Inhuman Swill : Memoir : Page 17

Chapter 32: "A Dunk Before Dying"

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Just finished Chapter 32. That's 658 manuscript pages total. Onward and upward.

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Selfish Saturday

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I'm supposed to be at a party right now. I'm not there. I'm being selfish.

Why? I'd love to see Ellie and all the other friends who will no doubt be there, but I'm on a roll with my book this afternoon and I can't quite bring myself to stop. Ellie and company throw wonderful, fun, and vibrant parties, and I know I would have a good and worthwhile time—but I had such a hard time finishing the last chapter that I guess I'm almost afraid to lose my momentum on this one. I don't get my usual three-day weekend this week, and I have to go to Arizona for a wedding party over the President's Day weekend, so my upcoming schedule is pretty oppressively cramped.

So, Ellie, I hope you will forgive my absence, and likewise anyone else reading this who might have expected to see me this afternoon (Baldanders?). I feel at least badly enough to take time out to excoriate explain myself in public. I hope to see you all soon.

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In the interest of giving myself a little kick in the pants, I'll be making a big fuss every time I complete a new chapter of my book. So, last night I finished Chapter 31, just in time to go to karate class. It was the first chapter I'd finished in a month, what with this and that and the other. I'm hoping to knock out Chapter 32 this weekend. You'll know whether or not I do.

I project 49 chapters in all, plus a postlude. Unfortunately, I also project about a thousand manuscript pages. We're at 641 right now. Argh!

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For the remainder of the hour, Elder Fowler and I wound Buddy Van Rijk in an increasingly constrictive net of dogma, woven from strands—even by Christian standards—of ever more tenuous logic. It was the type of snare that can only constrain a willing captive; one misstatement on our part, one question or concern unsatisfactorily addressed, and the whole careful construct falls away like trick ropes from an escape artist.

Elder Fowler explained the role Jesus Christ plays in the Plan of Salvation, negating through His sacrifice the effects of death and sin that would otherwise prevent us from returning to God's presence. (Being a sports fan, Van Rijk was surely familiar with the supporting New Testament verse—John 3:16, "For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son"—that Fowler asked him to read aloud from the family Bible.) I described the process by which God makes the Plan known to His children: instructing prophets to pass His words along to all the Earth's inhabitants, which come to us as scripture. Relating an abbreviated version of Joseph Smith's First Vision as anecdotal evidence, Elder Fowler affirmed that God continues to speak to prophets in our modern day and age. Then I put forth the Book of Mormon as one of the premier fruits of Joseph's holy calling, and briefly summarized its premise and contents.

In these latter parts of the discussion, we painted Joseph Smith for our investigator the way weak sunlight paints a stained-glass saint for the parishioners inside a cathedral—we rendered him beatific and blessèd, aglow with a numinous radiance, yet for all that curiously flat, distant, and inscrutable. We applied no brushstroke that might have brought life to that colorful rogue, teased out no overlooked detail that might have shed light on his enormous charisma (a force so powerful that Mormons still love the man fiercely and recklessly more than a century and a half after his death). In our singleminded quest to prove both Joseph and his magnum opus modern witnesses of Christ, we certainly recounted no tale like the one I'm about to tell. But stories like these are as great a part of the appeal of Mormonism as the doctrine of eternal families—to long-standing members, perhaps even more so. Check this out:

It was probably late in 1812 that typhoid fever swept through Joseph Smith's family. The previous year his parents had settled with their six living children in Lebanon, New Hampshire, where, after a series of financial disasters, they had begun at last to regain their footing. Joseph would have been nearly seven when he and his siblings, including the new baby Catherine, took sick. All seven children eventually recovered, though Joseph's older sister Sophronia nearly died and Joseph himself developed a painful abscess (what he called a "fever sore") in one shoulder.

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Waving, not drowning

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Well, well, well. It's been a long time!

I was just looking over my and my friend's journals, marveling at the fact that I hadn't posted for a month and a half, and contemplating this entry when Baldanders AIMed me out of the blue. He had noted my long absence and wondered if I was okay. Strange synchronicity.

Gang, I'm okay. A lot of things have happened that I want to tell you about -- and that I wanted to tell you about as they happened -- but I have this difficulty. I'm rather poor at time management, and a single activity usually comes to dominate my existence. (Baldanders argues that this is good time management, and it may well be.) Right now the dominant activity is writing my memoir; it takes up most of my free time and leaves little emotional energy for anything else. And since my full-time job has to take some kind of precedence it there... Well, you get the point.

I've been to Utah recently, I'm going to California, Arizona, and Florida soon, I've nearly choked to death at a noodle shop on Union Square, I've had a doctor stick an optical cable up my nose and down my throat, I've acquired two more fish, I've finally met my five-year-old son, and I've written about 150 pages since the last journal entry. In fact, it may even be time to post a table-of-contents update to keep myself going (not that I intend to lose momentum at this point:

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No room at the pigeon hole

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The long silence has ended. This is what the Interested Editor at the Major House had to say in response to my agent's gentle inquiry:

Sorry to be slow--I've been fighting in my corner here, and in the end I failed. The draft of the letter I was writing you follows--I'm very upset I couldn't do it, but there were just too many questions in people's minds. Anyhow, here's the letter, and I'll send the materials back today. Best for now, **:

Dear ******:

Sorry to report that I won't be making an offer for THE ACCIDENTAL TERRORIST by William Shunn. As I told you, I've never come across a manuscript that caused as much consternation—consternation in a good way, mind—than this one. Most of the editorial group read most of it, and all agreed that it's very well written, very compelling, and not a little disturbing; Lord knows what's coming in part two. Mr. Shunn can really handle a tale, and his writing line-to-line is never less than impressive. Unfortunately, though, in the end we just couldn't work out how best to publish this book—the sting in the tale is perhaps too sharp, especially as it does shine such a light back on the rest of the book. A Mormon coming of age story with a terroristic ending—I just couldn't convince my colleagues how best to read a substantial readership with that as my hook. It may be that other editors see the opportunities more clearly, and I hope that's the case as the book is certainly not one I'll easily forget. If Mr. Shunn's work should come free in the future, I'd be very happy to reconsider it—he's a real writer, that much is for certain.

The material you submitted is enclosed, and thanks, as always, for thinking of me.

Yours,
**** *******
I feel sort of like Evel Knievel, having missed the far rim of the Grand Canyon by mere feet. I'll make it next time, dammit, but I need some time to mend.
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Once in a while in my Usenet newsgroup, I post the current state of the table of contents from my book, just so I can demonstrate to myself that I'm making progress. If you don't care for statistics or for recitations of accomplishments that don't affect you, you might want to steer clear now.

I finished Part I of my memoir late in August (including an interlude that forms the connective tissue between the two halves), then shipped it off to my agent. That was 25 chapters plus a prelude and an interlude, and it amounted to a horrifying total of 523 manuscript pages.

Over the next few weeks, I whittled about 70 pages (and two full chapters) out of the manuscript, completely replaced the prelude, wrote a synopsis of the second half, and let my agent start submitting the thing. I also carved two excerpts out of what I had already done for her to try selling to magazines.

This was all a lot of work, and it took me a while after that to get my notes for the second half organized, get my head around the shape of the rest of the book, and get all the necessary loafing out of my system. It seemed like I'd been away from the book itself for quite a while when I finally sat down a week and a half ago, at last, to start producing new material. This morning before work I finished what is now Chapter 24, the first chapter of Part II of the book.

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Here comes the firestorm

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I knew this was going to happen, but that doesn't make it any less aggravating now that it has.

See, as part of this Mormon missionary memoir of mine, I've divulged secrets of the Mormon temple ceremony that I'm not supposed to talk about. In fact, I took gruesome oaths on my life in the Mormon temple never to reveal the contents of that ceremony.

Now that the book is picking its paraplegic way toward publication, I figured I should give my parents a heads-up about the coming betrayal. (Not only will the book contain, early on, this temple material, but I've also culled those pages out as an excerpt for my agent to try to sell to some major magazine.) I emailed my parents, told them about the contents and purpose of my book, and offered to let them see what I had written so far so they could be prepared for the consequences. My mother asked to see the book so I sent it to her a couple of weeks ago.

Well, this morning I received the following loving email from one of my siblings (I have seven):

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The waiting game

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Have you ever experienced Chinese water torture? I haven't either, but it's probably much like waiting to hear from an editor who has expressed a hope of making an offer on your book.

I'm writing this book called The Accidental Terrorist. It's a memoir, really—the first-person story of a loveable young Mormon dissident-to-be who unwillingly serves a mission for his church, only to have it lead him to a terrorist act when he starts taking the whole thing a little too seriously. It's a light-hearted book, really.

My agent submitted the (partial) manuscript to seven publishers last month. About two and a half weeks ago, she wrote to tell me that one of these esteemed editors had called her, and that he loved the book and hoped to be able to make an offer soon. I was stunned.

Then, about a week and a half ago, he called my agent again to tell her that he had a lot of support for the book at his house and was presenting to his editorial and publications boards the next week. He expected things to go well, though he was a little worried about the "dual" nature of the book (i.e., Mormon coming-of-age story melded with terrorism drama).

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The Accidental Terrorist 30th Anniversary Sale

Signed editions
that even a
missionary
could afford.

Order yours now!

William Shunn

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