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Arnzen's Weird Newsletter
+++ Vol. 6.02 | October 19, 2010 +++
Blather. Wince. Repeat.
Phlegmonaid (With Extra Pulp)
++ GETTING ARTSY
Since sending out the last newsletter, I've grown a predilection for making digital sketches and photographs of the bizarre. I invite you to check out my odd paintings (such the imaginary “Demonaurus”) and my strange photo manipulations (like my “Dead Hospital Dreams” series) at the following galleries:
Arnzen digital paintings:
I'm a total amateur, but even so: please leave comments on those sites to share your reactions.
++ ANNUAL HALLOWEEN READING
I'll be reading this coming Thursday, October 21, in Morgantown, West Virginia as featured guest at the Morgantown Poets society at the Monongalia Arts Center, 107 High St., 7pm. More info about this and other future events will appear on my booktour.com page. If you can't make it, the event may be recorded, so watch gorelets.com or their Facebook page for developments
++ BOSS HORROR
Darkness on the Edge – short stories inspired by the songs of Bruce Springsteen – has been published by PS Publishing and it is an awesome book to behold. It features my story, “The Hungry Heart,” alongside other Boss tales by Sarah Langan, Gary Braunbeck, Lawrence Connolly, Elizabeth Massie and many more. The signed traycased edition is SWEET, but it's also available in trade hardcover. Lay down your money and you'll play your part here:
++ BEHIND THE MUSIC
If you're a fan of Audiovile, or if you want to just hear me chatter on for an hour about weird stuff, then you should check out the fun interview I did with the “Snark-Infested Waters” online radio show earlier this month. It was a funny-yet-serious chat about all things horror, including such topics as: sick elephants, mutant beards, cows dangling from meat hooks, sleep apnea hoses, ebooks, M. Night Shamayalan, collectible books, “goreno,” the relationship between zombies and coffee, and much more. The interview includes three high quality streams of selected tracks from my horror-story-meets-sound experiment, Audiovile, followed by deep discussion of each. Check it out and have a few laughs. Snark Infest Waters is posting a new horror-related podcast every day in October. Stream it here: http://thesnarkyavenger.com/2010/10/05/snark-infested-waters-for-1052010-michael-arnzen/
See the “Boo Coupons” department later in this issue for a special Halloween deal on Audiovile.
++ TEACHING FLASHFORWARD
The Horror Writers Association is pulling out all the stops for next year's Bram Stoker Weekend, to transpire June 16-19, 2011 on Long Island, NY. The cavalcade of celebrity authors and excellent programming is quite impressive. The festivities will include a workshop on fiction writing by yours truly, called “HORROR UNBOUND: Pushing Your Reader Off The Ledge.” The variety of guests and events planned is too big to capture here, so drop by the website to learn more:
Can't attend the workshop? Then you'll want this Bram Stoker award-winning book:
Feeling left out? You can keep up with my public appearances when they are announced on my website or subscribe to an RSS feed here:
In related news, I also can share that I'm in contractual negotiations for a “how to” book on writing genre fiction I'm co-editing with Heidi Ruby Miller called “Many Genres, One Craft.” More details on that one next newsletter.
++ HE'S STILL LEGEND
The highly collectible Richard Matheson tribute anthology, He Is Legend, published by Gauntlet Books last year has been rereleased by Tor/MacMillan Books in a wide release so everyone can read the fantastic stories. I'm honored that it includes my bizarre short sequel to Matheson's mutant memoir, “Born of Man and Woman.” This book, edited masterfully by Christopher Conlon, is a true gem, famous for including the first collaboration between Joe Hill and his father, Stephen King…and that's just the pointy tip of a very sharply written iceberg. Get it: http://us.macmillan.com/heislegend
++ GHOST STORY
Legends of the Mountain State Volume IV (Woodlands Press) was released this , and it's an impressive array of ghost tales inspired by real paranormal legends from West Virginia. My contribution, “The Ghost Bike on Childer's Road,” draws from an urban legend from Barboursville, WV (you can learn more about that at
bit.ly/a4laN7 ) and also a curious memorial I've learned about via ghostbike.com Legends of the Mountain State features tales by Gary Braunbeck, Lisa Morton, Steve Rasnic Tem, and a great crop of others – which will be the last of the “Legends” series edited by Michael Knost. Worth checking them all out, whether you're a Mountaineer or not!
++ MORE TO COME
I'm happy to report that I'll have stories, poems and essays in a variety of projects this coming Fall and Winter, and you can find out more about all of these releases at gorelets.com the next time you're web surfing or book hunting. Titles include: Nostradamus' Fate (Dark Regions Press), Armageddon Lightshow (Bloodletting Press), Miskatonic Falls (Shroud Publishing), A Sea of Alone (Dark Scribe Press), Studies in Horror Film: The Exorcist (Centipede Press), and Death in Common (Belfire Press). More surprises to come!
Signs, You Might Be Crazy
Stick Figures in Peril
Make Your Own
Ichor. You want it to taste like liquor, but it doesn't. It's just icky. Pronouncing the term aloud is enough to make most people reach for some hand sanitizer and drink a glop of that instead.
It's a weird word, so it's no surprise that you'll stumble over it in horror stories everywhere. Ichor is used quite a bit by HP Lovecraft and others of his ilk to describe oozy things like the slime that dribbles from the dread nostrils of the Great Old Ones (especially that nasular monstrosity known only as “Achoolu”). It's a fun word to say, since its pustular resonance is right there, phlegmy in the back of your throat when you pronounce it. But I have to agree that the term is a bit hackneyed in horror fiction, as Ursula K. LeGuin suggested when she once wrote: “You know ichor. It oozes out of several tentacles, and beslimes tessellated pavements, and bespatters bejeweled courtiers, and bores the bejesus out of everybody.” Everybody except role playing gamers, anyway.
The term actually comes to us from Greek mythology. Ichor is not just some nasal nasty; it also refers to the golden blood of the gods – the plasma present in ambrosia, giving it that rich potency. Some mythologists compare it to a mineral, claiming it grants immortality; most treat it as so strong that it is poisonous to humans, despite its allure.
It is perhaps this mixed message – potent yet poisonous – that leads to the word's strangely alternative employment in the medical field. Merriam Webster's Medical Dictionary informs us that “ichor” is an anachronism in older medical journals, used in reference to a foul-smelling watery, often blood-tinged discharge from a wound or ulcer. Some use it in reference to green bile. Regardless, this mucopurulent discharge – this infectious gleet – is the sicker ichor rupture.
Not to be confused with Flickr.
“Orphan Feast” is the name of a delightfully strange game, inspired by a combination of Jonathan Swift's “A Modest Proposal” and Dickens' Oliver Twist, with a little Dr. Seuss and Tim Burton thrown into the mix. In Orphan Feast you play Creeky Tom, a ghoulish rogue whose goal is to prowl the dark alleys and rundown streets of old London and capture the homeless street urchins you'll find everywhere there, gathering them in a sack, while avoiding a cast of crazy characters out to foil you in bizarre ways. The orphans – if you make it back to your lair – are destined for the oven, to be baked into pies (and Tom himself often snacks on the little kiddies when he's not doing anything else). It's a despicable premise, but the artwork is so well-done that you'll keep playing to see what they come up with next.
Brought to you by adult swim, so you know that it's weird. In fact, they've got a LOT of crazy games even weirder and more deplorable than this one on their website. Like “5 Minutes to Kill Yourself,” a classic favorite.
Selected tweets from http://twitter.com/MikeArnzen
What you call your crumpled up pillow case in the morning: snorigami.
Wood is death; / the stiff cells of fallen tree. / My house is a carcass. / I nail memories to walls / and hear the wince of wood.
Is gastroanatomeat a word? Because it should be.
“Lobes Light”: zombies drink home brew / straight from the slippery tap / of esophagus #zombiehaiku #beerhaiku
If we call autobiographies “memoirs,” why don't we call biographies “themoirs”?
Prosthetic limbs feel Phantom Plastic Vat Syndrome.
There is nothing more remarkable than a blood clot. It gives hope. It seals. Except when there is nothing to heal. Then it's a terrorist.
Crack open the oyster: / a pearl gleams wet / on a human ear inside / and the sharp edge of the shell / curves smug like its smiling
It just occurred to me that Pat Benatar's song “Hell is for Children” really must have traumatized her kids. On several levels.
Sawed through the torso. Impaled in the limbs with heavy hooks. Rarely given more than water. Left to rot. Woe Tannenbaum!
Shower Scene: Mother Tugs the Curtain: ?! ?! ?! ?! / ?! ?! ?! ?! / ?! ?! ?! ?! /\~/\?/~~\\/\?/\\~?/\\/\?/\………….<*>
#scarykidsfilms Clowny with a Chance of Meat Hooks
Don't Stop Bleeding
Just a vampire girl
Livin' in a zombie world
She took the midnight train
Just a city boy
Dead and raised in south Detroit
He took a bite of brain
Find a human in a smoky room
The smell of blood and cheap perfume
For a lifetime they can share the night
It goes on and on and on and on
Up and down the boulevard
In the night
Living just to find emotion
In the night
Slurping hearts till the lust's fulfilled
Everybody's out to kill
Doin' anything to feel the vice
just one more time
Some are green, some are blue
Some have mouths that cannot chew
Oh, the horror movie never ends
It goes on and on and on and on
Up and down the boulevard
In the night
Living just to find emotion
In the night
Hold on to that feeding
Hold on to that feeding
For your next movie night, rent:
Exorcist III (Blatty, 1990)
Coma (Crichton, 1978)
Halloween II (Rosenthal, 1981)
This one's easy. Post a haiku poem related to one of the artpieces on my gallery at http://www.gorelets.com/gallery/ Just enter it in the “comments” field, along with your byline (name) and e-mail address. This will automatically publish the poem. All adult language will be censored, so please don't use any – suggest and evoke, instead. Entries are due by Halloween (Oct 31st) at Midnight. If I like your haiku best, you'll get a signed copy of the Tor trade paperback edition of He Is Legend, a random gift from the Arnzen coffers, and your poem will appear in the next issue of The Goreletter.
Arbitrary rule: I expect your haiku to be 3 lines long, in a 5-7-5 syllable pattern. No rhyme necessary. Can be humorous, horrific, or traditional in nature. You can enter up to three total. Anything more than that, and I'll report you to the FCC as a perpetrator of spamku.
Congratulations to the following folks who won the last issue's “reader review” contest:
Erik L. Smith won a rare Live & Vile production CD and copy of 100 Jolts.
John F. Taylor won a Play Dead ARC paperback and a copy of Skull Fragments.
Matt Betts won a deck of Play Dead playing cards and a DVD copy of Exquisite Corpse.
Congratulations also to Kendall Giles, winner of the 100 Jolts “Retrospective” contest hosted last month by Raw Dog Screaming Press. Contestants had to write a short short story based on a line from my story, “Stabbing For Dummies,” and came up with all sorts of devious tales based on crazy sentences lifted from it. Kendall worked with the quote, “Cutting is drawing a line” to great effect. You can read his story on the RDSP website shortly. http://www.rawdogscreaming.com
+ Write a paragraph for each tick of the clock during a countdown to an execution or bomb blast.
+ Steal the title of a computer game at random (“Angry Birds”, “Fallout”, “Civilization V”) and use it for the title of a horror/crime/science fiction story that has nothing whatsoever to do with the game's premise.
+ Begin a story in the chapel of a hospital.
You can post whatever this instigates – or news of any publication that results – here: http://www.gorelets.com/dept/instigation/
[Alert, over-achievers! If you're doing “NaNoWriMo” (National Novel Writing Month) this November, you might want to visit that link for some very special nanowrimo-oriented prompts, too!]
You really like my work, but it doesn't come out often enough to slate your arnzlust? Don't pull an Annie Wilkes on me. Just check out these other gems of the genre while you wait for the new stuff:
If you liked AUDIOVILE …
you'll like ELDRITCH MUSICKS by The Contrarian
If you liked RIGORMAROLE: ZOMBIE POEMS …
you'll like PARIAH by Bob Fingerman
If you liked SPORTUARY …
you'll like NIGHT OF THE LIVING TREKKIES by Kevin David Anderson and Sam Stall
If you liked FLUID MOSAIC …
you'll like THIS WAY TO EGRESS by Lawrence C. Connolly
If you liked WRITER'S WORKSHOP OF HORROR …
you'll like TO EACH THEIR DARKNESS by Gary A. Braunbeck
If you liked GORELETS: UNPLEASANT POEMS …
you'll like DARK MATTERS by Bruce Boston
If you liked GRAVE MARKINGS …
you'll like THE SCULPTOR by Gregory Funaro
If you are curious about any of the Arnzen books that I mention above, just visit the handy-dandy bibliography page at gorelets.com (which include cover art, contents lists, reviews, excerpts, ordering info, and more):
Philosophies of Horror
The horror genre seems to attract two dominant personality types: those who love the emotional thrill of fear and shock for its own sake, and deep thinkers who enjoy musing over the alternative possibilities promised by the Unknown. On the latter score, some authors approach the ideas of life, death, and the great beyond with impressive sophistication and scholarly research that often supersedes their fictional imaginings. Stephen King's non-fiction titles (Danse Macabre, On Writing) are seminal works of criticism. Anne Rice's musings on the church are followed by many. Dean Koontz wrote the book on Writing Popular Fiction. China Mieville writes Marxist criticism. HP Lovecraft wrote a virtual bible for author's of the weird tale (no, not the Necronomicon; I'm talking about his essay, “The Supernatural in Horror Literature”). And, of course, Poe's criticism is oft-cited in courses that study theories of the short story. The history of scary authorship almost requires a philosophical contemplation of the abyss. Call it a “dark theology.” It's worth gazing into.
Two notable books in this subgenre were published in the independent press this year that strongly remind us of the serious business of horror and spirituality: Dark Awakenings by Matt Cardin and The Conspiracy Against the Human Race by Thomas Ligotti. The latter is a fantastically written philosophical treatise advocating pessimism about the human existence. With all the sophistication of doctoral thesis in Philosophy, Ligotti argues, essentially, an idea he's been employing in his scary fiction for many years: that man lies to himself about existence all the time, that other unseen and unknowable forces may be pulling our puppet strings, and that THOSE STRINGS might themselves be a construct of our imaginations, because our existence could be meaningless after all.
Reminiscent of Emil Cioran's wonderfully depressing book of aphorisms, “The Trouble With Being Born,” Ligotti's “Conspiracy” is a twisted celebration of pessimism – at times laugh-out-loud funny in its bold disregard for any hope for humanity and other times downright convincing in its unflinching suggestion that life is a “malignantly useless” enterprise, and that suffering inherent to this existential condition. Ligotti's philosophy is three levels beyond atheism, and requires a strong-minded reader to really accept his position. Yet I loved Ligotti's book, because it so smartly builds an audacious case in support of the idea that human extinction might not be such a bad thing, and he does so in such an earnest and serious voice that the prose, simply, convinces. A downer on downers, a love letter to the suicidal, this book challenges our assumptions in a way that I wish more writers would try to do.
I won't say more, because the book deserves a more thorough review than I can give here. Look it up at Hippocampus Press and see if, well, if you can handle it.
If so, don't stop there. Pick up another book just as engaging, but whose net is more widely cast in its focus on belief and cosmic dread, called Dark Awakenings by Matt Cardin.
Cardin's project as a writer is vast – and he seems just as interested in what it is that makes us monkeys squeal as he is in what lies beyond in the cosmos. It is rare to come across a writer as earnestly focused on this sort of thing as Matt Cardin (who, incidentally is also a scholar OF Ligotti – and in many ways follows in his shadows).
Dark Awakenings offers generous heapings of fiction and “dark theology”: there are seven high quality Weird Tales (in the proper sense of that phrase, as many of them are eldritch stories, directly or indirectly related to the Cthulhu Mythos) and three artful, multi-part works of literary criticism on the diverse religious and philosophical elements of supernatural tales (from the Bible to Romero films). My copy – which you can special-order from the quality publishers at Mythos Books – not only contained the 120,000 words of prose in a quality hardcover package, but also even came with an audio CD of dark music (much of driven by creepy synthesizers and voice samples of lines from various film and radio programs – ultimately sounding something like quotes from Aleister Crowley's dream journal) composed by Cardin's alter-ego, Daemonyx, called “Night of the Daemon.” I enjoyed this multigenre approach. You get a hefty bundle of “awakenings” that really reward the experience with a sustained study of the limits and hopes of religion, the phenomenological experience of dread, the undercurrent of primordial fear in everyday life, and the figurative and literal meanings of the supernatural.
In other words, you get something with serious intellectual heft.
One might presume that a book should only come at you with one approach – i.e., that a reader can only hold a work of fiction, or one of non-fiction, in their hands at once. And it's true that many lesser writers might produce something schizoid if they attempted this dual approach to dread. But the exact opposite is true in Cardin's case: these two genres of writing inform each other in an interesting way, so that by the time you finish the stories and turn to the criticism, you are eager to learn more about the writer's worldview; and when you get to the end, you've learned so much more that you want to turn right back to the beginning and start reading the fiction all over again. And it does reward a second read: Cardin is deft at writing in both genres, because he writes with such a centered focus.
Cardin's writing is at once scholarly and imaginatively rich, but throughout this book you can't help but pick up the author's sense of conviction about the material and his respect for the gutsy legacy of the genre. It is not that he preaches about spirituality; instead, he reasons with his audience and appeals to their sense of wonder…and then leads us into a voluntary contemplation of the abyss. No, not a contemplation, that's too weak a word for Cardin's project. Instead, it is a full bore immersion into oblivion, where neither reason nor emotion can really save you, and you have to transcend or succumb to a larger, sublime reality. Good, ambitious, horror fiction has always done this, reveling in the irrational by pulling the rug out from underneath reason's footing to spill the reader into a vacuum of possibility.
Cardin, following in Lovecraft's tradition, is more interested in crafting and musing over the cosmic horrors that threaten to render us insignificant…when they aren't otherwise threatening to lash our heads off with a tentacled thwack. Rife with dream imagery, and one curious eye flittering about the liminal edge of the abyss, Cardin's storytelling is effective in its tricky balancing act of spiritual curiosity and primordial dread. Some of it will be a bit philosophically pensive for most reader's taste. This sort of writing may appeal mostly to fans who already share the author's worldview. It's somewhat telling that the opening story, “Teeth,” is written in first person from the perspective a grad student in philosophy. Not all readers will be able to identify with that sort of protagonist, who seems a modern echo of Lovecraft's classic scholars-driven-to-insanity-by-indulging-their-relentless-intellectual-curiosity. But then again, who can't help but see one's self mirrored by the narrator of “Teeth,” when he peers into a colleague's notebook and finds himself pulled into the “obscene infinitude” of a mandala filled with “trillions of teeth” that begin to chew away at his mind? That's >our< mind being consumed by the story as we read. And all the stories are engaging in this same manner.
While Cardin's fiction remains potent, the lengthy critical essays in this volume are really important contributions to horror scholarship, and are more grounded in literary history and criticism than Ligotti's book, which draws mostly from existential philosophers – some long forgotten. Cardin's first essay surveys a history of the angel and demon in canonical fiction, opening the reader's eyes to the precedents for these figures in contemporary literature, and revealing their meanings beyond the dominant Christian iconography we find all too familiar. An essay on George Romero's nihilistic Living Dead film series explores the way the cannibalistic zombie icon raises issues related to the body and spirit (and fans of Kim Paffenroth's Stoker-award winning book, Gospel of the Living Dead, will feel amply rewarded by Cardin's essay). Cardin's collection culminates with a close reading of the appearance of monstrous chaos – and the problem of “anti-closure” – in the biblical book of Isaiah. All three essays echo one another's central theme, while illuminating the problems the horror genre has been posing to mankind and meaning alike for centuries, in the process.
Either of these two books would make great fodder in a course in the Philosophy of Horror and Belief. You don't need a professor to give you the syllabus; enroll yourself in these books, and see what lessons their teeth have to teach you.
Find out more about Dark Awakenings on the author's website: http://www.mattcardin.com/darkawakenings.html
Ligotti's Conspiracy Against the Human Race: http://www.hippocampuspress.com/mythos-and-other-authors/nonfiction/the-conspiracy-against-the-human-race-by-thomas-ligotti
[Sidenote: I've gathered all the books I've reviewed in The Goreletter (since 2002) into some fun listmania lists over at amazon.com. Visit:
Have you scrolled this far down the page? Congratulations, then. You get a little reward.
If you haven't ordered or downloaded my cd, Audiovile, now's your chance to get a copy in time for Halloween. For just $6, I'll send you a copy, signed, postage paid. Paypal me at firstname.lastname@example.org or write me at that address for how to pay by check. Samples are also available at http://cdbaby.com/cd/michaelarnzen and via iTunes.
Bonus gift: Although I've taken down the “free ebook” offer for Sportuary to new subscribers, I'll still give you a copy for you Kindle or other e-reader. Just email me for directions, if you haven't already received your free ebook, as a thank you for being a loyal subscriber to The Goreletter. Next issue will come…eventually!
All material in The Goreletter is © 2010 Michael A. Arnzen, unless otherwise noted. All rights reserved. Permission is granted to forward the entire contents of this newsletter as a whole, without alterations or excisions. Direct links to articles in the archives or the weblog are permitted and encouraged, so long as credit is given to Michael Arnzen or gorelets.com. For permission to reprint individual pieces, please contact email@example.com.
Delivered free since Sept. 2002. Issues to date: 42. Published: intermittently. This newsletter is a past recipient of the 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 Last Drop
“Capital punishment. The criminal is killed because the crime has spent all the capacity for living a man has. He has experienced everything if he has killed. He can die. Murder drains a man.” – 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 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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