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

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Author Kelly Sandoval on “Siren Seeking”

Sirens Blog Tour

Deep, deep down, part of me believes I moved from a landlocked state to one bordering the ocean in order to secure a prime location for a siren sighting. I mean, it’s a possibility if one believes in magic, right?

I’ve always been drawn to stories involving sirens, and they are the only mythological creatures I’ve written about more than once. Whether of the feathered or finned variety, there’s always been something wildly intriguing about bewitching, seductive creatures who can bring others to a violent end by way of beautiful music.

When I learned of Rhonda Parrish’s Sirens anthology, it was like hearing a siren’s call. I needed the collection. Immediately.

And I was absolutely charmed by the very first story in the book, “Siren Seeking” by Kelly Sandoval, in which a reformed siren named Thelia, fully integrated into modern society, has signed up for an online dating service for magical beings … and we all know how that goes …

I spoke with Kelly about “Siren Seeking,” writing comedy, and women in mythology – and I may have fallen in love with her sense of fashion, too (tiny hats!).

First of all, what attracts you to sirens?

I’m attracted to myths about women, particularly women who are also monsters. They always seem to be doomed or deadly, or both. So often, these stories feel like cautionary tales. Stories told about women and to women, but not by women. And everything’s taken for granted. Sirens lure men to their deaths. Why? They just do.

I was excited to move beyond that, to see what it all looks like from the siren’s perspective.

The protagonist in “Siren Seeking,” Thelia, is a siren in modern times who’s signed up for a month of online dating through Elsewhen, a service specifically for magical beings. I have to say, a number of Thelia’s negative experiences were all too relatable. So, I have to ask … did you pull any inspiration from real-life experiences? Either yours or those of your friends? 

To be completely honest, I’ve never used an online dating service. But, at the time I wrote this story, one of my friends was playing OkCupid roulette. While none of her experiences directly inspired the story, talking to her is definitely what started me thinking about the difficulties of online dating. I remember joking with her about creating a dating app for writers. From there, I started to think about other groups that might need an online dating app. Immortal beings, for example.

If you were a member of Elsewhen, what kind of magical creature do you think you’d most jive with, and why?

Oh, immortals seem like they’d be too much work, don’t you think? That said, I think every writer wants to date a muse, at least for a little while.

The Grashe (one of Thelia’s dates) were simply intriguing. Is that multi-deity based on any particular lore?

The Grashe are based less on a specific deity and more on a specific idea of deity. The idea that gods are in some ways a reflection of their worshippers’ expectations shows up a lot, and I started to wonder what that would feel like. What happens when you go from being foolish Aries to mighty Mars? Do you keep a little bit of each inside you? The Grashe reflect that difficulty. I imagine they’re very old, older than Thelia realizes. Probably more dangerous, too.

There’s an interesting theme that comes up in your story: whether an immortal – in this case, Thelia – can truly distance themselves from their past. Do you think that distance is possible for magical folk to achieve? How about mortals?

This is a great question, and it’s one I keep returning to in fiction. But I don’t know the answer. Certainly, they must try to change. We all try. But immortals are often archetypal in some way. They represent ideas, concepts. When you’re part concept, how do you become something new?

It’s easier for mortals, and that contrast is great story fodder. You’ve got these timeless beings who are essentially stuck. But pathetic humans, with their gnat-like lifespans, keep changing. Keep striving.

Thelia ponders something thought-provoking with her friend, Meda, toward the end of “Siren Seeking” – what will they be in 100 years. What do you think the next incarnation of the siren will be in the world you’ve created?

Thelia’s role will always be one of coaxing people, of getting them to want. I imagine she’ll get into government work eventually, selling the idea of space travel to nervous colonists. 100 years after that? Maybe a summer home on Titan, swimming with alien fish.

This story made me laugh throughout! You have a great sense of humor. Do you have any advice for authors who want to incorporate more comedy into their writing?

I wrote this story in part as a challenge to myself. I like to joke that I write “sad stories about sad people being sad.” I wanted to try my hand at something funny. I think it’s important to push your boundaries every once in a while.

The best advice I can give is to write characters with a sense of humor. Thelia finds her situation funny, so she makes jokes about it. It’s all a matter of the character’s perspective. If Thelia approached each date with starry-eyed hope, it’d be a much darker story.

Where can we find more of your work? And are you working on anything we can be on the lookout for?

My website, kellysandovalfiction.com is the best place to find more of my fiction. For another story that explores immortality and change, I suggest “The Wolf and the Tower Unwoven,” which was published in Uncanny Magazine. As a warning, it’s a bit sad.

I’m currently finishing up an interactive novel for Choice of Games. It’s about class warfare and adorable baby gryphons. No release date yet, but I imagine it will be some time next year.

AuthorPhoto_KS

About the Author 

Kelly Sandoval’s fiction has appeared in UncannyStrange Horizons, and Best American Science Fiction and Fantasy. She lives in Seattle, where the weather is always happy to make staying in and writing seem like a good idea. Her family includes a patient husband, a demanding cat, and an anarchist tortoise. You can find her online at kellysandovalfiction.com.

 

 

Sirens_SneakPeekAbout Sirens 

Sirens are beautiful, dangerous, and musical, whether they come from the sea or the sky. Greek sirens were described as part-bird, part-woman, and Roman sirens more like mermaids, but both had a voice that could captivate and destroy the strongest man. The pages of this book contain the stories of the Sirens of old, but also allow for modern re-imaginings, plucking the sirens out of their natural elements and placing them at a high school football game, or in wartime London, or even into outer space.

Featuring stories by Kelly Sandoval, Amanda Kespohl, L.S. Johnson, Pat Flewwelling, Gabriel F. Cuellar, Randall G. Arnold, Michael Leonberger, V. F. LeSann, Tamsin Showbrook, Simon Kewin, Cat McDonald, Sandra Wickham, K.T. Ivanrest, Adam L. Bealby, Eliza Chan, and Tabitha Lord, these siren songs will both exemplify and defy your expectations.