Inhuman Swill : Page 37
Why is my blog called Inhuman Swill? Because you can unscramble the pieces to make William Shunn.

My funky Tuesdays

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One of the most exciting and unpredictable reading series in Chicago is Tuesday Funk, which takes place the first Tuesday of every month upstairs at Hopleaf Bar in Andersonville. Tuesday Funk has hosted wild-eyed poets, doe-eyed troubadours, and more excellent fiction, verse, and essays read live than you could shake a blue pencil at. I've been fortunate enough to have been asked to read there four times in the past couple of years myself, and I'm proud to have been considered an adjunct member of the Tuesday Funk family.

Reinhardt Suarez and Hallie Palladino of the Gothic Funk Nation have run the eclectic series with scary efficiency for nearly three years, but they're both moving on to greener pastures. I'm very pleased and more than a little humbled to announce that I will now be co-producing Tuesday Funk together with Sara Ross. We hope to keep the same great mix of genres and disciplines that has made the series so much fun in the past, while throwing in some curve balls to keep things fresh and interesting. We have some big shoes to fill.

While I never want the series to get away from its roots as a showcase for Chicago writers, I'd love to bring more out-of-towners into the mix too. So if you're a writer (or something similar) and plan to be in Chicago the first week of any given month, please drop me a line and I'll see if we have room for you. We'd love to have you.

Oh, another thing. Chicagoans, please mark your calendars for our next reading on Tuesday, October 5, 7:30 pm, at Hopleaf. I'll be reading again that night, together with a full slate of compadres, but most importantly we need to keep our attendance high so we can continue using Hopleaf's upstairs bar month after month. More reminders will follow, but I hope to see you there.

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Hacking reality

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Wine Loft Panel Discussion, June 24, 2010
Back in June, during the week I attended the Starry Heaven workshop in Flagstaff, organizer extraordinaire Sarah K. Castle put together a little panel discussion on the interactions between science fiction and actual science. Titled "Science + Fantasy = Science Fiction," the panel brought seven scientists and writers together to talk about how science inspires science fiction and vice versa.

Besides Sarah, who is both geologist and SF writer, the participants included writer Bradley P. Beaulieu ([info]brad_beaulieu), writer and futurist Brenda Cooper ([info]bjcooper), biologist and computer scientist Dan Greenspan (blog), biologist and physiologist Stan "Bud" Lindstedt, and science historian David S.F. Portree ("Beyond Apollo").

Everyone's five- to seven-minute presentations were fascinating, and I wish I had time and memory sufficient to recap them all. Instead, though, I've been meaning for a couple of months now to post the loose notes I wrote up for my little presentation. Here they are:

My view of science is pretty well summed up in a conversation between two characters in the novel I'm working on now, Endgame. This is the story of two teenage friends named Hasta and Ivan who develop seemingly magical powers—except that they don't automatically accept magic as the explanation for what has happened to them. Instead they set about using the scientific methods of theorizing and repeated testing to get to the bottom of things.

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Hold onto your head scarves. There are 103 full episodes of "21 Jump Street" available on Hulu. Johnny Depp must be so pleased. You needed to know.

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"Those are HUGE!"

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So, on the way home from the art fair yesterday, Laura and I stopped at our local Trader Joe's to pick up a few necessities. The store has recently been remodeled, and everything's been moved around. We couldn't find the bread aisle, so when we rounded a corner and saw a couple of young men in Trader Joe's vests chatting, we stopped and asked them for directions.

Laura's arms were folded. Suddenly one of the guys pointed toward her chest and exclaimed, "Those are huge!"

All of stared at him in confusion, including the guy's buddy. I couldn't for the life of me imagine what he was talking about.

"Your bracelets?" the guy said. "You know."

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The bad art drinking game

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Yesterday Laura and I met her parents in Lake Forest to wander around the Deer Path Art League's 56th Annual Art Fair on the Square. This is one of those affairs where artists and artisans from all over set up booths in the town square to hawk their wares. To make it more fun for ourselves, Laura and I decided in advance to turn the afternoon into a drinking game.

Here's how it worked. We didn't bring any alcohol to the fair itself, but we agreed on four categories of subject matter. If we found art depicting any of these subjects, we'd have one drink for each category once we got back home. The categories were:

  1. Clowns
  2. Flamenco dancers or bullfighters
  3. Dogs in unnatural situations
  4. Naked boobs
As it turned out, Lake Forest was a lovely little town with a lovely little town square. The art was of a generally higher caliber than we had anticipated, and we had a good time with Laura's parents at the fair. We only managed to score in two of our categories: #3 and #4. Several times Laura asked if we could add new categories, but I'm afraid as judge I had to disallow anything we hadn't agreed upon from the start.

So, two drinks apiece that evening at home. But next year, I foresee new categories including celebrities, abstract metal wall hangings, and still lifes with wineglasses.

Happy Labor Day! Bottoms up.

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Dogwalker's algorithm

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Updated manuscript format

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Since we're only, let's see, a decade into the 21st century now, I figured it was probably past time to revisit my essay on "Proper Manuscript Format." I've revised it a couple of times in the past, but with all the changes in submission standards over the past decade a major overhaul was in order.

Some hardliners may be upset with me for ceding some ground, but I haven't changed the way I format a manuscript. I do acknowledge other valid schools of thought, though.

I've written a fuller explanation of the revisions over at my formatting blog. I hope you'll check out the updated formatting guide itself and let me know what you think. Does it go too far? Not far enough? Or do you agree?

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I don't know why I've spent so much of my life being afraid to write a novel. All these years I've figured I was afraid of failing at it, that the short story was my natural form as a writer.

That was all ridiculous, and easily disproved had I stopped to think about it. Back in 1994, I wrote a 170,000-word novel in about eight weeks while I was between jobs. I holed up in my apartment and wrote eight to twelve hours a day. On my most productive day of that period, I wrote 8,500 words. The Revivalist was a huge, sprawling, shambolic, undisciplined thug of a novel, but it wasn't entirely bad. I never sold that book, but I also never did the subsequent work that was necessary to turn it into something saleable.

Clearly I didn't have a problem writing. What I had a problem with in the years that followed was getting off my ass and committing to doing the work.

Don't get me wrong. I did a lot of work in those years. I wrote a 250,000-word memoir, which through subsequent drafts I revised down to nearly half that size. I wrote and sold a bunch of short stories and a couple of novellas, but my one or two longer projects ran out of gas. I kept psyching myself out with the idea that I didn't know how to write a novel, and for the most part I kept that fear to myself.

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Reading on video

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The great folks at Essay Fiesta have posted video of the memoir excerpt I read for them at the Book Cellar on April 19th. This is a segment from The Accidental Terrorist called "Gluttons for Punishment":

(Damn, that was over my time limit. Thank God I didn't exceed the YouTube limit of ten minutes.)

Essay Fiesta is a monthly reading series that benefits the Howard Brown Health Center, hosted by Keith Ecker and Alyson Lyon. Please come out to the Book Cellar in Chicago on the third Monday of every month to support the series.

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Difficult Times Francis

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I want to offer sadly belated congratulations to friend and former CD Mix of the Month Club compatriot Francis Heaney, who made his Sunday crossword puzzle debut in the New York Times this past, er, Sunday. Way to go, Francis!

Now if only I were a subscriber so I could test my mettle against Francis's by-all-reports-monstrous puzzle.

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William Shunn