My Fears Take Flight in “He Smelled Like Smoke”

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Whenever I’m asked why I write horror stories, my answer is simple: it’s therapy. Cathartic, terrifying, fiscally free therapy.

Though many are quick to say that putting something in writing gives it power, I feel the opposite in respect to horror. When I write a story chock full of the things I fear, I feel a little better afterward. I sleep deep. The gnawing in my chest lessens. There’s something about writing about monsters that releases them from the fine cracks in your brain and heart.

Writing “He Smelled Like Smoke,” published today in Ink Stains, Volume 5, from Dark Alley Press, was a triple-bonus therapy prize. This particular story contains not one, not two, but three of my greatest fears, which play out in taut, gruesome detail in less than 4,500 words.

One of those fears is flying on airplanes. I’ll admit, it’s a completely irrational fear and one that didn’t manifest until adulthood. It had nothing to do with 9/11. It has everything to do with being confined with strangers in a big, metal tube that’s hurtling through the air at ungodly heights at ungodly speeds, and sure, I know where the exits are should something go wrong, but…

Don’t even get me started with turbulence or in-flight storms.

“He Smelled Like Smoke” takes place at 35,000 feet. Naturally.

And wouldn’t you know it, I got on an airplane about a month after I’d typed the final sentence of the story and…I was calm and cool and didn’t have a single episode of vice-gripping a stranger’s arm during the flight.

Perhaps my calm was due to the fact that I knew, come what may, my fate would pale in comparison to that of Alexa, my protagonist in “He Smelled Like Smoke.” Because her fate? Worse than all the turbulence in the world.

I’ll give you a little taste here, but you’ll have get a copy of Ink Stains to find out what happens to Alexa – and to try to figure out those other pesky fears that no longer keep me up at night since I’ve exorcised them in print.

Sit back, relax, and enjoy your fright…I mean, flight…

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He Smelled Like Smoke (Excerpt)

By Tiffany Michelle Brown

Keeping his eyes on mine, Jared reached up and hit the flight attendant call button. When his gaze became overbearing, I stared down at my black skirt and wished I’d shaved my legs that morning.

A tired-looking woman in uniform with a chignon barely holding to the back of her head came over. She put one hand on the headrest in front of Jared and the other on her hip. “Can I help you, sir?”

“I was hoping to get a pre-flight shot for my friend, Alexa, here,” Jared said. “Flying doesn’t agree with her.”

“It’s against federal regulation to serve beverages before takeoff, sir,” the flight attendant recited. “We’ll come through the cabin to take orders later.”

She took a step away, but Jared caught her hand in his. The flight attendance did a quick about face, a frown creasing her tan skin. “Sir…” she began, but she didn’t finish her sentence. The crinkle between her brows melted. She breathed in deeply through her nose as if she were standing in the cold, crisp air of a forest instead of a cramped cabin that smelled like sweaty, disgruntled, tired people. Her eyes bored into Jared’s and she started to look…aroused?

“Whiskey, neat,” Jared said.

“Of course.” The flight attendant’s voice held the quality of warm maple syrup. She turned and strode off in her orthopedic shoes, apparently to get us some liquor.

Jared settled back into his seat, coolly and slowly, smiling.

“Thank you?”

“Why the question mark?”

“I’m not sure what just happened,” I said.

“I asked for something. And I got it.”

I didn’t know what to say to that. I took an in-flight magazine out of the seat back pocket in front of me and flipped aimlessly through the pages.

The flight attendant returned a moment later with plastic cups, each filled with a thimbleful of whiskey. Jared’s long fingers wrapped around the plastic. “Thank you…Debbie,” he said, glancing at her name tag. Debbie walked off without a word.

Jared held out one of the cups to me. I could smell the smokiness of the whiskey. I imagined oak barrels and the forest and a hand up my skirt. I mentally swat myself in the face. Stop thinking about sex.

Jared and I tipped back our glasses and the first sip burned my throat and then coiled in my stomach. It expanded, coated my insides, and I felt my shoulders relax.

“Much better,” Jared remarked.

“Yes,” I said. “Thank you.”

“You’re welcome.”

Jared took a pack of matches out of the breast pocket of his suit and let the pack flip and amble over his knuckles until our pilot announced it was time for takeoff. For some reason, I felt safe.

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To find out what happens after takeoff – and to read my favorite closing line I’ve ever written – pick up your copy of Ink Stains HERE.

 

 

 

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.

Get Caught Up in Bad Moonlight in Lupine Lunes, A Werewolf Anthology

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When Popcorn Press announced their annual Halloween anthology would be werewolf themed, I knew I needed to write something. Little did I know how fun it would be to write about a hunt masquerading as a mating ritual…

Bad Moonlight

By Tiffany Michelle Brown

As Raymond watched icy moonlight gleam off Vanessa’s bare shoulders, he wondered if he was making a mistake. Buying her drinks. Following her here. Getting caught up. And so damn soon. That was the worst part. The part that felt shameful. Raymond rubbed the back of his neck, stifling a guilty grimace as Vanessa flicked through her keyring.

He wouldn’t have done this a year ago, even though he’d been single and hot-blooded and popular with the ladies. Scratch that, he wouldn’t have done this ever. So why was he doing it now? Cool air nipped at Raymond’s shoulders through his cable-knit sweater just as realization nipped like an overzealous gnat at his consciousness.

He knew why he was doing this. Breaking it off with Tonia three weeks prior had left a crater inside his heart, and he was trying to fill it with anything that batted an eyelash and offered to fill him up. On one hand, his actions felt pathetic. On the other, they felt like survival.

Vanessa turned the key in the lock, peered over her shoulder, and gave Raymond a smile. Her coffee brown eyes crinkled in the corners and her teeth gleamed, white as stars. “Sorry.” She reached out and placed a hand on his bicep, her acrylic nails tickling his skin through the fabric of his sweater. “New place. I don’t remember which key is which yet.” She brushed a black curl off her forehead and gazed up at him. “You comin’ inside?”

The hopeful raise of her eyebrows did Raymond in. He couldn’t, in good conscience, abandon this woman now, despite the reluctance that tugged at his chest. His mama had raised him better. He wasn’t the kind of man who’d cold shoulder a woman on her doorstep.

He made a decision. He’d follow her into the house, make casual conversation, ensure she was okay for the night, and leave before things got complicated. He wouldn’t be swayed—even if she did smell of gardenias and honey. No. He had his moral code, and he’d be damned if a pretty face and the curve of a hip made him lose himself. Or his memories of Tonia.

Raymond offered a curt nod of acceptance. Vanessa’s lips stretched into a grin, and she pushed the door open. Her heels clicked on the hardwood floor as she sauntered inside, leaning into her hips as she moved. Raymond followed, stuffing his hands in his pockets, keeping his eyes glued to Vanessa’s curly hair, telling himself repeatedly not to let them drift south.

The room smelled of fresh paint. Boxes were stacked in the corners, and the only furniture in the room consisted of a blue suede couch and a lamp that stood vigil in the corner. Vanessa crossed the room and flicked on the bulb, basking the space in warm yellow light. She leaned against a freshly primed wall. The blue sequins adorning her dress glittered, and her eyes sparkled with new intensity. She curled her finger at Raymond. “Come here.”

Raymond closed the front door and secured the latch. He leaned back against the wood. “Maybe it’s best if I stay over here for right now.”

Disappointment skittered across Vanessa’s face, and her breath caught in her chest. She paused a moment and then exhaled, shaking her head. “You’re a gentleman all of a sudden, huh?” She smiled at him and bit her lip. “Pity.”

Raymond shrugged his shoulders, feigning nonchalance while his gut grew heavy with guilt. He shouldn’t be here, shouldn’t be leading her on. But bolting would be a dick move.

Conversation. It was time for conversation. “How long ago did you move in?”

Vanessa raised an eyebrow. “We’re playing twenty questions now?”

“We didn’t really get to know each other at the bar.” Which was true. He’d learned she was new in town, had a taste for vodka martinis with a twist, and could tear up a dance floor to 90s RnB—especially Boyz II Men—but not much else.

Vanessa threw up her hands. “Okay, okay…We’ll talk first…” She smoothed her dress and held up her fingers. “I’ve been here for two weeks.”

“You move out here for a job?”

“No.” Vanessa crossed her arms over her chest. “Family. I have a sister who lives here.” Vanessa’s features fell, and her eyes darted to the floor. “She isn’t doing well. She got in a nasty accident recently, a hit and run.”

Raymond frowned. “I’m sorry to hear that.” He considered moving closer, perhaps offering her a shoulder, but…proximity could be dangerous. Compromising. Intoxicating. He needed to keep his distance.

“I’m her big sister. I’m used to taking care of her.” Vanessa’s lips twitched into a sad smile. “Family is important to me.” She glanced out the bay window into the darkened front yard and then her eyes found Raymond’s. “You want a beer?”

“Sure.”

Vanessa stepped out of her heels, one at a time, keeping her eyes fixed on Raymond’s, knowing her movements were a performance of sorts. Then, she floated across the living room and slipped into the kitchen. Raymond heard the steady hum of an open refrigerator. “What about you, Ray? What brought you here?”

Raymond flinched. “No one calls me that.”

Glass bottles clinked and the refrigerator door squeaked closed. “What do you have against the name Ray? There are great men named Ray. Ray Charles. Ray Rice. Ray Bradbury. Ray J.”

“Don’t be comparing me to Ray J.” He heard Vanessa’s husky chuckle, then metal bottle caps popping and tumbling to the countertop in the dark. “I just like the name my mama gave me. The full name.”

Vanessa reappeared before him, stepping into the light. She took a swig of her beer, licked her lips, and extended a bottle to Raymond. “Are you a mama’s boy then?”

Raymond’s lips quirked as he took the beer. “Nah. I just agree with you. Family’s important.”

“Well, cheers to that.” Vanessa brought her bottle to Raymond’s and the glass clinked loudly in the near empty room. She sidled closer to him, her ample chest brushing against the top of his stomach and sending shivers through him. Raymond urged himself to be still.

Vanessa sighed and pressed her forehead to his chest in defeat. “Okay, okay,” she said, moving away from him. She fell into the couch cushions and tucked her long brown legs beneath her. “You never answered my question.”

Raymond frowned.

“What brought you here?”

“Born and raised.” Raymond took a sip. The beer was dark, heavy, with a hint of…something vaguely chalky. He couldn’t quite place the taste. He held up the bottle, inspecting the label. Malt. That had to be it.

“A local?”

“Yep. Have you been by the mechanic shop down on Waverly?”

Vanessa inclined her head. “I’ve driven past it.”

“My family owns it.”

“How very…quaint.”

Raymond chuckled. He was used to ribbing from outsiders. “It’s nice, all the family-run joints here. The community. Everyone’s got your back. You’ll see how it is, when you’ve been here for a bit.” He took a long draw from his bottle.

As he swallowed, Raymond felt the familiar sensation of alcohol spiking his blood. His chest warmed, his heart pounded, and he made a mental note to slow down. He’d thrown back at least three gin and tonics at The Dell, more than he’d had to drink in a good while.

But then a lick of pain shot through his skull, quick and fierce as an electrical current, rendering him woozy and off balance. What in the hell?

***

To read the rest, pick up your copy of Lupine Lunes from Popcorn Press!

Rapunzel Gets a Happily-Never-After Ending in “Now You See Me”

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My mother, fair-skinned and wraithlike, crying openly into my father’s wounds is my most vivid and treasured childhood memory. As my twin brother and I watched, she cradled his head in her lap and sobbed as he stared, unblinking, past the fine curve of her cheek and into a churning grey sky. He writhed in response to her gentle touch, seemingly in confusion and pain. My father’s skin was a labyrinth of scratches and grooves, his injuries the result of stumbling blindly through miles and miles of unforgiving forest terrain. His blood blossomed like poppies on my mother’s blue dress, flowers that surged and flourished at a startling pace. Tears accumulated across the sharp relief of my mother’s chin and dripped down onto my father like rain.

I was heartbroken that this was how I was to meet my father after eight years of hearing stories about him. He was supposed to be gallant and handsome, not ruined and swooning and gasping for breath.

“He’s going to die,” I whispered into the stormy air.

But then my father’s random, floundering movements ceased. He became still, oh so still. The only action which indicated he was still alive was a wild fluttering of his eyelids. After a moment, he reached up and caressed my mother’s cheek with an assuredness and intention not possible for someone who’d been newly blinded. His gaze locked with my mother’s, and he smiled.

He struggled to speak, but at first, all that poured forth were meaningless gurgles. And then, “I can see you. I can see you. I can see you…”

My mother cried anew, but from her eyes poured happy tears, salt bred of love and renewal. Her fresh round of weeping became a magical anointment. My father’s wounds closed up like riverbeds reduced to dry ravines by scorching sun. My mother’s hair, shorn and ruddy, grew and grew until it circled them twice. Her tresses shone like gold, even in the dim light of the oncoming storm. My father’s blood disappeared, evaporated into the mist—or perhaps it found its way back into his body as color returned to his cheeks.

As my parents gazed at each other, it was as if they were seeing each other for the very first time. I saw their shared happiness weave an unbreakable thread between them. I knew they’d be together forever. Their love would make it.

And most importantly, as I watched my mother and father rediscover each other, I began to understand that true love requires equal parts sacrifice and baptism.

***

Read the rest of “Now You See Me” in the After Lines anthology by Erebus Press, a collection of dark happily-never-after tales.

Have a blog and want to review the anthology? Contact stebuosi@gmail.com.

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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.

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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.

Becoming a Member of the (Liars’) League

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On December 2, 2015, Sicily Rockmore read my short story “We Share Everything” to a live audience at KGB Bar in New York City as part of Liars’ League NYC’s Magic & Moonlight event—and I’ve never wanted a personal teleportation device more. At 3:59 PM in San Diego (6:59 PM in New York), I imagined walking into KGB Bar, sitting down with a glass of whisky, and feeling the warmth of a literary community wash over me. I wasn’t there and yet, my inclusion in a Liars’ League NYC program is one of the accomplishments of which I’m most proud as an author.

So, what is this Liars’ League thing? Liars’ League NYC is a live literary journal/event featuring professionally trained actors reading original short stories by emerging and well-established writers. Each month boasts a new theme. Selected stories are published on the Liars’ League NYC website, and an audio recording of the reading is available as well.

Imagining others quietly reading my work is thrilling enough. To have it performed in front of a live audience? Are you kidding me?

“We Share Everything” is a story about fraternal twins who share an uncanny psychic and physical connection, a bond that is seemingly unbreakable—but even the most revered and celebrated relationships have their points of fragility. “We Share Everything” explores the thin line between love and hate, and the potential disaster that can be borne from being just a little too…close.

You can read the story and listen to the live recording on Liars’ League NYC’s website. While you’re there, check out the other pieces from the Magic & Moonlight event. My story was in magnificent company! (And to that end, all the archived works are wonderful pieces of fiction by truly talented artists.)

As for me, I’m going to celebrate tonight with a glass of Yamazaki and the knowledge that I’m now a member of the League.

Buy a Book, Impact a Life

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As the holidays near, it’s easy to get caught up in buying presents, visiting friends and family, and building the best snowman anyone has ever seen (out of snow if the climate permits and marshmallows if it doesn’t). It’s easy to forget that there are others out there who can’t get caught up in holiday cheer, because of, well, hard doses of life.

Today, my short story “Devour” is published in an anthology titled Christmas Lites V.

I know what you’re thinking. Another plug for your work, Tiffany? But what about all the feels in that intro paragraph? You sound all kinds of entitled right now.

While this blog post is a way for me to share the news of the publication of “Devour,” it’s also a call to action. Because every cent of the proceeds of Christmas Lites V goes to the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence (NCADV).

According to their website, “NCADV is the voice of victims and survivors. We are the catalyst for changing society to have zero tolerance for domestic violence. We do this by effecting public policy, increasing understanding of the impact of domestic violence, and providing programs and education that drive change.”

The NCADV works with the American Academy of Facial Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery to financially assist survivors of domestic violence who may not be able to afford reconstructive plastic surgery. They memorialize the victims of abuse through their Remember My Name project. They provide tool kits, in conjunction with The Feminist Women’s Health Center and the National Organization for Men Against Sexism, to help bridge the gap between the fields of reproductive health and domestic violence, educating others about reproductive coercion. They provide financial independence materials to survivors to help them rebuild and maintain financial stability. In short, they do really important work.

So Christmas Lites V is more than a book. It’s a way to support an incredibly worthwhile organization. While you read “A Tale of Two Urchins” by A.F. Stewart, “The Krampus Tree” by Douglas Wynne, or “Keeping Christmas” by Alana Lorens, know that you’re not only enjoying great fiction (donated by each and every author) but also helping to support NCADV’s important programs.

And I’m pretty sure there’s something for everyone in this anthology. All genres are represented – romance, fantasy, horror, action, children’s stories, stories written by children, and more.

Of course, I wrote a horror story. I tried to write something light and lovely for the holidays, but it simply didn’t work. Instead, I wrote about love that’s begun to fade, dark, foreboding woods, and the dangers of skepticism. Here’s a little excerpt from “Devour”:

“Through the Plexiglas of the phone booth, Melody Halliday peered into the dark of the wood – into its empty boughs and dead promises, beyond its gnarled, labyrinthine birch wood limbs, deep into the very heart of it – and felt nothing but utter skepticism. And pity, too. Pity that the provincial town of Einn in Iceland found debilitating fear in something so banal.

‘I’m surprised they haven’t burned the woods to the ground,’ Melody said into the receiver. ‘They say the mannaeta’s spirit lives in the bark of the trees, hibernating all year until Christmas Eve rolls around. Then, it take half-human, half-wood demon form for one night to feed on someone in Einn. Happy cannibal Christmas.’

‘How very jolly,’ Eddie Beckett, Melody’s boyfriend, said from across the Atlantic Ocean. His voice sounded honeyed. He’d been drinking. Pub drafts, no doubt, frothy ones laden with hops. Melody salivated at the thought of a crisp pint. There was no beer in Einn, not around this time of year.

‘It gets better. They systematically starve themselves here,’ Melody said. ‘Begins the first day of December. They eat as little as possible. They don’t want to entice the mannaeta with their wobbly bits.’

“Well, yours certainly entice me,’ Eddie said, humor in his voice.

Melody choked on an empty chuckle and cleared her throat, embarrassment and frustration warming her cheeks. Why was she so bloody uncomfortable? Her boyfriend of three years flirting openly with her should have sent her over the moon. Throttling through space with joy. But it didn’t. Instead, his frisky jest made her stomach twitch with nervousness.”

And you’ll have to purchase a copy of Christmas Lites V to see what happens to Melody, Eddie, the sleepy little town of Einn, and its resident wood-demon, the mannaeta.

If you want a hard copy, CLICK HERE!

If you want a Kindle copy, CLICK HERE!

Purchasing this book to support NCADV is the best Christmas/holiday gift anyone could give me. Thank you in advance for your generosity and support.

Happiest of holidays to you all!

Read “Give It Back: A Horror Short” on Your Kindle or Nook

Book cover designed by the amazing Bryan Mok.

Book cover designed by the amazing Bryan Mok.

About a month ago, I was updating my publishing credits on this very blog when I decided to check the hyperlinks on the page and make sure they were functioning properly. In my experience, links like to break every once in a while. For absolutely no reason. At the most inopportune times. I wanted to be proactive.

I made my way down the list, verifying the links, but when I got to my story “Give It Back,” which was published in Blank Fiction Literary Magazine last year, I got one of those “this page doesn’t exist anymore” type notifications.

Hmm.

I did some research and found that archived articles and search results came up in a Google search—but nothing active. Sadly, Blank Fiction was defunct.

Which was upsetting for two reasons:

One, Blank Fiction boasted a really cool concept. They published quarterly, and each edition reflected different genre: Literary, Horror, Noir…I loved the variety. (Also, their Horror edition featured all female authors – what what!)

Two, since Blank Fiction was strictly an online publication, my story went poof. It no longer existed. It got sucked into the internet ether, never to be seen again. And “Give It Back” is one of my favorite stories I’ve ever written.

So, what’s a girl to do when a literary journal goes under, along with her creepy story about a girl who steals jewelry off corpses? Self-publish it the week of Halloween of course!

Today, “Give It Back: A Horror Short” has returned to the interwebs, and I couldn’t be happier. It boasts dead bodies, pathological liars, pints of beer, moments of human understanding, scenes that should be in horror films, and a ghost that I hope none of my readers ever meet in real life.

And that fabulous, Hitchcock-esque, vintage horror-styled book cover? Designed by the one and only Bryan Mok, who also created my cover for Spin: A Novelette. He gets me, and he gets my aesthetic. I couldn’t put this out in the world without giving him a huge shout out: THANK YOU, MY LOVE!

I hope “Give It Back: A Horror Short” is the creepy good time that ushers you into a truly marvelous Halloween weekend. Go scare yourselves silly, kids!

Download your eBook copy today from Amazon (Kindle).

NOOK owners, your link will be coming soon! I’ve run into technical difficulties this morning. I have an email in to NOOK Press to troubleshoot the issue and will update this blog post as soon as possible once the story is live on Barnes & Noble!

UPDATE (10/29): “Give It Back: A Horror Short” is now available via Barnes and Noble. Download it for your NOOK today!

Read “French Kiss” In Romance Magazine

RomanceMagazineVol03No08

Today, my short story “French Kiss” is published in Romance Magazine. It’s a semi-autobiographical piece because it represents the one regret that I have about my experience studying abroad in Paris, France, between my freshman and sophomore year of college.

My summer in Paris was everything I dreamed it would be. I stayed with a lovely French family who were truly kind, drank the most sinful chocolat chaud of my life—twice, danced my way through La Fete de la Musique, spent my 19th birthday in Chartres at the most beautiful cathedral I’ve ever seen, shopped for Parisian couture, and took in exceptional architecture and art, all the while earning the foreign language credits I needed to pursue my degree.

But the thing about this adventure that made it truly unique and created so many memories is that this was before smart phones and international cell phones were the norm. I had no phone. Access to the internet? Nope. My French host family had a dial-up AOL connection that I felt guilty using, because they rarely used it themselves. There were internet cafes, but frankly, those creeped me out a bit. There was one TV in the house, and I think me and my friend, Kristen, who I was lucky enough to be paired with for the trip, watched it all of two times. Essentially, our trip was “unplugged.”

So, I wrote letters on rose-colored stationary and prayed they’d make it to Phoenix, Arizona, before I flew back. I read voraciously for entertainment. I finished ten books during the trip. And I invested in calling cards and became an expert at figuring out time differences between Arizona, Paris, and Thailand.

Why Thailand? Well, my first college boyfriend was vacationing there with his family, and I couldn’t imagine seven weeks without speaking to him. A few nights a week, I would walk down la rue from my host family’s flat and wait on a bench until a certain time. Then, I’d cross the street to a pay phone and make my calls.

A few weeks into my trip, an Italian boy (I say “boy,” but he was probably only a year or two younger than me) started sitting next to me. His uncle owned a pizza parlor not far from our flat that was too die for. And he unabashedly flirted with me all the time. It was flattering, but…my thoughts were in Thailand.

Fast forward to when I’m back in the States and I go to visit my boyfriend before the school year starts. He brings me roses at the airport…and then dumps me 24 hours later. And then he took me to meet his mother. I was a really rough week. Sigh…young love…

As I look back on our fledgling relationship, I realize we were all wrong for each other. The warning signs were there. Even still, I don’t regret the calling cards and the time I spent in a phone booth in Paris. I don’t regret the love letters I wrote to him. I don’t regret all the crazy feelings of first-time romance.

So, what’s my biggest regret?

I clearly should have kissed the Italian boy.

In “French Kiss,” armed with hindsight, I explore what would’ve happened if I’d thrown caution to the wind and allowed myself a little Parisian romance.

Download your copy today and let the love in. Gros bisous!

Read “Take Care” in Shooter Literary Magazine

Shooter magazine cover

Today, I can say that I am an internationally published author! Across the pond in the UK, Shooter Literary Magazine is celebrating the printing of their first issue while I celebrate the fact that my short story “Take Care” is included in the volume. Another cool milestone–this is my first printed publication. That means a bound book with a fancy cover and my name in print. I can’t wait to smell its hot-off-the-press pages!

A little about “Take Care.” This is one of those stories where art most definitely imitated life. When we first started hanging out, my boyfriend and I went to a Garbage concert. Naturally, I took the opportunity to channel my inner (and outer) Shirley Manson for the occasion since my then crush had shared he’d always had a thing for Shirley. So I was all red hair, heavy eyeliner, and punk clothing. I got us a couple of beers to drink during the opening act, and after a few sips, my crush got really sick. When all was said and done, we determined he’d been drugged–and it had probably been meant for me (fucked up, right?).

Luckily, we caught it early enough and after chugging two liters of water, my crush was feeling okay enough to go back into the concert. We wound up having a great night and when enough time had passed and we made our relationship official, we started joking about the experience, because clearly I’d drugged him to get his attention, right? (Because that tactic makes so much sense and this girl who’s never so much as smoked a cigarette would be all about drugging someone–I hope you all sense the sarcasm there.)

Another night, over drinks with my friend, Sara, I told her the account of the Garbage concert. And through the hazy cloud of IPA drunkenness, I mused about turning that whole debacle into a short story. I would write it in first person from the point of view of a truly single white female character who goes to desperate measures to get the attention of the object of her affection. The next day, my fingers couldn’t type fast enough. “Take Care” was born.

And now you can read it in Shooter’s first edition, aptly named Pulling the Trigger, a collection of stories about crucial moments and decisions. Alongside my story, you can read a personal account of a WWII officer’s critical order to fire, a comic take on martial relations as retirement looms, maternal perfectionism, devious pharmaceutical plots, a gangster with a fast food addiction, and a schoolboy with an embarrassing nun fetish.

Visit Shooter’s site, click Subscriptions, and order your copy today!