Writer and poet. Hugo and Nebula nominee. Author of The Accidental Terrorist: Confessions of a Reluctant Missionary. Banned from Canada.


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

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. …


An expedition to cut your own tree can forge indelible Christmas memories. But indelible doesn’t necessarily mean good.

A line of tall pine trees at night, with a starry, green-tinged night sky overhead.
Photo by Yun Xu on Unsplash

Some well-meaning people think that, if you’re down in the dumps at Christmas, there must be one magic bullet that will fix everything, one miraculous missing puzzle piece that will make the season complete if only they can force it into place for you.

Depression doesn’t work like that, but…

Returnable books are what enable brick-and-mortar stores to maintain an affordable inventory. But they also put a huge burden on small publishers — like me.

A view from inside a bookstore out the front window into the daylit street beyond, with tables and shelves full of book in the foreground.
Photo by Jason Leung on Unsplash

There is no feeling quite like seeing your book displayed on a bookstore shelf. If it seems miraculous, that’s because it is.

A remarkable chain of events had to transpire to make this happen. You spent months or years nurturing a fragile idea and rendering it into words. You managed…

When it comes to indentation, keeps things as simple and uniform as possible. Don’t take your cues from the way published books look.

Photo by Pawel Czerwinski on Unsplash

A reader writes to ask:

Why indent the first paragraph [of a manuscript]? I was under the impression that the first paragraph of a short story, novel chapter, or paragraph following a section break should not be indented.

Since we generally don’t put blank lines between paragraphs in print, indentation…

In days of yore, the accepted rule for estimating word count was 250 words per manuscript page. Is that still the case today? If not, how should it be done instead?

Photo by Sean Thomas on Unsplash

A reader writes to ask:

Can you enlighten me on how to determine word count in a standard-format manuscript? Back as a young journalist, I learned the “10 ‘words’ to the line” method of determining a manuscript’s length, with every four pages being roughly 1,000 “words” in length. However, my…

Is it mandatory to include personal pronouns on my manuscript submissions? What if I want to obscure my gender instead?

Still life of a desktop with an ornate volto-style masquerade mask, a human skull, a pile of old books, and a quill pen in a square ink pot.
Photo by gar1984 on Bigstock

A reader writes to ask:

Recently, I noticed that your ms format models now feature a gender identifier on the line with the writer’s name. (He/him in my case.) Is this something new? I was once advised to use my initials only when submitting to certain pubs (such as feminist-oriented…

On May 14, 2021, I left my day job at a major health insurance company. This is the email I sent to the CEO.

An obscenely large McMansion, faced with what appears to be rough fake stone, illuminated with all lights inside blazing yellow in the purple dusk. A wide swath of lawn extends from the circular drive to a sidewalk close to the camera.
Not, as far as I know, Mr. Poupon’s actual house (photo by Daniel Barnes on Unsplash)

Names in the email below have been changed.

Friday, May 14, 2021

Dear Mr. Poupon—

Today is my last day at HealthFire, which presents me the opportunity to say a few things that I did not feel free or empowered to say while still counting on a paycheck.

Let me…

First impressions matter, and that goes for manuscripts too. Making yours look professional can be half the battle with editors.

Photo by Daniel Thomas on Unsplash

No one knows how many good stories are passed over because the manuscripts containing them are poorly formatted. We can be certain, however, that editors will more eagerly read a cleanly formatted manuscript than a cluttered and clumsy one. …

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. …

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?”




“That’s what I’m asking.”

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

“Do you have an answer to the…

William Shunn

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