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Photo by Max Muselmann on Unsplash

Sometimes life (or a diabolical puzzle editor) throws you a curve you know is coming, and it still beans you in the brainpan. Bee alert!

The New York Times Spelling Bee is a daily online puzzle that presents a set of seven letters and challenges players to construct as many words as possible using them. There’s always at least one word — the “pangram” — that uses all seven letters. One letter is designated as the “center,” and that letter must appear in all the solutions.

I starting playing the Spelling Bee in the fall of 2018, and I quickly became fascinated with it. Before long I’d started building a little web tool to help me find solutions to the puzzle when I got stuck…


Reporters take notes at a press conference
Reporters take notes at a press conference
Photo by The Climate Reality Project on Unsplash

With the president attempting to withhold funding from the World Health Organization, questions naturally arise as to where responsibility for the rapid spread of the novel coronavirus lies.

[White House press briefing, 14 April 2020]

“All right, I’ll take one more question. Yes?”

“Mr. President, who was responsible for the slow response to the coronavirus threat?”

“Yes.”

“What?”

“WHO.”

“That’s what I’m asking.”

“That’s what I’m telling you. WHO was responsible.”

“Do you have an answer to the question, sir?”

“WHO.”

“Yes, that’s what we’d all like to hear. Who was responsible?”

“Thank you, that’s what I’ve been saying all along.”

“Sir, who said on January 22nd that the situation was totally under control?”

“That sounds about right.”

“But who said it?”

“Yes, and they made a lot…


POST-MORMON STORIES

Thoughts on Swearing and Belonging

When you’re the only Mormon at a prestigious summer writing workshop, it can be tough to convince people that you already know how to swear.

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Bob Howe, 26 (left), and Bill Shunn, 17, at a Clarion ’85 scholarship event, East Lansing, Michigan. From the author’s collection.

In 1985, when I was seventeen, I was accepted into Clarion, a prestigious summer workshop in science fiction writing at Michigan State University. I wasn’t the youngest person ever to attend Clarion, but I was close. …


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Photo by Joanna Boj on Unsplash

POST-MORMON STORIES

Thoughts on Bagels and Belonging

Mormons say that in the next life, we’ll sort ourselves into the kingdoms where we feel the most comfortable. That happens in this life too.

There used to be a diner called Orloff’s on Columbus Avenue between 65th and 66th. It occupied a storefront in a grand white six-story building across from Lincoln Center. But Orloff’s isn’t there anymore, having been displaced by its landlord, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. …


Advice for Young Writers

Reach big, read widely, and, most of all, never give up even when that’s what the adults around you think you should do.

There’s a time-honored tradition in writing, whether it be a science fiction story, a newspaper article, or a brief speech, that you open with an attention-grabbing sentence that will keep the audience reading or listening.

I’m going to break with that tradition this evening. My opening line will be this:

“Run while you still can! Stop listening! Get out! Go!”

Well. I don’t see anyone leaving. All right, I guess that means you’re going to have hear…


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Mötley Crüe at Sweden Rock Festival 2012 (Bjornsphoto [CC BY 3.0] via Wikimedia Commons)

On a hot night in 1997, Mötley Crüe’s Tommy Lee offered an indelible lesson in owning your own identity.

Let me tell you about the night I hung out with Mötley Crüe.

Okay, to be honest, it was only half of Mötley Crüe, and it’s not like we were out clubbing it up with groupies and blow. But we were at a club. I was reminded of this story the other day when I happened to hear “Shout at the Devil” on the stereo for the first time in quite a while.

This was June 1997. I was working in…


A vintage illustration of Joseph and Hyrum Smith being martyred by gunfire at Liberty Jail.
A vintage illustration of Joseph and Hyrum Smith being martyred by gunfire at Liberty Jail.
Image licensed from Shutterstock/Everett Historical

POST-MORMON STORIES

This divisive and dismissive term is tossed around far too lightly.

A few months back, a video appeared online in which comedian Lewis Black read an angry rant submitted by an 18-year-old Mormon apostate. (Fan-submitted rants are a regular part of Black’s shows.) A week after the rant came out, Jana Riess of Religion News Service casually called it “anti-Mormon.”

One of my old mission companions emailed me recently to share his impressions of The Accidental Terrorist,which he wanted to read because I wrote about our time serving together. He generally enjoyed the book and had only minor quibbles with…


POST-MORMON STORIES

Making Sense of Genetic Science and Its Consequences

I’m nearly 52 years old, and suddenly I have a new older brother. It can be tempting to see this as more than just the inevitable outcome of scientific progress.

I’ve been thinking about the stories we tell ourselves in order to make new and destabilizing information fit with what we already think we know about the world. This could include telling ourselves that scientists have conspired to invent climate change, or that women made up stories about Bill Cosby and Brett Kavanaugh, or that the Central Park Five really definitely did it, despite all evidence to the contrary.

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DNA testing has rewritten my family tree, and maybe yours too. (Image licensed from Bigstock.)

In…


In an alternate America eerily like our own, a boys’ choir’s performance at the Inauguration portends a fascist future.

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Image licensed from Bigstock

Originally published in The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction, February 1993.

In the end I suppose it was nobody’s fault, but the temptation to assign guilt remains great even today. Taking all the blame for ourselves is especially easy, painfully so. We were only kids then, of course, but we erased a man’s career, a man’s life. And in the same moment, the face of an entire nation was changed. …


Creating a CGI script that composites text with fancy effects onto an existing image is easier than you think

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Image licensed from Bigstock

My memoir, The Accidental Terrorist, is about my youthful misadventures as a Mormon missionary. Missionaries always wear black name tags, so to promote my book I thought it would be nice to give fans a way to create and share their own customized name tag images.

To accomplish this, I figured a simple CGI script written in Perl would be best. I had a vague sense that I could use the Perl interface to ImageMagick to overlay a name in bold white text onto a blank name tag image like this one:

William Shunn

Author of The Accidental Terrorist: Confessions of a Reluctant Missionary. Hugo and Nebula Award nominee. Post-Mormon. Banned from Canada. https://www.shunn.net

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