This summer, Raw Dog Screaming Press is releasing my hard-to-find second novel, Play Dead, in paperback (and ebook) form for the very first time. PREORDER THE PAPERBACK and you’re entered to win this rare special sculpture-bound edition…
“Set in a neon-lit metropolis where desperation and moral corruption are commonplace and the difference between life and death is mere luck, this viciously realistic look into the not-so-glamorous world of high-stakes gambling (and the sinister individuals who exist in its shadows) is as utterly repellent as it is addictively readable. Gambling aficionados as well as horror, mystery and crime fiction fans are sure to enjoy this action-packed 52-chapter ‘novel-of-cards’—if Play Dead were a poker hand, it would undoubtedly be a royal flush.” —Barnes & Noble’s Ransom Notes magazine
“Imagine David Mamet doing an episode of Tales from the Crypt, Scorcese in the Twilight Zone, that sort of feel. And the horror in the novel is genuine. Despite the pulpy feel, the existential questions put forth by the novel give it a real gravity.” —Jeremy Robert Johnson, Dark Discoveries magazine
Like a deck of cards, Play Dead deals out the story of a pack of pathological gamblers in 52 chapters of supernatural noir. Its main characters are players in a secret poker game that promises salvation if they play their cards right. The catch? They have to invent their own deck of cards that “capture life,” leading the players to take sinister acts of desperation.
“Like a game of high-stakes poker, the story progresses hand after hand, with increasing intensity, the characters tempting fate while they seal their own… Arnzen is a master of the concise. This book is relatively short, under 300 pages, but packs a powerful wallop.”—Flesh & Blood magazine
“If you’re a poker player and you read this book, you’ll never look at another hand without thinking about it in a macabre way.” —Doorways magazine
The 2005 hardcover release sold out swiftly and received rave reviews. Now, for the FIRST TIME IN PAPERBACK, the dealer is dishing out a second round.
Are you ready to play? Ante up at Raw Dog Screaming Press.
For more information, see my book page for Play Dead, featuring excerpts, images, and more reviews.
Since January, I have had the great fortune of teaching a 15 week course in Horror & Suspense Writing at Seton Hill University. As their final project, the students were asked to create a multimedia story. I am happy to share the great results below!
- Tyler Carter, “The Lost Man” (short film)
- Sarah Lago, “Eradicate” (short film)
- SarahTantlinger, “When the Sky Turns Red” (short film)
- Michael Ingram, “Grave” (short film)
- Calvin Yoder, “Stuck” (short film)
- Jeannie Bujdos, “Germs” (short film)
- Jessica Walker, “Indulgence” (short film)
- Ashley Samek, “An Unexpected Guest” (short film)
- Brendan Monahan, “Sea of Bones” (short film)
- Jered W. Johnston, “The Nightmare Man” (short film)
- Sarah Last, “Project” (short film)
- Felicia Domasky, “Herrington’s Tragedy” (short film)
- Stephen Ray, “The Voice that was Silenced” (short film)
- Jade Woodridge, “Children of the Night” (short film)
- Kayla Lent, “Decomposed” (short film)
- Holly Reid, “Meat” (story trailer/vid)
- Esther Spurlock, “Murder My Tears” (hypertext story)
- Shelly Decker, “Convening with the Spirits” (hypertext story)
- Allyssa Yanniello, “Choices” (hypertext story)
- Angie LaVelle, “Killing Fate” (downloadable game)
My class had a lot of fun all term, composing all sorts of terrifying and insane tales. You can also see their drawings of monsters online, too, such as their interpretations of the character “X” from Matheson’s “Born of Man and Woman,” or their fun contributions to the Cthulhu mythos, based on the spelling of their last names backwards. I suspect some of their tales will also be published in various magazines and books in the near future for you to read, as well!
I’m presently wrapping up a full semester of teaching Horror Writing to undergrads at Seton Hill University, and we’ve been having a blast doing all sorts of multimedia work — especially work using SoundCloud for audio critiques. Along the way, I’ve been been playing with the site, too, uploading lecture excerpts and strange sound prompts and other weird things. I even recently gave a little presentation about the class experiments for a conference we held on campus called the iTeach gallery.
During the term, I discovered the above excerpt (from my article in the wonderful book for dark authors, WRITER’S WORKSHOP OF HORROR, edited by Michael Knost — who just edited a similar book on Science Fiction and Fantasy coming out next month). The exerpt had been a featured reprint in THE WRITER magazine and therefore available in our college library’s online databases in full text format. The database included an audio player for the visually impaired, so I played it and recorded the robotic voice reading my article so I’d have a copy…then I distorted the file on my computer to give it, well, some kind of aura of the strange. Here’s the result: a mini-lecture by the ghost in the machine, about writing in the horror genre, drawing from my favorite quote by Psycho-author Robert Bloch: “Horror is the removal of masks.”
Arnzen, Michael A. “An Open Book: Writer’s Workshop of Horror” in The Writer (Jan 2010). Excerpt from Knost, Michael, Ed. Writer’s Workshop of Horror. Woodland Press, 2009.
Thought I’d toss up a quick reminder that I’ve been erratically posting Instigation prompts to twitter all month, which are feeding into the new Instigation Showcase page. I conceive of all this as being not only an extension of this department on the blog, but also the recently-released ebook. If you’re on twitter, just follow @MikeArnzen — if you’re not, you can always see what I’m posting to that nefarious site on the archive I keep called “The Nest” right here at gorelets.com/nest. Here’s a sampler of some recent favorites:
- “Construct a scenario involving a contemporary equivalent to firewalking on hot coals.”
“Pick an occupation (eg. banker, fireman, etc.). Your title is: ‘Bring me the Head of the [Occupation].’”
“Your character spots a broken scalpel blade, in the corner of library’s restroom floor.”
“The setting: a cannibal food truck.”
“Create a strange gathering of feathers.”
And sometimes I toss out some images, too, like this one, recently posted to my flickr gallery:
The dark side should breed and spread, don’t you think? If you come up with anything based on these and publish it (or post it online), I’ll happily add your name with a link back, to the Instigation Showcase!
His name is Angel Zapata. He doesn’t know I’m doing this. And I don’t know Angel at all. I only know him from a few pieces of writing I’ve seen online. And I think he’s doing really interesting work.
Angel Zapata strikes me as one of those guys who is writing for the love it. From my review of his website, I can tell that he has had an awful lot of success publishing as a poet on the dark side and in the realm of the short mystery, and he’s earned more than enough cred in my book to be dubbed a real “indie writer.” You can tell just from the blogroll on his website that lists all the places he’s published his crafty, often dark, thinkpieces. He’s widespread and placing little jewels of work in all sorts of little lit zines, so he might not be someone who is on your radar. But maybe that gives him even more cred, because he’s sort of a lone wolf, earning his own bread, bit-by-bit across the internet. He’s steering clear of bandwagons to pilot his own ship, and taking it wherever he wants it to go. But you can tell he’s well read, an aficionado of the genre, and a person who is professional in every way. And he has a great sense of humor.
And I think he’s someone who could use more attention. I like writers like Angel. He’s a writer earning his audience. Some one should pay this man more money for what he does, because he has a lot of talent. Since I am not a Wall Street broker, I can’t give him anything, beyond tossing him a few royalties when I buy the books he appears in. But I can give him a little spotlight by turning you on to his work. So that’s what I’m trying to do in this blog entry.
You see, writers often band together and promote each other, either because they’re affiliated by genre or have a shared publishing history. That’s one of the reasons we need publishers who offer up the pages in their journals and the space on their website to foment a community. Writers and editors and readers all come together at what Germans call the “treffpunkt” — the rendezvous point or gathering place — to traffic with the tribe.
I think that’s why journals like The 5-2: Crime Poetry Weekly — run by a very generous soul and smart editor/poet named Gerald So — are such cool places to publish and visit. The 5-2 is well-populated by great authors who are delivering the goods for anyone interested in mystery and crime stories. If you’re into the crime genre, you should be into the 5-2. It posts new material EVERY WEEK like clockwork. But it’s also a little bit off. Like any good outlaw, this weekly journal is doing something a little bit off the grid. It’s an indie journal doing indie things. To be more specific: it’s Mr. So’s treffpunkt off the grid for people who are interested in what happens when vice and villainy are put through that unique word grinder known as “poetry.”
Crime…poetry? Is that like gangsta rap? Not quite, but they are sibling subgenres in their own way.
So much of what constitutes the “crime” genre is defined by popular mystery novels, potboiler paperback thrillers, prime time cop shows, and, heck, maybe even the nightly news. But poetry? Believe it or not, poetry has something different to say, because by its very nature it has to say things differently. This frees the subject matter from the conventions of narrative to dance to its own beat. Poetry is an exploration. And I harbor the suspicion that criminals and detectives are explorers in their own right, too. So as a peculiar little subgenre, “crime poetry” is really interesting stuff, and from all I can tell, the 5-2 Crime Poetry Weekly is THE treffpunkt for this business.
Angel belongs there, and I hope to encounter his work in the 5-2 or in a similar meeting place when our paths cross once again.
Back in November of 2012, Angel published a devious little poem on the 5-2, called “Housekeeper.” I should just shut my yapper and let you go read it on the site, but here’s the non-spoiler gist of the poem in a nutshell: the poem is about a man who is tricking his housekeeper into cleaning evidence of his crime up after him, in a very clever way.
I love this idea. It is a case study in the old “hidden in plain sight” trick that the great writers are able to pull off. But more than that, the poem — in just 20 brief lines — gives us a full blown picture of the criminal’s backstory, his psychological motive, and the perverse pleasure he takes in getting revenge. We get hit in the gut with a “perfect murder” scenario, followed by a punch square in the jaw with the poem’s final lines. I’m not sure whether to loather the killer or feel sorry for him, but it doesn’t matter at that point: it’s a knockout poem precisely because it pushes me off balance and resists an easy judgment about the killer’s guilt. Its also one of those poems that deserves to be re-read (my favorite kind), because you start to see more depth and dark irony to it the more you read it. You start to see hidden meanings in the passing mention of “cancer” and the comparison of a trash heap to “volcanic ash”. Though I’d love to keep performing an explication de texte to prove just how good it is, I won’t say anything more, because I want you to read it, study it, and see what makes it such a successful piece of crime poetry on your own.
But if you’re impatient, how about this: One of the (many) great things about the 5-2 is that the site is very active in social networking, tapping twitter, youtube blogging and e-books to broaden the audience for its outlaw poets. Along with every poem, Gerald So includes recitations of the poems via youtube broadcasts, and you can hear Dehant Paul read Angel’s “Housekeeper” here or in the embedded video below. But do go to the 5-2 and read the poem too, and I think you’ll understand why I admire its craftsmanship.
The 5-2 is not the only place I’ve encountered Angel Zapata’s work.
I recently judged the annual flash fiction contest for microhorror.com, which meant reading a bunch of anonymous horror stories having to do with the theme of “art” and picking my favorites. It turned out that Angel’s short story, “The Blood Worms” was one of my top picks and it placed as a winner in the contest. Here’s what I said in my review:
The Blood Worms?! How could anyone not be intrigued by a title like that? The concept of this one is pretty strong, but Zapata’s story really won me over with its chilling imagery — and the sheer insanity depicted here really transfers from the story into the reader’s mind. “Blood Worms” is written with a sure hand, driven to deliver the goods, and it succeeds in depicting an artist’s vision as a disturbed one. The last line stuck with me long after I read it, like an afterburn.
I won’t give anything away, but I know you’ll be hooked if I cite just one sentence from the story — a bit of dialogue uttered by a madman:
‘The worms eat us,’ he said. ‘Now I eat them.’
I love that line. Angel and I think alike.
So do most of the writers over at the 5-2. Head on over and meet me at the treffpunkt. You can read a piece I published there last year if you like, called “This is How I Murdered the Librarian.” Or simply join me in celebrating the 30 Days of the 5-2 for the rest of the month.
If you’re on twitter, you can also follow @poemsoncrime and use hashtag #30OfThe52 to help promote the site for National Poetry Month. Not into that? Then just remember the name ANGEL ZAPATA and seek out his work. And if you’re not into any of this? Well, then go your merry way and let the worms eat you.
– Mike Arnzen
p.s. In addition to this tribute to the 5-2, I am also celebrating April by posting a new horror poem every day throughout the month on my website at gorelets.com. Come back and read the new pieces as they’re posted. A new one — a poem constructed with The Fridge of the Damned magnetic poetry tiles —
will appear tonight! is now live, called “Zombie Milk”!
I’ve signed up over at NaPoWriMo.net, committing to try to write and post a new poem every day throughout April for “National Poetry Writing Month”. My plan is to mix things up regularly: to post twitter poems, full-length gorelets, some audio recordings, videos, word art, and more Fridge of the Damned magnet poetry pieces. Return to this calendar page for all this, which I’m posting off the main blog to avoid clutter and confusion; things will also be tagged as #napowrimo on twitter or The Nest if you want to search for them. I invite you to join me, too, on the Instigation Showcase (see below)!
Key: Blue = Text | Black = Multimedia
Related NaPoWriMo activities I’m indulging in…
+ I’ve joined the gang over at the 5-2 Crime Poetry Weekly for 30 Days of the 5-2. My particular post is going up on April 4th. Update: Scott Emerson posted a kind review of my own poetry on the 5-2 as part of this event too.)
+ I will fit some poetry reading in between the bouts of writing. And if time permits, review it.
+ I’ll post #Instigation prompts to twitter (echoed on the Instigation Showcase) more frequently throughout the month…see below for more details.
+ A new issue of The Goreletter will appear this month. Certainly it will contain a poetry-related contest with some goodies for prizes, so subscribe!
+ DO YOU WRITE? I will continue to celebrate the recent release of my ebook, Instigation: Creative Prompts on the Dark Side by posting #Instigation prompts on twitter… these (along with more) are automatically fed into the new Instigation Showcase page, so if you’re a poet/writer looking for dark inspiration, you’ve found the right place! You also can get a meaty sampler from the book of prompts over at scribd.com/Arnzen
ALERT, 4/5: in celebration of #NaPoWriMo Raw Dog Screaming Press is now offering the Fridge of the Damned poetry magnets at a discount for this month (buy yours here for just $10). Remember that I will post photos of all shared #TFOTD work in the amazing fridge fan gallery! Write a fridge magnet poem for Nat’l Poetry Month.
Instigation: Creative Prompts on the Dark Side is a treasury of twisted tips, strange scenarios and disturbing sparks to help ignite the fuel in your creative furnace. Its aim? To push you into the danger zone of your imagination, by thinking in unconventional ways and trying things you never thought — or dared — to try before in your writing, art, or dreams.
See the catalog page for more information.
DIRECT PURCHASE FROM MASTICATION for $3.99:
NOTE: This book is currently only available in .mobi, .epub, and .pdf formats, which are readable in most ebook devices and computers. It will soon also be available directly from more ebook distributors like amazon and Barnes and Noble. A print edition is not currently available (though you can get a large sampler in the hardcover only edition of The Gorelets Omnibus published by Raw Dog Screaming Press).
Announcing the Instigation Showcase!
From now on, anyone who publishes a response to a prompt or is inspired to write something specifically in response to Instigation: Creative Prompts on the Dark Side or the Instigation department on this weblog will be listed on the new Showcase page dedicated to helping broaden your audience.
Over the years, I’ve received numerous emails from writers who produced new work based on the prompts in The Goreletter, and I’m happy to have finally figured out a way to showcase your work. Share your links to work (whether on a blog or in a book) that has Instigation as its source, via e-mail or comments on the blog and you’ll be listed. That easy. And remember to check back from time to time to read the work of others… it’s bound to inspire you to pick up your demonic pen.
[NEWSFLASH: TONIGHT (3/15) is Instigation Eve! Help us get ready to launch the book this evening. Folks are sharing links to masticationpublications.com and tweeting their own bizarro prompts using the hashtag #Instigation.
Don’t forget: subscribers to the Mastication Publications newsletter will get a discount code to use when purchasing Instigation directly from this website!
borrowing from Bond
he brings home the bloated baggie
and scoops out blissful killifish,
dropping one after the other
into his plastic aquarium:
the translucent bucket
of gold paint
these goldfish never swim,
and his net is clotted
from skimming them back out
so often, but he knows
he will find the right species
eventually — there are tens of thousands
and if he knows his evolution,
then only the fittest will survive
The Fridge of the Damned is currently landing in backer mailboxes everywhere, and people are having a blast with the weird horror poetry magnets, and sharing their photos online. If you’re one of them, I invite you to email me a shot or post a link to one to contribute a photo to the Fridge of the Damned gallery on Flickr. People are also sharing shots on twitter with hashtag #TFOTD. I love what I’ve seen so far!
The Fridge of the Damned is now offered for sale for $12 each by Raw Dog Screaming Press, while supplies last.
As I’ve reported over the past month, we successfully funded the production of The Fridge of the Damned at the end of January through a great Kickstarter campaign, and rewards to backers are being distributed as I type, including all the awesomely weird horror poetry magnets in a despicable tin set. You can order a set if you didn’t get one through the kickstarter campaign, now, too!
If you make a cool poem with the FotD, please take a photo and share it (or a link to it) with me via comment below or email. I will post it to our Flickr gallery for all to see! Like this one, our first arrival from Jennifer Barnes:
If you were unable to participate in the Kickstarter, the remainder of the manufacturing run is being offered for sale through Raw Dog Screaming Press — just $12 while supplies last. Place your order on their website.
This morning’s cereal is “Wisdom Teeth,” a handcrafted work of disturbing brilliance on the absurdity of the body and the insanity of pain, brought to you by the wonderfully deranged animator Don Hertzfeldt. You must visit him at bitterfilms.com — where you can pick up DVDs of his selected works over the past decade. His most recent work is the “Bill” trilogy, aka It’s Such a Beautiful Day — a haunting work of existentialism can’t recommend enough. And for a limited time, he is currently screening his brilliant, must-see 2005 film, The Meaning of Life in HD on Youtube.
Don’t forget to brush your teeth.