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.
While “responsive” is a word I usually associate with “Things Doctors Say In Intensive Care Units,” it’s also a word that now applies to this website. “Responsive” means that the site automatically recognizes if you’re reading it with a touchscreen device and it changes to make it more mobile-friendly. [The same is true of the Arnzen Social Network page at http://michaelarnzen.com/ and most of the other main pages linked in my menu.] While I doubt it’s perfect, you can now far more easily read the text and browse pages while on the road, riding in the back of your hearse or whatever. I’ve only tested it on an iphone and ipad, but it seems to work well. In fact, in iOS, you can not only bookmark it, you can choose “Add to Home Screen” and it will place an icon on your main screen that you can click for instance access to these pages, just like clicking on an “app.” Try it out, Apple-heads!
It’s funny to me to reflect on how far things have changed — yet remained virtually the same — over the decade+ that I’ve been running this website. I bet most people don’t realize that “gorelets” is neologism short for “gory applets” (aka “apps”) — which was how the original poetry series was created and delivered using some of the first handheld devices (PDAs). Here’s a funny before-and-after comparison of gorelets now and then, to show the evolution of this website.
This is all very trivial, but you can read more about the history behind the gorelets project in The Gorelets Omnibus. An excerpt, answering the question “What are Gorelets?” is available on the book page for the original chapbook, Gorelets: Unpleasant Poems, where more photos and history is provided.
To all my longtime readers and goreletter subscribers over the past decade who have been there with me since the beginning and are smiling right alongside me…THANK YOU.
Related fiction: “Introducing MyBlade”– a parody of those infamous Steve Jobs-styled ipod/iphone product announcement speeches, published in The Goreletter back in 2007. (And here’s a funny youtube video I found of some kids goofing around with an uncannily similar concept).
The latest issue of the bizarro journal, The Dream People, includes my story, “The Fortune Cookie,” excerpted from The Gorelets Omnibus. You may have seen this before, but go check out The Dream People anyway, because it’s got some good features this issue, including a focus on my Master’s thesis advisor from way back when, the inimitable Lance Olsen (who I recently learned won a Guggenheim Fellowship…way to go, Lance!).
My fellow weird writers might want to take note of this.
One of the neat bonus features available only in the hardcover edition of The Gorelets Omnibus is a “horror poetry writing workshop” that includes a handful of essays I’ve written about the craft over the years (for places like Byline magazine and the Science Fiction Poetry Association’s Star*Line magazine, among others). The chapter titles are:
“The Poetics of Horror”
“The Element of Fear in Horror Poetry”
“The Dead Draft: When Poetry Fails”
“New Media Horror: Six Lessons from an E-Poet”
Rounding out this virtual workshop in the book is a complete collection of Instigation prompts (aka “Twisted Prompts for Sicko Writers”) that have not only appeared on gorelets.com and in the Goreletter newsletter, but also from my former weekly column in Hellnotes newsletter. I think there are something in the order of 300 creative prompts, all counted…maybe more. Here’s an excerpt from the book that samples of just a few, which I recently shared on my page at scribd.com. :
Readers of this blog who have the writing bug might want to hop on over to Amazon.com and put in an order for my latest book (co-edited with Heidi Ruby Miller), called Many Genres, One Craft: Lessons in Writing Popular Fiction.
Modeled after the graduate program where I teach — the MFA in Writing Popular Fiction at Seton Hill University — Many Genres is a thick hardcover collection of over sixty essays by prominent writers who look under the hood of both the craft of writing for a genre audience and the business of penning novels in today’s publishing world. There are several essays focused on horror and suspense fiction, including chapters by Gary Braunbeck, David Morrell, Lawrence C. Connolly, Mary SanGiovanni, Tom Monteleone, Tim Waggoner, Tess Gerritsen, and, so many more. I contributed six pieces, covering everything from “the art of surprise” in horror to how to make writing workshops work best. I think this book is really something unique.
Many Genres will be in print in May! You might as well preorder it today if you want to get yours hot off the press, and get started on a book this summer. Here’s the introduction and complete table of contents for your previewing pleasure (visit scribd.com, if for some reason you can’t read the window below):
We are keeping an active weblog about the book, featuring contributor profiles, bonus articles, and book news. I also hope to have guests appear on the “Instigation” department of The Goreletter as part of the title’s Virtual Book Tour soon.
Better yet, please ask your bookseller to stock it! Here are the key specs:
Title: Many Genres, One Craft: Lessons in Writing Popular Fiction
Author: Edited by Michael A. Arnzen and Heidi Ruby Miller
Publisher: Headline Books Date: May 2011
Hardcover. 384 pages. List Price: $29.99 (US)
As I work on the next issue of The Goreletter, I thought I’d post a little New Year’s round up of recent activity and news of some exciting things to spill soon out of the cracks in the Arnzen brainbox.
Earlier today, I uploaded scans of a few rare broadsides from days of yore to the new “Arnzen Manuscripts and Rarities” collection on Scribd.com. I thought fans of my book, Proverbs for Monsters, might like to get a peek at the history behind some of the stories. (Dark Regions Press is selling Proverbs for Monsters at a nice discount right now… visit them at darkregions.com ). I’ll likely keep updating this site with various oddities, and excerpts from forthcoming titles, so if you’re on scribd, please follow me or leave comments.
New artwork continues to be posted to my flickr gallery on a semi-regular basis, like the image above. This one reminded me of the story, “Spring Ahead, Fall Back” so I called it that. There are also new things going up every now and again to the Gorelets.com gallery on this very website (like several poster art pieces I discovered recently, when going through my old files).
And the big news:
Many of you might realize that the name of this website, gorelets.com, refers to my poetry experiment — and subsequent poetry chapbook — called Gorelets: Unpleasant Poems. This webpage was originally just a platform for distributing short-short horror poems to people with handheld computers long before there was a twitter or even a Kindle. 2011 will mark a DECADE since launching that experiment, so to celebrate, I am compiling a HUGE e-collection of poetry, articles, and other fun related to the gorelets project called The Gorelets Omnibus, which should be available on Amazon.com as a Mastication Publications title in the weeks ahead. The original Gorelets collection had just 52 poems — which really is quite a few. But last I counted, this new ominbus edition will have something like 183 poems in it! I will likely create enough exclusives to bring that number up to 200, just because I like round numbers and because I like to make each edition of a book a little special. Anyway, if you’re a regular visitor to this site, I think you’ll enjoy it a great deal.
2010 was a sluggish year for me due to some setbacks and work commitments, but the haze of the year is settling and I’m excited about the year — nay, the decade — to come. Right now I’m juggling four book-length projects, I have several short stories I’ve promised to horror anthologies in development, and lots of stuff on publisher’s desks getting typeset as we speak. So I suspect 2011 will be a very happy new weird. I wish you all the best.
Much more to come soon! Subscribe to the email edition of The Goreletter so you don’t miss a beat.
A few bits of “writer”-related news to note:
I’ll be returning as a guest lecturer at the Odyssey Fantasy Writing Workshop next Summer (applications for early admission due Jan 30th!). The kind folks at Odyssey just interviewed me for their blog, too, where I talk about how I persisted in the early years of my career, and where I share some advice for writers of genre fiction. [I'll also be returning to teach at the Alpha Workshops for Young SF/F/H Writers next summer, as well!]
A shorter interview is attached to a brief 5-Star Review of my short story “Spring Ahead, Fall Back,” over on Red Adept’s Kindle Book Review Blog. You can get that story and more on your Kindle at amazon.com. [Speaking of amazon, I just posted lengthy "Listmania" of hard-to-find anthologies they sell in which I appear, aptly entitled "Michael Arnzen Is Lurking In The Shadowy Corners of Your Bookstore"].
P.S. My 20th Anniversary Contest has passed deadline.
If you have entered by kindly writing a customer review, you need to let me know about it via e-mail with your mailing address asap. The random draw for winners will be posted later this week. WINNERS HAVE BEEN POSTED. THANKS TO ALL!
I’m pleased to appear in this brand new book of advice for those who want to improve their horror fiction, called order The Writer’s Workshop of Horror (ed. Michael Knost, Woodland Press, Aug 2009). It’s focused exclusively and deeply on the craft of scary storytelling, with a stellar line-up of contributors that include the likes of Clive Barker, Joe Lansdale, F. Paul Wilson, Ramsey Campbell, Brian Keene, Elizabeth Massie, and too many more to list: from grand masters to rising stars, the book is a treasury of wisdom you’d be hard pressed to find elsewhere. If the (also fantastic) Horror Writer’s Association guidebook, On Writing Horror, was your introductory course, consider this one your senior year textbook.
You can now order The Writer’s Workshop of Horror early from Woodland Press for just $21.95 and you’ll be among the first to get it in August.
Here’s a small excerpt from my contribution, called “Stripping Away the Mask: Scene and Structure in Horror Fiction”:
…horror is a striptease of suspense. It is an inherently exhibitionist genre, as much as it is the genre of fear. And this may very well be why horror gets a bum rap from the literati: horror can make a reader feel dirty, because it refuses to obey the inner censor that tells us that such-and-such is morally wrong, that such-and-such is ugly or grotesque, that such-and-such is perverse or unhealthy, that such-and-such is unreasonable or irrational, that such-and-such is dangerous or inhumane. Horror writers seek truth in the darkness. They remove the mask, to peer unabashedly at what it hides, horrendous warts and all….
If you wish to write horror stories, it is imperative that you understand this aesthetic. There are no “rules,” really, because readers only expect the unexpected when they pick up a work of horror. In place of rules, we just have a worldview that says: “Readers peek between their fingers. I refuse to look away.” We remove the mask.
Visit Woodland Press for more on this exciting guidebook to working on the dark side.
THE BOOK OF LISTS: HORROR (edited by by Amy Wallace, Del Howison and Scott Bradley for Harper Paperbacks) is hitting the bookshelves across the country this week. It’s a knockout collection of lists both quirky and informative, about all things horror, featuring an amazing roster of horror authors and filmmakers — from Stephen King to Eli Roth — between its covers. You won’t want to miss it…and you can order it now from amazon.com.
My contribution to the book is an annotated list of “The Top Five Horror Colleges” — something you’d never find in the US News & World Report rankings! I was going to have a second list in the book, but it was brimming so many great lists that the publishers had to limit most authors to just one entry. So I’m sharing the one that got dropped with you here, as an example of what the articles in The Books of Lists are like. Here you have it: “The Hands of Horror”!
Michael A. Arnzen’s List of Classic Dismembered Hand Stories
1. “This Living Hand” by John Keats (1819). Okay, so I’m cheating right from the get-go with a classic Romantic poem, but if you didn’t read this piece in your Norton Anthology from college lit class, be sure to hunt it down. It’s not only a creepy poem because it muses over a limb, but it also is a sick love poem as only a Romantic poet could write it. “This living hand, now warm and capable//Of earnest grasping, would, if it were cold//And in the icy silence of the tomb//So haunt thy days and chill thy dreaming nights…”
2. “The Enchanted Hand” (“La main enchantée”), by Gerard Nerval (1832). In this early French classic (available in the book, Fantastic Tales, edited by Italo Calvino), a gypsy casts a spell on a wimpy tailor’s hand, so he can overcome his foe in a duel to the death. But he is subsequently sentenced to death because of it… and the gypsy shows up at the execution afterword, demanding the charmed hand…which subsequently comes to life on its own!
3. “The Hand” (“Les main”), by Guy De Maupassant (1883). While visiting a hunter’s gallery, our narrator spots the strangest item in his quarry: “It was a hand, a human hand — not the hand of a skeleton, all white and clean, but a black, withered hand with yellow nails, exposed muscles, and with traces of congealed blood, looking like dirt. The bones had been chopped off at about the middle of the forearm, as though they had been severed by an axe.” This grotesque limb is chained to the wall, because “it’s always trying to get away.” Find out why in this classic — albeit unfortunately common-titled — tale of the supernatural.
4. “The Hand,” by Theodore Dreiser (1907). This tale is interesting in the way it creates a creeping sense of paranoia in a story about a man who fears that evil forces are out to choke him to death in revenge. The narrator is haunted by an image of a man he killed long ago, whose hand reached out at him as he was dying in a menacing way. While we never really see a ghostly hand scuttling about as we do in other creepy hand tales, it is implie. This story is also interesting because it’s a pulpy horror story written by a man who is often hailed as a man of American letters for his famous novel, Sister Carrie (1900).
5. “The Monkey’s Paw” by W.W. Jacobs (1924). I really wish I didn’t have to include this one in my list, but… oh no! I wished it! The horror! “The Monkey’s Paw” features a charmed monkey’s paw, one that grants wishes you wish it wouldn’t grant. It doesn’t really count as a dismembered hand story in my opinion (because, if you were paying attention, it’s a paw), but so many people think that this is the quintessential dismembered hand story that I have to put it on the list to correct them.
6. “The Beast with Five Fingers,” by William Fryer Harvey (1928). In its day, this may have been the most popular “dismembered hand” story of them all. Now Harvey’s novella — which inspired a quite funny Peter Lorre film — comes across as too mannered and stuffy to be very entertaining, but it is a classic tale of the absurd, in which a dead uncle’s animate dismembered hand escapes from its box to torment his family from beyond the grave in spiteful ways. If you can’t find this title, just go watch the movie. It’s not faithful to Harvey’s tale, but it is as charming as horror-comedy can be…and it may have set a precedent in horror cinema: hands have been playing pianos on their own accord ever since.
7. “The Brown Hand,” by Arthur Conan Doyle (1929). I bet you didn’t know that the creator of Sherlock Holmes wrote a dismembered hand story! Yes, and while it’s rather hard to come by (look for a book called Tales of Twilight and the Unseen), it’s a pretty good representative of this somewhat silly subgenre. In this tale of Eastern mysticism, a doctor is haunted into insomania by a ghostly one-armed “Indian” revenant who — raising his “knobby and unsightly stump” to frighten the narrator — is looking for his hand, so he can rest both whole and in peace. The good doctor devises a clever way to end the revenant’s torment.
8. “The Return of the Sorcerer,” by Clark Ashton Smith (1931). Not so much a dismembered hand story as a — well, okay, I’ll give it away — entirely disintegrated body story, this is one of the freakiest early “weird tales” culminating in an effectively chilling scene in which a hand scrabbles away to join its brethren body parts. Smith writes the preposterous in a way that is stunningly unforgettable — and entirely believable!
9. “Major Aranda’s Hand,” by Alfonso Reyes (1973). Crawling ahead fifty years, skipping over a handful of bad film representations of this horror icon (like The Crawling Hand, parodied by Mystery Science Theater 3000) and its domestication as “Thingg” in The Addams Family on television — the hand returns from the grave as a highly self-conscious literary trope in Reyes odd and artful example of magical realism. It’s not quite a horror story, per se, but it’s a great dark thinkpiece in prose poetry. “The face mirrors and express, but the hand acts….[the hand] went freely from one place to another, a monstrous little lap dog, rather crablike. Later it learned to run, with a hop very similar to that of hares, and sitting back on the fingers, it began to jump…”
10. “Julian’s Hand,” by Gary Brandner (1974). This tale of mutancy is a chilling new twist on the legend. To say much more would give the surprising premise away, but let’s just say that Julian’s tumors have grown rather troublesome.
11. “The Body Politic,” by Clive Barker (1985). An overt social allegory in which the parts of the body revolt against the dominance of their owner. A great story (from Barker’s excellent collection, The Inhuman Condition) that questions the totality of identity…and a chilling idea! But it’s also all rendered a bit silly when seen through the filter of Mick Garris’ made-for-TV adaptation, Quicksilver Highway (1997).
12. “Hands of a Wanker,” by Patrick McGrath (1988). It seems that a chronic masturbator has dismembered his hand out of guilt…only to set loose a palm that continues getting its jollies in the public women’s restroom. Filthy, just filthy. And the funniest, most ludicrous dismembered hand story of them all!
13. The Movies: I’ve purposely limited myself only to a handful (argh!) of written pieces, but if you enjoy dismembered limb stories, then you absolutely must see a few key films to really appreciate the subgenre. It is, after all, a very cinematic trope: one of the very first films, in fact, features an animated prosthetic arm — a one-reeler by Vitagraph in 1908 called The Theiving Hand. Even then, it was horror-comedy: nothing quite serious enough to scare, but uncannily creepy nonetheless. Other must-see films beyond those mentioned in the list above that feature the five fingered icon include: Un Chien Andalou (Salvador Dali and Luis Bunuel, 1928), Dr. Terror’s House of Horrors (Freddie Francis, 1965), Evil Dead 2 (Sam Raimi, 1987), The Hand (Oliver Stone, 1981), and most recently, the slacker comedy, Idle Hands (Roman Flender, 1999).
Fearzone.com is running several features on my writing this week:
- a meaty FICTION EXCERPT from my new novelette from Bad Moon Books, called The Bitchfight;
- a celebratory REVIEW of that book (which calls it “an enormously entertaining modern tale of terror perhaps destined to become a future classic.”;
- and finally, a fun INTERVIEW with me conducted by the inimitable horror humorist, Jeff Strand
FearZone is really shaping up to be one of the best horror genre news sites out there, updated with new reviews, interviews, blog features and news items on a daily basis. Instead of eschewing film for a pure focus on horror literature, they deal with all expressions of the genre, from splatter films to dark gothic poetry. Check them out.