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Arnzen's Weird Newsletter
+++ Vol. 2 #8, May 22, 2004 +++
The Griddled Mermaid
Blather. Wince. Repeat.
Grilling the Mermaid
I love women, and I enjoy fish, but for some reason I hate mermaids. They're some of the most horrifying of animal-human hybrids. I mean, they're scaly. And they smell – well – like fish! I don't care how good they are at singing and swimming and strategically arranging their lengthy hair, they're gross little monsters.
Yet their legend endures. We still get slurred reports from drunken sailors who spot them in the seven seas. And little kiddies everywhere believe in Ariel, the so-called “Little Mermaid” (who isn’t little enough to step on, unfortunately). But get this straight: if mermaids existed, we'd see dead ones floating belly up in the sea once in awhile. And there'd be plenty of beached mercorpses washing up on the shores or getting hauled up in tuna nets every summer.
But for a moment, let's pretend they're immortal. Let's pretend that the icon of the mermaid – that seductive siren who is half-fish, half-woman – is a reality. And let's pretend that she doesn't get as slimy as oily oyster guts from scooting around in the silt and sand all the damned time. Even then, I've got problems.
First off: they're always topless bombshells without any legs. You don’t have to be a feminist to see that this is clearly a male fantasy. Why? Because they can't run away.
And if they aren't male fantasies, then why are the top halves of mermaids always the human part? What if they were giant walking fish heads instead? Even the most committed of “leg men” might have difficulties with a breastless bass. Besides, the creatures really should be human on the bottom half. It makes more sense. The kick would make them better swimmers. Plus they'd actually be able to breathe, since the top is the half that has the gills. And, well, let’s just say I just think it would be more efficient for mating.
Or let's take it a step further: what if only the left half were fish and the right side human? What then, Popeye?
And even with the traditional organization of parts: Why is the lower half always a long flappy green whale’s tail? How about a half-woman, half-jellyfish, oozing weirdness beneath her lovely torso? Or half-sting ray, her bottom as flat as a flesh blanket, undulating in the waves before she covers herself up, blushing at your approach…and stings you when you make your move?
And, like, what's the “mer” in mermaid stand for, anyway? It can't be that stuff the wise men brought to the baby Jesus, can it? And are mermaids really “maids”? And if so, do they do windows, or just portholes? A mermaid in a French maid outfit, feather duster in fin. That, I'd like to see.
Here's another question: If I only ate their fish tails, would it still be considered cannibalism?
Okay, so we’ve established that mermaids are weird male fantasies and even weirder sex objects. So if sex is involved, how do these chicks of the sea reproduce, anyway? No, I'm not asking because I want to spawn. I'm curious how the whole species began. It's probably the usual origin story: a human and a fish mated and – voila – Darryl Hannah was magically born. Fine. I don't want to imagine the details, but fine. But then how does the species perpetuate after the first mutant is born? What comes after the initial bestial sin? Would a merman and a mermaid have to meet to breed? Wouldn't that be incest? Is it still incest when eggs are deposited and fertilized in their weird fishy ways? Or is the whole species sustained by all those randy sailors out there? (And if you were a mermaid, would you still love your father, knowing he was some sick kind of fish fetishist? Wouldn't that kind of swear you off the whole “man” thing, altogether? And would the other fish be repulsed by your flesh if you turned to them? Something doesn't add up for me here.)
Now I'm sure there are some fantasy fans reading this who are thinking, “What about all the other merfolk, like mermen, you sexist pig?” To them I would simply say: hey, if even the mermaids would rather be with human beings that those of their own kind, then there's really gotta be something wrong with them. Besides, without the beard and the triton in their hand, I'm not sure how you can tell if they're male anyway. For all you know, they're really transgendered merherms. Especially the ones with the well-groomed beards artfully cascading down to cover their breasts.
Whatever their sexual orientation, There's very little romance in Neptune's bachelor pad. Fish spawn and reproduce in all sorts of weird, gelid, and inhuman ways. Eggs are often fertilized externally, in a method akin to drizzling caviar with hot sauce. Speaking of which – if there were merfolk, you can be sure that they'd eat their own young, though roe wouldn't be as exotic a delicacy as it is for us. No? Too abhorrent? Well, then, perhaps in merfolk culture, human embryos would be all the rage at the fancy dinners. And can you imagine the price of mermaid caviar! Or the flavor!
Give me chicken eggs instead any day. But don’t even get me started on the henmaids. Their eggs actually kick and squirm…and peck.
+ Write the final scene in a book about Armageddon.
+ In painstakingly close detail, appealing to all five senses, describe a rotting human head. When you reach the end, reveal the context for its appearance – one which sends the reader right back to the beginning.
+ What is the filthiest place you avoid in your day-to-day life? A nasty corner of the basement? A restroom in your office building? The dump you drive past on your way to work? Choose the worst. Now imagine that something evil resides there. Write about its emergence.
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 email@example.com and I'll mention it here! Or if you're bold (and willing to forfeit electronic rights), post your response to a prompt at the new Goreletter weblog by clicking on the word “comments” underneath the “Instigation” section at:
The Palermo Mummies
The Sedlec Ossuary
For your next movie night, rent:
Final Exam (1981)
The Faculty (1998)
As a writer, I always cringe when I hear other writers give the advice that a book should be “cinematic”: that it should be written not only to give the reader the same thrill that they'd get at the movies, but also that it be custom-built to try to sell ancillary rights to a film company in order to rake in the dough. While I do think that most writers wouldn't be able to make a living without film option income, I often think that fiction is supposed to be fiction first. In fact, some of the best books in the world are those that can ONLY be books, because they really make the most out of the form – and it shouldn't come as a surprise that the film adaptation usually sucks skunkwater.
And then I read an exception to the rule and I bite my tongue.
John Skipp's latest book, Conscience, is just such a book. The back cover claims it was “designed to be read in one sitting – in roughly the time it takes to watch a feature film” – and it succeeds at delivering its nightmare with the immediacy of a bullet to the brain. Conscience – a dark crime story about a vicious killer who discovers his conscience during a massacre – is an excellent novella. When I put it down, I felt breathless and more than a little astounded at what he'd managed to pull off. Its pace reminded me a little bit of Douglas Winter's novel, Run – a great suspense fiction that experiments with pace and reads like a car chase. But Conscience accomplishes this while seated firmly behind the driver's seat that is the mind of a killer, careening toward his destiny. As I read Conscience, I was impressed by Skipp's talent at writing psychological fiction that doesn't get mired down in moody explorations of the mind, but rather moves rapidly toward its inevitable conclusion. Even though the story is loaded with interior monologue and moments of psychological soul-searching that would threaten to bog down any other book, Skipp's lean prose, sharp style, and quick rhythm makes this story gallop along at the breakneck pace of Hollywood cinema. And it drips with the noirish charm of a Quentin Tarantino film, as the narrator muses over love, life, and all that corrupts it… even while he's blasting someone's head off with a shotgun.
Perhaps it's not fair to compare Skipp to Q. Although this he is definitely a writer channelling the culture of Hollywood and Los Angeles, Skipp's crime writing reflects the deep introspection and wit of Jim Thompson's twisted noir – on several shots of espresso. This book – while fast-paced – isn't as hyperactive and self-referential as a Tarantino film; though it races, it is instead powered by a strongly crafted voice And it's only appropriate, I think, that Skipp – a progenitor of the “splatterpunk” movement when he collaborated with Craig Spector a decade ago on bestselling books like The Light at the End or The Scream – rediscovers his own voice in the mind of a madman.
In his introduction to the story, Skipp calls this a sort of antithesis to the “Big Fat Contemporary Novel” – but the book as a whole is very thick indeed. Conscience is, in fact, just one novella in a collection of works that weighs in at 321 pages long. If I had to come up with one word for the book, I'd call it “generous”! It features some great historical documents from Skipp's writing career, all of which – bound together – really give you a strong sense of what makes this writer unique. The book features six short stories (two of them short-shorts) and a full-length screenplay (which is much longer than Conscience itself!) for a story called Johnny Death. The stories made me nostalgic (three were reprints from books I'd read before, like the brutal tale, “Film at Eleven” which appeared in David J. Schow's anthology, Silver Scream in 1988), but they stand up to re-reading, especially from the context of this book, which allows you to contrast his early entries into brutality against his writing today. I also enjoyed the inclusion of two rare short-shorts – “A Quickee” and “Welcome to Here.” The screenplay, Johnny Death, while very different than Conscience, is still a great study in how to write a bizarre film with a big budget feel. Skipp's imagination is wild; he really knows how to entertain. And the introductions to all of the pieces in this book give readers a welcome insight into the ingenious mind of John Skipp. You'll get remarks on the writing process, the patterns in his work that define him as an independent writer, and reflections on the Skipp and Spector days and the events that led to their creative separation.
What I learned from reading this book was not only that cinematic writing can succeed, but that John Skipp has >always< been a writer with a conscience, even in his most splattery of gore fiction. He's a writer of great insight and honesty – what makes him different today, I think, could very well be a more developed sense of humility in his fiction. As he says at one point in the book, “I just want a better world. That's all. And I'd like to point out that we ain't there yet.” I think this simple sentiment lies behind a lot of what Skipp writes.
Friendly Firewalk Press – Skipp's own imprint – makes Conscience available as a trade paperback. The quality of the book is good and you really do get a trove of Skipp material for the $19.99 price. It's available through amazon.com or John Skipp's home page. (His “Eats” project – something of a custom-built homage to Wacky Packages – made the Goreletter's “Weird Links of the Month” last issue; if you like that, you might like his weblog, called “The Hard Way,” too).
The Thing About Tentacles
it isn't their ocean slime
shimmering green in the sun,
nor the long ropiness of their floppy
tendrils that terrifies me. it isn't
the way they're lined with suckers
or cilia or scales. it's not their alien
feelers, autonomously whipping wild.
no. it's just the way they seem so
limber, so strong, yet they have no
bones for leverage
except maybe my own.
So you think you've got what it takes to survive the mindless zombie hoard? Think again. Your boom stick can only help you so much when you're cornered in a fenced in lot at night…in the middle of a blackout. Not easy!
Check out this mindless – no, brainless – high quality first person shooter from the publicity crew for the Dawn of the Dead remake (their full site also contains a password guesser and a virtual autopsy gizmo!):
[Blackout requires the Shockwave player, which is automatically installed if you don't already have it in your browser.]
+ BRAM STOKER AWARDS
As most of you reading this know, The Goreletter is a finalist for the Bram Stoker Award in Alternate Forms – and that my poetry book, Gorelets: Unpleasant Poems, is also up in the Poetry category. I'm honored. I'll be attending the Horror Writer's Association's Award Banquet at the Park Central Hotel, NYC, June 4th-6th. If you're also attending, come on by my reading at 10:20 am on 6/5. Or, if you're in the area, you can also come to the huge horror signing the HWA is putting on for the public at Borders Books at Columbus Circle on June 5th, 2-4pm EST.
+ LONG RIDGE WRITER'S CHAT
I was the guest of the Long Ridge Writers Group, who hosted a two hour online chat with me on 5/13. You can read the transcript here, if you like. http://www.longridgewritersgroup.com/rx/tr01/index.shtml
+ SUMMER APPEARANCES
June 24th, 8pm EST, Greensburg, PA: 100 Jolts Signing (along with Gary A. Braunbeck) at Greensburg Barnes and Noble
July 24-5, Pittsburgh, PA: Confluence 2004 SF Convention (reading TBA)
Aug 14, 5pm EST, Baltimore, MD: Horrorfind Weekend (reading with Gerard Houarner)
+ 100 JOLTS
100 Jolts was released about a month ago with much fanfare. You can now get it at your favorite online bookseller or – if it's not on the shelves – by ordering it through your local brick and mortar store. If you need to special order it, the ISBN is: 0-9745031-2-6 I recommend shocklines.com, who sells SIGNED copies. For more information on booksellers who stock the book, visit the publisher's retailers page.
+ GRAVE MARKINGS X
The limited hardcover edition of my Stoker-winning first novel, Grave Markings: Tenth Anniversary Edition, was printed since the last issue of The Goreletter. I'm told that less than a dozen copies remain in stock at the publishers. The leatherbound edition is completely sold out. Order them today from Delirium Books before retailers price the book at a significant mark-up! Or, if you're in the mood for a special deal, check out Shocklines Bookstore's bundle of Grave Markings with Charlee Jacob's book, Soma, which comes with a BONUS gift package of books and magazines worth over $40!
+ E-BOOKS OUT
100 Jolts is now available as a “digital download” at amazon.com for just $5. You can also get Gorelets (which includes 21 bonus poems) at Fictionwise.com, my favorite e-book distributor. It was also one of the “featured horror titles” this month at Palm Digital Media (sign up for their newsletter for discounts!)
+ GEORGE AWARDS
Dark Animus has announced the winners in their first annual “George” awards for the best horror fiction/poetry/art pieces in their magazine. My poem, “The Chandelier” – about an ornate dead body hanging from the ceiling – took 2nd place. The awesome statue for this award is a horrifying puppet skeleton custom sculpted by George Higham. Congrats to its first owners: Tim Curran, Flament Herve, Alec Kowalczyk, and Heesco Khosnaran. http://www.darkanimus.com/george.html
No, it's not a new freakadelic denture adhesive paste in day-glo colors. As I've reported before, Freakcidents: A Surrealist Sideshow is a knock-out poetry book coming from Shocklines Press in March/April in a limited “remarqued” hardcover and standard trade edition. The “remarqued” edition is not only a signed collectable hardcover, but it gets customized by the book's artist, the eponymous GAK – who is redesigning the cover for the book (that means it will be a little different than the b/w version you may have already seen). In his review at feoamante.com, Mikey Huyck called Freakcidents “one of the most bizarre collections of anything I've ever pawed through.” ( http://www.feoamante.com/Stories/Reviews/DEF/Freakcid.html ) Wanna paw through it yourself? Preorder the mutancy here:
+ CONTEST WINNERS
Last issue, I ran two, count 'em two, contests for subscribers and the winners have been chosen. The first was the “Strange Visitors” contest which had you guess which of the twelve oddball search engine queries that landed a hit on gorelets.com was the one I'd made up. Tracy Mowdy came in first, and Dean M. Watts came in second with the correct answer: “hot zombie love nest.” (Yes, all the others – including “dead moldy monkey cheese” – were real!). Tracy wins a signed copy of 100 Jolts; Dean gets a gift certificate to bitpass.com. I've begun writing a few poems based on that strange list of queries, which you can read exclusively on the new “blog-only” department of the Goreletter here:
The second contest was the “Review Race” which promised free chapbooks to the very first person to post a review of my new book, 100 Jolts, on amazon.com and bn.com. Claire Faulkner beat the pack to amazon.com. And it must be Tracy Mowdy's lucky month because she won this contest, too, for her review on barnesandnoble.com that compared 100 Jolts to being strapped into an electric chair. Both won copies of Gorelets: Unpleasant Poems. Consolation prizes have gone out to Norman Prentiss and Jeannette Trayser, who also posted reviews at amazon.com. (I'm not sure who JD is, but I'd like him/her to contact me!) Check all the great reviews here: http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/tg/detail/-/0974503126/
A wave of raving reviews have come in for 100 Jolts this month! Here's a handful of links to the best:
“Arnzen could probably find a way to scare us with punctuation.” – Mark Justice, Horror World,
“100 Jolts is going to garner a lot of attention for Arnzen when it comes to awards next year; it is, as I said in my cover blurb, a remarkable achievement, and a book that all serious readers of horror fiction should have in their hands and on their shelves.” – Gary Braunbeck, http://garybraunbeck.com/
“Arnzen manages to entertain in dazzling fashion…This collection will take you to places you never saw coming. It will tantalize you with its sudden, sharp brevity….[100 Jolts is] a defibrillator sending its shock straight to the brain. CLEAR!” – Jimmy Z. Johnson, http://feoamante.com/Stories/Reviews/YZ0/100_Jolts.html
“Yes, predictably, Arnzen routinely shocks us; there is, without question, plenty of ghoulishness and gore among the collection to appease the appetites of the Cliver Barkerites and Stephen Kingalongs. It’s in the most unpredictable ways, however, that Arnzen most titillates and humors us, all the while staying true to the “thought experiment” so neatly and cleanly articulated in his introduction. [100 Jolts] delivers just the sort of jolt the mainstream genre needs right now.” – Trevor Dodge,
“Arnzen delights in his ghoulish subject matter, scaring readers into smiling in the spirit of the Evil Dead movies…with an economy with language that borders on vicious.” – Flashquake,
“100 JOLTS is an absolute top-notch collection, but the title is a misnomer: There may be 100 stories, but there are far more than 100 jolts packed within these pages. Arnzen manages to cram an amazing amount of creativity, horror, and dark humor into such short pieces. “Resonant Eyes” is one of the most brilliant stories I've ever read, and it's one freakin' paragraph! This book is dark, mean, unapologetically horrific, and it's obvious that Arnzen had a huge grin on his face the entire time he was writing it!” – Jeff Strand, http://jeffstrand.com
Hot off the shelves, 100 Jolts also hit the bestsellers list at Shocklines.com and Dark Delicacies bookstore! Check it out at: http://www.rawdogscreaming.com/
By the way, if you like the cover art as much as I do, you might want to check out the home page of the artist, Matt Sesow, at: http://www.sesow.com
+ WEBLOG EXCLUSIVES
When I write the various columns in The Goreletter, I post early drafts online in the “in-progress edition” at my weblog. I've begun including bonus materials there, too, that don't make it into this e-mail newsletter. For example, I took some of the weird entries from the “strange snippets” contest and wrote poems based on them. And there's a photo of Gorelets-inspired “Styrogami” art by J. Jules Vitali that you just gotta see to believe! Check the “blog” regularly for other quirky updates, or – better yet – add The Goreletter to your RSS newsfeeder.
+ SICKOLODEON UPDATE
I've added the next volume of the “Instigation” collection to The Sickolodeon. It combines volumes three and four to total 120 prompts for just 60 cents! Many of these appeared first in my column for Hellnotes magazine. Check it out (and more) at:
It actually pays to scroll this far down.
+ NEW DELIRIUM BOOKS OFFER
Get all in-stock regular limited edition hardcovers (regularly priced from $40-$50) for $30.00 each and get free shipping. Save $10.00 to $20.00 off every book! Paypal to: firstname.lastname@example.org and place your order within the special instructions note accompanying payment. Also mention THE GORELETTER discount. This deal is also good for checks or money orders. Customer must include order with check or money order payable to Delirium Books. Again, mention THE GORELETTER discount. E-mail publisher Shane Staley at email@example.com with any questions.
+ NEW FLESH & BLOOD DISCOUNT
Get all available back issues of Flesh & Blood magazine for 30% off and any of the F&B book titles for 35% 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
+ HELLNOTES BONANZA
Because you subscribe to The Goreletter, you can get a one year's subscription to the e-mail version of Hellnotes – the Insider's Guide to the Horror Industry – for just $18. That's FIVE BUCKS OFF the regular rate! Use the code GORELETS in your order. You can subscribe via Paypal (payable to JRohrig@aol.com); otherwise, check their home page for more information. If you like the “Instigation” prompts, now's your chance to get them every week at a discount! http://www.hellnotes.com
+ FICTIONWISE DISCOUNTS
Fictionwise.com – the web's best sci-fi and horror e-book seller – maintains a special 15% off page for Goreletter subscribers, which is updated weekly. This week features the e-book version of The House Spider by Kurt Newton, among other treasures. Do a search for economical Arnzen titles, too, like Gorelets: Unpleasant Poems, while you're there!
+ FAIRWOOD PRESS EXCLUSIVE
Fairwood Press is offering an exclusive discount to Goreletter subscribers. You can get a $1.50 off the standard edition of my shiny new chapbook, Gorelets: Unpleasant Poems – or $3 off Gorelets with the purchase of any other title! To get the discount, browse around Fairwood's website and when you have your picks, PayPal your payment to publisher Patrick Swenson at firstname.lastname@example.org and include the codeword “GoreWood” in your order. Note that Fairwood Press' onine shopping cart will NOT work for this discount and that it doesn't count for the Lettered Edition of the book. http://www.fairwoodpress.com
+ 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.
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Sleep on This
“To provoke dreams of terror in the slumber of prosperity has become the moral duty of literature.” – Ernst Fischer (died 1972)
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