Author: Will Ludwigsen (page 1 of 7)

Mother of Dragons

A few weeks ago after we discovered that neither of my mother’s surgeries nor her radiation had stopped the tumor growing in her brain, a chaplain came to visit her bedside in the hospital.

He asked some delicate and insightful questions to figure out her religious beliefs, something that with her was a moving target, and she explained that she’d been raised Lutheran but saw the truth in all faiths. He asked what she expected to see after she died, and my mother said, “The Rainbow Bridge.”

The chaplain, a little surprised, said, “You mean Valhalla?”

My mother narrowed her eyes mysteriously and said, “Some might call it that.”

She then explained that what she expected from the afterlife is to cross the Rainbow Bridge you see mentioned in veterinarian’s offices when pets die, and that on the other side, every animal she ever loved would be there to greet her, all rushing and tumbling and barking and meowing.

Yesterday at 2:15pm, my mother crossed the Rainbow Bridge with all of us around her.

My mother met my horrible father when he locked the doors of the basement of the Lutheran church they attended and wouldn’t let her leave unless he kissed her. They were married when she was seventeen, and when she complained about the smell of his cigarettes, he hit and harangued her to start smoking, too.

The cancer that got her spread from the lungs.

We took my mother to see Fantasia 2000 on the IMAX screen when it was released, and when those giant whales the size of city buses swept onto the screen to Respighi’s “Pines of Rome,” she leaned far back in her chair with her eyes wide and yelled, “Holy shit!” to a theater full of children on a school field trip.

When we moved down to Florida, my father wasn’t sure whether to open a hardware store or a bookstore, but he chose the bookstore because my mother could plausibly help him run it. Like me, she could never tell the difference between metric and Imperial tools and never gave a shit. 

What she did give a shit about was making sure that our bookstore sold Dungeons and Dragons even when Southern Baptists were wringing their hands about it, and she made sure that I had a copy because that’s what she’d heard all the other smart and imaginative kids played. I read them in the backroom of that store along with Sherlock Holmes and Choose Your Own Adventure and books about ghosts.

She made sure I had as many Star Wars figures as we could afford, too, and we saw all three of the original movies together. I took her to see The Force Awakens and she bragged to a total stranger that she took me to see A New Hope when it came out.

I was wondering last week how I’d get her to the theater to see The Last Jedi.

My father left my mother for another woman when I was thirteen, and I was surprised that my mother was depressed about it, spending most of her nights after work reading alone in her room. To me, it was like the fall of the Empire.

When my mother met a fellow social worker named Larry Hall and they fell in love, I wasn’t happy. He seemed too dreamy and irresponsible, and it took me years to realize that’s just what she – and all the rest of us – needed.

She lived two decades married to him, and they were a complete but happy mess, having my brother when I wasn’t so sure they could even take care of themselves, opening a doomed antiques business, inheriting hundreds of thousands of dollars from my grandparents and spending it all in three years, joining spiritualist churches and giving psychic readings and going to festivals about rocks.

They were almost always broke, almost always under-employed, but man, could they talk to anyone and everyone about anything. They were both endlessly curious about the world, and they drew the strangest people to them because they never recoiled from anyone.

Because of Larry, my mother got to live in the open again and not just in her books. They were an inspiration to anyone who lives beyond the so-called “normal” world.

A week ago when her strength was failing, I told my mother that I wasn’t sure what I’d do now without her around to impress or scare with my writing. She was always my best audience, the one most fun to entertain or shock.

She shrugged and said that was just a mommy thing, doing that.

I gasped in mock offense and said, “Are you saying you pretended to like my stories?”

She cough-chuckled and shook her head and said, “You know I’ve always been proud of you.”

There’s no question that I’m the son of a father of great darkness, and I told my mother more than once that I’d trade my existence for her never to have met him. She said she wouldn’t, not mine or Karen’s or Karen’s daughters, either.

I’m the son of a man of great darkness, but I’m also the son of a mother of much greater light. She was his first abused child at sixteen and he kept at it for 22 years, but she never gave up on angels or books about dragons or crystals or seances or ancient Egypt or playing River Raid on the Atari and Kirby on the Game Boy. She never gave up on goodness, even when she had to squint pretty hard to see it.

I’ve lived my whole life in dread of what my father gave me, and I’ve never appreciated enough what my mother gave me, too: the power to resist that dread and that darkness, to make it funny, to see it and nod but go on anyway even in sneaky ways with a few fellow saboteurs in enemy country.

She knew what goodness costs, and that it is always worth it.

That chaplain who came to visit asked my mother if she wanted to pray for anything, and we clasped hands so she could. She asked to see all of those animals, and she also wanted her children to remember that when she died, they’d never be alone again.

I know now that we never were.

“The Zodiac Walks on the Moon” Now Available at Nightmare Magazine

The November 2017 issue of Nightmare Magazine is up, and it includes my brief story, “The Zodiac Walks on the Moon.” We all knew I’d get around to writing about that guy sooner or later, and here we are.

I’m also the author spotlight for the month there, so you can see a little of how the murderous sausage was made.

The issue is $2.99, but you could also subscribe for twelve monthly issues for $23.88 if you’d like to support some of the best short dark fiction being published today in addition, inexplicably, to mine.

That Coffee Klatch (Kaffeklatsch? Coughing Clutch? Whatever) That I Owe You

Before I regretfully canceled my appearance at this year’s Necronomicon due to my mother’s health, I was scheduled for a “coffee klatch,” a tradition at some genre conventions where an author meets with a smaller group of fans and shoots the shit with them for an hour.

Assuming anybody came to mine (by no means guaranteed), I was planning to discuss my top five writing career regrets and my top five accidental good ideas. So as not to leave all of you hanging, here they are. Get your own coffee.

Top Five Writing Career Regrets (Not Ranked)

  • Not writing every day or starting on novels much sooner.
  • Majoring in English where I learned to write turgid prose ABOUT fiction instead of the fiction itself.
  • Worrying so much about back-up plans and careers (English professor, lawyer, teacher, programmer) instead of diving headlong into writing and not caring much about how a job made me feel or what class it made me.
  • Approaching the genre through fandom where I was too eager to bend my work toward whatever would make me part of a community instead of pursuing the weird things I liked that didn’t quite fit.
  • Working so hard to make writing easy and foolproof instead of training myself to keep working under any circumstances.

Top Five Things I Accidentally Did Right

  • Stopped (after the first year or so) submitting to shitty magazines that nobody reads , opting instead for the ones that I enjoyed and that were noticed by readers and awards. (Not always a 100% correlation to quality, but better than a listing in Writer’s Market).
  • Went to Clarion. The specific advice I got there wasn’t too helpful, but the rededication to the work — Am I going to really do this or keep fucking around? — was a turning point for me.
  • Carefully considered what I did well in my work (voice) and what I didn’t (plot, description), and then decided what I would fix or hide in my work going forward.
  • Plumbed my past and the things I’d experienced to tinge lightly with the supernatural instead of trying to write about shit like spaceships and dragons that I could never quite believe in.
  • Lightened the fuck up and gave up on being important or famous, at least on purpose.

That’s what I would have said at my Caughieeklotsch, and then I would have opened it to questions like, “Who are you?” and “Is this the world’s most boring LARP?” and “Where can I find your work for free?”

Stop Killing Yourself

Back in June, my mother turned 70 and this post on Facebook was fucking hilarious:

Even she thought so.

Less than a month later, she had a seizure and entered the hospital for a brain tumor that doctors now suspect spread from her lungs or tonsils. She’s now had two surgeries and radiation treatment, and we learned yesterday that the tumor is growing too quickly to stop. Another surgery would severely compromise her motor functions, chemotherapy can’t breach the blood-brain barrier, and the tumor seems to actually enjoy the radiation.

She chose yesterday to ride it out with steroids and other palliative measures, and her doctors estimate she has about three months to fulfill her life’s dream of watching Donald Trump removed from office under the 25th amendment.

[Jesus, I can’t help it. My family faces awfulness two ways: getting angry or getting funny.]

What my mother would likely want from all of you instead of sadness is this:

Right now, you are doing something in your life that is killing you. Maybe you’re smoking or not taking your meds or not going to the doctor. Maybe you’re being viciously mean to yourself for the life you should be living according to someone else. Maybe you’re working a job you despise. Maybe you’re dwelling on some hurt that you caused or endured. Maybe you’re spending too much time on Twitter. Maybe you’re ignoring a symptom because you fear the cause.

You know what it is, and you know it’s killing you.

My mother would like you to knock it the fuck off. That’s all.

All Dogs are Comfort Dogs

This morning, I was heartened in our continued pageant of living woe by this photograph of comfort dogs waiting to visit victims of the Las Vegas shooting. 

 

“Well, some of these missions can be pretty touch-and-go, but we’re trained for all contingencies and have a full arsenal of tools from nuzzling to a gentle hand lick to resting our head on a knee.”

“Well, I’ll wear their religious iconography, but I have to admit I have some serious questions about the divine origins of the Bible and its moral message in regard to women and gay people, not to mention animals.”

Questions I would ask a comfort dog if I could:

  1. What do you do to get in the comforting mindset?
  2. Are you ever nervous that you will not, in fact, provide enough comfort?
  3. Was the comforting training rigorous and how can I sign up for it?

These dogs happen to be from Lutheran Church Charities, and I’m guessing they accept donations that are a whole lot more useful than the thoughts and prayers of Congress.

 

Yearly Wilgrimage to Necronomicon Tampa!

Ah, October: temperatures plummeting to the 90s, yellowed leaves adrift in the wind…and also Necronomicon in Tampa from October 20 – 22!

I have a busy schedule this year so there are plenty of opportunities to see/assassinate me.

Friday, October 20th

  • 4pm: Story Craft: Are You Overthinking the Story? 

Saturday, October 21st

  • 10am: Time Travel Tales: How to Do Them Right
  • 12pm: Being Funny is Serious Business (also known as the Will and Richard Byers Show)
  • 2pm: Kaffeeklatsch with Will Ludwigsen
  • 6pm: Turning Tropes Upside Down

That Kaffeeklatsch thing will be interesting: you show up and we chat for an hour about various things. The theme I have in mind for mine is “Five Things I Did Right for My Career and Five I Did Wrong,” sort of a cautionary tale.

As always, I’m looking forward to my home convention and I hope to see you there!

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.

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