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Arnzen's Weird Newsletter
+++ Vol. 2 #12, Nov 9, 2004 +++
Blather. Wince. Repeat.
Chew On This. Please.
There's no such thing as bad breath. If there was, we'd say that some folks had “good breath,” too, or maybe we'd have some sort of rating system in between, from superior or exquisite breath to satisfactory or competent breath. Nevertheless, we seem to have no lack of synonyms for the “bad” in bad breath – words like “atrocious,” “repellant,” “skunky,” and “hellaciously fetid” come to mind. But when it comes to breath, we ought to recognize that “bad” is really just a cultural value judgement. I'm certain that, in some colorful country somewhere, the odor of a goat's ass emanating from one's mouth is a sign of fine distinction.
Think about it. It's not the breathing that's bad. If it was, they'd make lung mints and everyone would smell of vapo-rub when they spoke. No, “bad breath” is a clever euphemism we use when we really want to say: “I believe my nose has detected evidence that something has died inside your upper gastrointestinal tract.” Whether it's gum disease or something rotten that you recently ate – or a symptom of some larger systemic failure altogether, like gangrene of the throat – much of the unpleasantness of one's mouth odor stems from its ghostly association with death and disease. From unhealthy dental habits to simply the rotting tissues of old age, bad breath is bad because our culture likes to celebrate health – fresh, minty life – not death.
And death stinks. Do you really expect your last breath to be minty-fresh?
Of course, some malodorous breath stems from eating foods that are unfamiliar to the nose. You can blow pepperoni and beer in my face all you like, and I'll forgive you, but if I detect anchovies and Jägermeister, please keep your distance. If your breath is gamy but fruity, I'll raise my nose but wonder about where on earth you went for dinner. Like death, we fear the foreign, and some smells raise suspicion when they come out of some people's mouths. As if they didn't quite smell human. (And we all know who the “germs that cause bad breath” really are, and why we need to kill them).
Halitosis, the commercials remind us, is the scientific name for bad breath. I want to know who Hal is and how his stinking toes got inside my mouth. But seriously, halitosis is very strange, because we often don't know we have it until someone offers us a stick of gum and insists when we decline. How is it that everyone around us is holding our noses when we speak, but we don't smell the garbage steam coming out from between our very own lips? Aren't our noses closer to the stink pit than everyone else's? It's bizarre. Some of us become fixated on this, constantly holding a cupped palm up to our mouths to try smell our own breath. Of course, usually all we can smell is the filth on our own hands, instead, and we wind up catching a cold.
Speaking of colds, I've read that “the germs that cause bad breath” are sometimes symptoms of sinus problems and the flu. Bad breath isn't exactly contagious, but it figures that if you catch a cold your breath can become as pungent as a petri dish. If you've ever deep-kissed a person with bad breath, I hope you like the flavor. (And I wonder: would you recognize your own bad breath if you gave me your cold and I blew it right back atcha?)
Policing our own breath is enforced by the media and the health industry, too. Mint is the dominant sign of purity. But I think there's something strange about our fixation with minty fresh breath. How many of us brush our teeth with peppermint toothpaste, or pop a wintergreen TicTac, or chew a stick of spearmint gum before we meet a stranger or kiss a lover? How many of us pick our teeth with mint toothpicks after dinner, just before popping an after dinner mint? And how many out of that same group are willing to eat those same plants that they so desperately put into their mouths? I've rarely seen anyone sprinkle peppermint leaves on their pizza. Yet for some reason, the aromatic foliage of the “mentha” herb family dominates our culture's definition of “good” breath so much, that virtually the whole dental care industry is based on it. Mint has become the universal mask of the mouth's bacterial growth. And the more unnatural the flavor of the mint, the better it seems to be. We've gone so far as to invent crazy gum flavors that don't even exist in nature, with names like “Polar Ice” or “Cryst-o-Mint” or “Arctic Mint.” It's as though these rare exotic mint oils were harvested from somewhere out in the frozen tundra, where man fears to tread. Eskimos and walruses apparently must have great smelling mouths. If the names aren't extreme, the products make extraordinary promises to be extremely potent. “Icebreakers” is a brand of mint gum, targeted, I guess, at socialites who like to small talk about breath for lack of any other worthy topic. But an icebreaker is also a chisel – and while it's true that I've known some people with breath that could kill a daisy, it's never been so thick as to need chisling. We need “BreathSavers,” I guess, when our tongues are drowning in our own fetid bacterial stew. Sugar to the rescue! And to me, “Altoids” sound like minty little alien robots, ready to burn away halitosis with some drool-inducing ray gun. And while I don't know what Clorets are really made out of – chlorophyll or chlorine? – they sound an awful lot like little droplets of chloroform to me. I suppose we need to knock-out our periodontal poisons before they knock out someone else with their stench.
Like Clorets, many oral medicines, in a quest not to smell too, well, “mediciney,” are mint-flavored or -scented, too. From lip balm to antacids, mint is everywhere. I've heard that there are even mint-flavored condoms. So what's next? Peppermint suppositories? In fact, my wife recently noted that even the pills the vet gave us to force-feed our cats were flavored with something just like breath mints. “Why not make them salmon-flavored?” she asked, as the little tabby horkled all over her fist. “Then maybe they'd want to swallow it!”
She's right – and the same should be true of humans, too. Imagine a world where we actually associated good breath with foods we actually liked to eat. We'd swish a mouthful of “Hamburgerine” in the morning, right after we brushed with “Tartar-Fighting Steak Tartar.” We'd suck on Beer-flavored Lifesavers during work, and blast our mouths with a little “Banana Split Binaca” before we moved in to kiss our dates. An after dinner mint could finally be the desert it really is. Kissing would become more than just tasting each other's toothpaste selection – it would become an exhilarating exploration of a surprising gourmet meal.
Maybe I'm over-reacting. Mint doesn't taste so bad, after all. But I challenge the dental industry to invent some sort of mint-flavored dentures that we could just permanently install in our gums and get it over with. I'm tired of getting nickel-and-dimed at the checkout stand. I want mint-flavored teeth that never rot. And I expect them to come from Antarctica.
A Murder of Scarecrows
Having figured out that scarecrows are really just straw, the jaded ravens are pulling the stuffed dummies apart with their nasty little beaks. But you can bring them back to life by zinging magic seeds to them from nearby trees. Make sense? Well, it will if you check out the artful and surprisingly difficult game from The Skeleton Shop, “A Murder of Scarecrows.” In something akin to “Tim Burton meets Missile Command,” this game will keep you entertained for hours. Be sure to read the opening poem and remember to ring the churchbell to resurrect the dead! The creator, Vincent Marcone is a promising dark artist I stumbled upon. Be sure to click through to his “My Pet Skeleton” page for more about his work.
Election Day Alarm:
The brassy horn blows, stirring the politician from slumber. Not a horn, he realizes as he opens his eyes – an electronic drone, the tone on his “gentle wake” alarm clock that rises a notch up in volume every ten seconds until the sleeper turns it off. He lifts his heavy eyelids and confronts the clock face. 6:56 am. Too early. He hates this whining clock. Its siren creeps on him. Its soft tone deceives him.
He's not sure if he wants to get out of bed yet. He watches the digits on the clock – the boxy numbers burning like three blurry gold bars into his eyes. He hesitates to turn the alarm off. Doesn't want to acknowledge the coming day. But he doesn't want to snooze, either. Politics is a tough game, and he's not done with it yet. Even if he wins today's election, he'll have to make a lot of changes. Not sure he wants to. Not sure the time is right. Not sure of anything. It's all in the hands of those who cast the votes, anyway.
6:56. The horn still blares.
The waiting, he thinks, is unbearable. Always is. His wife finally groans beside him, tossing covers. He wonders if he's just awakened the new first lady or the wife of yet another has-been.
The clock finally turns the next minute with an audible click. He presses the button. Silence. He gets up and puts on his fancy red suit.
As he climbs out of bed, the numbers on the clock read 6:66.
For your next movie night, rent:
Chopping Mall (1986)
Dawn of the Dead (1978; remade 2004)
Phantom of the Mall: Eric's Revenge (1989)
Eve by Aurelio O'Brien
I don't read science fiction novels as often as I used to, but some book premises are so wacky that you just gotta see whether the author can pull them off. Such is the case with Eve by Aurelio O'Brien, a bizarre story about an outdated robot and his owner, lost amid a Huxlean culture in the distant future. In the 31st century, death is an anachronism, and bio-engineered “creature comforts” dominate the world, functioning solely to keep humans (a.k.a. “Randoms” since they weren't technologically programmed or engineered) in an eternal state of bliss. Machines are a thing of the past – mankind has engineered organic biomass servants that exist solely to please them. Things are so perfect that the meaningfulness of life itself has gone sour. Penster (a relic robot) and Govil (his ancient owner) have become so alienated by their amazingly lifeless world of living matter that, as an act of resistance, they team up to create something “random” again from recycled biomass – setting out to construct a deliberately average woman, whom they term Eve. And once a new “random” is created, it threatens the system, because unlike the rest of humanity, she hasn't been sterilized to control overpopulation.
I hope my plot description hasn't lost you. The story is clever, but complicated, and it takes a lot of exposition – albeit humorous – for O'Brien to build up his world of living, breathing commodity fetishes. At the center is GenieCorp — a 31st century corporation that has taken control of the world – which manufactures strange devices out of biomass, servicing all human desires with freakish living creatures. For example, “Snakelights” are literally snakes with lights in their bodies rather than the Black & Decker tools we know so well, and “VolksvaagenBugs” are insectoid carriers with seats embedded in the thorax. There are plenty of these puns on commercial culture throughout the book – indeed, encountering ServAnts and AlarmCocks and other animated commodities is half the fun of the book. They make Eve at once unique, witty, and a lot of fun to read. It's almost cartoony in its outrageous humor – something like Futurama or The Jetsons as told by a mutation between David Cronenberg and Aldous Huxley. His writing is not composed as artfully as a Mark Leyner or a Philip K. Dick, but O'Brien's postmodern science fiction is deftly imagined and he manages to generate one hell of an entertaining satire on consumer culture with Eve.
The book has some weaknesses: Eve gets off to a slow start because O'Brien's 31st century world is so intricately designed. The use of an emotionless robot narrator generates some droll humor at times (“Upon returning home, Eve made a beeline for the bathroom and sealed herself in. She sat in there for 00:56:02 and cried.”) At times, the punning goes over-the-top so much that it wears thin. But the silliness of the world makes it all the more fascinating to a reader like me, who loves mutants. However, the book's major weakness is a reliance on the shopworn “Adam & Eve” conceit (that the title makes explicit), considered by many to be one of the biggest cliches of the science fiction genre. Couple that with the Pygmalion plot and you might start to think that the narrative could use a little more cleverness to match the book's imaginative universe. But O'Brien – whose background, incidentally, is in animation – is careful not to give plot itself much dramatic weight. He's really just borrowing the structure to play out his imagination and generate a never-ending series of witty barbs at modern culture. And the creativity that's evident everywhere in O'Brien's hilarious satire of consumer culture makes it a terrific read.
Visit evethenovel.com for a battery of animated illustrations of the best of his Creature Comforts and a far better description of the plot than I can muster. (Be sure to click on the “Lick-n-Span” image – it's what won me over when I first encountered the website). If you're looking for a good laugh, and you enjoy light SF, I think you'll really like this book. It's a wonderful critique of the suburbanite's American dream, shot through the lens of its most hedonistic desires. Available in paperback, hardcover, and e-book editions from the author's website, AuthorHouse.com, or amazon.com.
+ Write a twisted news story in the style of Weekly World News.
+ Borrowing an idea from The Omen, write about a photographer whose portraits predict the manner of the subject's death.
+ Write a monster's monologue under the influence of truth serum.
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 something instigated by this department, let me know at firstname.lastname@example.org and I'll mention it here!
+ RECENT PUBLICATIONS
This month, look for my poem, “Eating Birds,” in the new online magazine, Feral Fiction. You'll also find my favorite poem title, “Six Short Films About Chauncy the Serial Killer” in Bare Bone #6, due out any day. A favorite at my reading performances, “Stabbing for Dummies” – which is also excerpted from 100 Jolts – currently appears on Horrorfind Fiction.
+ FREAKCIDENTS DEBUTS IN DECEMBER
I've reviewed the final galleys for my book of poetry about impossible mutants, Freakcidents, and it's got a December 2004 copyright on the copyright page. So that means the book will be out very soon! I've been mentioning this book in this venue for something like two years now, so we'll all be happy to know it'll finally see print and I can stop talking about it. This book has received nothing but praises in reviews from respected places like Strange Horizons, ChiZine, Sidereality, and FeoAmante. I'm really looking forward to this collection – it's probably my strongest poetry book to date. Shocklines Press is releasing Freakcidents – with illustrations by GAK – in both a highly collectable signed/lettered hardcover edition ($50) and a signed/numbered trade paperback run of 200 copies ($9.95). The hardcover is limited to 26 copies, each one remarqued in an original way by the artist. Pre-order it now at Shocklines Bookstore, which will be the only place you can get it.
New Cover for Freakcidents:
+ CHAT TRANSCRIPTS
I did a lot of travelling and online interviewing in October to support my book, 100 Jolts, and generally celebrate the darkest month of the year. If you missed the chats, you can read transcripts online.
Long Ridge Writers:
+ A FEW LEFTOVERS
Last month I did a number of book signings and convention trips – and arrived back home with a few extra copies of my book 100 Jolts: Shockingly Short Stories. Time to clean house. If anyone reading this wants to buy a copy from me, I'll bundle it with a copy of 2003 Stoker finalist “Gorelets: Unpleasant Poetry” for a discounted price. Send $18 total (which includes postage) via PayPal to email@example.com Offer good until December 15th.
+ DEVIL'S WINE REVIEW REDUX
A revised version of my review of The Devil's Wine (from the last issue of The Goreletter) will appear in Dark Discoveries magazine. I wanted to give more credit to Tom Piccirilli for what he's accomplished and talk more about his goals with the book, as evident in its introduction. Look for it this December. (And see the new subscription coupon for DD elsewhere in this issue of The Goreletter!).
+ THE ARTICLE YOU'VE NEVER SEEN!
My academic essay on “The Exorcist: The Version You've Never Seen!” just came out in Horror Film: Creating and Marketing Fear, edited by Steffen Hantke (University of Mississippi Press. In it, I analyze the way the film was marketed as a “restoration” and I investigate what distinguishes this version of the movie from others, and why. Other essays in the book look at films like Nosferatu, Peeping Tom, The Mummy, Hannibal, the Resident Evil franchise, and What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? It's a pretty amazing book; horror film scholars, especially, will enjoy it. Available in hardcover from U Miss Press, amazon.com, or your local college library.
+ 100 JOLTS : FREE READER'S AND TEACHER'S GUIDE AVAILABLE
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.
+ FOR HWA MEMBERS ONLY
I'm shocked (and thrilled) to see that my flash fiction collection, 100 Jolts: Shockingly Short Stories, currently tops the list of recommendations for this year's Bram Stoker Award for Superior Achievement in a 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 firstname.lastname@example.org for more information. (Note that the Goreletter is also up again for the “Alternative Forms” award!)
Fashion is Ugly
Ugly Bridesmaid Dresses
Nasty Old Neckties
I've recently hidden a new poem in the PDA that you see when you first launch gorelets.com. What? You didn't know that that thing was interactive?! http://www.gorelets.com
When was the last time you browsed around the “Subscriber Links” page on gorelets.com? You're bound to uncover some very strange things. Everyone reading this is entitled a free link to their home page, so let me know via e-mail (email@example.com) if you'd like me to expose you.
I've got some plans for reworking the website over December, if I can square away a little extra time. My future plans for the site include adding an audio file (.mp3) or two of a story and/or poem, possibly with musical accompaniment. Watch the “Writing/Previews” page over the next month for developments. http://www.gorelets.com/demos/demos.htm
Do me a favor? Link to gorelets.com and let folks know where you go to get your weird on. You can even include a fancy button or graphic – I already provided the code for you. If you don't have a web page, then please forward this issue to one of your strange friends. http://www.gorelets.com/demos/goreletbuttons.htm
It actually pays to scroll this far down.
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: firstname.lastname@example.org ) 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
HELLNOTES TWISTED OFFER FOR SICKO WRITERS
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 JRohrig@aol.com) or check the website for snailmail subs. Get your sicko prompts' fix weekly. 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
ASMODAY (FOR WRITERS ONLY)
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. http://www.asmoday.com/
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 email@example.com.
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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Help spread the strange. Forward this issue to your weirdest friend!
Keep it Quiet
“Monsters cannot be announced. One cannot say: 'here are our monsters,' without immediately turning the monsters into pets.” – Jacques Derrida (died 2004)
* 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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