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.

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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!

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.

 

Measuring 2016 in Joy

So, 2016 wasn’t all bad. Yes, there were a lot of monumental tragedies – the loss of far too many pop culture icons who shaped and influenced us, numerous heartbreaking acts of violence and terrorism the world over, and don’t even get me started with the U.S. election – but for me personally, there were a lot of bright moments, too.

As we approach January 1, I wanted to reflect on all the GOOD things that happened in 2016 and concentrate on manifesting that goodness in 2017.

Here’s a recap of the things that made this year a great one for me:

  1. I tested for my first rank in Aikido, earned my hakama, and served as an uke for an Aikido master (Mary Heiny sensei). Training in martial arts has proven a big challenge for me, but the work ethic and perseverance required have made me stronger and more humble. Bonus – my mental health has improved and my anxiety has lessened drastically.
  2. I had a great publishing year! My short stories “We Share Everything,” “Catch and Release,” Bad Vibrations, “Now You See Me,” “Bad Moonlight,” and “It’s in Her Kiss” all made their way out into the world. And I’m heading into 2017 with a personal essay and two short stories queued up to be published – “Shapeless” in Under the Gum Tree, “Begin Again” in the kINKED anthology by Pen and Kink Publishing, and “He Smelled Like Smoke” in an Ink Stains anthology by Dark Alley Press. I’m also working on a trilogy of magical romance novellas for the Enchanted series by Pen and Kink Publishing, which has been both challenging and a blast.
  3. Kristy Velesko and I created photography magic together. While we were only able to do three shoots together this year (surrounded by flowers, on the beach, and underwater!), they were incredible. I’m so happy she calls me every time she’s in town, because it’s good for me to glam it up and get in front of the camera.
  4. I bought a wedding dress!
  5. I started working for Cognella, Inc., an independent academic publisher, as a content specialist. Not only am I working in my dream industry (publishing), I feel like my work is making a positive impact in the world of academia. Also, the company culture is ridiculously awesome.
  6. My fiance and I launched a website together, 2 Geeks Life, to document all our  nerdy life together.
  7. I rediscovered aerial yoga.
  8. I bought a llama holiday sweater that gives me life!
  9. I became a legit graphic novel collector.
  10. There were numerous cuddle sessions with our puppies.
  11. Bryan and I celebrated one year as San Diego residents.
  12. I attended my first San Diego Comicon!
  13. I SMASHED my Goodreads reading goal – 48 BOOKS (when my goal was 35)!

Not to mention all the food adventures, trips to new locales in San Diego, sweet, romantic moments, laughter with friends, celebrations with family, and the unexpected little joys that make this life wonderful.

I look forward to all the GOOD in 2017. I hope it finds you, too.

Wishing you all a happy New Year!

The Dangers of Smooching Frogs: Read “It’s in Her Kiss” in the After the Happily Ever After Anthology

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I’ve never liked “The Frog Prince.”

A spoiled princess becomes indebted to a frog after he retrieves her golden ball from a well. Though she promises the amphibian she will be his companion, the princess attempts to ditch the croaker at the first opportunity. When the frog shows up at the palace and asks to be let in, the princess explains the situation to her father, the king, and he forces her to make good on her promise. If the princess falters and doesn’t give the frog what he wants, he threatens to tell the king. In the original version from the Grimm Brothers, the princess is so disgusted by her fate, she throws the frog against a wall. Only then does he turn into a prince (which is a game changer), and they suddenly rush into marriage and live happily ever after. The end.

Can you say dysfunctional? Why should the princess receive a happy ending? And what the heck is up with that psychology? Why does the frog still choose her? Is he that much of a gold digging opportunist?

After all the entitlement and manipulation, the princess and the frog simply shrug it off and choose each other, which was never a satisfying conclusion for me.

When I learned Transmundane Press was putting together the After the Happily Ever After anthology, I knew it was my chance to retell a fairy tale that I’d always found troubling. 

Now, don’t get me wrong, my story isn’t all rainbows and happy endings, because let’s face it, fairy tales were meant to be didactic stories that youngsters could learn from. Some horrific shit goes down in fairy tales. But “It’s in Her Kiss” dives headlong into the psychology of the relationship between the frog and the princess. Of course, I’ve put a new spin on the classic take, too. 

“It’s in Her Kiss” is at once a re-imagination of a classic story, a satirical look at modern romantic relationships, and proof that happily ever after isn’t always what it seems.

It’s in Her Kiss

By Tiffany Michelle Brown

Delilah has developed a fetish of the human-who-was-once-an-amphibian variety. Her predilection has progressed into a full-fledged addiction as three or four times a week, the door to our flat bursts open and a new prime specimen drips pond water onto the Ikea rug in the foyer.

Delilah wears a proud smile and clings to their arms, bright with infatuation, gleaming with accomplishment. After all, her rose-pink lips elicited their transformations. And they are all hers, rescued from the muck and ever-grateful to their savior.

Each specimen is distinctly different, but they all are ambitiously handsome. Last week, Delilah’s first catch was Italian. Olive skin, dark, emotional eyes, clothing that only a European can get away with wearing. He was young, so he was probably an exchange student. Her second catch looked like a lumberjack, a man with a full beard, bulging muscles, and enough freckles to create a connect-the-dots coloring book. I half-expected him to produce an axe to cut the lasagna they shared that evening. The third was an older Russian gentleman who moved with innate bravado and had the saddest blue eyes. He didn’t speak a lick of English, but Delilah didn’t care. She took him to bed anyway, as she does with all of them.

The next morning, she kisses them goodbye. When they’ve reassumed their froggy countenances, she affixes their legs with a little gold band. It helps her to determine which frogs she’s already romanced. Then, out the door and back to the park they go, as if nothing ever happened.

I’ve lost track of the number of suitors that have come through our door and dampened our rug. Does Delilah know? Does she keep track? Does she delight in her growing number of conquests?

And if she does, is my name at the top of the list? Does she fondly remember me as her first? Or does her lack of lust and passion for me exclude me completely from the ranks?

#

I’d resigned myself to an amphibian lifestyle the morning I met Delilah. I’d been a frog for nearly a year, the result of a tumultuous breakup and a vindictive ex-girlfriend who decided to teach me a lesson. When she threw me into the lake, a note full of expletives, blaming, and mentions of voodoo followed me.

At first, I thought someone would figure it out. My parents ordered a police investigation, but the ensuing search proved fruitless. You don’t leave a trace when you recede into a local pond. No cell phone records. No credit card transactions. People say you were completely normal the last time they saw you. And, of course, the woman responsible for the hex isn’t going to have a change of heart. Especially when you cheated on her—not one of my finest moments.

As the missing person posters shriveled on lampposts around town and were eventually replaced with the face of some other unlucky guy, I decided I’d make the most of my new life. After all, I’d always enjoyed the outdoors, I’d become an exceptional swimmer, and while I missed a choice cut of sirloin from time to time, I developed a taste for bugs.

While gathering breakfast one morning at the community park, a net dropped over me. I panicked. I jumped; I kicked; I squirmed, but then my little heart raced far too fast, and I grew heavy with exhaustion. I looked up, expecting to see a mean-spirited little boy, the kind that would subject me to light filtered through a magnifying glass.

Through the mesh, a pair of feminine brown eyes gazed down at me. A girlish grin lit up my captor’s face. And wouldn’t you know it, it was nice to receive a smile for once.

I didn’t struggle as Delilah scooped me into her palms and said, “Gotcha.”

#

The internet is a crock of shit. I can find support groups and rehabilitation programs and intervention specialists for some crazy things—people who eat the ashes of their loved ones, Satanic cultists, teenagers who sniff glue to get high—but I can’t find anything for sex addicts that use magic to ensnare, manipulate, and then re-enchant their lovers. The lack of resources is maddening.

I’ve done some medical research, too, trying to discern if Delilah has some kind of health condition that gives her lips transformative powers. Could this be genetic? Some insane recessive gene? But I’ve found nothing.

I’ve reached out to local government to express my concern in the recent surplus of frogs in our neighborhood. A state representative emailed me back saying that while he understood my annoyance, the increase in amphibian life in nearby ponds has proved ecologically beneficial. A rare species of fish, recently deemed on the cusp of extinction, now flourishes in ponds and lakes around town.

Since my ex mentioned voodoo in her departure letter, I’ve been trying to track down dark magic shops in the area, but my searches are spotty and uninformative. Apparently, none of these niche businesses are too concerned with having a web presence. I’m sure they rely on word-of-mouth marketing to keep them in business. “That son of a bitch cheated on you? Well, there’s this place you can go to get a potion that’ll turn him into a dog. Literally.”

My search is frustrating, but I understand how widespread, traditional marketing would pose a safety concern. A plague of frogs would likely descend upon the shop, if only the poor schmucks knew where it was.

***

To read the rest of “It’s in Her Kiss” and other fractured fairy tales, purchase your paperback copy of After the Happily Ever After on Amazon.

For fairy tale afficianodos, Transmundane Press is also offering a limited edition hardcover printing, signed by the editors, Anthony S. Buosi and Alisha Costanzo, which you can purchase HERE.