Author: Will Ludwigsen (page 1 of 7)

Wilbo of the Nine Fingers

No, those aren’t devil horns. That’s where Gollum bit off my ring finger…get it? Oh, never mind.

and the Ring of Dooooom!

On March 16, 2015, I started a strange project: using this website as a guide, I started running and counted each mile along Frodo’s journey from Bag End to Mount Doom, a total of 1, 779 miles.

Tonight at about 8pm in Boone Park, I ran the final 2.21 miles of that journey.

Here are the numbers:

  • Miles Run: 532.46 in 2015, 812.54 in 2016, and 434 in 2017 for 1,779 miles total
  • Total Hours: 379.78
  • Average Miles Per Hour: 4.7
  • Total Number of Runs: 615
  • Average Miles per Run: 2.89
  • 5K Races: 28
  • Ortega River Runs (5 miles): 2
  • Gate River Run (15K): 1
  • Weight Lost: about 15 pounds
  • Injuries: Plantar Fasciitis in my right foot, pulled muscle in my chest

What did I learn?

For one thing, I seem to really like running, enough to keep doing it even when it hurt, which was strange. They talk about a runner’s high but I don’t think I’ve ever quite felt that. I think the real reward is the sense of pulling off a stunt with each run: “Hey, look! It’s a fat guy running a 5K!”

Some people are motivated by being asked, “How did you do that amazing thing?” I’m motivated by being asked, “Why would you do that amazing thing?”

Another thing I learned is that running five or six times a week does nothing for your weight if you still eat like an idiot. Guilty as charged. That’s the next thing to work on, now that I know I can do crazy things like run all the way to Mordor.

What about writing? Certainly there’s some poignant parallel to be made between the determination it takes to run 1,779 miles and the grit it would take to, say, finish another novel, but why bother to make it? The truth is that with running, I always knew exactly where I was going and when it would be over, even if my foot was hurting. I never get that luxury in my writing, so the metaphor doesn’t fit.

For what it’s worth, I did run each of those 1,779 miles without much self-doubt or introspection, simply leaning forward when the timer started or the gun went off and starting my ragged shuffle forward. When I failed (slowing to walk), it was almost always because of dwelling too much on how hard it was. I psyched myself out too often, which I’m sure has nothing to do with my writing career.

What’s next? Well, I’ll still keep logging the miles and I’ll bring milestones to your attention every now and then, but I’m letting the eagles fly me back to the Shire.

 

On Writing These Days

I’m sorry to sound melodramatic, but I’m finding it harder than ever to write stories when things like the hoedown in Charlottesville are going on in the world.

That is by far the least important consequence of that fiasco, but it’s the only one I’m qualified to talk about.

I think the reason I’m finding it harder to write stories right now is because I have the sneaking terror that stories are a part of the problem. It seems so easy for dumb and purposeless people to watch a deluge of entertainment about plucky heroes breaking all the rules solely on the basis of their own convictions and see that as the only way to be truly alive.

To be fighting for something. Even if something isn’t really fighting them first.

What I see in that terrible crowd in Charlottesville are people who want to be the heroes of stories without knowing what that really means, who want to be special for believing things they think no one else is smart or brave enough to believe. There’s hatred and anger of course inside them, but there’s a petulance, too – a resistance to what’s true because they don’t want to be told what’s true.

They’re certain they’re right because everyone else thinks they’re wrong, which is what they see always happening with heroes.

They’re the Dick Rebellion, the Bro Alliance, and we’re the Evil Galactic Empire.

It’s not the fault of the stories or the storytellers, really. These are terrible readers and viewers, people who skip or fail to grasp the second act when real heroes learn that strength also requires some doubt and introspection. They’re also suffering a lack of variety in their entertainment diet, too much Transformers and not enough Grapes of Wrath.

I’m not blaming entertainment for their attitudes, and I’m not suggesting their own bad comprehension is the only factor behind them. There’s plenty of institutional racism and sexism involved, not to mention the simple endless pulse of hormones that have nothing useful to do in a civilized society.

On days like today when my fingers hover above the keys instead of pressing them, it is because the already daunting task of sending words to another mind seems even more futile when the receivers are hellbent on hearing so little.

It isn’t stories that are beating and killing people, but I can’t shake the feeling that the people who are find succor in the stories they’re misreading. I have no idea what to do about that.

I suppose it’s always been that way, and it is only the quantity of the misread messages and the easy access to news of the consequences that’s different.

That’s not helping today.

Why I Call My Mother “Mother”

In early July, my mother collapsed from a seizure on her way down the stairs in her home, and the cause turned out to be a golf ball-sized mass in her brain.

Yep, there it is.

She was losing strength and feeling on the right side of her body, and the doctors decided to remove the mass. They gave her steroids to control the growth leading up to the operation, but she reacted badly to them and the scary side effects (infection, weakness, plummeting blood pressure and platelet count, soaring blood sugar) delayed her surgery until yesterday. In the morning, they wheeled her in for a four hour surgery and finished in about ninety minutes. The mass turned out to be encapsulated as the doctors say, so it was removed all in one clump.

(To simulate the sound it made, cluck your tongue on the roof of your mouth.)

She’s already moving her right side again and she seems stronger than even before the surgery.

It would SEEM to be a miracle, but then, so is she. That brain pictured above contains the works of George R.R. Martin and Anne McCaffery and Lee Child, how to run a bookstore, which angels and crystals are most effective for which problems, two husbands (one bad and one good), three children, a bemused yet potent hatred for Donald Trump, the taste of an egg crème from Kissena Drugs in Queens, the relative value of various antiques, the phone numbers for Home Shopping Network and QVC, how to cultivate a garden, the recipe for a dish we call “Soup of the Red Death,” all of her prescriptions by generic and brand name, bracket ranks for all of my former girlfriends and spouses, and the story about how her grandmother picked up Rudolph Valentino’s hat from the ground on the day he died in Manhattan in 1926.

That’s a lot. As they say, she’s seen some shit. And endured it — twenty-two years being knocked around by my father could very well be the CAUSE of that mass in her brain, though we were all disappointed to discover she could remember him after the surgery.

I kept friends and family up to date on social media about her progress, and it occurred to me late in the day that I refer to her in public as “Mother,” kind of like I’m this guy:

So maybe it’s time to explain why I call her “Mother” instead of, say, “Mom” or “Mama” or “Ma.”

I started calling her that (instead of “Mom”) around 1987, when my parents divorced. There wasn’t any one reason. Part of it was I got older and it wasn’t cool. Another part was that I was getting pretentiously literary. It also sounded better when sighed in mock exasperation at her dreamy foibles: “Oh, Mother! You bought someone’s failing antique business?”

The real reason now that I’m thinking about it, though, is that you can’t call a person the same thing after a heroic experience as before it. When you shuck off your sociopathic husband of 22 years, you get an upgrade from “Mom” to something else. We’re not liberal enough to call her by her first name, and we don’t wear overalls so that nixes “Mama.”

The only title that has the right amount of gravitas, the right authority, is “Mother.”  Mother of Nations. Mother of Earth. Mother of Dragons.

You know how Jules’s wallet in Pulp Fiction has “BADASS MOTHERFUCKER” embossed on it? My mother needs one with a comma in the middle that says, “BADASS MOTHER, FUCKER.”

My mother has spend her seventy years rather cheerfully enduring (and often enjoying in a wry sort of way) everything that has happened to her, good and bad. I used to think that this was a dreamy obliviousness on her part, like she didn’t SEE all the shit around her. What I’ve realized as an adult is that she sees it just fine…she just enjoys the experience of being alive more than any single setback, disaster, or success.

She is, as the saying goes, a spiritual being living a human existence, and “Mom” doesn’t quite cover it.

“Acres of Perhaps” Now Available at Lightspeed

My story “Acres of Perhaps” is now available for FREE at Lightspeed magazine.

If you like old science fiction television shows, alcoholic writers, and creepy tree stumps in the woods, this story is relevant to your interests.

No, Really: Don’t Buy My Book

Sometimes people ask me about my first collection, Cthulhu Fhtagn, Baby! — where they can get it, why it’s out of print, why I never mention it — and I usually respond by strangling them behind a dumpster so no one ever speaks of it again.

There’s an old writer’s curse: “May you sell all your early stories and compile them into a collection,” and the Monkey’s Paw vindictively granted my earliest wish to be published. I’m not sure why the stories in CFB sold to some surprising places like Weird Tales, except perhaps for polite encouragement.

That collection is awful, and I hereby apologize for it.

The only reason to own CFB is for Deena Warner’s fabulous cover art, which can be easily trimmed from the front of the book and framed.

Or hell, just print and frame this image.

That cover makes my book a jewel-encrusted Yugo driven by a Serbian mobster in a track suit. Her husband Matt Warner’s introduction was also very kind, and I’m eternally grateful he hacked his way through the book and found nice things to say.

What went wrong?

The stories in CFB, including the title one about a review for a Cthulhu-themed Broadway show, are driven almost solely by gimmicks, the things that early writers think are the engines of story. On my honeymoon with my first wife, I attended a terrible theater show on the cruise and imagined the only way it could be worse was in service to cosmic evil, and bam! it became a story. Once while standing near the window of my 12th floor office, I saw a milk truck drive by on the bridge far below and wondered what would happen if you heard something banging around inside, and pow! another story.

Every piece in CFB is a joke stretched too thin, and the whole thing is a reminder of my greatest weakness, going for the easy laugh instead of developing an experience.

I won’t go quite so far as to say I wish it had never been published; it certainly fits into a very specific time of my career. I needed to plant a flag in the sand that yes, I was working earnestly on a career and if readers would just wait a little longer, I’d have something much better for them.

If you are one of the courageous and/or supportive souls who bought it early, I thank you for your confidence in me. If you’re a weirdo buying it off eBay today, I hope you’ll read it as what it is, a time capsule of my early career.

Let us never speak of it again.

The Father Map

As a person whose sociopathic, murderer-inciting father is pretty much the most interesting thing about him, I can’t let Father’s Day go by unremarked, can I? Even though both my bad and good fathers are dead, it’s still a day that evokes some feeling in me.

(Not, interestingly, as a person concerned about not being a father himself. I know that whole scene would be bad news for all involved.)

This year, with the revival of Twin Peaks, it has me thinking of how I’ve grossly underestimated the role of Dale Cooper’s influence on me as a surrogate father in late high school, teaching me that being intuitive and weird and appreciative can be assets, and that cynicism isn’t the only (or even a good) source of inner power.

One of the nice things about having a terrible father who fled our family like the Nazis getting routed from Paris when I was young is that I had the luxury of picking better fathers, and I’ve mentioned them all individually before in various places, including my stories.

Here, for the first time, is the comprehensive map of my fathers all in one place for our mutual reference.

All Trump’s Men

Apropos of nothing going on politically, I’ve been reading All The President’s Men again. It’s a book I’ve always liked, largely because it combines two things I love: writing and cracking mysteries. I wish I’d discovered investigative journalism earlier as a career choice, but then, that career would probably already be over by now.

Reading Woodward’s and Bernstein’s book now, I can’t help but wonder if a campaign of dirty political tricks culminating in a failed attempt to bug the Democratic National Committee would even register on our country’s moral radar anymore. As each chapter goes by and the reporters circle closer to Haldeman and Nixon, I’m stricken by how it wouldn’t even surprise us these days that the President knew about a huge fund of cash for spying on and discrediting opponents.

Here’s a horrifying truth I suspect but cannot prove: Nobody who doesn’t already hate Trump gives a shit about whether the Russians helped him win the election. It’s too esoteric an issue, something hard to prove with the finality of a fingerprint or DNA sample.

Worse, it doesn’t excite moral indignation like a blow job in the Oval Office, simple and emotional and easy to be sure about. I suspect that many people outside of the Twittersphere see Trump as the accidental beneficiary of electoral interference, and even if he was involved, they still see the issue as something like speeding — an arbitrary law we’d all break when The Man wasn’t looking.

We suck at parsing ethics in America. We’re awesome with morals — man, we’re drooling on our Puritan smocks about morals — but I worry we’re too much of a “get-it-while-the-gettin’s-good” culture to see collusion with a foreign power or lying as much worse than taking a pen home from the office. We’re terrifying rationalizers, and nothing short of egregious and obvious harm gets our attention anymore (or maybe ever).

I hope I’m wrong. I hope the narrative reaches a critical mass from the core of “it’s against the law” to “it’s an affront to everyone in the country.” I hope regular people start to get angry.

But I doubt they will unless we better connect intellectual indignation with the good old fashioned pitchforks-and-torches kind.

“Night Fever”: The Story of a Story

My story “Night Fever” is appearing in the May/June 2017 issue of Asimov’s Science Fiction, and along with the usual comments that it’s not science fiction (hello, alternate history!), I’m guessing I’ll get a few questions about where the fuck the idea of placing Charles Manson in the disco era came from.

(Want to read a sample?)

A couple of years ago, I posted a tweet that said something like, “If Charles Manson was active in the 70s instead of the 60s, it’d be Night Fever coming down fast instead of Helter Skelter.” My friend Robert Levy replied that he’d read a story about that, so I quickly deleted the tweet to keep the idea to myself.

Though the combination was natural for me — the Manson case and New York of the 70s — it took a long time to get around to writing it for several reasons:

  • I worried that it would be too silly or gimmicky.
  • I worried that I didn’t know/remember enough about the 70s in New York.
  • I had no idea how to tell it.

These are the issues that beset me with most stories, and the only way I’ve found to fix them is to sit down and tinker with a beginning until I find a voice to tell it in. I open a plain text editor and type out various sentences and paragraphs until I feel a twinge of recognition or excitement.

In the case of “Night Fever,” it was this sentence:

Sometimes I wonder what would be different if Charlie got out when he was supposed to. But then, he’d probably be as big an asshole in the 60s as he was in the 70s.

Then I hit upon the idea of writing the story in true crime fragments, quotations from articles and books and court transcripts. I’ve done this before, largely because I’m neurotically skeptical about third-person narratives. I always want to know who is telling the story and why, and the magical authorial voice out of nowhere just creeps me out. Plus I enjoy performing other voices (about half a dozen in “Night Fever,” including a gone-to-seed Truman Capote).

I wrote the story with my patented “tinkering” technique, which is hard to distinguish from fucking around:

  1. I sat down a lot of Saturday and Sunday mornings at Bagel Love.
  2. I browsed Facebook and Twitter longer than I should.
  3. I forced myself to open the “Night Fever” file.
  4. I read what I’d written and monkeyed around with a few fixes until deciding what needed to be written that day.
  5. I wrote it, usually for up to three hours but more often two or less.

The great thing about the story was that the structure was essentially dictated by the subject matter. I had to explain why Manson was released in the 70s instead of the 60s, I had to describe New York and the kind of people he’d recruit (focusing on one who’d be sufficiently self-aware like Linda Kasabian), and I had to introduce the prosecutor who would bring him down.

(Originally, the prosecutor was to be an alternate history Rudy Giuliani, but my editor was afraid we’d get sued.)

Then with the pieces in place, they had to commit a crime, get arrested, and go to trial. Most of that part was fun, finding echoes from the original murders in the 60s and play them out in the 70s. I made a playlist to get me in the mood for 1978 and researched what the clubs were like in the era. I absorbed a lot as a kid living there then, but my older sister was going to Shaun Cassidy concerts, not Studio 54.

I didn’t really have a point or purpose to the story as I wrote it except perhaps to refute the idea that any of the original Manson crimes were somehow inevitable results of the hedonistic 60s. Manson’s a chameleon, and I think he’d have done just fine in any era finding people better than him to fall for his shit.

(Modern day Manson followers, please don’t find and kill me!)

I’ll Be At ICFA 38 Starting Wednesday, March 22

Starting Wednesday the 22nd, I’ll be at the 38th International Conference for the Fantastic in the Arts down at the Orlando Airport Marriott.

My reading on Thursday the 23rd is at the bracing hour of 8:30am, so if you like to wake up to weirdness as much as Aimee does, come on by!

I’ll also be lurking in panels and readings until Saturday evening.

What I Learned Running the 15K Gate River Run

I am not a thin man. I like soda and doughnuts too much.

But in 2015, I decided to start running (as exercise, not from the law or the Sandmen or anything) because it is the only workout I’ve found that is boring enough to listen to music but not TOO boring to lose my interest. It is, oddly, the only kind of exercise I’ve ever liked.

I run a few times a week (or more) on a treadmill, but I also participate in 5K runs (3.1 miles for those of us not caving in to Jimmy Carter’s world government measurement coup). They’re actually fun, and I enjoy running in places I wouldn’t normally go. I have a weird relationship to crowds, though, and I tend to enjoy observing than interacting with them. I do my own running time, thank you very much.

The Gate River Run is a 15K (9.3ish miles, fellow colonials) race through an odd cross-section of Jacksonville, and it’s a sort of gold-standard for runners around here. 14,000 people ran it this year with me, for varying definitions of “run” including long stretches of walking, which is just fine. For a person like me who sometimes staggers to the end of a 5K, it can be intimidating run a race that’s basically three of those in a row over two bridges.

This is the second bridge one mile from the finish. Most people just jump off the side to their deaths to avoid it, but not me.

So I did it anyway.

I prepared, sort of: I did my usual treadmill runs of around 5K with a few longer ones. I fully expected to  face some long moment of the soul around mile 8 where I’d hallucinate a dead family member or childhood hero telling me I had to keep going and I had everything I needed inside me all along, but it was just…fun.

Here’s what I learned/noticed:

  • There’s a certain point at which your body says, “Oh, fuck, for real this is what we’re doing?” and then shuts down your pain receptors. It hurt more to sit down after the race than to run it.
  • The course is essentially the world’s longest tailgate party. There are official water stations but then there are random people giving you food and drink from their front yards, everything from fresh strawberries to doughnuts to beer.
  • It was also a fascinating exhibit of Jacksonville class structure, with rich (or overextended) people drinking and offering mimosas on River Road in San Marco and considerably less flush (or showy) ones grilling chicken at 9:30 in the morning off Atlantic Boulevard.
  • Overall, the whole thing was this giant heartening show of community involvement and support.
  • There were Porta-Potty clusters all along the course and they always had lines. I never had to go because like our parents tell us before road trips, I offloaded my freight before hitting the pavement.

Here’s the big one:

There’s an amazing moment where you stop thinking about whether you can make it and simply focus on moving one foot in front of the other, when your energy shifts from doubt to action. Running makes it a nice pure thing (what are you going to do, quit at mile 7 and just camp in Arlington the rest of your life?) but the principle applies to things with more abstract results. Trust that moment will come.

Take heed, writers and artists and political activists: the demons of suck that swarm every worthwhile activity are scared away by not giving a shit about them.

Yes, technically it’s a participation trophy. Also, fuck you.

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