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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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.

When Martial Arts Meets Pre-Marital Counseling

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The jokes started soon after Bryan and I got engaged. I’d throw my fiancé, lock him into a nasty pin, wait for his submission tap—and then we’d swap roles and I’d find myself face down on the mat, waiting for the moment to tell him yep, he’d got me. At the end of class, sweaty and smiling, we’d hear it: “How’s that for pre-martial counseling?”

Funny enough, there’s a lot of truth to that joke—not because Bryan and I work out our personal issues through aggression on the mat (that would be dangerous and incredibly ineffective pre-marital counseling); rather, it’s because practicing Aikido inspires us to cooperate with each other, communicate effectively, build trust, take care of ourselves and each other, and practice both dominance and submission in equal measure.

Straight up, it’s all those things young couples in love should work on before they promise themselves to each other. The only difference is we wear gis and hakamas while we work on us.

Training in Aikido is incredibly different than training in other martial arts due to one of its foundational spiritual principles. Essentially, it’s believed that if you hurt someone else, you hurt yourself. So when Aikidokas train together, there’s emphasis not only on caring for yourself (after all, Aikido is a highly applicable defensive art), but also taking care of your opponent. For many of the joint locks, weapons techniques, and open hand throws we learn, there is a more violent version that it would be easy to tap into (a joint lock can easily turn into a broken bone, for example), but in Aikido, we practice calm and restraint, only doing what’s necessary to diffuse a situation. Sure, we want to stun or invoke a little discomfort in our attacker, but there’s always an emphasis on minimizing damage and taking care of the aggressor.

Because of this unique emphasis, you can start to see where all those practices that make you a good partner in Aikido can also make you a good partner in life.

The mutual cooperation that protects Bryan and me from potentially damaging throws in Aikido is the very same cooperation that will protect us from damaging disagreements in the future.

While training, I have to speak up if Bryan’s executing a movement too fast or if I’m uncomfortable with any part of a technique; if I do, Bryan needs to listen and either adjust or help me to better understand concepts or how to move. I, too, need to be receptive if Bryan brings something up while we’re training. Conversation is necessary to keep us both safe.

Because the techniques we practice can be incredibly damaging, trust is paramount. On the mat, Bryan and I both have to trust that we won’t hurt each other. And if we do hurt each other accidentally (it happens, we’re human), we help each other up, get the first aid kit, then get back out on the mat, ready to trust each other again and move forward.

In the dojo, I’ve learned how to protect myself (something I highly recommend for everyone because it’s done wonders for my confidence and helps me combat anxiety) and in doing so, I know how to protect others, too. My compassion has grown tenfold.

And I always know that when I go to Aikido, I will practice being both an aggressor and a defender. At times, Bryan will be the one to throw me, and I have to put aside fear, ego, and any underlying anxiety I possess in order to let him do that. Likewise, I will throw Bryan during class, and when I do, I dissociate the movements from any type of aggression or feelings of latent dominance. Both sides of the coin are humbling in the best possible way.

The night before Bryan’s knee surgery, we were the only two on the mat at Jiai Aikido. And I’ll admit, at first, I was kind of bummed. I generally love the group dynamic of large classes, the chance to connect and train with a lot of different people.

But as Bryan taught me techniques that will be on my next test and we really trained one-on-one together, I realized that we were doing so much more in that hour on the mat. We were working together, humbly and cooperatively. We were teaching each other. We were taking care of each other. We were enjoying a common hobby and strengthening our relationship at the same time.

Yeah, it was kind of romantic. And I never thought I’d say that about pre-marital counseling.

Hello Homesickness

Arizona

When Bryan and I moved to San Diego, California, this summer, the transition was strangely easy for me. I’d lived in Phoenix, Arizona, for 30 years, my whole life. I was ready for change, ready to escape my roots and experience something new. That desire coupled with the promises of urban, downtown living, beaches mere minutes away, a smorgasbord of incredible food, craft beer culture, June Gloom (which I love), and the beauty of Balboa Park equaled unbridled excitement for me—a new adventure. I was happy to leave my desert hometown in the dust. When we pulled our U-Haul truck out onto the I-10, I didn’t look back.

I’ve traveled back to Phoenix a few times since our initial move—for weddings, baby showers, quick trips to see family and friends—and I’ve always driven or flown back to California alight with the feeling that I’m returning home. And why shouldn’t I? I’m a California girl now. And San Diego is an exceptionally easy city to fall in love with and to call home.

But this last trip, this one was different.

Bryan had to travel back to Phoenix for work this past weekend/week, and I asked him to extend his trip so I could tag along, burn up existing vacation time, and we could visit with friends and family for the holidays. I was excited for five days of fun!

The first night, we met up with a small group of friends for authentic, beautiful Moroccan food at Couscous Express. This little establishment, on McDowell near the 51 entrance/exit ramps, is the most unassuming gem of a restaurant. The owner is friendly and welcoming, and all he wants to do is to feed you; it’s the most honest hospitality I’ve ever experienced. Together with friends, we ate lentil soup, garbanzo beans, tagine, and date shakes while French jazz music played in the background. And there wasn’t a quiet moment as we caught up, discussed the latent poignancy of Aziz Ansari’s new Netflix series Master of None, talked through the algorithms of Pandora radio, geeked out, and shared the love. At the end of the meal, the owner of Couscous gave me a headdress traditionally worn by belly dancers and everyone at the table received argon oil soap. It was the perfect, eccentric end to a perfect, eccentric meal.

GameThe next morning, we went to church at City Square, which never feels like a religious gathering and instead feels like a family gathering. Immediately, we were pulled into hugs and asked how our lives are in California. Later, as our guest pastor drew a connection between joy and pain, the beauty and volatility of nature, and the happiness and sadness of the season, I teared up—both because her message was true and beautiful and because, surrounded by so many wonderful people, I was feeling that joy she was speaking of.

After church, we played Betrayal at the House on the Hill with the Kemp-Schlemmers, the family we were staying with. We dramatically read horrifying cards and joked about creepy kids and enjoyed chile-infused beer—ever mindful there was a traitor among us! (Play the game; it’s awesome.)

Mom and meThat night, we had an early Christmas dinner with my mom. She completely spoiled us with incredible food (including homemade crème brulee, which is my favorite dessert ever!) and truly thoughtful presents. It’s very apparent your boyfriend has become a part of the family when your mom buys you both socks, heat-building undershirts (for outdoor archery, of course), and Amazon gift cards to quell our ordering addictions. My mom got a little emotional when she opened the scarf I’d knit for her, and we helped her put her new wine lovers case on her phone. We took lots of pictures, and of course, like moms do, she sent leftovers home with us.

On Monday, I had to work from home. I dropped Bryan off at work, swung by one of my old coffee haunts, Lola, and ran into a good friend I haven’t seen in many, many months. Over mugs of coffee, we talked about writing, relationships, and impending adventures before I had to head back to the house and log on to my laptop.

Mid-morning, there was a knock on the door and an invitation to go downstairs and do mommy and me yoga with Summer and Josie. And I can’t even begin to describe how fantastic an experience it is to down dog with a two-year-old who smiles and giggles and always wants to hand you your water bottle (gotta stay hydrated, after all!).

That night, we invited basically all of our Phoenix-based friends out for a group dinner. Despite some crazy restaurant mix-ups, our friends showed up in droves. What we thought would be a group of 10-15 people quickly turned into a group of 20-25. We virtually took over NYPD Pizza. And it was overwhelming to see everyone come out to see us. I uploaded a collage of pictures to social media with the simplest hashtag: #joy—because that tiny word captures everything going on in that room.

NYPD

On Tuesday, I surprised my ex-coworkers at Nationwide with an unannounced visit. And you should’ve seen the looks on their faces! Again, the hugs. Again, the inquiries about California. A few hopeful questions about whether I was back for good. “Just for vacation,” I said.

After the visit, I met up with my friend Rachel, who is basically my chosen older sister. We lunched the way we used to, discussing the Phoenix dance community, our goals and successes, and the goings on our favorite TV shows.

When Bryan got off work that night, we went to Cherryblossom Noodle Café, our go-to for Japanese food in Phoenix. We drank sake and green tea, and I had some killer Pad Thai.

We got home to find Brian watching The Voice on Hulu, so we sat down to watch and talk music and unwind for the night.

Yesterday afternoon, we arrived home in San Diego after a grueling and tiring car ride. We unpacked the car and went upstairs to find a very naughty dog on the furniture—and yes, she knows she’s not allowed there (bad, Biscuit!). We straightened up, fed the dogs, took them on a walk, and then Bryan went to Aikido as I settled in for a relaxing night at home.

I reheated my leftover Pad Thai, turned on Mad Men, cracked open a beer—and felt terribly, terribly alone. That’s when I realized that for the first time ever, I was homesick.

But not for Phoenix. Not the city itself or the desert or anything tied to a specific geographical place. I was homesick for the people who live in Phoenix. The people who are the very definition of community. The people who show up in overwhelming numbers when we say we’re going to be in town. The people who accept us as family, even when we’re gone for a long time. The people who open their homes and their hearts to us. The people that make Phoenix my home.

If you’re one of those people in Phoenix and I saw you this trip, know that you gave me the very best Christmas present this past weekend—you. I love you and I miss you. Always.

 

Read SPIN: A Novelette…on any e-reader you got!

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“To regular passersby, the brick façade on Washington Street between 7th and 8th was nothing more than an abandoned host for disgruntled bursts of graffiti, petrified chewing gum, and the benign city smells of urine and cigarette smoke; but to those with desperation and regret hanging in their chests, they saw something different. If the sunlight peeked out behind the clouds just right, like it was doing now, you could see the thin, dotted outline of a doorframe, the glint of a display window, the shutter of a neon sign which proclaimed not just Open, but Come In, too.”

And so it begins. My very first self-published work. Something that I am so fucking proud of that I had to share it with everyone come hell or high water or hours and hours of reformatting for various digital formats.

Now, it’s ready. And I truly hope you’ll read it. It’s a tale reminiscent of those you’d find on The Twilight Zone. It’s a love letter to music and particularly the rockin’ tunes of the 70s. It dabbles, er, goes full throttle into a world where time travel is possible – for those who need it the most. It’s a psychological exploration of regret and the things we’ll do for love.

My truly fabulous and disgustingly talented boyfriend, Bryan Mok, designed the cover, which made me swoon the first moment I saw it.

And this little novelette has been receiving some great reviews:

“If Neil Gaiman and Lovecraft had a love child … well, it’d be mad, but Brown is pretty close. Her prose is gorgeous. Her storyline will keep you stressing and screaming at the characters. Mostly, though, she makes you consider what you would do if you could erase regret. Would you? At what cost? Personally, I think I’ll leave time travel alone.”

“If you’ve got an hour, 99 cents, a seatbelt, and a desire to get your mind blown. READ. THIS. STORY!!!! Smart, stylish, edgy, heart-breaking, provocative, and… Al Green! Quite an accomplishment.”

Thank you in advance if you decide to pick up this little story and add it into your virtual bookcase. I hope you love it!

Download SPIN: A Novelette on Amazon (for Kindles or Kindle apps for PC).

Download SPIN: A Novelette at Barnes & Noble (for Nooks).

Download SPIN: A Novelette on Smashwords (for any other format – PDF, rtf, txt, etc.)

Eating Christmas: A Place at the Table

Eating Christmas 1

This week, I attended Chow Bella’s Eating Christmas event at Crescent Ballroom, an annual reading during which local writers share their personal tales involving food and the holidays. And it was awesome. So awesome that I left Crescent wonderfully inspired to write my own Eating Christmas anecdote. So, here it is, all wrapped up in feels and a pretty bow for you as we get closer and closer to Christmas. (Word to the wise: This blog post will be best enjoyed if accompanied by a bowl of piping hot ramen.)

A Place at the Table

By Tiffany Michelle Brown

My boyfriend has explained repeatedly that he comes from a food family, but I don’t think that fact truly sunk in until the coolers from California arrived. When Bryan and I moved in together earlier this year, his parents scheduled a visit to Phoenix. We’d only been in the house a few days, so our lives were still tightly packed in cardboard boxes and our refrigerator contained around 50 styles of hot sauce, but very little food.

“Should we go grocery shopping?” I asked. “We don’t really have anything.”

“No, we won’t need to shop any time soon,” Bryan answered.

And he was right. Because moments after hugs and hellos were exchanged, Bryan’s mom started unloading two huge coolers of food that had traveled the nine-hour drive with them. Within minutes, our freezer and fridge were completely stocked with foods I’d never heard of before—mushroom balls, shao bing, bean curd skins, and scallion pancakes.

The next day, Bryan’s mom sat at a fold-out card table for nearly an hour hand-rolling spinach and tofu dumplings. When she’d filled two large cookie sheets, the little pockets of heaven were deposited in the freezer, but she said she still had dumpling wrappers and filling left over, so she’d continue the next day. Though we’ve eaten those dumplings liberally throughout the course of this year, I’m pretty sure we still have a few in our freezer, because her beautiful, cooking-weathered hands crafted so many of them.

When Bryan and I first started dating, a whole new world of food opened up to me. Since his father is Cantonese and his mother is Shanghainese (very important distinctions, by the way), I got a crash course in traditional Asian food and knew immediately that my days of eating Pei Wei and P.F. Chang’s were over. Honestly, now that I’ve been properly educated, those chain restaurants seem like imposters. If chicken feet or traditional ramen or fish sauce aren’t on the menu, I don’t want to eat there. (And yes, I’ve eaten chicken feet; there’s photographic proof.)

Eating Christmas 2Now, when Bryan and I go to Ranch Market at the Chinese Cultural Center on the weekends to pick up jackfruit or Enoki mushroom or mochi, I’m excited, because odds are good that the lady who makes Taiwanese pancakes will be there, her cart steaming and giving off the aromas of pancake batter, coconut, vanilla custard, and red bean. I burn my mouth every single time on the hot filling, but it’s totally worth it.

On the birthdays of friends and family members, Bryan and I always make sure to eat noodles together, because noodles symbolize long life in Chinese culture. Recently, we’ve started bringing home noodles for our dogs, too, so they can partake in our birthday tradition.

And I love celebrating moon festivals, because there is always moon cake. And even more exciting than the prospect of buttery cake filled with pineapple or melon or mung bean are the ancient stories that accompany the tradition of eating moon cake.

One of my favorite stories is one that dates back to the Yuan Dynasty (1271–1368 AD), a time of difficult, oppressive government and a resulting zeal for revolt. An uprising of the people was imminent, but it was difficult to pass messages between the resistance forces. Naturally, the Chinese came up with an ingenious solution…that involved food. Members of the resistance would hide messages in cakes, because what could possibly be threatening about a delivery of pastry? For added security, the rebels would read the messages by the light of the full moon, which is why full moons and new moons are celebrated in Chinese culture with—it all makes sense now!—moon cakes.

Last year, I found out that Bryan hadn’t been home to Lancaster for Christmas in about six or seven years.

“It’s time,” I told him and we packed up our suitcases and drove out to California for 10 days.

I found out that we’d be enjoying a traditional hot pot for Christmas dinner. A hot pot is kind of like eating fondue—but way better. Vegetable, beef, or chicken broth simmers in a pot in the middle of the table and everyone adds meat, veggies, seafood, wontons, dumplings, and more. As your food cooks, it absorbs all of the flavors of what has been cooked before, plus the flavor of the broth. And there’s customized dipping sauce, too. It’s a hearty, satisfying, interactive umami explosion.

Last Christmas, I went crazy over thinly-sliced Korean beef, which was both delicate and decadent. I tried pork kidney and didn’t completely hate it. I gorged myself on fresh vegetables. And my mouth was burning from the spicy dipping sauce I’d made myself.

But my favorite moment of dinner was something that Bryan’s dad said. Bryan’s parents—and Bryan, too, for that matter—are really happy that I’m an adventurous eater. They understand that I won’t necessarily like everything, but that I’m game to try it. And it goes a lot deeper than having a daring personality or an insatiable inner fat kid.

Bryan’s dad believes that if people from different cultures could share a meal together—without judgment, without sneering at cultural food differences, with an openness and respect for each other—the world would be a better place.

Yeah, I’m a girl who can recognize a moment, and that was most definitely a moment. Over the steam of the hot pot, Bryan’s dad was acknowledging that despite our different backgrounds, cultures, and views of the world, we were the same.

And I think he’s right about the global impact of sharing food. Can you imagine dignitaries and presidents and world leaders sharing a hot pot? Personally, I love that mental image. Because for me, food is love. It comforts you, fills you up, and though we all prepare it (or show it) a little differently, it nourishes both our bodies and our souls.

That Christmas, I’d been invited to the table—and it was covered not only with food, but love.

A Girl Who Reads

I had quite the moment this weekend. After putting some cupcakes in the oven to bake, I took a break and checked my Facebook. I found the following video posted on my wall by my boyfriend. Being a man of few words, his message to me simply read, “A perspective I share ;)”

And really, that’s all he said to say, because the video did the talking for him. It’s not a long video. It’s only 2:30. But it was long enough to make me laugh, cry, and smile.

Sometimes, it’s just really nice to hear that there are guys out there who look for intelligence and wit in women despite a culture that (sadly) thrives on unattainable ideas of beauty. It’s nice to know that nerdy girls are appreciated. It’s nice to have a passion of mine validated. And it’s nice to know that my guy admires my body and my brains—and not necessarily in that order.