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Arnzen's Weird Newsletter

+++ Vol. 2 #11, Oct 2, 2004 +++

Pluck it Out


Blather. Wince. Repeat.

Pluck it Out

Sometimes I think eyes are the creepiest part of the human body, because they're like jellyfish that can see, right there in the middle of everybody's face…and there are TWO of them, conspiring to either attack or breed. Thank god for the nose, otherwise they might see how close they really are to each other and then it would all be over with. And thank god the nose doesn't REALLY have a bridge.

Yes, they want to take over. Of course, seeing eye-to-eye with other humans can be a problem, but I suspect eyes are actually racist and don't want to mix colors. Otherwise, doomsday.

Now I know that you're thinking they can see each other and conspire whenever you look in the mirror. But you'll notice that whenever you look in the mirror the eyes don't cross. That's because eyes are narcissistic little monsters and can't get enough of themselves. They hate us, but we kind of make a pretty outfit for them nevertheless.

They say the eyes are the doorway to the soul. That's alien propaganda. Don't believe it for a minute.

You might think the blind are spared this abominable infestation. But the blind still have eyes in their sockets – they're just the handicapped ones of their own kind.

Yes, you could punch them or poke them or fizzle them out with cigarettes. Yes, you could wear patches to debilitate them or gouge them out with forks. But you'd have to be able to see what you were doing and our dependency on them is all part of their sick master plan.

This is why the saving grace of humanity is the television set. It keeps eyes placid.

At least, I tell myself that whenever that shiny glass screen starts to look like one of their kind, an open channel just waiting for a broadcast from beyond.

Nightmares or not, it's only when we sleep that we truly see.


October is a busy month for horror writers and it should be one for you, too. Here's a few places I'll be haunting, including a pair of online chats open to the public (I'll mark these events with a “*” since you're most likely to be able to drop by these):

Oct 14th, 8pm EST, Internet
Online Chat on “Flash Fiction” with Long Ridge Writer's Group

Oct 16th, 1-3pm, Uniontown, PA
100 Jolts Signing, Waldenbooks in Uniontown Mall

Oct 17th, 3pm EST, Internet
Online Chat (with Darren Speegle) on “The New Face of Horror” with Horror-Web

Oct 23rd, 10-Noon, Morgantown, WV
Flash Fiction Workshop with the Morgantown Writer's Group

Oct 30th, 3:30-5pm, Phoenix, AZ
Signing/Reading (with John Edward Lawson), Horrorfind Weekend West

Oct 28-31, Phoenix, AZ
Signing/Reading, World Fantasy Convention 2004

Also highly recommended (though I cannot attend):
Oct 14, 7pm, Annapolis, MD Barnes & Noble
The Horror of Writing sponsored by 100 Jolts publisher Raw Dog Screaming Press
featuring Brian Keene, Douglas Winter, John Edward Lawson, Matthew Warner, and Ronald Damien Malfi


+ Give a monster a makeover.

+ Write a tribute to a serial killer.

+ Dismember a character from a children's TV show or family film.

Instigation is a WEEKLY department in Hellnotes newsletter: You can also buy collections of prompts for chump change at The Sickolodeon:

If you publish something instigated by this department, let me know at and I'll mention it here!


Fanime Fiction's Fecal Fixation

“The monster's skin began to crumple, the pale gray color turning into a sickening olive green that had a mustard tint to it. It reminded Sailormoon of animal droppings, though she wasn't sure if there even was a kind of animal with droppings as gross as the color of the monster's skin.” – “John” on SailorMoon

“Slowly levitating above the wave of fur so as not to hurt animals, Goku appeared next to the Ouji with a gopher on his head. 'Guess what Vegita?' he said happily, a large grin on his feces covered face. 'I made a new friend!' he pointed at the gopher, 'His name is Bob! Bob likes french fries! He names them Skippy!'” – “Mika” on DragonBallZ

GORELETS: Unpleasant Poems


The geologist takes his old rock
chiseler to the flunky student's skull
and then impresses upon him
the concept of earth tectonics
the hard way, mashing the plates
of his gored gaia until the crust
breaks open and a tsunami
of blood and brain splurts
out of the volcano he's made –
lava of the learned, burning
hot red and gray all the way down
the cold canyons of his corduroy sleeves


“Poetry,” as St. Augustine once said, “is the devil's wine.” In other words, it's so damned tempting that after your first sip you'll inevitably want just one more glass – even at your own peril.

That's how I felt after savoring the various vintages of The Devil's Wine – a fine trade hardcover poetry collection from Cemetery Dance edited by Tom Piccirilli and illustrated copiously by the notoriously talented artist, Caniglia. Once I opened the cover, I couldn't stop sipping from its pages. This is a book to be treasured and the attention to production quality that CD Publications put into this hardcover is well worth collecting and showing off to friends. In sum, this book treats dark poetry with the respect it deserves, exhibiting the musing (and occasionally softer and playful) side of bestselling and award-winning horror novelists, including such luminaries as Stephen King, Ray Bradbury, Peter Straub, Jack Ketchum, Tamara Thorne, Edward Lee, and thirteen others. It's a substantial collection, featuring anywhere from 6 to 10 poems by each contributor, introduced by Piccirilli (the Bram Stoker Award winner in Poetry who also contributes). Each author-poet's contribution is framed by excellent charcoal drawings and chatty introductory remarks, giving the book the feel of about twenty poetry chapbooks in one. For the price – listed around forty dollars – this rarity is a steal and it certainly belongs on the bookshelf of any serious horror enthusiast reading today.

Reading the collection, one can't help but sense that this is an important and influential volume. While the poetry itself is something of a mixed bag, the sheer novelty of the collection – and it's respectful treatment of each poet – makes you feel like you are holding something very special, to be treasured, because you're getting to see a more personal side of the writers you respect. And in many ways, the book is also a reminder of just how talented these writers really are when it comes to manipulating the English language. The contributions by King alone – many culled from the days before he was a known author – are well worth the price of the book, revealing his innate ability to terrify. His lead poem, “The Dark Man,” depicts the sheer saturation of evil in everything around us, with hard-hitting supernatural foreboding: “i have…heard the suck of shadows/where a gutted columned house/leeched with vines/speaks to an overhung mushroom sky…i am a dark man.” This poem launches the book in a very powerful way because I suspect most readers who haven't read King's poetry before (you can find snippets of it in most of his short fiction collections) will have an eye-opening revelation about this self-professed “balogna fiction” writer's literary side. I see this as a metaphorical response to all critics who might say that horror is artless gutter literature. Throughout the collection, we get to see the genre's most successful wordsmiths reminding us how good they really are, freed from the bindings of conventional narrative to work their literary muscle on poetry, which is perhaps the most difficult craft of writing to master.

The Devil's Wine holds many more revelations than simply disclosing unique facets of the talent of a King or a Straub. Chief among the surprises in this book – in my view – are the softer poems penned by horror's most hardcore writers. Edward Lee – one of the genre's most notoriously disturbing writers who is never afraid to go into the gorezone bearing a machete – contributes several strong poems exhibiting a range of talent, leaping from what might be called “love poems” to thought experiments on par with what you'd find in today's most profoundly difficult literary journals. Along with some rock solid poems that probe unflinchingly into tough philosophical territories, Brian Hodge contributes lyrics from songs he's put together, revealing the complexity of his musical side. Elizabeth Massie even offers a little comedic verse and a few poems with a YA flair that make you grin devilishly. I was thrilled to study these poems by authors whom I've read and admired for a long time, and there is a LOT to chew on with over 350 pages of poetry between this book's covers.

I suspect most who pick up The Devil's Wine will jump right to the Stephen King section and swallow it whole, before paging to have a little Jack Ketchum as an after-dinner mint. I recommend savoring them all. If you aren't touched by the contributions of Steve Rasnic and Melanie Tem or Charles DeLint, you're just not human. The contributions by Peter Crowther and Graham Masterson confirmed my respect for these great writers of dark supernatural fiction. Piccirilli's own poetry in the back of the book attests to why he won the Bram Stoker Award for it in 2000 and why he deserves to edit this massive collection. (And with titles like “Nunzio, Sixty Years Dead, Lying at my Side, Staring” or “How to Perform Heart Surgery with Someone Else's Gaze” you know he's giving us a treat). Nearly all of the poems in the book are satisfying. But I think the greatest thrill I had when reading The Devil's Wine was discovering dark suspense writer Jay Bonansinga's talent for poetry. I've read his short stories and novels (like Oblivion and Sick) before and always thought he was a decent novelist, but Bonansinga's contributions to The Devil's Wine are knockout poems that stand shoulder-to-shoulder with some of the greatest poets working the dark trenches today. Who knew! I credit Piccirilli with making something of a discovery here – and I want more, because this author is not only a very capable fiction writer, but someone who deserves his own poetry collection right away.

If you've already read this book and this is your first taste of The Devil's Wine, I hope you'll develop a drinking problem, and cultivate a lifelong weakness for the poetic grape and the more artful side of horror's creative personalities. Not just in poetry, but other artforms. Look for Peter Straub's early poetry collections. Or Brian Hodge's music. Or Elizabeth Massie's art. Celebrate the art of the darkness – for there is far more than just six-dollar paperback novels out there in the field, if you know where to look. The joy of reading this book isn't just peering into the hidden personalities of the famous writers, it lies in exploring the dark side without relying on the familiar maps of popular fiction or the safety nets handed to us by the mass media marketplace. Poems are always thought experiments that don't follow the predictable rules of prose writing, and that only adds to the scariness they can produce.

If there's a flaw to this book, it's that the selections privilege mass market writers to the exclusion of other well-established poets and experimental writers who have been working on the fringes for decades. This collection doesn't bother to toss a few grapes from various countrysides that are out there harvesting the dark provinces already. These, perhaps, are a more rarefied vintage, but worthy of a taste nonetheless. The collection pretends at diversity but doesn't quite provide it. While The Devil's Wine contains well-established science fiction/fantasy poets like Joe Haldeman and Michael Bishop, it almost entirely neglects professional poets who have been writing this stuff successfully for decades. While contributors like Steve Rasnic Tem and Jack Cady in the book represent the more “literary” side of horror writing, the book could have only benefited, I think, from including a few underground, “outlaw,” or simply lesser-known poetry writers whose craft is all the more mature and sharpened with practice than some of those who are in this book. Bram Stoker Award-winners in poetry – like the amazingly deft and well-schooled Bruce Boston or the important African American female voice of Linda Addison – probably should have been included in the stomping barrel. Where are the graphic surrealist shockers by a Charlee Jacob or the psychological creepers of a John Grey? They're speciously absent and anyone who is already an aficionado of horror poetry will simply have to wonder why. (Would the power of their experienced poetry writing outshine those of these brand names? Would the inclusion of small press writers somehow ostensibly lower the clout of the book? To what degree did commerce and art compete in the editorial decisions at play here?)

The book manages to enormously succeed despite this weakness in variety, and overall, it's okay, I think, that The Devil's Wine pretends to be nothing more than a respectful and charming novelty that gives us a glimpse into the more lyrical side of today's best novelists. I do think this collection could have sacrificed some of its more silly contributions by name writers (there are definitely a few self-indulgent clunkers in here – mostly bad inside jokes or pun poems that fail miserably) for the sake of giving some very deserving wine-makers a little more attention. An opportunity was also missed here, to help educate the book's audience about the relatively unknown contemporary horror poetry genre and its long history, one that reaches all the way back to Poe, if not even as far back as Beowulf. Even a bibliography of related works or a brief essay about the history of horror poetry would have been a minor step in the right the direction. Nevertheless, this shouldn't stop anyone from buying this book right away. I hope readers everywhere will not only chug deeply from this generous jug of darkness, but will also be inspired to grab another bottle elsewhere (and another collection of Tom Piccirilli's own poetry would be a great place to start). I also hope that this book – which is a MUST READ for anyone with a taste for terror – is such a success that it produces a sequel that will offer more variety to today's most discriminating connoisseurs of the devil's wine.

A full contents listing and ordering information for The Devil's Wine is available at Cemetery Dance Publications. If you're hunting for more rarefied vintages, a similar title worth considering is Cemetery Poets, which is offered at a discount to Goreletter subscribers this month only through (see “Boo Coupons” section below).


Strange Stigmata

For your next movie night, rent:
Reborn (1981)
Agnes of God (1985)
Stigmata (1999)



If the characters in Open Water drove you crazy, then now's your chance for revenge. Play SC Stoddard's “Mad Shark” and you get to be an insane great white shark who must feast on scuba divers before they attack you with their steely knives. Time to sink your chum or cut bait!


When 100 Jolts: Shockingly Short Stories first came out, I heard from a number of teachers who thought it might be suitable for teaching “flash” fiction to their students. So over the summer I compiled a large set of literary discussion questions and “instigation”-styled creative writing prompts based on the book. If you're interesting in damaging the stability of young minds everywhere, too, then head over to my publisher's website or the Gorelets “Free Writing/Demos” page and download a free copy of this 20 page booklet (in either MS Word or Adobe Acrobat format). This guidebook would be useful for a horror discussion group or any creative writer looking for new ideas.

My books, Sportuary and Fluid Mosaic have officially gone out of print as of October 1st. Fluid Mosaic is a collection of my best short stories from the 90s, and the book will still be available in e-book (from and others) for quite a while. But if you're a print purists, I've got a few spare copies of Fluid Mosaic that I can sell from my private stock, signed, for $16.50 each (postage paid). If you're interested, PayPal me at or e-mail me for regular mail. Otherwise, head to for the e-book:

The publisher of 100 Jolts has made a funny and charmingly illustrated online quiz to go along with 100 Jolts. People who have read the book will especially get a laugh out of the jokes inside the questions. Find out “what shocks you?” here:

The flash horror fiction anthology, Small Bites, is a charity book being put together in order to benefit the masterful dark fantasy writer Charles L. Grant, who is suffering from chronic pulmonary disease. All the stories in Small Bites are not only under 500 words – they also all involve teeth or eating or mouths in some weird way. My contribution, “Screwy Louis,” will appear in the book alongside writers like Matthew Costello, F. Paul Wilson, Mark McLaughlin, Jeff Strand and about 100 more!

Small Bites homepage:

Fresh Air Fund for Charlie Grant:

I've been receiving some knock-out reviews this month, so I thought I'd share a few excerpts. These virtual pats on the back really charge me up, especially because they're by writers I greatly admire:

Here's the first pre-publication “blurb” for my upcoming noirror novel, Play Dead: “Play Dead reads like white lightning. The wonderfully grungy characters and staccato-fast chapters grab you by the face, haul you in, and won't let go, while the richly metaphoric style begs for savoring on every page. Arnzen wears a wry gaming grin even as he reminds us the universe is little more than a horrorshow comprised of pure plain chance. This terrific (in all senses of the word) novel hits the ground running and just won't stop.” – Lance Olsen, author of Hideous Beauties (

ChiZine ( loves 100 Jolts: “While writing this review I re-read a number of these stories and was amazed all over again by their sheer inventiveness, their razor sharp prose, and the perfectly streamlined delivery of so many of them. All of the one hundred stories presented here are entertaining. A number of them are classics. Michael Arnzen should be proud of what he has accomplished. 100 Jolts is the creation of a very talented writer at the top of his game.” – Ray Wallace (

In this week's issue of Hellnotes, writer Brian Hodge says: “Michael Arnzen is a consummate idea man….Creepy, silly, amusing, thought-provoking – and more can be said of the pieces in this unique collection…In 100 Jolts, Arnzen generally manages to convey everything he wants with an economy of words that makes one-time short-short king Richard Christian Matheson seem like a wallower in excess.” – Brian Hodge, author of Wild Horses and Oasis (

I'm pleased to see that 100 Jolts has been receiving several recommendations for this year's Bram Stoker Award in Fiction Collection. If you are a member of the Horror Writer's Association, my publisher has generously offered you a free e-book version of 100 Jolts for your private review in consideration for this prestigious award. Interested members should contact me via e-mail at for more information. (Note that the Goreletter is also up again for the “Alternative Forms” award!)


The winners of the Battle Robot contest last issue knocked my robot's (Hellboy's) block off in less than an hour after the newsletter was mailed. Trevor Palmer took first place thanks in part to his dreaded Spring-Loaded Boxing Glove, and won a free signed copy of the Dogwitch: Series One paperback. Heather Lackey came in second, with an Onboard iPod that distracted Hellboy before she massacred him. UK subscriber Claire Faulkner drove metal tusks laden with corporate logos right into Hellboy's remaining parts and took third. Craig Clarke's Nodule-Covered Truncated-Cone Base provided both armor and power to trample Hellboy into a flat metal plate, taking 4th. Prizes were mailed to all of of these robots in gratitude for the slaughterfest. Although the contest is officially closed, you can still try your metal hand at beating me up here:

I decided to remove the “comments” feature from the Goreletter weblog because of a recent “comment spam” attack. This was not an easy decision to make because it meant removing a few really creative short-shorts that subscribers have posted as well as some very kind and interesting feedback from visitors. I apologize for this change but it really had to be done to keep The Goreletter in tip-top editorial shape. I know I'll miss reading your comments, so I invite anyone who wants to comment on an article to leave feedback in the guestbook at or write me privately at I also encourage folks to try to publish anything inspired by the “Instigation” department… is a good place to start investigating potential markets to submit to. I will report any publication that's “instigated” by the Goreletter in the next available issue.



It actually pays to scroll this far down.

Because you subscribe to The Goreletter, you can receive a month of HELLNOTES free! That's right. New subscribers will receive 13 months of horror news reviews, interviews, and commentaries for only $20! That's $3 off the regular $23 one year subscription, plus you get your first month FREE! Use code GORELETS10 in your order. You may use your credit card to subscribe via Paypal (payable to or check the website for snailmail subs. Get your sicko prompts' fix weekly.

Like The Devil's Wine, the hardcover book Cemetery Poets collects original poems and twisted prose-poetry from some very disturbing authors working on the fringes of the fringe (including myself, Kurt Newton, Scott Urban and John Edward Lawson). It's a horrifying journey into some very dark territory. One unique component of Cemetery Poets is the section of poems by the contributors all generated using the same set of “magnets”…on the Refrigerator of the Damned at! Our favorite online bookstore,, is offering Goreletter subscribers $5 off the total price, which – combined with their free shipping deal – brings it down to $25! Enter discount code “GORECEM5” upon checkout.

Get all available back issues of Flesh & Blood magazine for 20% off. Free shipping and handling on all purchases. Please send payment made out to Jack Fisher with a note mentioning the “Goreletter discount” to: Jack Fisher, 121 Joseph St., Bayville, NJ 08721

Get 10% of the writer's submission tracking software, WriteAgain! Just tell Asmoday that you heard about it from The Goreletter when you register to get your discount.


All material in The Goreletter is © 2004 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

Winner of the 2003 Bram Stoker Award for Superior Achievement in Alternative Forms from the Horror Writers Association:

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With apologies to latitude 53,41667, longitude 27,91667.

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“I don't believe in evil, I believe only in horror. In nature there is no evil, only an abundance of horror: the plagues and the blights and the ants and the maggots.” – Isak Dinesen (died 1962)

* 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
* Arnzen's blog is now located at Visit it for breaking news and extras not appearing in The Goreletter.

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