Writer William Shunn’s work was featured in issue #13 of Newtown Literary. We interviewed him about his writing and his answers are below. William is the author of The Accidental Terrorist: Confessions of a Reluctant Missionary. For more from William, check out his website, and his online literary journal, The Piltdown Review.
When you think of Queens, what first comes to mind?
Diversity. That may sound like a stock answer, but I’m continually amazed by the sheer number of communities of different kinds that call Queens home. That’s what defines the borough for me and makes me proud to say I lived there for so long.
How does Queens influence your writing?
I have not written much fiction that is set in Queens, but attending readings and hearing voices that represent and depict such an astonishing array of cultures helps me remember that my own life experience (as a former Mormon who came here from Utah) is as worthy and exotic a subject as anything else.
What is the last piece of writing you read that made you laugh or cry (or just especially moved you)?
I recently reconnected on Facebook with an old, old friend I met at an intensive summer writing workshop in 1985. His posts about working as an ER tech as a young man are intense and never fail to move me. I hope he collects them into a book so more people can read them.
Other than that, a couple of the books I’ve read in the past year that made me very happy were Norwood by Charles Portis (author of True Grit) and Less by Andrew Sean Greer (which won the 2018 Pulitzer).
Two other funny and moving stories I love to tell people about are “The Departure of Uncle Boris” by Heather Rick, and “Free Golf” by Rob Keast, which I published.
What inspires you?
Everything. I believe that there is not a single thing that cannot be turned into the subject of an engrossing piece of writing, as long as the writer finds it fascinating and is skillful enough to communicate that fascination.
What does your writing process/routine look like?
It looks far more chaotic than I like to admit. What I try to do is get up early every day and write for an hour or two before doing anything else, while my mind remains fresh and unpoisoned by the day. One of my favorite writers, Gene Wolfe, said, “Some writers say they cannot write in front of a window; many say they cannot function without almost perfect quiet. A writer with only two hours a day can write in the back of an open truck on the interstate.”
As much as I’d like to say this is true of me, it isn’t always. I’m easily distracted, I’m restless, and I frequently find it all but impossible not to find something different to do with my precious time. Yet somehow, I still manage to get things written from time to time. I’m not sure how.
When you’re not writing, what do you like to do?
I like to read, of course. I tinker with computer code the way my father’s generation tinkered with car engines. I’m interested in jazz, scotch, travel, movies, stand-up comedy, and word puzzles. Sometimes I can’t help but start a monthly reading series like Line Break, which I hosted at Q.E.D. in Astoria for three years. And occasionally I’ll get up at a storytelling event and spout off for a while.
What writing project(s) are you currently working on?
I always have half a dozen projects going at once. I’m working on a science fiction novel about a technophobic religious sect living on a space station. I’m working on a young adult novel about kids who discover they can work magic through arcane gestures. I’m working on a crime novel set in the dogfighting underworld of Chicago. I’m working on a series of short stories about the lives of Mormon missionaries. And sometimes I’ll write the odd poem or essay.
Oh, and I’m working now on the e-book release of Cast a Cold Eye, a novella I co-wrote with Canadian author Derryl Murphy, which was published in England ten years ago in a hardcover limited collector’s edition. It’s a teenage coming-of-age story about spirit photography set in 1920s Nebraska, in the aftermath of the devastating worldwide Spanish flu epidemic. The hardcover currently retails used for about $75, so we’re excited that people will now be able to read it for a measly $1.99!
What should I have asked you that I didn't?
If we ever meet up in a bar, you should definitely ask me why I’m not allowed into Canada. Or you could cut out the middleman and just read the memoir that I mentioned above.