Inhuman Swill | Blog | William Shunn
Inhuman Swill : Page 42
Why is my blog called Inhuman Swill? Because you can unscramble the pieces to make William Shunn.

It has to have been 1988 when I first read Watchmen. I was a Mormon missionary stationed in Wenatchee, Washington—a zone leader, no less. We weren't allowed even to read newspapers or magazines, let alone comic books, but some sainted individual at church (I now forget who) had found out I was an aspiring science fiction writer and decided I needed to know about the most exciting thing to happen in the field in the time I'd been away. He (because he was definitely male) made me a gift of Issues 2 through 12.

I still remember the marathon reading session that went on that night. Two other elders were hanging out at our apartment that night, and as I finished each issue I would hand it off to my companion, who handed it off to the next elder, and so on. I think all our minds were blown that night, to one extent or another. I don't know what stood out for the other elders, but I was as fired up by the formal brilliance of the books, the panel-to-panel transitions and juxtapositions and visual motifs, as I was by the surface level of the story. Even at 20, I could tell that I had just watched a depth charge exploding against the hull of superhero mythology. I could also tell the blow had been delivered in a way no other medium could have accomplished.

My reading experience wasn't crippled, I think, by not having Issue 1 at hand, though the next day I dragged my companion to the first comics store I could find and plunked down something like ten dollars for a copy. That hurt a little, but it was still less than I would have paid for all twelves issues had I bought them as they came out. I still have those books, bagged in plastic and locked in the safe. I'd be hard-pressed to part with them, even though my Issue 1 is not from the first printing.

But now I digress. I've reread Watchmen many times over the years, and even turned my wife into a fan, so like any other fan I approached the news of a movie adaptation actually going into production with a mixture of excitement and apprehension. I didn't go to a midnight screening last Thursday night, but I did see the earliest showing I could get to on Friday. And I sat rapt, thrilled, and hypnotized for nearly three hours. Seeing those familiar scenes translated so beautifully and faithfully to the screen, I was transported.

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Flogging "Flog"

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Proper Manuscript Format Illustrated - Click here.
For well over a decade my manuscript formatting guide "Proper Manuscript Format" has been available online, with the result that I've fielded hundreds of questions on the subject from writers around the English-speaking world. For years now I've wanted to share those letters and my responses to them online, on the theory that for every question I receive there are probably ten times as many writers with the same question who don't email and would find the discussion helpful.

I've finally done somthing about it. My new, low-volume blog FLOG will feature my answers to readers' (and writers'!) questions about manuscript formatting, both newly received and mined from my email archives. Come on over and argue with us.

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A question of waste

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Laura and I became involved in a brief argument Sunday morning, not with each other but with a woman who loudly accused us of not picking up after Ella. She did this from some distance away, crossing the street toward us on a diagonal. After some hostile back-and-forth, I think we managed to convince the woman that the deposit our dog had just made was liquid in form and not solid, but our case was not helped by the fact that Ella had done so in the midst of a whole lot of old turds that had freshly been revealed by the melting snow.

The woman was understandably upset by the fact that some irresponsible owner was failing to pick up after his or her dog, and indeed this upsets us as well. It's not just that we sometimes get blamed for other people's failings. It's just ugly and unhygienic, and it's a hazard to the soles of one's shoes.

But the argument itself was upsetting enough that Laura and I spent a while afterward trying to come up with some better responses to false accusations of failing to scoop poop. How do you pithily yet politely point out to someone that the act they thought they saw was really something different, and head off an angry confrontation? Preferably it would something more disarming than simple denial.

The best we came up with, though I'm still not sure it's very good, was this: "I've tried and tried, but I still haven't figured out how to pick urine up off the ground."

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Office nostalgia

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I may have shared this video before, but I was waxing nostalgic about the (now broken-up) Rogers Sisters today and had to rewatch the charming video for their excellent song "Emotion Control," from their album The Invisible Deck:

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(Doesn't the guy in the video remind you a little of Jim from The Office?)

Maybe I was feeling nostalgic about working in an office (not that I want to do that again). That's the context from which I once knew Rogers Sisters bassist Miyuki Furtado&151;we worked together in an office for a few months back in 2000 or so. Check out his new band Shock Cinema.

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Game play variations

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Chapter 2. Coffee Chicago
For the advanced player, you can up the stakes of the novel game I outlined yesterday. Instead of having an absolute page number as a predetermined goal for each day's play, you can set each day's goal to be the previous day's ending page plus three. This way, if your day's goal was 33 and you stretched all the way to 35, your next day's goal would end up being 38 instead of 36.

I may get there later in the book, but for now I'm sticking with the absolute goals. In the middle of February I will spend a week traveling to places like Orlando and Milwaukee, and I plan to try to get far enough ahead by then that I don't have to worry about working full bore that week.

If you read between the lines of the previous two posts, you'll see that I was supposed to start writing the novel on Monday but didn't actually get underway until Tuesday. On Monday I ended up going back to a novelette I completed recently and extended it by a couple of pages. That's okay. I didn't quite catch up to where I was supposed to be on Tuesday, but yesterday I had a good run and not only caught up but gained a couple of pages. Finishing Chapter 1 put me on the middle of page 11. I read the chapter to Laura after her marathon-training run last night, and she said if she'd read it in a bookstore she would have had to buy the book and keep going.

This morning I bought a whole mess of 3x5 cards in different colors, tabbed 3x5 dividers, and a little 3x5 filing box. I'm making notes on characters, worldbuilding elements, and plot points, and filing everything by chapter. The terror of Chapter 1 is past, only to be replaced by the greater terror of Chapter 2.

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The rules of the game

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Maybe a lot of writers are like this, but I find it almost impossible to maintain forward momentum on a project as big as a novel without breaking the process down into manageable chunks. If I tell myself I need to write a complete novel in three or four months—panic! But if I tell myself I need to write three pages of a novel every day, well, that's seems pretty reasonable.

So I've created myself a calendar and given myself a set of rules. The calendar started on January 26, and the note for that day says "3." The note for January 27 says "6." The note for today says "9," and so on. The calendar extends all the way to May 15, the note for which says "330."

The rules are pretty simple. It's kind of like football, in fact. Every day I start at the line of scrimmage, which is wherever I left off the day before, and write at least until the cursor reaches the page with that day's number. It doesn't matter if I actually type anything on that page or not. As long as the cursor reaches that page through legal game play, I'm safe. That can either be accomplished by writing all the way to the end of a page naturally, or by reaching the end of a chapter and advancing automatically to the next page.

For bonus yardage and a bit of a kickstart, each new chapter starts halfway down the page. (You can see that this allows for things to start out easy on the first day. From halfway down page 1, it only takes a hair over a page and a half to get to 3.)

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Cubist writing

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I just did a word count on the novel I (to all intents and purposes) started writing yesterday. Here's what WordPerfect told me:

Words:  1000 Sentences:  64
Two perfect cubes. I'll bet that doesn't happen again for the remainder of the book.
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New York, I miss you

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I loved this LCD Soundsystem song even before I saw the video, but now I love it even more.

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My first professional story, "From Our Point of View We Had Moved to the Left" (F&SF, February 1993), was set on Inauguration Day, 2009. Thank God the real 1/20/09 is an infinitely more hopeful occasion than the one in my story.

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Listen to my station on!

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