Read “No Vacancy” in Issue #24 of Fabula Argentea

No Vacancy pic 2

Today, my short story, “No Vacancy,” appears in Fabulea Argentea’s 24th issue! And to be honest, it’s a story I never thought I’d publish.

I wrote “No Vacancy” years ago. When I wrote it, I was damn proud of it. It was one of the very first pieces I felt was “good enough” to send out to publishers for consideration. Head-in-the-clouds dreamer that I was at the time, I thought this story would be the tipping point for my professional writing career.

But it wasn’t. The rejections started rolling in. And they kept rolling in. And dear God, they didn’t stop. Despite what I thought was a never-ending wellspring of positivity, I found myself doubting my talent, the story, my future as a writer—all of it.

So, when the last publisher on my short list of literary journals and magazines said no thanks, I just…stopped sending the story out. I moved on. I wrote something else. I pushed the whole experience into the back of my mind, the place labeled, “Well That Didn’t Work Out, Did It?”

I was so green then and had so much to learn. I was just dipping my toe into the world of publishing, and I had absolutely no idea how many rejections were in my future (I’ve lost count, you guys). Or how my work would transcend all of those “no’s” from time to time to find some truly beautiful “yes’s.”

A few months ago, I reopened my Word document of “No Vacancy,” read it with fresh eyes, and nearly smacked myself upside the head. How could I have ever given up on this piece? Years later, it was still beautiful. Years later, I still loved it. And years later, my skin had become so much thicker. It was time to revive this piece.

I dedicated time to editing the story, sent it off to a number of publications for consideration, and today, it’s published.

This whole process has been such a nice reminder to never give up on the stories I write that I truly believe in. The stories that contain a tiny piece of my heart between the words. There’s a whole lot of me in this story, to be honest.

I couldn’t be more thrilled that “No Vacancy” has found a home with Fabula Argentea. Alongside each story, the Fabula Argentea editors explain why they chose to publish the piece. Here’s what they said about “No Vacancy”:

“Author Tiffany Brown caught our attention with her opening sentence. From there it only gets better as she masterfully pulls us into her character’s story. It’s a story we can read again and pick out even more of its subtleties. And isn’t that what makes for good fiction?”

If that isn’t recognition and closure for this little-story-that-could, I don’t know what is.

Here’s the opening sentence they reference—and a little extra:

“Bevan arched her back and stared over her shoulder, trying to determine if the patch of skin on her hip was vacant property or a hibiscus leaf that had never been filled in. When her vision blurred, she sighed and walked down the hall to the bathroom, the skin in question vibrating like hummingbird wings.

The cheap fluorescents buzzed and groaned. The old bulbs illuminated Bevan’s skin the wrong way, dulling the vibrant fuchsia, indigo, and lime she wore proudly like war paint. However, the hazy yellow light did the trick. Bevan’s suspicions were confirmed. She’d run out of real estate.

‘Dammit,’ she breathed. Bevan’s hands had begun to twitch earlier in the week, the way they always did when her thoughts turned to color and needles. At the time, she’d resorted to walking to the small grocery two blocks away and submerging her hands in bulk tubs of rice to dull the buzz in her fingertips.

Bevan considered putting on her sneakers, but instead, she picked up her cell phone. ‘Come over,’ she whispered when he answered.”

What follows is a story about identity, love, addiction, and tattoos. I hope you’ll read it HERE (for free!).

And if you’re a writer, I hope you’ll go back and re-read something you haven’t looked at in years. See if you can look past the drafty-ness of it, see the potential, and perhaps, breathe new life into something you previously gave up on.

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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.

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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!

2017 Accomplishments & 2018 Goals

new years

Yes, this is how I spent New Year’s Eve 2017, and it was awesome!

Though time is a uniquely human construct, there’s something beautiful about the idea of a new year. It’s like a crisp dollar bill, fresh and full of possibility. I use the turning over of one year to the next to celebrate achievements and either reinforce or set new goals. Here’s what went down in 2017 and what I’m hoping to accomplish in 2018.

2017 Recap

In 2017, I published five pieces: one harrowingly personal essay (Shapeless), my first erotica piece (Begin Again), a politically charged (but funny!) vampire romance novella (A Taste of Revolution), and two horror shorts (He Smelled Like Smoke and The Promise). With this motley smattering of writing, I’ve realized that I’m not comfortable boxing myself into a single genre or style. I’ve embraced the fact that I write what I want to when I’m inspired to create it. And I love that approach. It seems to be working for me.  

I read 45 books this year (hitting my Goodreads Reading Challenge goal – whoo hoo! – albeit just barely). My top 7 reads were (in no particular order:

Futuristic Violence and Fancy Suits by David Wong bite somebody else

Losing It by Cora Carmack

We Have Always Lived in the Castle by Shirley Jackson

Sleeping Giants by Sylvain Neuvel

The Dinner by Herman Koch

Joyland by Stephen King

Bite Somebody Else by Sara Dobie Bauer

rocket raccoon

 

Graphic novels I loved reading this year include:

March: Book One by John Lewis and Nate Powell 

Paper Girls: Volume One by Brian K. Vaughan 

Rocket Raccoon #1 by Skottie Young 

 

 

 

I crafted over 100 comic book flowers for my upcoming wedding.

I survived my first hot yoga class (which got up to 106 degrees, thankyouverymuch).

My fiance and I made our wedding bands. Like, mixed-and-melted-down-the-metals-and-cranked-the-metals-through-a-rolling-mill-and-soldered-them-together-and-beat-them-into-circles-with-mallets made them.

I took the stage in an amazing production of The Vagina Monologues. wookie

I learned how to hand stamp metal.

I rediscovered my love for baking pies.

I bought my first onesie and dressed up like Chewbacca for Halloween.

I did a water nymph photoshoot with one of my oldest and dearest friends.

I climbed to the very top of an exceptionally tall indoor climbing wall (six stories!).

I snuggled with an alpaca (which is the perfect way to end a list of accomplishments, right?).

2018 Goals

Read 45 books. I’m keeping this one consistent. Not gonna lie, I read some really short books on December 29th, 30th, and 31st in order to hit my Goodreads Reading Challenge goal. This year, I want to cruise into December confident that I’ll hit my 45-book goal – and then some.

Write one story or piece a month. This one is going to be a challenge. I’ve fallen out of the habit of writing regularly (it’s like I’ve convinced myself I don’t have time because I’m planning a wedding or something!) I lost a little bit of my love for writing in 2017, and I don’t know whether to blame stress, poor planning, a lack of inspiration, a lack of self-motivation, or the monster that hides out under my bed. Whatever the case may be, I want to challenge myself to meet a deadline every month in 2018 to see if I can re-spark my desire to write consistently. Whether flash fiction, a sprawling novella, or a personal essay, I need to write something every month. And I’m going to be gentle with myself. The pieces don’t need to be ready to sell or the best thing I’ve ever written. They just need to be complete.

yogaContinue to cultivate a regular yoga practice. When Bryan and I were living in Phoenix, I was really good about going to yoga at least twice a week. There’s something about yoga that makes me feel incredibly strong and incredibly calm, which I’ve found to be a really powerful combination for me. It’s also a great way to give my lower back and other chronic injuries the TLC they need. I started working toward this goal in 2017, and I’m hoping to build upon it to keep the momentum going in 2018.

Revive my blog presences. My personal blog and the blog I share with my fiance (2geekslife.com) have been grossly neglected. Again, I’ve fallen out of the habit, and I’ve also self-sabotaged a bit. There were times in 2017 when I thought my regular musings were too mundane or too boring to publish. Time to kill that self-doubt and trust that I always have something valuable or funny or thoughtful to say. Time to trust my voice.

Okay, those are the big goals. I’m sure other goals will pop up throughout the year, and I’ll go after them with vigor and an eye for self-improvement and cultivating accomplishment and happiness.

For those of you who create resolutions or set goals each year, I hope you’re off to a great start. I believe in you! Go get ‘em!

 

Get Your Jitter Fix with “The Promise”

Jitter 6

Bite-sized horror stories usually aren’t my thing. I generally regard the horror genre as one to be savored. I love creepy world-building. Take me through the whole damn haunted house, room by room, and point out the curiosities that will make my head spin. I adore stories that are quick to unsettle you, then slowly build toward a terrifying revelation.

There’s a reason why horror lovers devour the huge tomes written by Stephen King or Dan Simmons. Dreadful stories are mini addictions. You keep turning the pages, wanting more and more – sometimes, inexplicably.

My latest horror short, “The Promise,” which is now available in Jitter #6, isn’t a page-turner – literally. It’s micro fiction, a sliver of terror, a quick hit of dread. There aren’t a lot of pages to turn, even if you wanted to (and hopefully you do!).

I wrote “The Promise” to see if I could create something turbulent and atmospheric and terrible and reminiscent of classic monster horror – in less than 1,000 words.

“The Promise” creeped out the editors at Jitter Press enough for them to include it in Jitter #6. Hopefully, it’ll creep you out, too.

The Promise (Excerpt)

By Tiffany Michelle Brown

She’d nearly choked on it that night on the moonlit beach—the sharp, pungent smell of dark promises and fragile desperation. Now, the noxious aroma threaded through her hair as something tugged at the floral comforter covering her toes. Lila’s eyes flew open. Her heart thumped in her chest.

“Mommy, there’s something under my bed.” She could barely hear Brayden’s whisper above the wave of adrenaline that whooshed through her veins. Bad memories poured over her, fresh and shocking as ice water.

This isn’t happening. You were supposed to forget. It’s been nine years.

Lila fought to keep her voice steady, for her son’s sake. “There’s nothing to be afraid of, sweetheart.” The lie was thick on her tongue.

Lila closed her eyes, attempting to lessen the sudden sting building behind them, but an image of her husband, water swollen and drained of color, painted the backs of her eyelids. She grabbed her hair and tugged hard, needing to feel something.

No. What she needed was to keep it together. She needed to comfort Brayden.

Lila swung her legs off the mattress and pulled her sleep-heavy body to a seated position. She made out a tuft of perfect corn silk hair and the glitter of Brayden’s wide eyes in the dim. She extended a hand toward him, and the next thing she knew, her darling boy was wrapped around her forearm, his little body radiating heat, his heartbeat hammering against her skin. A jolt of regret careened through her chest. She gasped, sucking in air, and gagged on sulfur. She coughed twice into her free hand and switched to breathing through her mouth.

Lila glanced over her shoulder at Martin, wondering if she’d disturbed him. Her husband lay still, almost as still as that night on the sand, but here in their master bedroom nearly a decade later, he breathed normally. In, out. In, out.

She thought of their time together—their first date, their wedding, Brayden’s birth, Emily’s birth, their grand renovation of this house. All the beautiful moments they’d accumulated together.

She’d had to save him, right?

…Read the rest in Jitter #6!

RAVENOUS is alive!…(Kind of…)

Ravenous cover

Happy Friday the 13th, kiddies! In celebration of this spooky, spooky day, Pen and Kink Publishing’s RAVENOUS, edited by the lovely Ariel Jade, is now available.

If you’ve ever craved a sexy inside look into the love lives of vampires, this is the collection for you!

About RAVENOUS:

Dark. Brooding. Tortured. Sexy.

Vampires are a mystery, morphing through history from maligned villains to sparkling saviors and back again. They can be the ultimate bad boys, the supreme seductresses, or the evil monsters. They fascinate and repel us at the same time. What other creature can steal into your bedroom in the depths of the night to stalk or protect? What other ancient being is so accessible yet so powerful? What other enigma is desired as much as feared?

Cross the threshold into a world of insatiable heroes and voracious heroines. RAVENOUS explores saucy, sexy, and sweet tales: of forbidden vampire/vampire hunter love, vampire threesomes in space, kink as only a vampire could enjoy it… and so much more.

Edited by Ariel Jade and with contributions from Wendy Nikel, Jaap Boekestein, Sara Dobie Bauer, Violet R. Jones, V. Hummingbird, Dale Cameron Lowry, R. Michael Burns, and Tiffany Michelle Brown.

Don’t forget to bring your garlic–just in case.

Yep, you read that right, I have a story in this steamy book, and it’s one that I’m incredibly proud to have written. “A Taste of Revolution” is a very…complicated love story, full of fairytale influence, politics, sexy memories, and undead bloodshed.

About “A Taste of Revolution:”

Jules Hammond thinks the vampire way of life in the Republic of New Vampyrium is a crock of shit. Her brethren are ruled by a pair of nihilistic tyrants, quarantined in what was once Romania, and forbidden to prey upon humans. Even worse, Jules could be staked and beheaded for voicing her disdain in public.

In the underground safety of her lab, Jules spends her nights synthesizing artificial blood infusions, talking a lot of political smack, and longing for freedom.

When a chance encounter with a gorgeous vamp from her past—now the crowned prince of the Republic—ignites lustful desire in Jules, she’s both twitterpated and confused. As she struggles to reconcile her overwhelming and exceedingly annoying feelings for Prince Fabian, Jules is offered a dangerous opportunity to free the vampire race from the clutches of its depraved monarchy.

Who knew the fate of bloodsuckers everywhere would depend upon a blue-haired blood chemist with rage for days and budding feelings for a man who represents everything she hates.

Here’s an excerpt to get your (undead) blood pumping:

“She turned suddenly and crushed her nose into a very broad, very firm chest. Jules stumbled back, groaning, blinking hard to keep surprised tears at bay. Her fingertips found the bridge of her nose and inspected it. Nothing seemed out of place.

‘Are you okay?’ said a sultry, masculine voice.

If Jules had a pulse, it would have quickened substantially. She looked up at an angular jaw, searing blue eyes, and a round head of perfectly coifed brown hair, familiar from Prince Fabian’s television appearance only an hour before. And there was that roguish smirk, the one that looked so good on camera—and even better in person.

Jules gulped and then sent a message to her thighs that no, it was not okay that they were quivering right now. Not for Prince Fabian. This guy represented everything wrong in the vampire world. And yet, he was so pretty, so appealing in flesh and blood, that Jules wanted to throw her legs around him and nibble his ear right there in front of everyone.”

And that’s their first meeting. It gets real…interesting from there on out. There are motorcycles, and Gothic castles, and first kisses, and some brutal battle scenes, for good measure.

Enter Pen and Kink’s Friday the 13th giveaway to try to snag a free copy, or purchase the book on Amazon.

I hope you love “A Taste of Revolution” as much as I do. Happy reading!

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.

 

 

 

Becoming “Shapeless”

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Writing about your personal struggles is scary business. It forces you to release monsters you’d rather leave in the dark. It makes you own up to decisions that maybe weren’t the best for you. It’s uncomfortable and terrifying and liberating all at once.

That’s why I believe real stories about the human experience are so important. By sharing our stories, especially the difficult ones, we throw aside the invisible armor we don every day and render ourselves completely vulnerable. Why do this? To make connections with strangers. To show others they are not alone. To try to make sense of this crazy, beautiful life. To practice introspection and better understand ourselves. For me, it’s a reminder of how strong I am and how far I’ve come.

This month, I have a personal essay titled “Shapeless” in Under the Gum Tree’s January issue. As a gorgeous nonfiction magazine, Under the Gum Tree provides writers an avenue to tell stories without shame. I accepted their invitation and wrote something gritty and gorgeous and true. I wrote about my experience with eating disorders, body dysmorphia, depression, and the healing that comes with true love and acceptance.

My goal in writing “Shapeless” was to share that, in my experience, an eating disorder isn’t an isolated event; it’s a continuum. While the physical manifestations of an eating disorder can heal, psychological scars remain. And those imprints of your past life color your experience with just about everything – food, body image, mental health, relationships. For years.

“Shapeless” guides you through 17 years of my life, from the moment my mental imbalance began at the age of 14 to last year when I turned 31. This essay is an unflinching look at the highs, the lows, and everything in between. It’s full of horror, love, naivete, doubt, and compassion.

Here’s a sneak peek at ages 15, 24, and 26…

15

…In the mirror, I suck in my stomach, and my bones protrude through pale, papery skin. I stare and stare, unblinking, unflinching, at what I believe is a glimpse of perfection. A mountain climber could hang from my ribs and scale down into nothingness. They’d have to swing to and fro to make contact with my bellybutton. I like the sharpness, the drama of the angles…

24

I’m dating a man who delights in being able to fit his large palms around my slim waist. “So tiny,” he says on our second date, holding me gently as a coin. I feel exceptionally small in his arms. It becomes a priority to stay trim, to let his hands explore a shallow sea…

26

As the saxophone trills, I remove a silky, opera length glove with my teeth. The audience alights with applause, and I stand up a little straighter in my silver heels, pushing my chest forward. Blue feather fans shake and ruffle in choreographed movements. Prince sings about controversy, and I bask in it. I split and shimmy to the floor, then unhook the mirrored bra about my breasts. During the big reveal, my Swarovski crystal pasties shimmer, and I feel beautiful. I’m a goddess in this skin. I’ve reclaimed my curves, my muscle, my very being. I’m confident and on display, something that used to terrify me. I wink at everyone.

To see how this story began and how it ends, pick up this month’s issue of Under the Gum Tree.