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Arnzen's Weird Newsletter
+++ Vol. 2 #13, Jan 15, 2005 +++
Blather. Wince. Repeat.
Prime Slime Purée
I heard on the news the other day that a Cleveland man is suing NBC television for $2.5 million because their program, Fear Factor, made him vomit when they showed contestants drinking a dead rat milkshake. After he puked, he was so light-headed he ran into a doorway and banged his violated head.
Obviously, this is a frivolous lawsuit. I don't need to argue how silly it is, or to go into details about how he hand-wrote the complaint (rife with errors) or how he refuses to speak about the suit “unless it is a paid-interview situation” (his words).
Clearly this guy's case will be laughed right out of court. But I don't want it to be. I want it to be taken seriously. I want them to make the jury watch the episode and decide for themselves whether or not they feel nauseous. No, better yet: I want the court to make him chug frothing rats directly from the glass blender as a test to see whether or not the jury bumps their heads on their way to the deliberation chamber. If so, give him the same amount that any contestant would get. After all, his case is as much a publicity stunt as any stunt that's performed on the show itself.
But I have to admit, on some level, I do feel sorry for the guy. I'm a little embarrassed to admit this, but I can't stomach some of the things that pass for entertainment on “realiTV” anymore, either. Sure, I can write about people getting their guts hand-twisted in some psychopath's fists. And I even get a good laugh out of seeing someone spectacularly dismembered in a splatter movie every now and again. But when it comes to real life scatology on TV, I'm often physically repulsed.
Don't get me wrong: I enjoy a good dark documentary once in awhile and they often inspire me as a horror writer. In my line of work, they're research. When I started getting serious about the genre, I systematically rented every video on the “horror” shelf as a form of self-study, and I remember watching tons of “shock-docs” and pseudo snuff – that whole “Faces of Death” genre. I even try to keep up with these things as they're released or dig deeper into the archives – and in the past three months alone I've screened movies that only folks with stomachs as iron clad as a battleship could possibly enjoy (for the bold and curious, those would be: Sick: The Life of Bob Flanagan, Supermasochist (Kirby Dick, 1997), The Act of Seeing with One's Own Eyes (Stan Brakhage, 1971), Never Say Die: The Pursuit of Eternal Youth (HBO Films, 1996), and Taxidermy: The Art of Imitating Life (Eva Aridjis, 1998)). Heck, I even browse around websites like
showmeyourwound.com once in awhile, just to keep my chops.
I know that half of you are firing up your web browsers right now and typing in that internet address. But stick with me for a minute.
You'd assume from all that I've confessed that I would have a strong tolerance for images of grue and gristle on the TV screen. And I do. But here's the difference: a documentary is a concentrated study, usually with some point to it (one that typically goes beyond just watching people making a spectacle debasing themselves for profit). Plus, once you start the film rolling you know that you're in for a surprise or two, so you can steel yourself up for it in preparation, almost daring them to make you sweat. But on television, even so-called “extreme TV,” you never expect it to actually go over the top and hit you where it hurts, do you? Due mostly to sponsorship pressure, TV has been mainstreamed to the point of banality and you can hardly expect anything to be more edgy than, say, a PG-13 cartoon.
I know what you're thinking. If those shows “got” to me, then they must be effective chillers. So why aren't I celebrating gross-out realiTV? Normally, I'd be a champion for twisted stuff, subverting the public airwaves. And I do like some of it. But today's reality shows are dumb and they make what I do as a writer look dumb by association. So I'm through with them. They're what John Skipp calls “Stupography™” – like porno plots, their premises lack the meaning we get from well-crafted storytelling, and they make us more stupid the longer we watch them. Shows like Fear Factor are arbitrarily manufactured nonsense (“hey, let's make them eat creepy X or dive in a big vat of crawly Y!”) for brain-emptied knuckleheads. It's almost like the generation who grew up watching characters get buckets of slime dumped on their heads on Nickelodeon's cult game show of the 80's “You Can't Do That on Television” have come of age…only their taste hasn't grown up at all. Watching these shows, you get the sense that the creative team behind these programs is a bunch of fraternity laddies, cooking up challenges when they're not watching a Girls Gone Wild video or surfing for bum fights online for something dehumanizing to laugh at. Stephen King's “The Running Man” was prescient. There's very little difference between the attraction of these shows and the terrorist decapitation videos we see on the nightly news.
Okay, go ahead – go over to
bumfights.com or ycdtotv.com – but promise you'll come right back once the juvenilia juice wears off.
I'm being harsh, and probably making myself sound like a defensive media wimp, but there's more behind my repulsion than just “stupography.” The stuff I like to read and write and watch is art. This stuff isn't. A lot of people I know think it's quite ironic that I have a hard time stomaching “reality” shows that feature medical operations, birth procedures, and even animal rescues because what I write is far more disgusting. But you've gotta remember that the stuff I write and enjoy is fiction – it applies the imagination in artful ways. I think it's even more ironic that these same people relish such gore and grizzle under the auspices of “reality.” As though reality makes it more permissible, less taboo. Please. The creepy part of gross-out game shows isn't the rats in the blender – it's the willingness of the programmers to exploit people who are desperate for their pinch of TV fame and fortune.
And what disgusts me more, sometimes, is the commercials for dish soap or underarm deodorant that pop up right after the carnage (even though I do sometimes feel the need to clean up afterward).
My wife – perhaps the gentlest person on the planet – hates those exploitative gross-out shows as much as I do, but she enjoys watching reality programs on cable. Discovery Channel or Animal Planet are virtual presets on our remote and she often views educational programs like Maternity Ward or anti-cruelty shows Animal Rescue. I admire her intestinal fortitude, because, for me, sometimes, these are the stuff that screams are made of. I'll never forget the time she called me downstairs: “Mike! Come down here! You might want to see this!” I leapt from my computer, thinking there was breaking news. When I stepped into the living room, and heard Leonard Nimoy's voiceover, I thought it might be a campy episode of Star Trek or something. Instead, there on my living room screen, was close-up footage of an “orchiectomy.”
Go ahead and google that one. I dare you.
I still wonder what my wife was thinking. And I'm still very, very nice to her.
Have you seen Extreme Makeover? This is the show that rearranges ugly people's faces for free. It's a two-for exploitation that way. Plastic surgery makes for the worst TV entertainment, but I admit that I do find these shows the most compelling to watch, possibly because there is still SOME artistry involved, if only the overpaid doctor's. Plus I learn some things. A face lift requires literally ripping one's face off and tugging it back like snuggling up a sock on the skull. I also learned that liposuction is NOT worth it. Doctors wield these long harpoon-like metal vacuum tubes under the flesh like they're fencing. And while they purée and touché, there's nothing quite like watching the camera pan over to show the clear jars filling up, as the lipids clot out of a plastic tube, clump by bloody clump. The end result looks like an extra large cup of pink custard you'd get at some horrible deli. I'd rather keep it inside for now, thanks.
There's a lot to be said for showing that which we should not – or cannot – see. One of the things I love about the horror genre is that it dares to look. It dares to probe the unknown, the unreal. I'm not afraid. But I don't want to actually hurt anybody, except, perhaps myself. That's the crux of what bothers me, I think. When it's “real” entertainment, it's not only not art, it's also an exercise in giving me pleasure (or even displeasure) at the expense of someone else's pain. Or even at the expense of all those cute little rats.
One of the many things that good horror stories remind us is that there's no giving the faces of death a face lift. You can turn the flesh into a mask all you like, but there's no covering up the truth. It's all ugly.
Even more related viewing…
Taxidermy: The Art of Imitating Life:
One for the Rats:
German Corpse Tossing
A German television company, Vox.de, has a pair of fun (and morbidly funny) online games inspired by the HBO television series, Six Feet Under, hidden on their website. Both are twisted javelin competitions, where you must throw gross things for as long a distance as you can muster.
In one of them, you play a mortician who is removing the pacemaker from a body cavity and throwing it away. Since the instructions are in German, here's how to play: use the spacebar on your keyboard to drop the device, and then hit the spacebar again to bounce it off the trashcan and send the pacemaker flying across the room. (The bloody thing can bounce off of sponges, which you can arrange with your mouse). Click on “neustart” to play again.
In another, easier, game, you play a hearse driver who is tossing coffins. Accelerate the hearse by hitting the right arrow key rapidly. Once you're off the asphalt, press the spacebar to brake just before you hit a brick wall…and then see how far you've hurled the body.
(Special thanks to my wife, Renate, who translated the instructions!).
Artist of The Living Dead
the zombie painter flamboyantly
shambles back to the gallery
to slaughter all the critics with his new show –
it's a mixed media piece, in pieces,
splattering walls with their brains and licking
yellow clumps off the red speckled canvas
with the flattened horror of his green tongue
which smears with all the flair of a brush.
If they all weren't so creatively rendered
they might have called him something
of a post-postmodern Pollock –
but no matter,
he's no longer a starving artist
and he hasn't a care for their taste
In the latter half of 2004, three outstanding horror poetry books came out that deserve a look because each is an example of a horror writer working at the top of their game. In this review, I want to look briefly at one hardback, one trade paperback, and one underground chapbook. Each one satisfied my horror appetite on a different level.
The first is Tom Piccirilli's Waiting My Turn to Go Under the Knife, a limited hardbound book from Fairwood Press' new book line, Darkwood Press. This collection of verse by the author of the notable novel, A Choir of Ill Children, is a great example of just how good horror poetry can speak to the human condition. I dare say this is a “literary” book because Piccirilli investigates death and pain in a way that cuts close to the heart. You feel sorry for his narrators, who are universally traumatized by their very real pasts or suffering deeply from the existential horrors of everyday life. There's a lot of twisted humor in this book, too – as is always evident in Pic's flair for long titles which are virtually whole poems in and of themselves (consider “When the Proper Spelling of Nietzsche Becomes a Metaphor for Age, Love, Loss, Mercy, and the Rage That Wants Out (with Pigeons)”). I could go on and on, but suffice it to say that this is one of Piccirilli's most creatively playful and deeply dark poetry books, and if you call yourself a lover of poetry it's the must-read of the year.
An equally accomplished book in every way is Charlee Jacob's The Desert (Dark Regions Press), which also features 100 pages of excellent verse by a poet whose work always strikes me with dread. Like Piccirilli, Jacob is one of few writers in the genre who has a voice so distinctive that you can recognize it without a byline. She writes the way a spellcaster conjures evil and she's one of the few who can utterly creep me out in ways I can't quite explain. Things sneak up on you when you read a Charlee Jacob poem – it's as though there's something truly horrible roiling beneath the language and wriggling between the lines as she wrings the words for every drop of darkness they're worth. She isn't afraid to go over the top. She's so good at terror that there's no other way to put it: Jacob disturbs. The Desert features both new work and familiar reprints, but it's got more range and maturity than her other poetry books and this is surely the best body of dark fantasy she's produced. Definitely one of the top poetry books of 2004. Dark Regions has been quietly publishing some of the best poetry books for the past two years, in fact, so I recommend you take a gander at their website.
And finally, if you're not afraid of extremes or are looking for something akin to punk rock, I recommend taking a look at Kurt Newton's new chapbook, PerVERSEities II. You don't need to read the first edition; it's not like there's a PerVERSEity saga or anything. This is just a companion volume to the first collection released by Naked Snake Press much earlier in the year (and also recommended). Which is another way of saying that Kurt is up to no good again. This book features the same outrageous ingenuity from the mind of Kurt Newton that we got in the first volume. PerVERSEities II is an excellent collection, revealing Newton's mastery of balancing extreme gore against social issues and psychological traumas. It isn't sexually perverse – well, maybe a little – but it's mostly a perversion of verse itself, pushing the boundaries of poetic convention to generate some truly grizzly images and freaky frissons. I like Kurt Newton because he uses a simple style, one that always manages to catch me off guard. In the PerVERSEities collections, Newton goes for the throat and you get the sense that these are some of his more disgusting poems. But even when he's waxing poetic about roadkill or probes the erotics of wounds, he is on a never-ending quest for originality, and there are a number of unique concept pieces in this volume, from the silly “Mad Cow Patty” to wholly twisted love letter, “Letterhead.” Illustrated by the very disturbing pen drawings of Chris Friend, this book deserves to be an underground hit.
For ordering details, visit the publisher's websites:
Waiting My Turn: http://www.fairwoodpress.com
The Desert: http://www.darkregions.com
For your next movie night, rent:
American Movie (1999)
Shadow of the Vampire (2000)
Wes Craven's New Nightmare (1994)
+ Write an instructional guide for making something ghastly, but don't refer to the thing itself. Have your reader try to guess what it might be.
+ Discover an alien ear.
+ Describe a monstrous living landscape.
Instigation is a WEEKLY department in Hellnotes newsletter: http://www.hellnotes.com You can also buy collections of prompts for chump change at The Sickolodeon:
If you publish or post something instigated by this department, let me know at email@example.com and I'll mention it here!
+ COME OUT AND PLAY…DEAD
My second novel, Play Dead, has officially been scheduled for a Summer 2005 release in both hardcover and novelty collector's editions. This book – about a group of pathological gamblers who play a game of poker with photographs of their murder victims – is structured in a “deck of chapters” (52 of 'em, in four suits, or parts…plus a joker), and the collector's edition will feature not only a free deck of twisted playing cards, but also an out-of-this-world sculpted cover. Just wait – you'll be knocked out of your seat by this one. For more information about Play Dead, keep your eyes on Raw Dog Screaming Press (who also published my flash fiction collection, 100 Jolts: Shockingly Short Stories, last year to much acclaim). In addition to a press release, RDSP's full 2005 schedule has been released on their website, and will include authors like Scott Thomas, D. Harlan Wilson and Forrest Aguirre. They're one of the best new publishers around, full of spunk, and I'm proud to be associated with them. They're going places, fast, on four raw boned legs. http://www.rawdogscreaming.com
+ NEW PUBLICATIONS
Dark Discoveries released an updated version of my review of the poetry anthology, The Devil's Wine (ed. Tom Piccirilli) in their latest issue. It's a good magazine – check it out at a discount by using one of the coupons elsewhere in this issue of The Goreletter. My poem in Bare Bone #6, “six films about chauncy the serial killer” also saw print since last time. BB is a great trade paperback-sized magazine with some hard-hitting fiction between the covers, put together with a minimalist charm and an indie flavor. Recommended. And last but not least, I had a funky collage of words taken out of Weekly World News headlines appear in Eye Contact, the litmag at the college where I teach. You can see a scan of it on the Goreletter weblog.
Dark Discoveries: http://darkdiscoveries.com/
My Collage, “Left Behind”:
Paura (Spanish for “fear”) is the name of a new anthology series of contemporary terror, just released from Bibliopolis Fantastica in Spain. It includes a Spanish translation (my first!) of my short story “Spring Ahead, Fall Back” (which appeared originally in Palace Corbie and, subsequently, The Year's Best Horror Stories XXI way back when). Also representing the US in this volume is Melanie Tem, with a translation of her story, “The Dancing Doll.” Habla espanol?
+ GILA QUEEN
No, it's not some bizarre giant animal movie…it's the Gila Queen's Guide to Writer's Markets – one of the best trade journals for writers around. The magazine has been on hiatus for awhile, but Kathy Ptacek is getting it back in shape again and she'll be publishing the next installment of my column, humbly entitled “The Arnzen Seminars,” in the upcoming return issue. If you're a freelance writer, you might want to look into it. http://gilaqueen.us/
+ UNFORTUNATE DELAY
Well, my poetry book Freakcidents didn't see print in December, despite that copyright date on the galleys I mentioned last issue. I'm hoping ink will hit page soon on that one – but I know it'll be worth the wait. You can still preorder this title at the publisher's bookstore, shocklines.com, to make sure it hits your mailbox right away. I suspect the hardcover will sell out quickly, so do preorder if you're interested in that one (and get a free inscription by the artist, GAK!) Shocklines:
+ COMING IN 2005
2004 was a killer year for me. I won my second Stoker Award, saw the 10th Anniversary publication of Grave Markings, published the well-received collection, 100 Jolts, and generally got my groove on. And since this is the end of Volume #2 of The Goreletter, I thought I'd write a little summary of where we're headed in the year to come. I don't like to talk about projects in the works very often because I don't want to let any cats out the bag (or to make any promises I can't keep), but I'm revving up my novel writing engine this year. (I'd say it's packin' a “Hemi”…but it's really more like a “phlegmy”). After I get a few writing commitments out of the way, I'll be focusing exclusively on my next book, a twisted kidnapping thriller roughly in the vein of John Fowles' The Collector or Stephen King's Misery. It's tentatively titled “The Hoarder.” I've been working on this book for awhile already – but recently decided start all over from scratch because I discovered that my main character had somehow become a bubble-headed bore. I'm also working up a potential suspense book that you might call an “suburban survival narrative” but it's too early to tell whether or not it's sustainable. In the mean time, I'll keep cranking out The Goreletters and juicing up gorelets.com, of course. But you might not see as much short fiction or poetry announced in this newsletter as usual for a while.
Having said that, there are plenty of good things coming down the pike in 2005. Two major books, Freakcidents and Play Dead, should be out in the first half of the year and I think that if you like The Goreletter, you'll really love these titles. Look for my short story, “Mr. Mouth,” in the upcoming anthology, In Delirium – a collection of former Delirium authors edited by Brian Keene and put out by, you guessed it, Delirium Books, sometime in 2005. This is sure to be a collectable, since every Delirium title is a gift to the genre! I also think it's okay to announce that I'll also have a tale in an upcoming hardcover Cemetery Dance anthology, Poe's Lighthouse, edited by Chris Conlon. The premise of this one is fantastic: every story is a “collaboration” with Edgar Allan Poe, which responds to or completes Poe's unfinished story fragment, “The Lighthouse.” The editor informs me that my contribution, “The Dead Lantern,” is among the darkest in the book (go figure), which will feature many other sci-fi and horror writers you'll recognize. I've got some other non-fiction articles in progress and a few more promised anthology/magazine pieces in the works, but I'll save news for later.
By the end of 2004, The Goreletter was reaching over 900 subscribers. Call me greedy, but I want to at least double that number by this time next year. Anything you can do to help spread the word is appreciated. If there's anything special you'd really like to see in The Goreletter, now would be a good time to let me know about it, since I'm reflecting and considering new fun things for the Volume #3. Indeed, send me your feedback whenever you like – I love to get messages from all of you. Last year I was very proud to win the Bram Stoker Award for Alternative Forms with this missive, and it looks like The Goreletter very well might be considered for the award again at this year's awards (it's currently receiving lots of recommendations, but the final ballot has yet to be determined). I want to try to live up to this acclaim by retaining the zest for the strange that this thing has, while maybe adding a few new features to the mix to keep things, um, interesting.
And, as promised last time, I'll be adding an audio download or two to gorelets.com shortly, as a sort of “virtual reading.” If you want to hear me spout my twisted ideas live, you can either enroll in my college, or – far cheaper – attend a good convention or two in the year to come. I'll be at World Horror Convention 2005 in NYC (
whc2005.org) for certain. I may also attend the HWA Weekend/Stoker Banquet, as well as Horrorfind Baltimore, the Ligonier Valley Writer's Workshop in October, and – if time and money permit – World Fantasy Convention on Halloween. I'm sure there will be plenty of other surprises, so keep reading your e-mail or the weblog for breaking news.
A Case of Curiosities
Experimental Taxidermy in Amazing 3D!
I dedicate this month's entry to my brother, Dan, who gave me a wonderful “Magic Mummified Miniature Mystery Hand” as a Christmas gift. This exquisite piece of art is a Custom Creature original by rogue taxidermist, Sarina Brewer. See a photo of it here:
It actually pays to scroll this far down.
THREE NEW OFFERS FROM FAIRWOOD PRESS!
The publisher of my chapbook, Gorelets: Unpleasant Poems, has three great new deals for you. Subscribe to their magazine, Talebones, and get a free issue (either a back issue, or the first issue of the subscription – your choice). Order Tom Piccirilli's great new limited hardcover poetry collection, Waiting My Turn to Go Under the Knife – normally $27.95 – for just $20.96, postage paid (that's a 25% discount)! Or buy any other Fairwood Press product (like, say, the Gorelets chapbook) and get a free issue of Talebones. I don't believe you'll find an offer this good anywhere else. Take advantage of it asap! To claim your discount, mention the code “GORELETTER” when you pay thru www.paypal.com (to: firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com) or on the check you send in the mail to: Patrick Swenson, c/o Fairwood Press, 5203 Quincy Ave SE, Auburn, WA 98092. You won't be disappointed. For the full catalogue, visit: http://www.fairwoodpress.com or
HELLNOTES TWISTED OFFER FOR SICKO WRITERS
From editor Judi Rohrig: Because you subscribe to Michael A. Arnzen's Goreletter, you can receive a month of HELLNOTES free! That's right, absolutely FREE! Just send an e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org with “MIKE-IS-SICK” in the subject header and the whole month of February is yours FREE! Get your sicko prompts fix WEEKLY in February. (Small print: This offer is good for those who do not currently subscribe.) For more info, visit: http://www.hellnotes.com
FLESH & BLOOD DISCOUNT
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
DISCOUNT ON DARKNESS
Dark Discoveries magazine is offering an exclusive discount to all Goreletter subscribers. Save 25% on subscriptions or single copies. That's 4 issues for $14.99 or single issues for $4.50 instead of $5.99 (shipping is free!). You can pay thru paypal (to: email@example.com ) or see the publisher's website for details on where to send a snail mail payment. Use code GOREDISC in your order to claim the coupon. http://www.darkdiscoveries.com
I wasn't able to procure a special coupon from Shocklines Bookstore this month, but I noticed they're offering a sweet deal on a bundle of Delirium Book titles (which includes Grave Markings: Tenth Anniversary Edition) on their site at:
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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“The fish dies because he opens his mouth.” – Anonymous Spanish Proverb
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