Inky Interview: Horror Writer and English Professor Mike Arnzen: with Claire Faulkner

Can you tell us about your journey as a writer? Where did it all start for you?

I’ve always loved stories, but I think I first started taking myself seriously as a >writer< when I set down a book I was reading – Stephen King’s Firestarter – and thought, well, gosh, I can do better than that! I tried, and failed miserably.  

King is a master. Who was I fooling? But I think we all get started in this business when we get to a point where we start to see the patterns of storytelling, and feel compelled to ‘talk back’ to the world of books through our own writing. That is simply stage one to a long-earned career as an author.

In the Goreletter and on your website you provide writing prompts to help inspire others. What inspires you to write?

What a kind question! I think part of it is obviously seeing the effect it has on other people. Maybe this is why I teach and try to help other writers. It has the benefit of the instant reaction. Writing is a kind of prompt toward an emotional response, isn’t it?

I actually started sharing creative writing prompts with writers in a horror newsletter called ‘Hellnotes’ about a decade ago. It was fun series of things like ‘Describe brain surgery from an awakening patient on the operating table’ and things of that ilk. Now there’s a huge collection of them that people can look into, called INSTIGATION: CREATIVE PROMPTS ON THE DARK SIDE. It’s an e-book only title, but available everywhere those are sold.

And now that I think of it, it seems so obvious: horror, too, is a kind of prompt. I like getting a reaction. Whether a scream or an intellectual response, I’m happy.

Do you have a set writing routine?

I >TRY< to. Habits are double-edged swords. They can make you productive… but they can become uncreative rituals. The whole notion of a ritual is that it is a kind of ‘story we tell ourselves’ by practicing something over and over again, the same way. And that can backfire with writing. But my primary routine is to write in the mornings, when the coffee hits my dream-addled brain and ignites weirdness with hi-octane energy. However, sometimes, deadlines press in, and I find myself binge-writing all night until I drop. Sometimes those caffeine-fuelled, fever dream, writing marathons produce the weirdest ideas, so I’m a bad judge of what works best for my own process, actually. But so long as I’m producing something, or planning the next project, I’m happy. I try to keep different things juggling all at once – a novel, a poem, an essay; that keeps me going if any one thing stalls or gets dry.

I originally found your work through your project gorelets, where readers received weekly poems from you. I’ve been hooked on creative horror ever since. (I have FOTD magnets too.) Why do you think horror works so well in this format?

Less is more! I’ve long felt that horror works best in short forms. This is why Poe works so well, I think… can you imagine a NOVEL from Poe, akin to the whoppers we find on the bestseller shelves today? I can’t. Short forms have the promise of a surprise ending, and the finality is often felt like a bullet to the head. 

You teach writing popular fiction at Seton Hill University; how do you balance this with your own writing?

On the one hand, teaching keeps me primed. I’m always reading, always reflecting on this crazy practice called writing, always talking shop. And I’m doubly lucky that I get to do it with horror writing – my job is unique! But balance? That’s kind of a myth. Work comes and goes – sometimes books take the spotlight; sometimes teaching gets on center stage; sometimes it’s something else altogether. But teaching can murder the creative mind: finding time to write while juggling class preps, sundry meetings, and the massive amounts of grading can seem impossible some weeks. There’s only so many times you can dip into the word well, and sadly, teaching sometimes has wrung all the words out of me by the end of the day. This is why – when all my pistons are popping – I swear by my morning writing routine. And when I’m under deadline, I set my alarm ahead an hour early, just so I can get more done. 

Can you share any details of projects you’re involved with at the moment?

I’m contributing to an academic title for Dark Moon books that studies the short fiction of Steve Rasnic Tem! First in the series of author-studies is ‘Exploring Dark Short Fiction’, run by Eric Guignard, who is an awesome editor to work with. He really wants to put the spotlight on short story writers and help new genre fans and authors understand why people like Tem keep winning awards or why people should keep reading them. I’m on as academic consultant, which means I write commentaries on all the stories in these books, and a longer academic essay. It’s fun to let my academic side out of the box like this every once in awhile. Reading, thinking and teaching are all parts of what make my weird engine run at full speed.

But like I said, I’m always juggling. I’ve got a poetry collection I want to finish gathering together next. Then a short-story collection. There’s a stalled novel I might restart. THINGS A PLENTY! If your readers subscribe to the Goreletter, they’ll know about them as soon as they’re available! Visit

What are you reading at the moment? Who would you recommend to us?

A really cool ‘lost version of Dracula’ called Powers of Darkness by Valdimar Asmundsson, who translated Stoker’s classic into Icelandic but changed the story in a bunch of interesting ways (all of which are annotated in the book!). It’s groovy. I’m heading to Transylvania next week, actually, to attend the International Vampire Film and Arts Festival, so the book is getting me in the mood for the Carpathians! 🙂 I’ll be doing a fiction reading there, as well as curating an academic symposium on behalf of Seton Hill University. Folks interested in doing this next year should visit

Would you like to share one of your poems with us?

This is an example of a ‘gorelet’ from years ago, that everyone seems to remember after they read it:

Fuzzy Bunnies

the eyes roll back
and accusingly glare
when my feet slide forward
and hot rabbit innards
squirt between my toes
only then do I see
why these furry white skins
are called slippers

Have you got anything else you would like to add?

Thanks for the interview! If anyone reading this is looking over my stuff, and wondering, ‘Where do I start? What book is the best?’ then I would recommend looking into Proverbs for Monsters (for a sampler of longer fiction and poetry) or 100 Jolts (for 100 short-short horror stories). Both are in print, and I continue to get great responses from readers. Enjoy!

Leave a Reply