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

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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…

 

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.

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.