you be interested in writing about it for our blog?"

"If Subject is cool with it, then sure," I said.

I emailed Subject to ask if that would be okay. "That's fine," he responded. "I'd just like to see the piece first to make sure you're not revealing anything too personal."

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Le mot juiced

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I read the following essay, which appears in somewhat different form in the epilogue to The Accidental Terrorist, in the Essay Fiesta series at The Book Cellar in Chicago, on December 21, 2009.

There is no worse feeling than, five minutes after some unpleasant confrontation has left you tongue-tied, humiliated and confused, smacking yourself on the forehead and exclaiming, "Oh, my God! That's what I should have said!"

This is not that kind of a story. This is the story of how I once delivered the perfect rejoinder, in the moment, when it counted. I tell it not to demonstrate how smart, suave, or clever I am, but because it so rarely happens that way with me. In fact, this may be the only story of its kind I have.

This happened in December 2003, at a Christmas party my wife Laura and I threw at our apartment in Queens, New York. Our parties, if I do say so, were legendary, always with an interesting mix of people, and always with good booze, and plenty of it.

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Happy New Year! I mostly try to keep all the news about Tuesday Funk, the Chicago reading series I help run, over on its own blog, but today I can't help trumpeting our mention in this morning's Chicago Sun-Times:

Article: Drink it in: Beers paired with the wisdom of Chicago authors

The feature by David Hoekstra in today's Entertainment section introduces four of tonight's five participants, who each discuss the pieces they'll read and suggest the perfect beer from Hopleaf's vast menu to drink as accompaniment.

Check out the accompanying slideshow as well, and if you're in town I hope to see you tonight upstairs at Hopleaf. The free reading starts at 7:30 pm, but you should arrive at 7:00, when the doors open, if you want a seat. You can find all the relevant information here.

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Curling with opossums

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Last Friday night, Laura and I went out for pizza with a couple of good friends. We were driving back home afterwards, north on Damen Avenue, when I thought I saw the silhouette of a small critter amble through the headlights of an oncoming car.

"I think there's a possum in the street up ahead," I said.

I slowed down, and as we got closer we saw that there was indeed an opossum in the middle of the street, just our side of a stop sign and crosswalk. It was walking in a slow circle, while cars alternately stopped and drove carefully around it.

"That poor possum," Laura said as we in turn drove past. "It looks scared. It's stuck in the middle of the street and doesn't know which way to go."

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William Shunn