Bury ‘Em Deep Unearths More Than Monsters

Unwanted Visitors cover image

Fire-colored leaves crackle beneath my steel-toes as I follow Charlie to the back of his pickup. A gust of wind blows up the corner of the blue tarp coverin’ the body, and I catch a peep of curly black hair out of the corner of my eye. My stomach lurches, and my fingers burn. I wanna sock Charlie in the jaw for askin’ me to help him with this, but I don’t.

I don’t hit him, because I owe him. I owe him big.  

‘Course that don’t mean I gotta like bein’ here. “You got a perfectly good backyard, Charlie. Why couldn’t we bury Rooney there?”

“That ain’t Rooney.” Charlie points at the heap under the tarp. “That thing, it belongs here, not in my backyard.” He releases the latch on the back of the truck, and the tailgate bangs open, makin’ the whole bed jump. Makin’ the body jump. My skin prickles as Charlie gets to untyin’ the tarp with dry, bony fingers.

I look around, tryin’ to understand where “here” is. There’s nothin’ but leaves, old oaks, and a big expanse of grassy terrain. The smell of cigarette smoke hangs in the air, though there ain’t a soul around to be doin’ the smokin’. If you ask me, it don’t look like anything belongs here, not even a dead dog.

“Who told you ‘bout this place?” I ask.

Charlie whips back the tarp. I stare at the white wisps decoratin’ Rooney’s muzzle. I expect ‘em to move. I expect to see Rooney’s chest suddenly rise and fall. It doesn’t, despite what Charlie’s told me ‘bout the dog’s habit of comin’ back to life now and again.


Today, my Lovecraft-inspired short story, Bury ‘Em Deep, is published in Inwood Indiana’s Unwanted Visitors issue!

On the surface, this story is about two men burying a dead dog named Rooney that has this crazy habit of coming back to life. But the real horror of the story lies in the broken friendship of the two men and the animosity between them. Sometimes, you simply can’t bury the past.

To check out the full story, get your issue of Unwanted Visitors today!


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…


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.


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.




Read “Something Black” in the Zen of the Dead Anthology by Popcorn Press


Today, my short story “Something Black” is published in Zen of the Dead, a Halloween-themed anthology by Popcorn Press. And I have to say, this has been the most whirlwind publishing experience I’ve had to date.

The first week in October, I left my regular 9-to-5 at dusk and noticed a single crow sitting atop our building, emitting a lonely barrage of caws into the nearby canyon. On October 20, the solitary crow had turned into a murder of crows, sitting in a neat line in the exact same spot on the roof. It was exceedingly clear they’d conspired and exponentially increased their presence.

A question leaped through my mind. What if that murder continues to grow?

The question sent my head spinning and then inspired a follow-up question. Why would crows flock to a corporate building of all places?

Because something supernatural and sinister is afoot, of course!

During my commute home October 20, I dreamed up a story about mounting frustration, feeling invisible, and a murder (of crows). When I got home, I had an hour to write before my yoga class. I pounded at my keyboard and had a good three pages done before I had to bolt in time to namaste.

Over the next 24 hours, the story begged to be written, and I couldn’t seem to type fast enough. By the following night, I had 17 pages of atmospheric, Hitchcockian horror written, edited, and sent out to first readers.

On average, it takes me at least a couple weeks, if not a month, to write a story and polish it, so the experience was nothing short of exhilarating.

The next morning, the fabulous Sara Dobie Bauer sent me links to a couple calls for submissions – both with super tight deadlines. I would need to send something within the next few days. Did I have anything to send? Strangely enough, I did.

I gave “Something Black” a final read-through, formatted it for the publication, and emailed it to Lester Smith, founder of Popcorn Press, who was seeking horror fiction and poetry for Zen of the Dead. Not four hours later, I got a reply from Lester. “Something Black” had been accepted.

And I didn’t know what to do with myself! Had I really written a story, sent it out for consideration, and been accepted within a span of 72 hours?

To make this experience even more fantastic, Sara also has a story, “Auntie’s Favorite,” in Zen of the Dead. I’ve taken to calling Sara my cross-country writing soulmate, and this simultaneous publication simply affirms our weird, uncanny, wonderful bond. As always, it’s an honor to be published alongside her.

Today, the Zen of the Dead eBook is alive on Amazon and you can order a hard copy of the book via Popcorn Press’s website! I recommend you purchase your preferred form of book, curl up with a fall-inspired ale and a black cat under a bright, foreboding moon, and read some creepy Halloween-inspired fiction and poetry.

Read “Give It Back: A Horror Short” on Your Kindle or Nook

Book cover designed by the amazing Bryan Mok.

Book cover designed by the amazing Bryan Mok.

About a month ago, I was updating my publishing credits on this very blog when I decided to check the hyperlinks on the page and make sure they were functioning properly. In my experience, links like to break every once in a while. For absolutely no reason. At the most inopportune times. I wanted to be proactive.

I made my way down the list, verifying the links, but when I got to my story “Give It Back,” which was published in Blank Fiction Literary Magazine last year, I got one of those “this page doesn’t exist anymore” type notifications.


I did some research and found that archived articles and search results came up in a Google search—but nothing active. Sadly, Blank Fiction was defunct.

Which was upsetting for two reasons:

One, Blank Fiction boasted a really cool concept. They published quarterly, and each edition reflected different genre: Literary, Horror, Noir…I loved the variety. (Also, their Horror edition featured all female authors – what what!)

Two, since Blank Fiction was strictly an online publication, my story went poof. It no longer existed. It got sucked into the internet ether, never to be seen again. And “Give It Back” is one of my favorite stories I’ve ever written.

So, what’s a girl to do when a literary journal goes under, along with her creepy story about a girl who steals jewelry off corpses? Self-publish it the week of Halloween of course!

Today, “Give It Back: A Horror Short” has returned to the interwebs, and I couldn’t be happier. It boasts dead bodies, pathological liars, pints of beer, moments of human understanding, scenes that should be in horror films, and a ghost that I hope none of my readers ever meet in real life.

And that fabulous, Hitchcock-esque, vintage horror-styled book cover? Designed by the one and only Bryan Mok, who also created my cover for Spin: A Novelette. He gets me, and he gets my aesthetic. I couldn’t put this out in the world without giving him a huge shout out: THANK YOU, MY LOVE!

I hope “Give It Back: A Horror Short” is the creepy good time that ushers you into a truly marvelous Halloween weekend. Go scare yourselves silly, kids!

Download your eBook copy today from Amazon (Kindle).

NOOK owners, your link will be coming soon! I’ve run into technical difficulties this morning. I have an email in to NOOK Press to troubleshoot the issue and will update this blog post as soon as possible once the story is live on Barnes & Noble!

UPDATE (10/29): “Give It Back: A Horror Short” is now available via Barnes and Noble. Download it for your NOOK today!

My Love Affair with Lovecraft

Photo by flick user "fengschwing."

Photo by flick user “fengschwing.”

I’ve got a new literary boyfriend and our relationship is definitely heating up. I mean, he keeps me up at night and I think about him all the time. I find myself sneaking away from my responsibilities to turn a page or 10.

So, Edgar Allen, I’m sorry, but I think it’s time for us to break up. It’s not you, it’s me. I’ve been craving someone a little younger with a weirder perspective. So…I’ve been seeing someone else. His name is H.P. And he terrifies me.

Last Christmas, my boyfriend—knowing me oh so well—got me two books, a brilliant sci-fi novel by China Mieville and The Call of Cthulhu and Other Weird Stories by H.P. Lovecraft. I just got around to cracking open the Lovecraft and oh my God, where has this author been all my life?

If you’ve read any of my short fiction, you know I like it creepy. I’m the girl who wrote a thesis arguing that The Great Gatsby is actually a ghost story written in the classic Gothic tradition. I’m the girl who listens to sci-fi soundtracks while she writes. Halloween? I’m all in.

So I feel terrible that I haven’t snatched up and devoured all of Lovecraft’s work by now. He reads stylistically like a contemporary Poe. His language is formal and it’s all about setting the scene, building suspense, and speaking through unreliable, on edge narrators. There’s a lot of madness in these works, a lot of people who’ve simply gone over the deep end. And that psychological exploration is fascinating.

Another fun perk—I’m learning about all the Old Ones that are featured in the tabletop game Elder Sign. The game is definitely inspired by the Lovecraft era and stories, and you play as characters trying to keep nefarious, old monsters from emerging from the depths to terrify the world (and probably take over).

Nyarlathoptep, yeah, I get it now. You creepy. “And where Nyarlathoptep went, rest vanished; for the small hours were rent with the screams of nightmare. Never before had the screams of nightmare been such a public problem; now the wise men almost wished they could forbid sleep in the small hours, that the shrieks of cities might less horribly disturb the pale, pitying moon as it glimmered on green waters gliding under bridges, and old steeples crumbling against a sickly sky.”

And big daddy Cthulhu? “These Great Old Ones, Castro continued, were not composed altogether of flesh and blood. They had shape—for did not this star-fashioned image prove it?—but that shape was not made of matter. When the stars were right, They could plunge from world to world through the sky; but when the stars were wrong, they could not live. But although They no longer lived, They would never really die. They all lay in stone houses in Their great city of R’lyeh, preserved by the spells of might Cthulhu for a glorious resurrection when the stars and the earth might once more be ready for Them.”

Lovecraft reads like a dream, introducing you to new worlds and monsters and visions that you didn’t know could exist in your consciousness. And it’s thrilling and downright scary as all get out.

I’ve been watching Dexter on Netflix, which for all intents and purposes, should be horrifying to me; however, it has yet to keep me up at night. The Picture in the House—a nine-page short story by Lovecraft—took me all of 15 minutes to read and then I lay awake staring at the ceiling for at least an hour before I could calm my brain down. That is some talent for terror.

Lovecraft, I love you. I know we just met, but I’m pretty sure we’re soul mates. Thank you for being weird and wonderful.


Photo licensingfengschwing

A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night

A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night

A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night had me at “Iranian vampire western.” Independent of that awesome description and the fact that the film is being hailed as a genre-bending, artistic, fresh take on vampire mythos, I knew that seeing this film would be important for me, because Ana Lily Amirpour is making history as an Iranian-American female writer-director. Cue my feminist lady boner.

And I was turned on for good reason.

A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night is for all intents and purposes an exploration of good and evil. The Girl, played by Sheila Vand, is an Iranian vampire who stalks the streets of Bad City at night, preying upon men who’ve disrespected women (can you say sinister, scary, feminist anti-hero?). Arash, played by Arash Varandi, is a hardworking, decent young man who has lost his beautiful, vintage car to a pimp thanks to the debts accumulated by his heroin-addicted, prostitute-loving, widowed father. (He also dresses an awful lot like the late, great James Dean.) These two characters collide one night and form a seemingly improbable connection through an Ecstasy high, a Dracula costume, a skateboard, music, and touch—one that could lead to love, understanding, and an escape from Bad City.

A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night, like many of its predecessors, plays an awful lot with the theme of a vampire longing to be human. Arash is the first person (at least in the world of this film) to treat The Girl as a human, not a monster; when they meet, he is not afraid of her. He treats her the way he would treat any other girl on the street—decently. Consequently, in her interactions with Arash, The Girl has an opportunity to experience life as something other than what she inherently is—an undead creature who kills without remorse. And though she is guarded and can’t squash some of her evil impulses, we as audience members start to see that perhaps this monster wants something more than her killer existence.

Now, don’t let this analysis mislead—The Girl is still scary as all hell. When she attacks, it’s brutal and unearthly. She seems devoid of emotion—except when she’s listening to records in her basement apartment (hipster vamp!). She lets her eyes do most of the talking, unnerving her prey with heavily lined lids and a frightening stare. When she does unleash her voice to its fullest, fiendish extend, you’ll feel like you’re watching a scene from The Exorcist. For those who like their monsters both complex and scary, the character of The Girl delivers. She’s a traditional monster in a modern culture with a fascination with being human.

For theatergoers who are all about visual and auditory stimuli, watch this movie immediately! A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night is shot in black and white with chiaroscuro everywhere, and it’s entirely in Farsi. The soundtrack is a brilliant marriage of Iranian club music, western-inspired lilts, American indie rock, and the bass-heavy reverberations of heartbeats (which arrive after The Girl has listened to Arash’s heartbeat).

The lighting is brilliant, increasing the inherent tension in many scenes and making Bad City look, well, dreary and bad. Individual shots in the film inspire pure awe. For example, drugs completely and utterly freak me out, yet one of the most gorgeous shots of the whole film involves heroin being heated in a bent, metal spoon. And don’t even get me started with the shots of The Girl on her skateboard with her chador (which resembles both a berka and a nun’s habit) billowing behind her.

Now, I will say that because of how the film is shot and how the story progresses (slowly and at times, awkwardly (but isn’t that how life progresses?)), A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night is not for mass consumption. You have to like your films artsy and be okay with long shots nearly devoid of action but full of tension and emotion. You can’t walk into the theater and expect this film to be akin to Interview with a Vampire, Daybreakers, or Dracula: Untold. A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night is absent of Hollywood glitter. It’s gutsy and watches the way an offbeat, literary short story reads.

If you’re looking for a vampire film you haven’t seen before, characters that are compelling, and an experience that will make you yearn to go back to school to study filmmaking, check out A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night. And if Ana Lily Amirpour continues to make edgy, dark, brilliant films, I’ll be the first in line to buy a ticket.


Gone Girl Gave Me Nightmares

Gone Girl

Gillian Flynn’s bestselling novel-turned-film Gone Girl left me unsettled, unsatisfied, and twisted up in my bed sheets―and I’m rather thrilled about that. Directed by David Fincher, scored by Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross, and featuring a standout cast, the film reaches into your gut, turns your stomach, and makes no apologies about it.

But then again, the book did that, too. So let’s start there.

Spoiler alert: If you haven’t read Gone Girl or seen the movie and would like to do so without its twisty insides being exposed to you, I’d close this blog post right now. I won’t expose the “big twist,” but I will be talking about the ending.

I can thank LitReactor for my exposure to Gone Girl. Heralding it as one of the novels of the year in 2012, my interest was piqued and I picked up a copy. I was not ready for the ride about to ensue. Flynn’s writing is both manicured and relatable, shocking and easy, and it takes hold of you like an addiction. I zoomed through the book like a tourist on a zip line. I remember one night when I kept telling myself, One more chapter and then I’ll go to bed. Of course, I repeated this over and over until I realized at 1:30 AM that work in the morning would be really rough if I didn’t quit. Immediately.

The story is akin to a modern sensationalist headline: On their fifth wedding anniversary, Nick Dunne’s wife, Amy, goes missing. In their suburban home in Missouri, there are signs of a struggle in the living room, a discreet smear of blood in the kitchen, and a husband who seems a little too relaxed, a little too glib about the whole thing. As Nick struggles with media appearances and his innate Midwestern upbringing (“be polite to everyone”), he quickly becomes a prime suspect. Did Nick Dunne kill his wife? And what would drive someone to murder their significant other?

What follows is a deliciously dark satire on the institution of marriage, the pervasiveness and detrimental nature of the media, an economy in decline, and the disastrous side effects of love gone stale. The book felt slimy when I finished it.

(Extra creep factor—Gillian Flynn wrote this book as a newlywed while pondering the meaning of marriage. Read the whole interview with The Guardian here. It’s fascinating. There are also some great comments by Flynn about her work being called misogynistic and her supposedly “negative” portrayals of women.)

When talks of a film adaptation started to circulate, I was cautiously excited. If they didn’t get everything just right, it would tank for me. I needed the film to be just as slimy and disconcerting as the book.

Oh, it is.

I think a large part of that has to do with Flynn acting as screenwriter. She wrote the novel. She adapted the novel. She was involved, and that’s important. I’ve never understood why films that books employ alternative writers to craft a script when the author is right there (although I’m sure this is a generalization—the author may be unavailable, too pricy, uncooperative, whatever, but still).

Flynn came up with the characters we so love to hate. She has the feel for their voices, their motives, their actions, so it’s only fitting she would bring them to life in the context of film. Her involvement was crucial. And it shows, because the dialogue is always a little off-kilter, a little wrong, and sometimes outright shocking. Well done, Flynn.

The way Flynn incorporated Amy’s diary entries in the larger story is also solid. While Nick’s present is crumbling, Nick and Amy’s “past” is exposed via Amy’s voiceovers, flashbacks, and handwritten diary entries. The cuts from the past to the present are unrelenting and tense; we shuttle back and forth frequently. They build beautiful suspense and any promise of momentum or rest is stopped cold, jolting the viewer, making us uncomfortable all the time.

Apart from the writing, the cast is on point, too, especially Ben Affleck (Nick) and Rosamund Pike (Amy).

For me, God love him, Affleck has always come across as a bit of a tool, which I know is completely unfair because I don’t know him personally. But, you know, that’s how he’s generally comes across to me in film (ironically, one of the major themes of the movie is perception via media―so the joke’s on me!). So when Affleck was cast as Nick, the unhappy, bumbling, awkward, perhaps a little sociopathic husband of Amy, I was sold. Because he’s not entirely likeable or unlikeable in my mind, he was perfect.

And, I have to say, Affleck surprised me with his performance. I had more sympathy for him in the film than I did in the book. I could see his Nick trying to be a good guy while secretly holding onto this voracious contempt for his wife. But hey, you gotta hold that back while under investigation for a possible kidnapping and murder, right?

And Rosamund Pike, holy hell. As poor little rich girl, cunning, conniving Amazing Amy, Pike is harrowing and subtle. She’s scary in the most terrifying way possible, because she’s calculated and cold. You see very little emotion on her face during the film, which had to be quite the feat given the high octane content. She’s a wall that’s been painted over, so there’s this beautiful façade, but what exactly is underneath? And do you really want to chip away at the paint to find out?

The way Pike delivered her lines was extremely impressive to me, too, because her cold and flippant approach reminded me of the actresses in old black and white movies. It’s simply a different acting style, closer to old school stage acting where the suspension of disbelief was greater, but it’s out of place in this modern film, which makes it perfect for Amy. She doesn’t fit. Her voice alone makes her untrustworthy, blockaded.

One of the only times we truly see some interesting behavior and emotion from Amy is during the third act of the film when Nick is being interviewed on TV and knows his wife is watching. The desperation, the satisfaction of hearing what she wants to hear, the recognition that perhaps her plan needs to take a new direction―Pike does it flawlessly albeit subtly.

There are other great performances in the film (Neil Patrick Harris as Desi Collings, a stalkerish past love of Amy’s; Tyler Perry as Tanner Bolt, Nick’s slick defense lawyer; and Carrie Coon, Nick’s twin sister, responsible for most of the levity and humor of the film), but Affleck and Pike truly hold the film together.

And I’ll probably get a lot of flack for this, but I love the ending of the film. Seemingly identical to the opening, Nick’s voiceover and the image of Amy staring at him (you) is not redundant; rather, it makes you feel something completely different at the close of the two-and-half hour ride, something sinister, because you realize there’s just no escaping Amy. Maybe it’s dread…mixed with understanding?

And then the credits roll and you feel like you need a shower to get the lying, cheating, sensationalism, and blood off your skin.

Which is why I didn’t sleep well last night. I didn’t have any crazy graphic dreams; I just felt a little on edge. And that’s Gone Girl’s ultimate goal—to get under your skin and into your bed so that you don’t forget that people are unpredictable and love isn’t always what it seems.