Interview! + something for your Kindle

I love being interviewed – I mean, media-type interviews, not job stuff. (I don’t know who really likes job interviews in and of themselves, but I’m sure there’s somebody out there. If so, awesome. You do you.)

Anyway, this is the cool talk-about-your-writing kind of interview. It’s a Member Spotlight from the Furry Writers’ Guild, and it was still fun to answer the set of questions even though I was the one who wrote them back when I started the Member Spotlight feature almost two years ago. A bit like hiding your own Easter eggs, but it’s still a good set of questions, I think:

https://furrywritersguild.com/2016/05/25/member-spotlight-renee-carter-hall/

I also wanted to note that if you haven’t picked up a copy of my mini short story collection Six Impossible Things, it’s finally being price-matched again at Amazon, so you can get it free for your Kindle right here. (And it’s always free at Barnes & Noble, iBooks, Kobo, and Smashwords, if you’d rather.)

sixcoversmallThe ebook features six of my odd little fantasy stories, and let’s face it, where else are you going to find stories with casts made up of humans, imaginary friends, a talking raccoon named after junk food, a cartoon tiger, a werewolf, and the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse? For free?

(Nowhere. I’ve looked. That’s why I had to write these things myself.)

On the writing front, last night I sent out my first non-reprint short story submission of the year, which makes me feel more like a “real” writer again and less like somebody who just sort of used to be one. Obviously the first half of the year has been a little sparse for me, but I’m starting to get myself back on track now, so I’m hoping the second half of 2016 will be a lot more productive. I’m also going to be doing a big overhaul/redesign of my website soon, which I’m actually kinda looking forward to, even though I know it’s going to be a lot of work. (And I haven’t forgotten about Three From Waynesboro, either; look for a new post there later this week.) As always, sign up for my mailing list so you won’t miss anything important!

 

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.”

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Huntress news and Rainfurrest schedule

First off, Huntress is now available for pre-order in all formats — ebook and print! The ebook will be released on September 20, and the print version is scheduled for release at Rainfurrest, with online orders to ship October 16. You can find all the ordering links and more here at my website. (Remember, the ebook’s pre-order price of $2.99 will go up after it’s officially released, so pre-order now for the best price!)

Second — Rainfurrest is now just 9 days away! I’ll be attending as the Writer Guest of Honor this year, which is awesome but means a pretty full schedule. If you’re headed to the convention, read on to see where I’ll be.

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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!

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.

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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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. 🙂