Writing | Inhuman Swill | William Shunn
Inhuman Swill : Writing : Page 4
            

Chicago is getting its own down-home writers conference! The Chicago Writers Conference will take place September 14-16 at Tribune Tower in beautiful downtown Chicago. Speakers and presenters include Chuck Sambuchino, Robert K. Elder, and Cinnamon Cooper, while special readings will be staged by both Essay Fiesta and Tuesday Funk.

But the Chicago Writers Conference can only happen with your help! I'd explain why the conference deserves your support, but there's already a compelling plea from organizer Mare Swallow, Write Club founder Ian Belknap, and yours truly up on Kickstarter. Check us out:

So please kick in a few shekels and help support the Chicago Writers Conference. Several great incentives are still available, including a story critique (up to 10,000 words) from me for a mere $175 pledge. (The custom poem is already gone. Sorry!) Please help, and we'll looking forward to seeing you at Tribune Tower in September!

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Blueprint for murder?

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Like many writers, I have long had the habit of keeping notes about future story ideas. I was probably 17 or 18 when I had an idea for a story about man whose many siblings are one by one being picked off by an unknown assailant. The man grows increasingly paranoid and isolated as each one dies, until at last he is the only sibling left. We come to understand that the story has unfolded over the course of a lifetime, and the only assailant is implacable death itself. My note for the story was probably something along the lines of "Brothers and sisters murdered one by one."

Like many fathers, mine long had the habit of going through my stuff from time to time. So it was that my father sat me down one night with a solemn look on his face, waved my story notes, and said, "Are you planning to kill your brothers and sisters?"

As the eldest of eight kids, I admit that I did not take much interest in my family, and I did keep to myself as best I could and keep my many creative pursuits secret. But was that chicken or egg? Was I like that because I had to put up with stupid questions like that one?

I think my father died without ever honestly understanding why I didn't like to talk to him. Which is a shame because he was a smart, interesting guy, and I could have learned a lot of things from him. I mean things besides the ones he taught inadvertently.

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Epidode #61 of The Accidental Terrorist Podcast is now available, in which Bill explains how you can bid to win your very own privately printed copy of his memoir The Accidental Terrorist. Listen up! (Or simply click here to learn more and bid now.)

http://www.shunn.net/podcast?at=61

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Epidode #55 of "ShunnCast" is now available, in which Bill explains how you can bid to win your very own privately printed copy of his memoir The Accidental Terrorist. Listen up! (Or simply click here to learn more and bid now.)

http://www.shunn.net/podcast?id=55

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WTF with Marc Maron
Saturday, August 27, 2011

Dear Marc Maron

For some reason this is a hard letter to write. I'm a relatively new fan of your podcast and your comedy, having come to it all through the broadcasts on WBEZ, but it seems like ages I've been trying to compose a thank you to you in my head. I mean, how hard should it be just to say I appreciate what you do and your show means a lot to me? Especially for a writer like me.

I'm 44 years old. My wife and I live in Chicago. I'm a writer, mostly of science fiction. Nothing glamorous like film or TV—I'm talking the basic stuff, prose on a page. None of which really explains why I've been chewing my way so voraciously through your podcast archive, or why I feel such a connection to what you do.

Part of it, I guess, is some of the weird correspondences with my life. I was born in Highland Park, for instance, where you now live, though I only lived there until I was six. (I was in L.A. in February, and I called my mom in Utah and told her I was planning to go visit the old house on Aldama Street. She said, "Oh, I don't think that's a very good idea." I went anyway with my buddy Ashir—the neighborhood was fine—and was surprised to see how small the house was, to remember how steep the hill was, and to hear parrots or some shit squawking in the big old trees.) I lived in Astoria for a long time, same as you, and it might be the best place I've ever lived. (Did you ever eat at Kabab Cafe on Steinway near 25th Ave? My favorite place in the world.) You have hassles getting into Canada—I can't even go to Canada, thanks to a ridiculous incident in Calgary when I was a stupid young 19-year-old Mormon missionary. (It's a long story.) I was on Air America ... um, one time, when Ron Kuby interviewed me a couple of years ago about a podcast I was doing. (See how I'm grasping at straws already? I should reassure you that I don't think there's some mystical, brothers-under-the-skin bond here. Cats are nice, but I'm a fucking dog person, okay?)

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RIP Mark W. Worthen (1962-2011)

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Mark W. Worthen
My friend Mark Worthen ([info]nitewanderer) passed away unexpectedly yesterday. He was a horror, crime, and science fiction writer who worked tirelessly behind the scenes of the Stoker Awards for the Horror Writers Association and also served as HWA's webmaster. I wandered around in dark fog yesterday after hearing the news. I can't believe he's gone.

I first met Mark in 1993 when I joined a writing group called Xenobia in Provo, Utah. He was only a few years older than I was, and we bonded over a certain darkness and irreverence in our fiction and our worldviews. I wouldn't have expected it back then, but he's the person from that group that I stayed in closest touch with over the years. Through one circumstance or another, we both ended up moving out of Utah around the same time and leaving some misunderstandings behind. That was another thing to bond over, the feeling that we were outcasts and exiles.

While I went to New York City, Mark's path took him to South Korea. He was a brilliant linguist and specialized in teaching ESL. I was amazed by his adventurousness, but he had lived in Europe and South America already and from the stories he told later he took full advantage of his time in Asia.

Next I heard from him, he was in the Midwest, Missouri to be precise, with the love of his life, J.P. Edwards. It was probably around then that Mark asked if I'd contribute a story to his new online horror magazine Blood Rose (one of the earlier of its kind). I did, and actually ended up hosting the website for him (which I still do). It wasn't much later that I found myself traveling to Jefferson City for Mark and Jeannie's wedding, and found him happier than I'd ever known him.

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Warmed by the flames

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It's been far too long since I had a nice flamewar. I think the last one, in fact, was about two years ago when a sister missionary I knew twenty-four years ago friended me on Facebook and then posted to my wall to say the F-word offended her and she knew I would stop using it and polluting her news feed with it. I didn't even have to respond. It was my wife and friends who did the dirty work for me. Nice to be able to get my hands a litle dirty again.

From: Random Person
To: Bill Shunn
Subject: Editing job

Mr. Shunn, I would like you to consider editing two 10,000 word stories of mine. I am attaching a sample to work on and resubmit to me so I can see the calibre of your work product - if you're interested in the job.

From: Bill Shunn
To: Random Person
Subject: Editing job

In other words, you want me to edit you for free? Fuck off. I'm deleting your email without looking at these files.

From: Random Person
To: Bill Shunn
Subject: Editing job

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Of spiders and flies

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Laura and I were talking over some of the difficulties I've been having this week with my revisions of The Accidental Terrorist when she gave me the absolute perfect image for the central conflict in the book. The main character, in her view, is a fly trapped in a spiderweb, struggling to free itself with only the vaguest notion of the nature of its predicament.

(See, I'm the fly, and the LDS Church is... Yeah.)

This image is so spot-on, so apt to something I was struggling to articulate to myself, that I wish I could somehow work it into the book. Unfortunately (or maybe fortunately, since I don't want to be too heavy-handed about it), I'm pretty much constrained by the reality of my experiences during the six months of my life that the book covers, and those six months did not include any spiders.

No, the spider didn't become a factor in my mission until five or six months after the events of the book. I was serving in Bonners Ferry, Idaho, by then. My companion and I lived rent-free in a small house in the middle of a wheatfield owned by some local Mormons. We were a little bored in that town, and one thing my companion did to pass the time was adopt a little spider that lived in a web in the window frame of one of the empty back rooms. He would go around the house catching flies and dropping them into the web, then watch the spider kill them. This was the best-fed spider in northern Idaho. It grew so quickly that after about a month its web (which it unstrung and re-spun every day) was so strong that you could strum it like a guitar and it wouldn't break. The spider itself was as big as the first joint of my thumb.

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The tissue at hand

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Having finished the first draft of a novel a few months back, I am now slowly but surely whittling my memoir, The Accidental Terrorist, down to its fighting weight. This means chopping out certain scenes I'm very fond of, but which don't fit the focus and tone of the revised manuscript.

Here's one of those scenes I'm sorry to see go, surgically excised and preserved under glass for your inspection.


October 1986

"You want to see my what?" said Elder Vickers, assuming that expression of shock and disgust he feigned so well.

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Frey-ing fish in a barrel

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After reading last week's New York Magazine feature article "James Frey's Fiction Factory," I was tempted to post another jeremiad against the author who proves himself time and again the slimiest, most brazenly unapologetic charlatan to disgrace our industry in the past decade.

Fortunately, doing so would be redundant, since I can just send you to John Scalzi's two excellent posts analyzing Frey's latest hijinks:

  • The Man in the Frey Flannel Suit
  • An Open Letter to MFA Writing Programs (and Their Students)

    All I will add is that you should never sign a contract with a man who claims there's no difference between fact and fiction.

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