Read “Something Black” in the Zen of the Dead Anthology by Popcorn Press

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Today, my short story “Something Black” is published in Zen of the Dead, a Halloween-themed anthology by Popcorn Press. And I have to say, this has been the most whirlwind publishing experience I’ve had to date.

The first week in October, I left my regular 9-to-5 at dusk and noticed a single crow sitting atop our building, emitting a lonely barrage of caws into the nearby canyon. On October 20, the solitary crow had turned into a murder of crows, sitting in a neat line in the exact same spot on the roof. It was exceedingly clear they’d conspired and exponentially increased their presence.

A question leaped through my mind. What if that murder continues to grow?

The question sent my head spinning and then inspired a follow-up question. Why would crows flock to a corporate building of all places?

Because something supernatural and sinister is afoot, of course!

During my commute home October 20, I dreamed up a story about mounting frustration, feeling invisible, and a murder (of crows). When I got home, I had an hour to write before my yoga class. I pounded at my keyboard and had a good three pages done before I had to bolt in time to namaste.

Over the next 24 hours, the story begged to be written, and I couldn’t seem to type fast enough. By the following night, I had 17 pages of atmospheric, Hitchcockian horror written, edited, and sent out to first readers.

On average, it takes me at least a couple weeks, if not a month, to write a story and polish it, so the experience was nothing short of exhilarating.

The next morning, the fabulous Sara Dobie Bauer sent me links to a couple calls for submissions – both with super tight deadlines. I would need to send something within the next few days. Did I have anything to send? Strangely enough, I did.

I gave “Something Black” a final read-through, formatted it for the publication, and emailed it to Lester Smith, founder of Popcorn Press, who was seeking horror fiction and poetry for Zen of the Dead. Not four hours later, I got a reply from Lester. “Something Black” had been accepted.

And I didn’t know what to do with myself! Had I really written a story, sent it out for consideration, and been accepted within a span of 72 hours?

To make this experience even more fantastic, Sara also has a story, “Auntie’s Favorite,” in Zen of the Dead. I’ve taken to calling Sara my cross-country writing soulmate, and this simultaneous publication simply affirms our weird, uncanny, wonderful bond. As always, it’s an honor to be published alongside her.

Today, the Zen of the Dead eBook is alive on Amazon and you can order a hard copy of the book via Popcorn Press’s website! I recommend you purchase your preferred form of book, curl up with a fall-inspired ale and a black cat under a bright, foreboding moon, and read some creepy Halloween-inspired fiction and poetry.

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I Finished Something!

Photo by flickr user "Drew Coffman."

Photo by flickr user “Drew Coffman.”

My good friend and now cross-country writing soulmate, Sara Dobie Bauer, posted this little gem on Facebook earlier last week:

Scully snip

And I simply went, “Yep.”

Sara and I tend to write and publish serendipitously. It’s like when you hear about girl friends who get their periods the same week each month because they spend so much time together. Sara and I have graced the same publications without telling the other we’d sent in a submission. When one of us finishes a new piece and sends it on to the other for a little first reader love, it’s usually followed with constructive criticism and something like, “Hey, I’m almost done with this new story. I’ll send it your way soon.” And when writer’s block hits or depression takes over or life proves truly crazy and gets in the way of imagination, yeah, we’re usually in synch with that, too.

I sincerely hope that right now Sara isn’t experiencing what I have been the past few months. Although she did post the Scully meme. I wonder how in synch we are at the moment.

Ever since I published Spin: A Novelette on June 5th, my 30th birthday, my inkwell has run dry. Kind of anyway. For the past almost three months, I have been writing. But I’ve also been second guessing my every word. I’ve started a number of projects only to dismiss them less than ten pages in. Usually, when I start a new piece, I’m excited and I can’t wait to write, write, write, but lately it’s felt like a chore. And my work has seemed very blah, very uninspired.

It doesn’t help that I’ve been receiving rejection letter after rejection letter.

I’ve analyzed the situation, and perhaps I should give myself a break. I turned 30, self-published a novelette, left a job, started a new one, moved to California, and threw my back out–all since June 5th. And those are just the highlights. It’s been a lot of change, a lot of adjustment. And I’d be lying if I didn’t admit that I felt a ton of pressure after publishing Spin. I mean, the reviews were really good. I feel like I broke into an audience with that piece. How could I keep that going? I didn’t want to fall prey to the sophomore slump. I had to keep creating fiction that was on par with my latest success.

It was exhausting and disheartening to sit down with a tumbler of whiskey, a dedicated Pandora station, and great idea…and no desire to hit the keys.

And here’s the thing. When a writer can’t write, it’s hell. Writing isn’t just something we do, it’s a lifestyle. So when that lovely little thing called writer’s block comes knocking, it’s followed by a touch of good old-fashioned identity crisis. Like the meme Sara posted says, we go a little crazy.

So you’ll understand why I’m so excited to say…I FINISHED SOMETHING TODAY! I really did! It’s a new story and I followed through with it and it’s almost 6,000 words and I feel like I’m getting rid of that funk that made my greatest passion close to unbearable.

The new story is a lovely little Christmas-themed horror piece I plan to submit to a charity anthology. And I feel really good about it. Really good. The way I used to.

I’m not sure what changed, but quite frankly, I don’t really care. I feel like I fit in my skin again. I feel like I can call myself a writer again. My muse is back and I can’t wait to keep writing.

 

Photo licenseWriter’s Block II on flickr

My Story Matters

Photo by Rachel Hawkinson. All rights reserved.

Photo by Rachel Hawkinson. All rights reserved.

When my gal pal Sara Dobie Bauer, writing partner in crime and book nerd at SheKnows, asked to interview me for a piece on my dance career and body image, I didn’t hesitate. I said yes. I’ve long been an advocate for positive body image, having conquered an eating disorder in high school amidst high pressure dreams of becoming a professional dancer.

Sara sent me interview questions, I wrote her a novel, clicked send, and then…started to wonder if I’d done the right thing in sharing such a personal story.

Secrets are secrets for a reason. We don’t like to share them. We’re afraid of being judged, receiving unwanted pity, hurting relationships—it all boils down to fear. And I have to admit, I was a little nervous.

How would Sara supplement my interview? I trusted her implicitly, but I also know that writing is all about angles. What would hers be? Would people read this honest, heartfelt interview and judge me because of what I put myself through? Perhaps I should have said a little more about x…and a little less about y.

I was at a Spring training baseball game on Friday when I got the message from Sara that the piece was published on SheKnows. I clicked the link, held my breath…and realized that all of my worry had been completely irrational. My good friend lifted me up and wrote a beautiful piece about my personal journey. She captured the essence of me and my struggle in the story. She’d handled my secret with the utmost care.

The article is perfect. Go read it now!

I thanked Sara profusely and told her that if the article helped one person it would be worth it.

And then another beautiful thing happened. I received an outpouring of love and support and connection on Facebook, where I posted the article on my wall. People said they were inspired and asked to share the story. Friends said they admired me for my courage to be so open and honest about a very dark period of my life. Not a single negative comment.

body image reminder

And it served as a great reminder for me. It’s important to be vulnerable. It’s important to share our stories. Because we’re all in this thing together.

Thank you, interwebs, for the love this week. Sometimes, a girl just needs a good virtual hug to remember that her story matters.

Sara Dobie Bauer’s “Forever Dead” is a Must-Read

Forever-Dead

Yesterday, the offerings on Amazon got a little cooler, because sexy, creepy author Sara Dobie Bauer’s short story “Forever Dead” became available for purchase. And you should go buy it now. Because the story follows star-crossed lovers—one, a centuries-old vampire and advocate for his race, and the other, a human and renowned vampire hunter who likes a little pain along with his pleasure—who are as gritty, dirty, and complicated as the city of crime they live in. I mean, who doesn’t want to read about that?

I recently sat down with Sara to pick her brain regarding this project and the interview itself was just as fun as reading “Forever Dead.”

 

What inspired you to write “Forever Dead?” How did it come about?

In order to get to sleep at night, I make up stories in my head. I had this one image that kept coming back: What if a vampire attacked a human, and instead of being afraid, the human got turned on and the blood-sucking turned into an amazing shag? My lead boys, Dario and Zach, grew from this image.

My stories are always based on character. Fiction starts with an image (hot vampire sex, in this case), and characters develop around the image. I wanted to investigate what happens when a vamp falls in love with a human. At its basest, what happens when you fall in love with someone you know is going to die long before you do?

Let’s face it. There’s a lot of vampire lit out there and some would argue it’s an oversaturated market. Why should readers be excited about “Forever Dead?”

Well, let’s face it: I write for myself. I write stories that either exorcise my personal demons (of which there are many) or stories that turn me on. Vampires turn me on. Hot men turn me on. Mix the two, and “Forever Dead” is a story that turns me on. It’ll turn you on, too.

Oh, and a lot of vamp fiction is sappy. My leads, Dario and Zach, are anything but. These are two bad-asses who just happen to be star-crossed and in love with each other. Imagine Interview with a Vampire … on cocaine with guns and big knives.

What’s your favorite line from the story?

“Then, he closed his eyes and came. It was like watching the sunrise over the apocalypse. Doomed.”

If you could describe each of your main characters in one word, what would that word be?

How about two?

Dario: accidentally romantic

Zach: purposefully cold

This isn’t the first time you’ve written guy-on-guy action. “Don’t Ball the Boss” was published by Stoneslide Corrective in 2014 and received the most clicks on the site for the year. Quite the feat! Why do you like to write sexy man romps, and why do you think people like to read them?

There’s that joke about why men like watching women make out. It’s like a math equation. One hot girl is good. Two hot girls is better. Two hot girls TOGETHER is best. I feel the same about two hot men.

On a more serious note, I think men are fascinating (obviously, as I married one). Men like to seem so strong, so tough, especially men like Zach: a big dude who fights and never, ever cuddles. What happens when a tough guy falls in love? What happens when a tough guy is vulnerable?

In regards to why people like to read guy-on-guy? It does go back to the hotness factor mentioned above, but for me, love and sex isn’t about penis or vagina. Love is about the person, especially in the case of “Don’t Ball the Boss” and “Forever Dead.” Two people meet, form a connection, and despite social mores, fall in lust/love. Our society is so damn hell bent on labels of straight, asexual, QLGBT … we’re just people, people.

A story is good if the characters are developed and relatable. No matter the gender or sexuality, as long as the reader can relate to what the characters are going through, they’re going to enjoy the story. And hey, if the sex scenes are scalding, that doesn’t hurt either.

Who did your cover art? And how was that collaboration?

Turner G. Davis. I saw his work and was like, “I will build a temple in your honor if you’ll design my cover.” Turner read “Forever Dead,” we discussed what I considered the most important scene in the story, and he ran with it.

When Turner emailed me the final image, I was blown away by how well he understood Dario and Zach and their desperate situation. He used so many details (for instance, Dario identifying with the moon and Zach with the sun).

On the cover, they reach for each other but don’t quite touch, keeping that tough-guy distance Zach so embraces. I couldn’t have found a more perfect artist—someone who understood the story … and really, understood me.

Where can we read more of your work?

All my publishing credits are on my blog at http://saradobie.wordpress.com. I completed a satirical vampire rom-com novel this past summer called Bite Somebody: A Bloodsucker’s Diary. The first two chapters are available for reading on Wattpad, and I’m currently shopping for an agent. I’m also a constant presence at SheKnows.com, where I write about everything from books to bisexuality to my “boyfriend” Benedict Cumberbatch. (Don’t even get me started on that British masterpiece.) Also, follow me on Twitter!

 

Getting (V)amped!

Photo by flick user "virginsuicide photography."

Photo by flick user “virginsuicide photography.”

For me, vampires and October are synonymous. Of all the monsters out there, great and creepy, vile and horrible, vamps have always been my favorite. I mean, what’s not to love? Vampires―my favorite breed anyway―are sexy yet ruthless, timeless yet new, scary yet alluring, and can be mistaken for humans. Walking (or flying) contradictions are pretty dang creepy, because you don’t entirely know how to feel about them from one moment to the next. And I think vampires are the monsters that most resemble humans, which is terrifying on an entirely different psychological plane.

I’m happy to report that I’ve kicked off October the right way―with everything vampire.

For one, I just finished a novel called Bite Somebody: A Bloodsucker’s Diary by my good friend, Sara Dobie Bauer, who is brilliant and also just as obsessed with vampires as I am. For a taste of the book, read the query letter for Bite Somebody. Unfortunately, that’s all you can read for now, because Sara’s shopping it to agents for publication. But I will tell you that when it gets picked up and published (because I very much believe it SHOULD and WILL happen), get your copy. Because vampires in Florida and parodies of Twilight and performance anxiety and 80s movies and cute stoner boys and blood bags and love. Yeah, all of that and so much more. Sara created a fun, new vampire world―and it was a great introduction to October for me.

Vampire

Of course, I didn’t stop there. Last Thursday night, I took my boyfriend to see A Vampire Tale, Scorpius Dance Company’s dark and comical tour de force depicting a vampire clan motivated by tradition, bloodlust, and a human-vampire love triangle. Choreographer and vampire lover Lisa Starry conceptualized and staged this show long before the Twilight explosion―and she’s stayed true to her depictions of vampires despite all the pop culture fluff that’s saturated the market. Her vamps are intense and sexy and physical―and they fly thanks to lots of training in aerial arts. Swoon.

A Vampire Tale is an annual treat and many consider it the Nutcracker of the Halloween season. It’s a pretty sound comparison. It’s the same story every year—a beautiful and innocent girl is invited to “have dinner” with the queen of a vampire clan, but the invitation gets a little complicated when the vampire king falls for the human—but the same story always delights. It just keeps getting better.

I also went to see Dracula Untold last night, which I highly recommend if you like old school vampire lore a la Vlad the Impaler. I will admit, I hadn’t seen too much about this movie before going to see it. I didn’t need to. The movie posters were motivation enough―and the casting of Luke Evans? Uh yeah. Superb call, because he has that dark, brooding thing down that’s so essential for a man—or monster―fighting his demons.

Despite poor reviews, I really enjoyed it.

Warning: Light spoilers are about to happen. If you want to see Dracula Untold without my words in your head, stop reading NOW.

Okay, with that out of the way…

What I loved the most about this particular depiction of the Dracula/Vlad the Impaler mythos is that it portrays Dracula as human first and monster second. Vlad turning into Dracula is not an accident—it’s a choice. And the motivation for him to turn to the dark side warms your heart. He’s a complete character with emotions and drive―and you relate to him on an interesting level. But he’s a monster, so that’s weird, right? (Remember that contradictory stuff I was talking about earlier—yeah, empathizing and relating to a monster is part of that.)

To the end, I did a little talk for Ignite Phoenix a few years ago called “A New Breed of Human” about the transformation of the vampire in popular media from Nosferatu to Edward Cullen and my theory about why they’re becoming more and more human, more and more relatable—Dracula Untold being a perfect example. Watch the video for a full breakdown, but here’s the short of it.

Vamps have it all―sex appeal, immortality, power. And we keep pulling our monsters closer and closer to us; they resemble us more and more. Maybe that’s because, deep down, we all just want to be bitten.

 

Photo licensing – virginsuicide photography on flickr

Dropping the Mic

Photo by flickr user "evanforester."

Photo by flickr user “evanforester.”

According to the National Institute of Mental Health, 74% of people suffer from speech anxiety. Anecdotally, I know people who’d rather undergo electric shock therapy than speak to a room full of strangers. Sometimes, I’m one of them.

And yet, there I was at Glendale Community College last night, gearing up for my first public poetry reading in years.

I was there thanks to Sara Dobie Bauer, my wickedly talented friend who snagged a spot as one of their featured speakers. Actually, snag is the wrong verb. Earn is better, because she’s utterly brilliant.

Before Sara, there was an open mic, so, duh,  I should take the opportunity to put my work out there, right?

I almost didn’t read. We were late, having been waylaid by a bus that broke down in the left turn lane off the 17 and onto Dunlap. I figured it was a good excuse. “We were late. People were already reading. I didn’t want to be rude by signing up while someone was pouring their heart out. I’ll read next time.”

And I’ll admit I was a little intimidated, too. It was an eclectic crowd, and a pretty talented one, too. Would my work pale in comparison to theirs? Would I go home feeling worse for having read my poetry? Insecurity is a needy bitch.

But not reading would’ve made me a coward―and my pride can’t have that. Thank God I’m an artist with ego.

In between poets, I snuck up to the host and asked if it was too late to sign up. Of course it wasn’t and I scratched my name onto the list.

With each poem shared, the knot tightened in my stomach. I could feel adrenaline in my extremities. I visualized myself walking up to the mic over and over in my head. I may have tripped in one of my fantasized scenarios.

Then my name was called. My friends cheered for me. I didn’t trip. I made a joke about wearing shoes that were too tall for the pre-set microphone, but it’s all good, because I’m loud.

And then the words came out. And it felt incredible. I found my spirit and my cadence. I felt connection with the room. I was reminded of my voice and how powerful it can be.

Here’s the piece that I read. It’s dedicated to all my ladies out there who, at times, feel like utter disasters―because there’s beauty in the mess.

 

Beautiful Disaster

By Tiffany Michelle Brown

Ever touched a beautiful disaster?

She is retractable and gives

In just the right places,

Ebbs and flows and reaches

And stops.

She carries the imprints of within

And without and radiates

The change of day after day,

Year after year.

Her time is now.

Her palms are heat and honeyed noise,

Soft to the touch,

But weathered and capable

And moving, moving, moving

To the next space, the next place

Where she can leave her exceptional mark.

She rushes over you,

Skims the surface,

Dives below and makes you dream.

She always has capacity

And will never be satisfied unless

She can hold you with both hands.

Ever talked to a beautiful disaster?

She is bubbling and tipsy

And perched for conversation,

The words spilling over,

A cherry red exhaust.

She begs for history, for the moments

That make you scream, for demure ruckus

And the stories, their stories

Those stories beneath your skin.

She is quiet when her brain is humming,

Gracious when you look at her just so,

A lascivious mosquito

If you can handle it.

She’ll tell you her secrets

On swing sets and subways

And between bamboo sheets,

All sweetness and subtlety and

Devoid of indifference.

She is saying this to you.

Ever loved a beautiful disaster?

It’s a trip, a turn, and a tumble

Into an unknown surety,

A warm jasmine comfort

Carefully pressed between your shoulders.

She’ll connect the dots

And echo what’s been good

Throughout the canyons

Until she can no longer

Breathe you in.

She is unpredictable and hoping

And restless and longing

And pulls down the arching sunset

To cool her reconstructed paper mache heart.

She’ll give it to you,

Beating and pulsing and alive

Because for her,

Love is about leaping into arms

And recreating what has already been given

Again and again and again…

Ever witnessed a beautiful disaster?

The beauty is in the breakdown.

She is the breakdown.

She is pliable, resilient, worn, and welcome,

A scar that holds her world together

With a stitch of a smile and sweet potato fries.

Her tragedy holds to the bottom of her feet

But the rest of her body flies free

So that she stays simultaneously grounded

By injuries of the heart, body, and mind,

But hopeful and lifted,

Face to the stars and back to no one.

She is the reason we keep going.

She is home, she is heart, And she is wanting for nothing but

Another day,

Another disaster,

Another chance for beauty.

 

After the open mic and before the featured speakers, the group collectively took a break. Bathrooms were down the hall and bags of Doritos were on the counter. Partake, poets, partake.

A woman with gray hair and tons of energy came up to me and told me that my poem was evocative and that she felt like a beautiful disaster. I grinned and got excited. I told her that the poem was for her, for anyone who’s ever felt that way. She said she’s turning 64 next week and that some sort of public speaking is on her bucket list. She’s never considered poetry before, but now she’s inspired to try.

I just kept telling her over and over, “Do it! It’s awesome. You have to!” Yep, the girl who almost backed out of the reading in the first place instantaneously became its biggest advocate. And here’s why.

I’m a big believer in doing the things that scare you in this life. Face the monsters under the bed. Leap into someone’s arms. Expose your soul  to strangers at open mic nights.

Because sometimes your fear turns into inspiration, connection, and strength for others―and that’s pretty fucking cool.

 

Photo licensing infoMicrophoneevanforester on flickr

Read “Life Without Harry” Today – FOR FREE!

Cover by Katie Purcell.

Cover by Katie Purcell.

Fledgling writers stick together. We read and critique each other’s work. We bitch to each other about how hard it is to get published. We send each other writing prompts. We inspire each other.

And when one of us publishes something, we celebrate and make sure as many people as possible have access to said work!!!

So, today it’s my pleasure to inform you that my dear, dear friend Sara Dobie Bauer’s first novel, Life Without Harry, is now available to you all – FOR FREE!

No e-reader, no problem. The book is available in ePUB, MOBI, and PDF formats.

And let me tell you, it’s worth a download, especially if you’re a fan of Harry Potter, quirky romance, magical realism…and beautiful writing. Seriously, this girl inspires me. I want to read every word she ever writes. And to be brutally honest, I don’t support things unless I believe in them and I think they are quality work. So, you know, it’s really, really good.

Go over to her blog and request a copy. I promise you won’t regret it.