Category: Writing (page 1 of 3)

“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?”

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!

“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.

“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.

“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.

 

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