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Arnzen's Weird Newsletter
+++ Vol 1.5, Dec. 28, 2002 +++
Blather. Wince. Repeat.
What's the Deal with Skeletons?
So I ask you, what's the deal with skeletons? Why do filmmakers think animated bones will scare us? Why do these cartilaginous creatures appear on hundreds of horror book covers? Why do they dance on thousands of horror websites? What is it about these cold calcified creatures that creeps us out?
The chattering of teeth? The rattling of ribs? The ghostly white grimace? The strange animation of little bits and pieces that really shouldn't be moving that way?
The answer is: nothing, really. They're not very scary at all. Silly, often. Artful, sometimes. Uncannily disturbing, at best. But never really frightening to the core.
Maybe at one time they were. There was a time when the wonder of animated bits and pieces was enough to fill us with dread. But today we're too hardened by realism: we know that all it takes is a small hammer to shatter those brittle bones to pieces. And besides, what's holding all those little phalanges and kneecaps together? Sinew rots. Muscles atrophy and decay. Sure, some evil spirit can possess those old bones, but why not put all that spiritual energy into something much more substantial, like a boulder or a building, to exact revenge from beyond? Why return them to the old bodies, far more worse for wear? It doesn't make sense.
I do see how they could be scary in theory, of course. They are, obviously, the animated dead. Like zombies, they move when they shouldn't and they seem to have an unnatural will all their own. But despite that uncanny sense of weirdness they conjure, they're not really threatening. And even worse: skeletons all look the same.
They're too familiar. Like bad Halloween costumes – once you've seen one, you've seen them all. And no matter how clever you get, there never clever enough to make me run screaming. Ray Harryhausen made his career on animating bones for Sinbad movies.that was the high point of skeleton cinematography: in the 1958. The digital age just doesn't get it right. Nonetheless, they all look the same to me. Weak.
But maybe, just maybe, that lack of distinction is what keeps them appealing. They all look the same. They all act the same. They're like robots. Mindless masses. Ah, now I'm on to something: they scare us because they rob us of identity AND remind us of how easily we can be mistaken for being nothing more than our bones. Zombies are living dead, but unlike skeletons they typically keep some semblance of their original distinguishing feature – even if we're talking about facial features that are sloughing right off the bone before our very eyes. The meat makes 'em scary.
Skeletons are different. It's their very structure that scares us. It's the secret structure we all share. And it's inside of us. We like to think we control the bones. But that's like saying the lever controls the switch – there's a give and take at work – a mechanism of parts working together in a systemic way. That's why skeletons freak us out sometimes. Because they remind us that our brain isn't always the boss of the body factory.
It's the brain alone that feels fear.
And the brain depends on the skull for protection.
In fact, the skull is the only part of our bodies most like exoskeletons. That's why the skull is the freakiest part of the skeleton – it's a primitive, insectile form of defense. A skull that bears eyes is especially creepy for this reason. They're like human bug creatures. The stalks of sensory organs, peering out through the keyholes of the bone prison – a poor soul pleading from within its carapace. If they'd just make the skeletons turn on their owners, rather than wielding a sword and turning on tomb raiders…then we'd have a scary movie. Because, frankly, movie makers have been raiding the tomb of stock monsters like bone people for far too long.
So future directors take note: Let's see more meat on them bones. Or better yet – get it right, and stop putting them back together again in the obvious humanoid structure. Experiment with those shapes already. Be creative. The legbone is not necessarily connected to the anklebone, dammit. Stop it with the stereotypical skeletons. Stop looking like everyone else.
Crazy Xmas Gift Returns
Hoodlum Helmets http://hoodlum-welding.com/hoods.htm
Kangar-eeewww Pouches http://www.australiagift.com/scrotum_shop/scrotum.htm
Number of cosmetic surgery procedures in the US in 2001: 8.5 million
Increase in cosmetic surgery since 1992: 198% (tripled!)
Most popular surgical procedure: rhinoplasty (aka nose reshaping)
Number of reported nose jobs in 2001: 370,968
Amount of time a nose job takes: 90 mins
Amount of time it takes the nose to heal after rhinoplasty: 1 year
%age of rhinoplasty operations that have to be re-performed: 10-15%
# of different Michael Jackson nose jobs tracked on anomalies- unlimited.com: 13
Maximum length of a rhino's horn: 4 feet
Number of cilia on olfactory cells in the nose: 400-1200 million
%age of dust particles that the nose actually filters during inhalation: 70%
Farthest recorded “spaghetti ejection” from the human nostril: 7.5“
%age of people who pick their noses 2-5 times daily: 22.3%
*** Sources: mediresource.sympatico.ca 12/02; plasticsurgery.org 4/02; intelihealth.com 3/02; purpletights.com 12/02; anomalies-unlimited.com11/02; post-gazette.com 10/01; manso online, spr 00; revisionrhinoplasty.net 12/02; univ.trieste.it/~brain 12/02; guinessrecords.com, 12/02; sdzoo.com 12/02.
Here Comes the Sun
The crust of frozen eye thaws gelid
in the morning dawn. Butter white rays
stab swords of light through blood cells
suspended in the pupils like fancy
marbles. Beams cast sudden heat onto
the grey mushroom cilia stiff inside. Yet
this light at the end tunnels in too late;
the bed of melting snow washes away
murder stains that have swaddled
this cracked head cavity all evening.
“Creepy Robin Williams, 2K2”
For your next movie night, rent:
Death to Smoochy (2002)
One Hour Photo (2002)
Virtual Crime Sketch Artist
The jig is up. Armed with this virtual sketch artist pad by Russia's Max Ishchenko, they'll finger you for certain. Especially with that funky 'stache you're sportin'.
[Requires patience as well as “Macromedia Flash”]
The Psycho-Hunter's Casebook could have been yet another collection of horror poems about psycho killers, but in this book Kurt Newton (author of Dark Demons) craftily employs a framing device that renders it truly original.
As its title suggests, Psycho-Hunter is a collection of case studies: we're given a frame narrative that suggests that the collection is a “detective's scrapbook” of writing by four serial killers who not only got away with murder, but also wrote poetry about it before, during, and after committing their atrocities. (One poem is “spattered with blood, still fresh from that morning's kill” for example). Each of the four studies attests to their unique modus operandi, quirky personalities, and perverse obsessions. The detective who collects these strange artifacts, John Murdock, is “on the hunt” for these killers, both psychologically and physically. He collects their writing and writes about it. He's gathered it in various ways – one killer sends him poetry directly in the mail, as a taunt or threat; another actually published some in the small press. These conceits might sound like a stretch, and they are, but it's a fun construct to read and consider. The book readily invites interpretation. And the insights it offers more than make up for the book's artificiality.
The brutality of Newton's poetry is beyond the usual fare. This is definitely a post-Blair Witch Project, post-Henry collection – a dark docudrama in gory verse. The book's depravity is both its strength and its weakness, because some readers will be revolted. But Newton's approach generates the same disturbing feeling one gets when reading, say, an actual autopsy manual, so it will definitely make followers of real world killers quite happy.
This 47-page, saddle-stapled chapbook has a heavy glossed, three- color cover (art by the esteemed Keith Minnion) and it is altogether professionally produced. This book is ambitiously bright for such a dark dreamer. I highly recommended it to those with strong stomachs and a taste for the grotesque (which usually goes hand in hand).
Comes in three editions: unsigned
chapbook ($5); signed/numbered
($13); and hardcover ($40) from
shocklines.com, amazon.com, or the
[A different version of this review appeared in Hellnotes, 23 Aug 02 (visit hellnotes.com to subscribe). I reprint it here because of TWO special news items regarding this book that appear in the coupon and news departments below. Be sure to read them for exclusive offers.]
You're in an unusual maternity ward. Describe a monstrous delivery. Or, alternatively, the birth of a monster. Go for the gross out. If you get stuck, jump to an alternate viewpoint (Mother? Doctor? Baby? Other? Try second person?)
The title of your piece is “Death by Chocolate.” Go.
Bees typically sting in defense. They also die when they pull their stingers – along with the rest of their guts – out as they flee. Invent a strange creature whose “sting” (or other method of attack) is similarly suicidal.
+ This is big news. My mutant poetry
collection, Freakcidents: A Surrealist
Sideshow, is coming out this January
in both collectible hardcover and
signed trade editions. You can always
pre-order it at my favorite bookseller,
shocklines.com. But – NEWS FLASH
– if you order both Freakcidents and
The Psycho-Hunter's Casebook direct
from my publisher you can get your
hands on “Freaks and Psychos” – a
limited edition mini-chapbook of new
and original material by both myself
and Kurt Newton! We dipped into each
other's worlds and generated some
strange hybrids. It's a very rare treat.
(This offer will apply to anyone who
has already ordered Newton's limited
edition in the past, too, so don't let that
stop you from buying that now – see
“boo coupons” below). For developing
details, stay tuned to the publisher's
+ My short-short, “Choppers,” is finally out in the ambitious lit zine, 42opus. Check it out and marvel at the layout: http://www.42opus.com
+ Awhile back, I reported that my Halloween story, “The Boblin,” was in an anthology that died before seeing print. Well, I'm happy to report that I've subsequently placed that tale in another book: Scary! Holiday Tales to Make you Scream, edited by Paul Melniczek (Double-Dragon Publishing, forthcoming Sept 2003).
+ I've learned that editor John Lawson
has placed his exciting “extreme
cannibal” anthology, Of Flesh and
Hunger, with Double-Dragon
Publishing for 2003 release, as well.
My flash nightmare functions as the
+ Because three's a charm, I'll remind
you of the THIRD Double Dragon title
that I'll be associated with – it's called
Cemetery Poets: Grave Offerings and
it'll feature a chapbook's worth of work
by almost every contributor.and there
are a lot of them! If you can't wait, visit
fellow contributor Megan Powell's
website, which includes more info and
offers a (discounted) $35 pre-order
Double-Dragon Publishing gets my vote for new publisher of the year. And they're only getting started. You just wait and see what they have in store!
+ Speaking of “skeletons”: If you're in
the market for a solid horror magazine,
take a gander at the recently released
Bare Bone #3. Yes, my short poem,
“Wet Tissue,” is in there. but that's
just a teensy part of a great double-
sized magazine. Just look at the
heavy-duty line-up you get for a mere
$6.95 – it's as satisfying as any book-
length anthology out today.
I want to acknowledge David Sandner for this month's subject line (“Skeletons!”) and to thank Bruce Boston for the link to http://www.anomalies-unlimited.com which I suspect all my readers will love.
Last issue's Blather column, “Holiday
X,” got a lot of feedback from
subscribers. Mike Stamm wrote just to
call me an “X-phile.” And John
Spurlock reminded me of Edgar Allan
Poe's hilarious editorial nightmare, “X-
ing the Paragrab.” Poet Deborah
Kolodji also turned me on to “Four
Xonnets” – sonnets where each line
ends with the letter X! You can read
her fantastic Xonnet and others at:
Did you enjoy the “Slay Bells” game
mentioned in the last issue's “Online
Gizmo” dept? Can you handle more
Xmas with an attitude? Then you might
want to give 'Slay Bells 2: Seasons
Beatings' a whirl, too. Santa's not
gonna take it anymore, dammit!
In the last issue, I invited readers to take a 2-question feedback poll. The results were very strongly in favor of keeping both the newsletter and the website intact. In response to the question, “What is your least favorite department in the newsletter?” 20% of you said “Our Odd Triple Feature” while 80% said “None – I love them all! Don't drop any!” And in response to the question whether the website uses too much “flash” animation, the majority (60%) said they felt it was “just right.” Only one respondent felt it was too much; the rest said “I have no clue, Arnzen!” I was heartened by this feedback – thanks to everyone who participated. Given this response, I'll not tamper with things. But I will continue to cycle departments in and out of the newsletter just to reduce the length (which keeps getting longer and longer thanks to stuff like this very paragraph). So this time around, for example, there are no “snippets of the strange.” But like corpses in a toxic dump, they'll be back later, for sure. And I've got new columns in utero, too.
+ I've updated the “links” page to include a new section of “minimalist” oriented websites. If you like short- short-shorts as much as I do – or if you've just got a short attention span – then you might want to browse it.
+ A twisted seasonal piece, “Hot Buttered Chum,” is the latest poem hidden in the animated handheld at gorelets.com. Click on the skull-faced button to dunk your ladle in it.
+ There are some really neat pictures of readers with Arnzen poems on gorelets' “retrospective” page. And some fun wallpaper you can have, too.
+ The Goreletter keeps receiving recommendations for the Bram Stoker Award (in Alternative Forms)! If you're an HWA member, I hope you'll help usher this humble e-zine all the way to the final ballot by also sending in your own recs to email@example.com. If you're not in the Horror Writers Association, visit horror.org for more information.
+ To help me pay for the website
please visit the “Mutant Mug Shop.” It's
a place where you'll be able to get
oddities on a coffee mug:
It actually pays to scroll this far down.
SHOCKLINES.COM offers Goreletter
subscribers this exclusive new year's
coupon: GORELETDEMON. Enter this
freaky phrase in the promotion code
box during check out to get $10 off the
signed/limited hardcover edition of Kurt
Newton's fantastic collection, Dark
Demons. I sang the praises of Psycho-
Hunter, and this book is equally
original. It's worth every penny. How
do I know this book is so fantastic? I
wrote the introduction! And I signed it,
too, along with Kurt and artist Duncan
Long. This offer is only good until
1/14/03, so think about it asap.
Writers take note! You can get 10% off the unique submission organizer, WRITE AGAIN! Try it out and if you decide to register this great software, let them know that Arnzen's newsletter sent you and they'll refund you 10%! I've been using this program for about a year now and I can vouch for it – WA is one of the best databases for writers available. If you're a writer submitting without a “system” yet, this is a must- download. Includes a project scheduler, graphs, and a financial database. A very useful product. http://www.asmoday.com/
FICTIONWISE.COM's coupon for
Arnzen ebooks – Arnzen12 – expires
on Dec 31! Get 20% off while you still
can.and perhaps as much as 40%,
given their current holiday discount!
Otherwise, don't forget to browse their
15% off special page for gorelets.com
visitors every week:
WILDSIDE PRESS – publisher of my collection, Fluid Mosaic – kindly continues to offer Goreletteers a one- time 10% discount coupon! Enter the coupon code ARNZEN at check out: http://www.wildsidepress.com/
All material in The Goreletter is: c 2002 Michael A. Arnzen, unless otherwise noted. All rights reserved. Permission is granted to forward the entire contents as a whole, without alterations or excisions. For reprint permissions of individual pieces, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
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“The words of a dead man are modified in the guts of the living.” – W. H. Auden (died 1973)
* 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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