June 15, 2015

An Easier Apocalypse: an interview with Ian Welke, author "End Times at Ridgemont High"

Ian Welke writes science fiction, fantasy, and horror. His short stories have appeared in KZine, spacewesterns.com, Arcane II, Zombie Jesus and Other True Stories, and the American Nightmare anthology among others. The Whisperer in Dissonance is his first novel. 

Before writing full time, Ian worked in the computer games industry. He was lucky enough to work at Blizzard Entertainment and at Runic Games. These days, when he's not at his desk writing, Ian enjoys a variety of games. His favorites tend to be elaborate board games with many pieces and rules to confuse, though he's happiest going mad with his characters in the Call of Cthulhu RPG. 

Ian lived in Seattle for six years, enjoying the rain, but has returned home to Long Beach, California, where he schemes to find shelving to house all of the books he reads.

About Ian Welke's End Times at Ridgemont High: Something is wrong in Ridgemont. Evelyn MacIntire senses it. June 2017 will bring an end to more than the school year.

Parents and teachers have told her and her friends they have their whole lives ahead of them. After high school they can be anything they want to be. They’ve been told that they are special and unique. Turns out their “whole lives” might not last past the end of the school year. Reality is shifting. The powerful and wealthy in Ridgemont have more than money to play with. The Ridgemont Chamber of Commerce has their own end game. And for Evelyn and her friends, what should be a coming of age teen comedy is about to descend into madness and terror.

Find it at Amazon.com

Gef: What was the impetus behind End Times at Ridgemont High?

Ian: End Times at Ridgemont High stemmed from two separate ideas and it’s hard to remember which was first. I wanted to do a collection or even edit an anthology of short stories as horror takes on teen movies. Initially I think it was a reaction to a grim cynical adult realization about the John Hughes movies. (A lot of them seem to have the moral of “what you really need is a wealthy boyfriend.”) Around the same time, I’d been thinking of running a Call of Cthulhu roleplaying campaign set in a high school, sort of like Buffy the Vampire Slayer, but without anyone having superpowers. Time constraints and other factors brought the two ideas together. While I was researching the teen movie idea, I got ahold of Cameron Crowe’s excellent but out of print book, Fast Times at Ridgemont High, via interlibrary loans. As is often the case with a book versus a movie, I found a lot more depth in the book than in the movie. This is why I chose to parody (loving parody, but still parody) bits of it for this apocalyptic horror story. 

Gef: What was it about this book, if anything, that you approached differently from your previous work?

Ian: End Times was oddly a lot easier to write than anything I’ve worked on before or since. It was sort of a compulsion. I had to write it. There were other projects at the time… some of which I’m getting to now… that are certainly more obviously marketable ideas, but I had to write this one first to get it on paper and out of my head. And then there’s the characters. One of the things I really like about teen comedies, is that the good ones really care about their characters. I think End Times was made easier because the characters were so much fun to write, especially the character Dean Bolek. 

Gef: When did you first find yourself drawn to apocalyptic fiction? Was it through Lovecraft perhaps?

Ian: Lovecraft and those that followed his work are obviously huge inspirations. So is the Chaosium game based on that mythos. I think when it comes to apocalyptic fiction there are plenty of sources, credit to Buffy the Vampire Slayer for the necessity of a plural for apocalypses. But I also feel like the times we’re living in lend themselves to apocalyptic fiction. With my first book, The Whisperer in Dissonance, I focussed on how it feels when you get much of your news and worldview from what you see online. And it really does feel like you could wake up one morning and see that all your Facebook friends are talking about the end. Climate change, asteroid, austerity economics death spiral, whatever, it just seems like a switch is thrown and one day things are completely different than they were the week before. On the plus side, sometimes, though sadly less often, things go the other way. Elon Musk announces some bit of new tech, and suddenly I have hope, until the next day when I see that willful ignorance is still in vogue and we’re all doomed. 

Gef: Who do you count among your writing influences?

Ian: I’ve been very lucky and I’ve gotten to meet many of my favorite writers. I’ve met Tim Powers several times, and one of those was to hear him talk about Philip K Dick, another huge influence. I got to take John Shirley to the airport at the end of the San Pedro HP Lovecraft Filmfest a couple of years ago (how often do you get to be that happy to take someone to the airport?) Cody Goodfellow co-runs that same filmfest and is writing some of the most consistently wonderfully crazy work out there. Growing up, I read a lot of hardboiled fiction, Chandler, Hammett, Jim Thompson. My earliest favorites though were fantasy and scifi: Tolkien, Douglas Adams, John Brunner, Le Guin, Robert E Howard.

Comics and television have been huge sources of inspiration. I was a big fan of the sort of British invasion wave of comic book writers, particularly Grant Morrison and Warren Ellis. And some of my earliest “I want to write” moments were inspired by television shows such as Blake’s 7 and Twin Peaks. Joss Whedon’s shows were huge for me. My first sold story was to Spacewesterns.com and I wrote it pretty much because I was bummed about Firefly going off the air. I bought the Buffy scriptbooks, at least the ones that were published, and read through them and really came to realize what a great writer Jane Espenson is. Espenson is also great to follow on twitter if you’re an aspiring writer, her writer’s sprints are magic, a form of shared endeavor even if everyone participating is working on their own projects, it feels like people are working together. 

Gef: With Ridgemont High featured as a backdrop in L.A., how much emphasis do you usually place on setting as character?

Ian: I set a lot of my stories in and around Los Angeles partially because it’s easy for me to go to the places in the story as research and many of these places have a history to them that spawns stories. For my story in Zombie Jesus and Other True Stories, I photographed the Ishtar Gate at Highland. Originally part of the set for DW Griffith’s Intolerance, the replica there is still three stories tall and impressive. For End Times at Ridgemont High, I based the fictional town on Redondo Beach and did a lot of research there. I drove by Redondo Union High school and took note of its layout. Though I left the camera in the glovebox for that trip. I did not want to be the creepy middle-aged man taking pictures of the high school. Nope. Didn’t want to explain “it’s for a book” to the police.

I also travel a lot, and while for a lot of places I don’t think that merely visiting is enough to write a story, unless it’s a fish out of water lost tourist type story, places I’ve been to often enough have evoked stories. I’ve been over enough miles of interstate in the southwest US for instance, that while I’ve never driven a truck, I felt comfortable writing a story for Eric Miller’s anthology 18 Wheels of Horror. I’m also working on a horror novel set in the four corners region of the southwest that’s largely inspired by repeated trips.

But LA is my favorite for having such a weird history to work with. Researching a book that I’m currently rewriting, has taken me to the Queen Mary’s Observation Deck Bar, the Huntington Library, Hollywood Forever Cemetery, and Union Station to name just a few of the locations. 

Gef: What do you consider to be the saving grace of the genre?

Ian: Quoting from Xach Fromson’s brilliant blog entry (http://hallucinatoryterror.blogspot.com/2015/05/i-was-linked-to-this-article-earlier.html): “…horror is equal parts narrative genre and narrative tactic/device.” I don’t think anyone would call the Lord of the Rings a horror story, but I’d still say that the Dark Riders were horrifying to me as a young reader. (On the other hand I would say that Game of Thrones is a horror story set in a fantasy setting, but that’s like an article in itself and not just an answer to a question.) I guess what I’m saying is that the strength of horror is that it can be many things to different people. It can be a device or tone within another genre’s story, or it can be all sorts of separate subgenres. When people say they don’t like horror they usually mean one subgenre (often serial killers or vampires). But there are so many different subgenres and genre melds that I think gives it a resiliency.  

Gef: Is there any kind of a gear shift when writing a novel as opposed to a short story?

Ian: Oh yes. There are all sorts of gear shifts to deal with. There’s switching from polishing a finished draft to writing something new, or worse, a polish draft to trying to fix a rough draft. And yeah, the shift between novel and short story where suddenly word count is a particularly humorless demon… It’s brutal. I don’t know how people write flash. 4-5k words is hard enough. On the other hand there’s a nice focus to writing short fiction. It’s nice to not have to worry if you’ve explored a character’s backstory enough. There’s no available word count to do that anyway. 

Gef: What's the worst piece of writing advice you ever received? Or what piece of writing advice do you wish would just go away?

Ian: All writing advice should begin with a preface or disclaimer explaining that all writers are different and that what works for one person can be poison for another. Some writers are polar opposites so you get these sort of holy wars between people who outline versus people who don’t. Some people write better in short bursts, others have to sit and stare at the page first. Some people rewrite as they go, others write the first draft very fast and come back and fix it later. I think the worst advice often comes from people who haven’t made the realization that what works for them might not work for others. I need to outline, but I’ve been told not to. I gave it a try and ended up with a giant mess. So, not for me, but I recognize that it might work for others. 

Gef: What kind of guilty pleasures do you have when it comes to books or movies or whatnot?

Ian: I think even the things that might qualify as guilty pleasures have their merit. I’ve been watching Psych when I need to relax lately. It’s not a challenging show, it’s certainly not going to make that The Sopranos, Breaking Bad, cut that people seem to have set the merit bar at all the sudden, but it’s fun and often clever and every now and then it’s brilliant and I look up that brilliant episode in IMDB and notice that John Landis directed it or someone similar. The same thing with Supernatural. The show has certainly had its share of troubles, but then there are some brilliant episodes, especially the ones that Ben Edlund wrote. 

Gef: What projects are you cooking up that folks can expect in the near future, and how can folks keep up with your shenanigans?

Ian: The next story I have coming out will be in Eric Miller’s 18 Wheels of Horror from Big Time Books http://www.bigtimebooks.com/. I’ve got drafts of three books (one horror, one dark fantasy, and one fantasy) in need of rewrites. And I’m working on a pen and paper roleplaying game idea that is way more time consuming than I thought it would be, but I can’t get it out of my head any other way than working on it. The best way to follow my writing is either my webpage: ianwelke.com, my twitter account @mewelke, or my Goodreads Blog https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/6572208.Ian_Welke/blog

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