Wednesday, April 13, 2011

MGOC Contributor and Editor: Michael A. Arnzen

photo by Renate Muller

EXCERPT from "Putting Our Heads Together" by Michael A. Arnzen in Many Genres, One Craft: Lessons in Writing Popular Fiction:

As you'll see, there is a rich diversity to this collection, and this is intentional: we feel that writers of all genres benefit from studying all elements of the craft, even in genres that they might not normally read. Indeed, in our program at Seton Hill University, "inter-genre" learning is one of the unexpected benefits that students often discover. A vampire novelist might learn a great deal from a category romance writer if, for example, their neck-biter happens to be a seductress. Likewise, if a romance writer's alpha male lead character is a firefighter, she might pick up some great tips for depicting a suspenseful firefight scene from a writer of action thrillers. And if you are a writer interested in writing "hybrid" or "cross-genre" fiction like paranormal romance, then you've found a handy resource in this anthology, which combines such a rich spectrum of genre advice between its covers.

EXCERPT from "Tuning Up Your Writing" by Michael A. Arnzen in Many Genres, One Craft: Lessons in Writing Popular Fiction:

Writers are wordsmiths, crafting meaning out of language, giving shape to sense
by organizing ideas into logical or dramatic forms. The text is both our talent and our temple. If it wasn’t, you wouldn’t be reading this—a piece of writing about writers for writers in a writer’s instructional guide. The written word is the place we go to generate and regenerate, even when it only points back to itself.

In all this printed (and typed) matter, it’s easy to forget that language is spoken
as much as it is written, and that everything we write has the potential to be uttered aloud. “Sounding good” is fundamental to good writing, yet it is also one of the most complicated and difficult levels of writing to consciously control. Those of us who are able to craft sentences that simply—if not artfully—”ring true” in the reader’s ear are often considered “naturally gifted” or talented. But there may not be anything “natural” about it; it may be more accurate to say that these writers are “in tune” with the musicality of language ... and that any of us could benefit from tuning up our prose by raising our awareness of the way our words ring in the reader’s metaphorical ear.

EXCERPT from "Genre Unleashed" by Michael A. Arnzen in Many Genres, One Craft: Lessons in Writing Popular Fiction:

We are lucky to have genres, because they give writers an avenue toward finding an audience -- and they point readers in our direction, as well. But they can be dangerous roads, too, because once we start identifying things by their type, we begin to categorize and label them, separating one kind from another, often based on superficial judgments. If a reader doesn't like a genre, they'll pre-judge your book without even looking at the cover. This feels unfair, so some writers avoid genre altogether, hoping to maximize a potential audience and avoid the constraints of their conventions…avoiding the pigeonholes of genre, but never finding a place to roost, and fading into obscurity. Others make the opposite mistake, getting too hung up on trying to control their fate, and play it safe, follow the "rules" of their genre so closely that their work becomes indistinguishable from any other book on the shelf. Uncertain about how to "fit in," they err on the side of imitation, and produce work too derivative to excite an editor who is looking for a unique sales hook for next year's catalog.

EXCERPT from "The Element of Surprise: Psyching Out Readers of Horror, Mystery and Suspense" by Michael A. Arnzen in Many Genres, One Craft: Lessons in Writing Popular Fiction:

Surprise in fiction works best when it is a special kind of revelation: a turn of events that we should have seen coming, but somehow didn't. Surprises in which the writer out-smarted us. Genres like horror, mystery, and suspense, are almost entirely founded on provoking a reader with these unexpected revelations, where one's ability to anticipate outcomes is foiled. We respond to them like a child at an Easter Egg Hunt, stumbling onto a hidden bounty of candy. But genre fans aren't children and are very savvy readers: they're intelligent, and they've read a lot stories that have tried to "psyche them out" with different levels of success. The more they read, the better they get at spotting a cheap trick. They know that writers are going to lie to them…so every time they crack open a new book, they are thinking: "I dare you to even try to fool me!" But no matter how savvy they are, they secretly hope that the writer will succeed. Because they're addicted to that candy.

EXCERPT from "Making Modern Monsters" by Michael A. Arnzen in Many Genres, One Craft: Lessons in Writing Popular Fiction:

The creatures of horror literature have existed since Homer's Odyssey. While writers often research monstrosity and draw inspiration from other books -- from classic mythology and folklore to last year's hit vampire film -- it's always hard to come up with something new. But that's exactly what readers want: creative creatures. (The words are almost identical, after all.)

One of the primary aims of horror fiction is to disturb readers with the strange and uncanny, so the more conventional your creature, the less effective your story will be. The trick is to go over-the-top. Push your imagination. If you take the "normal" and push it to an extreme, you just might invent the next best monster

EXCERPT from "Working the Workshop: How to Get the Most Out of Critique Groups (Even the Bad Ones)" by Michael A. Arnzen in Many Genres, One Craft: Lessons in Writing Popular Fiction:

What we sometimes forget is that a writing workshop is a lot like shop class -- a place where one learns by working. It is a vocational, collaborative process -- not a lecture hall and not a book club. It's not exactly writing that's done, either, so the name is misleading. The "work" that's performed in a workshop is editorial work. We practice editing and hear how other professionals "respond" to a piece, which is what editors do for a living. Editors are first and foremost readers: they listen to their intuition when they read a story or article; they sit in the shoes of their market's audience. They represent The Reader with a capital R. And by working the workshop properly, we both internalize their voice and develop a stronger editorial ear of our own.

("Working the Workshop" by Michael A. Arnzen. Revised version of an essay first appearing in The Handy Job Hunter for Writers (2003) and Gila Queen's Guide to Markets (2004).)

EXCERPT from "Persist!" by Michael A. Arnzen in Many Genres, One Craft: Lessons in Writing Popular Fiction:

Every word you write is helping you become a better writer. Everything -- from letters and email to short stories and poems. And know that it might take you a million words until you become the sort of writer that editors salivate over. You achieve mastery over time. It doesn't happen overnight. But don't let the work that lies ahead of you psyche you out. You climb the mountain one step at a time. So even if you have to write twenty drafts before you get to the ONE right draft, write the twenty drafts. You might not publish them all, but it took all those drafts to get the text published. Persistently write. Eventually, you'll get there. Make this your mantra: there are no wasted words.

Michael A. Arnzen is a college teacher by day and a horror writer by night. He has been educating novelists since 1999 as faculty in the Writing Popular Fiction graduate program at Seton Hill University in Greensburg, PA, where he is currently Chair of the Humanities. Arnzen's energetic workshops on genre fiction writing have been popular at Odyssey, Alpha, World Horror Convention, Context, Pennwriters and the Horror Writers Association's annual Stoker Weekend event. His often funny, always disturbing horror stories have won four Bram Stoker Awards, an International Horror Guild award, and several "Year's Best" accolades.

The best of his short work is collected in Proverbs for Monsters, which won the Stoker award in 2007. Always exploring new media, Arnzen has experimented with flash fiction (100 Jolts), musically-enhanced readings (Audiovile), short film (Exquisite Corpse), and twitter poetry before there was a twitter (Gorelets), in addition to his horror novels (Grave Markings, Play Dead). To see what he's up to now, subscribe to The Goreletter: an award-winning newsletter of the bizarre, hilarious, and pithy -- which features creative writing prompts for other writers of the strange -- available free at

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