Picnic

In honor of National Poetry Month, I thought I’d reprint one of my poems here. This little poem was first published in Encore: Prize Poems of the NFSPS 2013 published by the National Federation of State Poetry Societies. It’s one of those I popped off quickly and sent out on a whim — only to have it get picked up immediately. I hope you enjoy!

Picnic

The freckles
on your body
are like
the wildflowers
in this field;

I want to
                    connect
                                     each
                                                  dot

with my tongue –

I want to
see
if they
taste

like
          sprinkles
                              or
                                    pollen.

 

© Annie Neugebauer, 2013.

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Introducing My Newest Guilty Pleasure: Bates Motel

What can I say? I’m utterly smitten with a TV show on A&E called Bates Motel, and I just have the urge to gush about it a little.

I’ll go ahead and clear up now that I don’t actually feel guilty about my “guilty pleasures.” I think it’s a really handy term to describe a certain type of interest, but I never actually feel ashamed of what I like. I’ve spoken pretty openly in the past about enjoying commercial fiction ranging all the way from excellent to downright trashy, defending popular novels such as 50 Shades and Twilight and people’s right to enjoy them without being publicly shamed. So when I say Bates Motel is my newest guilty pleasure, please take it with a grain of salt – and a bowl of popcorn, because, y’all, you’re going to want to watch this one.

If you’re not in the loop, this show has been pitched as a “contemporary prequel” to Alfred Hitchcock’s famous (and excellent) movie Psycho. If you’ve yet to see the original horror classic, you must. You must go get it right this moment or we can’t be friends.

Okay, so you’ve seen Psycho. Good, right? (You’re welcome.) Well this show takes the idea of a prequel and runs with it in strange and surprisingly effective directions. Part drama, part thriller, part horror, part teen love story, part… who the hell knows? There are moments of this show that almost feel like a family-friendly crowd-pleaser, and then there are moments that are downright salacious. There are moments of exquisite cinematography and stellar costumes, sets, and writing… and then there are moments of made-for-TV-movie-level melodrama and weird side-plots that don’t fit in. And the weirdest part about it all? It works. I don’t know how, but all of it works.

High-school-aged Norman Bates is portrayed by Freddie Highmore in what must be the creepy performance of the year. He is innocent, frightening, detached, soulful, and breathtakingly disturbing at turns, but most importantly he is convincing. I believe that this kid grows up to be Norman Bates in Psycho, and more surprisingly still, this knowledge makes the old classic better to me, not worse. That’s no easy feat.

As stellar as Highmore is as Norman, it’s Norman’s mother Norma (yes, Norma – played by Vera Farmiga) who truly steals the show. Farmiga is one of the most well-cast actors I can think of, and if she doesn’t win awards for her portrayal as Mrs. Bates I want to punch someone. Norma is deeply flawed and still sympathetic. I love her; I hate her; I want her to win even though, thanks to the movie, I know she doesn’t. She – like every aspect of this show – is chameleonic, tugging and playing with the viewers at every turn. She’s wholesome, conflicted, misguided, foolhardy, troubled, unsettling, and downright creepy, and she pulls off each version without a hitch.

Two stellar roles might be enough, but this show doesn’t stop there. Almost all of the supporting characters are cast just as well, and the characters are written lovingly and bravely. Olivia Cooke as Norman’s love interest is endearing and believable. Norman’s older brother Dylan is played by the nicely crush-worthy Max Thieriot – also given depth and interest. And finally, Sheriff Alex Romero (played by Nestor Carbonell) adds just the right amount of swoon and threat, alternatingly getting close to dark truths and helping the Bates’, leaving the viewer conflicted in all the right ways. (Do we even want to root for the Bates? No, but somehow I do…)

Truly, you really should see the original Psycho movie first. One of this show’s most impressive strengths is that it doesn’t overplay its hand. The makers know that we viewers know where this is all ending up. They count on you having seen the movie, and they let your own knowledge do some of the heavy lifting. Subtly is key, and implication works wonders. I’m so impressed by their respect for the source material, and even more impressed by their creative restraint when it comes to the horror aspects.

Throw on top of all this a mysterious town, a dark sense of humor that hits the spot, and an uncanny ability to balance quality and fun, and this show has me all worked up. It’s been a long time since I’ve found a TV show that I bothered to figure out when it comes on rather than just catching the episodes as they show up on my DVR. But Bates Motel? Well, I know where I’ll be on Monday night from 8-9.

Does anyone else watch this show? Do you like it as much as I do? (I know tastes vary, so don’t worry; I won’t actually throw tomatoes at you if it doesn’t suit you.) If not, what other show have you gotten caught up in lately?

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A Writing Retreat in Approximately 22,000 Words (Plus Captions)

I’m unusually lucky in that I have several in-real-life writing friends (a whole bushel, actually) that I treasure. *Fist-bumps Febe Moss and waves to the North Branch crew.* Online writing friends are fabulous, and IRL non-writing friends are super important too. But only with IRL writing friends can you pull off the kind of productivity and hi jinx Kelsey Macke and I pulled off this spring break with our second annual Tiny Cabin writing retreat. This time we went to Oklahoma. I could write you a blog post, but, well, I think the pictures pretty well capture it.* I’ll let them talk (with a little help).

All amped up and ready to hit the road!

All amped up and ready to hit the road!

We've arrived at our destination: Tiny Cabin 2.

We’ve arrived at our destination: Tiny Cabin 2. If you try to tell me it’s not the cutest little cabin you’ve ever seen I’ll call you a liar.

Isn't it cute? Much less tiny than we expected.

Inside: much less tiny than we expected. More than double Tiny Cabin 1, and cheaper to boot. Win!

First things first, let's get this puzzle set up. (Last year we realized we needed a non-writing thing to do during breaks.)

First things first, let’s get this puzzle set up. (Last year we realized we needed a non-writing thing to do during breaks.)

We were wowed by our first sunset, perfect viewing on the front porch slider.

We were wowed by our first sunset, with perfect viewing on the front porch slider.

Our adorable little beds. The cabin had two bedrooms but we bunked together because we're cute like that.

Our adorable little beds. The cabin had two bedrooms but we bunked together because we’re cute like that.

First morning, enjoying the sun on the back porch.

First morning, enjoying my coffee and the sun on the back porch.

The view. Not bad, Oklahoma. Not bad.

The view. Not bad, Oklahoma. Not bad.

Getting to work.

Getting to work.

Silhouette of a writer -- Kels rocking her headphones.

Silhouette of a writer — Kels rocking her headphones.

And an afternoon hike for a break.

An afternoon hike for a break. That’s Tiny Cabin 2 from a distance.

Look at this cute little babbling creek that bordered the property!

Look at this cute little babbling creek that bordered the property!

Late day session calls for a change in seating.

A late-day session wears me thin. Maybe a change in seating will do the trick?

The second sunset.

The second sunset.

And a tiny little pan-fire for a tiny ilttle cabin.

A tiny little pan-fire for a tiny ilttle cabin.

Day three: despearte circumstances call for desparate measures.

Morning two and the writing is hard to come by: desperate circumstances call for desperate measures.

Enjoying the great outdoors.

Let’s get out of our heads and enjoy the great outdoors.

We were treated to an aerial show right above our heads.

We were treated to an aerial show right above us.

And I tried things one step beyond desparate.

The great outdoors didn’t do the trick. Last night: one step beyond desperate.

The final sunset.

Our final sunset.

And finally, we abandoned the puzzle for the sake of more words.

The worst of the dam broke, and on our last morning we abandoned the puzzle for the sake of more words. We got a lot more words. :)

Tired and happy. We kicked some ass.

Tired and happy. We had fun. We wrote things. We kicked some ass.

*Not pictured here: a questionable hot tub, Amaretto sours, a killer cartwheel, tree-climbing, a healthy dose of creative angst (okay maybe that was pictured here), impromptu dance parties, mysterious critter invasions, and sunshine yoga.

Thanks to Kelsey for the fun, the support, and several of these pictures! It turned out that this retreat was exactly what I needed to prioritize, get my head on straight, and find my groove again.

Now… Who’s in the mood for a retreat? Or if you’re not a writer, for a vacation? Honestly, they always end up getting blurred together for me anyway. I’ve never taken a retreat without stopping to have some fun, and I’ve never been on a vacation where I didn’t drown in inspiration and come home itching to work my butt off. Thus is the wonderful life of a writer. Happy spring!

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Zanders the Magnificent at Fireside Magazine

My short story “Zanders the Magnificent” is out now in Fireside Magazine Issue 21, and it’s free for you to read online! This one’s a really fun horror story. Editor Brian White called it “shiver-creepy.” I hope you like it too!

Check out this stellar "Zanders the Magnificent" artwork by Galen Dara! Lucky, lucky me!

A portion of Galen Dara’s stellar illustration for “Zanders the Magnificent” is on the cover of this issue! Visit my story to see the full (and truly spectacular) image. Lucky, lucky me!

“My handsome, darling boys,” Mrs. Zander said, placing a hand on each of their shoulders. “Which one of you wants to be alive today?”

To get into the mood for this one, I’ve been blogging Zanders-themed posts on my tumblr for the past two weeks. You can see almost all of them right on the first page (which also includes some not safe for work images, so click with care) if you feel like taking a look. I think it’s fun before or after reading “Zanders the Magnificent”! Here’s the opening line for a teaser! –>

Issue 21 is free to read online, but Fireside Fiction is an awesome company and there are several ways you can support them! You can subscribe, buy back issues, or donate. They champion fair pay for their authors and artists, which is so important for writers like myself! And you’re getting a great value, because they publish the likes of Chuck Wendig, Lilith Saintcrow, and Stephen Blackmoore. As they say: Many genres. No limits. Just good stories.

I’m thrilled to be included in their lineup this issue. I hope you’ll take time to go read “Zanders the Magnificent” and checkout all Fireside has to offer.

Thank you all for your support. Have a wonderful (dare I say magnificent?) week!

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