1. Tell us about your most recent project (written or published). What inspired it?
My most recent published work is Huntress, the story of a young anthro lioness’ journey to become one of her people’s elite female hunters. Some of the character names and deities were taken from an old notion I’d had many years before to write a Watership Down-style novel about regular lions, but the story of Huntress was inspired by an episode of the National Geographic Channel’s show Taboo. It focused on the practice of “breast ironing,” where young women have to either painfully flatten their breasts so they can stay “girls” and keep going to school, or let their bodies develop, officially becoming women, and then be forced into marriage. The conflict of that choice stayed with me, and a more extreme version of it became part of the book.
2. What’s your writing process like? Are you a “pantser,” an outliner, or something in between?
The process can vary from project to project, but for longer works I usually make a few pages of notes brainstorming possible scenes, characters, elements, and so forth, which then turns into a list of key scenes. It’s a pretty flexible, organic type of outline, though, and things often get added, changed, or moved as I get into the writing. The other part of my process is that I try to work longhand for first drafts whenever I can, especially for short pieces; for a lot of different reasons, it feels better to me than composing with a keyboard.
3. What’s your favorite kind of story to write?
I’ve always felt most at home in fantasy, whereas science fiction is more a place I visit the suburbs of but don’t feel comfortable venturing into the heart of the city. I like adding a touch of humor where I can. And of course, I like writing anything with an animal or animal-like character involved, or I wouldn’t be here!
There’s a lot of me in Leya from Huntress — her longing, her drive, her perfectionism, and her questioning. I admit, though, sometimes I do feel like Dinkums from Real Dragons Don’t Wear Sweaters, wanting to be taken seriously as a fearsome creature of legend despite being pink, fuzzy, and cute. Whenever I feel like I should be writing some kind of gritty, edgy, epic trilogy that will win prestigious awards; whenever I feel like I’m just writing these silly, shallow little stories that will never really matter — yeah, that’s Dinkums.
5. Which authors or books have most influenced your work?
A lot of my influences aren’t technically (or primarily) authors, but when it comes to my furry fiction, it’s pretty easy to pick out the notable turning points on the timeline. I read Bambi around age 10 because I was curious how it compared to the movie — and found that in many ways I liked the book better. As I’ve read it again and again over the years, I’ve come to appreciate its reverence for the natural world and its adult sensibility that doesn’t resort to easy, sentimental answers. Later, books like Ratha’s Creature and Watership Down opened up the possibility of writing animal fantasy in a way that included culture and change (with or without humans being part of the mix). In late high school, I fell hard for the Redwall books, and though the formula eventually wore thin, that initial enchantment became a big influence on my first published novel, By Sword and Star (I wrote a whole blog post about that here).
Later on, around the time that I was getting into the furry fandom, I read S. Andrew Swann’s Forests of the Night and started to see possible ways to write the bipedal type of “furry” fiction, in addition to the more feral style of animal fantasy that I was already familiar with. Without question, my biggest influence among fandom works was a short story I discovered online, “Wings” by Todd G. Sutherland. That inspired my own story “Dog Days,” which then became my first story published within the fandom.
6. What’s the last book you read that you really loved?
That would be Dumplin’ by Julie Murphy, which is probably the best contemporary YA book I’ve read since Laurie Halse Anderson’s Catalyst. Willowdean’s voice, emotions, and struggles ring true on every page, and for me there were a lot of smiles (and cringes) of recognition. It’s a rare book that truly can make me tear up at one scene and laugh out loud at another, but Dumplin’ managed both.
7. Besides writing, how do you like to spend your free time?
I’m an insatiable reader, rarely going more than a few minutes between books, so if I’m not writing, I’m probably reading. Lately I’m also enjoying adult coloring books as a way to relax using art, without the pressure I put on myself if I’m trying to draw or paint something original.
8. Advice for other writers?
The tl;dr version is: Keep writing, keep reading, keep learning. Do those three things and it’s impossible not to improve. The learning can be via critiques, classes and workshops, how-to books, whatever suits your situation best.
Which brings me to the other big one for me: When it comes to process, there’s no right or wrong way. You don’t have to write some certain number of words a day (or even write every day) to be a “real” writer, and you don’t have to follow someone else’s path to success (in fact, you probably can’t anyway). We’re all different. Don’t fall into the trap of feeling bad because you’re not doing what Pompous Successful Writer says you should be doing. Find what works for you.
9. Where can readers find your work?
The hub for everything is my website, http://www.reneecarterhall.com, and the best way to keep up with what I’m doing is to sign up for my mailing list. I’m also on Twitter as @RCarterHall (warning: I retweet a lot of cat pics), and I have galleries on FA and Weasyl as Poetigress.
10. What’s your favorite thing about the furry fandom?
It’s become something of a cliché answer for this question, but looking at the fandom as a whole, the level of creativity and enthusiasm is pretty amazing, especially considering how much of it is focused on creating original content and not just replicating or re-purposing something from a media source.
On a personal level, I love that there’s a place where I can share a serious story starring an animal character without worrying that it’s going to be automatically dismissed as weird or as something silly for children. As much as I love publishing anthropomorphic fiction outside the fandom, and as much as I want to see its audience grow beyond the boundaries of furry, it’s still reassuring to know that the fandom’s supportive space and audience are open to me as a creator.
Check out Renee Carter Hall’s member bio here!