Will Ludwigsen

Stories of Weird Mystery

Whew! Five Points Safe Again for Dads in Pink Polo Shirts and Assault Sandals!

My favorite theater in the world, Sun-Ray Cinema, has closed after their historic building in the Five Points area was bought out by developers.

I’m told that the theater owners are looking for a new location, but my personal instinct after losing a labor of love like the Sun-Ray would be to retreat somewhere to rest up and mourn the loss. Maybe they’ll come back somewhere else, but I wouldn’t blame them if they decided Jacksonville didn’t deserve it.

(I’m projecting here. Every time I’ve talked to the owners myself they’ve been cheerful, positive people.)

The Sun-Ray was the kind of quirky place that played artsy films alongside the first-run ones. I’ve seen most of the A24 oeuvre there, plus a wide range of oddness like the new mediocre Star Wars movies, What We Do in the Shadows, Fury Road, The Witch, Won’t You Be My Neighbor, A Simple Favor, Hail Satan?, Book Smart, JoJo Rabbit, The Hidden Fortress, and about six of their annual showings of Jaws. (Where the audience would crush a can of Narragansett beer when Quint did.)

Aimee and I attended the second-to-last showing of Jaws there.

Even if the movie wasn’t great, you at least could enjoy the food and alcohol they served on pock-marked wooden tables that stretched along the rows. An employee would skulk up from the darkness to leave your pizza or basket of knick-knack sticks, and I’d whisper “Thanks!” as they skittered away.

It’s sadder when they have the lights up.

They had festivals and special showings with people like John Waters. Over the summers, they’d play movies for kids that had an all-you-could-grab sugary cereal bar. They had great pre-movie announcements, including my favorite with weird puppets talking too loud on cell phones.

One of their pre-movie ads had Stan Lee telling you to keep your feet off the tables.

You had to be a little choosy about what kind of person you’d take to the Sun-Ray. It was dark and sticky and had a lot of layers of chipped paint. They had murals of movie monsters and a precarious balcony that they discouraged people from using. You could hear the movie from the bathrooms on either side of it. Sometimes it smelled weird.

Sometimes they’d let people sit or stand up there.

If you had a friend who wouldn’t get the Sun-Ray vibe, who insisted on corporate safety and blandness, that was a good reason to realize they weren’t your kind of person anyway.

During the Plague Year when they were closed and needed support, I rented the theater to show Lake Mungo to friends.

It was the kind of theater that you’d run when you were fourteen years old after breaking in.

Here I am with Steve and Aimee for the latest Indiana Jones film on my 50th birthday.

I’m not much a part of any community (being scared and skeptical of them), so I regret that I wasn’t part of the Sun-Ray’s a lot more. I went to movies there, loved the atmosphere, and then went off afterward in a very aloof Gen-X sort of way. I wish I’d introduced myself and told them how much I liked it, how welcome I felt even alone in the darkness, but I never felt cool enough.

My neighborhood is being taken over by investors with spreadsheets, people who think that enough data can guarantee that every dollar spent is a dollar quadrupled. They believe that everyone wants high ceilings and bright lights and wi-fi and checklist entertainment, a place to take a selfie to show how fun they are.

Maybe those developers are right.

What I loved about the Sun-Ray, though, was that it was a weird space: a place for enjoying the weird and personifying the weird and being surprised by the weird. It was a place for brief displacement and then…maybe wonder. Maybe disappointment. Who knew?

We’ve come to a terrifying moment when we think that the data we’re gathering about the past and present can guarantee the future. We believe we know exactly how many people we can fire without losing any business. We’ve “perfected” the science of entertainment, measuring out the beats of our blockbuster movies in coffee spoons, taking fewer chances, making fewer mistakes.

We’ve refined the process of going straight from investment to profit without any of the accidents that really pay off in between.

I know when I go to the AMC Theatre that a benevolent corporation will protect me from any experience that’s too upsetting or too transcendent. We all have to return to work on Monday, after all, and it wouldn’t do to be amazed too often.

I hope the Sun-Ray finds a new home. When it does, I’ll be there, ready again for a good weirdening.

Dedicating A Scout is Brave

If you’ve savored every page in your copy of A Scout is Brave, you may have noticed this dedication near the beginning:

For William Simmons, who was never to my knowledge a Boy Scout but who has exemplified every one of their stated ideals throughout our nearly forty-year friendship…though not perhaps in the ways they’d expect. I appreciate our late-night urban hikes and the honest perspectives you’ve always provided to me. I hereby award you the Iconoclastic Integrity merit badge.

And you may have asked yourself, “Who the fuck is William Simmons?”

[Spoiler alert for people accustomed to reading my too-frequent eulogies: William is alive and well.]

William Simmons at Necronomicon.
This is William Simmons.
(Photo by Dave Lally.)

I’ve been friends with William since 1987, when he came knocking on my door and asking for Norman Amemiya, who’d told him that Dungeons and Dragons was about to take place at my home.

I was relieved to see him, if I’m being honest: Norman, though mentally about fourteen, was a 32-year-old man and my mother was a bit worried that my new gaming group was full of people twenty years older than me. Luckily, William was only four years older.

Together with Norman and a rotating series of guest gamers, William and I met for weekly sessions of Car Wars, Star Frontiers, Star Trek: The Role Playing Game, Toon, Paranoia, Battletech, and (maybe once or twice) D&D. Like Norman, he was very tolerant of my ADHD-fueled, rules-indifferent gonzo gamemastering style.  

William Simmons playing Conan on an Apple II at Willcon.
William was especially found of Conan on the Apple II as well as Eamon.

We also gathered around my Apple II+ as I developed a starship bridge simulator and a food chain science project, not to mention playing a few hundred cracked and pirated games that would grind ominously in my failing disk drive.

Once while he was staying overnight at my house way out of town, our cat gave birth to a few sickly kittens and then fled outside into the darkness. The only light source we had handy was an antique kerosene lantern, which he held aloft amid the orange trees, looking for the cat like Diogenes searching for an honest man.

At most science fiction, fantasy, horror, or gaming conventions we’ve attended since 1987, we’ve taken a late-night walk around whatever downtown area was handy. We chat about books and movies and games, plus my deranged ambitions to write. Once while crossing a drawbridge in Fort Lauderdale, we had to run when it began to rise under our feet.

I’m not doing a good job conveying who William is beyond “erstwhile gaming buddy.”

Like me, William didn’t have the most peaceful childhood. My reaction to uncertainty was to grasp desperately for control of my world, but William’s was a calm and measured scientific detachment. He is the most open-minded person I’ve ever met, willing to understand strange ideas (and people) while weighing all the information he can get. When my first wife called him during our divorce to get him to take her side, he said, “I really don’t have enough information to do that.”

William playing Call of Cthulhu at Willcon.
William participating in the Call of Cthulhu scenario that A Scout is Brave was partly based on.

William exemplifies all of the Scout laws that Bud Castillo follows in A Scout is Brave, though he’s sorely tested in his convenience store job each day. William’s ambition these days seems mostly to be peace, which I wholeheartedly understand; he does his job, reads more books than anybody I know, and has walked every furlong of Lord of the Rings Online.

I have three degrees in English literature and writing, yet William is the only person I know who has read the entire works of Shakespeare. He has a habit of doing that, reading an author’s entire oeuvre. He’s a fan of life’s side quests.

Aubrey from A Scout is Brave is a combination of Norman’s alien perspective of the world and William’s calm and considerate one. That character (and that book) wouldn’t exist without them, and I wanted you all to know that.

Readercon Approaches on Little Cat Feet

My A Scout is Brave book tour continues, this time with a visit to Boston and Readercon at the Marriott Boston Quincy!

Here’s where you can find me:

  • Friday, July 12, 7pm: A Weird Reading Tonight (a group reading with other Lethe Press authors)
  • Saturday, July 13, 11am: Getting Your Other Foot in the Door (parlaying an early success into a longer one)
  • Saturday, July 13, 2pm: The Tyranny of the Tale (alternate forms of storytelling other than your “Save the Cat” bullshit)
  • Saturday, July 13, 7pm: Will Ludwigsen Reading
  • Lurking at the Lethe Press table in the Dealer’s Room at other random intervals

I hope to see you there, and also at other book tour stops in your neighborhood (assuming you live in New England or Florida):

  • NecronomiCon Providence, August 15-18, Providence RI
  • Necronomicon Tampa, September 27-29, Tampa FL
  • Mysterious surprise book tour stop TBA, October, Jacksonville FL

A Scout is Brave Bursts Forth from Beneath the Waves!

Today is the official launch date for my book A Scout is Brave, though some lucky souls pre-ordered it or bought copies at our fabulous book launch on Saturday.

People at the book launch for A Scout is Brave.
It’s like the scene at the end of Titanic when people welcome Rose back to the ship!
People attending the book launch for A Scout is Brave
It’s my favorite thing in the world when people from all corners of my life come together in one place: family, friends, coworkers, former students, and bitter creditors!
Will Ludwigsen reading from his book A Scout is Brave
Here I await thunderous applause while my publisher Steve Berman signals the audience.

Of course, it’s never too late to join the troop!

And don’t forget that talented musical artist Kathexis93 has released a Lovecraftian prequel album, available on Bandcamp.

Oh, Yeah: That Other Book

With all of the hullabaloo about A Scout is Brave (coming very, very soon!), it’s easy to forget that I have other books…including this one with a redesigned cover!

It has the same great content that lost me a Shirley Jackson Award in 2014, but if it’s been bugging you that the cover wasn’t as snazzy as the one for Acres of Perhaps…well, now they match a little better and you can complete your collection.

It’s available now in all the usual places.

Second Playthrough

There are two video games I play through probably once a year: Borderlands 2 and Red Dead Redemption 2. They’re long and complex and rich with lots of experiences, much of it seemingly superfluous.

Always stop to pet the dogs.

When I play a game like that for the first time, I’m always full of anxiety over whether I’ll succeed, whether I’ll “win,” whatever that means. There’s a lot of desperation in my character’s actions, taking shortcuts and completing the required missions however I can with whatever I’ve got.

Now the second playthrough – that’s where things actually get enjoyable. Once I’ve lost that anxiety over whether it’s possible for me to succeed, I can dawdle and do all the side missions and optimize my character with all the best gear and explore all the easter eggs. I can pay attention to all the things I missed the first time, and usually succeed even better.

Also don’t forget to stop for the beautiful waterfalls.

You might see where I’m going with this.

I’ve had a stressful several months, scrabbling to finish the missions any way that I could. The ones coming up may or may not be better.

I hope I can remember to act (and more importantly feel) as though this is the second playthrough.

  • Act with the confidence that I’ve already won this game in many ways, and even the big setbacks end up being part of that story in the end.
  • Do all the side missions, gathering skills and experiences.
  • Optimize my character, fixing what’s not working and leaning into what does.
  • Explore the world a little more, looking for easter eggs and grace notes left for me by the designers.
  • Know when to pause, when to shut the game off and do something else before returning re-energized.

That all sounds surprisingly positive for me, I know. Sometimes I have to remind myself of things that are obvious to everyone else.

But really the advice holds for all of us: ALWAYS stop to pet the dogs and cats.

A Scout is Brave Book Launch Jamboree!

Our modest book tour for my new novella from Lethe Press, A Scout is Brave, is coming together, and we’ve now got a launch event!

Image advertising the book launch for A Scout is Brave by Will Ludwigsen.

As you may remember from Steinbeck’s book launch for Of Mice and Men and Poe’s for The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym, these events bring together friends, family, fans, and sometimes even members of the public lost on their way somewhere else, all to celebrate the release of a book.

At this one, we’re going to have:

  • A conversation/interview between me and Lethe Press CEO Steve Berman
  • A mercifully brief reading from the book’s contents by the author
  • A signing by the author, mostly of bankruptcy documents
  • Copies of the book
  • Food and drink
  • Other surprises

It’s open to anyone who would like to join us!

If you can’t make it, there are a few other opportunities to see me during the book tour:

I hope we cross paths sometime this year!

So Mrs. Lincoln, How Was the Civil War (2024) Movie?

I don’t write or say much publicly anymore about politics, largely because I don’t believe most people have rational views. I think they choose a group they want to belong to, one that confers some benefit or makes them feel powerful, and then they do and say whatever it takes to be welcomed in that group.

Unlike me, the only rational being.

No, I’m kidding: my “group” is detached intellectual outsider who’s too cool to play along.

Jesse Plemons in Civil War (2024)
God, I hope nobody walks away from this movie wanting to be this guy.

So I was pleasantly surprised that the harrowing new film by Alex Garland, Civil War, threads the needle of politics with astonishing care. It reveals nearly nothing about the political stances of the combatants, uniting Texas and California as the forces of rebellion. Nobody has a stereotypical accent or point of view, and we follow journalists who are covering the conflict with as much detachment as they can.

It all comes together to demonstrate that a civil war wouldn’t go the way so many think it will, as a fun opportunity to finally live fantasies from Call of Duty and look cool with a rifle strapped to your chest. It’ll be awful and pointless and wasteful, something none of us should wish for.

There have been some ripples in the punditsphere about whether Civil War will foment the very thing it depicts, making the conflict seem heroic or cathartic. Others wonder if it doesn’t go far enough to name names. If anything, this movie is a splash of cold water warning us to step back from our melodramatic rhetoric.

Civilization often feels to me like a terrifying pendulum between our drives for comfort (“Please just keep the wi-fi working”) and lunacy (“I gotta show the man on the TV that I believe in him”).

When the lunacy becomes comfortable, that’s when we’re in real trouble.

This film doesn’t let us get comfortable with lunacy.

The Writer at Age Nine

Steven Spielberg and E.T.

If you think my work is juvenile now, let me tell you…it was much worse when I was in the fourth grade. The year was 1982, and an obscure director named Steven Spielberg was all over my mother’s entertainment magazines posing with a rubber puppet.

At nine years old, I discovered the idea that someone got PAID to entertain people with made up stories, which is something I’d been doing all my life for free like a chump.

Will Ludwigsen around age nine.
Rocking the Garanimal outfit!

(It’s important to mention that due to some mutation of ADHD or anxiety or schizophrenia, my brain was constantly buzzing with all sorts of random shit like during the credits of The Twilight Zone. I was effectively insane, talking or performing almost constantly even when nobody was around. Stories all but shot out of my eyeballs.)

Steven Spielberg showed me that one boy’s mental illness was a grown man’s career, and I started writing stories down in my famously meticulous handwriting.

My first completed story was called “Cats!”, built upon my assumption that the stage musical was simply a bunch of skits about cats doing funny things around the house.

I showed this brilliant work to my fourth-grade teacher Mr. Clark who, perhaps to gain a moment of peace, allowed me to read it aloud to the class. Their reaction was like water on a grease fire, and I began producing other works for their entertainment.

Most of them were sequels to my favorite films and TV shows.

You’ll notice perhaps that they are dialogue heavy with lots of exclamation points, mostly because – like the early primitive storytellers – they were meant to be performed. Some of them are just outlines of ideas that I’d improvise a story around when I was standing in front of the class.

What was their reaction? I remember mostly that they were relieved to be free of schoolwork and would occasionally offer up a few laughs at the funny parts.

Which was fine by me.

I tried my hand at comic book writing, too, though I had some weaknesses as an artist. Ultra-Dummy and the Legion of Stuffed Animals was the flagship production of a “company” started with my friend Garrett Albritton (hence the name W.A.G. for “Will and Garrett”).

Toward the end of my story-performing career in the seventh grade (when it was starting to get me teased instead of applauded), I wrote my first foray into 1963:

(Who’d have thought that 38 years later, my novella A Scout is Brave would also take place in 1963? Have you heard of it? It’s available for pre-order!)

My teacher Mrs. Kessel, who was mystified that I would only do extra credit reading and writing instead of the actual assigned curriculum, gave me an early blurb I could use on my books even now:

Your story was adorable! You are so funny…a future O. Henry or Steinbeck!

I wonder sometimes whether I’d have chosen writing as a vocation if I hadn’t been praised for it by teachers and family. If they’d loved my work with Lego, would I have been an engineer? Or if they told me I was brilliant at explaining things in a way idiots could understand, would I have gone into corporate training and communication?

I think writing is more fundamental to my personality than those other things for three reasons:

  • I get a thrill out of people’s reactions to it that I don’t get from anything else.
  • I also get a shiver of joy from capturing something exactly and specifically with language.
  • I’m willing to keep doing it even when it doesn’t turn out well.

These pencil scrawls on notebook paper are rather embarassing now; they show a lot more enthusiasm than ability. The only thing that came to me naturally about writing was doing it even when my brain was a scramble and I was bouncing off the walls

Maybe that’s the surest sign that you’ve found your life’s work: you keep doing it anyway.

Brunch with the Devil

Yesterday we went to the early showing of Late Night with the Devil, a movie that on paper seems to check all of the Will Ludwigsen boxes: 1970s milieu, found/hoaxed footage, psychic phenomenon, demonic possession, hypnosis, skeptics, and dramatic supernatural comeuppances.

A still from Late Night with the Devil.

But when it started with five different production studio logos including Shudder, I got a little worried.

The film turned out to be 85% an amazing movie, with the other 15% comprised of some clumsy missteps, unnecessary explanations, and at least two more endings than it needed.

Of course, I’m suffering from a professional’s myopia here: that 15% is probably just what I’d have done differently, not some absolute or even arguable measure of quality. I’d have stuck more strictly to the found footage without as much behind the scenes, toned back some special effects, and trusted the story more.

Still, it was designed fabulously and included amazing performances, especially by David Dastmalchian and Ingrid Torelli. I enjoyed it, even with its flaws.

A lot of my (perhaps unfair) reaction to Late Night with the Devil is probably that it provoked so many ideas of how I’d have written it if the idea had come to me first. I see a lot of the ghosts of my unwritten stories out in the world, and this film called to mind one of the few writerly superstitious beliefs I still hold:

If you don’t write that story idea, it will find someone else.

I tell students that ideas aren’t all that important, that it’s the collision of the personal (their own experiences and weirdness) with stimulation from the zeitgeist that is their only real hope of originality. I absolutely believe that.

But there’s no question that we share a lot of the same stimuli in our culture, and the idea that you think is extraordinary and just for you may only be visiting. You’ve got to grab that out of the sea and club it with the oar before it swims away to someone else.

Late last year, I came upon this tweet by Bernard T. Joy, and the sick emptiness in my heart after reading it told me it was true:

I’m a slow writer. Actually, that’s not true: I’m a sporadic writer, working in sudden explosive bursts between a litany of excuses about feeling too tired, depressed, harried, or hopeless to do it.

An experience like Late Night with the Devil, one that almost but not quite pushes all my buttons, both saddens and energizes me. It’s an idea that found a different writer, but maybe if I show up more consistently, the next one will choose me instead.

« Older posts

© 2024 Will Ludwigsen

Theme by Anders NorenUp ↑