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

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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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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  • Tourists in Times Square
    Blocking the sidewalk to gape
    At an ambulance

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    Our Dependency on Foreign Keys, art by Hayrettin Karaerkek
    The second and concluding part of my new science fiction novelette, "Our Dependency on Foreign Keys," is available today at the online magazine Across the Margin. (Part One appeared yesterday.)

    When last we left our not-so-heroic hero Pell "Franny" Franziskaner, he was no closer than he was at the start to figuring out who is sabotaging his cocktail party and threatening to kill him, nor to completing or even figuring out the task he's been given by the super-duper advanced A.I. called Hondo. But at least he's invented a cool new party game called dueling holaoke! Will Franny unravel the mysteries before it's too late? And will Hondo ever make an appearance at the party?

    Learn all the answers now...

    Part One: http://acrossthemargin.com/odfkpo/

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    Our Dependency on Foreign Keys, art by Hayrettin Karaerkek
    A brand-new story of mine, "Our Dependency on Foreign Keys," is available today at the online magazine Across the Margin.

    Or actually, the first half of this 11,000-word story is available today. The second half will go live tomorrow morning.

    And to be honest, it's not exactly brand-new, either, though this is the first time readers are seeing it. According to an old blog post, I was working on this story during a trip to Malta and the Middle East in May 2008. It was one of those stories that started with the title, and as I worked out the basic situation of the story the plot and its world, things grew very complicated indeed, even given that I decided to set it in the same near-future historical continuum as a couple of my earlier stories. I clearly remember the bar in Chicago's Bucktown neighborhood where I was sitting when I named the main character Pell Franziskaner. According to my records, I finished the first draft around the time Barack Obama began his first term as president.

    The story was a difficult one to write because I needed it to be light and frothy but dense at the same time. I took the Jeeves and Wooster stories as my model, though I think you'd be hard-pressed to see that in this final version. Connie Willis's screwball comedies like "Blued Moon" were an inspiration too, though again...

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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'm not here to tell you about Justified, the Elmore Leonard–based FX television series that ended this week after six terrific seasons. I'm not here to tell you why it was my favorite show, or why I look forward to rewatching it even more than Breaking Bad. I'm not here to praise the writing, the directing, or the acting, or to lament the fact that it never found more than a cult audience.

    I'm just here to present this playlist I assembled of some great Justified moments, so you can see for yourself how much fun it was—that is, if sarcastic gunslinging U.S. Marshals tangling with colorful, loquacious criminals in rural Kentucky is your idea of fun:

    And here are a few appreciations of Justified from around the web:

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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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    William Shunn

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