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Arnzen's Weird Newsletter
+++ Vol. 3.06, Feb 11, 2006 +++
Note: this issue is both longer than usual and later than usual. There's a reason for this. The Goreletter is reducing the number of mailings per year from 13 to 4-6. That means longer, meatier newsletters, but you'll receive them less often. If you ever worry about missing an issue, be sure to check The Goreletter weblog or archives, accessible via gorelets.com. See the “Gorelets.com Roundup” article below for more information on changes afoot. Thanks again for subscribing, sickos!
Blather. Wince. Repeat.
Bod Mod I'd Like to See
We ought to have temporary tattoos that are nonetheless permanent. Why must the art be stagnant? Especially if it's bad? We want art that we can revise and change, yet something that still sends the message that we're so committed to our art that we're willing to be surgically altered. If they can make adjustable pacemakers and prescription birth control patches these days, they ought to be able to make movable tattoos. Here's my idea: embed little colored metal pellets under the surface of the skin, so we can use a magnetic device to move them around whenever we want to. Like that children's drawing toy, I'd call it “Flesh-a-Sketch.” Don't like that evil Ace of Spades? No need for that blow torch. Just shake your arm. It's gone.
I think there's much more we can do with the human hand. Particularly the fingers. I think our fingertips should be replaced with jacks that allow us to screw in and swap all sorts of prosthetic devices, right from birth. As a writer, naturally, I'd love it if I could press a secret button on my palm and click a ballpoint right out from the tip of my finger. Got a kid who likes to suck on his thumb? Give him “fingernips” instead. And we call all be really wild Freddy Kreugers with insertable blades. We could embed cell phones into our palms and literally “talk to the hand.” Set it on vibrate. Imagine the possibilities!
You've heard of stomach stapling before, right? Same idea. Only temporary. Sometimes I like feeling so full I have to open my belt.
When a car gets impacted, airbags inflate and save lives. Why can't we embed a similar technology in our flesh? Someone punches you – boom – your shirt explodes and a large pillow of air absorbs the blow. Slip on the ice – bam – a large buttock inflates and you land so safely you could go tubing down a mountain on your own rear end. We could all play suicide with trains and tall buildings. What a thrill! This invention would make the automobile airbag useless, so it would even save us millions.
People get all sorts of things implanted into their mouths – braces, bridges, fillings. Why should the teeth have all the fun? Let's accessorize our mouths with extra tongues. Clone 'em, take them out of cadavers, make 'em out of vinyl…it's all good. Maybe get one pierced that wouldn't always get in the way; or mod them both to play mouth maracas. We could even invent a new language when we're not so busy French kissing. Wait, that wouldn't be “French” kissing anymore. But you get the idea. I'm sure you've even got some ideas of your own now.
You've seen it in every carny movie ever made. Now's your chance to throw blades at the person tied to a spinning wheel. It's simple, childish, time-consuming fun – like darts for the demented.
blood, bath and beyond
The claw foot tub clenches
the floor whenever I twist
the handle to hot, scouring the bone
china tiles and filthy basin belly.
Droplets spray and pepper the flesh
– and that's just the curtain of skin
dancing on its meat hooks, absorbing
the stream, but perpetually unclean.
I don't understand why the blood
doesn't wash out; why it molds so much.
Maybe something ill spills
from the green gums of that open-mouthed
shower head, spraying its sickness.
Or perhaps it's just my plumbing.
Few realize that the term “anthology” – which we use to denote collections of short stories by different authors, usually following a shared theme or genre – comes for the Greek word for “flower-gathering.” Corpse Blossoms – the first volume in a series of anthologies from the new horror publisher, Creeping Hemlock Press, is more than just a collection of some dead leaves – it's like an amazingly fulfilling chilled salad. Or should I say a very full, chilling salad? Either way, it's fiction with an earthy, dark flavor in every bite. And though I'm more than satisfied by the meal, I can't wait till they toss together their next dish.
Edited by Julia and RJ Sevin, Corpse Blossoms will immediately strike you as a different kind of horror anthology the second you hold it in your hands. If an anthology is a flower-gathering, then the editors have arranged these twisted clippings into a very distinctive bouquet. First off, there's something inherently gentle about the package – from the charcoal image of the funeral flower on its gray front cover to the high quality green bindings and pastel cover with a copper foil stamp. Usually I don't judge a book by its cover, but when I examine a new publisher's first offering, I am interested in the investment they put into the quality and I can't help but judge whether or not they really know what they're doing based on the book's production value, in addition to its general aesthetic unity. This book sends a message: the stories you're about to read are high quality. And the book has a distinctive character. Corpse Blossoms evinces a soft horror mood that's really somewhat eerie – like a thing found abandoned in a mortuary, yet quivering with a life all its own.
So do the stories match the quality and character of the book? Are they, in the publisher's words, “tales of quiet terror and screaming fear by some of the finest authors in the field”? Indeed, for the most part, they are, and though there were many fine horror anthologies published this past year (indeed, we may be experiencing a horror anthology renaissance), Corpse Blossoms holds its own as one of the finest horror anthologies to come out this season.
One of the most interesting elements of the book is the dictum in the foreword, which begs the reader to “read these exceptional stories in the order that they appear for full effect.” Corpse Blossoms has twenty-four stories, many by longstanding and reputable writers in the horror genre (Gary Braunbeck, Tom Piccirilli, Ramsey Campbell, Bentley Little, Steve Rasnic Tem) and many by writers who have made a noticeably significant splash in the horror scene since the turn of the Millennium (Kealan Patrick Burke, Scott Nicholson, Darren Speegle, Bev Vincent, Nick Mamatas, Steve Vernon, Brian Freeman). The fiction is generally harder in tone than you might expect, given the gentility of the packaging. In the stories themselves, the “quiet terror” usually stems from a character whose reality has started splitting apart at the seams, and the writers ratchet up the creep-outs until everything erupts in a moment of “screaming fear” – and for some, explosive gore – in an emotionally powerful way.
I can't talk about all of the tales, but let me share my thoughts about three that really stuck with me, to give you a sense of the book's range.
One of the weirdest pieces in this collection is “The Last Few Curls of Gut Rope” by Steve Vernon. The title is a tad bit misleading, because Vernon's tale is really a surrealist piece rather than a gorefest (though you won't be entirely disappointed in the climax if a little gut-wrenching splat is what you're seeking when you read this one). What makes “Gut Rope” surreal? Well, if you've ever read my short-short story, “Domestic Fowl,” then this is “Domestic Fowl” to the 20th power. It's about a guy who orders eggs at a restaurant and is served a live squawking chicken (“You asked for eggs,” the waitress says, “but the chicken comes first.”) And then it just gets weirder and weirder, playing off the familiar chicken-and-egg formula by “dishing out” many absurdist moments and encounters, until it reaches its bizarrely-feathered conclusion. Vernon is gaining a reputation for his humorous voice, and though this story does not disappoint in that regard, it also reveals a layer of psychological depth underpinning his fiction that is getting deeper and more profound than in the past. It's one of his best tales yet.
Another wildly-imagined contribution to the collection comes from Bentley Little, whose opening paragraph is probably the most creatively hilarious of the book:
“He found it in a shack in the desert, a horrible thing of jellyfish and claws, scales and squid, bound into shape by strands of dark kelpy seaweed. It was sitting in the center of the rotted wood floor, and under his gaze it shifted, moved, tried to slink away beneath a sandy bench, all the while making a hideous squeaking squelching sound.
”'Dad?' he said.“
This is from Little's “Finding Father,” a quirky and emotionally disturbing tale about a trucker who is hunting down his father, who, it seems, is leaving a trail for him to follow in the form of bathroom stall graffiti. The premise of this one is a little hard to swallow, but that's almost universally true of Bentley Little's short stories. Little always ambitiously pushes the envelope of horror fiction and writes horror with a contagious sense of frenetic glee that inevitably takes you on such a ride that you not only forgive the absurdity behind his stories, but also gladly join him in his playground of the unreal. This story had me at “jellyfish and claws.” They latched onto me and I went along for an outrageous descent into terror.
I love stories like these; tales that go over the top in a quest for unconscious thrills. Their unsettling humor pushes you over the edge and into some psychic state of disbelief akin to madness. Corpse Blossoms is at its best when it delves into the psychological – rather than supernatural – side of horror. And it doesn't just go for the outré or the darkly funny. Many of these stories, particularly those early in the book, evoke the eerie mood of dark fantasy, working to unhinge the reader's confidence in conventional reality. And the book hosts some shining treasures in this regard. For example, Kealan Patrick Burke's “Empathy” – one of the longer pieces in the book – ratchets the terror up in sharp increments that build like the tension of a lug wrench tightening a nut bit by bit up to its breaking point. In this exceptionally well-developed story, a man is so emotionally scarred by watching a torture scene on the internet (just out of curiosity), that he can't stop envisioning the visceral scene playing out again and again, especially on his family. Burke effectively gets us inside the mind of the haunted and obsessed, as the protagonist's nightmares seep progressively into his waking life. “Empathy,” while somewhat familiar in its plot of traumatic “repetition-compulsion,” is one of the strongest pieces in the collection, written with a rock solid narrative voice and a masterful control over psychological suspense. It's certainly worthy of an award for best scary novella of the year.
If Corpse Blossoms is a gourmet salad, then the leaves have occasional brown spots here and there, but that happens when the kitchen doesn't sanitize out all the flavor. I encountered a few typos as I read Corpse Blossoms (“at” for “ate” in one climactic scene really threw me off), but the fact is, I've seen far worse mistakes made by established pro publishers before. In the back of the book, the editors write about their own feelings about each of their story selections – I found this very insightful, lending even more character and editorial panache to the book; it drove home my feeling that this is a publisher who has a strong editorial direction (though perhaps it's a bit indulgent at times… as an author, I think I'd be mildly embarrassed if readers were explicitly told that my story was sent back several times for a revision, even though that's a natural part of the process. And I will warn you that sometimes the chatter about the tales in this appendix gives away key elements of the story, so hold off on reading the ingredients list until you've finished the bite).
Finally, it's worth noting that the publishers of this book were impacted by Hurricane Katrina. The fact that they were able to put together such a fine collection and launch a new quality publishing line while being dislocated and traumatized by that terrible chaos is not only admirable, it's miraculous. As they note in the book's postscript, this project “served as something to take our minds off of mold-covered walls and ceilings collapsed…something on which to focus, a goal, a signpost, a destination.” This passion is evident everywhere in the book, and if it was their destination, then, well, they've certainly arrived! Editors with this kind of dedication to good storytelling and quality publishing really deserve the support of readers who love munching on a good salad of fiction that has a real bite to it. This review has been lengthy, but I've only shown you a small part of the menu and shared a few morsels. I highly recommend you order a large bowl of Corpse Blossoms and sample this anthology for yourself.
Corpse Blossoms is a $40 hardcover limited to 500 trade copies, 500 signed copies, and 26 lettered leather copies available from the publisher at Creeping Hemlock Press or from your friendly favorite horror bookseller (like Shocklines.com, who is offering a discount for Goreletter subscribers only…see “Boo Coupons” below).
Today's word is “squeg” (pronounced “skweg”). To “squeg” generally means “to oscillate in an irregular fashion.” My fan squegs when the gears need oil. Squegging is what a volume meter does when a singer bumps into the microphone. Waves squeg when someone drops a body in the ocean. Pencils get all squeggy when you do the old “rubber pencil” trick. I squeg back and forth when I drink brandy and walk on ice. “Squeg” is not to be confused with “squegg” which means to either be disinterested in gender or to try to freak someone out. Squeg has no relation to Squiggy, Square Peg, Egg Squirts, or Queequeg from Moby Dick. Squeg was not invented by the authors of the Scrabble dictionary. Squeg would be a good name for a baby, but only last until age 21.
+ Place a deaf person in a burning building. First sentence: ”(S)He didn't hear the alarm.“
+ Place a wheelchair-bound character on a sinking ship.
+ Dramatize the methods of a “slow” serial killer.
Instigation is a WEEKLY department in Hellnotes newsletter…who also now publishes a new online magazine based on selected prompts called Wee Small Hours!
I just learned that my poem, “Those Who Landed, Surprised to Discover that Zombies Had Taken Over the Planet,” is a nominee for a Rhysling Award in Short Poetry. The Rhyslings are one of the few genre poetry awards out there; it's given each year by the Science Fiction Poetry Association. “Those Who Landed…” first appeared in Dreams and Nightmares magazine this past Fall, and subsequently reappeared in my chapbook, Rigormarole: Zombie Poems. As a member of the SFPA since 1987, I'm very jazzed to be a part of this.
Since I'm tooting my own horn with these abomi-nominations, I guess I can play another note. I'm overjoyed that my novel, Play Dead, and my poetry collection, Freakcidents, are both receiving numerous recommendations for the 2005 Bram Stoker Award. It's still too early to know if they'll make it to any official ballots, but it truly is an honor to be recognized this way by the Horror Writers Association. (If you're a member, let me know if I can hook you up with a review copy).
I've also been nominated by my wife as the 2005 “Man Most Likely to Take Out the Garbage,” so I better go give my acceptance speech to the rats….
+ COMING UP
We've got a lot of catching up to do….bear with me for a moment while I share lots of good news.
I just finished a short story called “Blasphemebus” for Thou Shalt Not, an anthology of dark stories based on the Ten Commandments. I wrote a funky piece about a guy who rewrites roadside church signs, breaking the third commandment (“misusing the lord's name”). Look for this book from Dark Cloud Press late in the year. http://www.darkcloudpress.com
My article on horror in higher education, “Degrees of Dread,” will appear in the upcoming writer's help book, On Writing Horror. This is the second edition of the classic compendium of advice from the Horror Writer's Association, edited by Mort Castle for Writer's Digest Books. Should be out around Halloween, I expect. http://www.horror.org/hwabooks.htm#write_horr
In Delirium, edited by Brian Keene, just arrived in my mailbox. I'm told that this horror anthology has already sold out, but if you dig around on Keene's excellent website, you just might find a copy. I've already read half of it, and it's really GREAT read (and deserves a wider distribution). I read my contribution, “Mr. Mouth,” at World Horror Con last year to much laughter. http://www.briankeene.com/
Look for Poe's Lighthouse – a diverse collection of tales by writers riffing off an unfinished fragment by Edgar Allan Poe – to be released this Spring by Cemetery Dance Books. My twisted contribution, “The Dead Lantern,” was a lot of fun to write. Nothing like channeling Poe to torture a character. http://www.cemeterydance.com/
The next issue of Cemetery Dance magazine will also feature a story called “Help Yourself” – a collaborative piece by me and Mark McLaughlin about a very strange “self-help” bookstore. Mark and I have collaborated in the past (see his collection, Once Upon a Slime), and he always pushes me to be weirder than I am. I like that. Anyway, I'd guess that Cemetery Dance should be out by April at the latest. http://www.cemeterydance.com/
A handful of new creepy poems appear in the latest issue of the UK litzine, Spokes. Of particular note are the great illustrations throughout the magazine by Deena Warner. http://www.simegen.com/writers/spokes/
I just received the latest issue of the dark poetry journal, Poe Little Thing. I've got a poem in there called “The Goth Birthday Clown.” If you buy a copy of my zombie chapbook, Rigormarole, direct from the publisher (for $9.95 + s/h) you can still nab a free subscription to PLT as a bonus. Order it at the NSP bookstore.
An incredible book arrived in my mailbox the other day – my author's copy of the “Grim Grimoire” sculpture-bound edition of Play Dead. You have to touch it (but watch your fingers) to really feel how cool this thing is, but you can get an idea of how will it is at the Raw Dog Screaming Press website. I know that a few early adopters have received their copies, but the book will likely only be available from booksellers who have placed advanced orders. I don't know if you'll be able to get one before it sells out, so all I can say is keep your eyes peeled. (A paring knife will do the trick). http://www.rawdogscreaming.com
I'm told a website dedicated to Exquisite Corpse – a compilation of short-short films based on my poetry and flash fiction by diverse international filmmakers, coordinated by Jim Minton Design – is forthcoming shortly. This is going to be a wild dark movie, folks. It should be made available on the Independent Film Channel website once all is done, in addition to a screening tour. I'll report news on the Gorletter weblog as things develop.
Still with me? There are lots of other miscellaneous things in the works right now, from book introductions to literary criticism, to my next novel. Most exciting to me at the moment: I've been solicited by a fun publisher to write a humorous horror novelette, which I'm just now getting into. I believe this is my first attempt at a “long story” at this specific length, and I know it's going to be a blast. More on this in a future issue of The Goreletter, once the ink dries. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Novelette
+ FUTURE APPEARANCES
I'm always happy to meet readers at conventions and performances. I'll be reading and participating on an academic panel about my writing called “New Directions in Horror” at the 27th International Conference on the Fantastic in the Arts, held in Ft. Lauderdale on March 15-19. I also have plans to attend World Horror Convention in San Francisco on May 14-16. http://iafa.highpoint.edu/annual-conference/
Surreal Coconut's Meat Gallery by Eric Bragg
The Meat Show by Mark Ryden
Corpse Meat Protest Art by Emilio Mogilner
Meatscapes by Nicolas Lampert
So has it been too long since the last issue? I've made the decision to slice a few issues off the production line, and so this newsletter will be going to 4-6 issues per year. Not quite quarterly, not quite bimonthly, but less often than you might be used to. Volume 4 will launch with the next issue.
I'm also going to be strategizing about ways to overhaul the main gorelets.com website over the next few months. They say “if it ain't broke, don't fix it” so I hope to keep most of this weird wide webspace as-is. But if you have any thoughts, by all means e-mail them to me. The “Sickolodeon” page has been down for awhile, because bitpass.com changed their programming code without warning me, and I'm still trying to figure out how to make it work right with my Internet host. It might not be worth the effort, however, and I may punt it altogether.
Gorelets.com is a relatively popular website compared to many author-centered pages, but it's not nearly as “visible” to people as you may assume. My ISP's stats say that I get only 40,000 hits a month on average. That's nothing compared to, say, bigbadchinesemama.com, but it's actually a ton for a writer of icky things who doesn't currently have a mass market paperback on the shelf. But I still think it could do better. I would like to see more potential subscribers to the newsletter drop by, since I put a lot of creative energy into this thing and while I do hope to sell a few books here and there, my primary aim – more than anything else – is to make readers laugh, squirm and think. At this time last year, I had about 900 subscribers and my goal was to double that in a year. We're up to 1230 subscribers, but that's not even half as much as I'd hoped. I'll wipe away the teardrops and give myself another year.
Can you help? I never come to you begging for “link love” and I never use the mailing list to spam you with sales pitches for things like Fluid Mosaic underoos. But to try to reach my goal of 2000 subscribers by next February, I'm appealing to you to actively help me get this disgusting e-rag out to the masses. Here are some ways you can assist in spreading this corruption:
+ If you have a weblog, please consider adding a link to my own “blog” for The Goreletter, where I post newsletter departments as they come out, and where I offer an “rss” headline feed to anyone who wants one. The link to the weblog is
blogs.setonhill.edu/Arnzenews/ For RSS you can directly link to blogs.setonhill.edu/Arnzenews/index.rdf
+ Many of you have LiveJournals. If so, did you know that LJ syndicates The Goreletter? Add it as a “friend” or subscribe to the syndication at this address, even if you don't really rely on this to get your Gore on:
+ Even better than a link, of course, might be to write a mini-review or discussion of one of my books or The Goreletter on discussion boards, in your weblog, or in your own newsletter, or, hell, anywhere else (say, that article you're writing for the New York Times?), along with a link to my site. A number of you have so kindly posted reader book reviews on amazon.com, and I really appreciate it. Thank you! Some of you raved so much you almost made me buy a copy of my own book!
+ The best way to help out, of course, is to simply forward this issue to any friend you have who has a warped sense of humor, whether they are a horror fan or not. (Make sure you snip off the code appended to the bottom of the issue that would allow them to unsubscribe you. Seriously).
+ If you have a website, a link to gorelets.com is always treasured. And I'll gladly link back to you. Indeed, I encourage everyone to spend some time browsing around the “subscriber's links” page on gorelets.com next time you're looking for something odd – you're in wild company! Anyway, if you do want to link to me, you can even include a fancy button or graphic – I already provided the code for you. You can pick and choose from the graphics available here: http://www.gorelets.com/demos/goreletbuttons.htm
+ There will be contests to subscribers in future issues, I promise. I've got some fresh ideas brewing.
For your next movie night, rent:
Circus of Horrors (1960)
Johnny Handsome (1989)
It actually pays to scroll this far down.
THE SHOCKLINES SPECIAL
This issue, Shocklines.com – the web's great horror fiction bookstore – is offering Goreletter subscribers a special discount of $5 off the unsigned trade edition (only) of Corpse Blossoms, reviewed earlier in this issue. Just enter coupon code “CORPSELESS5” into the order form when you check out. This book also falls under Shocklines' “Guaranteed Good Read” program, which makes it a safe investment in terror. This offer expires on June 1st. Corpse Blossoms:
Thanks to everyone who bought something from my “book tour surplus” offer last issue. I've still got a few books leftover and figured I'd offer a Goreletter exclusive bundle this issue. Get signed copies of both Play Dead and 100 Jolts bundled together for the low price of $30, postage paid (that's ten bucks off list price). I've only got FIVE of these bundles to sell, so first-come, first-served. Please be sure to send me your mailing address at email@example.com . For this transaction, I prefer PayPal, or, alternatively, a gift certificate to any online shop; just e-mail me if you have any questions.
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 books like Twisted Cat Tales by Esther Schrader & Elizabeth Massie and The Book of Skulls by Robert Silverberg at a great discount. Please search for economical Arnzen titles while you're there, like 100 Jolts or the hard to find Stoker finalist, Paratabloids!
All material in The Goreletter is © 2006 Michael A. Arnzen, unless otherwise noted. All rights reserved. Permission is granted to forward the entire contents of this newsletter 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.
Help spread the strange. Forward this issue to your weirdest friend!
The Gift of Life
“Life is a sexually transmitted disease and the mortality rate is one hundred percent.” – R.D. Laing (died 1989)
* 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.
* “Boo Coupons” are expired in all but the current issue.
* If you are seeking a particular book by Arnzen mentioned in The Goreletter, try http://gorelets.com/books/
* Arnzen's blog is now located at http://gorelets.com/blog/ Visit it for breaking news and extras not appearing in The Goreletter.
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