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Arnzen's Weird Newsletter

+++ Vol. 2 #1, Sept 7, 2003 +++

Stop Making Sixth Sense


Blather. Wince. Repeat.

The Sixth Sense

[Haley Joel Osment: “I see dead people.”]

They say there are just five senses, but that's not true. There are six: sight, sound, smell, touch, taste, and seeing dead people.

But wait: isn't seeing still seeing, even if it's seeing what nobody else can see? And why couldn't Bruce Willis apply his own five senses and realize he was a ghost when he couldn't see, hear, smell, taste or touch himself? Wouldn't that be a form of blindness, rather than seeing?

Okay, it's only a movie (The Sixth Sense, 1999). And I should say that I really enjoy all stories about psychic phenomena to some degree. But I'm pretty skeptical of real world ESP. Folks who claim to have some “power” that the rest of us don't have seem oh so 15th century.

As a teacher, I've encountered students who claim to be psychic who still raise their hands and ask questions or who still somehow manage to fail final exams. Uncanny!

I do believe in intuition and I recognize that some folks are more tuned into their senses than others. But if there were a sixth sense, everyone would know about it and there would be no debating whatsoever. There would be schools in refining it. The government would have a branch of ESP warriors that would put Phillip K. Dick novels to shame. And the sense would already be widely exploited by pornographers, prostitutes, and movie moguls, whose business it is to turn human sensations into cheap thrills for profit.

[Horny Joel Osment: “I see sexy people!”]

Also, given the likelihood of handicaps in any given population, we would have our share of notorious blind seers, deaf hearers, noseless smellers, tasteless tasters and insensitive feelers. Do you know any? Do they have their own 900 line?

“Sensing” is a matter of interpretation. Have you ever eaten a meal that tasted like cardboard to you and like manna to someone else? Same thing goes with any sixth sense. One person's ghost is another person's imaginary friend. This is how working psychics make their bread and butter: on uncertainty and the degree to which phenomena are open to interpretation.

While I will agree that there is always more than meets the eye and that the human sensorium only gives us a partial view of “reality,” psychic phenomena usually isn't some scary power, but a wish-fulfillment. I guess this is obvious. Maybe you even knew that I was going to say that….

Nevertheless, there are two psychological definitions of a sixth sense that I accept: proprioception and synesthesia.

“Proprioception” is actually discussed in the poetry textbook I use in my classes, as an example of the “sixth sense.” It's actually scientific. Proprioception is a sort of peripheral “vision” of the body. It's all about body orientation; a sense of balance and movement that you don't always consciously recognize or respond to. It's the autonomic sense, the one responsible for “feeling” things like, say the knucklebones popping in your fingers or the muscles tightening in their sleeves of flesh. Proprioception is what state troopers test when they make drunks close their eyes and touch their nose with their fingers.

Think of phantom limb phenomena – that sensation we all get after we lose our leg in a freak boating accident. We've all been there. We feel our legs moving even when they're no longer attached at the hip! That's proprioception at work.

Or how about when your arm “falls asleep” as if it had a mind of its own? It buzzes like crazy, sure, but did you ever stop to consider all those nightmares that sleeping arm has about barbells and immunization shots? Proprioception again. You can't pronounce it but you've got it.

Some scientists claim the sixth sense is not so much an “extra” sense as it is a combination of what we already have: a “synesthesia.” Like anesthesia (which means a lack of sensation) this refers to an anomalous brain disorder where the lobes gets their wires crossed and the senses seemingly synthesize, or fuse together. You smell numbers. Rock songs taste like barbecue sandwiches. You can actually feel your lover's voice in your eardrum, gentle as a fleshy cotton swab….

Wait. That's the sickth sense.

[Staley Joke Osment: “I hear dead people…and they're groaning!”]

In any case, these extra sensory perceptions are really what fiction writers and poets are after: ways of describing unreal phenomena that both feel as natural as the muscles under your skin and yet also bring your senses to life in a new way. You don't need six of them to experience it. Writers use metaphoric language, “synthesizing” sensory adjectives with nouns they don't rightfully belong with, like “sharp cheese” or “bitter memory.” The sixth sense, whether it exists as a mental power or not, is always already housed in the imagination. And the imagination often doesn't need to make any sense at all.

[Scaley Joe Osmental: “I see living dead people. And they taste like chicken!”]


“The Gender Genie”

Paste a snippet of text into this online form at, and – applying an algorithm from groundbreaking linguistic research – the Gender Genie will determine whether the writer is male or female!

How is this possible?!

In a nutshell, it assumes that men write more about objects than women, who tend to write more often about relationships. Whether that's hogwash or not, the Genie is apparently right 80% of the time. Are you?

Check to see if you're unknowingly writing in drag. Or test one of those ambiguously-gendered author names and/or suspicious-looking pseudonyms. Or do some detective work on your Instant Message buddies. The Gender Genie won't grant any of your wishes but it's lots of fun to, um, fool around with.


+ Do something devilish with a character who is a glass blower.

+ Describe a seance from the viewpoint of the spirit realm.

+ Begin a piece by describing a disturbing piece of art.

Instigation is now a WEEKLY department in Hellnotes newsletter:

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


Headhunter, by Tim Curran, is the first chapbook published by Dark Animus Press and it's quite an impressive debut. The story – about an encounter with evil in the deepest jungles of Vietnam – is a knockout war fable and a very satisfying tale of horror, combining old school supernaturalism with modern day shock. The cover art by Les Peterson is simply gorgeous (and he offers copious interior illos to accompany the story). The bonus short story in the back of the book – “Friday Night Freak Show” – illustrated this time by GW Thomas – is a lot of dark fun, providing a well-earned comic relief from the unflinching horror of the novella in the book proper.

Tim Curran is fairly new on the horror scene, but his work is appearing everywhere in the small press these days and everything I've read by him has been genuinely good. If you haven't read him yet, and you're looking for a good war story, pick up Headhunter and you won't be disappointed.

Headhunter is probably as much about a mythic “devil that hunts heads” as it is about the horror of the Vietnam experience. And for all its spookiness, every sentence in this book drips with dark realism. The story rings so true to 'Nam and yet it's a fantasy story about the dreams and nightmares of the grunt soldier cast into the jungle. From its grim “reapers” of green facepaint to the Vietnamese legends and ghost stories, this book jumps right into the battlefield of fear.

Curran knows how to write atmosphere. Headhunter will decapitate you with its breathless power. Tim Curran's metaphors zing like bullets past a Kevlar helmet – they come out of nowhere and almost take your head off. His characters sound like they've been there, dug into the muck of a war that nobody wanted. If you only know Vietnam from the history books, this novella will scar you and I don't think you'll ever look at that war – or any conflict – the same way again.

Because of its unforgettable brutality, this is not an easy novella to read, but that's also precisely why you must read it. It'll traumatize you and haunt you long after you've put it down. Headhunter is an important addition to the literature of the Vietnam war – and certainly to the horror genre. Tim Curran will win a lot of fans with this one. Headless, I now count myself among them.

[A discount coupon for Headhunter appears elsewhere in this issue!]


Know Your Dead

Who's Alive and Who's Dead?

Dead or Alive?

Celebrity Death Beeper

Dead People Server

GORELETS: Unpleasant Poems

Fun with Ganglion

Tie to stick and tease
or tickle the imaginary cat.
Dry on rack, break off branches
and serve as garnish with lung.
Suspend from thin wire in aquarium;
fool the fish with your human seaweed.
Ball up and bind; use to sponge-paint
pink patterns on living room wall.
Chew like gum; violently cough
when clowning with the kiddies
and slip gently free from jaws before
tugging maniacally as a magician
on the rainbow of wet tourniquets
spooling from the mouth.


+ CyberPulp Digital Paperbacks tells me that my e-chapbook of twisted poems about sports, SPORTUARY, will be available by Sept 15th.

In his review for THE DREAM PEOPLE, writer Gary West summed it up wonderfully: “Sportuary is the culmination of what could happen if sport and the win at all costs attitude it breeds were to go unchecked, and the dark side were to take over. Plus, it is one hell of a fun read….”

Featuring original color paintings by Marcia Borell, this thirty page e-book will be just three bucks!

(While you're waiting for Sportuary, you might want to pick up Bruce Boston's $3 poetry book at CyberPulp, called Head Full of Strange. I loved it!)

+ I've learned that two of my pieces from last year were listed as “Honorable Mention” in the latest volume (#16) of The Year's Best Fantasy & Horror (edited by Ellen Datlow and Terry Windling; a must read every year!). The pieces recommended are “Halloween Pie” (a poem from Rogue Worlds #7) and “Tugging the Heartstrings” (a short- short from Flashquake #2.2). The latter is still archived online if you missed it:

+ At Horrorfind convention, two publishers handed me hot-off-the- press copies of magazines I appear in, both debuting new formats. Flesh and Blood magazine, which features my ode to mortuary work, “Heartfelt” (issue 13) debuted in all its full-sized, glossy- covered, bright-colored glory this month. And Kevin Donihe's magazine, Bare Bone (issue 4), which has always been sparse in its “bare” white cover, has now gone to color illustrated covers in a perfect-bound format that not only looks really sharp but is really substantial in size for the price. If you haven't read these horror magazines yet, you're really missing out on some great stories and poems. Both magazines are available through the venerable bookstore, or you can read about them here: + Many people have recently reported communication problems with Dark Vespers, the publisher for my upcoming book, Freakcidents. To be safe, I recommend you place your pre- order through because Shocklines Bookstore will not charge you until the book is actually shipped. I am confident that this book will be available eventually.

+ Disappointing news: I'm sorry to report that Grave Markings Extreme – the sculpted leather-bound Tenth Anniversary Edition planned for my Stoker-winning novel – has been canceled by Double Dragon Publishing. (If another publisher picks it up you'll be the first to know.) DDP, however, still plans to release the e- book version of Gorelets: Unpleasant Poetry at the same time that the print version comes out from Fairwood Press. Either one is really special. Forthcoming this Halloween!

+ Thanks to every HWA member reading this who has nominated The Goreletter for the Bram Stoker Award in “Alternate Media” so far.


“Studies in Exploding Heads ”

For your next movie night, rent:
Scanners (1981)
Mars Attacks (1996)
Wild Zero (2000)


Last issue, I announced the debut of The Sickolodeon – – and gave free “Bitpasses” to winners of a guessing game. It was such fun, I've decided to run another one! And this one's even more difficult….

To win, you have to beat my Giant Monster in a battle to the death. What the hell am I talking about? Go to this web site and be sure to follow the directions closely. (Note that you must use your last name to play):


Did you know you can search and browse back issues of The Goreletter? If you're a new subscriber, check out what you've missed at:

Did you know that a horror poem is hidden in the virtual PDA on the front page at, and that a new one is slipped in there every couple of weeks?

Congrats again to Cathy Buburuz, Pam Kimmell, and Marge Simon for winning the “Snippets of the Strange” contest last issue.


It actually pays to scroll this far down.

LAST CHANCE: CEMETERY POETS This is the final month to take advantage of this exclusive discount. Visit the hidden page below to take 10% off CEMETERY POETS, a unique 200-page long hardcover collection of work by 17 different poets. You get tons of dark poetry, a collection of vignettes, and even a special section of poetry by all the poets, drawn from the “Fridge of the Damned” virtual fridge magnets from This is a really special book. Order before Oct 1st before this opportunity is gone forever:

FICTIONWISE ARNZEN EXCLUSIVE Enter the info below at check out and receive 20% off any Arnzen e-books in your shopping cart at

Coupon Code: Arnzen2003 One time only. Expires 9/29.

Otherwise, continue to shop for e- books at this special 15% off page for Goreletter subscribers, which is updated weekly. This week's features include the “Monsters” anthology edited by Martin Greenberg and “I, Vampire,” the classic anthology of mock interviews w/monsters edited by Forrie Ackerman!

SHOCKLINES BOOKSTORE is giving Goreletter subscribers a break on Tim Curran's book, Headhunter (reviewed in this issue). Until October 6th, if you enter coupon code GORELETHEAD2 when you check out, you'll get the book for just $7 (that's 30% off!).

FLESH AND BLOOD PRESS Get any available back issues of Flesh & Blood magazine for 30% off. Free shipping and handling on all purchases. Make payment to Jack Fisher with a note mentioning this discount and send to: Jack Fisher, 121 Joseph St., Bayville, NJ 08721

DARK ANIMUS DEAL Mention “The Arnzen Special” to publisher James Cain when you subscribe to Dark Animus magazine, and you'll get a 5 issue subscription for a 4 issue price. Subscriptions costs $25 US and can be paid via PayPal to Learn more about this weird Aussie mag here:


All material in The Goreletter is: © 2003 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

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“People always think that a man commits suicide for a reason. But he may very well commit suicide for two reasons.” – Albert Camus (died 1960)

* 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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goreletter/stop_making_sixth_sense.txt · Last modified: 2013/11/29 11:36 by marnzen

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