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.)

Video: The Bear and the Hare

First, if you’re one of those people who can’t stand having to watch/hear/see Christmas stuff before Thanksgiving… I apologize. :) But I think this UK retailer’s holiday commercial is worth enjoying early. And often.

Sometimes the best storytelling comes in the most simple packages…

(And if you want to get the interactive book for your iPad, or the song on iTunes, or stuffed animals of the characters, or all sorts of other things, check out the Bear & the Hare page on the John Lewis website.)

NaNoWriMo (And Why I’m Quitting)

nano2013I signed up for NaNoWriMo this year with the idea of writing a first draft of a middle-grade fantasy novel. I liked the idea of ending the year with one last big project finished — or in this case, the first step of another big project.

Thirteen days and about 20K in to the 50K finish line, I’m letting it go. This is the first time I’ve bailed on NaNoWriMo (or at least the November version — I’ve ditched the summer-month camp version in the past), but I know it’s the right choice. For one thing, I didn’t start with enough of an outline to make the drafting as fast as it would need to be, and while I’ve certainly got the time to crank out 50K of whatever comes into my head this month, that’s not really how I’d like to spend those hours. Mostly, though, I knew this was the right choice because when I thought about dropping it, instead of feeling depressed or guilty the way I expected to, I felt relief, and an odd sense of freedom.

To put it simply, I’m quitting because it just isn’t fun this time. And that’s really the whole point of NaNo, to be fun. Yeah, it’s sometimes “fun” in the sense that a real marathon is “fun” — meaning, a whole lot harder and more grueling than it looks — but the spirit of NaNo is meant to be one of play, not a millstone around one’s neck, which is what it became for me when I looked at the calendar, realized it was November 1, and felt dread instead of the usual excitement.

Mind you, I still absolutely love the concept of NaNoWriMo. I hate seeing it get bashed every November by the Serious Writers who feel compelled to remind us how much more seriously they take their writing, and that no Truly Great Literature can possibly come out of writing so quickly and putting the emphasis on quantity over quality. (And then there are the writers who look down their noses and point out that they write 2000 or 3000 words a day, every day, no matter what, even when they’re knocked unconscious or abducted by aliens, so the rest of us are all just playing at being Real Writers by doing it for one month and thinking that we’re accomplishing anything.)

What gets lost in both those attitudes is one very important thing:

Process is personal.

How you get the words on the page, and how quickly or slowly, and using which tools, and how much outlining beforehand, is all individual. NaNoWriMo is just another method, and it works for some people and not for others. It worked very well for me in 2005 when I used it to write the first draft of By Sword and Star. I still remember how much fun it was — and back then, I was actually writing it by hand, in a composition book in the break room before work and on my lunch break, and then typing up that day’s pages when I got home. It was awesome to win then, and I had the added bonus of having wound up with a good solid draft to work with later. I won again in 2006, and then in 2009, and then with the camp version in 2011.

The funny thing is, when I kept thinking of quitting this week, I wasn’t really worried about being disappointed in myself or feeling bad about not ‘winning.’ At the heart of it, I was worried about how it would look to everybody else, in the various places I posted online about participating.

But again… process is personal. NaNo worked for me before. It isn’t now. Maybe it will again later, and I’ll be able to recapture that spirit of eagerly piling up words. Or maybe it won’t, and I’ll find what works for me from here on out.

No matter what, though, I don’t have to prove, to myself or anyone else, that I’m capable of writing 50K in a month. I’ve done it four times already. And I’ve proved as well, this past August, that I can write 40K of polished, publishable fiction in a month, too, when I’m up against an external deadline — which was hard, but also a really incredible, exhilarating experience, looking back on it — and that was all on my own, without a pre-set month and a community backing it up.

So all that was left was to ask myself, is NaNo working for me now, for this book, this year? And it isn’t. I’m not thinking about the novel in off moments through the day, the way I did other times. All I’ve been doing is dreading having to hit the word count for the day, and forcing myself to write, to do freewrites, to do anything that involves typing words, and then still falling behind, and feeling more discouraged because of it, and feeling no joy in any of it, even when the words are okay. I know the feeling of creative pressure, and I know when I’m close to creative burnout, and the former isn’t what I’ve been feeling in the last 13 days.

So, I’ll still keep writing this month, but I’m officially releasing myself from any thoughts of 50K and any more daily word count check-ins and obligations. It’s been a good year writing-wise overall, and in the coming days and weeks I’ll have new stories in two great publications to round off 2013. There’s a feeling now of the year winding down, of taking stock — still writing, sure, but not at a feverish pace. Learning to honor my process, and not apologizing for it — even to myself – because it doesn’t meet someone else’s standards.

To those 298,926 writers taking part in NaNo for the rest of the month, good luck and my best wishes. I’ve just learned that this year, for me, the only way to truly win was not to play.

 

Flash fiction: “Cat’s Light”

teacupIn honor of Halloween, here’s a bit of flash fiction for those who like their treats dark…

 

Cat’s Light

by Renee Carter Hall

 

Come in, come in, you’re half frozen! Those storms are no joke, and they keep getting worse. Only good thing’s the snow; plenty of water to boil. Glad I’ve so much wood stocked up. My husband did that when he was still alive. Filled both of the back bedrooms. Move that chair a little closer, get good and warm. Just nudge Sebastian with your foot if he’s in your way; he’ll move. The cats do love a good fire.

Care for a cup of tea? Got plenty of sugar. Used to put milk in it, when there was still milk. My goodness–fresh milk, running water, electric lights. The new good old days. Back when we used to measure snow in inches instead of feet.

Got some cookies if you want. They’re just a little stale. Been saving them for company.

I’d ask how it is out there, but I don’t think I want to know. You shouldn’t be traveling alone. So many desperate people out there. I don’t go out anymore. Don’t let the cats out either; they’d never come back. No, it takes a certain kind of person to survive in a world like this. Hard, you know. Dangerous. I know what they’ve always said, but those aren’t the meek out there, I’ll tell you that.

Oh, but it’s good to have someone to talk to. The cats just aren’t the same. Sometimes I talk to the pictures, you know, on the bookshelf there, but after a while you start to feel silly, or crazy, and I don’t care for either. That one there’s my husband, of course. A doctor, and a good one. Just retired when all this started, and sure enough he got dragged back in. Worked himself to death for those poor people, for all the good it did.

Here’s another cup for you. Don’t scrimp on the sugar, now; there’s plenty. I’ll get the lamp lit. It gets dark so fast anymore… You know they used to call this the cat’s light, just coming on dark like this. Used to let Sebastian and the others out every night about this time, let ‘em prowl all over till dawn. I guess you could say that’s what we’re in now. The cat’s light of the world. Everything winding down, getting dark.

Oh, no, no, I understand. You need your rest. I hope you’ll stay on a few days, get your strength up. Got plenty of canned stuff you’re welcome to. I’ll just go get the bed turned down. You lie back there and rest. Don’t try to stay awake on my account. We can talk more in the morning.

Yes, Sebastian, all right, I’ll feed you! Nice bit of luck, isn’t it, with the last one almost gone? Maybe some handy things in that knapsack, too.

Yes, yes… Takes a certain kind of person to survive in a world like this.

 

 

A birthday toast for a master

dwinecover
Dandelion wine. The words were summer on the tongue. The wine was summer caught and stoppered.

-Dandelion Wine, Ray Bradbury

 

I’m not certain when I first read Dandelion Wine, though it was probably about a decade or so ago, during the years when I had a fantastic used-book store to browse through and worked my way through a lot of Ray Bradbury’s books. Ever since, I’ve wondered idly what dandelion wine really tasted like, and while I was able to find dandelion jelly, of all things, I never ran across dandelion wine.

At last, this summer at a craft fair, we happened to stop by the booth of Kirkwood Winery, and there it was (along with elderberry, strawberry, pear — basically every fruit you could think of to make wine from, and a few vegetables thrown in too).

So tonight, in honor of what would have been Ray Bradbury’s 93rd birthday, we open the bottle of dandelion wine, and I drink to summers in a time I never knew, and all the worlds that never were, and the man who brought them all to us.

Hold summer in your hand, pour summer in a glass, a tiny glass of course, the smallest tingling sip for children; change the season in your veins by raising glass to lip and tilting summer in.

I notice the Kirkwood Winery description says “ask your grandparents how this one tastes!” Some might be able to, and if so, you’re lucky. If not?

Ask Ray Bradbury. Because just as you can bottle a bit of summer to keep against the snows, you can keep a whole time, a whole world, a whole universe in a single story, safely preserved in words, all still sweet and tingling and true.

Bradbury often told the story of an encounter he had at age 12 with a magician called Mr. Electrico – who, during the course of his act, touched Bradbury on the head with an electrified sword and told him, “Live forever!” Whoever that Mr. Electrico was, he knew his stuff; it was both a command and a prediction.

Happy birthday, Mr. Bradbury. May you truly live forever.