Hero’s Best Friend: Roundtable Interview

I love doing interviews, even if it’s just a pre-written set of questions. And as part of the blog tour for the Hero’s Best Friend anthology, there’s now an author roundtable interview posted in 4 parts at the editor’s blog. (There are a lot of authors in this anthology.)

You can find all my answers — including the all-important Benji vs. Cujo one — here:

http://smsand.wordpress.com/2014/06/23/heros-best-friend-roundtable-interview-part-2/

herocover

Long live the king…

This was originally posted to my now-defunct LiveJournal five years ago (back when that was the place to be). The prompt was to write about your favorite Michael Jackson song, and today, on this fifth anniversary of his death, I thought it was worth reposting.

 

Somewhere in the early 80s…

My sister is babysitting me. This is really cool, because my sister is a teenager and in high school (or maybe even college, then), and that means I get to watch MTV. MTV plays all kinds of music videos, and my sister likes the Madonna and Cyndi Lauper stuff, but I’m sitting on the bed and waiting, hoping they’re going to play the only video I want to see.

Yeah. This one.

One of the first videos we rent for our brand-new VCR is the documentary about the making of it.

Another year or two passes, and I’m having a birthday party at the skating rink. (So cool that we have the same birthday.) It’s great, because all my friends are there, and I get tons of jelly bracelets and My Little Pony stuff, and we’ve all been roller skating for so long that it’s going to feel really, really weird to be walking in regular shoes again. And then they turn the lights down, and the disco lights are swirling in the darkness, and they play it. “Thriller” — my favorite song, off my favorite album, the one I have on LP along with my Care Bear records and Disney stuff. I race back out there. I have to be out there for this one.

That is the song, essentially, oddly, wonderfully, that encompasses my childhood. I love so many others of his, from that album and those that followed it, but that is the one that takes me back.

Again, this is why we mourn celebrities. Some of it is for the work we loved, a body of work that becomes now static and unchanging. And some of it is for how our lives entwined with that work. We mourn our own past, and we treasure the things that have the mysterious power to return us there, even just for 14 minutes.

 

Fanfic: “All the Time in the World”

This week, I added my 500th book to my Goodreads “to-read” shelf. Which doesn’t count the several hundred books on my Kindle I haven’t read, or the stacks of physical books waiting on my real shelves, or even the handwritten to-read lists that wind up in my journal…

…all of which made me think of the Twilight Zone episode “Time Enough At Last,” my favorite, in which a mild-mannered bookworm finally has time to read… because he’s apparently the last one left alive on Earth.

So, to celebrate my nuclear-holocaust-worthy reading list, here’s a bit of fanfic I wrote a few years back, when I’d watched the episode yet again, could no longer bear to leave Henry Bemis standing helplessly amid those stacks of books, and so decided to imagine a more hopeful future for him. (And yeah, it’s kind of sentimental, so if you’re allergic to that sort of thing, you’ve been warned…)


“All the Time in the World”

by Renee Carter Hall

inspired by the Twilight Zone episode “Time Enough at Last”

(teleplay by Rod Serling, based on a short story by Lynn Venable)

 

 

The problem, now, wasn’t what he couldn’t see.  It was what he thought he saw, the wavering forms that washed around him as he made his way through what was left of the world.  Every morning, the sun rose on a nightmare version of an Impressionist painting, a palette of grays and browns with occasional splashes of sparks arcing from power lines that had not, yet, gone dead.

The first three days, afterward, he spent searching for the gun.  Or for another one–it didn’t matter.  Anything that could fire a bullet would do.  In those first anguished hours, if despair could have killed him, if one could truly die of a broken heart, that would have been his fate.  But that merciful endless slumber passed him by, left him breathing and somehow sane — too sane, he reflected — and so he began the search, picking up anything that seemed to be the right size and shape, feeling for a barrel, feeling for a trigger, then dropping the piece of wood or twisted metal and moving on.

He resented his body for feeling hungry.  Every day he vowed not to eat, to die in the only way easily available to him.  And every evening the descending sun saw him sitting amid the wreckage of humanity, dutifully cranking open another can.  Now that he could no longer read the labels, it became a demented kind of game to see if he could guess the can’s contents by the label’s color, or perhaps by a fuzzy image he could make out.  He became best at guessing tomatoes, but different varieties of beans proved almost impossible to distinguish.

The fourth day, after he gave up on the gun, he threw the can opener as far as he could and heard it land, somewhere ahead of him, with a rattling clank.

The fifth day, weeping, he searched for the can opener until he found it.

Continue reading

It’s a major award!

Or at least it feels like it, even though there are no aesthetically questionable lighting fixtures involved…

Near the end of March, I had hit something of a creative low. I’d finally completed a new story for an anthology’s deadline, was pretty happy with how it turned out, felt confident about it getting in — and, of course, it didn’t. As much as I’ve learned to bounce back from rejection (at least after a day or so), it’s always a letdown to feel like your work is perfect for something, and have such good feelings about it, and then find out you were completely wrong. I knew I had to send it back out again (always the best balm for any rejection letter), but because of a lot of other things going on at the time, I felt too tired and disheartened to figure out where.

And then I ran across a link on Twitter to a writing contest.

Whose theme just happened to suit the story perfectly.

With only two days left to submit.

So I shrugged, and sent the story in, and waited, and hoped, while at the same time trying desperately not to get my hopes up (because it’s been that kind of year), all the time thinking, “wouldn’t it be funny if…”

And now I can say that my story “The Frog Who Swallowed the Moon” won the fiction grand prize in the latest Spark contest:

http://sparkanthology.org/contests/five/

It’s my first writing contest win — for fiction, anyway, not counting things like essay contests in high school, so it’s pretty exciting.

This sort of thing has happened before — story gets rejected only to wind up getting published someplace that’s somehow better in the end — but not quite this dramatically, so in addition to being a nice ego and confidence boost, it’s also a nice boost to the kind of faith you have to have to keep writing and revising and sending stuff out time after time.

Although I have to admit, I always feel weird about writing these sorts of announcements. There’s such a fine line, to me, between announcing one’s accomplishments and sounding like you’re bragging about them. I’m taken back to that feeling of elementary school, sitting at my desk with a completed test, waiting for somebody else to finish and hand theirs in before I get up, so everyone won’t know I’m the first one to finish. And on the flip side, I know what it’s like to feel that everybody else’s success always happens during your own driest spells, and to write congratulatory comments with your teeth gritted.

In the end, though, I come back to this, a passage that’s been quoted so much it should feel like a threadbare cliché, but one that still rings true to me:

We ask ourselves, who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small doesn’t serve the world. There’s nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It’s not just in some of us; it’s in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same.

-Marianne Williamson, A Return to Love

And besides, I got a particularly snarky rejection letter a couple days later. So the universe is still in balance. :)

 

Poem: “The Unicorn at the Zoo”

The Unicorn at the Zoo

 

They put it among trees and rose bushes,

ringed a dry moat with an iron fence.

They’re still not sure if it’s

male or female; the ultrasound

goes to static and freezes every time.

They tried to test its blood,

but the silver serum in the tube

swirled and shimmered into nothing.

They held a contest to name it anyway,

and a third-grader won with Moonflower.

Tourists gather at its enclosure with

strollers and cameras,

whinny at it like a horse,

hold their children up to see.

In their snapshots, it is only

a vague white blur, a bit

of pearly horn here, a hint

of cloven hoof there.

The gift shop has no postcards of it,

but the plush horned ponies sell out every week.

The keepers aren’t sure what it eats.

Some say the flowers, but they’re untouched.

Some say water, some say air.

Some say love, but they’re laughed at

by people who feel guilty for it afterward.

The keepers hold somber meetings

with scholars and art historians.

Every day they worry it seems a bit thinner,

its coat a touch paler, more translucent.

The words on the sign at its enclosure

are starting to fade.

Sometimes the zoo director stands

before it in his three-piece suit,

slow tears tracing the lines of his face.

Some say he’s only thinking about

the money he might lose.

Others aren’t so sure.

 

 

          -Renee Carter Hall

 

Now available: Hero’s Best Friend

herocoverWe snowcats may be born for swirling blizzards and icy cliffs, but for myself, I’ll take a cozy cottage hearth any day. A bellyful of roast rabbit, a fire of crimson embers, the old rug covered with layer on layer of my gray-and-white fur — that’s comfort.

I was stretched out on that rug, dreaming of yellow butterflies, when the explosion woke me.”

–from “The Emerald Mage”

Sometimes an anthology comes along that just seems made for you — not just what you like to write, but what you love to read, the kind of book you’re just as excited about reading as you are about seeing your work included.

This is definitely one of those anthologies.

From Seventh Star Press and editor Scott M. Sandridge, I give you Hero’s Best Friend: An Anthology of Animal Companions. Publisher’s synopsis:

How far would Gandalf have gotten without Shadowfax? Where would the Vault Dweller be without Dogmeat? And could the Beastmaster have been the Beastmaster without his fuzzy allies? Animal companions are more than just sidekicks. Animals can be heroes, too!

Found within are twenty stories of heroic action that focuses on the furries and scalies who have long been the unsung heroes pulling their foolish human buddies out of the fire, and often at great sacrifice—from authors both established and new, including Frank Creed, S. H. Roddey, and Steven S. Long.

Whether you’re a fan of Epic Fantasy, Sword & Sorcery, Science Fiction, or just animal stories in general, this is the anthology for you!

So sit back, kick your feet up, and find out what it truly means to be the Hero’s Best Friend.

My story “The Emerald Mage” is told by the snowcat Jiro, longtime companion and friend of the Emerald Mage, as the two of them realize it’s time to face the aging mage’s mental — and magical — decline. I’ve realized I really enjoy writing about vulnerable characters (children or adults) with powerful animals as companions/protectors, and this story gave me a wonderful excuse to explore those possibilities. (And to throw some humor in there along the way, too, which I still feel I don’t get to write often enough.)

You can order a paperback copy from Amazon or B&N, or snag an ebook version for your Kindle, Nook, or Kobo.

A bit of shameless Valentine’s Day self-promotion

Since I have some newer followers who might have missed some of my earlier published stuff, I thought this would be a good time to highlight some of my more romance-focused stories. If you’re looking for a Valentine’s Day read, here are a few you might want to check out:

Moon, June, Raccoon

Karen’s sick of watching all her friends find true love. Out of sheer desperation, she decides to try casting a love spell — and winds up getting the attention of a neighborhood raccoon instead. But this furry matchmaker just won’t mind his own business. (All ages.)

Drawn From Memory

Lauren’s been a fan of Terrence Tiger since she was a little girl, and the chance to interview the cartoon star is any fan’s dream. But there’s more to Terrence than sight gags and pratfalls, and soon there’s more to their relationship than either of them expected. (Recommended for teen and adult readers.)

The Bear with the Quantum Heart

Since they first met that Christmas morning, Bear has wanted nothing more than to be by Kayla’s side, but when innocence turns to experience, is it just an artificial intelligence’s programming — or love? (Recommended for older teens and adults.)

“Moon” and “Drawn” also are included in my free short story collection Six Impossible Things, so if you want them in a more ereader-friendly format, you can snag the Kindle version at Amazon and all formats from Smashwords. And if you’re wanting one of those poignant, funny, kinda-happy-kinda-sad-ending stories, you might like “The Spirit of Pinetop Inn,” from Andromeda Spaceways #58, which tells the story of a young couple who decide to help their struggling bed and breakfast by hiring a ghost to haunt the place.

I’ll be back very soon with some other announcements — I’ve fallen behind this month thanks to paperwork for an attempt at a mortgage refinance, husband’s ER visit for kidney stones, husband’s outpatient surgery for same, husband’s overnight hospital stay after what was supposed to be outpatient surgery, and preparing for what we both hope will be his last outpatient surgery next week, not to mention the day job and various other necessary irritations. Lately I’ve been reminded of what Mary Schmich said in her “wear sunscreen” piece that went viral (though misattributed) years ago: “The real troubles in your life are apt to be things that never crossed your worried mind, the kind that blindside you at 4 pm on some idle Tuesday.” There have been a lot of those idle Tuesday troubles lately, and I’ve been caught in that lousy, exhausting, guilt-ridden spiral of very much wanting to write while at the same time being too stressed to spare any headspace for anything other than what’s required for work, household finances, my husband, and/or basic personal hygiene and self-care. I know I put too much of my self-worth and feelings of progress into my writing achievements, but I’m still hoping things will get back to normal (or at least closer to normal) soon, so I won’t have to watch more deadlines fly past. (That’s the plan, anyway…)

 

“Huntress” in Five Fortunes

fivefortunesmed

The first time she’d seen them, she had been very young, but she hadn’t been afraid. The other cubs, male and female alike, had hidden behind their mothers, frightened by the huntresses’ fierce eyes and sharp weapons. Where the villagers wore beads or stones, the karanja sported necklaces of bone and hoof and claw, and their loincloths were made of zebra hide in deference to Kamara’s first kill, a material only they were permitted to wear. They were all mesmerizing, exotic and dangerous and beautiful, their eyeshine flashing like lightning-strikes as they took their places around the fire.

-from “Huntress”

The furry anthology Five Fortunes, containing five new novellas from five authors, is now available for pre-order from the publisher!

My contribution, “Huntress,” follows the young anthro lioness Leya as she struggles to become one of her tribe’s warrior women and yet begins to question if it’s truly what she wants. It’s part coming of age, part romance, very much a character-based story, and it’s also kind of my personal rebuttal to the furry fiction that often includes female characters tangentially or not at all. Writing “Huntress” was an emotional experience and a learning experience, both in terms of craft (for one thing, understanding at a gut level the difference between a short story scene and a novel scene) and in terms of challenging myself to complete something on a tight schedule but still to the highest degree of quality I was capable of. I consider it a great success, and while I know I can’t control how it will be received, I hope it finds some sympathetic readers.

The other works included are “Chosen People” by Phil Geusz, set in his Book of Lapism world; “Going Concerns” by Watts Martin, set in his Ranea world; “When a Cat Loves a Dog” by Mary E. Lowd, set in her Otters in Space world; and “Piece of Mind” by Bernard Doove, set in his Chakat Universe. (Yeah, mine is the only one that isn’t written in a storyverse I’d previously created. But you never know — I might return to Leya’s homeland someday for another story or two.)

Pre-order Five Fortunes at FurPlanet.

Video: “Let it Snow” (the Star Trek: TNG version)

To say that I was deeply into Star Trek: The Next Generation during the last two years of high school would be an incredible understatement. As soon as I was introduced to it by a friend (who helpfully explained all the characters and the important parts of their backstories so I wouldn’t be lost), I threw myself into it, and everything that went with it — books, merchandise, Starfleet uniform… yeah. Everything.

Thankfully, I had friends then who were into it, too, since I grew up in a fairly isolated area, didn’t have the Internet then, and wasn’t able to go to cons outside of a small local one (which has since moved and is still going). We were a creative group, running around with camcorders, writing scripts and stories and fanfics, immersing ourselves in science fiction and fantasy and anything else that caught our attention – imagining our way out of a small town where finally getting a Taco Bell and a Blockbuster was a major event.

I often wonder what it would have been like for us if we’d had access to the Internet of today, to YouTube, to relatively inexpensive technology for filming and editing and making fan videos and such.

I like to think we might have made something like this. :)

Take it away, Captain Picard…

(Video by James Covenant.)

 

Fictionvale Episode 1!

fictionvale-ep-1There’s always something kind of special about having the chance to be in a publication’s first issue, and this one’s no exception. Fictionvale, a new short story magazine, debuts today, and I’m proud to say it includes my story “The Claw in Her Heart.”

“Claw” is something of a dark take on the ‘portal fantasy’ genre (Narnia, etc.). But in this particular fantasy world, a brother and sister find out that those talking animals might not be telling them everything – and all their magical adventures might hide a darker purpose.

Fictionvale is a digital magazine, with each episode (or issue, in less imaginative terms) published as an ebook. You can get the Kindle version direct from Amazon, or you can buy epub, Kindle, and PDF versions direct from the Fictionvale site (using PayPal). This first episode is a genre free-for-all, but future ones will narrow things down to one or two. Episode 2 will be devoted to science fiction and Westerns (and mashups thereof), and Episode 3 will be alternate history.

(Want to know more about Fictionvale and those behind it? Check out “Who Are We?” And to find out more about the people behind those names on the cover, Meet the Episode 1 Authors! Because we’re awesome.)