Go ahead and welcome Ian Welke to ulharper.com.
Ian Welke grew up in the library in Long Beach, California. After receiving his Bachelor of Arts in History from California State University, Long Beach, he worked in the computer games industry for fifteen years where he was lucky enough to work at Blizzard Entertainment and at Runic Games in Seattle. While living in Seattle he sold his first short story, a space-western, written mainly because he was depressed that Firefly had been canceled. Following the insane notion that life is short and he should do what he wants most, he moved back to southern California and started writing full time. Ian’s short fiction has appeared in Big Pulp, Arcane II, the American Nightmare anthology, and the 18 Wheels of Horror anthology, amongst other places. His novels, The Whisperer in Dissonance (2014) and the Bram Stoker Award Nominated End Times at Ridgemont High (2015) were both published by Ominum Gatherum Media.
U.L.: Let’s start off with some conversation about writing. You have several titles available that I’ve read. They’re relatively short, creepy reads. Let’s briefly talk about your style, and what might set you aside from other authors.
IW: Brevity. I think that’s probably the biggest thing. I try, sometimes I blow it and go too far, to skip over any description I think the readers would prefer to do for themselves. I figure everyone’s too busy for anything that’s not pertinent. Sometimes it works, sometimes… not so much. Style is something I haven’t thought about that much, but I suppose like everything else in my writing it’s a work in progress. And of course there are writers who I would happily read over their prose even through digressions, tangents, non pertinent descriptions… some writers are just that good. I don’t think people are going to read my stories for the word usage, I think at best I can get them with a story or the tone of the story.
U.L.: One thing I’ve noticed from your novels is that you write in first-person present tense. What are the advantages and disadvantages of it?
IW: My first book was first person present tense. My second book was third person present tense. For me the main thing about present tense is that I tend to finish what I’ve started writing in present tense, whereas I often get bogged down in the writing process when I write in past tense. I did rewrite a short story in past tense at the prompt of an editor (my story in David Lucarelli’s Winter Horror Days.)
I think present tense has a momentum to it, an immediacy that past tense does not, or at best is more difficult to achieve. The main disadvantage I think is that it’s still used less often, so that many people are more used to reading past tense, and if everything you’ve read is in past tense and it’s what you’re comfortable with, it can seem jarring to read present tense. I think this is getting better though. Writers like Chuck Wendig in particular are helping open up people’s reading habits to present tense.
U.L.: Everyone has their own challenge to writing. So…what’s yours? Where might you fall short in your own process?
IW: How much space is there for this answer? Okay I’ll focus on one or two of those shortfalls instead of the entire catalogue. Ooh! Here’s a short one: I find if I don’t know what the story’s going to be, I can’t write it, or I write an excellent beginning only to get bogged down in the middle and fail utterly to deliver an ending. So I outline. But sometimes if I outline too thoroughly, I get bored or lazy… something along the lines of “why do I have to write this out now? Why can’t people just read the outline?”
Here’s another. I write a lot that I throw away. So far so good. The problem is, I’m not sure when to give up on a story. It’s hard to tell if a story just needs a fix or needs to be trashed all together. And it’s one thing when it’s a short story, but it’s another entirely with novels. Critiques help, but only go so far. And I have two completed novels right now that either need a fix or I need to weep bitterly and give up on them.
I’d offer more, but I could bitch about my problems forever.
U.L.: Let’s get specific. Your full-length book End Times At Ridgemont High has a title that—in my opinion—implies fun, and YA, but also has a sense of foreboding. It still makes you think of imminent death. What should a reader expect when cracking this bad boy open?
IW: I like to think there’s a good mix of horror and humor in that book. There’s another layer if you’re familiar with the movie, I think there are like five or six situations where the 2017 archetypal teen characters are confronted with similar situations that teens have to deal with in their lives and we see the difference between 2017 and 1980. But even if you’re not familiar with the movie, there should be a solid horror novel with some funny moments sprinkled throughout.
And of course there’s the metaphored up commentary on our problems. The main focus is on education. I don’t think anyone would call the late 70s/early 80s an ideal time in public education. But compared with our lack of investment in it today… Along with, and I guess education is part of it, there’s a lot of commentary about why we shouldn’t put people who want to run governments like businesses and shouldn’t trust theocrats.
U.L.: I remember seeing the book cover for Whisperer in Dissonance, and thinking, damn, that’s ill as hell. The book felt good in the hand, seemed to be the right length for that title. What was your experience in the process of that books total development? And…go.
IW: Kate Jonez, the head honcho at Omnium Gatherum, did the covers for both The Whisperer in Dissonance and for End Times at Ridgemont High, and knocked them both out of the park.
I’m not sure there’d be a purpose for writing a book called “How not to write a book,” but if there were such a beast, I think I could contribute a chapter based on what I did, especially before I had the benefit of Kate’s guidance, on The Whisperer in Dissonance. I wrote like ten drafts. Some of them were varying lengths. One chapter was originally a short story I wrote, and then had to rewrite when I saw a Doctor Who episode essentially do that chapter beat by beat. (Seriously, Doctor Who has been running so long it’s bound to become the “Simpson’s did it!” of scifi.) Anyway, I submitted a novella length book to Kate. Fortunately she liked the story enough to offer her guidance, the first part of which was to double the length in order to flesh out the characters. Basically every side character in that first submitted draft was so two dimensional I might as well have named them after their function in the story. So yeah, Kate Jonez is not only great with those covers, she’s also a superheroic editor as well.
U.L.: You’ve had a number of short stories published. How do you choose which concepts will be shorts and which ones you’ll expand to novel length?
IW: A little over half the short stories I’ve sold were written with the anthology in mind, so for those I had a word count limit when I outlined. For other stories, it depends, and sometimes I clearly don’t know as well as I should. I have a story I’m trying sell right now that’s in long short story/novelette no man’s land. I also write short stories sometimes as a means of world building for novels. I have a plan for a spyfi novel series, so I’m writing all these espionage shorts set in that universe. I think short stories are nice laboratories for trying things before getting into the novel mire.
U.L.: Tell me about one piece you’re working on right now. What excites you about it?
IW: I’m about to start a polish pass on a novella that feels like an important transition… Having written a dystopian science fiction and an apocalyptic novel, I’ve been really eager to write something more optimistic. But it’s been difficult. Amongst other things, the election came along and everything since has raised the difficulty bar on optimism. And it’s easier to write about things going wrong. It’s easier to point out problems than present solutions. That’s why I’m excited about this novella, it starts with pointing out problems, some that are in part metaphored up versions of the problems I’ve noticed since the election, and for really the first time in my writing, characters are solving those problems rather than just resisting them.
U.L.: We all have influences. Who are two of yours, and what do/did you take from them, or what about them do you see in yourself?
IW: Given that both of my novels and at least half of my short stories are obviously influenced by Lovecraft, it would be dishonest not to cite him as an influence. Philip K Dick is a big influence. Him and John Brunner I think occupy some chunk of the twisted region in my brain. I just saw the Octavia Butler exhibit at the Huntington, it’s incredibly inspiring and I realized although I hadn’t started reading her writing until more recently, she’s a huge influence on what I’m working on now, along probably with Kim Stanley Robinson…
Oh god, you asked for two. Okay let’s say Philip K Dick for his use of the unreliable narrator, not sure I can pull that off. There are moments though, particularly during the summers when I stop sleeping for weeks at a time and my thoughts race away, that I feel a definite kinship with PK Dick. For a second influence, I’m going to say Neal Stephenson. When I read Snow Crash I kept my shitty delivery job way longer than any sane person would have, probably because that book romanticized that shitty job for me. Also, Neal Stephenson I think is sort of the writer I aspire to be. I’m not there yet, but I like to think I’ll write something as good as SevenEves or even Zodiac.
U.L.: Seeing this is modern times, we can probably find your work everywhere books are sold, but where do you to send readers to check out your work. If you could, provide up to three links. Or just one. Up to you.
IW: If by “everywhere books are sold” you mean “Amazon,” then yes. Here’s three links, two of them are the novels mentioned above:
I put the kindle link for End Times, but I’d be remiss if I neglected to say that if you get the audio version, actress Stephanie Keefer did an amazing read of it.