Your fiction seems to defy characterization. The stories are a seamless blend of many genres: horror, sci fi, and mystery. How would you classify your work?
Oh, how I wish I could. I think careers go better for writers who have what the old comedians used to call a “schtick,” something succinctly identifiable about their style or obsessions that makes them easy to seek out. I don’t think it’s impossible to be successful with an eclectic career, but it’s a tougher road to be a genre of yourself — especially starting out.
Not that I see myself as anything so pretentious or purposeful as a “genre of one.” I’ve just been too stubborn (or chicken) to choose one of the existing ones.
I think the eclecticism in my career comes from an unwillingness to choose just one way to tell stories. If I need a ghost or a magical house or a mission to the Moon, I’m throwing them in and not worrying too much about where that puts me on the shelves. I have an affinity for projects like the Interstitial Arts Foundation (https://www.interstitialarts.org/wordpress/), where artists are encouraged to use different voices, genres, styles, and even media to get their stories out, using the right tool(s) for the right job(s).
My tools tend to be crazy people, odd crimes, abandoned buildings, old books, creepy small towns, snotty gossip, conspiracies of good, and homicidal children. I write a lot about people disappointed that the books they love aren’t true. I write about tiny nudges of the ironic supernatural in a big, dull world.
I’m not sure what to call that except “weird mystery”: exploring big cosmic questions to get at the little personal ones.
Your story “In Search Of” feels like a conversation at the end of the character’s life. Do you hope there is a point in life or death that all is revealed and will become clear or would you prefer not knowing?
I’m not sure where my obsession with mysteries and secrets comes from, but I think I’ve always wanted to know the essentials of things — the surprising and fundamental truths that other people don’t know. I read all the books in school that the other kids didn’t, mostly ones about ghosts and UFOs and missing people. I was the creepy little boy who knew a little too much about the Manson Family and the Kennedy assassination…and liked to talk about it with guests.
I think I was bored early on with all the ordinary explanations, all the facts that just anybody could know. I had this sense as a kid that people weren’t telling me the full truth, or worse, that they were telling the truth and it was just damned boring.
So my fascination with mystery is really a search for signs of imagination in the universe.
I’d definitely like to know the answers to these questions. The closest I come to religion is a belief that Something knows the answers, and I’ll be pissed if I die without knowing at least a few of them.
I guess I wrote “In Search Of” to hedge my bets: maybe in my final dying dementia, I’ll think those ARE the answers.
As I was reading the story I could not help but think that it would be cool if these were really answers to some of the worlds most pervasive and persistent conspiracy theories. What was your inspiration for this particular work?
Well, I should first off tell you that everything in this story is absolutely true. You can’t work as a minor training contractor for a software division of the U.S. Census Bureau for five years as I did without learning some shocking things.
Let’s just say they count more than people there and leave it at that.
One thing I’ve always found fascinating in the explanations we contrive for our mysteries is how complicated they are. Conspiracy theories assume a level of intelligence and competence that I just don’t think is very common in human beings. They don’t have enough accident or folly in them, not enough coincidence or luck.
Is it possible that a tight-lipped conspiracy of Cuban nationalists, Mafia hitmen, and Russian spies killed John F. Kennedy? I guess. It just seems far more likely that a screwball with a rifle got in one or two lucky shots before someone else got in an unlucky one by accident. I find it far more plausible that the great Kennedy assassination cover-up is concealing colossal dumbassery than miraculous success.
So “In Search Of” started as a fun exercise in imagining plausible but still satisfying explanations for the questions I wanted answered. “Satisfying” by my standard meant that they had to have enough surprise and wonder in them to be interesting, but also a little of the weaknesses of humanity, too.
It’s really a kind of myth-making, I suppose. The best myths are more about the people needing the explanations than the explanations themselves, and even being wrong is really a kind of wish: it says something about what you want to be true.
The last line of “In Search Of”, “Nothing you’ve done would disappoint her.”, is as satisfying as it is heartbreaking. It is the one question the main character always needed the answer to. What do you imagine he feels at this moment? What do you hope readers take away from this story?
As the story spirals in from the cosmic answers to the personal ones, it’s like the unwrapping of a bandaged wound. At a certain point in healing, a wound needs exposure to the air and I imagine that each fallen coil releases the pressure of all those unanswered questions until finally the gash at the core can heal.
Maybe “In Search Of” is a little bit of my personal myth-making, explaining to myself why I need all these answers: I’m distracting myself from the little questions with big ones. That’s neither good nor bad, as long as you keep unwinding that bandage from the center.
I have a lot of unwinding left to do yet, so there are plenty of stories yet to come! (And no, that’s not some kind of threat.)
For first time readers of your work, sum up what to expect in one sentence.
My stories tend to be about perceptive (but often delusional) people who find the answers to their pains and passions made literal by the supernatural and the strange.
Thanks for being such a great guest! Where can we go to learn more about you and your works?
Thanks for having me and “In Search Of” over to visit!
My website at https://www.will-ludwigsen.com is always a good place to start, including a list of all my work and where you can find it. I also post original stories there weekly, each written in one hour and based on a stock photograph.
If you’re looking for me in print, my story “We Were Wonder Scouts” is appearing in the August issue of Asimov’s Science Fiction, and “Acknowledgements” is appearing in the Blood Lite 3 anthology in October. With any luck, you’ll soon see a supernatural coming of age novel set in the 60s and a new collection of short fiction, too.
The collection will be called “In Search Of,” so that will be easy to remember.