Take a Bite into the New Weird

Last post. End of my week long spree of guest blogging about random things. Thanks everyone for reading!

I want to close with a few thoughts about reading, since this is, predominantly, a site “for people who like to read.”

First a question: Do you read for comfort or is it to challenge yourself?

Think about your answer for a second.

I know that you’re probably wondering why comfort and challenge have to be mutually exclusive. Can’t one comfortably challenge oneself?  Isn’t that, perhaps, what makes reading so great? Yes, indeed it is. But it’s the level of each that matters, I think.  If you’re reading for comfort above challenge, then you’re probably like one of those dog trainers in their clumsy giant outfits, wearing so much padding they can barely realize that the dog has attacked, let alone tried to bite into them.

You should feel it when a book bites you.

I write horror fiction because I like to stir things up a little bit. I like to catch people off guard; indeed, I will try sometimes to attack the foundation of their “guard” to begin with, if I’m doing it right. If I get a gut reaction — a palpitation, sweat response, or gag reflex, a laugh, an evil chortle, or even simply an eyebrow lift — then I’ve probably done my job. Horror’s goal is to frighten, yes, but I want to argue that it is also by nature provocative in some way. It challenges your assumptions about reality and order, power and reason, life and death.

And this is why it’s scary. Not because the monster is attacking a poor innocent character. But because the author has the audacity to make us believe that such unthinkable monsters exist and would do such unthinkable things with some unthinkable purpose in the first place.

Horror writers think the unthinkable.

This is why some people would never even touch a horror novel by an author who is unfamiliar or unpopular (ergo, to them, unsafe). This is why horror fiction — if you weren’t aware of it — isn’t fairing too well in the literary marketplace. People want comfort in these desperate times of war and terrorism. But I think too many people confuse “comfort” with “the status quo.” Horror not only challenges (often in a discomforting way) but it also often offers up alternatives in the process. Zombie stories about the end of the world typically involve characters who have to reinvent their own society to deal with the threat that surrounds them. Vampire hunters have to use crafty and extreme ways to impale their own kind of terrorism from the vamps among us. Horror is art which gives shape to the shapeless, and in that way — through its challenge — it can also comfort us in reminding us of the resiliency and creativity and sheer drive to survive in humanity. In treating the inhuman and inhumane, horror calls what we assume about the human and humane into question. But it also affirms it, too.

So read more of the weird stuff, would you? Even if you already do read a lot of horror, go out of your way to hunt down and find the outré, the bizarro, the unique. Seek out The New Weird.  Dig deep into the underground press.  Like horror and comedy?  Look for underground new horror comedies. Push yourself to find something new. Visit independent booksellers (online, like shocklines.com or badmoonbooks.com or brick and mortars like Borderlands Bookstore in SF) and seek out limited editions and chapbooks and things you’d never normally be able to find at Barnes and Noble.  Maybe it won’t be horror at all, but challenging on some other level. But whatever you do, make sure it’s a book.  Something that was a challenge for the writer, too, to produce.

Quit building your own guard rails. Push yourself off the edge — and you just might land in a new world.

I hope I didn’t just pontificate like a blowhard up above. I like to try to make endings meaningful. And this is my last guest post at abunchawordz.

Thanks to your host — E. — for inviting me over here, inspiring me to write something different every day, and for all those wild postings about goats and other insights into poetry and literature that I got to read. This blog is exceptionally witty and intelligent and I’m happy to have played a small part in it; I hope that more readers discover what it has to offer. I also am thankful that I got to check out wordpress blogging software from behind the curtain and I’ve been thinking about using it for my own site, over at gorelets.com. We’ll see!

I’ll keep coming back. You keep writing and commenting. And do drop by my website sometime and pluck a bunchawordz off the trees over there. There’s bunches and bunches more, just waiting for you.

Guest blogger Michael A. Arnzen is the Bram Stoker Award-winning author of the flash fiction collection, 100 Jolts: Shockingly Short Stories, and the novel, Play Dead. His most recent project is a spoken word cd called Audiovile. A collection of his best fiction and poetry to date — called Proverbs for Monsters — is due soon from Dark Regions Press. You can find out more about him by subscribing to his award-winning newsletter at gorelets.com.



  1. Good strong points all of them. I believe in pushing it all over the edge. The world of horror is so insanely vast and growing more each day, that I find myelf having fun just drudging through it all to find stuff that fits my taste. It’s like wading through a bloodbath.

    I do I have to say that I read for challenge and comfort (though, rarely, comfort). As a writer, I think you have to read for challenge. You study structure, the way the words are put to gether, the dialogue, the pace, the description. You pick up authors who challenge you more than others, and in return, you become a better reader, and a better writer.

    Good question. Keep posting.

  2. Thank you for your very kind words. It has been a pleasure having you guestblog here.

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