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

William Shunn, photographed by Colin Poellot at SingleCut Beersmiths, Sunday, August 16, 2015
So I had dinner the other night with Paul Witcover, the brilliant speculative fiction writer whose books you should be reading—and who happens to be copy-editing The Accidental Terrorist for me. I'm happy to report that he reported he was well over halfway through the book.

In fact, last night Paul emailed me what he had so far so I could get started on my corrections. It turns out he's more like 80% of the way through.

What does that mean? It means we're very close, kids. We're very close to having an absolutely finished book. It means we're probably about a week away from when I can place my order for the first batch of hardcovers, and that means I will absolutely be getting signed books out to my gracious early supporters before the end of September. I couldn't be more delighted.

In other book news, what you see above is my more-or-less-official author photo for the book jacket. It was taken by my friend Colin Poellot, quite an accomplished photographer. We have a couple of his prints hanging on our walls, and we thought he'd be the perfect choice for a jacket photo.

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The articles are beginning to pile up in my queue again, so it's time to clear them out and fill you in on some of the fascinating things happening in the world of Mormonism...


What do Utah Mormons have in common with the Orthodox Jews of Brooklyn? According to this fascinating Time article by Jon Birger, both religious communities are in matchmaking turmoil thanks to an excess of single women.

The wide-ranging piece is excerpted from Birger's new book Date-onomics: How Dating Became a Lopsided Numbers Game, and it explains how the gender imbalance has arisen in both populations, and what unexpected consequences have followed.

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I've been making Stamps.com work overtime as I mail out a ton of advance reading copies of The Accidental Terrorist, and it's beginning to pay off. My little book—okay, okay, it's not so little—is attracting some crucial early bits of critical attention.

Most gratifying, the first actual review to be posted appears at the web site of the Association for Mormon Letters. The AML is a pretty important organization out west for promoting LDS-related titles, and with a book like mine I was rather nervous about what their reaction would be. But reviewer Richard Packham turned out to be a most sympathetic reader. You can read his review in full here.

I have a couple of advance quotes in hand as well, so the blurbs that will appear on the cover are beginning to take shape. They will likely consist of the three quotes below, though I'll have to do more compressing so the cover isn't overwhelmed by text:

“This just may be my favorite true-life amazing-but-true tale—never has threatening an aircraft been funnier or more thought-provoking.”
—Cory Doctorow, author of Little Brother and Homeland
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Mormon's Secret Men's Magical Mesh Top
Not many people outside of Utah may be aware of it, but a controversy is brewing—and it has to do with Mormon underwear.

Specifically, it has to do with the portrayal of Mormon underwear on network television. As reported by Scott D. Pierce of The Salt Lake Tribune, next month's premiere episode of the new ABC series "Quantico" will feature a scene in which a young FBI recruit appears on screen in only his "garments," the sacred underclothes that many Mormons wear next to their skin.

Why is this controversial? It's not like garments are very racy, since they're meant to cover the body from the shoulders to the knees. (I, in fact, find them downright offputting, though I'm sure garments have their fetishists.) The problem is that most Mormons consider garments—which are stitched with arcane though unobtrusive symbols meant to remind the wearer of covenants made in the temple—to be sacred, and not intended for the prying eyes of outsiders.

This apparent secretiveness and sensitivity about garments has made them ripe for mockery. Most people, even if they know nothing else about the church, "know" that Mormons wear "magic underwear" to protects them from physical and spiritual harm. One of the most frequent questions I get, in fact, when someone finds out I'm a former Mormon, is: "Is it true about the magic underwear?"

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They call me the working man by William Shunn, on Flickr
I started a full-time job on Monday, my first in eight years, so I haven't had much spare time for the progress report I've been intending to make. But today is my birthday, dammit, so I'm taking the time to check in.

Everything is on schedule with The Accidental Terrorist. Revisions are all done. My copy editor is copy-editing. (Hi, Paul!) Uncorrected ARCs have started making their way out to reviewers (and potential blurbers), and in fact we've already heard back from one who says a "very positive review" will be forthcoming. Shh.

Pre-orders for the signed hardcover edition are now closed. To everyone who ordered one, I'm happy to report that it looks like I'll be able to get everyone's books out to them before the end of September. To everyone else, the regular editions have begun showing up for pre-order on Amazon. I'm hoping they'll soon be listed on Indiebound too.

I'm beginning to get a bit of travel squared away too. With the new job, I won't make it to as many places as I had hoped, but it looks like things are lining up for me to get to Salt Lake City in October for the Exmormon Foundation Conference and Chicago in November for Tuesday Funk.

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As I was working through the very final set of revisions on The Accidental Terrorist, I had to hunt down the original source of a well-known Joseph Smith quote on the topic of the accuracy of the Bible. I found what I was looking for in his History of the Church, but I also found a nearby paragraph that was equally interesting.

Joseph was obviously frustrated by the persecution he and his people had been suffering, and was perhaps even more frustrated by his inability to get protection or redress from the courts, or even much sympathy from President Martin Van Buren in a face-to-face 1840 meeting. In Volume VI, Chapter 3 of History of the Church, he wrote:

The Constitution should contain a provision that every officer of the Government who should neglect or refuse to extend the protection guaranteed in the Constitution should be subject to capital punishment; and then the president of the United States would not say, "Your cause is just, but I can do nothing for you," a governor issue exterminating orders, or judges say, "The men ought to have the protection of law, but it won't please the mob; the men must die, anyhow, to satisfy the clamor of the rabble; they must be hung, or Missouri be damned to all eternity." Executive writs could be issued when they ought to be, and not be made instruments of cruelty to oppress the innocent, and persecute men whose religion is unpopular.

Think about that for a minute. The death penalty for failing to protect everyone's rights under the Constitution. Can you imagine the irony had Joseph's fancy become an actual amendment? Can you imagine the implications for the attorney generals and county clerks who refused to issue marriage certificates to same-sex couples? Can you imagine the implications for district attorneys who failed to indict white officers for shooting black civilians?

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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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This will be a pretty technical post, so feel free to skip it if you're not interested in Perl coding and things of that nature.

When I started building my Accidental Terrorist Missionary Name Tag Creator, I knew I wanted to use the Perl interface to ImageMagick to overlay a name in bold white text onto the blank space on a name tag image like this one:

What's more, I wanted the name to look like it had actually been drilled out or stamped into the name tag, with maybe a slightly pebbled white surface to give things a nice feeling of texture.

I had used ImageMagick before for some simple applications, and I knew it was a very powerful graphics-processing package. However, it's also very arcane, without much in the way of user-friendly documentation. (Oh, there's plenty of documentation. It just helps to be fluent already in graphics-processing-ese to grok it.) Stack Overflow, to name just one forum, overflows with questions about how to do this or that with ImageMagick.

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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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