Our final author for the month is Renee Carter Hall, who also has plenty to share about furry writing and her own processes. Please do have a read through – and perhaps click through to her essay on writing anthropomorphic characters.
Tell us a little bit about your most recent project (written or published). Was there a particular inspiration for it?
Right now, what I’m most working on is trying to get some momentum back with my writing generally. I’ve been in a dry spell for a few years — no One Big Reason for it, just a lot of things, external and internal — and, along the way, questioning what I really want to write and where I want to focus my efforts. So I have a handful of furry short stories that have been in the works for a long time that I’m trying to finally finish and send out, because I really love some of these ideas and characters.
My other big project at the moment is a middle grade novel (aimed at ages 8-12), a contemporary fantasy about a boy whose favorite comic-book superhero shows up at his house and ends up revealing that the comic books weren’t always telling the whole story — and that they weren’t always necessarily the hero. That’s still in the early drafting stages, but I’m planning to eventually query agents once it’s done and try to publish it traditionally.
My writing career sometimes feels like a Venn diagram of three circles with only a little overlap — fantasy/science fiction for adults, furry fiction, and children’s fiction — so it’s hard sometimes to figure out what to prioritize.
What is your favourite thing about the furry fandom?
I’m always impressed by the sheer amount of creativity in the fandom, whatever form it takes, and the fact that so much of it is focused on creating original content and not just replicating or re-purposing something from mainstream media (though there’s room for that, too). I forget who said that, basically, “furries make their own stuff to be fans of,” but I appreciate how unique that is.
As an author, I also appreciate 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 juvenile. As much as I want to see furry fiction grow its audience beyond the boundaries of the fandom, and receive its due credit and respect for the speculative art it is, it’s reassuring to know that that supportive space is there for my work.
Why write furry fiction?
Years ago I would have written you an essay for this answer. (Well, actually I guess I did write an essay: “On Anthropomorphic Characters,” the foreword for Will Sanborn’s furry anthology Different Worlds, Different Skins Vol. 2.)
These days, I suppose I’d boil it down to the fact that storytellers in all eras and all media have always used nonhuman characters to explore what it means to be human. Furry fiction is part of that.
Besides, nobody questions why children like stories about animals. Why are we supposed to outgrow them?
What is your writing process like? Do you outline and plot, or are you a “pantser”?
A bit of both, depending mostly on the length of the project. For a short story, my version of an outline is pretty loose, usually a few pages of notes and brainstorming, maybe lists of key scenes and elements, things like that, and then I jump in and see where things go. For a novella or a novel, I tend to want the plot a little more concrete before I really get going, in hopes of not having to discard so much along the way.
What do you consider your biggest strength as a writer?
In terms of the actual prose, probably dialogue. I love writing dialogue. But also, bigger picture, I like to think I’m good at taking a premise that might otherwise sound pretty absurd and crafting an emotionally moving story from it. (My readers can have the final say on that, though.)
What is your favourite kind of story to write? Does it align well with what you like to read?
I’m most at home with fantasy of one kind or another — some hint of wonder or magic — and I like adding a touch of humor where I can. My reading is fairly eclectic, though, so I do read a lot of genres that I don’t typically write, like contemporary YA, horror, and historical.
Which character of yours do you most identify with, and why?
There’s a lot of me in Leya from Huntress— her longing, her drive, her perfectionism, and her questioning. Sometimes, though, I also 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 wish I could write some kind of edgy, complex, epic tome that will win prestigious awards; whenever I feel like all I’m doing is writing silly, shallow little stories that will never really matter — yeah, that’s Dinkums.
Which authors or specific books have most influenced your work?
Some of my biggest influences aren’t actually authors, even though they’re all storytellers. I grew up on the creative works of Jim Henson, Chuck Jones, and Steven Spielberg, to name a few, and I can sometimes see little glimmers in my work of the same type of humor or warmth or an ordinary character thrown into an extraordinary situation.
For furry fiction, books like Bambi, Ratha’s Creature, Watership Down and the Redwall series shaped my love of animal fantasy. And though I know them only as a byline, I’ll always feel a certain debt to furry author Todd G. Sutherland, whose story “Wings” inspired my own “Dog Days,” which became my first story published within the fandom.
What is the last book you read that you really love?
Probably Scary Stories for Young Foxes by Christian McKay Heidicker. It’s a middle grade novel that’s made up of these spooky intertwined stories being told to a group of fox kits, and it’s kind of fun that you can look at the situations either from the animal characters’ or the human reader’s perspective — like, there’s a story that’s basically a zombie story, from the fox characters’ point of view, but as you read it, you realize it’s also describing the effects of rabies. The tone of the book is so deliciously creepy and atmospheric without being relentlessly dark — there’s also bravery and hope — and it just really opened up a new perspective for me in terms of what you can do in middle grade animal fantasy.
Besides writing, how do you like to spend your free time?
I’ve always been an avid reader, and it’s pretty rare for me to go more than a day or two between books. I also have an amateur’s appreciation for animation and film in general. Beyond that, I’m kind of boring, really — with the full-time day job, writing is about the only hobby/side hustle I have time and energy for these days.
Do you have any advice to give other writers?
From a craft perspective, and especially if you’re just starting out, take advantage of whatever resources are available to you to keep learning. When I started out writing for publication in the late ’90s, I learned mostly from how-to books and magazines (and of course, from reading fiction), but now there’s a whole lifetime’s worth of podcasts, blogs, communities, videos, and online courses to explore, available from anywhere with an Internet connection, and much of it free. I guess that could feel overwhelming to a new writer now, but to me it’s just an amazing buffet of opportunities.
From a process perspective, know that there’s no right or wrong way to be a “real” writer, whether it’s in terms of how often or regularly you write, how fast or slow, short stories or novels, etc. We’re all starting from the same blank page, and someone isn’t more legitimately a writer than you are simply because they work in a different way or produce more or less. It’s hard not to compare yourself to others, and I struggle with that daily, but do what you can and try to forgive yourself on those days you fall short.
Is there anything you would like to see more of within furry fiction?
I’d always like to see more stories from women and stories that feature female characters. Thankfully, there are many more female furry writers now than were visible when I first came into the fandom about 20 years ago, but there’s always room for more of a presence on both sides of the desk.
I’d also like to see more YA, especially since it seems like the fandom keeps getting younger (or maybe it’s just me getting older!) and there’s not a whole lot of animal fantasy published in the mainstream at that YA level.
Where can readers find your work?
The hub for everything is my website, http://www.reneecarterhall.com, where readers can find links to all of my books, and the best way to keep up with new releases is to sign up for my mailing list.
As far as social media goes, I’m most active on Twitter, as @RCarterHall. I don’t spend as much time in fandom spaces as I used to, but I’m still on FurAffinity as Poetigress, and there’s plenty to read there.
That is the last of our author spotlights for the month, but we still have one more Q&A to come tomorrow. Check back here then for our final Publisher Q&A of Furry Book Month 2021.