are pleased to present you with this exclusive interview from the
author of 100 Jolts: Shockingly Short Stories,
due April, 2004. Turn on the lights, grab a crucifix, and read on...
Q: You are quite prolific with both fiction and
poetry. Do you have a favorite between the two? Is there any difference
between creating verse and prose?
A: I'm bitextual. I write both ways.
But seriously: I'm just a lover of language. I enjoy both approaches
because they're different pathways that lead into the same dark
forest of the imagination. Writing is a way of discovering things
(like, just how sick I really can be) and I enjoy the expedition,
no matter what route I take. Poetry is something of an under-appreciated
and disreputable art lately, but its method frees me to explore
ideas because it has no hard-set rules—readers don't know
what to expect of it anymore. And neither do I as I write—it's
like building a magic puzzle box or something. Even in highly structured,
formal verse. The payoffs of poetry writing are different than storytelling,
but not any lesser or greater—just different. For me, storytelling's
pleasure lies is in the tricks of plot and the insights into character.
By writing fiction, I can inquire into why people commit the evil
that men do. And I can think more cinematically, not just capturing
an image but setting it into motion. Poetry can get away with being
less interested in person and more interested in abstract phenomena.
Regardless, in both, I find surprises as I go. That's the fun part.
And I've found that most of my readers are willing to go with me
there, either way.
Q: The Gorelets site managed to establish you as
a cutting edge author by featuring PDA material when few people
even knew what PDAs were. What has been the response to Gorelets?
A: The response was much stronger than I expected,
but I think publishing still has far to go before e-books and handheld
computers are really used to their fullest capacity. It starts with
realizing that the e-book format isn't better or worse—it's
just different than the printed book and requires a different way
of reading. It requires that readers change their habits of reading;
and maybe writers also could take the form of the medium into account.
Let me explain: I started Gorelets as a challenge to myself (to
write at least one good new poem a week) and a way to address the
lack of poetry I was seeing in the burgeoning e-book market. (Oh,
okay—just the subversive thought of some business type reading
a twisted poem during a board meeting sort of appealled to me, too).
One of the reasons e-books haven't taken off is that they're a little
cumbersome to read on a handheld computer or a cell phone. But not
poems! They can be short and sweet. But no one, really, seemed to
be writing them from what I could tell. So Gorelets began—little
horror poems, written to fit the small screens of Portable Digital
Assistants. The response was pretty strong because people with these
devices (Palm Pilots, Clie's, etc.) didn't have much cool content
to download beyond business and technology newspapers, so I was
providing something unique for them on a "subscription"
basis. Donations paid for everything; the site got more media coverage
than I expected. And I generated a book's worth of poems that sold
to Fairwood Press—http://www.fairwoodpress.com—who
is releasing it around Halloween. (Not to privilege one medium over
the other, Double Dragon Publishing—http://www.double-dragon-ebooks.com—will
release an e-book version with a bonus section of twenty-one poems
at the same time, too). I like to think that there's an audience
out there for horror and even horror poetry that just isn't being
reached by traditional publishing and I'm exploring new media as
a way to get there.
Q: Many people claim that it is the "violence
in media" which has spawned the seemingly desensitized public.
Is this true? Do you feel that readers are numbed to the horror
A: No. When I saw the film 28 DAYS LATER about,
well, 28 days ago, the audience in the theater was scared shitless.
They also harbored a silent respect of the movie—usually it's
all a silly spectacle for the theatergoers, but 28 DAYS LATER really
held their rapt attention. I take that as a positive sign of not
only the capacity of the horror genre to address our fears and desires
through violence, but also as a positive sign that humanity—even
in jaded teen culture—is still alert and sensitive to life.
If the public was desensitized, then terrorism wouldn't have the
hold it does over so many Americans. I don't think it's true that
the public is jaded; I think we have the attitude that we don't
want to >look< scared. That makes you vulnerable. Uncool.
Besides, violence in the media is sometimes more about the medium
itself as an art form—the way that lights flash out of a gun
barrel, the way bloodspatter artistically Pollocks on the wall behind
the victim...these are what we marvel at, abstractly, rather than
simply the act that happens in the narrative. The tragic loss of
life is sometimes placed secondary to other concerns. Or sometimes
it's impact is underscored by it. Art can do that. There's nothing
inherently wrong with doing so. It allows us to see death in a new
way. If any representation of violence is itself inherently bad,
then let's ban all photography, network news, and, hell, America's
Q: Does surrealism—or the unexplainable—have
a place in horror? Or are readers only moved by tangible, real-world
A: It's all always already surrealism, isn't it?
Life is but a dream. But to the point: Horror—the genre of
dark fantasy—has the capacity to be the most avant garde of
the popular genres, in my opinion. The connection is the psychology
of the nightmare. We dream about fish swimming in the air. Seems
normal in a dream. When we encounter it in art—while awake—we
call it "surreal." It's funny. Uncanny. Marvelous. But
then give that air fish teeth and have it swimming toward a human
on a hook and suddenly you've got a horror story. The momentary
confusion between reality and fantasy—felt as something uncanny—really
gives this stuff its impact. It's all about the unexpected. And,
like surrealism in the arts, horror tends to slap us in the face
and wake us up out of our habitual ways of seeing the world.
Q: One of the remarkable aspects of your writing
is the unyielding stream of untapped concepts. Where do you draw
A: I'm deathly afraid of being boring. I'm afraid
of writing something that's been done already to death. The anxiety
of influence haunts me, so, likewise, I'm always striving to do
something new. Besides, I only respect writers who are original
and I strive to be one worthy of a reader's respect.
Reading inspires me a lot. And by "reading," I include
films, music, and TV.
Beyond that, the ideas come from everyday life, more often than
not. I always have my radar on, pinging reality for the unreal.
I look for things to twist as I make my way through the day; words
to play with; social habits that I can call attention to. I'm always
seeking to pull the rug out from people who take themselves too
seriously and I love to make them land on their chin. And I like
readers to feel like "anything can happen" so when I'm
planning to write, I constantly ask "What if anything could?"
Q: It seems uncommon to have a horror author entrenched
in the world of academia. How are you received by your peers? By
A: I'm very lucky to be working in a liberal arts
college that houses a program in writing >popular< fiction.
It's a dream job. Most of my peers understand that what I'm doing
is at once educational and important, so most respect it—usually
from a comfortable distance. But I always encounter a little bit
of academic snobbery here and there—I think that would happen
no matter what I did in academia. Likewise, there's a smattering
of suspicion among fiction writers, too, who wonder what on earth
an "academic" is doing writing horror stories... he can't
possibly be authentic, they suspect, because he's not out there
wrestling with his muse full time. Even some students harbor the
old "those who can, do; those who can't, teach" mentality.
But I only bump into these biases occasionally and I find them laughable,
really. The fact is, "those who can teach, teach." Regardless,
ultimately, I get respect from students and colleagues for being
both a widely published, award-winning author and a well-published
literary critic who can also teach without being boring. I'm in
the right place, across the board, and I'm thriving.
Q: There are rumors afoot about Mike Arnzen, the
rocker. I can only imagine what your songs would be about! Care
A: Charles Manson was asked this same question
by Tom Brokaw once. Manson said, "Yeah, I do it. I do it. But
the way I do it, ain't the same way you guys do it. And the way
I do it scares you guys."
The way I play bass is pretty scary, too—like a percussive
instrument more than a guitar. Scary, because I'm quite terrible
at it. I can't really read music; I have no formal training at all;
I'm virtually tone deaf. I just like to bang on the thing and make
loud noises. But I did play in two bands—once in the Army,
and once in grad school—as a means toward escaping my general
suffering. Some of the sloppiest fun I've ever had. I still play
around with the guitar from time to time, but NEVER in front of
an audience. It's just a method of woolgathering for me. Maybe it
supports my poetry writing, I don't know.
It's ironic that you bring this up. Rock-and-roll was a recurring
motif in all the talk about horror writing at a recent conference
I attended in Pittsburgh (called Confluence). I saw Lawrence Connolly
do a one-man performance called "Songs of the Horror Writer"
equipped with nothing but a guitar and a microphone. He sang songs
about Lizzie Borden and insects and crimes of passion...and everybody
loved it. It was a hilarious subversion of the con's filk programming.
Later at that conference, I sat on a panel for "Horror in the
21st Century" with Lawrence and David Hartwell. David—a
senior editor at TOR and long-time scholar of the genre—was
very down on horror, claiming over and over again how dead it was.
He articulated how the market has bottomed out and everyone in the
room seemed depressed as hell by it all—which was pretty much
the truth. But in an effort of optimism, I suggested that horror
was the rock-and-roll of literature, and that it just comes in and
goes out of fashion, along with the latest taboos. David sang "The
Day the Music Died" in response, ending the panel on a bittersweet
note. Afterwards, I realized that I should have sang Neil Young
in response ("My My, Hey Hey"). Or maybe just classic
Q: I’m living in a box. Somebody stops by
daily to shove water and scraps of food in through a crack. Eventually
they cram a book in for me to read by the marginal light provided
by said crack. What book should it be?
A: Houdini On Magic by Harry Houdini might help.
But if that's not available, then maybe something like Pilgrim at
Tinker Creek by Annie Dillard. It captures nature so well that you
wouldn't need to go outside of your box to touch it. Dillard's language
could make the blind see. The way she contemplates the meaning of
life and death is profound and spellbinding. You might think that
a book like Tinker Creek isn't a horror story, but it does contain
one of the best gross-out passage ever written—about a frog
whose body has been eaten from the inside-out. There's a lot of
grotesque description. No stylist I've read has more poetic power
Q: Where can readers find your work?
A: I'm all over the map—from mass market
anthologies on the shelves at Barnes and Noble to small garage mimeograph
publications. It's hard to track me down, but I try to facilitate
the hunt for my work on my website, http://gorelets.com. Shocklines.com
is another good site for acquiring the books and magazines I appear
in. And I've got a number of e-books available at http://fictionwise.com.
Generally speaking, readers can expect tons of poetry short-term,
and more long fiction, long term. By the end of summer, my long-awaited
collection, Freakcidents: A Surrealist Sideshow, should be out from
DarkVesper Publishing. It's a book I'm really proud of and I'm hoping
others will see why. Then in the fall comes an e-book full of weird
poems about sports—aptly titled Sportuary—published
by CyberPulp Digital. That'll be exclusively in e-book form. And
then there's Gorelets: Unpleasant Poetry, which I already mentioned.
That'll be out in a neat collectable little chapbook by Fairwood
Press (and in e-book form from Double Dragon) around Halloween.
I've also just started putting up some interesting things for sale
on a section of my website called The Sickolodeon! Open 24 hours
Q: Can we look forward to any forthcoming projects?
A: I've been on a poetry and short-short kick for
a year and a half, and I have some plans for releasing some new
material exclusively on my website for The Sickolodeon (mostly multimedia
pieces), but I'm beginning to turn my focus back toward longer fiction.
I just wrapped up a collection of one hundred short-shorts called
100 Jolts which is making the rounds with new publishers. While
I market that, I'm putting together an as-of-now untitled horror
novella that will be released in a collectable chapbook next Winter
from Dark Animus in Australia and I'm still working on a twisted
kidnapping novel called Hoarder which I hope to finish before too
long and try to get into the dead mass market. If that market is
dead, well, it's coming back as one helluva zombie, that's all I
Click the following links for two stories from Mike's forthcoming
collection, 100 JOLTS!