Will Ludwigsen

Stories of Weird Mystery

Star Trek and Me

Star Trek’s original series premiered on September 8 in 1966, and Paramount has recently dubbed that “Star Trek Day,” usually filled with a few franchise announcements and previews. This year, it’s a little tepid because of the strikes, but it still got me thinking about the influence the show had on my life.

(A few months ago, they asked some other nerds about that with heart-warming results.)

Now, it’s unquestionable that Star Wars was first and had a huge impact, especially with the ability to make my own stories with action figures. That’s one of the biggest reasons I became a writer, I suspect. Star Wars also taught me about courage and loyalty and friendship, and it had an enormous influence on my entire generation.

(I suspect you could call Generation X “the Han Solo Generation” instead because we learned to be independent and skeptical and cynical but still good at heart from him.)

As I got older, though, I saw Star Trek: The Motion Picture and The Wrath of Khan, and something about them resonated with me from the start. Thanks to my friend Norman, I went back to watch re-runs of the original series, which were always hit-or-miss for me. I really liked James Blish’s novelizations, as well as the novels by Pocket Books.

Still, the movie era Star Trek was what changed my life.

You know, these guys.

My father left us in 1986, not that we were too sad for his reign of capricious twitchy terror to end. Still, I’d learned a certain way of seeing the world thanks to him, one that relied on fear and anger for the energy to get things done.

When he was gone, there was no one to be scared of, and the sudden vacuum was both freeing and awful. In the same way that Hitler supposedly made the trains run on time, my father established a pattern for our lives that, damaging as it was, at least provided answers. Bad ones, but…answers.

After my father was gone, my grades at school took a dive and I lost a sense of what was actually worth caring about. When someone decides all of that for you since birth and suddenly leaves, you don’t know how to make those choices for yourself.

During middle school and freshman year of high school, my brain felt like the day room at an unaccredited mental hospital. Sometimes the manic people bounced off the walls, full of passionate glee. Other times, the depressives took over and doom darkened the windows.

I truly felt like a bunch of different imaginary people were fighting (ineptly, like with gardening tools) for my soul. None of them were particularly nice about it.

I vacillated back then between delusions of epic importance (a future President, perhaps) and terror that I was a nascent sociopath blooming into an awful genetic destiny.

In 1987-ish, I watched The Wrath of Khan and The Search for Spock probably two or three times a week after school, often with my friend Carl (who was also no stranger to teenage melodrama), but it was one time when I was alone when a certain set of lines hit me in a new way.

You know which ones, I’m sure.

Marooned in the Genesis planetoid, Saavik asks Kirk how he handled the hopeless Kobyashi Maru command test. Kirk explains, blithely, that he cheated because he didn’t agree with the conditions of the test.

“I don’t believe in the no-win scenario,” he says.

On that particular day, probably after terrible grades or loneliness or God knows what, I had the strongest epiphany of my life until that point. I couldn’t quite articulate it then, and for years, I assumed it was about believing there were always possibilities even in the darkest hour.

But I think at a different level than I consciously realized, the message I received from that scene is that circumstances are usually mutable, but even the ones that aren’t can always be…bent. You can improvise with even the bad ones.

I learned the gift of reframing: looking at disasters as chances for heroism.

So began a (slow, limping, barely-on-impulse-power-with-the-mains-offline) turn toward…well, many more years of being a reckless idiot with intermittent bursts of competence.

Star Trek provided a positive internal structure for taking action in the world. The self-talk my father had left behind like a bee’s stinger slowly faded in favor of Starfleet’s more professional kind of discipline, doing good because what was the point of doing something else?

Why be human if you’re going to still live by the tooth and the claw?

I’ve been blindsided often over the years when people are proudly and spectacularly self-interested (or when I’ve been), but I still don’t believe in the no-win scenario.

Join Me at Necronomicon in Tampa, 9/22 – 24

It’s hard to believe that my home convention (as opposed to the convention I host in my home) of Necronomicon in Tampa is celebrating its 42nd event.

I started attending in 1987, skipped a few years in college, and then returned for good in 1996. I’ve always had a great time participating in panels, playing games, and catching up with old friends.

Like these mooks.

Though my schedule isn’t entirely confirmed, it looks like I’ll be doing at least two panels on Saturday morning:

  • Remaining Sane While Working with Publishing Professionals (9am)
  • Meanwhile: Day Jobs and Financial Wisdom for Creatives (10am)

You can find us from September 22nd through the 24th at the Embassy Suites near the University of South Florida.

Plus…the convention supports the Kids and Canines charity, so you’re likely to see at least one dog!

Like this good boy, Patriot.

How can you pass that up?

My Advice for Travelers to Great Britain, Our Natural Superiors

As a kid, I imagined that I was a displaced Briton, meant to be stumbling across ghostly Roman ruins in the woods instead of getting tangled in Florida’s palmetto brush.

Nature! Give me some nature!

During my recent two-week tour of England, Wales, and Scotland, I didn’t see as many tweed waistcoats or crumbled abbeys as I’d hoped, nor did I have a sublime supernatural experience on a wind-swept beach after blowing an ancient whistle.

I did catch COVID, which was its own kind of sublime experience.

What I saw swaying on my feet soaked in my own fever sweat were beautiful towns, gorgeous rolling hills and mountains and waterways, amazing museums, and astonishing historical places where the human story extended thousands of years beneath my feet.

I’ll have other pretentious things to say about my trip in the future, but for now, I’d like to offer some advice for travelers based on my own idiosyncratic experience…and needs.

Important Questions to Ask Before Embarking on a Tour of Britain:

1. Has anyone on this bus heard of M.R. James, Robert Aickman, Algernon Blackwood, Ramsey Campbell, Daphne Du Maurier, or John Wyndham?

No, this has no connection to any of those authors, but it’s the kind of place they’d like to go.

2. Does anyone on this bus have a selfie checklist or plan to flash a sideways peace sign where people were burned alive?

3. Does anyone on this bus have a desperate need for the love and attention of strangers by answering rhetorical questions or repeating the punchlines of jokes?

4. Is anyone on this bus interested in buying a shot glass or Speedo with the flag of England or Scotland on it? Or in visiting Gretna Green for non-ironic purposes?

Thank you, Boudica, for the excuse to sell t-shirts!

5. Are we stopping in Liverpool for anything other than a dire emergency?

Liverpool, I’m convinced, is the Jacksonville of England: grimly practical port city with a lot of strip clubs.

6. I’m sorry to pry, Tour Guide, but are you gay? Because this is going to suck if you don’t have the catty meta-awareness and perception of most LGBTQ folks. (I’m pretty sure ours was, and he was awesome. When a drunk American from another tour stumbled onto our bus, he said, “Have another whisky, honey.”)

7. Are we staying at any hotels where you have to insert your key card into a slot to make the electricity work in the room?

8. Will we be walking down any narrow cobblestone alleys called “the Rambles” or “the Scrambles” or “the Shambles” or “the Scrabbles” where coughing, mucous-slicked tourists are squeezed together in a tube of undulating flesh?

This isn’t a picture of Patient Zero. It’s a picture of Patients Zero through Eighty.

9. Are we going anywhere quiet enough where a cat or dog could plausibly approach us for petting?

A wee lassie dug goes “Wffe, wffe, ye yank mootha fooka!”

10. Will we be visiting any cities or towns where the GPS resolution is better than, say, half a kilometer?

The answers you want to these questions may be different than mine, and that’s okay. But I suggest that you ask.

Writing, Huh! What Is It Good For?

I started writing to entertain my family and then my classmates by reading aloud. Then I wrote to continue stories with the action figures I loved. Then I wrote because I wanted to be funny like Erma Bombeck and Jean Sheppard and Patrick McManus.

Portrait of the artist as a creepy young boy.
Portrait of the artist as a creepy young boy, lurking and noticing and framing a story.

I wrote because other people told me I was a writer and so I could say they were right. I wrote because I wanted to be famous. I wrote because I wanted to build an audience that would one day encourage me to run for office as a literary philosopher president.

Member at large of the Dead Poets Society.
Member at large of the Dead Poets Society.

I wrote as a way of turning my inherited talent for eloquent bullshittery to something less destructive than how my father applied it. I wrote to get revenge on him, to show I’d grown up okay despite all his efforts. I wrote to fight evil with words like Voltaire. I wrote to debug our Cambellian cultural software, evoking the epic in all of us.

I wrote to woo women. A lot. (A lot of writing, not a lot of women.)

I wrote to earn a comfortable sinecure in academia. I wrote to escape from terrible stultifying office jobs. I wrote hoping to be a free observer on the sidelines of life, above economy and mobs.

I wrote to make the world more mysterious and strange, to make readers laugh and cringe and laugh again. I wrote so I could live forever, perhaps through an oft-visited statue of me somewhere in Englewood or Gainesville or Jacksonville not far from a vault of my well-protected papers.

I don’t know, maybe a dignified pose like this one?
(Photo by Ray Rodil)

Then I wrote so other people could live forever, to remember and preserve them.

But I outgrew all of that, leaving it behind as egotism and deciding that such motivations were impure. I had (and still have) the very Generation X idea that if you want something too much, you won’t get it.

Why do I write now?

Because it seems to be the talent that I have, remembering things with more drama and detail than most people. Because I like noticing connections and contradictions between things. Because I still want to make the world more weird and interesting.

Because I do love the people in my life, alive and dead, good and less than good, and I want their lives to be seen as the treasures that they are.

I used to write to entertain and inspire people, but I’m less sure lately than many of them deserve it. Now I write as a signal to anyone who does, a clandestine gesture to other saboteurs in enemy country.

Reading at Chamblin's back in the day.
Like some of these oddballs.

I write now because I like making things clearer and more interesting with words. I still like making people see and feel things. I like making ME see and feel things, surrounding something amorphous with words so I can get at least a hint of its size and shape.

I feel alive when I’m noticing and synthesizing, when the shiver of recognition comes that something sounds right.

I’m sick these days of characters, plots, scenes, arcs, point of view, and narrative distance. I’m sick of clanking scaffolds, of our perfected science of franchise content storytelling. I’m exhausted by the act of doing the right things to say I’m a writer, to have a career.

I really just want to “shoot the shit” as my mother and father used to say, and I’m starting to think that maybe I can.

Maybe that’s all I can.

Might As Well Write

I have recently relaunched my site Might As Well Write as a newsletter for cynical writers looking for practical hope!

Its tagline is “Darkly encouraging advice for creators who aren’t quite ready to give up,” and a logical question you might have is what I mean by “darkly encouraging.”

See, you can go to any number of places for delusional milquetoast advice about “following your dreams” and “sticking with it” and “applying butt to chair” and all of the usual cliches.

But if you’ve been creating for any amount of time in the 21st century, where “content” is literally piped down the street to every house and more people want to make it than to read it, you know that the usual platitudes just don’t cut it anymore.

Yeah, yeah, Grandma Moses got started painting at 78 years old. Let’s see her start a TikTok.

What if you had a friend who knew just enough about being a success AND a failure in our current creative “marketplace,” who’s sold some fiction and gotten a few nice notices but isn’t fooling himself? What if that friend was willing to answer your questions with total self-destructive honesty…but also ready to share the tiny but powerful flashes of hope that keep him going?

I can be that disconcerting but helpful friend!

Sure, a “successful” writer can tell you how they did it, and the answer is almost always to work hard and be lucky. I’m here to tell you how to work hard even when you’re unlucky, how to hold on and find the reasons your art exists for you.

(Until you do get lucky and can start the wealthy and decadent stage of your creative journey where you throw whiskey bottles at the people who used to love you.)

That’s what I mean by “darkly encouraging”: I’ll never lie to you that a creative life is easier than it is…and I won’t lie to you when sometimes it’s worth it.

Most of your online creative advisors will give you this:

I’m here to give you this:

If that’s something you’re into, please join us and subscribe to the newsletter! It’ll appear weekly in your email.

Beyond Weird Storybundle

My collection Acres of Perhaps is part of the BEYOND WEIRD Story Bundle along with a bunch of amazing authors like Kelly Link, Liz Hand, Philip Fracassi, Charles Payseur, Ramsey Campbell, Craig L. Gidney, Jeffrey Thomas, Mia Tijam, and Robert Jeschonek!

What is a Storybundle? In a Storybundle, you can pay an amount YOU choose for the four main e-books (including mine) or at least $20 to get all ten.

But what if you wish like Homer to pay…zero? You can’t do that, but you can definitely pay MORE than the minimum to ensure that authors like me (and the others in the bundle) make a little extra scratch.

Hurry and get your copy today before they figure out I don’t belong among those authors!

A Big Rock Candy Willcon

This weekend was Willcon 20, the gaming and genre convention I run from my home that is absolutely not just a party like it looks. We have a schedule! We have a con suite! We have mismatched uncomfortable chairs scattered around tables!

Sometimes it’s even outside.

Among the things we do at Willcon: role-playing games, board games, computer and console games, eating, cooking, drinking, crafts, paintball, watching movies, visiting national monuments and Shenandoah National Park (when we lived in DC), visiting Kennedy Space Center, visiting bookstores, and once we had fire dancers come.

Yes, they were professionals.

I’ve run this event 27 times over twenty discrete years since 1997, so the reckoning of exactly what we should CALL this Willcon is hopelessly fucked up. We used to do it a couple of times a year, and there have been years when we couldn’t do it because of pandemics and parenthood (not mine, don’t worry), so…whatever.

There’s a lot of love at Willcon. No, really.

I started Willcon because it has always been tricky to find people who enjoy weird things like role-playing games, computers, writing, science fiction, horror, and fantasy without being batshit crazy about it. To be fair, there are fans of scuba diving and football and political parties who are also batshit crazy about those, too.

Some perfectly normal people keeping it all in proper perspective.

(I think the world is being torn apart by fandomization in many ways, everyone desperate to prove their commitment to some specialized passion without any sense of proportion. That’s why Gen X isn’t fucking up the world: we don’t care enough to bother.)

Over all those years, somewhere near eighty different people have come to my home for games, food, interpersonal drama, and a captive reading of my writing. Of those, a good dozen or more no longer speak to me because I divorced their family member (which I completely understand). Another two dozen have gone on to other interests, which also makes perfect sense and I wish them well. Four are dead, which shows a disappointing lack of community spirit.  

Mother and Larry were basically our version of Meet the Press.

The remainder continue to drift in and out of Willcon’s orbit, and when we reunite around the table and some dice, it’s like we never left. This year, we had a guest return after seventeen years away, and it was great to see him.  

I sometimes have actual dreams where everybody I’ve ever cared about comes all at once to a Willcon, and I’m sure there’s some clumsy metaphor there about creating a family. Okay, sure, I’ll accept that.

It’s easy to assume from the name “Willcon” that the abiding interest I’m hoping to cultivate is one in me, and yes, I do read from my fiction sometimes around our campfire.

Story readings are voluntary, I swear!

But the real reason it’s still called Willcon (in addition to tradition and lack of a better name) is that it’s my honor to be the locus where this family (including my entire actual family who also come to Willcon) can come together and share things we love.

(In proper dignified proportion, of course.)

I don’t often say that, and I wanted to mention it publicly.

It’s Necronomicon Season: September 23 – 25

This year, somewhat oddly, I’m attending two Necronomicon conventions: the Lovecraftian celebration in Providence back in August, and the beloved one in Tampa I’ve been attending for 35 years coming up next Friday, September 23rd.

As always, I’ll be joining the usual suspects on panels including my comedy partner Richard Lee Byers as we amiably talk shit about whatever we’re asked. This year on Saturday 9/24, I’ll be feigning competence about:

  • 10am: Norse Influences on Entertainment Media, where my grandfather would be proud to see me even though I broke his heart by not learning to speak Norwegian.
  • 12pm: How to Create Convincing Monsters
  • 2pm: How to Keep It Funny
  • 7pm: How to Stay Creative
  • 9pm: How to Add Mystery to Your Fiction

Wow, looking at it all in a list, I’ll apparently be busy. If you’re interested in any of these topics or the other great ones we’ll be talking about all weekend, drop by the Embassy Suites at USF!

Perhaps Living a Little TOO Deliberately

Earlier this week, I crossed a threshold: after keeping a daily log of my activities consistently since June of 2001 and filling in others from calendars and journals, I logged my 9,075th day. Of those, 9,011 are in my lifetime out of 17,924 days alive.

That’s 50.3%…a majority of my life.

I’m not sure what kind of achievement that really is, though I’m astonished I’ve managed to write 1.5 million words. Marcel Proust’s In Search of Lost Time is only 1.27 million words. Clarissa by Samuel Richardson weighs in at a mere 943,000 words. And the King James Bible is comparatively a haiku at 783,137 words.

(This guy has a journal that is 35 million words, but he works on it four hours a day and documents his bowel movements. Mine is a little more reader-friendly.)

I suspect you have questions.

Why would someone write a daily journal like this in addition to 50+ narrative notebooks and a log of 1,975 dreams?

To avoid writing anything important or saleable is my best guess.

No, really. Why did the idea come to you?

Hey, at least I’m not mooching off Emerson like ol’ Henry here.

When I started the log, I was having a hard time adjusting after college to working a normal job, and I felt that I was losing my days to endless emails and meetings and project plans instead of living the life of adventure I assumed was my destiny.

I began the log hoping that, like Thoreau, I would “live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived.”

I decided that I wanted to pay closer attention to how I spent my days in the hopes that I would spend them better.

And have you spent them better?

Almost certainly not. I suspect I may have accidentally documented a Gen-Xer’s desperate search for significance with as little effort as possible in the fading years of our American civilization.

Some college’s American History department will be very pleased to take this journal off Aimee’s hands when I die, and the Psychology department next door will be even happier to correlate it with the dream journal to find out what was wrong with me.

Some poor grad student will read it and think, “Man, this is like Willy Loman documenting his own decline to nothingness.”

What are the technical specifications of the log?

It’s in XML, essentially a text file marked with tags for data about each day (the month, the day, the year, and what happened).

When I enter each day into the log, I open log.xml in a code editor (Visual Studio Code these days because other text editors can’t open a file that large), copy a previous entry so I don’t have to retype the tags, and then I update it for the day’s events.

When I want to display the file, I use an XSL stylesheet that can either display a chronological listing or all of the entries with the same month and day (so I can know what happened on this day in my personal history).

How accurate is the log?

For events before I began consistently entering data, I have compiled events and their dates from a variety of sources: journals, genealogical information, newspapers, emails, blog posts, correspondence, postcards, photographs, and legal records.

Also, my mother filled out her calendar with the events of the day, which was handy for research.

(And also the reminder, I guess, that I have a good deal in common with her.)

Have there been any benefits to keeping a daily log?

A few:

  • It’s been handy to do a search by today’s date to see patterns in my life (creative surges in summer and fall, depression in the late winter, that kind of thing).
  • It used to impress the hell out of my government jobs when they needed data for clearance checks.
  • It actually does give me a moment to consider how I’ve spent my day and imagine ways to spend the next one better.
  • It’s great for reminding people of weird things we’ve done together, such as when my friend Tom commented out of nowhere from the backseat of my car on July 21, 2000, that the most humiliating thing you could do to a defeated opponent is shit on their back.
  • It’s also handy for documenting things that cause bad outcomes (such as foods or medications that make me sick).

What patterns have you seen?

Word count analysis shows some interesting things.

  • The single most mentioned person is Aimee, with 9,261 mentions.
  • There are 10,938 mentions of read and 2,027 of “read and nap.”
  • There are 2,261 appearances of “LOTRO,” which is the game Lord of the Rings Online.
  • Luckily, there are 3,087 of “write” and 2,699 of “writing.”

I lead a surprisingly (and sometimes disappointingly) simple life of writing, napping, reading, playing games, tinkering with electronics or Legos, and running.

Is there a downside to keeping that log?

Probably the most disappointing aspect of the log is how boring it is to read. Yes, I do make some snide editorial comments here and there, but for the most part, it’s a reference of what happened. For narrative and insight, I write in a normal journal (though not daily).

It’s hard not to wonder if the very act of documenting each day has made them less likely to be interesting. If I was living a truly adventuresome life, I wouldn’t have time to document my own shit. That’d be up to historians.

What will be the fate of the log, do you think?

Well, I’ll keep writing it, I suppose, though I’m considering doing so in slightly less daily detail. There are 4,374 mentions of “retire to bed and read,” my nightly ritual, which I think can now be taken for granted.

I’ve always thought that if I’m not remembered for the quality of my work, I can at least be remembered for the weird novelty of it. It’s best to hear, “Holy shit, HOW did he do that?”, but I’m okay with, “Holy shit, WHY did he do that?”

I suppose the big question for me is whether there’s still time to make the rest of that journal more interesting than the first half. I hope so.

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