New Office Peeping and All the Thankfulness

For me, this November is largely consumed by two things: NaNoWriMo (my #MonthOfGettinIt) and Thanksgiving. Hard work and deep gratitude. It has been a busy, beautiful, exhausting, delightful month so far.

Recently fellow writer Sean Easley posted a picture of his home office on Facebook, and it was so drool-worthy (the bookshelves, you guys—the bookshelves!) that I immediately asked him if he’ll share a whole album’s worth at The Decorative Writer. To my delight, he’s agreed to let us all admire his beautiful work space.

Sean Easley

The Decorative Writer is not the most prominent or active part of my website—but it’s still one I love. I love it enough to continue revamping it over and over, including this time around; it seems like every time I add a new album I discover my old plugin or formatting has self-destructed. But now I have a brand new shiny one that looks lovely and navigates well; I hope you’ll enjoy it too.

I’m a very aesthetically-oriented person. I believe that the spaces we’re in affect our  productivity and mood. Maybe that’s why I love getting to peer into the rooms of other writers—it almost feels like peering into their workflow and artistic hearts as well. If that’s the case, then Sean’s a very lucky guy. 🙂 Things to go swoon over: the moody lighting, the beautifully displayed bookshelves, the comfy chairs, the personal touches, the sweet tech setup, much more.

PLUS, be sure you click all the way through to the end, because my favorite thing about Sean’s album is when he shares his first workspace: a closet. A literal, functioning closet. If ever there were a symbol of dedication and determination, surely it has to be that. That big, beautiful office was well earned. I find that incredibly inspiring.

Which brings me back to grateful. My most recent post at Writer Unboxed is “Getting Back to Grateful,” where I talk about how easy it is for writers to forget how much we already have—and how important it is to stop and remember that with intention and thankfulness.

A couple things that are big in my heart right now on the gratitude shelves:

♥ My beautiful, fun, full road trip with my writer friend Kelsey Macke, where she did book research and we both did good work and good play.

♥ The kind, positive words so many people have said and shared about my story “So Sings the Siren” in Apex Magazine. It’s one thing to have a story picked up by a market you love—it’s another to have strangers read and respond to it. That’s why we do this, after all, and it feels amazing. Some highlights:

“This is a rather creepy and very short story about pain and about art and about performance. […] It’s how the story is able to establish and sell the darkness that is at first concealed […] I like how the story sets this all up and I like the implications of it, the way it seems to me to seek to shine a light on how we treat art […] It’s weird and messed up and uncomfortable but I think it’s a rather great read!” —Charles Payseur, Quick Sip Reivews

“Well done tale told very succinctly.” —Tangent

“A gruesome and moving look at the price of art. […] It’s disturbing, but very provocative. Wonderful horror story.” —Alex Clark-McGlenn, For Those Who Wait and Listen

“Though short, this tale engaged the reader from the beginning.” —SFRevu

“One of the most disturbing stories we’ve published at Apex Magazine.” —Jason Sizemore, Editor in Chief

If you haven’t yet, I would love for you to read it too! It does come with a content warning, but if you like sharp things, you can read “So Sings the Siren” for free on! (And if you’ve left a review anywhere that says good things about my story, please do send me the link!)

Don’t forget to stop by Sean’s album at The Decorative Writer. (Thanks so much to Sean for sharing!)

Before I go to bake pie and drive and sleep and hug: a big, heartfelt thank you to everyone who’s in my life, in any capacity. It sure is a beautiful life lately, and if you’re reading this you’re (at least) a little part of that. So thank you, and happy thanks giving.


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How to Have the Witchiest Halloween Ever (Plus Our Winner!)

Happy Halloween!!

We have a winner of the #BooksBrewBoo giveaway. The lucky little goblin who will be receiving a Starbucks gift card + creepy poetry anthology is:

Traci Kenworth!

Congratulations, Traci!

I’ll be off soon to cavort with bats and sweet-talk cats, but first I wanted to share with you guys one last how-to: how to have the witchiest Halloween ever.

Click photos to enlarge!

Start early. (Witches plan ahead.) Two and half months before Halloween begins, find the coolest, quirkiest, most amazing witch hat ever and fall in love, deciding then and there that you’ll be a witch this year.

At the very, very earliest we-are-really-stretching-it-here-let’s-be-honest-it’s-basically-just-pretend hint of autumn, snuggle in with your crafting bestie and decide you’re going to make a witch book. Upon deciding what exactly it will be/look like, brainstorm so many cool ideas that the project quickly expands to become an entire grimoire of witch books, plural, that will fill your mantel. Go overboard. (Witches go overboard.)

Spend many hours over the next free evenings and cozy Sundays crafting strange, beautiful, macabre books befitting the finest witch.

Start dreaming about what else will go on the mantel with them.

Become bewitched by an enormous, shockingly well-priced black tulle skirt online. Order it.

When a few of mushrooms pop up in your yard after a heavy rain, pluck them and hang them from twine in the back of your closet to dry for the next month and a half, figuring you can do something cool with them. (You’re definitely right.) Likewise, save the dead, blackened flower heads from those potted plants you accidentally murdered. (Woops.) Dry them too.

On October first, pull out all your decorations and have at it. Begin pulling things from around your house that look particularly witchy.

When the weather actually gets cool, go for a walk and commune with nature. Find those weird green bois d’arc fruits you’ve always been secretly smitten with. When your husband gets home, tell him you’re going to get witch apples. Laugh when he doesn’t even question you (go ahead and fall in love with him a little bit more, as you do), just picks you up and drives you with your cauldron to the spot you found them, where you gather a potful like a sneaky little thief.

Marvel at the kismet of washing your old green drinking glass that’s been in the guest shower for years, unused, at the same time that you find the tiny baby doll your dad once hung in fake spider web as a macabre Halloween decoration. Realize said baby doll fits uncannily under the glass, which happens to be the perfect shade of green. Assure your husband that it is not, in fact, watching him every time he walks across the room.

Convince your besties that your skirt, which has arrived in fluffy, splendiferous glory, is too amazing, and that it simply must be photographed on a very cold night as sunset turns to dusk to night. Bring a cape you made on a whim one evening from sheer curtains you’ve had folded in a box for five years. Get weird. Get witchy. Get scary. Touch the moon. Keep some secrets. Laugh a lot. Come away with dozens of super amazing photos, because your friends are the best friends.

Play an ongoing game of hide-the-severed-foot with your husband. Be hilariously surprised when it shows up, complete with cleaver, in your sock drawer, under the bed, inside his boot…

Arrange your mantel. Gather some of the already-cut vines from your garden and let them creep from the shadows of your grimoire. Light your candles, cast your spell, throw some glow on it.

Have over unsuspecting victims friends and enjoy a night of magnificent revelry.

Rest up. Enjoy your witch nails for three more days.

Spend a quiet, nigh-holy night reading spooky, lovely things. Stop often to smell the air, to write a poem, to dance in the moonlight. Hand out poison apples candy to tricky little children brave enough to approach your cottage, where they’re greeted by your two familiars, eyes aglow.

Stay up until the witching hour, then fall asleep one content little witch.

Have the happiest Halloween.

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The Shed

It’s the 24th; do you know what that means? We’re right on the cusp of Halloweek! That’s right, you have one week left to comment, share, and love on my happiest month for your chance to win a free Starbucks giftcard + a spooky book in my #BooksBrewBoo giveaway! That’s a win for both of us!

Since Apex’s Undead anthology hasn’t come out quite in time for me to post a video reading of my poem (look for it next month!), I’ve decided today to reprint my poem “The Shed” that appeared in last year’s HWA Poetry Showcase Volume III by the Horror Writers Association. This year’s volume, by the way, is one of your prize options if you win! It’s on the right, below, in a satisfying chain of slim paperbacks full of bite:

“The Shed” is actually one of my favorites, so I’m happy to be sharing it here today. I hope you enjoy!

The Shed

The lawn lays wide
and bright with yellow
sunshine, spread flat
with no corners,

except the shed.

The shed’s paint is pale
but dull, as if the owners
who inherited it
thought the best
they could do was make it
“blend in.” And it does,
for a second

until your eyes catch
the black rectangle
of the haphazardly open doors
stuck in their tracks
gummed up with debris putrefied
to the same color of black,
jarring in all that wide bright.

And you try not to picture what lies in there
what things might collect and colonize in a structure
so low and squat,
but there you go picturing centipedes
and scorpions, spiders and weevils, snakes and rats,
and other, darker things that can’t be
—can’t possibly be in that shed—yet there
you go picturing them: tentacles from corners
and tall, pale men standing against the walls,
and chittering, creeping things that slide down off the ceiling and
open your doors at night, when they can’t be seen,
but then, then, that’s not the most disturbing
part of that old shed.

The most disturbing part is how the structure itself seems sly and sentient with its thin metal walls propped like foldable gills, with its near-flat little roof peaking subtly like an eyebrow, how its rotted wood floors lie in panels, like they could all be rolled back like a tongue shoving food to the gullet, how that open rectangle of black at the doors sits still, patiently, waiting, and how eventually, when this moment of feverish imagination has regressed under the rightful armor of adulthood and you have nearly forgotten all about it (nearly),
you will have to go inside it.

© Annie Neugebauer, 2016

Finally, a reminder to enter, enter, enter! Mix and match at will; here’s a list of all the easy ways you can be entered to win a book + brew:

Thanks to everyone who’s been helping spread my news this month! The winner is coming in a week!

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IT the Movie vs. the Book

Today, by request (thanks, Jay Lemming!), I’m going to give my review of the move It. But first, I’d like to draw your attention to my three newest treats:

First, if you haven’t already, I really hope you’ll go read my story “So Sings the Siren” in Apex Magazine Issue 101. It’s free on their website now, and at just over 1,000 words is a quick read. It does come with a trigger warning; it’s not for the faint of heart, but it’s horror that means something. And Apex picking it up means a lot to me, as does this story itself. It’s straight from my dark little heart. So if you enjoy it, please share it with anyone you know who might enjoy it too. <3

Second, this year’s edition of the Horror Writers Association Poetry Showcase—Volume IV—is out now! I’m pleased to have a poem in this one for the fourth consecutive year. “Unravel” is an unsettling horror love poem. Yes, you read that right. 😉 You can order a copy of this year’s showcase in paperback for $7.99 or as an ebook for $2.99. This is also one of the potential prizes included in this year’s #BooksBrewBoo! (Which is still going on, by the way! Commenting on this post enters you to win, as do all of the helpful options at the bottom of this post. Entries have slowed down mid-month, so please share if you can; you have a good chance of winning!)

Third, my next LitReactor post is out today, so be sure to check out “13 Halloween Themed Anthologies to Fill Your Season with Fright.” (Note: this is also an eligible entry for #BooksBrewBoo.)

Okay, on to It!

What did I think of the movie It? I was disappointed. I thought it had a lot going for it: fantastic acting by the children, beautiful production value, and a powerful nostalgia factor. It was charming to see the kids interact, and refreshing to hear them curse like kids really do. If it had been its own creation and not a movie with source material and a previous version, I might’ve liked it a lot. Unfortunately, those are the facts of this film.

One of my most popular blog posts ever has been this one: “Thoughts on IT by Stephen King, What it Takes to Enjoy Horror, and Why I Write It.” In it I talk about that infamous novel and why I love it despite its flaws: it’s truly scary. The biggest reason I love King is his understanding of fear. Creating fear in readers means understanding its sources, not just what’s scary, but why. In my opinion, King is the master of that. It serves as a case in point: it’s the only novel to give me a nightmare as an adult. That’s powerful stuff.

Modern horror movies are a mixed bag—as are all movies in every time period—but one thing they widely have down incredibly well is the fear factor. Is it a deep-seated, insidious fear that sticks with us the way the best horror novels do? Very rarely. Still, it’s incredibly effective in the moment. I feel unnerved, tense, scared, or outright terrified at at least half of the horror movies I bother seeing in theater these days. (Which, admittedly, weeds out the ones so obviously bad I don’t bother.)

So It, a movie based on one of the scariest novels of all time, made during the height of scary movie techniques, was poised to be a homerun, right?

Not for me. I was never scared during the movie. Not once. Not even a little. And you guys, I scare easy. Given the promises of Pennywise and Co., to me that’s a pretty serious fail. I don’t even know how they managed to do it. How did such a high budget, well-made production like this fail on its obvious primary objective?

I’m not a movie-maker, so there are probably subtleties I missed, but I can tell you that from a horror creator’s perspective, they didn’t understand their fear-maker. Pennywise is insidious in the books because he gets to the root of each kid’s fears. He sneaks, he slithers, he stalks. He doesn’t show his face much. That makes him scarier, because it makes him unknown. We’re afraid of the unknown; we project our worst fears into it. King understood that. The movie doesn’t.

Pennywise in this film gets almost as much air time as the actual kids. He’s there all the time. Jeeze, P, give us a chance to miss you. Although visually gorgeous in a photoshoot way, Pennywise’s costuming is way off the mark here. Clowns are inherently creepy because they fall into the uncanny valley. They’re supposed to look happy but they don’t quite. They unnerve us because we almost see the person beneath the grotesquely exaggerated makeup. We want to focus on their jovial demeanor but the unknown (ah, see there?) person beneath keeps peering through the façade. A stranger. Dangerous.

But It’s Pennywise looks like he could only be in a horror movie. Even a kid as young as Georgie would know on sight that this is an evil, scary thing. If that’s chasing you down the street you might—might—have an argument for overt creepiness being more effective. But if that’s luring you into a storm drain, it’s no contest: subtle wins. If it’s subtle, you can understand why a kid might fall for it. If you understand, it means you can imagine it. If you can imagine it, it means it could happen to you. Fear.

Back to back you can really see the difference. The first is from the original movie, of course, and not the book, but it’s one thing the original got right in a big way.

I have lots of nitpicks of the movie, but my post can only go on so long. The main issue for me is the fear factor. The other is the overall tone. I know they were trying to cash in on Stranger Things’ nostalgia boom with the feel-good childhood mojo and shifting the original 50’s setting into the 80’s, but for me they leaned too heavily into that happy sweet side of things. I love a goodhearted movie, but not when the book has such a dark heart. A little nostalgia sugar would’ve been enough. And although I’m glad they changed that unsuccessful and highly disturbing sewer orgy, I don’t think a literal group hug was the way to do it. (And that’s not a sentence I ever imagined I’d type. Life is weird.)

A lack of fright and a lack of nihilism? Doesn’t sound like King to me. So maybe It is a good movie, but for a book fan like me, it was rather disappointing.

Finally, a reminder to enter, enter, enter! I want to give you guys some yummy coffee and a spooky book this Halloween. Here’s a list of all the easy ways you can be entered to win, for a total of 13 entries! You can:

Thanks everyone, and good luck!

Have you seen IT? What did you think?

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Posted in Books & Movies | Tagged | 20 Comments