New book available: SIGNAL (plus playlist!)

Some of you who’ve been following me for a few years might remember my novella “Signal” when it was published in the magazine STRAEON. That’s out of print now, as far as I can tell—but “Signal” is now available as a standalone book from Goal Publications, as part of their “Pocket Shots” line of small paperbacks.

Click on the cover to go to the order page:

Signal cover

Jak’s curiosity has always set him apart from the other young rakuun, but for the most part his clan has accepted his odd ways—until he finds a mysterious object that just might be a relic of the ones Before.

His discovery sparks an adventure that will lead him far from his home and into the dangerous lands beyond. As dreams and visions of the days Before compel him onward, Jak struggles to find meaning in the sights and sounds flooding his mind. Has his curiosity led him to his people’s destiny, or simply to the destruction of everything he loves?

The book will be released on December 1, but for the next few days it’s still available for the special preorder price. I’m really excited to have this out in book format (how cool is that cover?), and I can’t wait to see what my readers think of it.

(For those of you who prefer digital copies, it’ll also be released as an ebook on December 1 and should show up here when it’s available.)

I’ve also had way too much fun creating a Spotify playlist for Signal. (If you’re not already on Spotify, you’ll need to sign up for a free account to listen to it.) Most of my stories wind up with some kind of soundtrack during the writing process, whether it’s a full playlist or just a single “theme song,” and I love that I can use Spotify to share that with readers… so yeah, likely there’ll be more playlists forthcoming for future (and maybe even past) projects.

 

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Sneak Peek: The Second Life of Bartholomew T. Lion

In celebration of #WorldLionDay, here’s a first look at my novel-in-progress, The Second Life of Bartholomew T. Lion.  On an island-based afterlife for toys, the plush lion Bartholomew struggles with the grief of his former life and tries to find a way back to the human world to be loved again — which means taking on the fashion-doll dictator who wants to isolate the island forever.

Standard disclaimer: Work in progress, so the text isn’t in final form and will probably be revised before publication. (The chapters might not be this short, for one thing…)

To get updates on Bartholomew and my other projects, sign up for my mailing list here.

 

Chapter 1

 

White.

A white beach with no sea. But if there was no sea, what was the endless roar in his head?

Voices now, far away and then closer:

“…haul today, huh?”

“…smell like fuzzer all day…”

Laughter. Bartholomew knew laughter, though this was harsher than he was used to. Jamie had laughed so much, before…

Before what? But the thought, the name, everything was gone into the white, the mist, the blankness.

He was being lifted, being carried. It wasn’t gentle, but that was all right. He was soft. Nothing would break.

Nothing…

 

***

 

Then, at last, he didn’t know how long after, he was being spoken to.

“It’s all right. You mustn’t be afraid. You will be taken care of. There’s a place for you here.”

The words, he guessed, were meant to be soothing, but the voice was brisk, as if it did nothing but recite the same phrases all day.

Gradually Bartholomew’s senses returned, each one interlocking like a puzzle being put together. Once the last piece was in place, he looked around at the picture.

He was sitting in a large white room, on a kind of table. The voice belonged to a prim-looking doll, a lady with chestnut hair in a bun, wearing a long dress with a high collar. Everything about her looked starched, even her powdery porcelain skin. A fine crack edged along her cheek.

Jamie didn’t have any dolls. His sister did, but they were soft with dimpled faces — nothing like this lady. What was this place? Where was Jamie?

“It will come back to you,” the lady said. And then, as if her words had been a magic key, it did. There was no Jamie, not anymore. There never would be again.

If he had been able to cry, he would have. Jamie had cried that night in the hospital, snuggled in close, hot tears soaking into Bartholomew’s plush fur. But stuffed lions didn’t have tears inside them like boys did, so all he could do now was sit very quietly, eyes down, yarn whiskers drooping, while great dark chasms opened up inside him, each one deeper and colder than the last.

Eventually the lady’s voice came back to him. He wondered if she’d been speaking the whole time.

“We have a place for you to go. You can still be useful.”

Useful? What was that? Had he been useful before? He wanted to ask, Will I be loved? But he thought he already knew that answer. Never like that, no, never again. He shivered in that certainty.

The lady pursed her lips and watched him a moment. “You do understand, don’t you?”

His own voice sounded hollow. “I think so. Where am I, then?”

“The Island of the Forgotten,” she said crisply. “In the capital city of Mitziville.”

“But I wasn’t forgotten.”

“All the same. When we don’t exist to a child anymore–for whatever reason–we come here. And we begin our new lives. As you will.”

As the lady finished speaking, Bartholomew realized there were others in the room, farther down almost out of sight, stuffed animals and dolls, action figures, plastic animals. All around was a low murmur of voices, probably having the same conversation Bartholomew was having now.

A shriek cut through the room. The lady winced and put an elegant hand to her temple. “So high-strung. Terrible on the nerves. But a few days in the fields will calm her down.”

She gave Bartholomew a too-bright smile. “Now, come with me, and I’ll get you settled in.” She offered him a hand, and he placed his paw in it and followed.

 

 

Chapter 2

 

“My hair! My beautiful hair…”

Razzleberry stared into the compact mirror, horrified but unable to look away. Her lovely raspberry-pink mane with its streak of purple–someone had cut it, and not very well. The chopped ends stuck almost straight up.

She gave a hopeful look to the fairy doll holding the mirror. “It’ll grow back, won’t it?”

The doll shook her head and closed the mirror slowly.

“Listen,” Razzleberry said, “if you could just tell me the way back to Rainbow Valley–I know they’re wondering where I am by now. I was supposed to meet Starsweeper and Daisydew at Friendship Falls for a picnic today. We were going to have apple tarts and lemonade and…”

The fairy doll in her shimmery green gown was looking at her with something like pity.

Razzleberry shook herself. “Fine. Just fine. I’ll find it myself. You probably don’t even know where it is anyway. Bet you can’t even fly with those puny little wings. Starsweeper could fly figure-eights around you in her sleep.”

Razzleberry shoved past the fairy doll, who had to flutter her dragonfly wings to keep from losing her balance. Razzleberry stormed out of the little alcove to the main part of the room… and stopped, staring.

There were long rows of alcoves on either side, some empty, some full–stuffed animals, dolls, action figures, even another pony she didn’t know.

Slowly, like water soaking into a sponge, understanding seeped in, filled her, changed her. She trembled.

Rainbow Valley–it had been real, hadn’t it? Had she dreamt it somehow–but no, no, she’d tasted Daisydew’s apple tarts before. She’d felt the cool mist from Friendship Falls. She’d played hide and seek with the other ponies in the Peppermint Palace, and snuggled into a cloud-shaped canopy bed at night.

She felt her world crack, felt the pieces shiver, ready to fall.

The fairy doll laid a gentle hand on Razzleberry’s neck. “It was all real, to you and to the others. But that time is over now, and you cannot go back.” She stroked the pony’s neck. “Easy now, easy. It’ll be all right.”

Razzleberry would have kicked the stupid doll across the room in that moment if she’d only had the strength. But there was nothing left in her stunned mind now but a name, and not even her own.

“Moonblossom,” she choked out, and crumpled to the floor.

 

 

Chapter 3

 

If any of the flying toys had ever been able to get high enough to see the whole island at once, they would have been able to locate its capital in an instant. Mitziville lay near the island’s eastern coast, and Mitzi’s Mega-Mansion rose like a giant pink pimple on the island’s green face.

In Mitzi’s estate, everything was pink–the mansion, the cars, the stables, the private jet, the touring bus, the water park, the Ferris wheel, the tennis court, the concert stage where she sang every year at Mitzimas. Pink was her color now, and Mitzi luxuriated in its glow. Here, at last, she had found the one place the blond bitch didn’t rule, the one place Mitzi wasn’t always coming in second, always a “friend,” the extra, the backup, the anonymous fashion doll who would never be a household name. Except here.

Here, she was queen.

Of course, it was because the other doll was rarely forgotten. From time to time, a leggy blonde would wash up on the island’s misty shore–always the ones with hair chopped off, naked, maybe an arm or leg missing. Mitzi lived for those days. She loved seeing those sparkling blue eyes go dull and cloudy as they realized what their lives would be, as they prepared to serve her forever. She never dressed them, never repaired them. Sometimes, when she thought too much about how things used to be, and black moods overtook her, Mitzi would call them all in to stand before her in the pink-tiled courtyard with its circular driveway like a frosted doughnut. She would make them stand there–or lean, since most had no shoes and some only one leg–for hours while she gazed happily at them, basking in their brokenness, reveling in every missing part.

Mitzi was resting on a float in her heart-shaped pool when Major Mayhem arrived to deliver the day’s report.

Despite his name, the Major was not a military action figure, though he wore an Army-style uniform stretched across his ridiculously broad chest. But even though he’d been a wrestling action figure in his first life, here he was a born commander, and all the Freedom Force soldier figures had fallen in line behind him quite conveniently.

Besides, his headlock action came in handy for less confrontational applications as well.

He handed her the little chalkboard with the day’s tally of new arrivals.

Two ponies; good. They needed some fresh backs in the fields; she’d been wanting to step up production.

A handful of action figures, with a separate column tallying their weapons. New recruits for her army, perhaps even a few with leadership potential.

Her gaze locked on the last number. Nine stuffed animals of assorted species. Nine. The highest number so far this year for a single day.

She looked back up at the Major. “Are you sure these numbers are right?”

“Yes, ma’am. Double-checked them myself.”

She tapped a manicured pink nail on the edge of the board. At this rate, the filthy fuzzers would overrun the island. Something would have to be done, and the sooner the better.

“Increase production by ten percent.” She dipped the chalkboard in the pool and lazily watched the numbers fade away, then handed the board back to him. “Oh, and Mike…”

He hated when she called him by his first name while he was on official duty. Hated it–and loved it–and that was why she loved doing it. “Yes, ma’am?”

“Come by later when you’re done,” she purred. “I’ve got a brand-new marker that needs breaking in. Green apple’s your favorite, isn’t it?” They always gave her a raging headache the next day, but one had to make a few sacrifices to keep things running smoothly.

“As I’m able, ma’am. Good afternoon.” He turned crisply and strode away, and she smiled as she watched him go. He was so predictable, so easy to manipulate… in short, such a wonderful toy.

 

Cleaning out, moving forward

When your husband gets home from work and says “What’s with all this water in the basement?” and your reply is, “Uh… what water?”

…you know that’s not going to end well.

In our case, it meant our water heater had sprung a leak. Thankfully there wasn’t any real damage, but since the tank was in the back part of my library closet, it meant hauling literally everything out of that closet so the plumbers could get in and replace the water heater.

Nothing stirs up ghosts like going through a whole closet’s worth of journals, papers, magazines, printouts, and three-ring binders, when you haven’t cleaned them out in over a decade. Some of those ghosts were benevolent spirits, like the handful of emails from my art teacher back when I was first married, and though she passed away last fall I could hear her voice in those lines, telling me yes, to do what I could to get published, but also to trust my HP (Higher Power) to give me the life I needed, even if the path wasn’t the one I might be expecting.

There were also old bogeymen, faded echoes from controversies and conflicts of years past that had long since lost their power to scare me. It was a good reminder to read through old printouts of emails and think of what a incredibly big deal some situation felt like, and how now it’s shaken into the dust of memory. (It struck me, particularly, how much in my twenties I felt the need to respond to everything, particularly if it felt like I was defending my creative work. The claws came out quick and sharp back then, and I realized how much I’ve learned, in the years since, that sometimes silence is the best response — especially for my own sake.)

I found training materials I’d kept from one retail job that reminded me of the things I miss about working there — and materials from another retail job that reminded me exactly what I hated about it. I found printouts of fanfics and stories from when I first discovered furry fiction, and I remembered what it was like to first explore that world and its tropes and possibilities, what it was like when I felt I was more a part of its community instead of on the edges.

And of course, I found old originals of my own work, too — the two novella-length quasi-medieval fantasies I wrote in high school where I turned friends and teachers into characters (and sometimes even let them have a say in what happened to them), as well as the middle grade fantasy that was my first completed novel, the one I thought I’d sell to a major publisher (back when there were still more than five of them and you didn’t have to have an agent to send them your box full of paper and get a form letter in return). And, when I realized that none of that material was still available in electronic form, I had them scanned to PDF so I could feel like my archive of early work was safely backed up, whether for someone else in the long future or even for myself someday to return to.

Now everything’s been sorted and reorganized (and many, many pounds of paper recycled), and my binders of short stories and poems are all neatly labeled and lined up on a new shelf. The library’s looking better than it has in years… and now all that remains is to get myself to the desk in there, and write some material for the “Short Stories, Volume VI” binder that sits empty and waiting.


Another nice bit of loose-end-tying-up that happened recently was finding a home for a piece of flash fiction that I’d been shopping around for a few years. Every time I was about to give up on it, I’d find one more market to send it to — and then, by the time that market rejected it, I’d find just one more. I skipped the stone of that story across more than four years and sixteen markets, until at last the seventeenth loved it. It may not be good form to mention how many rejections a story has had, but I note it here as a mark of triumph for this odd, rather dark little tale.

And it even got artwork. *beams proudly*

You can read “Ashes of Roses,” my somewhat undead take on “Beauty and the Beast,” by clicking on the cover below.

AshesOfRoses-HALL-ArtABergloff

2018: I Dwell in Possibility

That’s my theme for 2018, by the way. Near the end of 2017, I ran across the concept of having a “theme word” (or whatever they called it) for each year, as a focal point. I couldn’t find just one word that quite worked for me, so I borrowed a phrase from Emily Dickinson instead. (It just barely edged out “Reclaiming My Time.”)

In this case, “possibility” was code for “my constants are gone, my routine is shot, I feel pretty much adrift here, and I have no idea what’s going to happen in 2018 but I’m still trying to hope things will get better”.

Or, as I put it in this tweet:

I meant to write a lovely memorial blog post for that mentor back at the end of September, but I couldn’t, and then it was October, and I still couldn’t put anything together, and then it was November, and I tried to get into the RAWR Write-a-thon in hopes of getting something else (anything else) accomplished before the year closed, to feel good about, and then I fell behind on that but had good intentions of catching up to a revised goal, and then just before Thanksgiving our cat seemed to suddenly stop eating, and it was lymphoma, and we hoped we’d have maybe a month or so, and it turned out to be a week, and the week was beautiful and precious and also utter hell, and less than two weeks later I was laid off, which wasn’t a big surprise and actually was almost a relief, in some ways, but it still meant more scary unknowns and upheaval, more loss of the Way Things Were, and then there was Christmas, with all its attendant Things to Get Through and Halfway Enjoy As Possible, and then it was just cold and gray and… well, here we are.

And if you think that was a long sentence, try living it.

So now the first month of 2018 is almost gone. Job-wise things are hopeful; I still hate transitions of any sort, but I start training with a new company next week and I’m hoping spring will bring positive long-term changes. Unlike the previous times either of us were laid off, we’re not under major financial stress from the loss of income, though it’s going to take a little longer to pay off the credit card again. As always, things could be worse, even though by this point it feels superstitiously risky to say things like that.

I still feel guilty that I haven’t used much of my time “off” for writing, and I remain unsure how to find my way out of the slump I’ve been in for over two years. My only consolation is that it won’t be hard to double or even triple my output from previous years, given that in both 2016 and 2017 my only completed projects were one piece of flash fiction each year. Yeah, I also wrote a lot of notes and fragments, so it’s not like I gave up completely, but you can’t exactly share notes and random bits, and that’s what I long for — to be able to have something new to share again, so I don’t feel so completely out of the loop and the conversation, like everything’s passed me by and readers have all moved on to better and far more prolific authors, who are able to write no matter what’s going on in their lives, because they are Disciplined (Real) Writers Who Deserve Nice Things, and I’m not, so I don’t. I’m tired of feeling that way, and it seems finishing something is going to be the only way to deal with it… and yet I still can’t seem to get going. And since most of my online socialization is with other writers, I’ve withdrawn from a lot of that over the last year or so, because when everybody’s talking about what they’re working on or their latest short story publication or their shiny new book, after a while it just gets kind of depressing.

I’ve also been frustrated by how Three From Waynesboro has progressed (or, more accurately, not progressed). I started the blog with a lot of excitement, but it’s become something I’m having to force myself to see through just for the sake of completion. (This blog post here is me procrastinating on catching up over there.) For various reasons, 3FW hasn’t developed into the kind of project I envisioned, and now that I no longer have that relevancy of the 25th anniversary of the episode, the whole thing starts to feel like a series of missed opportunities and bad timing — but leaving it unfinished would be even worse, so I have to push through. At this point, based on the rough schedule I’ve outlined, it looks like it’ll go through May or even June, depending on how much detail I go into.

Besides 1) completing 3FW and 2) finishing basically anything else on my list of writing projects, my other goal for 2018 is to finally overhaul my website so that it’s more modern and (most importantly) mobile friendly. I’m looking forward to cleaning house there, updating some things, reorganizing others, so that when I actually do have something new to show off, I’ll have a better place for it.

Interestingly, I’m still deciding whether I really want a blog on the new site or not…

 

RAWR Write-a-Thon: Donate here!

During November, I’m participating in the RAWR Write-a-Thon, a writing fundraiser that benefits RAWR (Regional Anthropomorphic Writers Retreat)*, an annual furry writing workshop.

My writing goal is 25,000 words, and my fundraising goal is $200. All proceeds I raise will go toward RAWR’s operating costs.

If you’d like to donate and help cheer me on toward my goals, you can use the link here. Thanks! 🙂

RAWR Write-a-Thon 2017

I went back and forth on whether to participate in NaNoWriMo this year. On the one hand, my writing output this year has been dismal at best, and I’ve had some great writing experiences with both the November NaNo and the summer camp version.

On the other hand, my track record with NaNo hasn’t been that great in recent years — a lot of participating, not that much winning — and going from a dead stop to an average of 1700 words a day just felt too daunting a prospect and too much like setting myself up for more failure and guilt.

So I decided to skip NaNo again, but then I was reminded about a different — and more customizable — challenge.

Instead of doing NaNo, during November I’m participating in the RAWR Write-a-Thon, a writing fundraiser that benefits RAWR (Regional Anthropomorphic Writers Retreat)*, an annual furry writing workshop led by authors Kyell Gold and Ryan Campbell.

(If you’re not familiar with RAWR, another furry writer, Alkani, has written a great blog post about both the workshop and the Write-a-Thon here on his blog.)

My writing goal is 25,000 words (which I’m calling a half-NaNo, like a half marathon), and my fundraising goal is $200. All proceeds I raise will go toward RAWR’s operating costs.

If you’d like to donate on my behalf and help cheer me on toward my goals, you can use the link here. The other participants (along with their own donate links) are listed on the contributor page.

Writers, if you’d like to participate too, check out the Write-a-Thon FAQ and the signup form. The Write-a-Thon runs through December 1, and to me it seems like a natural complement if you’re already doing NaNoWriMo — a way to work toward your writing goal and also help support a unique resource for furry writers.

The Twitter hashtag is #RAWRWriteAThon, to keep up with everyone’s progress updates. At the time of writing this post, I’m still nailing down my project details, but I’m probably going to be working on a Christmas-themed humorous romance novella that’s so far out of my comfort zone it’s completely low pressure.

Wish me luck (and toss me a few coins if you can too). 🙂

 

*(Yeah, I know, furries have this thing for cute acronyms.)

Furry Book Month 2017!

Furry Book Month Huntress promo 2

October is Furry Book Month (courtesy of the Furry Writers’ Guild), and as part of the festivities, many writers and publishers are offering special sales.

In my case, if you don’t have a copy of Huntress yet, you can get the book on sale at Smashwords for just $1.99 (regularly $4.99):

https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/560694

or the paperback at FurPlanet for $7.95 (regularly $9.95).

http://furplanet.com/shop/item.aspx?itemid=815

For a list of all the sales going on, be sure to check out the Furry Book Month page at the FWG and keep an eye on the #FurryBookMonth hashtag on Twitter.