Inhuman Swill : Page 40
Why is my blog called Inhuman Swill? Because you can unscramble the pieces to make William Shunn.

Workshop day one

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Starry Heaven convenes
The first official day of Starry Heaven went very well, I thought. We critiqued the first four of our twelve first-fifties. (For those curious, we spend the first three days looking at the first fifty pages of everyone's novel, on the theory that those pages have to be strong when they go to an editor or agent as a proposal.) Many helpful comments were offered and received, and there was a satisfying and comfortable lack of drama. Everyone here knew at least one other person prior to the workshop convening, and some of us knew a lot of the other participants. It looks to me like everyone is managing to fit in, which is good. (And we were all glad that E.C. Myers, who had the worst travel luck of any of us, finally managed to make it here late Saturday night. It was too bad that he missed dinner, though.)

Lunch yesterday was catered. We had delicious little baked burritos, spicy tomato soup, and chips and salsa. After the afternoon session, a few of us hauled our stacks of stuff still to read down to Macy's and sat around chatting as much as reading for a couple of hours. Then the whole gang convened the Zane Grey Ballroom at the Hotel Weatherford and milled about on the balcony listening to reggae from the festival down the street, and later watching police, fire, and ambulance converge on the crowd. I hope whoever had the emergency down there was okay. Also, we saw a few trucks equipped with snorkels pass by in the street below. (I wish I had one of those for my car in Chicago on Friday. The water in the depression under the Metra tracks at Foster and Ravenswood was well over my axles.)

A highlight for me at the Zane Grey was getting to meet Mike Kelly, our organizer Sarah K. Castle's husband. Mike is James Patrick Kelly's brother, and since I also (entirely coincidentally and unconnected to the science fiction world) know Dan Kelly from Brooklyn, I have now met three of the Kelly brothers. My new goal in life is to collect all four! But quite apart from his Kelly family connections, Mike is a charming and fascinating fellow in his own right, a textbook-writing geologist who also designs interactive museum installations.

Oh, and the Zane Grey also had Lagunitas IPA on draft! $2.75 a pint!

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Sparkly heaven

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In other news, I arrived today in Flagstaff, Arizona, to attend the Starry Heaven novel workshop! I'm here with my poor half-finished novel Technomancers, which I hope my fellow workshoppers give a swift kick in the ass. I was hoping that at 70,000 words I'd be close to finished, but as it turns out I'm only about halfway through the first draft.

But anyway, Brad Beaulieu and I ended up on the same flight from Chicago and rode together in the 90 mph shuttle van from Phoenix. Sarah Kelly picked us up with Gary Shockley and whisked us off to lunch at the Beaver Street Brewpub where we met up with Sarah Prineas, Sandra McDonald, and Greg van Eekhout and Lisa Will. A pitcher of Lumberjack Lager couldn't get to our table soon enough!

Then we checked in at our B&B, where the room Greg and I are sharing pretty much boggled our minds with its palatial dimensions. Blue Heaven will henceforth have a lot to live up to! A trip to the supermarket and our fridge is stocked, although it was pre-stocked with bagels and cream cheese and milk and OJ and coffee and syrup and the cupboard with cereal and pancake mix and stuff when we arrived.

Okay, I'm starting to gush. We hear via Twitter that Eugene Myers is having extreme travel complications, but with luck he'll be with us late this evening. I'm now drinking a Four Peaks 8th Street Ale and signing off. The week begins!

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Cory Doctorow published a smart, exciting political novel for teens last year called Little Brother, as I'm sure you know. Well, the Griffin Theatre Company right here in Chicago has mounted a stage adaptation that's on now. The production runs Thursdays through Sundays until July 19, and I highly recommend you get tickets before they're gone.

I saw a preview of the play last week to review it for Sci Fi Wire, and I think you'll enjoy it. I'm told that the production has even more bells and whistles now than when I saw it.

The production runs at the Athenaeum Theatre, 2936 N. Southport Ave., Chicago. You can get tickets either in person at the Athenaeum box office, or from Ticketmaster by phone at 800-982-2787 or online at http://www.ticketmaster.com.

Come any day you can, but if you show up on Thursday, July 9, Cory will be in the audience. I'm just sayin'.

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Amazing race

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Annotated Urban Dare clue sheet
Laura and I had a ton of fun yesterday running Chicago's 2009 Urban Dare race. Urban Dare is a scavenger hunt that takes you all over your city to solve trivia puzzles, collect photographs, and complete a few dares. You're only allowed to travel by foot or on public transportation. You need a phone, a digital camera, and a PDA with internet access—preferably all in one.

We started at noon in Oz Park. A trivia question got things underway. Every two-person team was directed to stand in a certain group depending on their answer to a multiple-choice question: In what year did Chicago's Playboy magazine publish its first issue? Since I, ahem, knew the answer was 1953 (come on, Marilyn Monroe was Miss December), Laura and I were in the first group to get our clue sheets and get started on the race.

We took our clue sheet to a nearby Orange Julius/Dairy Queen combo to have some ice cream and decipher our clues. We had to hit 11 stations throughout the city. For each clue we had to figure out where we were supposed to go, and what the best order would be for hitting them all. Once we had the locations plotted, we decided to tackle them from north to south.

It probably would have been smartest to just hope we would be able to pick up #7 (photo of a Cubs and Twins fan together) somewhere along the way, but we decided to ride up toward Wrigley Field first of all. As it turned out, we found our victims the moment we stepped onto the train. That let us head back to our next challenge without traveling all the way to Wrigley.

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I am easily distracted as a driver or pedestrian by beautiful creatures on the sidewalks. I'm not talking about girls in their summer dresses. I'm talking about dogs. Like the pair of huge, gorgeous English sheepdogs I guy was walking ahead of me yesterday, and which I furtively (and unsuccessfully) tried to snap a picture of. Or the reputed wolf-dog in the neighborhood I've heard reports of, and which Laura met this morning. Paint me jealous!

A few weeks ago, I was driving home from taking my mother to Midway Airport at the end of a week-long visit. I had run a few other errands (which included picking up a special-order copy of [info]ccfinlay's The Patriot Witch from the Book Cellar) when up ahead I saw a young woman walking a stunning medium-sized terrier down the street near Winnemac Park. I slowed the car a little. I didn't spare a glance for the woman. I was just thinking to myself, "Wow, now that's a beautiful dog."

When I got a little closer, I realized it was our twice-a-week dogwalker taking Ella out for her midday stroll. I had to laugh at myself.

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A "Hangover" to relish

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Early last week, Laura and I were lucky enough to win an invitation to a preview screening of the new comedy The Hangover, which opens today. Having been seeing the commercials for weeks already, I was looking forward to the screening. From the little I'd seen, the film looked right up my alley. Laura was more cautious going in, especially when our host Capone (of aintitcool.com) gleefully warned us we were about to see some disturbing images.

I won't beat around the bush. The Hangover may be the funniest movie I've seen in my life. Okay, that may be a bit of an exaggeration, but both Laura and I—and the rest of the audience—laughed so hard and loud that there was some dialogue we couldn't even hear. We hurt when we left the theater. I haven't laughed that hard at a movie since the first time I saw South Park: Bigger, Longer & Uncut.

The film is very cleverly written and structured. It follows a group of three men (Bradley Cooper, Ed Helms and Zach Galifianakis) who have taken their soon-to-be-married friend (Justin Bartha) to Las Vegas for an extended bachelor party. The three men wake up in the morning in a trashed hotel suite rife with clues that something big happened the night before, but with no memory of what that was. Oh, yes, and the groom is missing.

The main thrust of the plot details the friends' attempt to reconstruct the night's events and figure out where they lost track of the groom. Along the way, they meet not just a bevy of colorful characters and assorted weirdness, but also a good deal of violence. I'm tempted to drop hints about my favorite scenes—like the taser bit that just keeps getting funnier and funnier and funnier, even when the trailers have spoiled the final punchline—but I will resist the temptation. Given the media blitz that's been going on for weeks, you already know some of those bits, but that's only scratching the surface. You should go in with as clean a slate as possible.

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The mighty Dave Slusher has posted the new episode of his fine Reality Break podcast, an interview series focusing on science fiction and other genre literature. In this eighth episode, he talks to yours truly about writing and podcasting The Accidental Terrorist.

This interview was recorded in 2007 but has not been heard until now. Besides my own book, we talk about memoirs in general, writing after 9/11, my experiences growing up Mormon, and how those all have informed my fiction.

Dave is a terrific interviewer, and while I usually wince when listening to myself, I'm very, very happy with the way this session turned out. I hope you'll have a listen. If you enjoy it, thank Dave!

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If you're reading this, I assume you have at least a passing interest, if not a full-blown stake, in the future of online journalism. Most saliently, how can the business of news-gathering and distribution be monetized? Can it ever make money? How will the news business survive in the future, and what will it look like? How will readers consume news?

If you live in Chicago and care about these questions, you owe it to yourself and your community to attend the Chicago Media Future Conference. Organized by Mike Fourcher, Barbara Iverson, and (my friend) Scott Smith, this FREE conference will be held Saturday, June 13, at Columbia College's Film Row Cinema (1104 S. Wabash) from 1:30pm to 4:45pm. The program consists of two moderated 90-minute panels, each with a 10-minute introduction.

I hope you'll take the time to attend, but don't do it just on my say-so. Organizer Scott Smith was a guest this past Friday evening on WLUW's Out of the Loop Radio, and you can hear him discussing the conference in this audio stream, starting at about 2:01:

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Breaking good

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All that's going on in the world today and in my life lately has apparently not been enough to drag my short attention span away from Twitter*, but there's a television series that just managed it.

A few minutes ago, I finished watching the season 2 finale of AMC's original series Breaking Bad. I should be working on my novel right now, but I've been awake since 3:30 this morning when thunderstorms woke up the dog and consequently woke us up. As long as I was up anyway, I took the dog to the couch and started watching TV shows from the DVR. I watched an episode of Reaper, then an episode of Lie to Me, and then, because I just couldn't resist putting the reward off any longer, last night's episode of Breaking Bad.

If you're not familiar with the series, it's the story of a high school chemistry teacher named Walter White (Malcolm in the Middle's Bryan Cranston) who is diagnosed with lung cancer and starts a meth lab to provide money for his family for after he's gone. I love the series not just for the impeccable acting and directing, but for the pitilessness of the writing. Even when Walt makes his best and smartest decisions, the remorseless logic of his situation (and in fact of his own pride and anger) twists him deeper and deeper into a trap of his own making. His bid to save his family—and, it must be said, his desire to demonstrate to himself how smart he is—only ends up driving them all apart, and the consequences for the lesser players who enter his orbit are even worse.

Why does this relentless arc make me so happy to watch, even when watching sometimes feels like taking a knife in the gut? Maybe it's something of the same impulse that makes Eminem's rapping so compelling, even when (as in "3 A.M.") the content is repulsive. It's the thrill of watching artists in utter control of their tools.

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What do the Spanish flu and spirit photography have in common? The answer is Luke Bryant—a teenage boy in 1921 rural Nebraska, whose life is changed by both.

Cast a Cold Eye is a novella Derryl Murphy kindly invited me to work on with him several years ago. It took us nearly four years to write, batting it back and forth between other projects, and it's now been close to two years since we sold it to PS Publishing. And while it won't be out for several more months, it's finally, finally available to be pre-ordered.

There'll be two editions of Cast a Cold Eye that I know of—a signed and jacketed hardcover and an unsigned, unjacketed hardcover.

I'll let Derryl himself (via SFScope.com) tell you a little more about the book:

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