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.

 

Poem: “Trying To Remember The French Word For Cloud”

Trying To Remember The French Word For Cloud

 
It drifts at the edges of memory,
in the delicate blue ciel,

changing shape each time
thought makes a grasp.
There’s neige, but I think that’s snow,

étoile, star; soleil, sun; pluie, rain; oiseau, bird.
I’ve populated the whole sky by now,
but it’s still hopelessly clear.
I remember rêve is dream, to sleep dormir.

Fluffy like sheep, but I can’t
remember sheep either,
though I could count them as long
as there weren’t more than ten.

So many words have blown
through the expanse of my memory,
dissolved into fog in the mind,
and now it comes to me
that I’ve even forgotten the word for remember,

though I still remember
the word for forget.

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!

 

Leave and Courage

From L. M. Montgomery’s Emily’s Quest, and the title character’s journal:

This has been a lyric spring day — and a miracle has happened. It happened at dawn — when I was leaning out of my window, listening to a little, whispering, tricksy wind o’ morning blowing out of Lofty John’s bush. Suddenly — the flash came — again — after these long months of absence — my old, inexpressible glimpse of eternity. And all at once I knew I could write. I rushed to my desk and seized my pen. All the hours of early morning I wrote; and when I heard Cousin Jimmy going downstairs I flung down my pen and bowed my head over my desk in utter thankfulness that I could work again.

“Get leave to work–
In this world ’tis the best you get at all,
For God in cursing gives us better gifts
Than men in benediction.”

So wrote Elizabeth Barret Browning — and truly. It is hard to understand why work should be called a curse — until one remembers what bitterness force or uncongenial labour is. But the work for which we are fitted — which we feel we are sent into the world to do — what a blessing it is and what fulness of joy it holds. I felt this to-day as the old fever burned in my finger-tips and my pen once more seemed a friend. . .

Oh, God, as long as I live give me “leave to work.” Thus pray I. Leave and courage.

It was not the wind this morning, it was the rain and the mist in the woods and the music in my headphones. It was only a few paragraphs, and I have no idea where they fit in the larger work, yet. But characters were speaking to me again, and it was time, at last, at my desk, writing, and the hope of more in the days to come — and after months of almost nothing, I understood exactly what Emily feels above.

 

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.

Continue reading

Huntress now available for pre-order!

Huntress smallMy upcoming ebook Huntress is now available for pre-order in epub format!

If that title sounds a bit familiar, yes, the ebook includes my novella “Huntress” that was originally published in the anthology Five Fortunes — but it also includes three new short stories set in the same world. (I’ll be sending out a preview of one of those new stories to my mailing list later this week.)

You can now pre-order Huntress on iBooks, Barnes & Noble, and Kobo.  Release date is September 15, but if you pre-order, you’ll be getting the special $2.99 pre-order price. (After release, the ebook’s price will be at least $3.99.)

If you need Kindle format, don’t worry, you won’t miss out — pre-orders at Amazon are planned for early September, and the best way to keep up to date on that is to join my mailing list. I’ll be sending out an email there as soon as the book’s available on Amazon. (My mailing list is always the best way to keep up with all my new stuff, exclusive fiction, giveaways, appearances, and whatever else I come up with to share — plus, it’s free!)

Blurbage:

All her life, the young lioness Leya has dreamed of becoming one of the karanja, the proud huntresses of her people. But there’s more to being karanja than just learning to throw a spear. Life among their tents means giving up family, safety — even love. How much is Leya willing to sacrifice for a place in the sisterhood? Does she truly have the heart of a huntress?

Author Renee Carter Hall takes readers into the veld for this coming-of-age anthropomorphic fantasy for teens and adults. This ebook includes the novella “Huntress” (nominated in the 2014 Ursa Major Awards and Coyotl Awards), as well as three brand-new short stories set in the same world.

And if you’d like a sample, you can read the opening of the original novella at my website:

http://www.reneecarterhall.com/huntress.html

 

Poem: “Some Poems”

Some Poems

Some poems are custard,
simple, slipping
down the throat.
Some are a sip of strong tea,
a swallow of rum.
Some are hard bone
to scrape the teeth against,
marrow you can scent but never
break to taste.
Some are gristle and fat,
sit uneasy, questioning.
Some are delicate meals
served in a single bite.
Some look good — a spray
of garnish, a drizzle of sauce —
but taste like air.
Some are stones
to suck on, just to wet
the mouth.
Some are stones to swallow.

 

A separate space

One of the things I loved about moving to this house was that it had enough bedrooms that I could finally have a space for all my books — not on shelves surrounding the computer desk or out in the living room, not with half my books packed in boxes because there wasn’t enough shelf space for them. So one bedroom here became the library, and lots of shelves went up along two walls, and I finally unpacked everything.

The center of the library, though, I could never quite figure out what to do with. While it occasionally served as useful floor space when we needed room for an air mattress, otherwise it stayed empty. The library was a place I went into to get things — books, art supplies — and go back out again, but I never spent much time in the room itself. It needed a piece of furniture, but I never really settled on what it should be. A reading chair? A futon? Giant beanbag? Maybe a drafting table for art?

Then, last month, I found out that my work schedule was changing, and I realized that, with the new schedule, I could potentially have two hours every weekday morning to dedicate to writing — before starting in on the day job, instead of after, as it is now. Still, the thought of sitting at this computer desk and writing, then opening up the transcription programs and logging in to work, wasn’t all that appealing. Like it or not, this desk has come to signal my brain for Work (as in Day Job), and also Internet Distractions and other Stuff I Have To Do, none of which is conducive to the mindset I need for writing.

And then I knew what the library had been waiting for.

So, here’s my awesome new cheapo desk with its inexplicable teal-colored drawer, a tiny bit wobbly but also feeling delightfully casual.

library

My Writing Desk.

And I realize that, even though I’ve been doing this for almost 20 years now (“this” meaning “writing stuff and sending it out and hoping it gets accepted for publication”), this is the first time in all those years that I’ve had a space completely dedicated to writing. Just mine. Just for that. Not a computer desk (though I’m sure I’ll be using the laptop there, when that time comes in my drafts). Not the coffee table or the couch or some other open space where I always have the TV or the Internet beckoning.

A private space. Somehow, a safe space. Maybe even a tiny bit of a sacred space.

All in all, not bad for 63 bucks at Walmart.

 

(As a footnote, since I’m sharing pics and don’t think I ever mentioned this, here’s one of my Cóyotl Award for By Sword and Star, sitting on my shelf of author/contributor copies. Yep, they use little coyote plushies as statuettes, which is completely and utterly adorable. I’ve named her Lucky, and I’m keeping my fingers crossed that maybe she’ll get a friend some year.)

coyotl 2012

Looking ahead: 2015

I didn’t bother to do a “looking back” type post for 2014, because frankly I’d rather forget most of what happened in 2014. While there were still some publications of previously sold stories, overall it wasn’t a very productive year for me writing-wise because my personal life wound up being so stressful. After my husband’s three outpatient surgeries, two more attempts at refinancing our mortgage that failed for reasons only underwriters could understand, and finally having to face our last resort of filing for bankruptcy because of all the medical and credit card bills, there wasn’t much time, energy, or headspace left for anything creative.

There were a few bright spots early on in the year — like seeing the publication of “Huntress” in Five Fortunes, and winning the Spark contest in the spring* —  but summer and fall were particularly tough times for me, and for quite a while I didn’t want much of anything to do with writing. I didn’t want to write, I didn’t want to think about writing, and I certainly didn’t want to be around other writers. I’d had dry spells before, but nothing ever this bad or reaching so widely or deeply. I felt completely unappreciated, writing anything felt pointless, and honestly I more or less hated the entire world — a world I felt like I was viewing through a thick pane of glass while, beyond it, everyone else went about their business being happy and noticed and fulfilled.

That was pretty much the mindset I was in one morning when I checked my email… and found an invitation to be the writing guest of honor at Rainfurrest this year.

And I felt the glass break.

rainfurrest flyerTo be honest, I never thought I’d even be able to attend Rainfurrest, let alone as one of their guests of honor. Our budget doesn’t allow for many conventions of any sort, especially not ones that require cross-country flights — and I hated not being able to go because RF is considered one of the best (if not the best) furry conventions for writers.** So I’m excited, flattered, and occasionally terrified by this honor, and I’m looking forward to finally meeting plenty of people I’ve known only as screennames. Beyond anything else, I’m determined to enjoy this experience as much as I can, knowing this sort of thing may never happen again, and I’m also determined to do everything in my power as a GoH to make the con a great experience for everyone else.

As part of being the “writers’ con,” RF also likes to help authors launch their new books, so to take advantage of that opportunity, my main writing goal for the first half of the year is to finish my next novel, The Second Life of Bartholomew T. Lion, in time to debut it at the con. Bartholomew has been waiting since the summer of 2011, when the first half to two-thirds was written during a Camp NaNoWriMo session that year. Now it’s time to dig out the draft, figure out an outline for what needs to be revised and added, and get to work.

It’s shaping up to be a very busy year…

 

*That winning story is slated for publication very soon; watch this space.
**If you need a quick primer on the furry fandom, try the one I wrote for the Furry Writers’ Guild website and the links included there.

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!