“A fundamental belief I have in the universe is that it is weird,” says author Will Ludwigsen. His conviction is rooted in his boyhood fascination with the Leonard Nimoy–hosted TV show In Search Of and its crackpot investigations of legends and paranormalities. In Ludwigsen’s beguiling new collection of short stories, In Search Of…and Others, he’s moved on from pondering the Loch Ness Monster and the Lost Continent of Atlantis to exploring his own fictive world of uncanny conundrums—and the human emotions they stir.
His stories, he says, “almost always start as an image—ghostly figures around an abandoned mental hospital, things in the woods”—that unfolds with haunting potency. An abandoned home inches its way across the country to unburden a guilty conscience; the dream life of dogs furnishes an ideal science-fair project to an inquisitive school kid; rednecks resist having their consciousnesses uploaded into a computer; a drowned woman resists every effort to bring her to the surface; and in the memorable title story, a homicide detective gets the answers to questions both cosmically grand and heartbreakingly small. Kirkus, which awarded the collection a star, pegged Ludwigsen’s stories as “a mashup of Ray Bradbury and Stephen King” whose “evocative, whip-smart prose steeps readers in a realism that’s mordantly funny and matter-of-fact but has glimmers of whimsy and horror leaking in around the edges.”
Many of these yarns appeared first in genre magazines like Azimov’s Science Fiction and Weird Tales, but for all their fantastical and macabre elements, the stories tick with psychological nuance. “I’m focused on the emotional and the metaphorical,” Ludwigsen says. “The point of the story isn’t the phenomenon, it’s the person experiencing the phenomenon.”
Being a genre writer, he explains, means “you’re branded, you have a shtick—yeah, he’s the guy who writes space opera.” Ludwigsen would rather avoid easy categorization: “I think my perfect reader is someone who kind of falls between all of those things and is just looking for an emotional experience buttressed by an intellectual one—but not the same image over and over again.”
Ludwigsen’s off-kilter sensibility, spooky stylishness and storytelling chops have garnered raves for In Search Of, with the Seattle Times praising its “dreamlike clarity of language” and Publishers Weekly toasting the “exquisite craftsmanship [that] makes this a timeless classic for those seeking asylum from formulaic prose.” He’s held well-attended readings and signings at colleges and genre conventions, and publishing the book has inspired him to start blogging about Leonard Nimoy’s In Search Of at his website.
Just as important to Ludwigsen as his gonzo subject matter—“Amelia Earhart was gobbled up by those enormous scary spider crabs on Nikumaroro”—is the psychic impact of mysteries and myths: We want to believe in ghosts and UFOs, he argues, because they make us feel connected to a world that’s full of bigger meanings. “The universe has a weird way of making sure we get the things we need,” he says, and he feels it’s the job of writers like him to supply some of that strange magic.
That mix of summoning spirit and literary depth makes Ludwigsen’s writing difficult to pigeonhole—just the way he likes it.