My Fears Take Flight in “He Smelled Like Smoke”

Ink Stains cover

Whenever I’m asked why I write horror stories, my answer is simple: it’s therapy. Cathartic, terrifying, fiscally free therapy.

Though many are quick to say that putting something in writing gives it power, I feel the opposite in respect to horror. When I write a story chock full of the things I fear, I feel a little better afterward. I sleep deep. The gnawing in my chest lessens. There’s something about writing about monsters that releases them from the fine cracks in your brain and heart.

Writing “He Smelled Like Smoke,” published today in Ink Stains, Volume 5, from Dark Alley Press, was a triple-bonus therapy prize. This particular story contains not one, not two, but three of my greatest fears, which play out in taut, gruesome detail in less than 4,500 words.

One of those fears is flying on airplanes. I’ll admit, it’s a completely irrational fear and one that didn’t manifest until adulthood. It had nothing to do with 9/11. It has everything to do with being confined with strangers in a big, metal tube that’s hurtling through the air at ungodly heights at ungodly speeds, and sure, I know where the exits are should something go wrong, but…

Don’t even get me started with turbulence or in-flight storms.

“He Smelled Like Smoke” takes place at 35,000 feet. Naturally.

And wouldn’t you know it, I got on an airplane about a month after I’d typed the final sentence of the story and…I was calm and cool and didn’t have a single episode of vice-gripping a stranger’s arm during the flight.

Perhaps my calm was due to the fact that I knew, come what may, my fate would pale in comparison to that of Alexa, my protagonist in “He Smelled Like Smoke.” Because her fate? Worse than all the turbulence in the world.

I’ll give you a little taste here, but you’ll have get a copy of Ink Stains to find out what happens to Alexa – and to try to figure out those other pesky fears that no longer keep me up at night since I’ve exorcised them in print.

Sit back, relax, and enjoy your fright…I mean, flight…

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He Smelled Like Smoke (Excerpt)

By Tiffany Michelle Brown

Keeping his eyes on mine, Jared reached up and hit the flight attendant call button. When his gaze became overbearing, I stared down at my black skirt and wished I’d shaved my legs that morning.

A tired-looking woman in uniform with a chignon barely holding to the back of her head came over. She put one hand on the headrest in front of Jared and the other on her hip. “Can I help you, sir?”

“I was hoping to get a pre-flight shot for my friend, Alexa, here,” Jared said. “Flying doesn’t agree with her.”

“It’s against federal regulation to serve beverages before takeoff, sir,” the flight attendant recited. “We’ll come through the cabin to take orders later.”

She took a step away, but Jared caught her hand in his. The flight attendance did a quick about face, a frown creasing her tan skin. “Sir…” she began, but she didn’t finish her sentence. The crinkle between her brows melted. She breathed in deeply through her nose as if she were standing in the cold, crisp air of a forest instead of a cramped cabin that smelled like sweaty, disgruntled, tired people. Her eyes bored into Jared’s and she started to look…aroused?

“Whiskey, neat,” Jared said.

“Of course.” The flight attendant’s voice held the quality of warm maple syrup. She turned and strode off in her orthopedic shoes, apparently to get us some liquor.

Jared settled back into his seat, coolly and slowly, smiling.

“Thank you?”

“Why the question mark?”

“I’m not sure what just happened,” I said.

“I asked for something. And I got it.”

I didn’t know what to say to that. I took an in-flight magazine out of the seat back pocket in front of me and flipped aimlessly through the pages.

The flight attendant returned a moment later with plastic cups, each filled with a thimbleful of whiskey. Jared’s long fingers wrapped around the plastic. “Thank you…Debbie,” he said, glancing at her name tag. Debbie walked off without a word.

Jared held out one of the cups to me. I could smell the smokiness of the whiskey. I imagined oak barrels and the forest and a hand up my skirt. I mentally swat myself in the face. Stop thinking about sex.

Jared and I tipped back our glasses and the first sip burned my throat and then coiled in my stomach. It expanded, coated my insides, and I felt my shoulders relax.

“Much better,” Jared remarked.

“Yes,” I said. “Thank you.”

“You’re welcome.”

Jared took a pack of matches out of the breast pocket of his suit and let the pack flip and amble over his knuckles until our pilot announced it was time for takeoff. For some reason, I felt safe.

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To find out what happens after takeoff – and to read my favorite closing line I’ve ever written – pick up your copy of Ink Stains HERE.

 

 

 

5 Reasons Why Bite Somebody Else Should Be Your Next Summer Read

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Bite Somebody Else, the latest book in the Bite Somebody series, could not have been unleashed upon unsuspecting humans…er, lovers of paranormal romance…at a better time. As the weather heats up and the quest for the perfect poolside read trumps all other adult responsibilities (I’ll get to that pile of laundry next week), Bite Somebody Else is a book that needs to ascend to the top of your summer to-read stack.

Why? I’m so glad you asked!

Motherfucking Imogene. And yes, she might actually seduce your mother if left unsupervised. Bite Somebody Else is Imogene’s story, and the irreverent, purple-haired, rum-loving, miniskirt-wearing, husky-chuckling vamp with a penchant for fist fights and break dancing does not disappoint. Imogene is perfectly imperfect as she navigates her growing blood business, Celia’s freak pregnancy, the arrival of a posh British vamp, and the feelings of lust he ignites in her. She’s brash, overly confident, outspoken, hilarious – and you cheer your ass off for her. Because, #Imogene4Life.

Fresh vampire mythos. I know, I know. The paranormal romance market is overly saturated with books about vampires. Admittedly, they can be rife with cliches and stereotypes, which inevitably leads to an exorbitant amount of eye rolling. Luckily, the Bite Somebody series puts a fresh spin on an old trope. Sara Dobie Bauer’s vamps party in balmy, beachy Florida, sipping rum punches, smoking weed, and skinny dipping in the ocean. They can be photographed. They aren’t all moody-broody about their immortality, and they certainly aren’t all supermodels. They can’t be killed by wooden stakes. There are methods for exterminating Dobie Bauer’s vamps…but you’ll have to read the series to learn them.

Levity, hilarity, and just the right dash of mystery. Last week, I was tasked with putting together a shortlist of “summer reads” for my coworkers to vote on for our July book club. And while there are lists upon lists of the top summer reads out there…I was surprised at how heavy a lots of the books are this year. Perhaps our whacked out political and social climate is inspiring authors to create deep, dark, difficult work (and I can’t hate on that; viva difficult, thought-provoking art!). Or perhaps the definition of “summer reads” has shifted in recent years to simply include the best books of the year thus far. Whatever the reason, man, I had a hard time putting together a list. I didn’t want to make my coworkers cry or inspire bouts of depression or momentous reflection. I wanted something light and funny and well written and clever. Enter Bite Somebody Else, which checks off all those boxes. The story is lighthearted, cheeky, and imbued with just enough mystery to keep you turning the pages as quickly as you can.

The pop culture references. For some, pop culture references can be a turn-off when included in novels, and I get it. But seriously, how can you not love a book that celebrates Pretty Woman, David Bowie, Freddie Mercury, Alien, and even gives nods to Cake and Dave Matthews Band? As a child of the eighties, the references throughout Bite Somebody Else allow me to connect to the characters as I would friends I grew up with. Also, they provide the story with one hell of a brilliant soundtrack.

Dialogue like this: 

“Imogene, you were my role model when we met.”

She winced. “Shit balls, why?”

“Because you’re confident and say ‘fuck’ a lot.”

“Admirable qualities, I admit…”

And this: 

“Ian said you guys had a lot of fun last night.”

“It was magical.” Her voice came out muffled.

“It was?”

“No, Merk. When have I ever called anything magical?”

“You think David Bowie’s magical.”

“Okay, outside of Bowie.”

If those exchanges don’t make you laugh, you may very well be an undead.

Order your very own copy of Bite Somebody Else HERE.

Sara with book photo

About the book: 

Imogene helped her newbie vampire friend Celia hook up with an adorable human, but now Celia has dropped an atomic bomb of surprise: she has a possibly blood-sucking baby on the way. Imogene is not pleased, especially when a mysterious, ancient, and annoyingly gorgeous vampire historian shows up to monitor Celia’s unprecedented pregnancy.

Lord Nicholas Christopher Cuthbert III is everything Imogene hates: posh, mannerly, and totally uninterested in her. Plus, she thinks he’s hiding something. So what if he smells like a fresh garden and looks like a rich boarding school kid just begging to be debauched? Imogene has self-control. Or something.

As Celia’s pregnancy progresses at a freakishly fast pace, Imogene and Nicholas play an ever-escalating game of will they or won’t they, until his sexy maker shows up on Admiral Key, forcing Nicholas to reveal his true intentions toward Celia’s soon-to-arrive infant.

Sara bio photo

About the author: 

Sara Dobie Bauer is a writer, model, and mental health advocate with a creative writing degree from Ohio University. Her short story, “Don’t Ball the Boss,” was nominated for the Pushcart Prize, inspired by her shameless crush on Benedict Cumberbatch. She lives with her hottie husband and two precious pups in Northeast Ohio, although she’d really like to live in a Tim Burton film. She is a member of RWA and author of the paranormal rom-com Bite Somebody, among other ridiculously entertaining things.

 

 

 

 

Author Interview with Danielle Davis of kINKED

Danielle Davis

kINKED, an anthology exploring the intersection of tattoos and kink, was released into the world last week thanks to Pen and Kink Publishing. And though I’m rather fond of my own story, “Begin Again,” which kicks off the collection, I simply can’t stop fangirling over another story in the anthology – Danielle Davis’s “The Courier.”

The story is set in a world where paper is incredibly rare and modern forms of communication don’t exist; thus, humankind has come up with a rather resourceful and…creative way to send messages to one another – inked on the bodies of couriers.

Davis’s story follows Pier, a courier who gets a lot more than expected when he delivers a message to a wealthy and handsome woman named Aubra.

“The Courier” is such an inventive and interesting story, I had to ask Danielle Davis a few questions to learn more about its inspiration and characters.

First of all, your story is absolutely mesmerizing. What inspired this particular tale and, more specifically, a world where paper is scarce and human bodies are used as parchment?

Thank you! I got the idea while thinking about what I wanted for a new tattoo. I wanted to get something important to my life, something that made a stark declaration. Later, as I was getting it inked on my foot, previous inklings (no pun intended) that were floating around my subconscious came together into the basis for the story.

Unfortunately, I knew my courier had a message inked onto them and that it was a socially common thing, but I didn’t know why anyone would do that to themselves until Pier entered Aubra’s library and showed me how shocked he was – then it was “BINGO! Paper’s valuable because it’s rare! How did I not know that before?” This was one instance where it was like I was looking through a magnifying glass at the story, and it wasn’t until I pulled back a bit that I saw the rest of the world these characters lived in.

You mention fairytales in “The Courier,” and the story itself almost reads like a dark fairytale or a piece of didactic lore. In the spirit of classic fairytales, what do you feel we, as readers, are supposed to learn or divine from your story?

I’m so glad that came through, because “The Courier” went through many iterations as a failed fairytale before it figured itself out. I think this story serves as a cautionary tale against the spell fairytale endings cast. Too often we hear “follow your heart,” but we forget that the heart can sometimes lie; listen to your heart, sure, but let your head lead. Pier gets what he thinks he wants, but it comes at a high cost.

You achieve such gorgeous intimacy between the characters of Pier and Aubra, though it’s their first meeting. What advice would you offer authors to help them establish connection and intimacy between characters?

Look at what the characters want (or think they want) and let them see some part of the other character as a fulfillment of it. Even if the other isn’t actually the answer to a character’s desire, they’re more likely to allow an organic intimacy to form faster than if you just put two people in a room and say, “Ok, now chat.”

If you were to describe Pier in one word, what would that word be?

Naive.

And Aubra?

Predatory.

What is a song that you feel sets the tone for “The Courier”?

Definitely Fleetwood Mac’s “Gold Dust Woman.”

Why do you think folks should read romance and erotica?

I think it’s important to be able to connect with those fantasies and desires you may or may not be able to share with anyone. It puts you in immediate contact with the carnal part of you that craves physical intimacy. While some may use it as a substitute for things they aren’t getting in real life (and then it’s a necessary escape to relieve the pressure), others can use it to heighten their own sense of sensuality in order to feed their relationship with their partner.

Where can we read more of your writing? Are you working on anything specific right now? 

My website is www.literaryellymay.com. I post stories on my blog all the time and I have a page that links to my other published works.

About Danielle Davis 

Danielle Davis

Danielle Davis is a liar, a cheater of cards, and a misrememberer of song lyrics; only two of these are true. Her dark fantasy and romance has appeared in Sci-Fi Romance Quarterly, Andromeda Spaceways Magazine, and Tailfins and Sealskins: An Anthology of Water Lore, among other places. You can find her on Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, Instagram, and beyond under the handle “LiteraryEllyMay.”

 

 

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Every tattoo tells a story… and you’ll want to read them all! Get your copy of kINKED today!

 

 

To My Best Friend on Her Birthday

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To the pup that makes me smile on a daily basis;

To the beast that sometimes wakes me with her dream-woofs and contented snores in the dark of night;

To my huntress extraordinaire—chaser of cats and squirrels;Biscuit 1

To the sweetheart who, for the three years before I met Bryan, snuggled with me when I got home from bad dates;

To the pup who is always foraging and acts like I don’t feed her;

To the dog who simply wants to run full throttle through grassy parks and windows of sunlight, and that would be enough;

To the pup who used to chase her tail, but stopped after she caught it, because hey, she conquered it;

To the girl who sits in the most unladylike of positions and who burps and farts whenever she pleases (we now consider these outbursts signs of affection);

To the pupper who snuggles with her Wookie sweater like it’s a real-life Wookie;

To the best judge of character I know (Biscuit never liked any of the boys I brought home until Bryan walked through the door, and she promptly climbed into his lap on the couch, literally the first night he came over);

Biscuit 2To the girl who reminds me how important it is to run and play;

To our morning alarm clock, who wakes us up by honking like a goose;

To the dog with the most expressive ears and everlasting eyeliner;

To the girl with the best and brightest smile I know;

To the best damn cuddle-bug this side of the Mississippi;

 

To the pup who’s taught me everything I know about unconditional love;

To the girl who can never get enough ear scratches;

To someone who loves peanut butter just as much as I do;

To the one in my life who always has a big kiss for me;

To the pup who is showing me how to age with gusto and grace – enjoy your food, get outside, take long naps, sunbathe, take it all in, love deeply, embrace every chance you get to play, and most importantly, pants are overrated;

Biscuit 3To the girl who always knows when I’m not feeling well and makes a point to stay glued by my side;

To the exasperating ball of fur who eats grass to spite me when I won’t let her chase anything that moves during our walks;

To the girl who’s expanded my heart in ways I couldn’t imagine;

To the pup who chose me as much as I chose her;

Who saved me as much as I saved her;

To my best friend, Biscuit, on her eighth birthday: I love you, now and always.

Until the Violence Stops

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On Friday and Saturday night, I was alive, on fire, bawdy, emotional, and pulsing. I was onstage, performing in The Vagina Monologues for the first time in years. And let me tell you, it felt good. Nothing is more gratifying than those bright lights and the affirmation of a crowd, proof that you’re creating great art.

But Sunday morning, as I was scrolling through Facebook, a post from a fellow cast mate ripped through me like fire hot shrapnel. “Drag performer gunned down in New Orleans East.” That’s what the headline read. When I clicked on the article and read further, I learned that Chyna Doll Dupree, the woman who’d been murdered, was a member of the transgender community. She was shot at about 8:30 pm in front of a strip mall. “Neighbors said they heard eight to 10 gunshots.”

Eight to ten gunshots.

The tears came fast and ready, and I was unprepared. I fought to keep them at bay. They dripped down the back of my throat and tightened my vocal chords.

I wanted to scream.

Less than 12 hours earlier, I had performed “They Beat the Girl Out of My Boy…or So They Tried,” Eve Ensler’s incredible monologue about the transgender experience. This piece documents one woman’s journey from her early childhood recognition of her true gender identity to trying to mask her gender identity to fit it, through a full transition and her joy of finally feeling complete…only to have her boyfriend killed in his sleep. His fatal crime? Loving someone who was “different.”

It’s a powerful monologue, and during each performance, it was hard for me to get through it. But I pushed and struggled through the difficult content, knowing that the piece is important and real and raw. I felt it was a step in the right direction, sharing this woman’s story.

Sunday morning, my feelings of celebration and advocacy dropped to the pavement, just as Chyna’s body had. We’d lost another of our own to senseless, stupid violence. Because of misplaced fear and intolerance. Because Chyna wanted to live her true life.

Chyna is the fifth transgender woman to be killed in 2017. It isn’t even March.

Chyna’s death was a sobering reminder of why The Vagina Monologues are performed every year. Survivors (and those who love them), advocates, activists, actors, mothers, daughters, sisters, and more will annually take to the stage in an effort to end the cycle of emotional, sexual, and physical violence that so many women endure in the course of their lifetimes.

We’ll recite the monologues for your sister, who had a little too much to drink at a college party and woke up with a stranger on top of her.

We’ll recite the monologues for your mother, who has endured years and years of emotional abuse at the hands of the men in her family, her community, her life.

We’ll recite the monologues for your coworker who is considered dumb or promiscuous or “asking for it” because of what she wears.

We’ll recite the monologues for women who endure rape and violence as a systematic tactic of war.

We’ll recite the monologues for the scores of girls who are taught to be ashamed of their bodies and their sexuality.

We’ll recite the monologues for the amazing, strong women who birth new life into this crazy, wonderful world.

We’ll recite the monologues for Chyna Doll Dupree.

As for me, I will recite the monologues for every woman I know who has encountered abuse. Sadly, it’s not a short list.

Participating in The Vagina Monologues this year was an incredible experience. I made new friends, forged relationships with new Vagina Warriors (both male and female), had a brilliant time onstage, and helped InnerMission Productions raise more than $3,000 to benefit Think Dignity and Break the Silence Against Domestic Violence.

And I’ll do it again next year…and the year after that…and the year after that.

I’ll do it for Chyna.

I’ll do it for you and the people you love.

I’ll do it prove I’m more than a statistic.

I’ll do it until the violence stops.

Kubo and the Two Strings is Pure Magic

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Bryan and I watched Kubo and the Two Strings last night, and I immediately understood why it wasn’t a commercial box office success when it premiered in U.S. theaters in 2016.

Kubo features stop-motion animation in a world that’s come to expect the sheer perfection of CGI. While it’s an animated film, Kubo is most certainly not suited for kids. The story does not hold to traditional American storytelling tropes, takes magic to a whole new level, and portrays historical Japanese culture.

And while these are some of the reasons Kubo likely didn’t achieve box office success, they are the reasons you should drop everything you’re doing and WATCH THIS MOVIE RIGHT NOW!

Quite frankly, this film left me breathless.

First of all, Laika Studios’ stop-motion animation is spectacular. With Kubo, they’ve achieved a whole level in the art form. (Just watch the trailer for proof.) The majority of the scenes were damn near seamless in execution. The only reminders for me that this was a stop-motion film were little hints around the mouths of characters as they spoke and the distinct style that is associated with this type of animation. Truly, the artistry alone is worth watching this film.

If you know any of Laika’s previous films (like Coraline, ParaNorman, or The Box Trolls), you know they aren’t afraid to get a little dark. Well, I’m not going to sugarcoat it: Kubo is fucking terrifying. Like vengeful floating witches in Kabuki masks terrifying. Like if you let your young child watch this movie they are likely to have crazy imaginative (and gorgeous) but truly horrifying nightmares. The villains in Kubo are ruthless; I mean, our titular character and 11-year-old hero only has one eye because of them. The threat of bodily harm, death, and destruction is palpable throughout this story. And the world is vividly portrayed, upping the creep factor tenfold. For me, all of this works together to heighten the tension and draw me in. If you like spooky stories, Kubo is a must see.

I absolutely love that Kubo draws inspiration from Japanese folklore. From ancient samurai to festivals that bridge the divide between the living and the dead, from the art of origami to the importance (and inherent magic) of storytelling, Kubo does a beautiful job representing ancient Japanese culture (at least to the best of my knowledge – I don’t proclaim myself an expert!). Though it would’ve been nice if the voice actors were of Asian descent (as in Disney’s Moana), Kubo is still a delight in terms of representation of both another culture and a different approach to storytelling.

The last thing you should know about Kubo is that it packs emotional punch. Central to this coming-of-age story are themes of family, loss, life, death, and protecting those your love. I got all the feels during the climax and ending of Kubo (luckily, I’m battling a cold, so Bryan thought I was blowing my nose because I had to). And that’s just how I like my stories—with characters I care about and messages that stir something within me.

Seriously, just watch Kubo and the Two Strings. Allow yourself to get caught up in magic. Remember why family is so important. Drown in gorgeous art. And don’t blink, because you just might miss something incredible.

Shivers and Quivers Abound in Legendary

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Last weekend, my fiancé and I explored a new neighborhood in San Diego. About an hour into our stroll, we popped into a Starbucks so I could get a ginormous iced green tea and use the restroom. After placing my order, I located the bathrooms…and noticed something weird. The lights were off and the door was propped open with nothing but a slim trashcan. A piece of paper taped to the turquoise paint explained everything. The lights weren’t working. They weren’t sure when they’d be back on. They were sorry for the inconvenience.

At that point, I didn’t have a choice. I needed to go. So, I stepped into the dark bathroom, which was cool and quiet and dimly lit with a single sliver of light…and I immediately muttered “Bloody Mary” under my breath three times. And waited. Because that’s what you do.

While nothing happened to me in that Starbucks bathroom last weekend, one thing was unmistakably clear: my book du jour, Pen and Kink’s Legendary anthology, had gotten under my skin. I’m not surprised, because the collection is darkly delightful, and sensuous to boot.

Legendary, edited by Laura Harvey, is a compilation of five stories that retell traditional urban legends—with a romantic twist. Yeah, you heard me. Each dose of horror is tempered with sweetness. And I’m here to tell you, it works.

In “Not Again,” Sara Dobie Bauer tackles “The Hook” with the sensibility of a B horror movie. The result is hilarious, steamy, and campy in all the right ways.

Wendy Sparrow’s “She Wore White” cautions cheating men against picking up women dressed in white along treacherous, winding roads—and follows a couple too stubborn to realize they’re made for each other.

T.R. North’s “Vanishing Point” will take you back to your childhood and high school years—and inspire a soft spot in your heart for hitchhikers holding sunflowers.

A classic South African urban legend involving mirrors and monsters gets an empathic makeover (complete with rosy blush)  in Aisling Phillips “La Via En Rose.”

Legendary rounds out with Michael Leonberger’s “The Hook,” which beautifully tackles disability, young love, and menacing psychopaths.

The aspect of this anthology that impresses me the most is the diversity within its pages. There is variety everywhere you turn—the romantic couplings (they’re not all hetero – hooray!), the styles of the stories, the heat levels, and the voices, which are all so very distinct. There’s a tale for everyone in Legendary.  (And yes, there are two man-with-a-hook retellings, but in this collection, they couldn’t be more different. Reading both was quick succession was a fun experience.)

Lucky for you, dear readers, you can devour every creepy, crawly, sexy twist of Legendary on Friday…the 13th. Hahaha! (Best marketing ever!) Pre-order your Kindle copy for only 99 cents HERE.

Happy humps and hauntings!