Book Review: INSTIGATION by Michael A. Arnzen

INSTIGATION: Writing Prompts on the Dark Side by Michael A. Arnzen from Mastication Publications

“Where do you get your ideas?” Since it’s not cool to say, “From fantasizing about strangling the living shit out of you,” I’m telling everyone, “From Mike Arnzen’s Instigation: Writing Prompts on the Dark Side.”

Michael A. Arnzen, PhD, is an award-winning author of horror fiction (four Bram Stoker awards), an English professor at Seton Hill University, and a mentor in their Writing Popular Fiction MFA program, of which I’m an alum (with an MA).

INSTIGATION: Writing Prompts on the Dark Side by Michael A. Arnzen

INSTIGATION by Michael A. Arnzen,
from Mastication Publications

Over a decade ago, he began writing a column for Hellnotes journal called “Instigation,” which provided not only creative—but darkly creative—writing prompts for writers. He continued this tradition at Gorelets.com and in his Goreletter (totally worth subscribing to). Arnzen has expanded his original collection of prompts and revised, updated, organized, and supplemented it into a terrific resource for creative writers on the dark side.

I recently downloaded INSTIGATION and gave it a spin. I’m so glad I did.

In “Here Comes the Fork: An Introduction,” Arnzen discusses writer’s block and creative desiccation, and how writing prompts can get the imaginative juices seeping again.

One trick to getting started is to sidestep the burden of coming up with ideas or a plot first. That’s what a prompt does — it challenges the writer to respond without having to worry too much about premise or plot. It hands you a deck of cards and maybe even the rules too and encourages you to simply start dealing them out.

Yet for the writer of dark fiction, most writing prompts fall short, providing only inspiration. “Rarely,” he says, “do they push you to do something truly weird, taboo, goofy or unthinkable (ergo, original).” Sure, your plot and writing may follow typical form, but Arnzen believes that “the best genre fiction always marries convention with invention.” And that’s where his envelope-pushing prompts slither in.

Arnzen suggests successful usage in “How to Use This Book,” while advising that, when writing, the best counsel is, “Do whatever works.” This may involve journaling or freewriting.

“365 Sick Scenarios” lists a story starter for every night of the year, with prompts like: “Create a numbered list: ‘Rules for Human Hunting'” and “Clot a wound or make a tourniquet with an unexpected object.”

“Spurs: 31 Turns for the Worst” includes prompts for works in progress—when you need a jab in the flank by your demon rider to “take things in an unexpected direction.” Like “Torment with temperature” (a creative way of saying turn up the heat on your character).

“Resurrections” are prompts that will help bring your story “back from the dead” during revision. This will come in handy for me soon.

“Memoir Mayhem” is a collection of journal prompts to inspire you beyond the realm of dark fiction.

The D.I.Y. section, “The Devil Made You Do It Yourself,” enables you to customize his prompts or come up with your own writing exercises. I particularly like “The Monster Mash” and “Weird Sins.”

All these sections are numbered with a scheme so that you can do a random search to pick a prompt out of the skull cap.

INSTIGATION concludes with a few short articles to help you overcome writer’s block. (Which makes me think of a chopping block. “Stick your neck out and write, or just stick your neck out.” How’s that for inspiration and encouragement? You only have me to blame for this prompt, I’m afraid.)

Arnzen encourages INSTIGATION users to write their own material and drop him a line to get a link to their work posted in his “Instigation Showcase.”

My favorite phrase from the book: “sloshing, galumphing breasts.” To find out what that’s all about, writer, get your copy of INSTIGATION: Writing Prompts on the Dark Side by Mastication Publications, providing “Unusual Ideas to Chew On.” Ebook formats include Kindle (.mobi), Nook (.epub), and PDF. Only $3.99.

Subscribe to the Mastication newsletter, and get a 25% off discount code!

Then incise an artery and start writing.

Mike Arnzen is also the creator of “The Refrigerator of the Damned” magnetic poetry kit. Take down your kids’ drawings and post a horrific poem about how they cried. Get your kit at Raw Dog Screaming Press.

Search for #TFOTD on Twitter. Follow @MikeArnzen and Like his Facebook page at http://www.facebook.com/gorelets.

I describe how Mike Arzen has inspired me in How Arnzstigation Set Me Free.


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Guest Post: Stephanie M. Wytovich, Member of the Dead Poets Society

The number one rule in writing is that if you want to write, and write well, you must write every day. Poetry is no exception. When I decided I wanted to become a poet—something I distinguish greatly from being a fiction writer—I knew it wouldn’t be easy. Poetry doesn’t have a huge market, it certainly doesn’t pay well, and to add to the frustration, when you throw genre on the table, you’re looking at a dead end.

Except you’re not.

I’ve dabbled in literary—as I think every up-and-coming poet should—but anyone who knows me realizes my heart is firmly cemented in the black shadows of horror. So not only am I a poet, but I’m a horror poet, and contrary to the monsters and creatures that we all know and love, we do exist and there is a market for us.

And for you, if you’re willing to take the jump.

My connection with poetry has always been very visceral and intuitive, and I’ve come to realize, that unlike my prose, it’s not something that I can just sit down and work on routinely like a job. I need inspiration, crave it, and much like a succubus, I bleed the art form dry when I’m done. It’s hard for me to describe it, but for anyone who has seen what Bo does to her victims in Lost Girl, you can get an idea of how poetic energy works for me. Before I can act, I need a source. A vein. Something living that I can tap into.

Usually it’s art.

Most of the time it’s music.

Sure, I have times where I experience a swell of emotion spiraling inside of me and it’s easy to find the words to expel it, but other times I need to look at or listen to something so I can get hold of its story. Pinterest has been a great optical vessel because I can sweep through pages and save visuals and sayings that speak to me, and make collages or boards based on a specific piece or particular emotion. This is a great way to do character studies or pinpoint locations, and I find myself coming back to it more and more when I need assistance purging a poem.

Spotfiy, however, is my auditory mistress. I pace my writing based on the song I’m listening to, and I recently became enthralled with artists such as Jill Tracy, Johnny Hollow, and Sopor Aeternus. Their music is dark, seductive and beautifully gothic; it’s a wonderful aid when it comes to soft, psychological horror. But I would be lying if I didn’t say that one of my favorite pastimes as a horror writer is creating and administering the kill scene. In poetry, you don’t have the luxury of going on for pages about a kill. You have to be quick, fast, practiced, and effective. Much like if you were actually going to commit a murder.

So let’s write a horror poem using this process.

Step 1: Find your victim. Put on your favorite, high energy song or look up a piece of artwork. (These don’t have to be scary. They just have to elicit emotion). For example, here’s my current inspiration:

Currently playing: “Click Click Boom” by Saliva
Victim: A stalker

Step 2: Predict their next move. If it’s not scary, how would you make it creepy? If it is, how does it make you feel? This will give you your topic. Here are thoughts I jotted down:

Observations: He doesn’t see me watching him, watching her. He thinks he’s going in for a kill, but doesn’t realize that tonight… he’s the victim.

Step 3: Stalk and take notes. Write down individual words or phrases that come to mind when thinking about the subject matter.

Notes: Oblivious, sloppy, unaware, misogynistic, rape, watching, young, pain, knife, old blue jeans, broken, pervert, swelling sex, doesn’t understand, who does she think she is, I deserve this, curls, masturbation, innocence, gun.

Step 4: Go for the kill. Be creative and don’t limit yourself. Feel free to play.

Here’s what I came up with using this process.

Her Stalker’s Stalker
By Stephanie M. Wytovich

He watched her pull her auburn hair
Back into a loose ponytail, moaning
As flyaway strands caressed her teenage face.
He stroked the barrel of his gun, pretending it was her
Fragile hands around his cock,
Thinking, hoping, that after tonight he
Wouldn’t have to imagine it anymore.
He liked to watch her like this—
Catch her in the throes of passion
As she discovered her womanhood,
Felt what it was like to touch herself
Between the legs—but what he didn’t
See, was me. Me pulling back my soft,
Black curls into a ponytail, and
Fingering my knife as I watched him
Watching her, while I planned my kill.

I’d love to know how this process worked for you. Send your creations and trophy kills to wyt3319(at)gmail(dot)com, and I’ll showcase your poems on my blog at: http://joinmeinthemadhouse.blogspot.com/

Stay Scared,

Stephanie M. Wytovich

About Stephanie M. Wytovich

Stephanie M. WytovichStephanie M. Wytovich is an alum of Seton Hill University where she was a double major in English Literature and Art History. Wytovich is published in over 40 literary magazines and her collection of poems, HYSTERIA, will be released this summer. She is currently attending graduate school to pursue her MFA in Writing Popular Fiction, and is working on a novel. She is the Poetry Editor for Raw Dog Screaming Press, a book reviewer for S.T. Joshi, Jason V. Brock, and William F. Nolan’s Nameless Magazine, and she plans to continue in academia to get her doctorate in Gothic Literature.


How Arnzstigation Set Me Free


 
Arnzstigation Days


When I was earning my master’s in Writing Popular Fiction at Seton Hill University, professor of dark literature extraordinaire Michael A. Arnzen was my mentor while I wrote my thesis novel, DEATH PERCEPTION.

Besides being a terrific teacher with a great sense of humor, Mike is super creative in supporting the careers of fledgling writers. In his critique of DEATH PERCEPTION, I’ll never forget one suggestion he made about protagonist Kennet Singleton. Mike pointed out that he could get revenge through fire, which, as a crematory operator, is Kennet’s element. My book is so much better for his input.

So is my career. As I’ve struggled to honor the ideas that come to me, however twisted, Arnzen taught me that it’s okay to be dark, and that I must go there without flinching. In the past my darkness has gotten the better of me and laid me low more times than I can count. But since I posted a Facebook status about a month ago, all Arnzen’s past advice seemed to jell like clotting blood. “I exult in my creepiness!”

Arnzstigation set me free. I’m now working on the darkest story I’ve ever written, and it’s sharp as a scalpel.

I post this with gratitude for Dr. Arnzen’s influence and support. And I want to tell you about a brilliant project he’s got going…

You know those magnetic poetry kits you can assemble into verses on your refrigerator door? Arnzen has created one for the darkly inspired, with words like headshot, grotesque, and embalmed. Here’s a sample that also showcases his photographic talents.

The project is called Fridge of the Damned. Although phase 1 is fully funded, providing the capital to produce the magnets, there’s still a push to complete phase 2 of funding so that the magnets can be packaged in custom tin boxes. (Phase 2 goal is $2700.) I’d much rather have a tin box than a plastic bag, wouldn’t you? (Especially if it contains something severed and dripping.)

There are plenty of support levels, and every bit helps. You get the coolest premiums! I know I want at least one set of magnets—packaged in custom tins, (un)naturally. E-books, too. Did I mention Mike is an award-winning poet and micro fiction writer?

If you are a lover of horror, you must get his stuff, and supporting Fridge of the Damned is a great way to kill two birds with one donation.

There’s only a week left. Please support now, and support big. This project and its creator are worth it. Besides enabling this creative dark poetry kit to be packaged in style, you’ll be able to damn your refrigerator—as if the tender parts packaged inside weren’t enough.

Support Fridge of the Damned Magnetic Poetry Kit Kickstarter Project Now

I Survived the Arnzstigation
Thank you. I’m all about making someone’s nightmare come true.

Everyone has talent. What is rare is the courage to follow the talent to the dark places where it leads. –Erica Jong

Who else is behind the project:

Connect with Michael A. Arnzen at gorelets.com.


Read the 1st Chapter of DEATH PERCEPTION

My current work in progress is DEATH PERCEPTION, a supernatural crime story corrupt with horror yet preserved by a sprinkling of black humor. The skinny:

DEATH PERCEPTION by Lee Allen HowardNineteen-year-old Kennet Singleton lives with his invalid mother in a personal care facility, but he wants out. He operates the crematory at the local funeral home, where he discovers he can discern the cause of death of those he cremates—by toasting marshmallows over their ashes.

He thinks his ability is no big deal since his customers are already dead. But when his perception differs from what’s on the death certificate, he finds himself in the midst of murderers. To save the residents and avenge the dead, he must bring the killers to justice.

Take a peek at chapter 1 of DEATH PERCEPTION in PDF. I’d love to hear your comments on this post, or by email. Enjoy, and feel free to share this page!

DEATH PERCEPTION is my Seton Hill University Writing Popular Fiction thesis. It’s my fourth novel. Sales for my third, THE SIXTH SEED, are taking off. I’ll be marketing DEATH PERCEPTION while I complete my fifth book, THE BEDWETTER.


Hazard Yet Forward for Donna Munro

Ginormous Multi-author Genre Anthology to Benefit Seton Hill University Alum

Hazard Yet ForwardSeventy-six writers connected to the Seton Hill University Writing Popular Fiction program contributed to a multi-genre anthology, HAZARD YET FORWARD. All proceeds from this project benefit Donna Munro, a 2004 graduate of the program. Munro, a teacher living in St. Louis, Missouri, was recently diagnosed with breast cancer. An active member of the SHU WPF alumni committee, Munro helps organize the school’s annual writing conference, In Your Write Mind.

To aid Munro and her family, faculty members, alumni, students and friends of the Writing Popular Fiction program immediately responded to compile this massive anthology. The book features flash fiction, short stories and a full-length novella. There are 75 works total from various genres—literally, something for everyone—ranging from horror to romance to mystery, and everything in between.

Notable writers in the anthology are World Fantasy Award winner Nalo Hopkinson, Bram Stoker winners Michael A. Arnzen and Michael Knost, Bram Stoker nominee Lawrence C. Connolly, ALA/YALSA Best Book for Young Adults winner Jessica Warman, Rita finalist Dana Marton, Spur winner Meg Mims, Asimov’s Readers’ Award winner Timons Esaias and WV Arts and Humanities literary fellowships winner Geoffrey Cameron Fuller.

HAZARD YET FORWARD co-compiler Matt Duvall says, “It’s an unprecedented collection of stories from every genre imaginable.” This large volume is an electronic book for the popular Kindle platform and is available for purchase through Amazon, reasonably priced at $9.99.

When I heard about the project, I quickly responded by contributing my story “Mixed Breed, Loves Kids.” Donna was my sponsor when I entered the program in 2004, and she does so much for the WPF program. She’s an all-around fantastic person; I want to support her while she conquers breast cancer.

You can order HAZARD YET FORWARD here.

You can find more information about the anthology at http://hazardyetforward.wordpress.com. To learn about the unique and exciting Writing Popular Fiction program, visit http://www.setonhill.edu/academics/fiction/.


“Psychic Development for Writers” Available on CD

Psychic Development for WritersDo you want to develop your psychic skills to write better fiction?

In this 47-minute live audio recording presented at Seton Hill University’s 2012 In Your Write Mind writer’s workshop, writer and medium Lee Allen Howard teaches about psychic development for fiction writers. From the presentation:

Inspiration comes from the same source as psychic information, and delivers creative information along the same channel. By learning to open your psychic channel, you become better able to receive inspiration and channel creative information that makes fiction work. In short: If you widen the psychic channel, you’ll get better ideas.

To receive this information, you must:
1. Connect to higher sources.
2. Bring that information into your waking consciousness.

You’ll learn how to do this with actual development exercises.

What People Are Saying about “Psychic Development for Writers”

Lee Allen Howard’s “Psychic Development” gave me insight into how my creativity works, as well as working out a “stuck spot” in my manuscript through his guided meditation. It works! —Meg Mims, author of Double Crossing

This dynamic and thought-provoking workshop by Lee Allen Howard is accessible to anyone, regardless of his or her spiritual path. Lee’s presentation is clear and straightforward, and the guided exercise at the conclusion is worth multiple revisits. Highly recommended! —Chris Stout, author of Days of Reckoning

What You’ll Receive

  • CD of the live audio presentation of “Psychic Development for Writers” (tracks split per slide), including the psychic development exercises that you can use at home
  • Session handouts that include slides, psychic development exercises, an article about gifts vs. skill, and a bibliography.

CD with handouts are $15, which includes shipping to locations in the continental US. To order, click the following link:

To widen your psychic channel for better fiction,
order “Psychic Development for Writers” today.
Buy Now from PayPal


Selling, Signing, and Smiling

Here’s a photo of me yesterday at the Seton Hill University IN YOUR WRITE MIND workshop. I presented on “Psychic Development for Writers.” We had a massive book signing in the evening, and I sold and signed a number of copies of THE SIXTH SEED and THOU SHALT NOT.

It was great to see old friends and make new ones. Keep plugging, keep writing, and keep smiling!

Lee Allen Howard