Four Stories to Kick Off Your New Year!

Apparently, I should go on vacation more often—because while I was traveling and visiting family for the Christmas and New Year holidays, four of my short stories were published!

Normally, I’d spotlight each publication individually, but since they all happened in such a tight time frame, I figured I’d tell you about all of them at once.

You can read two of these publications for free (hooray!)—and the other two are part of benefit anthologies with all the proceeds going to two very deserving charities.

First up, my romantic short “Anything But Plain” is included in the Giftmas 2018 Advent Anthology, published by Rhonda Parrish and benefiting the Edmonton Food Bank. Read all about the fundraiser and the advent theme HERE. And yes, while we already surpassed our fundraising goal for December 2018 – and you can read all the stories for free on Rhonda’s blog –  all proceeds from the sale of the anthology itself will continue to go to the food bank. (And bonus, you’ll have them all in one place, so they’re extra easy to read.) So, if you dig the idea of reading a super diverse anthology with stories across genres (for a good cause!), check it out in either ebook or paperback format!

Secondly, my sad but sweet, punk-tinged meditation on teenage grief, “Unspoken Words,” was published in Christmas Lites VIII. This anthology, compiled by Amy Huntley, benefits the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence. The collection is family friendly (PG13 at most!) and features some stories by kiddos, too! Right now, the anthology is only available in ebook format, but I believe a print version is forthcoming.

Next, my drabble “All That Glitters” graced the Christmas edition of Trembling with Fear, which you can read for free online. Not for the faint of heart, Trembling with Fear keeps the merry scary going with stories of maniacal elves, age-old hauntings, revenge, and, in my micro-story, a grave decision.

Lastly, you can read my image-inspired flash fiction piece, “Le Cauchemar Vivant,” on Nina D’Arcangelo’s blog as part of the Ladies of Horror Flash Project. Can I scare you in less than 1,000 words? Check out my story to find out!

And with that, I’m off and writing into the New Year! On the docket so far for 2019 – a superhero origin story, a trilogy of M/M vampire romance novellas, some Black Mirror-inspired shorts, and much, much more.

Wishing you all a happy new year!

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Giftmas 2018 – Anything But Plain

Giftmas-2018

It’s the most wonderful time of the year!

Even in my hometown of sunny San Diego, California, it feels like the holiday season. The temperature has dropped enough to warrant the daily donning of boots, scarves, and heavy jackets. Pumpkin, peppermint, gingerbread, and eggnog-flavored treats are everywhere. My husband and I are working our way through our annual tour of holiday movies. And I have to admit, I love, love, love giving gifts – especially the ones that really matter.

That’s why I’m participating in Giftmas 2018.

What’s Giftmas, you ask? It’s a blog tour Rhonda Parrish hosts every December to raise awareness and funds for the Edmonton Food Bank. This year, the blog tour has an Advent theme. Twenty-four authors have donated stories to share on the twenty-four days leading up to Christmas, one each day – and then Rhonda is sharing a super-cool surprise on Christmas Day!

You don’t need to donate in order to read the Giftmas stories (they’re just hanging out on the interwebs for you to discover and enjoy; check out #Giftmas2018 on social media or this post on Rhonda’s blog with links to each published story), but we do hope these tales—some happy, some sad, some holiday-themed, some sci-fi breakup letters—inspire you to donate a little something to help the folks who benefit from the Edmonton Food Bank. Even a dollar makes a difference!

You can donate HERE to make the season merrier and brighter for someone in need.

And now, without further ado, it’s story time!

Yesterday, Kurt Kirchmeier demolished my heart with his gorgeous story “Souls on Display.” Tomorrow, I can’t wait to see what E.C. Bell shares on her blog. Today, check out my feel-good romance short about a bad first date, an unlikely cupid, and a heartwarming realization.

Enjoy!

Anything but Plain

By Tiffany Michelle Brown

As the crowd about her hummed with excitement and low conversation, Kate Saxon turned, regarded Lawrence Chilton’s very plain profile, and tried not to grimace. She shifted her gaze to a man in his seventies who was snoozing in his scratchy theater seat beside her and wished she could body-swap with him.

What she wouldn’t give to sleep through the next couple hours without having to worry about the consequences. No pretense, no mask, no pretending to have a good time—none of the bullshit that accompanied the vile mating ritual that was the blind date. Just sweet, mind-numbing sleep.

To be fair, Lawrence wasn’t horrible company. He was simply expected company, which was worse in Kate’s book.

He’d showed up at her door at precisely 6 PM, freshly shaven, a bouquet of pink carnations underarm. He was her height, normal looking, and held every door open for her. He took her to a well-known Italian restaurant where they shared a bottle of Chianti and blew through the checklist of obligatory first date questions and answers over a fried artichoke appetizer—my job is very satisfying, I go to yoga about twice a week, my family lives an hour away, and my sister is getting married in the fall. They’d both taken to studying the décor of the restaurant in mock appreciation by the time their entrees arrived. There was no spark—of interest or romance.

When the waitress took their plates, Kate rejoiced that the date was nearly over. She’s let nice-enough-but-predictable Lawrence take her home. She’d open another bottle of wine and do Tina Turner impressions in heels while listening to a record on her vintage turntable. It was her post bad date ritual. It was also wonderful cardio.

But Kate’s plan was foiled. Lawrence excitedly pulled a white envelope from his tweed coat and announced he had two tickets for the 8 PM performance of King Lear at the Orpheum Theater downtown. Kate smiled a fake smile, said something about loving “the Bard,” and took a sip of air from her far-too-empty wine glass.

Now, she sat in the front row of the theater, picking at a loose seam on her skirt, wishing she were in her seventies and, thus, allowed to fall asleep on a date without it being considered rude.

Of course, if she did fall asleep and snored like a trucker, perhaps Lawrence would find her repulsive and never call again. Kate gave serious thought to the pros and cons of this option as the lights in the theater dimmed.

“This is going to be great,” Lawrence whispered.

Kate offered a tight-lipped, “Mm hmm,” and then slouched in her chair, having decided she’d give the I’m-so-bored-I-fell-sleep routine a shot. The risk of offense was worth it. She needed to get out of here—or just zone out for the duration of the show. If she was lucky, she’d be extra revolting and drool.

About ten minutes into the show, Kate had her eyes closed when she felt a tickle on her left knuckle. She tensed. Oh God, he’s trying to hold my hand.

Kate’s eyes flicked open, and she looked down, ready to pull her hand discreetly into her lap. But Lawrence’s hand was nowhere to be found. Instead, a spider of damn near Amazonian size peered up at Kate like a puppy dog yearning for a cuddle.

Kate stood up and began to shriek, flicking her wrists in an effort to buck the spider from her hand. But the arachnid held on valiantly like a cowboy at a rodeo, desperate for its six seconds of fame.

Kate was vaguely aware of running about, climbing something—and perhaps rolling around on the ground?—but her sense of location in the theater was a blur until the spider gave up, leaped from her hand, and disappeared through a crack in the stage into the orchestra pit below.

Kate looked up and was blinded by white light. As her eyes adjusted, she peered out into the audience of the theater—at the horrified patrons; at Lawrence, whose mouth hung open; at the old man she’d been seated next to only moments ago and who was now very much awake. She peered over her shoulder and spied actors in Elizabethan garb staring at her as if she were in her underwear.

Kate gazed down at her favorite peep-toe heels and realized she was on the apron of the stage, standing directly above the unused orchestra pit. And she was frozen to the spot, a mute snow woman in the middle of a theater in downtown Phoenix.

Shit.

As Kate opened her mouth, desperate to deliver an apology, Lawrence stood up in the front row. Kate’s stomach twisted. She was sure he’d storm out—or worse, reprimand her in public.

But instead, he started to sing. “Don’t go breakin’ my heart…”

Kate stood there, dumbfounded, frowning at him in confusion.

Lawrence stepped forward and climbed the lip of the stage. He repeated the line, taking Kate’s hand in his, then gave her a nod.

Kate opened her mouth and delivered a truly shaky and off-pitch, “I couldn’t if I tried.”

Lawrence smiled. “Honey, if I get restless.”

Kate smiled. “Baby, you’re not that kind.”

Silence enveloped the theater.

“Now bow,” Lawrence instructed.

Kate bent at the waist and the theater erupted in laughter and applause. Kate straightened and grinned. Lawrence squeezed her hand and a subtle warmth filled Kate’s heart.

“What do you say we get out of here?” Lawrence asked over the trill of the audience.

Kate gave him a nod and he pulled her offstage into the wings, laughing all the while. The stage manager gave them a strict talking to as he led them through a narrow hall past dressing rooms and out the stage door exit.

In the alley behind the theater, Kate leaned against brick and dissolved into laughter. Lawrence did the same, and their shared hilarity echoed off the façades about them and into the starry night.

As Kate’s giggles died down, she looked over at her date. Lawrence’s eyes sparkled in the lamplight, and Kate admitted inwardly that she’d been wrong. Lawrence’s profile was anything but plain.

END

Christmas Baking and Gingerbread Bloodshed with Stephanie A. Cain

giftmas

Around the holidays, we’re surrounded by food. Family dinners, workplace potlucks, aisles and aisles of festive candy at grocery stores, not to mention all those friends who give you tasty treats as gifts to celebrate. When we’re so inundated with food (or anything, for that matter), we forget that others have different situations that lend to different holiday experiences for them. While I’ve never experienced a Christmas where I’ve had to go without, there are many in need, all over the world, and that’s why I wanted to participate in the Giftmas Blog Tour this year. December 6 – 12, we’re sharing holiday food anecdotes and family recipes to instill a little good cheer and support the Edmonton Food Bank.

‘Tis the season! I challenge you to provide a meal for someone in need, which is way easier than you think. $1 provides three meals for someone in need. Donate $5 to positively affect 15 lives. (This is the only time I enjoy math!)

And then…read today’s blog post by Stephanie A. Cain, fantasy writer extraordinaire whose creativity and storytelling follows her into the kitchen. Merry Giftmas!

And with that, I’ll turn it over to Stephanie…

Happy Giftmas! I’m joining this blog tour in support of the Edmonton Food Bank, so I’m here to talk to you about baking and Christmas bloodshed. Or something like that.

Let me start with a confession: I hate being in the kitchen.

I know, it’s weird for someone to write for a Christmas food blog tour when she hates cooking and baking. But here’s the thing–Christmas is the one time I don’t hate being in the kitchen.

My mom is an amazing cook and baker, and I seriously think her love language is feeding people. She taught me how to bake, and at Christmas, I love baking holiday cookies while listening to the Carpenters Christmas and Trans-Siberian Orchestra albums.

ninjabread-menMaking gingerbread boys has been a family tradition over the past decades–I have pictures of this going all the way back to when I was in middle school. Every year we try to get Mom a new cookie cutter. She mixes up the dough ahead of time (usually at least a quadruple recipe) and puts it in the fridge for a day or two.

Then my parents and I get together and bake. Dad rolls out the dough, I cut the cookies out, Mom handles the oven, and when they’re cool, I decorate.

You remember that Foxtrot cartoon where Jason does terrible things to the gingerbread men? That’s totally me. A couple of years ago, I got a set of “Ninja-bread Men” cookie cutters, which gave me plenty of excuses for head wounds and amputated limbs.

What? The Christmas story has its gruesome bits. Don’t forget about the Slaughter of the Innocents!

gingerwolves-and-victimsOne year I cast Lord of the Rings in gingerbread. One year my gingerbread men were the survivors of a zombie attack. We’ve also had gingerbread wolves, complete with red icing around their muzzles.  Then there was the year we thought it would be fun to make a gingerbread house. We quickly discovered how not fun that actually is, but the good news is, even an ugly gingerbread house tastes pretty good.

The recipe we use is from Mom’s battered, stained, well-used Betty Crocker Cookbook from 1972, the year she and Dad got married. (Picture the Book of Mazarbul from Fellowship of the Ring, but exchange recipes for dwarf records and vanilla-stains for bloodstains, and you’ll have an idea of how beat-up this cookbook is.)

Gingerbread Boys

1/2 cup shortening

1/2 cup sugar

1/2 cup dark molasses

1/4 cup water

2-1/2 cups all-purpose flour

3/4 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon soda

1/4 teaspoon ginger

1/4 teaspoon nutmeg

1/8 teaspoon allspice

Cream shortening and sugar. Blend in molasses, water, flour, salt, soda, ginger, nutmeg and allspice. Cover; chill 2 to 3 hours.

Heat oven to 375. Roll dough 1/4 inch thick on lightly floured cloth-covered board. Cut with gingerbread boy cutter [or ninjabread boy, or gingerwolf, or…]; place on ungreased baking sheet.

[Betty recommends using raisins for the face and bits of candied cherries for other decorations. We use cinnamon red-hots for eyes and do the rest with icing after they’re baked.]

Bake 10 to 12 minutes. Immediately remove from baking sheet. Makes about fifteen 4-inch cookies.

Like I said, we usually make at least a quadruple recipe, because a lot of dough is consumed while rolling and baking (shh, I am convinced salmonella is a conspiracy cooked up–get it, cooked up–by the oven industry). We also give gingerbread boys as a present to my uncle, because they’re his favorite cookies. There is laughter and shrieking and occasionally flour fights during the making of gingerbread boys, and it’s honestly one of my favorite traditions of Christmas.

If you decide to have fun with our recipe, make sure to take lots of pictures, and email me the results at stephanie@stephaniecainonline.com! And remember, as part of our 2016 Giftmas Blog Tour, we’re soliciting donations to the Edmonton Food Bank to help someone else have a happy holiday!

stephanie-a-cain

Stephanie A. Cain writes epic & urban fantasy. She grew up in Indiana, where much of her urban fantasy is set. She works at a museum and dreams of living somewhere without winter. A proud crazy cat lady, she is happily owned by Strider, Eowyn, and Eustace Clarence Scrubb.