Inhuman Swill : Memoir : Page 7
            

The Accidental Terrorist: Our book may not be free, but at least it won't cost you 10% of your income.
The publication date for my memoir The Accidental Terrorist inches ever closer. We're a little more than four months away from rolling out the book, and things here at Accidental Army Headquarters (a/k/a my house) are busy as ever.

The most important news to share is that last week I received my final set of editorial notes from the brilliant and insightful Juliet Ulman. I was breathlessly awaiting her verdict on the heavily rewritten draft I turned in at the end of March, and the news was good. Here's a bit of what she said:

This book went exactly where I wanted it to go, and it's so much stronger, not just because of the added historical context, but because of the additional work you put into trimming fat and pulling all of your threads tight. This is the book we were aiming at, its bones and body solid, and all you're doing now with these final edits is stepping back to look it over last time and polish it until the shine is satisfactory to you. I hope you're proud of what you've accomplished with this text, because you certainly should be.

I have to admit that the room got a little dusty when I read that. It's nice finally to hear an editor say "Good job" after sixteen years of work.

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To Young Men Only by Boyd K. Packer
A handful of links have been accumulating in my to-be-posted queue over the past couple of weeks. Time to toss them out there for consumption.


First, longtime Mormon apostle Boyd K. Packer died last Friday at the age of 90. To many of us who grew up in the church, Packer was the "scary apostle," the one most likely to give talks on uncomfortable topics, and to do it in frightening ways. He was the closest thing we had to an old-fashioned fire-and-brimstone preacher.

Packer will long be remembered for his influential talk (later published as a pamphlet) called "To Young Men Only," which could have been subtitled "Why You Should Feel Like an Evil Dirty Shit If You're Weak Enough to Masturbate." And this is the same talk in which he unconvincingly pretends not to endorse violence against men who make passes at other men. "I am not recommending that course to you," he says with a broad wink, "but I am not omitting it. You must protect yourself."

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We had no idea that what we were really doing was a cover shoot for my memoir.

It was the late summer of 1987. I was stationed with my assigned mission companion, Elder Tim Bishop, in Bonners Ferry, Idaho. We lived rent-free in a small house owned by a local Mormon farming family. The house was a couple of miles outside of town, in the middle of a vast swath of wheat fields. The Kootenai River meandered nearby. Occasionally a moose would wander by or a bald eagle would sail overhead.

I'd been there since May, so I'd gotten to watch much of the growing and harvest process. At the end of the season, the farmers let us know that they would soon be burning the stubble of one of the fields, which would lie fallow the next year.

Even with advance warning, it was quite a shock when Bish and I, returning home in the late afternoon from a day of whatever missionaries do to occupy their time, spotted the smoke rising in the distance. Driving up the dirt road between the burning fields was a surreal experience, even with the greatest part of the fires having died down. It was so surreal, in fact, that we did exactly what you would expect from bored 19- or 20-year-old kids.

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The Accidental Terrorist Close the Book Campaign
My sixteen-year quest to publish my memoir The Accidental Terrorist is nearly over. I feel like I've been fighting my way down the field all that time, sometimes making progress, sometimes getting stopped cold, sometimes losing big ground. But now that it's fourth and inches, and I need your help to cross the goal line.

Okay, enough with the bad sports metaphors, and I'll try not to waste much of your time. What I'm asking is simple:

  • If you'd like to help, all you need to do is pre-order a copy of the book.

    Possibly you were planning to wait to buy The Accidental Terrorist at a book signing, or to order it this fall from your favorite independent bookstore. (Or possibly you don't give a rats' ass, in which case I'm not really addressing you right now.) I can't fault you for that, and I don't even want to try to dissuade you. But the fact is, you will help me more if you pre-order a copy of the hardcover today, directly from me.

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    The Falcon and the Snowman: Original Motion Picture Soundtrack In 1985, I was a far bigger fan of jazz guitarist Pat Metheny than just about any other musician. The album that infected me was 1982's Offramp, which sounded unlike anything else I'd ever heard. I became a hardcore consumer of any and all vinyl featuring either Metheny or his compositional partner in the Pat Metheny Group, pianist Lyle Mays. (My friends and I could and did spend hours debating the meaning of the 20-minute title track from As Falls Wichita, So Falls Wichita Falls. Yes, we were not normal.)

    Thus it was inevitable, thirty years ago, that I would buy the new album from the Pat Metheny Group as soon as it appeared, even if it was the soundtrack to a movie I had not seen. I had a vague understanding of the true-life espionage case behind The Falcon and the Snowman (based on the book by Robert Lindsey), which told the story of Christopher Boyce and Daulton Lee, two young men from southern California who were arrested in 1977 for selling intelligence secrets to the Soviet Union. (Boyce was a falconry enthusiast and Lee a cocaine dealer, which is where their sobriquets came from.) I always meant to see the film, but never did.

    But that didn't affect my enjoyment of the soundtrack. In fact, it might have enhanced it, as I could listen and try to imagine what was happening on screen during each passage. It wasn't my favorite Metheny album by any means, but parts of it I liked quite a lot. I even grudgingly came to enjoy the collaboration with David Bowie that kicked off side 2 of the record, "This Is Not America"—though I disliked the way the credits on the single made it seem like the Pat Metheny Group was just Bowie's backing band.

    Anyway, it was late in 1985, when I was 18, after I'd been living with the album for eight or nine months, that a close friend of mine, whom I call "Andy Kilmer" in The Accidental Terrorist, came to me with a request. This passage is from the book:

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    I don't remember whether or not I reported this on Twitter and Facebook, but I know I haven't mentioned it here on the blog. The latest revision of The Accidental Terrorist is finished!

    I completed this new, significantly revised draft on March 29. Over the next week I glanced at it from time to time, fixing bits and tinkering a little, but overall I'm pretty happy with it—happier than I've been with any of the previous drafts. Last week I sent the manuscript to Juliet Ulman, my brilliant editor. Hopefully I'll have my final revision notes before the end of May, and then a final draft of the book that I can get to my copy editor before mid-summer.

    This book is happening, friends.

    Now a question for you. I'm going to put the book out in trade paperback form, as well as various flavors of ebook. I've been toying with the idea of making a signed hardcover version available as well, for a little extra money, but I would have to place a bulk order for those to make it financially worthwhile, and that would mean having people place pre-orders so I know how many to print.

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    When I announced last October that I would be self-publishing my memoir this year, I optimistically thought I could have it out by the spring. Spring is now right around the corner, and I think I can say with some confidence that ... er, The Accidental Terrorist will be available no sooner than this fall.

    But that's the only bad news I have to report! I've been very busy these past five months, and I'd like to tell you a little about it. As many drafts of this memoir as I've done, I've never quite been happy with it, so my first order of business was hiring an editor. Fortunately for me, I know one of the best in the business, Juliet Ulman, and she was willing to work with me on the book. She worked at Bantam Dell for eleven years, and since striking out on her own she has since continued to do amazing things, like for instance editing a little novel you may have heard of, The Windup Girl. She herself has two Hugo Award nominations for Best Professional Editor. I'm very lucky to have her input.

    Juliet delivered her first set of notes and edits to me at the end of December. All her observations were very helpful, but by far her biggest suggestion was that I widen out the scope of the book, to make it more than just my own story but an investigation into Mormonism itself.

    Needless to say, that sounded like a lot of work. But at the same time, it jibed completely with my original vision for the book. In fact, if you listened to the podcast version of The Accidental Terrorist, then you know that I did interpolate a lot of material from Mormon history into the narrative. For some reason, it seemed like a good idea to me to take that material out in a later draft. (This is why I can't have nice things.)

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    A previous outtake from my memoir The Accidental Terrorist ended with these lines:

    Women wield a strange power over the male missionary—even women who don't exist. Perhaps especially women who don't exist.

    There's another scene in the book that addressed what I was alluding to there—at least, I thought there was. When I went looking for that scene, I couldn't find it. I had to dig way back to the second draft of the book to locate it, and now I'm not sure what possessed me to take it out. Believe me, it's going back into the latest draft.

    Names, of course, have been changèd.

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    In a message exchange a few months ago, a friend and former colleague from my missionary days reminded me of a funny story from 1988 involving the elder who was then my companion.

    I didn't immediately recall the incident, but then when I was rooting around the other day in a very old draft of my memoir The Accidental Terrorist, I found that I'd remembered it well enough a dozen years ago or more to include it.

    Here's that deleted excerpt. My friend who reminded me of the incident is the "Sister Evans" who appears below, by the way, and the Word of Wisdom is the strict Mormon commandment against using alcohol or coffee.


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    I've always believed that I have a pretty good memory—in particular, that I can recall formative events and conversations from years or even decades ago in reasonably good detail. When I started work on my memoir The Accidental Terrorist, I made a list of incidents, events, and bits of lore from my mission that I wanted to include. The more of these that I wrote down, the more others I started to remember. My notes ran pages and pages and pages.

    I'm now working my way through a revision of the book with notes from my editor, Juliet Ulman. The occasional query scrawled in the margin questions details I seem to recall clearly. I've started wondering how much I can trust those old memories, especially the smaller moments I could easily have misremembered or invented. I've started looking for bits I can actually confirm.

    Last night I came to the passage below, which seemed like it should be eminently verifiable. The scene is southern Alberta, October 1986:

    On Friday of that week, we were talking heavy metal when I mentioned that the only band I liked of that sort was Rush.

    "Ah, so you're one of those," said Fowler. "Same as every other missionary in Canada. You know last winter they had a concert scheduled up in Edmonton?"

    "That was the Power Windows tour. What a great show. I saw it in Salt Lake."

    "Well, I was serving in Edmonton at the time. I swear half the elders in town must've had tickets."

    I gaped. In my civilian life, I had the right to choose to see a rock concert if I wanted, whether or not the Church or my father approved. But for a missionary, ordained and set apart as a representative of Jesus Christ, the rules were different. No music, especially not rock music, and especially not live rock music. That was just handing Satan the keys to your soul's front door.

    "Including you?" I asked.

    "Naw, Rush ain't my thing. But anyways, the day of the show this massive blizzard hits. No joke. Shuts everything down. No planes in or out. Concert canceled."

    "Whoa."

    "You're telling me. You think God wanted all those missionaries rocking out in clouds of dope smoke? No way. It would have killed the Spirit dead in Edmonton for a month."
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    The Accidental Terrorist 30th Anniversary Sale

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    William Shunn

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