Looking ahead: 2015

I didn’t bother to do a “looking back” type post for 2014, because frankly I’d rather forget most of what happened in 2014. While there were still some publications of previously sold stories, overall it wasn’t a very productive year for me writing-wise because my personal life wound up being so stressful. After my husband’s three outpatient surgeries, two more attempts at refinancing our mortgage that failed for reasons only underwriters could understand, and finally having to face our last resort of filing for bankruptcy because of all the medical and credit card bills, there wasn’t much time, energy, or headspace left for anything creative.

There were a few bright spots early on in the year — like seeing the publication of “Huntress” in Five Fortunes, and winning the Spark contest in the spring* —  but summer and fall were particularly tough times for me, and for quite a while I didn’t want much of anything to do with writing. I didn’t want to write, I didn’t want to think about writing, and I certainly didn’t want to be around other writers. I’d had dry spells before, but nothing ever this bad or reaching so widely or deeply. I felt completely unappreciated, writing anything felt pointless, and honestly I more or less hated the entire world — a world I felt like I was viewing through a thick pane of glass while, beyond it, everyone else went about their business being happy and noticed and fulfilled.

That was pretty much the mindset I was in one morning when I checked my email… and found an invitation to be the writing guest of honor at Rainfurrest this year.

And I felt the glass break.

rainfurrest flyerTo be honest, I never thought I’d even be able to attend Rainfurrest, let alone as one of their guests of honor. Our budget doesn’t allow for many conventions of any sort, especially not ones that require cross-country flights — and I hated not being able to go because RF is considered one of the best (if not the best) furry conventions for writers.** So I’m excited, flattered, and occasionally terrified by this honor, and I’m looking forward to finally meeting plenty of people I’ve known only as screennames. Beyond anything else, I’m determined to enjoy this experience as much as I can, knowing this sort of thing may never happen again, and I’m also determined to do everything in my power as a GoH to make the con a great experience for everyone else.

As part of being the “writers’ con,” RF also likes to help authors launch their new books, so to take advantage of that opportunity, my main writing goal for the first half of the year is to finish my next novel, The Second Life of Bartholomew T. Lion, in time to debut it at the con. Bartholomew has been waiting since the summer of 2011, when the first half to two-thirds was written during a Camp NaNoWriMo session that year. Now it’s time to dig out the draft, figure out an outline for what needs to be revised and added, and get to work.

It’s shaping up to be a very busy year…

 

*That winning story is slated for publication very soon; watch this space.
**If you need a quick primer on the furry fandom, try the one I wrote for the Furry Writers’ Guild website and the links included there.

Two recent publications…

Two new story publications to highlight today, both of which feature anthropomorphic characters and have themes of discovery and exploration, though they’re pretty different in terms of character and tone.

The first is “Tesla Mae and the Lost Tribe,” written for the furry anthology PULP! Two-Pawed Tales of Adventure. A taste of the opening:

The island was not supposed to be there.

pulp coverTesla Mae squinted at her charts, checked her compass, double-checked her course, and looked once more out the front window of her airship’s gondola. Ahead, just a green smudge on the blinding blue horizon, was an island where nothing but open water should have been. She could even smell it, for Pete’s sake; her canine nose picked up the scent of trees and maybe a hint of smoke amid the endless salt.

She went back to her maps, muttering softly. She often talked to herself on these long voyages, mainly by way of the fact that there wasn’t anyone else on board to talk to. She’d tried various crewmates and navigators, but all of them had rubbed her the wrong way or spent too much time in the speakeasies or had just been plain fools, so she’d figured she was better off by herself.

Her mother had been horrified at the thought of her gallivanting all over creation alone—which, to her mind, meant “unchaperoned”—whether you were flying over open water or just going to a movie house. Unladylike, regardless of the danger. Her mother was quite proud of her purebred English foxhound heritage, though when she’d married a man with a little Irish setter in the line and a whole lot of other things besides, her only child wound up a floppy-eared, molasses-colored mutt. Not that her mother would ever use such a word. “Even a mixed-breed,” she always reminded Tess, “can be a lady.”

But her father had understood, as he always did. It was the Professor, as she called him, who’d named her after his favorite inventor, though her mother had insisted on the “Mae.” He’d simply installed the latest radio system, made her promise to write as often as she could when out of range, and helped her secure provisions before every voyage. She wished he could have come with her, but even if he’d been able to leave her mother, one didn’t walk away from one of the most prestigious universities in the country to go … well, gallivanting around.

This particular trip was her longest yet, and she’d planned it very carefully, down to the last mile, the last ounce of fuel, and the last cracker and bologna sausage. It was her first trip that involved being out of sight of land for the majority of the voyage, and out of radio contact for a good portion. And no one—man or woman, she thought with satisfaction—had made it solo before.

At least, not yet.

“Tesla Mae and the Lost Tribe” is something of a tribute to a couple of my favorite film franchises — Indiana Jones and Jurassic Park. It’s got Tess and her airship, talking raptors, a volcano — really, what else do you need in fiction? Published and sold by Rabbit Valley.

For something a bit more serious, here’s the opening of “Signal,” published in STRAEON 1: Malady Fare

straeon cover mediumIt was Jak who found the thing. That didn’t surprise anyone in the least, since he was always stuffing his den with anything unusual: a pebble glinting with mica, a particularly bright maple leaf, two acorn caps joined at the stem, a withered chrysalis. The rakuun expected such behavior in kits, who couldn’t keep their eager little paws off anything whether it was useful or edible or not, but one expected more sense from him now that he was considered an adult and had a den of his own.

The nursing sows all shook their heads whenever he showed off his newest find. He would never find a mate that way, they said. A shame, really. He was young and might father strong kits, but what female would risk her children inheriting such an odd habit?

Jak had been searching for acorns when he saw an unusual glint of light in the dirt. True to form, the acorns were instantly forgotten, and his nimble fingers scraped the packed soil and leaf litter away. He thought at first it might be a black rock, but once it was free, it wasn’t like any rock he’d ever seen.

He turned the thing in his paws, watching how the sunlight bounced off its surface. It was shinier than a beetle’s shell. He put it in his mouth and nibbled experimentally, but it didn’t taste like much of anything except for the earth it had been in. It did make an interesting sound against his teeth, though.

Then he realized the thing opened like a mussel shell, hinged on one side. He pried it open carefully, hoping for a morsel of chewy meat inside, but instead there was a segmented pad like the underside of a turtle, with strange little spots in each section. He pressed the sections and found them slightly spongy.

Was it a shell? He sniffed and pried and poked, but nothing came out. Perhaps the living thing inside had died long ago.

Jak had no idea what it was–except that it was, without a doubt, the best thing he had ever found.

The novella “Signal” is set in a posthuman Earth, vaguely inspired by the Life After People series that aired several years ago. That human artifact Jak has found leads to visions, but he begins to wonder if he’s seeing the humans’ past, or his people’s future — and more importantly, whether his mind will survive the connection.

As always, it’s especially nice to be part of the launch of a new publication. You can purchase STRAEON 1 in ebook format from Amazon.com (other countries’ links are here). And of course, if you pick up either PULP! or STRAEON, reviews at the seller’s site are always greatly appreciated!

 

Now available: “Wishing Season: Holiday Tales of Whimsy and Wonder”

WishingAs Frosty would put it, “Happy birthday!” My newest ebook Wishing Season: Holiday Tales of Whimsy and Wonder is now available at Amazon and Smashwords (coming soon to B&N, iBooks, and other online retailers via Smashwords).

Wishing Season is a collection of seven short stories with a holiday theme, including two that have never before been published — the fable “The First Winter” and the tale of “Santa’s Summer Vacation” (hint: it doesn’t go as planned). It’s about 26K words — or about 88 pages, according to whatever sorcery Amazon uses to figure that — and will run you about the same cost as your peppermint mocha.* **

“The Gingerbread Reindeer” – When Santa finds himself one reindeer short for the Christmas run, the frost-elf Boreas enchants a replacement. But there’s more than elf-magic being worked, and when an ancient foe threatens them all, the gingerbread reindeer finds he’s made of more than just flour and sugar.

“Special Delivery” – It’s Christmas Eve, and Phillip Cottington–a.k.a. the Easter Bunny–is already planning for spring. But when a letter intended for Santa gets delivered to him instead, Phillip has to make sure it gets through in time.

“Holly’s Jolly Christmas” – All the young reindeer Holly dreams of is to be part of Santa’s team, but no one will give her the chance–until a child’s letter starts her on a path that will take her places she never imagined.

“An Older World” – Jakob the toymaker lives in a world of grief, until a special toy gives him a chance at a new life.

“The First Winter” – A mother bear tells her cubs the story of how First Bear defeated Death.

“Nativity” – An orphaned girl finds an unusual place to belong.

“Santa’s Summer Vacation” – By order of Mrs. Claus, Santa and his head elf Fussbudget travel to the magical island of Serendipity to relax on the beach. But Maelstrom, evil King of the Eighth Sea, has other plans for Santa.

Buy Wishing Season at Amazon (Kindle format, of course)
Buy Wishing Season at Smashwords (all ebook formats)

 

*I don’t know why specialty coffee is the standard cost comparison, much in the way a Big Mac is the standard unit of measurement for how bad some particular food is for you. I’m just a writer; I don’t make the rules.
** (Homer Simpson voice) Mmm, peppermint mocha…

 

Cyber Monday sale – Hero’s Best Friend ebook and more!

Just a quick heads-up that herocoveras part of Seventh Star Press’ Cyber Monday sale, the ebook version of Hero’s Best Friend: An Anthology of Animal Companions is on sale for just 99 cents today. If, like me, you’ve always been more interested in hearing about the animal sidekicks than the fantasy heroes, you’ll probably enjoy this one. It includes my short story “The Emerald Mage,” about a wizard and his snowcat companion dealing with the personal and magical effects of the wizard’s aging.

You can get Hero’s Best Friend here on Amazon — again, 99 cents, today only:
http://www.amazon.com/Heros-Best-Friend-Anthology-Companions-ebook/dp/B00IAHEI1W/

Seventh Star Press is offering the same great deal on a lot of other novels and anthologies today, and they’re also giving away a Kindle HDX. You can find all the details about the giveaway and a full list of discounted titles here on their website.

 

Coming soon: “Wishing Season”

WishingI’m getting together a new short story collection for the holiday season, available soon as an ebook from Amazon and Smashwords! Wishing Season: Holiday Tales of Whimsy and Wonder will feature several previously published stories, including “The Gingerbread Reindeer” (first published in audio form in the Anthro Dreams podcast), “Nativity” (runner-up in one of Women on Writing‘s flash fiction contests), and more, as well as two brand-new stories — the fable of “The First Winter” and the tale of “Santa’s Summer Vacation.” Various real-life issues have delayed it a bit, but (fingers crossed and Christmas wishes) I’m hoping to have it all ready for release by next weekend. Watch this space!

Now on Kickstarter – Ember: A Journal of Luminous Things

Didn’t mean to be so long between posts — it’s been a busy summer and fall — and I’ll be back very soon with some updates of my own. Right now, though, I want to help spread the word about a new literary journal of stories and poetry, aimed particularly at young writers and readers ages 10-18.

ember titleIt’s called Ember, and in addition to just plain looking like a gorgeous publication with a worthy purpose, they’re also planning to reprint my story “The Frog Who Swallowed the Moon” in their spring 2015 issue (after it appears first in their sister publication Spark: A Creative Anthology).

They’ve commissioned beautiful cover art for the spring issue, inspired by my story. (I’ve already pledged to get a print of it.) :) Please have a look at their Kickstarter campaign and contribute if you can:

https://www.kickstarter.com/project…..uminous-things

 

Beatrix Potter meets Stephen King…

Those of you who’ve checked out my pages on Amazon or Goodreads know that my bio there lists a rather eclectic grouping of influences — all the way from Beatrix Potter to Stephen King. So what might a story look like if it combined some of the tones and styles and subject matter of those two authors?

Maybe something like this…

How Mother Rabbit Lost Her Name

(Warning: Most definitely not a children’s story, unless perhaps you’re the type of parent who reads the original versions of Grimm’s fairy tales to the little ones before tucking them into bed without a nightlight.)

The inspiration for “Mother Rabbit” actually came from Nickelodeon’s children’s show Peter Rabbit (which I love, by the way). In one episode, the character Lily announces to her friends that she’s moving, because her parents just don’t feel like the Lake District is a safe place for the family to live.

At that point, I cracked up. Well, no, I guess it’s not safe, considering that you have at least two neighbors who actually want to eat your children! Like, literally cook them in a big pot and eat them. Yeah, I don’t really blame Lily’s parents — I’d want to move my kid, too.

And then I started thinking about all the storybooks with predator and prey species mixed, and how there’s kind of a potentially dark undertone there. How civilized do these creatures get by putting them in waistcoats? It took a while to figure out exactly what sort of story I wanted to tell from that notion, but in the end it became this dark bit of flash.

Apologies to Beatrix. And thanks.

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.

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