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.

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.)

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.

 

 

Flash fiction: “Kitty”

On this date in 1942, Anne Frank received a diary for her 13th birthday, a diary she named Kitty. Here’s a bit of flash fiction to mark the occasion…

 

 

Kitty

by Renee Carter Hall

She stands in the echoing marble space, before the rows of candles. The wall behind the flickering cups reads Bergen-Belsen. Her dress is red and white plaid, her hair iron gray, her eyes black as ink when she turns. Something about her rustles, and she smells of old books, of a room locked for years.

She stares at the flames, her voice a dry whisper. “I loved her, you know. I loved her, and I could never tell her. She told me everything, and I could say nothing in return.”

The patterns across her papery skin are faded but still true, works inked in a young girl’s hand, dreams of a bigger world where no one has to hide.

She carries them all, and they are heavy.

“I wish… sometimes…”

She reaches toward a candle. A curl of smoke rises, the edges of her nails burned black. With a soft cry she draws back, and when the tears spill over, the writing on her cheeks blurs and fades.

Her voice trembles. “She had no idea. No idea what she made. All she wanted was someone to listen.” She longs for the thoughts that were never written, longs to have kept the secrets of a full life. She aches with blank pages.

In the time it takes to light a candle, to assemble a prayer, she is gone. Outside the museum, a flock of pigeons startles into flight, their gray wings beating like loose pages scattered to the wind.

 

 

Real Dragons Don’t Wear Sweaters – free today only

rdcovershopJust a note that my fantasy/humor/young adult e-novelette Real Dragons Don’t Wear Sweaters is available free for today only, as part of Free Ebook Fridays at World Lit Café.

Get your free copy here!

All Dinkums wants is to be a real dragon, a fierce crimson-scaled firebreather like the ones living in the northern caves. Instead, Dinkums is pink, fuzzy, and cute–until Skye, a teen witch bored by school and ready for a challenge, finds a way to transform him. But Dinkums and Skye are both about to learn that being real is more complicated than they bargained for.

And of course, if you enjoy reading it, reviews on Amazon, Goodreads, Smashwords, or wherever else you like are always very much appreciated. 🙂

TTA Press’ Advent Calendar

TTA Press, publisher of Black Static, Interzone, and Crimewave, is doing a fun Advent calendar for the month of December, featuring a new link every day to a piece of flash fiction or poetry (possibly Christmas-themed, though that wasn’t a strict requirement) by one of their previous contributors. (I was in issue #29 of Black Static.)

The calendar kicked off today with a link to my flash piece “Nativity,” as well as a link to the calendar’s discussion thread:

http://ttapress.com/1509/the-advent-calendar-2012/0/5/

To keep up with the contributions all month long, just go to their website and click on Interzone, Black Static, or Crimewave.

 

Black Static #29 now in ebook format

The issue of Black Static containing my horror/dark fantasy short story “Horseman” is now available as an ebook from Amazon:

http://amzn.com/B009G1WLVK

And from Smashwords:
http://www.smashwords.com/books/view/238817

Either way, the price is the same ($4). You can read a couple reviews of the issue here and here.