In honor of the day…

It seems every country has its bizarre nonsensical traditions, but we here in America don’t get to point and laugh, not only because that’s rude, but because we take meteorological reporting from a large rodent hauled out of a hole by some guy in a top hat.

In honor of the utter weirdness of that, here’s a take on what it would be like to be the groundhog in an anthropomorphic world. (If the poem looks familiar, it’s because I posted it here before a few years ago, and it’s also appeared in the now-defunct magazine Allasso, but I figured my newer followers may have missed it, and it’s timely. So here you go.)

 

February 1: Groundhog Goes to the FoodMart

Mrs. Fox, pushing her cart
in her best Sunday dress, string of pearls
at her red throat, reminds him
of the tenderness of spring chickens,
gives him a smile, white and sharp.

The Rabbit family crowds the cereal aisle.
As he chooses a plain cylinder of oatmeal,
Mother Rabbit says hello, steers the small talk
toward the petunias she’s planning
to brighten up the burrow,
the rows of cabbages and carrots
Father’s mapping out for the field.
The kits tug on Groundhog’s overalls, eyes bright,
whispering to him, one more snow,
one more afternoon of sledding, one more fort,
one more snowbunny with mittens for ears.

Sleepy-eyed Bear shuffles in, only nods
when anyone speaks, gets in line
with a quart of milk and a canned ham.
His bleary gaze meets Groundhog’s,
and he adds a can of coffee, economy size.

Groundhog waits in line, stares at the tabloids
while the chattering squirrel cracks gum
and rings up the shoppers ahead.
He feels their eyes on him, all watching as if
he could melt the gray slush outside with a glance,
could give them warmth and new life on a whim.
Even in this harsh fluorescent light,
he will not look at his feet.

 

Guest post: “Setting Effective Writing Goals” by Renee Carter Hall

For any writers among my blog readers, here’s another guest blog post written for the Furry Writers’ Guild, appropriate for a new year…

Furry Writers' Guild

Setting Effective Writing Goals

by Renee Carter Hall

For many of us, a new year brings a feeling of a fresh start — a blank slate ready for new habits, new goals, and new accomplishments to celebrate. But after the novelty wears off and all the responsibilities, obligations, and distractions of day-to-day life rush back in, it’s easy for writing to get pushed back to the bottom of the to-do list. Here are a few tips to help you set goals that won’t set you up for disappointment.

1. Consider what you really want. That may sound obvious, but it’s easy to accept other people’s ideas of goals instead of your own. Do you want to write the first draft of a novel to challenge yourself, or because everyone else in your writing group is working on a novel instead of short stories? Consider, also, whether you want to set…

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The closing of the year

Yep, time for the usual end-of-the-year wrap-up post. This will probably be long, so fair warning…

All in all, not a bad year, if not as great as I was hoping for. Our financial picture improved after the bankruptcy was finalized in January, which was definitely not a fun process but one that removed a huge amount of stress for both of us. Our faithful 2005 Subaru Impreza brought my husband home from work one last time in May, after 381,000 miles, and was replaced with a 2015 Subaru Impreza. I had to get used to new work schedules both for him and myself that felt like they cut my free time dramatically (even though that was mostly an illusion), and for the first time carved out both a writing space and a writing time. I’ve gotten out of my usual habits through the holidays thanks to a pinched nerve that’s been hassling me since just after Thanksgiving, but I’m looking forward to getting back into a routine in 2016.

The biggest event of 2015 for me was, of course, RainFurrest, something I’d been planning for since the previous October. It’s kind of amusing to look back now through my 2015 planner and see all the lists I had going at various times, what to get, what to pack, what needed to be done before we left. It was an adventure, in all senses of the word, implying excitement, pleasure, anxiety, discomfort, and growth. Sometimes I do wish I could go back and get a do-over — prepare a little bit better for the panels, maybe, since I felt somewhat out of my element in many of them, or schedule a day before or after to see a bit of the city.

I admit that for too much of the con I felt kind of off-kilter — there were places I had to be when I would have rather been alone, and times I was alone when I would have rather been with people, and everything went by too fast and there were usually too many people around at once and I didn’t have as much time to chat one-on-one (or in small groups) as I would have liked. But I did have some good conversations and met a lot of great people and put a lot of faces to online usernames, so it wasn’t all rushing around, thankfully. The concert by Amadhia and friends at the guest of honor dinner was a highlight, and through the whole con, all the staff we encountered did a great job keeping everything together and making the experience as pleasant as possible for the GoHs and the attendees.

I feel a little sad at the thought that I apparently was a guest of honor at the last RF to be held in Seattle, now that the con has moved to Spokane, and I’m still angry both at the (relatively) few troublemakers who ruined the con’s relationship with the hotel/city and at the ways the fandom’s demographics/culture seem to have changed over the years, to the point where congoers seem more interested in partying than anything else and completely uninterested in how their behavior impacts others. (And even though I know the questions were from well-meaning people, I admit I got tired of hearing, after I got back, “So you were at RF? Was it as bad as everybody said?” Um, no, not from where I was. For me it was — as I expect it was for most of the attendees — a normal con, not a riot or an orgy or anything else people might have been imagining based on what went by on social media. Then again, keep in mind that I go to bed early by con standards, so maybe I just missed all the fun…)

On a personal level, I was looking for the experience of RF to answer some questions for me about how involved I want to be with furry going forward, and what my priorities are, and so forth, but in the end I was left with more questions than answers, and I think this next year is going to be spent sorting those things out.

I did at least learn that the dealer’s room isn’t the place for me — while I don’t mind signing books or doing readings, I don’t like handselling from behind a table, and I felt uncomfortable the whole time I was there but guilty whenever I had to be away. Still, I would never have learned that if I hadn’t tried. (Another part of what made the experience awkward was that, of the three boxes of books I shipped ahead to sell at the dealer’s table, only one showed up — the others apparently having been stolen after they were delivered — so I only had a handful of the stock I’d expected to have. But at least I sold what did show up.) At any rate, though, I’m also glad I had the table because it gave Jess E. Owen a place to sell her awesome books, and she does like handselling. :D

And I was also reminded that I hate the hassle and general degradation of flying… and yet ever since the trip I’ve felt restless and longing to go somewhere again. (Any furcons within driving distance want a writing GoH? Just asking…)

Looking back on the year from a creative perspective, I’m actually surprised that I don’t feel more disappointed. I had originally planned on a novel that didn’t get finished in time for RF (and is badly in need of a detailed outline before I start work on it again), and while that bothered me at the time, it doesn’t now. (2016 is going to be the year I avoid deadlines like the plague. I have one prior commitment with a deadline, and as far as I’m concerned, everything else is just going to take as long as it takes. Write first, sell later, and trust that doors will open when ready.)

It was definitely a reprint year for me, both ones I sent out and ones that were solicited, and I didn’t finish as many new stories as I expected, but what I did write, I was proud of. “The Lady’s Service” in A Menagerie of Heroes allowed me to finally write the “missing chapter” of By Sword and Star that I’d always wanted to go back to — the story of the rabbit Breckon’s training with the squirrel-clan of the Drays — and now that it’s complete, I feel a nice sense of closure with the world of Asteria. And even though it sometimes felt like I was writing them at a breakneck pace, I also enjoyed writing the new stories in Huntress, especially “Where the Rivers Meet.” Those mornings spent at my writing desk, writing “Rivers” in my desk journal with my Waterman Rhapsody fountain pen, with the Ultima Thule podcast playing in my headphones, are some of my favorite writing-related memories from this past year. Continue reading

Win a Wishing Season prize pack!

WishingMy holiday short story collection Wishing Season, released as an ebook last year, is now available in paperback from Amazon — and to celebrate, I’m having a giveaway. I love settling in on a winter evening with a cup of hot chocolate and a good book, so the winner will receive:

  • A signed paperback copy of Wishing Season
  • A 16 oz. holiday stoneware mug
  • Three packets of specialty hot cocoa mix

wsgiveaway1

Wishing Season features seven of my holiday-themed short stories, including “The First Winter,” which recently appeared as part of this special bear-themed episode of Podcastle. Wishing Season is also the only place to read my story “Santa’s Summer Vacation” — it was written just for this collection.

To enter:

  • You must be signed up for my mailing list (sign up here if you’re not already subscribed).
  • Send an email to reneecarterhall at gmail.com with the subject line “Wishing Season giveaway.”

The fine print: Open to US residents only. Only current mailing list subscribers are eligible to win. Giveaway ends at 8 AM Eastern on Monday, December 21. Winner will be notified by email.

Good luck!

 

Two Halloween treats…

Just in time for Halloween, my funny/sweet ghost story “The Spirit of Pinetop Inn” is now up at Podcastle, as part of a ghost-themed episode with stories from two other authors:

http://podcastle.org/2015/10/20/podcastle-386-flash-fiction-extravaganza-ghostly-interludes/

You can listen to or download the podcast there, and of course they’re also on iTunes.

I was hoping to have something new to share here for Halloween, but since RainFurrest I’ve been busy with work, life, the FWG, and trying to get Wishing Season prepped to launch a print edition before Black Friday. So instead, here’s something many of my non-furry readers probably haven’t encountered yet: my short story “Hellhound,” which first appeared in the Rabbit Valley anthology Trick or Treat.

Rating this PG for mature themes but no explicit content.

 

Hellhound

by Renee Carter Hall

 

The cage was small, but being confined was nothing new for him.

The dog in pen #4 at the Braddock County Animal Shelter couldn’t remember why or under what circumstances he’d been caged before, only that the sense of restriction, of obedient waiting, was intensely familiar. With it came the sense—the certainty—that sooner or later, someone would come for him, and things would be all right.

He ached all over. There was food and water in metal bowls, but he didn’t want it. Mostly he slept, head on paws, dreaming of things he forgot the moment he woke.

The people here were not the same kind of people he was used to seeing, that was certain. These people were pale and fat, and their faces were open and trusting. If he hadn’t been able to imagine them twisted in agony, eyes dark with pain and suspicion, ribs casting shadows on sunken bellies, he would not have thought that these were people at all.

He knew that he, too, had changed somehow. His body felt softer, weaker than it had before. Somewhere—he was certain of it—he had been muscle and sinew and fangs, not the silly, tongue-lolling creature he seemed to be now.

He didn’t understand why this change had happened. But this was not where he belonged.

“Hey, Troy,” the voice came. “See if the one in four’s eaten anything.”

A moment later, footsteps scuffed on the concrete as the man came to his cage. Calling him a man was being too generous, though. He had a man’s height but a boy’s face, especially in the eyes.

He looked weak.

“Hasn’t touched it,” Troy reported back, sounding bored. That was wrong, too. There should have been fear in his voice, or at least despair—not this casual indifference.

 My master would snap you in two, he thought suddenly, and the thought confused him even more.

 Master…

Yes, he had one, but it felt so long ago and even more distant than the scattered fragments of his dreams. Even so, longing rose in him. He wanted to claw at the bars, at the floor, at the air, bite and scrape and dig, to get out, to get back to him.

 Master, he thought dully, staring at nothing, why won’t you come?

 

*   *   *

 

“I’m looking for something big,” Laura said as the teenager led her down the shelter’s row of cages. It sounded like a stupid thing to say, like one of those people who turned pets into status symbols or accessories, as if she might also choose its color to complement her living room.

But as silly as it sounded, it was what she wanted. Right now she needed all the confidence she could get, and as cute as the little terriers and toys were, she wanted something at the end of the leash with more of a solid don’t-mess-with-me attitude.

 And maybe then, she thought, I can learn more of that myself. She was tired of seeing fear in the mirror, tired of catching that scared-rabbit look in her eyes.

Still, she reminded herself, she’d had good reason to look that way. The fear in her life had a body and a name, a name she’d carried as part of her own until the papers finally came through two weeks ago. She’d told herself she wouldn’t live in fear, not anymore, but it still hung about her, clinging. She’d always wanted a dog, but he’d never liked animals—and really, that should have been her first clue—but now, as new and terrifying and wonderful as it was, she was doing something she wanted at last.

She hated places like this. It was clean enough, but nothing could hide the musty smell of concrete wet with disinfectant, or the scent of too many dogs in one large, tunnel-like room. And although she decided it was melodramatic to think that the place smelled, as well, of hopelessness and a kind of mute despair, she couldn’t deny that it felt true.

She passed a grey-muzzled golden retriever that made her heart ache; an animal that age would probably never make it out. The next cage held a gangly puppy with a good bit of border collie in its lineage, followed by a red hound whose deep, tolling bark thrummed in her chest. She paused before that last one—it looked solid but not overly threatening—then decided to survey all the cages before she looked at any of them more closely.

She saw him in the last cage.

He had been lying with his chin on his paws, staring at nothing, and when she passed, his eyes flicked to hers. Only an instant, but enough.

Such unusual eyes…

It wasn’t their size or color—he had the same soulful brown eyes as any other dog in the shelter—but a quality she couldn’t quite define. Intelligence, but more emotional. Longing, but not melancholy. He was waiting. Maybe he was waiting for her.

“Could I see this one?” she asked.

The teenager winced. “Um… Well, you can, but that one’s been here three days and won’t eat. We were gonna take him over to the vet this afternoon. We’ve got a lab mix you might like…”

Before, she would have politely gone to look at the lab. This time, she stopped, as her therapist had taught her, and asked herself what she truly wanted to do. “I’d really like to see this one.”

He looked at the dog, then back at her, shrugged slightly, and unlocked the cage.

The dog looked like he’d been put together by someone with only a vague patchwork idea of what a dog should be. He was tall and lean and almost gangly, big but not thick. His scruffy coat was mostly black with splatters of white, and the fur stuck up in odd places. One ear pricked up; the other flopped down. His long tail was feathered, though the rest of his coat was medium length at best. He left the cage cautiously, not edging out or cringing—he wasn’t afraid of her—but as if he were checking her out, testing her presence as much as she was testing his.

He sniffed her hand and let her pet him. She scratched behind his ears, and his tail swept in a slow arc, then faster, and his mouth came open in a dog’s smile. The air relaxed between them, and Laura smiled back.

“This one.”

Continue reading

Huntress giveaways – two chances to win!

If you haven’t gotten your copy of Huntress yet, I’m doing two giveaways of signed paperbacks!

The first giveaway is being done through Goodreads, so you’ll need to be signed up for a free account there to enter:

https://www.goodreads.com/giveaway/show/157770

It’s open until Sunday, October 25.

The second giveaway will be held on Friday, October 30. All you have to do to enter that one is be subscribed to my mailing list. All subscribers as of 6 PM Eastern time Friday, October 30 will be automatically entered, and a winner will be selected at random.

If you’re not already signed up for my mailing list, you can sign up here:

http://eepurl.com/bo9GQX

(Fine print: The Goodreads giveaway is open to residents of the US and Canada. The mailing list giveaway is open to everybody. If whoever wins the mailing list giveaway doesn’t want the prize for whatever reason, I’ll choose a new winner at random. For the Goodreads giveaway, you’re not required to write a review of the book if you win, but they do strongly encourage it. For the mailing list giveaway… well, reviews are always appreciated, but again, no obligation.)

Good luck!