Stories of Weird Mystery

Category: A Scout is Brave

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!

A Scout is Going on a Book Tour, Sort Of

I wish you’d all stop asking me for more content to promote my forthcoming book, A Scout is Brave. I’m working as fast as I can.

In the meantime, book tour news!

This coming week from March 14th through the 16th, I’ll be kicking off my A Scout is Brave Half-Assed Book Tour at the International Conference for the Fantastic in the Arts in Orlando.

Will Ludwigsen holding up a bookmark of his book A Scout is Brave.

You can catch me reading from A Scout is Brave at a 4:15 panel on Thursday, serving as the undercard well beneath actual luminaries James Morrow, Ellen Kushner, and Eileen Gunn.

I will also have fancy bookmarks to give away plus TWO advance reading copies of the actual physical book (with the hope that whoever gets each will kindly post a review).

Other stops on the ASBHABT include:

I’m not sure yet if I’ll be on programming for any of those events, but you can certainly find me at the Lethe Press table in the Dealer’s Room for the first two.

Stay tuned for an announcement soon with details about the actual launch of the book in late June!

Would you like me to tour my book for your blog, podcast, or event? Let me know!

A Stunted Imagination

Sometimes I worry that I have a stunted imagination.

If you’ve read my work before, it’s likely that you’ve noticed that I have some themes that I return to over and over again:

  • Conspiracies of seemingly powerless but imaginative people thwarting evil and darkness
  • Nostalgia distilled to its metaphorical root
  • People who are wrong about the universe in interesting ways for interesting reasons
  • People who pursue their delusional theories off a cliff and suffer the consequences
  • Strange phenomena that turn out not to be random

A Scout is Brave (coming in July 2024!) has all five of those things, and as I read through it again a few weeks ago for a quick line edit, I wondered:

Am I imaginative enough for this business?

Though I often read and enjoy flamboyantly visionary mind-blowing fiction with wild ideas (Philip K. Dick, let’s say, or Ted Chiang), I seem to have a strange fuse in my mind that stops me from writing it. I’m not comfortable building castles in the air with nothing underneath them.

Will Ludwigsen with a copy of Missing! by Daniel Cohen
Like this book I recently found from my childhood.

Much of my early reading was what I jokingly refer to as “horror non-fiction,” things like ghosts and vampires putatively told as true. There was a participatory aspect to it for me, an idea that if I looked around the right corner fast enough, I’d see something wondrous.

I could imagine seeing Bigfoot in the woods, but not a dragon. That blows the fuse, unfortunately, which is why I’ll probably never write a heroic fantasy story.

And while I enjoy visionary writers like Clark Ashton Smith and Thomas Ligotti and Arthur C. Clarke who really press the gas pedal on going to the frontiers of their stories, I just can’t write that way.

Dog with a doll's head, why do you ask?
An image I created after a dream.

I’m more of a weirdener.

I take normal things and make them plausibly weird because I hope to this day that I’ll come around a corner and see something wondrous. I’ll never ride aboard a starship or fend off an army of orcs at Helm’s Deep, but man, I will find my way into a secluded place in the woods or an abandoned mental institution.

You need a story about a house creeping slowly across the landscape? I’m your guy. You want to read about a television show that’s production was as strange as its content? I got you covered. You curious about what the Zodiac killer thought of the Moon landing? I’m on it.

David Lynch isn’t asking me to write a fourth season or feature film of Twin Peaks, but if he did, a question I’d have to answer for myself would be whether the whole world was “Twin Peaks-y” or if it only happened in odd Lynchian pockets. I’d prefer the latter because we’d all have known by now if we were living in a 100% Lynchian world, but if we could come upon that strangeness in certain places and times, it would give us a lot more hope that we could still be surprised by reality.

I think that’s how my stories, including A Scout is Brave, work. They’re all about the 10% chance that they aren’t completely untrue, a combination of cultivating our garden and fertilizing it with the strange.

You know, weirdening.

Handbooks, Nominally Fictional

In my last post, I wrote about some of the non-fiction handbooks that influenced me, but I left the fiction handbooks for their own post.

Like my character Bud Castillo in my forthcoming novella A Scout is Brave (heard of it?), I took books very seriously (and somewhat uncritically) as a kid. To me, every book was a kind of handbook, containing secrets on how to live competently.

My head back then felt like the opening sequence to The Twilight Zone with weird shit flying all over the place, clocks and doll heads and action figures and electronic components and Legos.

Actually, it still feels like that.

What I assumed books would help me do is fake the level of calm consistency that I assumed everyone around me performed as a matter of course. So I combed through every book for hints on a Grand Unifying Theory of how to be human.

(Which is what Aubrey Marsh is doing in my novella, too.)

Here are some of the books that influenced me greatly as a young person (elementary school through early college). I don’t necessarily recommend them or even still adhere to their points of view; they just each had moments of gravitational pull.

The Mouse and the Motorcycle, by Beverly Cleary

Cover of The Mouse and the Motorcycle

People who know me from work meetings and social situations may be surprised to hear this, but I’m actually oozing with empathy. It’s just sometimes a little…delayed. Or misplaced.

As a kid, I suspected that almost everything (especially if it was shaped like a person or an animal) had feelings. When Skylab fell from orbit, I fashioned helmets for my stuffed animals out of plastic soda bottle bottoms.

So it made complete sense that a sentient mouse could ride a toy motorcycle simply by making the noise of its engine, and every story I’ve written or believed in since about the heroism of seemingly powerless people comes from Ralph’s ride with Keith’s aspirin tablet.   

Where the Red Fern Grows, by Wilson Rawls

Cover of Where the Red Fern Grows

This was probably the first (relatively) sophisticated work of fiction I encountered as a kid, along with the Ramona Quimby books.

(I didn’t get much advice from her, just validation that sometimes mischief came for you with the inevitability of the tides.)

My fourth grade teacher Mr. Clark read this to us after lunch for a few weeks, which probed to be a bad idea when he had a classroom of weeping nine-year-olds at the end…including me, to my great surprise. It was a revelation to have something untrue make me feel something real.

Catcher in the Rye | The Count of Monte Cristo | The Great Gatsby

Cover of Catcher in the Rye

When I got to high school, I of course fell into the Emo Boy Sociopath three-pack.

If you had a boardroom full of devious marketers and charged them with inventing stories for angry teenage boys with big feelings who felt forgotten by girls who should like them, they’d come up with this trilogy almost word for word.

Gatsby is basically Edmond Dantes in the American Gilded Age, right? A man with a sudden fortune uses it to impress a girl who spurned him and avenge himself on other men. The message of both books, that revenge isn’t healthy, is whispered at the end so as not to disrupt the fantasy.

Holden Caulfield, of course, is Gatsby as a teenager, surrounded by emotionally-dead phonies and not yet sure what to do about it. (Revenge, Holden! That’s what’s next.)

I loved all three of them.  

The Planiverse, by A.K. Dewdney

Cover of The Planiverse

My friend William Simmons loaned me his copy of this book when I was in high school, and I immediately latched onto its scientific conceit: how biology and chemistry and physics and engineering could function in a two-dimensional world.

But the quest of its central character Yndrd for meaning has stayed longer with me than all of the little science lessons he encounters along the way.

There’s a quote in the book that sooner or later, every intelligent being must explore its options, that almost physically cracked open my skull to the possibilities of my life. I didn’t have to take my purpose for granted, and it was my responsibility to physically find out what it was instead of merely thinking about it.

I gave this book to my friend Chris Swinney, now passed away, because I thought it was the kind of book about being a seeker that a rationalist like him would connect with. I have his copy in my own library and I value it.

Childhood’s End, by Arthur C. Clarke

Cover of Childhood's End

I went through a phase of shunning science fiction when I entered college, and I made it through seven of ten courses as an English major perplexed why I didn’t give a shit about what I was reading.

A summer class on science fiction taught by Kent Beyette gave me permission to read the genre again, like Margaret Mead observing the people of the Manu’a Archipelago. We read Dune, The Mote in God’s Eye, A Clockwork Orange, and an anthology of classic short stories…but first there came this book, which made me cry with a sublime certainty that we could be a better species if we tried.

I cried too for the time I’d wasted on the 17th century poetry that no one reads anymore.  

Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, by Robert Pirsig

Cover of Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance

Really, this is a book about an idealistic philosophy professor who is driven mad by the terrible writing of freshman composition students. His rants about Quality, about seeking some form of excellence in even the smallest acts, were a revelation to me as a former gifted kid who just assumed he could half-ass his way through life because it had been working okay so far.

It’s scary to think that we live in a society so inured to whatever’s easy and comfortable that the theme of “give a shit about what you do even if it seems easy and minor” is a revelation.

But it certainly was to me.

A Prayer for Owen Meany

Cover of A Prayer for Owen Meany

To say that I had a confused sense of God’s role in my life as a young person would be something of an understatement. I wasn’t sure if God was fucking with me because I deserved it or because I needed to be stronger for some noble purpose.

Either way, I assumed God thought about me a lot.

In this book, young oddball Owen Meany struggles with what he believes to be a great destiny, interpreting his entire life as leading to a moment of service and sacrifice for others. He happens to be right (which was a message I grabbed onto the first time I read it), but that doesn’t change the fact that his awareness of that destiny makes his life myopic (which is what I get from it now).

Aubrey Marsh from A Scout is Brave is related to Owen Meany in many ways, though Aubrey believes his destiny is a far darker one.

This book snapped me out of thinking (too much) about my ultimate meaning as a human being while letting all the little moments that make that meaning slip by.

Handbooks of My Youth

You may have heard that I have a book coming out this summer called A Scout is Brave. What? You haven’t? Pre-order it now by clicking the button below!

One of the themes of the book is the disconnect between the model of reality that we place in books and the one we allow or reinforce in the real world. As a kid, I had a hard time understanding why people didn’t take books as seriously as I did, and to me, every book was a handbook.

As a kid with ADHD and anxiety, it was a revelation that there were actual books that could tell you how to live and do things, books that you could go out and make real in the world.

Let me introduce some of them to you.

Covers of Model Railroading and the Boy Scout Handbook

Model Railroading, published by Lionel Trains in the late forties, was hopelessly obsolete by the early eighties when I read it, but I loved the idea of making my own tiny wholesome, controllable world. I can’t imagine why.

The 1963 Boy Scout Handbook appears in my story, and I had the same problem with it that Bud has: the huge gap between theory and practice, between what we say we believe and how most people behave. I was a kid in the eighties behaving like one from the sixties.

Covers of How to Run a Railroad and Filming Works Like This.

How to Run a Railroad was a book I found in our local library and checked out so many times that my father suggested we steal it when we moved away. It was a great book with kid-plausible ideas for building a model railroad out of random shit in your house.

In 1982, I discovered Steven Spielberg and the idea that some lucky people were actually PAID to make up stories instead of merely annoying others with them. That sparked the idea of becoming a film director, and Filming Works Like This was all we had in our elementary school library on the subject. The technology wasn’t too far off for the early eighties, but I had no access to it and had to settle eventually for…ugh…just writing stories down.

Cover of Real Ghosts by Daniel Cohen

My elementary school library also had a small shelf of books for weirdoes, focused mainly on vampires, missing people, UFOs, Bigfoot, and ghosts.

Daniel Cohen was an author who specialized in telling dubious stories to young people with absolute credulity. I finished each one convinced that yes, there were spirits and aliens among us that nobody wanted to talk about.

So you might say that I started my artistic sensibilities with horror NON-fiction. Or at least fiction couched like it.

Cover of Stranger Than Science by Frank Edwards

Frank Edwards was another crackpot who gathered what we’d call now “Forteana”: the kinds of bizarre happenings chronicled originally by the patron saint of crackpots, Charles Fort. My sister had a few of his books.

These are where I learned about the Marie Celeste, the shifting coffins of the Chase tomb in Barbados, the Bermuda Triangle, frogs dropping from the sky, and the Loch Ness monster.

My experience with more practical handbooks inspired me to imagine ways that we could actually resolve these mysteries, exploring the loch with a submarine, say, or examing the Marie Celeste with a forensic team instead of a bunch of dumbass sailors.

Cover of the Hardy Boys' Detective Handbook.

The Hardy Boys’ Detective Handbook was where I got some of those investigative ideas, and like almost every other imaginative kid, I started my own detective agency. I don’t remember solving any actual crimes, which is ironic given how many my father was routinely committing.

I guess there’s a lesson there in how context affects our morality.

Cover of Gnomes

One of my long-term investigations involved searching for gnomes. My mother bought me the book at the height of the gnomes fad of the early eighties, prouder of the family’s Scandinavian heritage than the rest of us.

Despite the map inside saying that at best we’d find extremely rare Beach Gnomes in Florida, I still kept searching the woods.

They decided not to show themselves, probably because I wasn’t ready.

Cover of the Commodore 64 Programmer's Reference Guide.

Then came the computer handbooks. I started with a Commodore 64 in 1985. My father refused to buy games or even a disk drive for it, asserting that this was for “serious business.” We had a tape drive instead, so I made my own games when my father wasn’t hectoring me to create an automated address book for him.

To find an address in the golden Commodore future, you’d just turn on the computer, insert a tape, fast forward the tape to the program, type LOAD, and wait patiently for the address book to appear. Simple as that!

Covers of Dungeons and Dragons and Star Frontiers.

Next came the gaming books, starting with that red Dungeons and Dragons basic set for which I still have that book. My mother ordered it from their ill-fated bookstore because she’d heard that “gifted kids” played it.

I preferred science fiction, though, and later on I found Star Frontiers at Waldenbooks and then Star Trek from FASA.

And that’s just the non-fiction!

We are all constant compliers (conscious or not) of our own handbooks. I was luckier than some kids to have parents who owned a bookstore (however briefly) and believed in the importance of reading, not to mention a sister who was into weird books like Alive and the ouevre of Frank Edwards, and later friends who enjoyed speculative and imaginative ideas.

I’d be a much different person with different books, and I’m grateful for the ones I got.

Behold! A Scout is Brave!

A Scout is Brave cover image

It’s been a long time coming (as mentors and fellow students of the Stonecoast MFA program can attest, among others), but my novella A Scout is Brave is finally emerging from the twisted gray woods of the Massachusetts coast in July of 2024!

That gorgeous cover is the work of Jeremy Parker who went to extraordinary lengths to encapsulate the 1960s Scouting milieu in the design. My publisher Lethe Press pulled out all the stops.

What’s it about? Boy Scouts in 1963 Innsmouth, the dreaded town of fallen cultists invented (or is it discovered?) by H.P. Lovecraft.

I’m guessing you have questions.

A Lovecraft pastiche? Do we need that?

Maybe not, but some readers COULD need a coming-of-age story that explores some of the social consequences of Lovecraft’s original story.

If you’re a fan of Stephen King’s “The Body” or Robert McCammon’s Boy’s Life, I think you’ll like this story, too.

Is it scary?

It’s as scary as the rest of my work, meaning that it’s a tip-of-the-iceberg kind of thing: not overtly terrifying but with implications that sneak up on you.

It may not keep you up at night, but it’ll pop into your head in the middle of the day and make you mutter, “Wait. What the hell?”

Is that you on the cover?

No, that’s a representation of the book’s protagonist, Bud Castillo. Most pictures of me in the Scouts include me squinting at the sun or lugging a backpack larger than I am.

Are you aware that the Boy Scouts [insert wince-worthy practice here]?

Author Will Ludwigsen standing in his Boy Scout uniform like a big ol' geek.
Portrait of the author as a Scout taking it way too seriously.

Yeah. I read the 1963 Boy Scout Handbook as a kid and had very strange expectations when I joined my local troop in 1984. There was a lot more burning random shit in the woods and a lot less enjoying the sublime mysteries of nature than I expected.

I achieved the rank of Life Scout (just below Eagle), and this story comments on why that was enough for me.

What little I’ve followed of their political direction since then doesn’t inspire me much. Can we just get back to helping old ladies across the street?

Are you going on some sort of tour to promote the book?

I am indeed, so subscribe to the newsletter or visit here frequently for announced dates and locations!

Where can I get a copy?

I’m glad you asked! The book is available for pre-order through Lethe Press, and pre-orders are very important to the success of books. Please support me, this book, and Lethe Press by joining our Scout troop today!

© 2024 Will Ludwigsen

Theme by Anders NorenUp ↑