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!
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 had a wonderful time reading poetry alongside Stephanie Wytovich (who read a battery of amazing “psycho ward” poetry) at DV8 Espresso Cafe & Gallery in Downtown Greensburg, PA, this past weekend. It was standing room only, there were a lot of laughs, and weirdness was definitely in high abundance. Among other things, I got to share my current Mutterverse experiment, which featured a slideshow of strange images…until the power went out on the projector, that is. But I just continued reading in the darkness, which was perfect.
Perhaps the highlight of the night was a “Poedown Throwdown” slam poetry challenge between Stephanie and I, where we tasked one another to write a new poem inspired by an Edgar Allan Poe story and then read it live at the event. She did “The Raven” and I took on “The Black Cat.” Here are the results. I cheated a little by reading three pieces. But ultimately, she may have won. You be the judge!
Poedown with Michael Arnzen and Stephanie Wytovich, Live at DV8 Greensburg (8 mins.):
includes: “Blackbird” by Stephanie Wytovich &
“The Stuffed Black Cat,” “Burning the Witch” and “Poe’s Growth” by Michael Arnzen
Download (12.2 mb)
And I just HAVE to also share the following clip from one of my favorite parts of the night: a reading of “The Seven-Headed Beast” (from my book, 100 Jolts)…that includes creepy audience accompaniment! [Those readers who know my CD, Audiovile, will likely find this "unplugged" version even more disturbing than the original! I know I do....]
“The Seven-Headed Beast” Live at DV8 Cafe, Greensburg PA 11/10/2012
by Michael A. Arnzen (2.32 mins)
DOWNLOAD .mp3 (3.8 mb)
At the fun “Raw Dog Screaming Press Book Party” at the Morgantown Poets group in West Virginia last month, I opened my reading by sharing a piece I’d written for Locus Magazine, a poem about why I write poetry, which I contributed to their running Roundtable series on speculative poetry. Here’s my recitation of “On the Irrelevance of Genre Poetry,” recorded during the reading. I don’t often write things like this — an opinion essay told in the form of a poem — but the audience really seemed to laugh and also get charged up by the poem.
Press the play button below to listen, or the link below it to download the file for your own devices.
Open Locus Magazine’s page in a new window if you’d like to read along. Please also consider leaving a comment on their site or below.
Locus Magazine is a long-running trade magazine for publishers, writers and dedicated fans in the genre, featuring reviews and coverage of trends in science-fiction, fantasy and horror publishing. While you’re there, read the other great articles on the Roundtable by Marge Simon, Robert Frazier, David Kopaska-Merkel, Denise Dumars, F.J. Bergmann and plenty of other great practicing sf/f/h poets on the Locus Roundtable Blog.
If you’re a genre poet, be sure to check out the Science Fiction Poetry Association and join the community. I’ve been a member since something like 1988, and their annual Rhysling Award anthology and journal (Star*Line) alone are worth the dues. Plus they do lots of fun things, like post audio readings of horror poetry every Halloween — check it out.
Many see the Freaksicord as if it were a mirage when they first encounter it. It stands — astonishingly — like a walking stomach. Only as an afterthought does one notice the head, which dangles somewhere down below. Its head is so heavy with teeth, the neck can not bear its weight, and the head sometimes swings on its stalk like a pendulum between the beast’s stocky legs. Many presume that they might die between those muscular jaws, but what they don’t realize is that the neck, wings and head together function like a lever, lifting pray up into the air only to drop it back down onto the horns that protrude from a place near the bloated tic-like stomach. Blood is absorbed by the Freaksicord’s skin. It needs no mouth to consume you.
Thanks to Quinto Martin, who ran a teaching-with-technology training session this week at Seton Hill University on the subject of games in education. We installed Maxis’ free trial edition of the popular Spore Creature Creator. “You could have students make creatures and then write stories about them,” Martin suggested, pointing out the various character traits that can be manipulated in the software. He asked us to try it ourselves and submit what we came up with. The above was mine, which I thought I’d share here.
I think I was getting hungry when I wrote this. I also think the wings should be where ears might appear on the sides of the golf-club-shaped head.
Maybe I’ll try this activity next time I teach my undergraduate course in Horror and Suspense Writing.
Kurt Newton reads his poem, “The 39 Steps,” at the book launch event for A Sea of Alone: Poems for Alfred Hitchcock (Ed. Christopher Conlon, Dark Scribe Press, June 2011). Recorded live at the 2011 Stoker Weekend in NY on June 18th. Watch Dark Scribe for news about ordering this excellent anthology.
President Boyle, Provost Gawelek, distinguished members of the stage, cherished faculty colleagues, dear staff, close friends and — most importantly — future alumnae of Seton Hill University…I thank you all for this dubious honor. I also want to thank two other major figures in my life, without whom I would not be here today: first, my wife, Renate, who chose to move from Germany to America just to be with me in 1987 and has been more supportive of my work than my very own backbone ever since. And secondly, I have to thank that special group of people who have always been there for me, giving me everything I ever needed during my entire career, and that would be the Starbucks Coffee Company.
But seriously, again, I thank all of you for this significant award and I will gladly accept it, but only on behalf of all the faculty gathered in this room, for each and every one of us is a Professor of the Year, to someone in our own special way. It isn’t fair that I am singled out when so many at Seton Hill work so tirelessly to contribute to your education, so I would ask everyone assembled to take a moment to think about a specific teacher (or colleague) who made a difference in your life this year, and I ask you to applaud those professors of the year right now.
Today is very special to me. Not only because of this honor, which is great, but because it’s Friday the 13th and everyone is dressed in black. Now if only you were all wearing hockey masks, too…then it would be perfect.
You’ve been here at Seton Hill for four long years. I’m sure you’ve loved it for the most part, and you probably can’t believe it’s finally over. But it’s also been hard. Just a few days ago you were probably wondering if the madness would ever end. There may have been days when you felt trapped, isolated, homesick and scared. Now, tomorrow you will be set free. We’ll still be here, but you’ll be gone, and the place will seem empty without you. No, not empty. Haunted. So I wrote a poem for you. It’s called…
The Hotel La Setonia
On a dark Lincoln Highway,
cool wind in my hair
Warm smell of Velveeta,
rising up through the air
Up ahead in the distance,
I saw a sycamore hill
My head grew heavy as I approached Admin,
then my heart stopped with a chill.
A griffin stood in the doorway;
I heard that weird grandfather clock’s bell.
And I was thinking to myself:
is that lion or eagle poop that I smell?
Then he lit up an ipad
and he showed me the way.
There were voices down the corridor,
thought I heard them say:
Welcome to the Hotel La Setonia.
We wear a cap and gown.
But the fun stuff’s downtown.
There’s not much room at the Hotel La Setonia.
Now’s “your chance to shine,”
if you can park in time.
The mascot’s smile was twisted
up inside of his beak
with lots of pretty, pretty teeth…
you know, it’s really kind of a freak.
And then we walked toward McKenna –
sweet Griffin sweat.
Pot holes to remember;
mud lots to forget.
I called out to the students,
“Fear nothing but a closed mind!”
But Griff said, “we haven’t used that slogan here
since Two Thousand and Nine.”
And still those voices are calling from far away,
They wake you up in the middle of the night
pounding on Steinways, singing…
Welcome to the Hotel La Setonia.
Logging on is rare,
in the Griffin’s Lair
They’re livin’ it up at the Hotel La Setonia.
What a nice surprise,
breakfast with curly fries!
Workouts before the sunrise;
night classes run late.
And Griff said “we are all just prisoners here,
behind the GriffinGate.”
And in the Greensburg Room Annex,
they gathered for the feast.
They cut the budget with their steely knives,
but tuition’s still increased!
Last thing I remember, I was
“Hazarding Yet Forward”;
I had to find the passage back
to where I first met that weird pawed-bird
“Relax,” said the Griffin,
“We are programmed to achieve.
Grab a shuttle any time you like,
but you never can never leave!”
Here the griffin would play a fantastic twenty-minute guitar solo. But I promise to keep the rest of this speech a little shorter than that. And I probably should say a few more words, because I don’t want you to leave Seton Hill with the impression that I am the Weird Al Yankovich of Higher Learning.
Oh no, I’m much weirder than that. Many of you know I write and teach horror fiction, so I want to share a few thoughts and lessons gleaned from my lifelong study of dread and disease, as something resembling parting advice.
The first is a reiteration of that famous line from Saint Elizabeth Ann Seton: “Fear nothing but a closed mind.” I love this slogan. I wonder if she ever was audited by the IRS, but I really do love those words. It’s a great way to approach whatever it is you fear in your future after college. But more than that, we live in a world of scary things, where everything from terrorists to tornadoes threaten to topple our security. If you’ve been paying attention to the news, then you know that the 21st Century has so far been one big never-ending horror show. But the truth is that life is and always has been unpredictable and scary — the problem, I think, is that we’re just more aware of it than ever, receiving all of our technology streams. It’s easy to become hypersensitive to threats and respond with paranoia — or to be completely desensitized and react with zombie-like ennui. But fear is always the cause of closed-mindedness. You can’t let fear immobilize you. You combat it with reason, ingenuity, education and humor.
The phrase “ignorance is bliss” is a cop-out. An outright lie. Ignorance is a third grader behind the wheel of a car, blissfully barreling down the road during rush hour. The ignorant don’t know any better — and always learn their lessons the hard way. (This is what I write about). The good drivers aren’t just people above the age of three — they are the defensive ones, the ones who know how to predict where danger might lurk. But still they drive. That’s what the college motto, “hazard yet forward,” is all about. Make it your road sign on the journey of life.
I think people like horror stories because they help us navigate the hazards and keep us alert to things that might surprise us along the way. When people ask me, “Why do you write such scary stuff? You’re such a normal looking person,” I always answer “The real question is, why on earth do people read it?” But if you want to find the answer, go to the horror movies, and look at the audience. People cover their eyes with their hands during the scary parts, and peer between their fingers. We play peekaboo with this stuff. The phrase “I can’t believe my eyes” comes to mind. And that is the second lesson I have for you: Play peekaboo with the universe. You’ll learn a lot. But it will always only be a partial view. So don’t cover your eyes, but don’t ever believe your eyes either. At least not entirely.
What do I mean by that?
Are you familiar with the surrealist painter Magritte? You might recognize his painting, Son of Man, which simply depicts a generic man in a gray suit wearing a bowler hat, with a large green apple strangely floating in the space in front of his face. When asked why he blocked out his subject’s face so weirdly, he said something simple but profound: “Everything we see hides another thing; we always want to see what is hidden by what we see.”
I love this. Because it relates so closely to both horror fiction and the quest of education: to look beyond the obvious. Horror is art and — with the exception of my terrible poem at the beginning of this speech — art is not a car accident that invites rubbernecking, which people always compare it to. Art asks us to boldly look and understand our world differently. That’s one of my missions as an author. I’m not saying you should all be a horror fan, but I do think you should pay more attention to art, even if it disturbs you. Because art is paying attention to things that the world chooses to ignore. We always are limited by our own perception, but art — especially the scary kind — allows us to see beyond the habitual worldview and the limits of our senses.
But artists are weird, I know. Weirdness will always make us uncomfortable. But you have to be courageous. Don’t fear the weirdness. Embrace it in others and in yourself. Hug your inner freak and kiss it on its fang-laden mouth. And give a firm handshake to the strange people in your life. You can always use hand sanitizer. It’s worth it because these strangers — no matter how scary they might seem at first — have lessons to teach you. If you are scared by someone who is different than you, who looks differently or acts differently, then that fear is a sign that you have a lot left to learn about them and everything they represent.
The truth is, everyone’s weird, but few have the courage to admit it. So to the class of 2011 I say: “COURAGE, WEIRDOS!”
Congratulations and Happy Friday the 13th.
Thank you to all my students and colleagues for daring to dub me “Professor of the Year” and giving me this fantastic honor (which includes a nice parking spot next year!). I loved giving the above speech and hearing the laughter. The poem has a lot of inside jokes about the campus, but I was so happy everyone “got it” — especially all the parents in the room — and that the jokes didn’t bomb. Photos will be added as they come in.
Here’s the campus press release about the award.
HAPPY HOLIDAYS! Against my better judgment, for a gift I give you this Christmas story — “Dear Santa” — a long lost manuscript of the very first horror story I ever sold (to GAS magazine in 1989), but which ultimately never saw print. On the one hand, this is old and amateur enough to be most embarrassing. On the other hand, I think I’ve made a career of embarrassing myself. Enjoy?
(If you cannot read the above, see if you can click on the “view fullscreen” link at the top of the reader. Or just head on over to scribd.com, a neat site for document sharing that I have just joined. Comments, “follows” and offers to buy my old manuscripts for heaps of gold bullion are always more than welcome!)
Have a great holiday season…
Happy Halloween! Here’s a treat: “Behind the Halloween Fire”: original widescreen desktop wallpaper art available at the Arnzen Flickr Gallery, or click on the image above and then save to your computer.
Don’t forget: the Halloween Haiku Contest ends tonight (Oct 31st, 2010) at Midnight eastern. Enter a haiku caption to one of the images in my “Scrawl” gallery for your chance to win a free copy of the new Richard Matheson tribute anthology, He Is Legend (which includes my story, “She Screech Like Me”), along with a surprise treat. Be sure to read the haiku there for some fun and twisted inspiration.
ATTACK OF THE BLEU MAN GROUP
by Michael A. Arnzen (3.33 mins)
DOWNLOAD .mp3 (3.4 mb)
Happy Halloween! For a surprise treat this year, I am releasing a new humorous zombie story, exclusively in audio format, called “Attack of the Bleu Man Group.” It’s a wacky musical number, as much as a bizarro fiction reading, in the style of Audiovile. Without giving too much away, I’ll just say two things about it: 1) yes, I meant to spell it “bleu,” and, 2) “zombie mimes in black berets”!
Just crank up your speakers and press the red play button above. Or go ahead and download the .mp3 (3.43 MB — right click that link to save it to your computer) for free right now and listen to it whenever you like. (Free for personal use only. All other rights reserved.)
Comments welcome here on the blog, and please do let others know about this strangeness however you can.
If this sort of thing is your cup of tea, then I hope you’ll pick up a copy of my cd, Audiovile, which features 16 tracks just as strange as this one, featuring musically-enhanced stories from my book, 100 Jolts, and beyond. You can get it from iTunes or buy the cd itself via cdbaby.com or the publisher, Raw Dog Screaming Press. But I’m offering up a special deal to readers of The Goreletter: get a signed CD copy for just $6, postage paid. Order from PayPal by using the button below, or e-mail me if you need to use check or cash.
p.s. You can find other audio streams here on gorelets.com, via the “audio” tag.