All posts by thomdunn

Thom Dunn is a Boston-based writer, musician, homebrewer, and new media artist. He enjoys Oxford commas, metaphysics, and romantic clichés (especially when they involve whiskey and/or robots), and he firmly believes that Journey's "Don't Stop Believing" is the single greatest atrocity committed against mankind. He is a graduate of Clarion Writer's Workshop at UCSD ('13) & Emerson College ('08). Also he has a Tony Award. You can follow his continuing adventures online at thomdunn.net, or on twitter @thomdunn.

A Retrospective Look at Jane Austen’s Brain-eating Habits

Can you believe it’s been 5 years since the release of Pride & Prejudice & Zombies?  And just over 200 from the release of the original novel? Well, to celebrate, the folks at Quirk Books (who published …and Zombies and its followups, as well as many other fine collections of pulped trees) asked me to do some digging and explore the past, present, and future of their massive mashup mega-hit — where it started, how it worked, and what it did for the company over the last 5 years. The short answer is that it basically launched their entire fiction line, which is now tremendously successful — and also served as an accidental omen to our current pop-culture status of zombie overload (seriously! They beat the trend! But barely).

For the long answer? Check out my 3-piece retrospective on Pride & Prejudice & Zombies on the Quirk website.

 

 

Oh Hey What’s Up Kate Burton

This past weekend, we began previews for our production of The Seagull at the Huntington. I can say without bias that this is the funniest Chekhov play I’ve ever seen (and possibly the first time I’ve actually looked Chekhov to be humorous). But on top of that, the production also features Kate Burton (aka Vice President Sally Langston on Scandal plus like a million other things) and her real-life son, Morgan Ritchie, as the onstage mother-and-son Arkadina and Konstantin, which is pretty cool. Here are two videos I put together about the show, which runs through April 6 at the BU Theatre:

The Backyard Committee at the Huntington

Last night, I had the pleasure of joining my friends in The Backyard Committee for a few songs on lap steel guitar at one of our 35 Below parties at the Huntington. I’ve played a shows with them before, mostly on keyboards, and this was a fun, different experiment, as I don’t really get to play lap steel guitar out in front of people very often (it’s also a very difficult instrument to play by yourself). The band is essentially Mike Sembos, and whatever musicians he finds to accompany him. Even if I hadn’t been friends with Mike for 12 or so years now, I’d still love this band, because Mike is an utterly fantastic songwriter. So they’re always a blast to play with, and I’m hoping to do it again pretty soon. Did I mention that you can download both of their albums for free on their website?

…also there was Duck Hunt:

REVIEW: Polarity by Max Bemis and Jorge Coelho

Polarity

As much as I enjoy Say Anything (the band fronted by writer Max Bemis), I was hesitant to pick up this comic because, well, the premise sounds exactly like the pseudo-autobiographical premise of their first album “…Is A Real Boy,” which kindofsortamaybe chronicled Bemis’s descent into super-powered bi-polar disorder — except that, while recording said album, Max Bemis was actually diagnosed with bi-polar disorder and locked himself up for a while. But, the book was on sale for $4 on ComiXology, so I figured hey, why not.

While I tend to be the kind of person who connects with comic books more the writing than the art (although I do love a good collaboration), I’d first look to say that the artwork on this book is PHENOMENAL. It’s slightly cartoonish, but not a childish way, and accurately portrays hyperviolence, superhero action, internal mindscape struggles, and hipster culture. As for the story itself, it didn’t shy away from the fact that it was a slight variation on the story that Bemis has told several times already. The basic premise is that Tim is an artist and self-loathing hipster who suffers from bi-polar disorder, and after he’s institutionalized and begins taking pills, he can’t create his art. So he goes off his medication, and soon discovers that his untreated condition literally gives him superpowers. But maybe he’s too dangerous, and maybe there’s a Shadowy Government Organization trying to create an army of Bi-Polar Super Soldiers? Meanwhile, his art is getting better, and he meets a girl.

Overall, it’s a pretty enjoyable story, and while applying science fictional concepts to mental illness is nothing new, I actually think that Bemis does it in a pretty fresh way — by essentially saying that yes, mental illness IS a superpower, but the same way that traditional superheroes suffer from their extra-human abilities, maybe it’s still better if you take your pills and try to function like a normal person. That being said, I’m not sure how this book would read to someone who was unfamiliar with “hipster” culture. The main character spends a lot of the book criticizing everyone around him for being hypocrites and poseurs, and ultimately realizes that he’s just the same as the rest of them. If you’re familiar with Say Anything’s music, Tim’s rants are all basically pulled straight out of the song “Admit it!” As far as cultural critique is concerned, it is an interesting analysis of hipsterdom that I mostly agree with, even if it is a bit misanthropic (which works well in a loud rock song, but feels different as internal monologue).

That being said, I wonder how someone who was outside of or unfamiliar with “hipster culture” would feel about this book. It’s very insular, and some might even say that hipsters criticizing hipsters for being hipsters is THE most hipster thing possible, and while the story does acknowledge that irony (while also criticizing irony as the cheapest form of hipster self-defense), it never quite transcends it. I suspect that if you weren’t already aware of and/or immersed in that post-art-school-Williamsburg-landscape, you’d think, “Okay, so these are a bunch of Urban Outfitters asshole who are too cool for Urban Outfitters and this main character is kind of an unlikeable dick who judges everyone around him for being fake judgmental assholes — why should I care?” And if that’s you, I might suggest that you’re better served by listening to “Woe” and “Admit it!” by Say Anything, which pretty much sum up the book.

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

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Help Me Name My Blood Orange White IPA!

I have kind of a thing with blood oranges, and every year during those 18-days when they’re available (seriously it feels like it’s that short), I try to stock up as much as possible — including making some kind of blood orange beer. The first was a Chocolate Blood Orange Stout, followed by a hefeweizen, and then an IPA (whose recipe I sadly did not record).

White IPAs (basically a hybrid of a witbier/white ale and an IPA) are all the rage this year in the craft beer world, so I decided to jump on the bandwagon and create a Blood Orange White IPA. I based this on the Northern Brewer Witbier kit but replaced the hops bill with 1oz of Columbus for the full 60 minute boil, followed by 1oz of Cascade, 1oz of Citra, and 1oz of Centennial in the last ten minutes. I used the roasted peels of 6 blood oranges (removing as much white rind as possible), and boiled their pulp in water and added the juices to the wort.

If nothing else, I guarantee that it’ll look a purrty color.

Unfortunately, “Blood Orange White IPA” is kind of a clumsy name — it doesn’t really make sense to have orange AND white in the title, ya know? So I took to Facebook to ask my friends for suggestions, and rounded up my favorites in the poll below. Make your voice heard!…for the beer that goes in my belly (don’t worry, I’m willing to share).

REVIEW: The Shambling Guide to New York City by Mur Lafferty

The Shambling Guide to New York City

This was enjoyable, but it took me longer to get through than it should have, because I didn’t care enough. It’s a fun concept, I like the world, but I wish it had either been funnier, or darker (for example, and this is a slight spoiler: if you have a co-worker who’s a succubus and feeds on sexual energy, and he tries to seduce your character at a nightclub because he’s hungry, and you DON’T find a way to make that a metaphor either for date rape, or a regrettable but consensual one night stand with a co-worker? C’mon! It’s right there!). Instead, it was kind of a mediocre middle ground between monsters and tourism that was certainly fun, but nothing remarkable. I loved the idea of Public Works, and the zombies, and some of the characters were still fun (despite the fact that I have literally no idea what the protagonist looked like). By the time the epic ending came around, which I guess was kind of cool, I was more interested in finishing the book than I was in what actually happened to any of the characters (spoilers: they all live happily ever after. lame).

My rating: 2.5 of 5 stars

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The Best Broken Heart You’ll Ever Have

I’ve been hesitant to try to write up anything describing my experience at Clarion, but Sam does a pretty fantastic job here (case in point: He writes, “You’ll be part of the Greater Clarion Collective Hive Mind, encompassing all Clarion UCSD and Clarion West graduates,” and here I am, referring to someone on a first-name basis whom I only know through twitter/Clarion).

Even if you have been in workshop settings before, I doubt that they were anything like the Clarion experience. You have less than a week to write a draft of a story, and then sit there while 18-20 other people tear it apart. But even the most painful criticisms are valuable and constructive. Having been in workshops before myself, I spent my first few days at Clarion carefully observing which of the people at this table actually had valid opinions worth a damn, or could actually write a halfway decent story. I quickly realized that EVERY SINGLE ONE OF THEM lived up to my pretentious standards. And there’s no one there who’s going to go easy on you, or just kiss your ass — everyone challenges each other, because everyone cares, and when its done, you come out the other side as a better reader, writer, and person.

Sam does a great job here describing the downside of Clarion as well: the sadness at its ending. When you return home, and have to go to work, and do chores around the house, and the difficulty of explaining this immense emotional experience to your loved ones who couldn’t share it with you (as much as that distance may have ached, and as sweet as that reunion may have been).

Every harsh critique you might receive is easily counteracted by those moments when Robert Crais says, “Ya know, when I saw that someone wrote a detective story, I said, ‘This kid’s got balls,” and I was really looking forward to tearing it apart. But your story here? This is really good,” or when Kim Stanley Robinson shows up at your door with a watergun and a bottle of wine, or Cory Doctorow shakes your hand and looks you straight into the eye and says, “I’ll see you around the writers’ circuit soon.” You leave Clarion with an incredible network of writers and mentors in various stages of your career with whom you’ve shared this incredible experience and whom you can always call on — for recommendations, for feedback, for advice, or just for a beer.

So what I’m trying to say is what Sam puts so eloquently in this piece, which is that if you want to be a fiction writer in the “genre” fields, you’d be a fool not to apply to Clarion. It doesn’t matter how good you are, or how far along you think you are — just do it. I promise it’ll be worth it.

Clarion Blog

Sam J. Miller is a writer and a community organizer. His work has appeared or is forthcoming in Lightspeed, Strange Horizons, Electric Velocipede, Shimmer, Daily Science Fiction, Beneath Ceaseless Skies, Nightmare, The Minnesota Review, The Rumpus, and many more. He is a graduate of the Clarion UCSD class of 2012, and the co-editor of Horror After 9/11, a critical anthology published by the University of Texas Press and included in the “Brilliant/Lowbrow” quadrant of the famed New York Magazine Approval Matrix. Visit him at www.samjmiller.com

When it’s over, you’ll be sad for the rest of your life. #Clarion

Lisa read the tweet to us at the beach, ankle-deep in warm La Jolla surf. “That’s from a Clarion 2010 graduate. I said something about how we were entering the final week.”

“Damn,” someone else said. “Sad for the rest of your life? They oughtta tell you that going in.”

It’s the next-to-last Friday…

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Brewin’ Up The Beers!

Or, bottling them, anyway.

Last night I bottled this Irish Draught Ale, which is the first beer that I’ll complete from a Northern Brewer recipe kit (long story short, Modern Homebrew in Cambridge is horrible, and everyone who works there is like Comic Book Guy from The Simpsons only worse). It’s a Smithwick’s-style ale, with some honey added as a cultural throwback. But even the room-temp, flat tasting sample shown above was pretty delicious, so I’m looking forward to it. Lucky for me, I finished it just in time for St. Paddy’s Day!

Coming up soon in the fermenters, I’ve got a Blood Orange White IPA (not sure what to call that color combination yet….), and my first Pilsner (which I’m kind of terrified of). Stay tuned for more!