Prick of the Spindle

Prick of the Spindle is a brand new online literary journal featuring poetry, fiction, drama, creative nonfiction, and literary reviews.  It’s off to a good start with solid pieces and a simple yet creative layout.  I’m thinking about submitting some of my work to them.  Here are some brief snippets of what Prick of the Spindle has to offer.

PoetryThis town with the train and the prison on the top of the hill by Susanna Fry:

“black spots and stripes
this rooftop town
of poison ivy and open windows
open wounds
this refuge”

The poem is done in 6 parts, offering 6 unique views of the town.  I like the way this was done.

FictionWriting My Angel by Corey Messler:

“His face wore the countenance I have seen in nightmares where those who love me turn on me like formerly tame wolves.”

A piece of micro fiction.  Every sentence is engaging.  Very well written.

Creative NonfictionTectonic Synapses by Derek Ramsey Holst:

“As you hang there waiting for all the blood in your body to pool in the center of your brain, you think names like, Hemingway, Dickinson, and Poe. You ask the question everyone asks, were they writers because they were crazy, or were they crazy because they were writers?”

This piece seems random at first as it circles around and around until you see how all the pieces fit together at the end.

Do check out this online lit mag as it has a lot to offer.

Hypnosis and Phobia — A True Story

Mom Writers Literary Magazine features writing by mothers about motherhood.  Hypnosis Triumph by Diana M. Raab is the true story of a daughter’s medical phobia and the attempts to cure it through hypnosis.  Following is an excerpt:

“While standing in line to pay, Anna whispered, ‘Mom, I feel faint.’ She was not a huge fan of breakfast, so I suspected she was hungry. I pulled out a candy from my purse. While handing it to her, I noticed the color had completely vanished from her face. All of a sudden, her knees gave out, and she slid down onto the industrial-carpeted floor. My nursing instinct told me to cup my hand behind her head for protection. In the process, I lost the balance off my platform shoes, and my body flung directly on top of hers.”

Diana Raab writes a column at Inkbyte.com and has published several books, including Regina’s Closet: Finding My Grandmother’s Secret Journal.  You can also read a book review for Regina’s Closet at BookReview.com.

The Unexpected; or See Bob Run

See Bob Run

“Vaulting” —  a recent “Bob the Angry Flower” comic by Stephen Notley — is a riot. 

I >think< it’s supposed to suggest the arrogant foreign policy of the United States…and it’s a pretty clever stab at that… but to me, it’s really a study in the art of surprise…if not the surprise of art.

I can’t really get into discussing it without creating a “spoiler” so click over to “Vaulting,” read the whole page of the comic, check out Notley’s other weird work while you’re there, and then return here for a little brief discussion and deep thinking. 

 In “Vaulting,” Notley tricks us by creatively “blocking” the shots, so that we never quite see what’s coming in the path way of our driven pole vaulter, Bob.  Well, okay, it’s a mean trick because the character who is in Bob’s path isn’t merely ‘blocked’ — we’re never even told he’s there to begin with, so for all we know Notley just dreamed it up on the spot the second that he got to that frame of the comic. 

I want to suggest that that surprise might be the very meaning of this comic, beyond its hilarious choice for surprise.  And maybe some readers feel cheated by that, but to me, it’s fine, because the character (Kofi) is the last thing I personally would expect to find on a pole vaulting strip; the incongruity of expectations and contexts is precisely what makes this so hilarious. 

But it could very well be that Bob is a metaphor for the artist’s drive toward creation.  I, too, aim for a surprise like this when I’m writing, rushing forward with determination, sprinting toward some abstract goal but not really knowing where it will take me and — bing — next thing you know I’ve spiked something wonderful (or in my horror fiction, wonderfully disgusting) along the way.  I’d like to think that’s how Notley came up with “Vaulting.” 

That’s right:  I’m suggesting the creative process is something akin to roadkill.

I also wanted to point out just how neat that clip at the top of this blog entry really is.  The comic as a whole makes a rather simple point but look at how clever the use of lines is in this three-framed image of Bob’s rapid run toward the vault.  Notice how what begins in frame one with rounded corners transforms into sharp, straight lines by frame three, indicating the velocity of maximum speed, reinforced by the flattened intensity of Bob’s body as he leans forward into a flatline of fury.

This intensity — this artistry — this too is what art is really all about.  I think that third frame is really the climax of the piece; what follows is a sort of afterthought that in its silliness sort of comments back on itself as being irrelevant compared to the intensity of the artist, vaulting forward at maximum speed toward….

 >CHOCK<

>CHINK<

… Sorry!

***

p.s. I recommend the Bob the Angry Flower book, DOG KILLER. Here is my full review of it from last year.  
***
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’re invited to subscribe to his newsletter, The Goreletter.

Sound and Writing

Sound and Writing

A lot of writers I know like to listen to music when they write.  I often don’t — I’m usually able to get so immersed in the oceanic headspace of the writing that listening to a song would only distract me.  But sometimes the ambient noise of a room or the alarms and engines outdoors or even just the clack-clacking of the keyboard starts to get to me instead, distracting with its own kind of annoying music…and that’s when I usually turn to something musical to drown it all out and help me focus.

But when I do switch on the tunes, there are particular requirements. 

It can’t be the radio, television, or anything else that contains spoken chatter.  If I hear a couple of disc jockeys cracking wise or those annoying “screaming car salesman” commercials I get pulled away from the story I’m trying to write.  Almost any human voice directly addresses me is purposely shaped to call attention to itself — and it works, pulling me out of my workflow.

If I pop in a CD or turn on my iPod, I have to choose something I know so well that I won’t similarly drift from my writing into trying to listen to the lyrics.  I want to create, not analyze or learn someone else’s words.  But singing along and tapping my feet is okay, and sometimes the pulsing beat of a song can get me to pick up the tempo of a scene, so if I put on a CD I know inside out (classic rock mostly — hard stuff like Ozzy or Black Sabbath or Judas Priest) it can help oil my writing machinery.  I really fly when a hard rock song matches my typing energy.  You’d laugh if you saw me cranking out the words while banging my head along to some campy 80s song like Judas Priest’s “Turbo Lover” (“I’m your tur-bo LOVAHHHHHH…. write-ting like no OTHAAAAAHH…”)

But even better than metal or classic rock are bands that don’t use words at all.  I’ve started getting into post-rock music lately; rock-influenced music that has a lot of drama and flair, but usually no lyrics.  If there’s singing, it’s mutated voices that don’t really make lyrical sense.  I’m talking about bands like Explosions in the Sky or Mogwai.  Check them out.  The emotional drama of their music does influence the mood and pacing of my writing if I’ve got it playing while I write, but it influence me in a good way, I think.  The music almost seems to follow Freytag’s Pyramid — the five act play structure — building slowly up to a climax — usually in a way that fits the dramatic timing of the scene I’m writing.  Not always, but usually.  But more importantly, it helps me to focus.  The really long songs — progressive rock tracks that would take up the whole side of an album in ye olden days — are the best for working on chapter length projects.

There are other, more radical (and often laughable) auditory options one can use to enhance their writing, too. 

I usually don’t use the following self-help techniques myself when I write alone in my home office, but I will bring them into the writing classroom when I am running a creativity exercise with college students. 

One of them is “nature sounds.”  You know what I’m talking about:  recordings of chirping birds or rippling pools of water or crashing thunder and rainstorms.  You might be able to find these online for free somewhere.  I have a CD I found at Goodwill that plays a thunderstorm in surround sound that’s pretty cool — really makes you feel like you’re there.  But it puts me to sleep.  I also have an old Timex alarm clock that I got on eBay really cheap that contains these sounds.  I always bring it to my poetry writing classroom on one rainy day of the term, dimming the lights, having students turning their desks toward the open windows, and playing the “nature” sounds while they write.  I don’t give them many  directions, save for the story setting (usually a forest):  I tell them to “just write.”  Often this “immersion” of the senses produces really great images in the writer’s mind. 

I have started buying CDs of film scores and movie soundtracks; they often don’t have lyrics/singing and usually shape the sound in dramatic ways that reinforce what I’m writing.  In the classroom, I don’t just play a CD, however; I bring in the actual DVD for the movie and select an appropriate scene — usually a “kill” scene in a crime movie or horror flick fits the bill — and then I play it with the projector/screen turned off.  And I ask students to imagine what they’re hearing and write it out.  And I always get a thrill out of hearing what they wrote (I have them read these aloud) before revealing to them the REAL scene (usually something totally freaky, like a crazy moment from Dario Argento’s freaky fright movie, Suspiria!).

There are CDs of “subliminal suggestion” out there.  I bought one on eBay once to use in a writing class.  When I listened to it, all I heard was ocean waves crashing on a beach…but the producer claims that there are hundreds of very faint affirmations and other whispering suggestions that encourage a writer to produce, along with some psychoacoustic manipulation of the brain waves.  It didn’t sound any different than the “nature sound” alarm clock to me.  But I played it for my writing students one day; in fact, I just turned it on before they came into the room, and I asked them to write in class right away without explaining what they were hearing.  It didn’t make a bit of a difference to them.  It was my way of proving to them that such writer’s block promises rarely deliver, and that they need to be on guard against the whole “writer’s block cure-all” industry.  Everyone has their own writing process, and you have to discover what works best for you personally to help lubricate your mind to produce words. 

And for some of us, maybe earplugs are ideal.

So what do you listen to when you read and/or write?  Is it really helping?  Or are you fooling yourself into distraction?

***
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.

???

See that terrible title? 

It’s “???” — which is technically pronounced “uh-huh-wha?” — and you might be thinking that my first guest blog entry at “A Bunch of Wordz” is titled that way because I’m lazy and don’t know what I’m going to write about, like so many other bloggers.  And that may be true. 

But believe it or not, those punctuation marks are actually the title of a short story I published long ago.

Well, not on purpose.  And that wasn’t really the title, after all.

Uh-huh-wha? 

Let me back up and explain. 

I’ve been writing horror stories and publishing them professionally (i.e., for pay) for a little over fifteen years.  I’ve won a handful of literary awards for this, and I continue to get invitations to submit my work to reputable markets.  Indeed, I’d say I am “sitting pretty” compared to many writers, since I not only write but also have a tenured professor job where I teach the craft full-time in the Writing Popular Fiction program at Seton Hill University.  I have got it good:  I’m doing what I love to do and I’m making a living from it.  And since I draw a salary, I have a little more freedom than many writers I know; I get to pick and choose my writing projects (like this one, right now, which I’m doing for free on a whim, because Edie so kindly invited me to be a guest blogger), whereas my friends who are full-time writers are often taking just about any assignment they can get that has money attached, so they can pay their electricity bill.  They end up writing greeting cards on the side while they work on their great American novel, which sadly too often goes unpublished.  I get to not only write the stories I want to write, but also to do a lot of fun experiments and other independent things, like the just-released audio book, Audiovile, which I created pretty much by myself in a home studio.

I enjoy doing things differently, operating on the margins of the “independent” scene of the horror genre, but I’ve always felt that a writer should also aim for pro markets — those magazine and book contracts that pay you for your effort (because it IS work) — because it is the best way to reach a wide audience.  But I also have always been a firm believer in the value of the “independent” or “small” press, too. That is, the markets that might not pay much, but which have an avid niche audience or which are produced for die-hard collectors who seek out and appreciate quality work.  I still write often for the small press, because I feel like I have a lot of freedom there to write about topics (and to choose alternative storytelling modes, like poetry) which might not have mass market appeal.

I choose to write for these marginal markets, but when you’re getting started as a writer, you often have very little choice at all.  The big publishers in Manhattan are less likely to take a risk on an unproven author, and you have a better chance finding and cultivating an audience in the small press.  In fact, the editorial skill of the small press can be quite advanced, since its editors love to “discover” new talent (usually out of necessity, since they probably can’t afford proven “old” talent) and even work with writers in an apprentice relationship that helps them to grow into better writers than they are.  But because small publishing is affordable to anyone with access to the right technology, it is a minefield with a lot of variety in quality: in any given magazine, the writing could truly be cutting edge and the storytelling could be radically fresh, or it could be abysmal, even illiterate.  The editors, too, could be laboring hard to help these new writers become better writers, or they could be idiots trying to make a quick buck off their subscribers, without knowing squat about the trade, the field, or business.  Writers have to know what they’re getting into.

When I was getting started as a writer, in the early 1990s, long before there was internet publishing and when most magazines were hand-crafted works of art, I wrote for a lot of small press markets; indeed, I was a card carrying member of a writer’s group for science fiction/fantasy/horror writers who worked in this area, called SPWAO (a mouthful that means “Small Press Writers and Artists Organization”).  Heck, I was even making a name for myself in the independent press — SPWAO awarded me “Best Fiction Writer” one year, mailing me a fancy plaque and everything.

Even though it meant the world to me, no one really notices such awards. But one magazine did.  I’ll call them “Weirdo Tales” to protect their name and reputation.  (Though there’s probably no need…they were not just “small” press, they were “microscopic” and I doubt many copies of their magazine are still in existence…indeed, I hope not).

In any case, Weirdo Tales invited me to be their featured author in their brand new magazine.  I was immediately jazzed, not only for the cool invitation, but because they were running a special issue where all the fiction and poetry in an upcoming issue was based on an artist’s work.  And they sent me an amazing piece of art to inspire my tale.  Before this point, I rarely, if ever had my name on the cover of a magazine…and now I’d get to have the main COVER story of the magazine, inspired by an AWESOME piece of art, by an artist I truly ADMIRED!

Of course, I was very excited about this.  I love literary experiments, and this promised to be much like one of those quirky college class assignments that ask you to “write a story to match the picture.”  And the art gave me all sorts of ideas:  the story came right out of my fingers as I typed away at my old Brother Word Processor (remember: this was pre-PC, pre-Internet culture — only a decade ago!), clacking through the story in a whirlwind of creative energy.  It was fun.  Easy.  And the cover story of a new magazine — such a great gig!

I dropped it in the mail.  Waited.  Then a letter from the editor of Weirdo Tales appeared in my mailbox.  He adored my story, but asked me to reformat it, in order to leave more white space on the top and bottom of the pages.  He was going to use the manuscript itself as “camera ready copy” — which is another way of saying that he wasn’t going to do any layout on a computer.  He was going to use the printed manuscript, as-was, to reproduce the printed pages of the magazine.

Now, I should have realized right away that something was terribly amiss and that this wasn’t going to be a venue that I’d be proud to appear in.  But these were the days before everyone had a computer and most magazines were done with physical “paste-up”: almost all magazines worked with “camera ready copy” that they handed over to a printer.  So I obliged, trusting that the editor — who was a good artist, himself, I knew — was going to do something really crafty with the layout, like many small presses do.  And indeed he did.

To my surprise, the magazine showed up in my mailbox a month or so later.  I tore open the package eager to see the final product.  The cover art was great, but to my dismay it was hand-colored in crayon, which had rubbed all over the place in the envelope.  The magazine itself was stapled in the corners, rather than bound like most magazines are.  And my big moment in the spotlight — my wonderful cover story — was entitled “???”

Actually, it was entitled “Nirvana by Noon.”  But you wouldn’t know that from the magazine.  Instead, in large “rub-on” letters, were the punctuation marks in big black print on the top of page one:  “???” by Michael A. Arnzen.

Now, to his credit, the editor had the courtesy to actually call my piece “??? (Cover Story)” in the Table of Contents page.

But…. Uh-huh-wha? 

(Actually, I think my reaction at the time was “Urm-hrrrrm…WHAT!?”)

I was, in a word, astounded.  Where the hell was my title?  “Nirvana by Noon” wasn’t that bad was it?  Why did he change it to a bunch of question marks?  Where did he get the audacity?  Out of the crayon box?  Why didn’t he contact me?!

Well, I tried to keep my cool and I immediately wrote him a professional letter reporting my dismay, but mostly just asked for a simple answer to the question, “What happened?”  For surely he couldn’t believe that “???” was a better title than the one I came up with, let alone anything resembling a title at all. 

It turns out that he had trimmed the title off my manuscript simply for space, since he was using “rub on” letters for the pasted-up “camera ready” pages…but in the process he somehow misplaced and lost the original title.  The kicker, of course, was that in his rush to get the magazine to press, he didn’t bother to write me for the real title, but instead just rubbed those question marks on there and called it a day.  “I wanted to get it over with,” I think he said, somewhat apologetically, but mostly disappointed, I could tell, from the lack of interest from readers (i.e., the lack of sales).

I was furious, but the damage was done.  I think I would have been happier if he just would have called it “Untitled.” 

But thankfully, this was the “small” press, and I doubt more than 50 people actually paid for that magazine, if anyone did.  So I didn’t let my anger fester into an ulcer and I didn’t sweat the damage it might have done to my reputation if readers actually believed that I would write a story called “???” that had nothing whatsoever to do with question marks. 

But it was a learning experience for me.  Afterward, I wrote less-and-less for small press markets that I hadn’t seen sample copies of with my own eyes.  I bought sample copies of those I was thinking of writing for.  And I began only submitting my work to magazines or editors who had a proven track record of some kind.  I stayed away from ANY market that asked for “camera ready” manuscripts, because I learned the hard way that “camera ready” is actually shorthand for “very little editing” and “we take shortcuts here” and “do it yourself, why don’t you?”

This is just one of many “horror stories” I’ve had with the publishing world.  But it’s also the funniest.  I was pretty upset at the time, but now, a decade-and-a-half later, I just chuckle even thinking about it.

I didn’t get a wonderful cover story gig for Weirdo Tales out of it.  I got a good anecdote.  I’m cool with that.

And you know what?  I bet that crayon-colored, corner-stapled bundle of papers is probably quite a collector’s item by now.  Maybe it’s for the best that I didn’t burn my issue right when it arrived.  “???” might be worth, what, at least uh-huh-wha dollars, I’d imagine.

***

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.  It does not include “Uh-Huh-Wha?” but you can find out more about it by subscribing to his award-winning newsletter at gorelets.com.

Daddy

Good literary nonfiction is difficult to find.  I discovered this while searching through large quantities of non-relevant links and , I’m sad to say, either uninteresting stories or interesting stories told in an uninteresting way–which is pretty much the opposite of what creative nonfiction should be.  Until I found it, the needle in the haystack, the shining star, the piece by Jalondra Davis called “Daddy.”

“For as far back as I can remember, there has been something wrong.  We are not anything like the Cosbys, the Winslows.  Daddy blows bubbles on my stomach like Cliff Huxtable did on Rudy’s sometimes, but he doesn’t always come home.  He and Mommy don’t talk like that, all smoothness and playful laughter.  There is no slow, affectionate choreography on the foyer’s cool, clean hardwood floors.  There are late night trips to fetch Daddy from Uncle Greg’s dookey green house on Main and 111th, where hard-living looking men and women drink from large brown bottles and laugh too loudly in the grassless front yard.”

You can read all of “Daddy” here or visit The Truth About the Fact, International Journal of Literary Nonfiction, where “Daddy” was published, here.

Hey, Look

The New Yorker is one of the most highly respected and well-known journals published in the United States, having been around since 1925.  This month’s issue includes the following piece by Simon Rich in the Humor section.  It starts with the words, “What I imagined the people around me were saying when I was Eleven” and goes through age 16.  Following is an excerpt:

“Hey, look, that thirteen-year-old is walking around with his mom!”

“Where?”

“There—in front of the supermarket!”

“Oh, my God! That kid is way too old to be hanging out with his mom. Even though I’ve never met him, I can tell he’s a complete loser.”

To read the entire piece, go here, or visit the front page of the New Yorker here.