Saturday, April 21, 2012


I’ve had the pleasure of both studying, and being mentored, by Michael A. Arnzen at Seton Hill University for almost 5 years now, first in my undergraduate studies as an English Literature major, and now in graduate school as a horror author in Seton Hill’s Writing Popular Fiction Program. Arnzen’s taught me a lot about writing over the years, and now even though he’s not the one literally grading my progress, he’s still managing to teach me a lot through his own creative outlets. Case and point, The Gorelets Omnibus.

First things first.  What exactly is a Gorelet? Arnzen describes them as “little gory things [he] sometimes write[s] that might otherwise be called short-short horror poems” (9). Now, when I first heard about the Gorelet project, I was really inspired as a poet because you don’t often see genre specific poetry being published. That’s one of the reasons that the Gorelets are so fun because not only are they disturbing and uncanny, but they push the boundaries of what’s classically accepted in the poetry market. The other reason is that they were originally designed to be “read upon the first handheld/mobile computers,” so they’re short, bloody, and well, to the point (9).

When I started the collection, it really opened my eyes to how effective a few, simple words can be. Often times as writers, we tend to flower up our prose and drag on and on about a particular image or scene, and here Arnzen shows us that doesn’t necessarily have to be the case. Choosing the right set of words in a poem is crucial, but when done right can evoke not only an image, but a feeling. Take for example, his poem “Alien Art”:

crop circles
are worse than you thought-
they’re graffiti of the gods
tagging in a new gang war

In four lines, Arnzen gives us the subject, the characters, the conflict, and a whole mess of intergalactic tension. Now how many of you are conjuring up images from War of the Worlds right now? That’s what I thought. When you read this, you feel the way the sky stares at you when you’re outside, and at night, when you look at the stars, you can’t help but wonder whether or not you’re really alone.  In just 18 words he gives us a beginning, a middle, and a end…and that my friends, is called a story.

But the Gorelets aren’t all about stuffing your feet into rabbit carcasses, or eating glass for breakfast. They’re also about Blitzen killing Santa Claus, and a Red Lobster meal gone wrong. What I’m trying to say is that what’s nice about Arnzen’s style as a horror writer, is that he knows how to incorporate comic relief. Don’t get me wrong, it’s DARK humor, but if you’re the kind of person that reads horror anyways, then you’ll find yourself chuckling along with pieces such as “Home Depot of the Dead,” and “Disco Inferno.”

So what have the Gorelets taught me as a student, and as a writer? 

Well the main thing I learned is that you write the story you have to write no matter how bizarre, disgusting, or scary it might be. You just do it. Then, when you have a collection of writing and an idea to follow it… you stick to your guns, or your knife (whatever your weapon may be), and you go for it. And most importantly, you have fun doing it.

Great stuff, Mike.
You never cease to stop teaching and inspiring me.

Click here to buy The Gorelets Omnibus.
And as always, Pleasant Nightmares!

Works Cited:
 Arnzen, Michael A. The Gorelets Omnibus, Collected Poems, 201-2011. Bowie, MD: Raw Dog Screaming Press, 2012. Print.

Monday, April 16, 2012

Featured Author in the Madhouse: Cynthia Ravinski

Visuals, Imagery, and Crafting Story from Dream
By Cynthia Ravinski

I'm part of the EmotoBook Revolution.  Let me tell you how that happened (I'm a story teller, that's what I do.) Writing an EmotoBook changed the way I look at writing. So let's start here.

For me, a story starts with a dream- vivid color and poignant action streaking across the movie screen of my resting mind with abstract gravitas. I think the strangest thing is that there are never any words.

If I decide an Idea is worth turning into a story, it's usually because it has haunted me for days and I'm thoroughly mad like the Hatter about the thing. And then, I only face the task of crafting it into something intelligible to other humans. Let me step aside here to say that without an Idea no writing can be done, there is only that familiar blank white screen with a blinking black cursor. With an Idea, I at least have something to hang some words on, from which I will shape my story.

Crafting a story is a very technical thing, and is separate from the story Idea. Simply relating events is not truly telling a story, it misses a lot of resonance. A writer's job is to craft a story so that black and white text creates an internal cinematic dreamscape for a reader.  There are many tools a writers uses to do this.  One of the most important, I think, is visual imagery.  When readers look at text, all they see are black lines on white.  I've always been completely seduced by a brief chain of words that can slip a ravishing scene into my head.

The idea of EmotoBooks as a literary form lodged in my mind and haunted me for days after I'd first heard of it. Using abstract imagery to enhance the reading experience tackles multiple areas of the brain, and appeals to my vivid dreamscapes that have no words.  Louis Sullivan, an American architect, put it perfectly, "form ever follows function."  EmotoBooks have a unique style and structure.  They are all fast-paced, imagery-heavy short stories or serial novels containing abstract, emotionally provocative illustrations to depict what characters feel during peak moments of tension.  These expressionistic elements provide both a cerebral and visual stimulation, which enhances the experience.

When I began the editing process for my EmotoSingle, Lingering in the Woods, it was glaringly obvious that my instinctive use of imagery was not as effective as I would have hoped.  I've always tried to keep my stories visually balanced, like in my dreams, but it became apparent that in doing so, I reduced the impact of important scenes.  Encouraged by my editor at Grit City, I intensified the imagery in the most powerful parts of the story as a seat for the abstract artwork going into the story.  Through this craft element, I added a texture to the story I wouldn't have found before, visually highlighting the peaks and valleys of the plot.

Writing stories is a grand puzzle with no absolute solution. Trial and error is the best way through that maze.  I only hope that my work's images burn lively in the minds of readers.

BIO: Cynthia Ravinski writes, among other things.  From her coastal northern setting, she crafts stories in impossible worlds and dreams up crafty characters to occupy them.  She's been an athlete, a co-pilot, and a world traveler.  She's basked in the light of great poets, and has been educated to high degrees at UMaine Farmington and Seton Hill University.  To say she is obsessed with drinking tea is an understatement.  Visit her here to learn more.

Sunday, April 8, 2012


I’m Not Guilty
The Development of the Violent Mind: The Case of Ted Bundy
A Novel by Al Carlisle, PH.D.

Recently, I traveled to Salt Lake City, Utah for the World Horror Convention/Bram Stoker Awards.  It was an amazing experience to meet so many talented writers and artists, and listen to the minds of the masters in the field.  I sat in on a variety of lectures, went to the Salty Horror Film Festival (where I watched the award winning short film An Evening with my Comatose Mother) and took a writing workshop with Mort Castle where I practiced evoking truth in my fiction.

But one of the reasons I was drawn to the convention was that Al Carlisle would be speaking on the progression of serial killers and the ins and outs of multiple personality disorder. See, in addition to working on my thesis novel, I’ve been diligently researching an idea for a separate novel, and I thought that his lecture could help bleed some truth and realism into the character profile I’m working on. Also, for those of you that are unaware, I came very closer to majoring in forensic psychology, and even though I chose a more literary path, I still devour abnormal psychology articles and books on a regular basis. So when I found of that the lead psychologist on the Ted Bundy case was speaking at the event, I hoped on that plane quicker than you could say ‘serial killer.’

Before I get into the lecture though, here are some basic details about the case:

-Ted Bundy confessed to 30+ homicides before his execution in 1989.
-He is famous for his charming personality and his ability to lie and fool everyone around him. He would attack his victims at random (trolling, as he called it), and normally feign injury in order to entice them.
-Bundy became obsessed with his victims, and spent great amounts of time with the bodies after the murders. He would perform sexual acts on the corpses, and even claim that he bonded with them after they died, as if a part of their spirit became one with his.
-Bundy kept souvenirs. He decapitated at least 12 of his females, and kept their heads in his freezer, and when he grew tired of those, he would visit the dump sites, and spend time with his girls there.
- Oh, and Ted Bundy escaped from prison….twice.

Needless to say, Carlisle’s presentation was riveting.

I’ve read a lot about the minds of serial killers (Bundy in particular) and I’ve watched numerous documentaries on the subject as well, but there is something said for listening to someone in person who has actually been in contact and worked close with the killer. For instance, what really got me was when Carlisle talked about Bundy’s legendary charisma. Sure he knew that Ted was a cold blood killer, but he couldn’t deny that he liked the guy, and that’s why so many people couldn’t believe that Ted was capable of the murders.  In fact, that’s what hooked me with the case. I wanted to know how someone that was so obviously guilty, could (1) convince himself that there was nothing wrong with what  he was doing (2) charm everyone around him and (3) be as successful and skilled as he was in everyday life. Suffice it to say, I feel like I got all of my questions answered and it was a pleasure getting to meet Dr. Carlisle in person.

After the Q&A, I simply had to buy his book I’m Not Guilty- which might I add, I started and finished on the plane ride home.  The novel is essentially a mock interview comprised of the time he spent with the Bundy, detailing his life from childhood to execution. You learn about Ted’s insatiable need for pornography as a child (which he blames the murders on), his first rape attempt as a teenager, and then his steady decline into becoming the killer we know him as today. However, despite all the gore and psychological profiling, what I found to be most intriguing was learning about the relationships he had in life, particularly with Marjorie and Liz. Ted was incapable of letting himself be loved, and no matter how hard he tried, he could never break down the walls that closed him off to everyone around him. He would always be two people: Ted and the Entity, and as long as the Entity existed, the thirst for blood could never stop.

Curious yet?
If so, I’d HIGHLY recommend it, because there’s nothing scarier than getting inside the mind of a killer. And let me tell you something. Ted Bundy’s mind is simply horrifying, but he’ll try his best to convince you otherwise.