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Arnzen's Weird Newsletter
+++ Vol. 3.05, Nov 27, 2005 +++
Blather. Wince. Repeat.
What Bird Flu is Not
+ The Bird Flu is not the past tense of “The bird flies.”
+ Avian Influenza is not to be confused with Evian Influenza.
+ People who contract Bird Flu will not necessarily grow wings and fly to heaven.
+ Big Bird Flu is not communicable to humans who aren't wearing the dorky costume.
+ Bird Flu rhymes with Absurd Goo, but it's not entirely that either.
+ You cannot transmit Avian Influenza by “flipping the bird” at someone, unless you are doing so literally with an infected canary.
+ You will not know why the caged Bird Flu sings. Wheezes, maybe.
+ The Bird did not Flu the Croup.
+ Bird Flu is no longer what you call the feathered carcass you discover clogging up your chimney.
+ Chicken Pox is not Bird Flu; it's much itchier.
+ Do not attempt to cure Bird Flu with Chicken Soup, or you're doomed.
+ God's punishment for cockfighting is not bird flu, but an impoverished social life.
+ Cat Scratch Fever is not guaranteed to prevent Bird Flu.
+ Bird Flu is not a terrorist attack on the South during the winter.
+ Bird Flu is not congenitally transmitted during infant delivery by stork.
+ No one in America died this November from Bird Flu. The recent mass decapitation of turkeys seems to have saved us. For now.
Related Link: The Daily Show: Rob Corddry's HealthScare
“Trapped in a Well” is a cruel way to experience the existential horror of starvation. What a lovely idea. Thankfully, it ends quickly.
[The game is really just a joke by the new humorists at awesomefunny.com. But I think it's actually quite profound.]
Air Sac O'Lantern
the illumination of the lung
will bloom in blotches of bronchial
rot curdling a purple and black
kaleidoscope of cancer
that might even pop and wheeze
and make a funny face with its holes
as the candle flame voraciously
decays, eating through,
Xmas Gifts for Creepy Kids
The Outsider Looking In
Outsiders, edited by Nancy Holder and Nancy Kilpatrick (Roc Books, 2005), is one of the best anthologies of short fiction to come out of the genre in some time. In fact, I would go so far as to call it pioneering, because it redraws the boundaries of the horror genre in a very successful way, in addition to being packed with excellent scary stories. It doesn't call itself a horror anthology (instead, it is billed as “22 All New Stories from the Edge”), but if it were published in 1989, it certainly would broadcast its status as one. Virtually all the contributors (Bentley Little, Poppy Z. Brite, and Jack Ketchum, to name just three of the twenty-two) have been called “horror” writers or are still considered such by the public, so I find this book foremost an interesting commentary on the status of the horror genre. Essentially, horror authors have become “outsiders” to – and alienated by – mainstream publishing, which these days tends to eschew horror (not as a genre, per se, but as a marketing label or categorical “index”). Look at how the introduction dances around categories in poetic and fashionable terms, carving an identity in relation to dark fantasy: “Come with us and explore strange new worlds through stories that investigate the darkest of fantasies: a New Weird bathed in classic Gothic eeriness and touched by metaphors of human darkness.” These are perfectly legitimate terms for describing this “type” of fiction, but one can't help but notice how unsettled it all is about the terminology. Just look at all the synonyms that Holder and Kilpatrick masterfully employ: strange, dark fantasy, New Weird, Gothic, eerie, dark. There's almost an obvert attempt to disavow the term “horror” in all of this. But no matter how you slice it, it's scary.
I'm not suggesting that this book is only so much traditional horror fiction repackaged to placate perceived trends in the market. It's actually very contemporary and boundary-blurring. But there is a way in which the horror genre is the unnameable creature lurking beneath it all. Not outside, but in. And I like that. It's subversive. I think it's kind of neat that this book is virtually a horror compilation camouflaged as a collection of “edge” fiction. The best horror often subversively lurks in the clean and carpeted bookstores of America, waiting to surprise its reader when he or she cracks open the covers and the jack springs from its box. It's when what's outside one's expectations crashes in that the horror erupts.
And maybe horror fiction ought to have been called “outsider” fiction all along, anyway: stories that explore unreality and the secret truths one can discover only by rejecting the mainstream realities that are handed to us, whether through the occult means of the supernatural story or the psychosis of the serial killer. Of course, “fantasy” is itself an alternate reality, so “dark fantasy” would be just as good a term. But fifty years ago, Colin Wilson wrote one of the defining books on such “existentialist” issues in fiction, called The Outsider, which deepens a reading of the Holder and Kilpatrick collection. The Outsider, Wilson argues, is a type of thinker akin to the doomed hero in H.G. Wells' story, “The Country of the Blind”: he is the one man able to see the truth. As Wilson puts it: “To the objection that he is unhealthy and neurotic, [the Outsider] replies: 'In the country of the blind, the one-eyed man is king.' His case, in fact, is that he is the one man who knows he is sick in a civilization that doesn't know it is sick…even further…it is human nature that is sick, and the Outsider is the man who faces this unpleasant fact…a negative position which the Outsider declares to be the essence of the world as he sees it.” The revelation of this truth is the moment of horror. And this, I think, is what Robert Bloch meant when he proclaimed that “horror is the removal of masks.” Good dark fiction unmasks conventional reality to show another layer lurking beneath the surface, one often initially perceived as “sick” or “diseased.”
What was great about horror in its heyday was that it could take this status of “outsiderness” for granted, and cut a layer deeper. I'm not so sure that today's fiction can go there, because the reader's unreality, in some ways, has become so conventionalized under the onus of the unrealities of today's media culture. The unreal is as close to us as our TV sets and computer monitors. And perhaps that's what makes this collection so interesting to me. I suggested earlier that Outsiders could just have well have been published twenty years ago and that it's exploring themes that are at least fifty – if not a hundred – years old. I'm tempted to say that horror fiction always points back to the old and the universal realities lurking under the surface of the new. But that isn't quite fair because there is certainly a twenty-first century sense of alienation that is being explored here.
Take David J. Schow's excellent contribution, “Expanding Your Capabilities Using Frame/Shift Mode” – a story about a DVD pirate who discovers a particularly bizarre effect on the “Frame/Shift” button on his remote control. The button allows him to manipulate objects on screen so that he can, for example, peel off layers of the actors clothing with it. It explores the assumption we have that “you just have to know the code; which buttons to push” in order to control our universe. And, if you know your Schow, you know that he will explore the fetishism of media technology by “pushing the buttons” all the way to the extreme. Inevitably, the character with his remote is not only voyeuristically getting off on undressing actresses on the screen, but also removing their skin. Literally, Schow is “removing the mask” of not only the screen image but also our relation to such things; and the protagonist of this story not only excessively gets off on watching, say, skeletons having sex, he explores home movies and considers starting a variation on the porn business…until things take a surprising turn. This is a horror story in the traditional sense. About a lonely outsider. And yet it is also about today's fantasies, today's social relations, today's media technology fetishism. It reminded me of Nicholson Baker's novel, The Fermata, in its representation of a “control fantasy.” And it's one of my favorites in the collection.
Also excellent is Steve Rasnic Tem's opening story, “The Company You Keep” (which is as surrealist in its method as a painting by Magritte) about a “nowhere man” so lonely, he somehow finds himself surrounded by a pack of others who are exactly like him, all of them making the same exact gestures and expressions. This “legion” of mirror-image figures becomes almost a herd, and soon we uncover Tem's wry comment on our culture: that we are all so utterly alone, and yet ironically bonded by our alienation. In that, we find community as “outsiders.” But Tem takes a horrifying turn when he reveals that this alienation can coldly lead to our self-destruction. It's one of Tem's best stories ever, and a perfect “opener” to this book – which raises the issue regarding the human condition today in a stunning manner. It's quite a brilliant allegory.
And there's much more. While a few of the stories in Outsiders don't quite match the caliber of Tem's brilliance or the level of Schow's darkness, the book as a whole is definitely a work of excellence and an example of the best horror fiction being written today, even if it doesn't call itself such. The stories by Kathe Koja, Michael Marano, Bentley Little, Brian Hodge, Elizabeth Engstrom, Eliabeth Massie and Joe Lansdale are all outstanding because they are intelligent and sophisticated – and offering up comments on what it means to be alienated in today's unreal wold. This collection is worthy of acclaim.
Also worth acclaim: half of the contributors to Outsiders are women and the book is edited by two women. That's remarkable, I think. And perhaps even a retroactively ironic statement on what the “insiders” of the horror trade may have neglected and marginalized in the heyday of the genre at their own peril: inclusiveness.
Outsiders is a $14.95 trade paperback available from Roc Books. A must read. (So is H.G. Wells' story, which you can find in a book that would make a good compliment to this one, Fantastic Tales: Visionary and Everyday, edited by Italo Calvino).
+ Depict an allergy gone haywire.
+ Pen the monologue of a nostalgic vampire.
+ Script a dialogue between the Devil and his publicist.
Instigation is a WEEKLY department in Hellnotes newsletter…who also now publishes a new online magazine based on selected prompts called Wee Small Hours! (Note that the “Sickolodeon” at gorelets.com – where compilations of Instigation are normally available to purchase – is temporarily down).
+ EXQUISITE CORPSE: FILM IN PRODUCTION I'm happy to announce that Jim Minton Design Studio is coordinating “Exquisite Corpse” – a compilation of short-short films based on my poetry and flash fiction. International contributors lined up for the project so far include the directors and animators Jim Minton (USA), Jeff Pomeroy (USA), and Lucas Tripodi (Chile) – other talents from Italy and Israel may also contribute. The film is in the early stages of production, but the project looks very exciting. To see a sample production sketch for Minton's adaptation of my poem, “The Scab” (this poem first appeared in my book, Freakcidents), visit the Goreletter weblog.
Jim Minton Design: http://www.mintondesign.com/
Production Sketch from “The Scab”:
Lucas Tripodi's hilarious commercial for La Tabla Skateboarding here:
latabla.cl/videos?id=14 (Streaming Quick Time Movie)
+ PLAY DEAD BOOK TOUR WINDS DOWN
One of the reasons you haven't received a Goreletter for awhile is that I've been traveling and working on events related to the release of my latest novel, Play Dead. I was the “Author of the Month” at the Barnes and Noble in the Monroeville Mall (yes, the setting of the original Dawn of the Dead…and it hasn't changed much since!) and also participated in several signings and seminars locally. [You can read related coverage from the local media below]. I also attended World Fantasy Convention in Madison, WI, where I caught up with many good friends. At the con, I sat on a 10am Saturday morning panel discussion about zombies with authors Mark Morris, James S. Dorr, and Michael Shea. At that hour, we were all back from the dead and the audience was surprisingly eager to pick our brains. Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, “Horror Writer Goes Dark For His Stories” by Rege Behe
Laurel Mountain Post, “Seton Hill Professor Scares Up Some Laughs” by Drew Williams
Order or Review Play Dead at Amazon.com: http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/tg/detail/-/1933293047/
+ ARNZEN PANEL AT ICFA
There will be a session entitled “Michael Arnzen: New Directions in Horror” at the 27th International Conference on the Fantastic in the Arts , Ft. Lauderdale, FL, March 15-19, 2006. I'll be responding to the papers presented by Lawrence C. Connelly (“Change Thy Shape: Michael A. Arnzen and the Metamorphosis of Horror”) and David Sandner (“Meat Shots, Gorelets, Severed Hands and the Uncanny in your Inbox: Michael Arnzen’s New Directions in Horror”). For a sense of what this will be like, here's an excerpt from the abstract Dr. Sandner shared with me: “Arnzen’s innovations have implications at once for the future evolution of horror as a genre seeking to survive cyclical implosions of popularity in traditional markets and as a harbinger of the kind of horror conjured up by our technophilic age. Arnzen’s horror cuts at the body with short, sharp sentences, fragments of narrative, his words dismembering, reconfiguring, returning us to our forgotten flesh but rendering them strange to us with a sudden violence, a spurt of text, a cracked narrative, a shock at the ending 'meat shot,' the fatal blow all the more terrible because undercut by a fatalistic and devious humor.” For more information on the conference, visit:
+ GRIM GRIMOIRE UPDATE
One of the highlights at World Fantasy Convention was getting to play with the custom deck of playing cards that will be included with the special sculpture-bound limited edition (a.k.a. “Grim Grimoire”) of Play Dead. I've signed the cards that are being placed into each book. The artwork by Dave Liscomb is simply amazing and waaayyyy over-the-top; this is truly a unique and twisted collection of art. Some of the images are lifted right out of the novel; others use artistic license in apropos ways (and the jokers are hilarious). Everyone who saw these at World Fantasy Con said they wanted one; the publisher is currently investigating the possibility of offering them separately for sale to those who are interested. In the mean time, the sculptures are coming along and you'll need to keep your eyes on Raw Dog Screaming Press for updates. http://www.rawdogscreaming.com
Flying Creature Feature
For your next movie night, rent:
The Birds (1963)
El Ataque de los pájaros (a.k.a. “Beaks”) (1987)
It actually pays to scroll this far down.
THE ARNZEN SURPLUS STORE
I bought a lot of my own books to sell at my various signings last month…but I went overboard and still have copies left over. Want to help me clear some shelf space and maybe even get a bargain in the process? Here's a price list of some specials I can offer you (all prices include media mail postage paid; all books will be signed). This offer is good only while supplies last, so please write me at email@example.com to make sure I still have copies in stock, before remitting payment. I prefer cash via PayPal or, alternatively, a gift certificate to any online shop.
[Poetry book titles available: Freakcidents, Rigormarole, and Gorelets.]
100 Jolts: $11
100 Jolts + One Poetry Book: $17
Play Dead: $20
Three Poetry Books: $20
Play Dead + One Poetry Book: $26
Play Dead + 100 Jolts: $30
Play Dead + 100 Jolts + Three Poetry Books: $50
THE SHOCKLINES XMAS SPECIAL
Buy one horror poetry book, get one free! This is a great way to pick up a copy of my books, Rigormarole or Freakcidents or Writhing in Darkness. There's also still time to get $10 off Ray Bradbury's book, A Chapbook for Burnt-Out Priests, Rabbis and Ministers when you use coupon code “BURNTLESSTEN” in the online check-out form. Coupon good until 12/31/05.
Order a copy of Rigormarole: Zombie Poems direct from the publisher and get a free four-issue subscription to Poe Little Thing: The Digest of Horrific Poetry. Just $9.95+s/h! Rigormarole is a signed/numbered chapbook, limited to 250 copies; the book, which was just released this September, is also illustrated by a writer/filmmaker who I admire very much, John Skipp.
Fictionwise.com – the web's best sci-fi and horror e-book seller – maintains a special 15% off page for Goreletter subscribers, which is updated weekly. This week features e-book treasures by well-established speculative fiction writers like George R.R. Martin, Marion Zimmer Bradley, and Robert E. Howard – and emerging dark fantasy authors like Donna Taylor Burgess and Janrae Frank. [There's even a rebate offer on “Beat the Flu – How to Stay Healthy through the Coming Bird Flu Pandemic” by A A Avlicino! ] Please search for economical Arnzen titles while you're there, like 100 Jolts or the hard to find Stoker finalist, Paratabloids!
Writers: Don't forget that you can get a free 2-month “Taste of HELLNOTES” subscription by participating in their new monthly “Wee Small Hours” publication. What better way to instigate yourself into some twisted storytelling?
All material in The Goreletter is © 2005 Michael A. Arnzen, unless otherwise noted. All rights reserved. Permission is granted to forward the entire contents as a whole, without alterations or excisions. Direct links to articles in the archives or the weblog are permitted and encouraged. For reprint permissions of individual pieces, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
Winner of the 2003 Bram Stoker Award for Superior Achievement in Alternative Forms from the Horror Writers Association: http://www.horror.org/stokers.htm
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With apologies to latitude 53,41667, longitude 27,91667.
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ESPECIALLY IF IT'S YOUR REFLECTION
“Never attempt to murder a man who is committing suicide.” – Woodrow T. Wilson (died 1924)
* Due to the temporary nature of internet URLs, some websites mentioned in back issues of the Goreletter may no longer be live, or may also point to unscrupulous web servers. I will denote these with overstrikes as I discover them, but if you encounter a dead, changed or unscrupulous link, please feel free to inform me.
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