Category: Writing (page 1 of 3)

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.

“Night Fever” Coming Down Fast!

I’ve just received word that my latest story “Night Fever” will appear in the May/June issue of Asimov’s Science Fiction Magazine.

What’s it about? I don’t want to give too much away, so let’s simply call it a tale of alternate crime and disco history and let you fill in the rest.

What You Should Work On Next

I’m finding that the older I get, the harder it is to dive into a new creative project with the same enthusiasm.

“Enthusiasm,” if you don’t know, comes from a Latin root meaning “too dumb (willfully or not) to know how much shit is ahead,” and the sad thing about experience is that it gnaws away at enthusiasm like a heartworm. I miss the heady, ignorant days when I could say like an idiot, “Fuck yeah, the world needs a story about monsters who live in milk trucks!”

The world has made abundantly clear that it needs none of my shit, even the really good shit that I felt deeply.

I’m more okay with that than I thought I’d be, but it still means that it’s hard to choose what to work on next. Sometimes an idea grabs me and won’t leave until I do something with it, but more often, I have to commit to hacking away at something I choose.

So here’s the patented Will Ludwigsen Writing Priority Grid(tm).

What you do is list all of the things you could be working on in a column on the far left side. Then, in the other columns, you rate the story idea in several categories, like so:

priority-grid

Now, if you want to get fancy, you can weight the numbers as I have here. Maybe the saleability of a story is more important than, say, how interesting it is to you (though I rather hope not). In that case, the maximum score for interesting might be a three or a four instead of a five for saleability.

(You’ll notice that most of the numbers don’t go above three even in the heavier columns. Well, that’s depression for you. Also, I grayed saleability because that’s the one that seems hardest to gauge.)

But what if you add up the totals and you’re not happy with the result? Well, that tells you something, too: there’s a story you WANT to work on despite the cold numbers and you should chase after that.

You can add other columns depending on your priorities.Possibilities might be “How long has it been lurking in my mind?” or “How eager is my audience to read it?” or “How important is the editor expecting it?” I considered “How likely is it to fuck over Trump,” but I figured that one would be depressing, but hey, maybe you want to consider the social impact of your work.

This would be a good place to write something encouraging about the choice you’ve made, but all I’ve got is this:

You should probably weight that “fun” column pretty heavily because that’s the fall back when all else fails. If you change nothing but yourself with your work, that’s a lot more than most people do.

Wait, “The Leaning Lincoln” is Based on a True Story?

I’m pleased that my story “The Leaning Lincoln” is now available in this month’s “slightly spooky” double-issue of Asimov’s Science Fiction Magazine, though it’s origin is more than slightly spooky.

It’s based on a true event from my life.

In 1983, my father almost certainly wound up an emotionally-troubled man into a shooting spree to kill their mutual enemies — creditors, bankers, and a lawyer. asimovs1016

The man started by fatally shooting his own lawyer (whom he saw as “mishandling” an inheritance case) and was luckily stopped there, but when he was arrested, he was found with a list of other victims not obviously connected to him. He never admitted they were connected to my father.

[I won’t comment on the specifics of the real case out of respect for the victim and his family. I hope I fictionalized it enough not to be offensive, and I hope that though I humanized the killer, I didn’t absolve him of his crime. He was definitely responsible for his own deranged reasons, but there’s a truth most people didn’t know which is that my father helped derange him.]

The man — fictionalized as “Henry” in the story — was kinder and more understanding to me and my family than my father ever was. He took us to the movies and talked about Dungeons and Dragons with me, and yes, he did make me a lead Abraham Lincoln figurine that seemed to bring me bad luck.

As a kid playing with action figures on the back patio, I heard my dad rant to “Henry” about his enemies while “Henry” quietly listened, and in the decades since, I’ve wondered what I should have done or whom I could have told. “Henry” was convicted and died in prison while my father went on to other crimes. He’s dead now, too.

The speculation in this story is the idea that a kid like me, weird and dreamy and superstitious, could find a way to use that to do good in the real world.

I wanted to talk about where magic came from with other readers like me who I know wonder that for themselves. I wanted to talk about how our books and comics and movies and action figures saved a lot of us from terrible things, and I wanted to talk about what we should do with that to pass it on, how we should add science fiction and fantasy to the world instead of just hiding there.

That’s what Scott does in the story, and it’s what I couldn’t quite manage when I was ten. I had to go back in time for another shot at putting my father on trial and convicting him with magic.

 

Secretary Clinton, Two Minutes for Your Closing Remarks

[If the enjoyment I get from it is anything to go by, I’d probably be a better speechwriter than the fiction kind. Sometimes I write things that other people could say to better make a point, but I don’t often share them. Here’s one for Hillary’s closing debate remarks.]

Photo by Lorie Shaull

Photo by Lorie Shaull

Like many of you, I’ve spent the last ninety minutes wondering why anybody would vote for this gibbering lunatic.

It can’t be because he’s got the best ideas for moving America forward; all he has are plans to come up with those ideas. It can’t be because of his great business acumen; he makes it a business practice to stiff countless vendors and employees. It can’t be because he’s a patriot; he’s proud of not paying his fair share of the taxes that keep our soldiers equipped and our kids educated. It certainly can’t be for his empathy or his eloquence.

The only reason I can imagine to vote for Donald Trump is because many of you just really, really hate me.

Of course, I wish you didn’t. Or if you have to, I wish you’d hate me for the right reasons.

For decades, some of you have seen me as a Machiavellian figure in some paneled room with her fingers tented, cackling as my plans come together. You see me as a puppet master, pulling the strings of some sinister agenda for power.

I’ve spent my adult life around power, and I can tell you it’s easy to come by and virtually useless by itself. If I really wanted power and only power, if I really wanted to be a demagogue and rule the country by my egotistical whim…well, I’d look a lot more like Donald Trump. And I’d have done it better, too.

Here’s the prosaic truth. I don’t want your guns, though I wish there were fewer of them. I don’t want a one-world government. I don’t want white people to disappear from the Earth. I don’t want to tax all your money to pay for forced abortions.

You know who I am? I’m the vaguely annoying student government geek from your high school who used to stay late in the gym painting the homecoming float by herself.

When I brush my teeth in the morning, I’m not thinking of ways to rule with an iron fist. I’m thinking of what I need to do, who I need to talk to, so we can fix something broken that day.   

All I want is for the roads to be a little better and for college to be a little cheaper. I’d like to keep America secure not so much through force of arms but by diplomacy. I’m hoping we can be welcoming to more of our people, and it’d be great if we weren’t lighting the planet on fire.

Like my opponent, I’ve made mistakes, sometimes with dire consequences. But the ones I’ve made haven’t been about grabbing power or making me look better, that’s for sure. They’ve come from tunnel vision: I sometimes forget that even the greatest ends are made of up small actions, and I’m counting on all of you to remind me that good is done one small step at a time, not all at once whatever the cost. 

Here’s what I’m asking. If you believe in Donald Trump’s character or policies — whatever they are — then vote for him. If you believe in Jill Stein’s or Gary Johnson’s policies, then vote for one of them.

But don’t vote for anyone simply because you hate me. That’s not the way to choose a president. At least, it shouldn’t be.

Vote because of what you believe, not because of what you hate.

Then work for it.

Coming Up: Necronomicon 2016 in Tampa (October 28 – 30)

Why, yes, I’m once again a guest at my home convention, Necronomicon in Tampa. It’s been around for 35 years and I’ve been attending for 23 of them. This year’s event takes place on October 28th through the 30th at the Grand Hyatt Tampa Bay.

I’ll be on panels this year about:

  • Humorous Fiction (Friday at 4pm)
  • Short Fiction: Where to Begin (Friday at 5pm)
  • Plotting a Mystery (Friday at 9pm)
  • Horror: Is Splatter Necessary?  (Saturday at 11am)
  • Drawing on Urban Legends (Saturday at 2pm)
  • Movies and Monsters (Saturday at 4pm)
  • The Fine Art of Exposition (Saturday at 6pm)
  • The Care and Feeding of Your Creative Process (Sunday at 11am)

Holy shit. That’s a lot of panels. I’m okay with you not coming to every single one of them; that’s probably the legal definition of a stalker. But for full credit, you should come to at least, I don’t know, let’s say six.

I’m told there are other things going on at the con this year like a masquerade and some gaming and panels about non-Will-related subjects, too.

Confessions of a Non-Fiction Failure

I can think of at least five kinds of writing that I do better and more easily than fiction:

  • Gently-worded diplomatic overtures in the workplace
  • Bally-hooing business propaganda
  • Letters of advice
  • Hoaxed letters, email messages, and news articles that amuse and terrify people
  • Contemplative blog and journal entries

(I suspect I’d be pretty good at speechwriting, too, but I’ve never had the opportunity to find out. I used to be adept at love letters as well, but these days I’m like, “Hey, it’s awesome you’re alive. Let’s go eat pizza rolls and watch true crime.”)

In fact, it wouldn’t be hard to argue that fiction (description, exposition, dialogue, plot, etc) is actually the kind of writing I’m WORST at. It’s certainly what I feel least comfortable doing, as though my mind doesn’t work that way naturally. I don’t even know how to practice at it, though I’ve written thousands of exercise paragraphs.

If there’s a story of mine you like, there’s a good chance that it isn’t structured like most stories. It’s a teenager’s science fair paper or a near-death experience or a series of letters or fragments of research books or a fake acknowledgements page from a book about ghosts.  

Now that I think of it, I’m not sure I even believe in fiction, the arbitrariness of story-time, the contrived third-person stance outside of events. Most of what I write pretends to be non-fiction, as though I’ve chosen the wrong genre to tell it.

(I lie and exaggerate too much for ethical reporting, alas.)

As I struggle on this next novel, I’m wondering about my future as a writer of fiction. Between writing the only two chapters that exist, I wrote an entire 16,000-word novelette while cackling insanely with amusement. What was the difference? The novelette was stitched together from many forms and perspectives — fake books and newspaper articles and court transcripts.

A few things bother me about writing that way:

  • It feels like a cop-out to avoid learning to write more “storylike” narratives.
  • Editors hold it at arm’s length because it isn’t as “satisfying” as normally structured prose. Most people want to be told a story, not to have a bunch of linguistic Lego blocks dumped at their feet.  
  • How long before it becomes a schtick? “Oh, a new Ludwigsen story. This one’s told entirely in Craigslist missed connections!”

Even so, I’m still deeply uncomfortable writing stories that don’t somehow explain or hoax their existence in the real world. The forms that please me like newspaper articles and diaries and letters fit so much better with my aim of making stories part of our lives. Everything’s a story if you look at it close enough.

I guess this is just my fair warning that even if it shortens my career or loses me readers, I’m going to keep telling my stories as fake found objects.

If you’re looking for authorial-voiced guy with a pipe in his mouth (“In the hinterlands of Merlindor, the ancient cobbled roads wind unguarded through primeval forest…”), that isn’t me.     

Clarion, Wayward Will Part 4: The Moon’s Turned Black

I didn’t think I’d write any more about my Clarion writing workshop experience ten years ago, but since today is the exact anniversary of a moment I actually learned something, I’d like to commemorate it by passing it on.

By this time in 2006, the six-week workshop was winding down to its last days and I’d handed in my final story for critique. After weeks of trying to write carefully plotted science fiction stories that ended up quivering on the page like botched abortions, I’d reached my inevitable “fuck this” moment.

We all have a “fuck this” threshold, right? Where you realize there’s no hope of doing something the way everybody wants so you just fling something out, like throwing your tennis racket into the stands? That’s where I was.

For my last story, I returned to being funny and mean with “The Moon’s Turned Black,” about a genetically-resurrected Algonquin Round Table quipping through the apocalypse in our moment of greatest need. I’d written it as something of a gift for Aimee after a couple of conversations about Dorothy Parker.

(That’s lesson one, by the way: write to amuse someone specific instead of a faceless multitude.)

So we all sat down in our circle of couches and chairs as the summer thunderstorms rolled in for the early afternoon, and for some reason, that’s what I remember most about it: how dark it seemed in the room. A good dark, though — a cozy dark.

It was darker than this.

It was darker than this.

(Lesson two? Find your comfort in the things you love wherever you find them.)

Each person offered their critiques and I was stunned at how positive they were, if not glowing. One person said not to change a word. Aimee said she felt like it was written just for her, which it was. Someone asked who the fuck Dorothy Parker was, but I let that go. Kelly and Holly, our instructors, seemed to enjoy the story and had great suggestions for it that excited me for revisions.

(Lesson three? Don’t do anything someone suggests to your story unless it excites you with a feeling of recognition.)

It was a big moment that I desperately needed. I was pretty sure that I’d be going home as one of those people who leave Clarion to never write again, having realized they don’t have and can’t get what it takes, but the general approbation for that story hinted that maybe there was something in me after all.

(Lesson four? Don’t give a shit about whether you are or aren’t a “writer.” Do you like doing it? Do you enjoy entertaining people? Then who gives a fuck what they — or, for that matter, you — call you.)

So I went home to find out what that something was, sitting down for many sessions with a journal in the library to figure out what I had to work with and what I didn’t. I call this the “Fix It or Fuck It” list, where I decide whether it’s worth improving what I didn’t do well (character, description) or working around it (plot).

(Lesson five? Nobody teaches you writing. You decide what to practice and improve by looking honestly at your own work and making adjustments.)

I’m not sure how much of the weird inter-social aspects of our particular Clarion helped or hindered me, though I met some wonderful friends and a life partner there (no, Steve, not you: Aimee). And I’m not sure if I needed the full six weeks away from my normal life to boil me down to my essentials.

What I needed was a calibration of my expectations of how much talent I had and how much I had yet to learn, and I doubt I’d have gotten that any other way.

(Lesson six? Some fiascoes are necessary, if you only know how to use them.)

[If you’re curious, I’ve posted “The Moon’s Turned Black” on the site for your bemusement.]

The Most Important Writing Advice You’ll Get Today

Here’s the most important writing advice I can give:

Stop making a big deal out of writing.

“Making a big deal” includes (but is no way limited to) the following:

  • Finding the perfect desk, pen, writing software, or coffee shop to work.
  • Writing random things just to feel like you’re still a writer.
  • Hunting down your mental blocks, hang-ups, neuroses, and terrible personal history to free the creative soul within.
  • Worrying at all about “inspiration” or “the muse” being present or absent.
  • Worrying at all if you’re working hard enough (compared to other writers, compared to other professions, compared to other people’s impressions).
  • Worrying at all about “finding your voice,” which is really just a retrospective conglomeration of all the voices you’ve chosen to tell your stories over many years.
  • Worrying at all if you’re ready. You aren’t.
  • Elaborately outlining or preparing your world or characters.
  • Joining the right “professional” associations to “network.”
  • Gazing with longing at becoming part of a writing “community.”
  • Searching for ways to make writing easier or less messy.
  • Searching for the perfect writing book, class, workshop, website, mentor, or…uh…blog post that has the secret.

What’s funny is that we know all of this already. We’re looking for ways to simultaneously simplify writing to make it easier and complicate writing to make it more magical.

Take the summer off from thinking about capital-W Writing and think instead about the thing(s) you’re writing. When a story exists to make you a writer, I can guarantee it will suck. When you exist to make a story, it changes a lot.

 

Hey! A New Interview with Me on the Outer Dark Podcast!

I’m not sure why people are interviewing me all of a sudden, but maybe I’m like the Paul Lynde of horror, the kind of show biz trooper always available when someone needs a center square.

Anyway, Scott Nicolay very graciously and insightfully interviewed me for the award-winning Outer Dark podcast, and it’s available for your enjoyment now!

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