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”!
As the writer’s guide I co-edited with Heidi Ruby Miller — Many Genres, One Craft: Lessons in Writing Popular Fiction — comes to its first year anniversary, I was happy to learn this morning that it just won another book award. Here are the accolades I know about so far:
- Winner, “Business: Writing and Publishing” category, 2012 International Book Awards.
- Winner, “Education/Academic” category, 2012 Next Generation Indie Book Awards.
- Winner, General Non-Fiction Award. 2011 London Books Festival Award.
- Listed 5th in “This Year’s Ten Most Terrific Writing Books” by The Writer magazine (Dec 2011).
- Finalist, “Business: Writing and Publishing” category. USA Best Books 2011 Award.
- Finalist. 2012 Eric Hoffer Book Awards.
Finalist, SILVER MEDAL WINNER, “Writing” category. ForeWord Review’s 2011 Book of the Year Awards.
I can only thank the contributors, really, for doing such a phenomenal job. Kudos to publisher Cathy Teets and the team at Headline Books for being such a great indie and regional press to work with. They really treated this book well, giving it the over-sized hardcover textbook treatment and high production quality on the interiors. And they’ve rewarded us all with lots of promotion and support, like submitting our title for these industry awards.
But most rewarding are the reviews in the trade and those by fans. If you’ve read the book, please do post a review on amazon, goodreads, facebook or your blog. Heidi and I put this book together to help other writers, and to pay back what we’ve learned from others in the field. Your review is like royalties on that payment. Thank you.
If you are a writer of any genre and haven’t yet experienced Many Genres, One Craft, you should check this book out. Visit the weblog devoted to the book’s many contributors, or buy a copy on Amazon.com or elsewhere. If you want to get a SIGNED copy, we will have copies available at the RDSP Book Party in May, and at the In Your Write Mind workshop at Seton Hill in June, among other places.
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 authors 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 a 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 is 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 it driven by creepy synthesizers and voice samples of creepy 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 entertainment 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.
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 some readers’ taste. This sort of writing may appeal mostly to fans who already share the author’s worldview. It’s somewhat telling, for example, 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 archetype of the scholar-driven-to-insanity-by-indulging-his-relentless-intellectual-curiosity. But then again, what reader can’t help but see himself 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:
Ligotti’s Conspiracy Against the Human Race:
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’ve gathered all the books I’ve reviewed in The Goreletter (since 2002) into some fun listmania lists over at amazon.com, and I’ll keep adding titles to them from the “Not Dead Yet” department into the future.
I’ve also been having way too much fun trolling around amazon for weird discoveries, and I have compiled a few other funky lists, like the Goofy Gory Gifts Galore list and other novelty lists. I’m apparently a listmaniac.
After many years of neglect, I have updated my author profile on amazon.com, where you can find more weirdness and links to many of my books and anthologies. Since amazon now features some of my stuff in their kindle store, and because I am likely to begin publishing The Goreletter for Kindle readers as well as web browsers, I have made gorelets an amazon affiliate, and I have been cleaning up their database when it comes to Arnzen titles by uploading book covers or making corrections. Your reviews and tags on amazon.com are appreciated.
[UPDATE, Oct 2010: THE FREE E-BOOK OFFER DESCRIBED BELOW IS NO LONGER VALID. Please visit amazon.com for your copy, cheap.]
I’ve just published
I’m getting geared up to finish the next e-mail edition of The Goreletter, so I thought I’d post a little incentive for readers to subscribe (free) so they won’t miss a beat as this award-winning newsletter launches into its sixth volume of all things weird, wacky, wicked and wobbly. I try to make every issue a combination of original material with “best of blog” excerpts and often include coupons and contests for free swag (or as I prefer to say, “schwag,” which is probably German for…schomething).
But back to the point: EVERYONE who subscribes to The Goreletter e-mail edition for the foreseeable future will receive a free electronic copy of my long out-of-print weird poetry chapbook from 2003, SPORTUARY. Available in two flavors: you’ll need a kindle or other .mobi device to read it, or otherwise an Adobe Reader — or other .pdf format reader — is required).
This is actually a new expanded edition of the original book. I have added new poems, restored the artwork, included a preface, and redesigned the book into a more palatable format.
Anyone who subscribes will qualify. Happy Halloween!
Sportuary (which was published in an electronic edition only by CyberPulp Publishing in 2003) is good goofy gory fun. The book is a series of gruesome poetic musings on the sporting world, littered with horror haiku and twisted humor along the way. The art by Marcia Borell is surreal and funky. In his review of the book for (the now defunct) magazine, Dark Krypt, Tim Curran wrote:
“Employing haiku and free verse, Arnzen plumbs the depths of his aberrant, wonderful imagination and offers biting, metaphorical commentary on the shadowy side of athletics: swimmers mesmerized by hungry undertows and ping pong played with staring human eyes, referees getting their gruesome reward and badminton as played by lunatics. These poems are good. Not only are they good, they’re great and if you think they’re fun to read, try reading them out loud with a friend.”
Get it while it’s cold! You can subscribe right now using the form on the top of your screen.
[For another tricky Halloween treat, visit Raw Dog Screaming Press -- publisher of my books, 100 Jolts and Play Dead -- for an awesome offer to get a free copy of Jeffrey Thomas' excellent 'Punktown' novel, Everybody Scream when you buy another title from their catalog!]
“What can I say? Holy effeing hell this is some brilliant sh*t! …Audiovile has BITE. It sounds like something you would hear late at night in a darkened coffee shop, with wisps of old coffee wafting to your nose….It has a very unique style, something from a David Lynch film. It’s deep, grabs you by the ears and refuses to let go.”
– from Brian Hardin’s review of Audiovile at the Zombie Mall!
Great review… and Zombie Mall is a great store, too, by the way! Here’s a cool offer they gave us for the latest issue of The Goreletter:
ENTER THE ZOMBIE MALL
You won’t believe the weirdness that the Zombie Mall has in store for you — from “infant zombie creepers” to “hot dog zombie pillows” — they’ve got more than any sleepwalking brain-eater could ever need. And they’re currently running a cool promotion where if you purchase an item from their online store, pose in a photo “playing” with it somehow, and then send the picture back to them, you can get 15% off any item.
Visit http://www.zombiemall.com/ to make your purchase
then send your photos to firstname.lastname@example.org
Check them out.
If you haven’t heard already, Gauntlet Press is producing HE IS LEGEND, an awesome tribute anthology of short stories and novellas based on the classic fiction of Richard Matheson (author of I Am Legend, The Incredible Shrinking Man, Stir of Echoes, and so much more). I’m honored to be a part of the fun, with my short piece called “She Screech Like Me” – a sequel to Matheson’s famous story, “Born of Man and Woman.” The line-up for this book includes the first collaboration between Stephen King and his son Joe Hill (riffing on “Duel”), along with Gary Braunbeck, William Nolan, Joe Lansdale, and a host of other recognizable horror writers I admire. Gauntlet Press publishes a great number of Matheson-related titles, in addition to an amazing assortment of other wonderful collector’s items by living legends of fantasy and science fiction. Drop by their catalog page to learn more about He is Legend, which seems to be selling out in all its special editions.
Horror World this month published a knock-out review of my novella, The Bitchfight. Reviewer Ron Dickie writes: ”If you’re looking for something different, something unexpected, pick up ‘The Bitchfight.’ Not since Jack Ketchum’s ‘The Girl Next Door’ has a story been as equally repellent and captivating as this.” That’s high praise in this business! Bad Moon Books still has copies for sale, as does Horror-Mall. [Bad Moon Books also is now scheduled to publish the anthology, Monster Noir, in the seasons ahead. My short story, "Exorcystland" -- about an amusement park where all the attractions let you "ride" crazy scenes from classic horror films -- appears therein]
If you’re a writer, you should look into subscribing to Gila Queen’s Guide to Markets. Editor Kathy Ptacek just released the special 150th issue (!) of this long-standing “insider” resource for breaking news in publishing and the magazine industry. I have an irregular department in GQ, pretentiously called “The Arnzen Seminars,” where I address an advanced topic in creative writing. In the 150th anniversary issue, my latest “seminar” is an essay on “Writing Anniversaries” — things writers should try to do each year to celebrate and reflect and stay organized.
Novello Pubishers informed me earier this month that his complete run of my over-the-top horror novelette, Licker, has sold out. (You still might be able to track down copies at Horror-Mall if you act quickly.) Novello also announced this month that they’re launching a new specialty line of “bizarro” fiction later this year under the name “Squid Salad Press” — author Tim Waggoner will be the first writer in their line-up, with his weird book, Skull Cathedral.
The June 2008 issue of Pittsburgh Professional Magazine just pubished an interview with me (called “Ghoulish Goals” by Kathleen Ganster) featuring some awesome photography by the amazingly talented Jim Judkis.
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.
For anyone who has ever heard it said that horror is not an art form, Arnzen fires back with the proverbial “up yours,” making himself out to be a twisted Ginsberg for the horror fan, Kerouac for the demented, and a Dylan Thomas for those of us with a dark sense of humor. And no, I’m not exaggerating….what you have is something that listeners will be playing for their friends, prefaced by lines like “You have to hear this!” and “This is the weirdest thing I’ve ever heard!”
“16 tracks of brain damaging terror. Stories like “Psycho Hunter,” “Stabbing for Dummies,” and “Six Short Films About Chauncey the Serial Killer” will have you alternately cackling and gasping. The brilliance of these tales — amplified by Arnzen’s pitch perfect delivery — is that within the space of a couple of minutes, each one sets a grin on your face, then slaps it off, then kicks you in the groin and leaves you gasping (but still laughing), “That isn’t right! That’s just plain WRONG!” – Greg Lamberson, Fearzone.com