Barb Caffrey's Blog

Writing the Elfyverse . . . and beyond

Welcome to the Elfyverse…

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Thank you for stopping by my blog, which is called either “Barb Caffrey’s Blog,” or “the Elfyverse.”

Why two names? Well, I figured it would be easier for people to find me if they used my name. But I’ve been writing about Elfys, Elfs, Dwarves, and more for the past ten years — thus “the Elfyverse.”

As for what I do here, it’s simple: I talk about anything I like.

I’ve been blogging now for nearly four years. (Here’s a link to my first blog post, if you don’t believe me.) Over that time, I’ve talked writing, publishing, music, sports, current events, politics . . . anything at all that I feel like talking about.

So while you’re here, expect the unexpected . . . because you never quite know what I’m about to say.

Please feel free to stop by any time you like. And tell your friends about all my work, including AN ELFY ON THE LOOSE (Barnes and Noble link is here) and the two stories of my late husband Michael’s, “A Dark and Stormy Night” and “On Westmount Station,” all available at Amazon.

And remember . . . support a real writer.

Written by Barb Caffrey

June 9, 2014 at 5:21 am

My novel, “An Elfy on the Loose,” Is Now Available

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It’s been a long time in coming, but my first novel, AN ELFY ON THE LOOSE (now with a subtitle of “Book One of the ELFY duology”) is now available at Amazon.com and will be available soon at all major e-book retailers.

**Edited to add: AN ELFY ON THE LOOSE has also “gone live” at BN.com (Barnes and Noble’s website), as Paul Howard told me in the comments. If you have a Nook and want to read AN ELFY ON THE LOOSE, now’s your chance!

Now back to our regularly scheduled post.**

I’m very pleased that AN ELFY ON THE LOOSE is now out, even though I hadn’t expected it to “go live” on Amazon tonight, of all nights — but as it has, I figured I’d best skedaddle and get a blog post up, pronto.

For those of you who want a sample, please go here and read the first five chapters of AN ELFY ON THE LOOSE . . . then, I hope you’ll go to Amazon and get the e-book, as it’s on sale for a limited time at the low price of $3.99.

Because I’m a new author, and because I’m decidedly not well known, it is anyone’s guess as to whether or not AN ELFY ON THE LOOSE will do well enough to warrant an actual “dead tree” edition (that is, a paper edition).

For all I know, this e-book copy is all that we’re likely to get. So I hope you’ll enjoy it in the spirit intended.

In other words, if you want to read my novel because you’ve been intrigued about Bruno the Elfy and Sarah his human companion and want to know all about Sarah’s house (which is an Elfy trap of major proportions), or if you want to figure out why a Dark Elf would go to Northern California, or if you even want to know why Bruno’s mentor Roberto is worth saving despite being more than a bit of an butthead sometimes, now’s your chance.

I also hope that if you read and enjoy AN ELFY ON THE LOOSE, you won’t be averse to letting people know my book exists. Because I need all the help I can get . . . and I’m not shy about saying so.

Written by Barb Caffrey

April 12, 2014 at 12:34 am

National Outrage Ensues After Ray Rice Gets Suspended by the NFL for Only Two Games After Domestic Violence Arrest

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Folks, there are some things as a human being that deeply offend me. Domestic violence against your life partner is one of those things.

Recently, Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice was caught hitting his then-fiancée, now-wife on camera at a casino to the point that she ended up unconscious from the blow. This was a senselessly stupid act in more ways than one, and he was quite properly arrested for it.

However, as he married his fiancée not long afterward (exactly one day after an Atlantic City grand jury indicted him, according to this New York Times article), and as Rice both pled not guilty and entered a diversion program as a first-time offender (this according to an article from Huffington Post), apparently the NFL did not think it needed to suspend Ray Rice for more than a mere two games.

Considering Rice’s suspension is less than your typical four games for using steroids or other performance enhancing drugs, this has caused a national furor. And not just from outraged female sports fans, either.

Take a look at this quote from this past Monday’s Shutdown Corner column over at Yahoo Sports, which points out that this particular suspension doesn’t make sense compared to other suspensions dealing with NFL players committing violent acts:

Cedric Benson once received a three-game suspension for assaulting a former roommate. Albert Haynesworth got five games after stomping on an opponent’s head in the heat of a game. Terrelle Pryor received five games in the Ohio State tattoo case before he ever entered the NFL. Tank Johnson was suspended half a season for illegal firearm possession.

Where is the consistency? Is there any scale at all here?

And when you consider that someone who’s used marijuana and been caught using typically gets a four-game suspension for a first offense, this particular two-game suspension becomes even more baffling.

Look. I know that pro football is a very violent game. I know that the men who play this game have a good amount of aggression in them — they have to have it, or they could not possibly play pro football at a high level. And there are very, very few men like the late Reggie White who are as gentle off the field as they are near-murderous upon it.

Even so, it’s wrong that a man like Ray Rice gets only a “piddling two-game suspension” (paraphrased from the words of Frank DeFord, who’s on record as asking if Roger Goodell is truly good enough to lead the NFL) for hitting his then-fiancée when someone who takes Adderall without first getting a therapeutic use exemption (or whatever the NFL calls it; I’m using MLB terminology as I’m much more conversant with that) gets a four-game suspension?

How can the NFL possibly justify only a two-game suspension for Rice under these particular circumstances? How is taking Adderall or smoking Mary Jane worse than hitting your fiancée?

Also, this sends a terrible message to any female fan of every NFL team. That message goes something like this: “We don’t care about you. At all.”

Because if they did, the NFL wouldn’t have come out with this stupid, pointless, ridiculous and utterly senseless two-game suspension for Rice. Instead, they would’ve ordered him into counseling — tougher and more stringent counseling than he’s already paying for on his own. They would’ve suspended him at least the same four games for any other first-time offense whether the police pressed charges or not, or allowed Rice into a diversion program or not. And they would’ve then gotten some counseling — big-time, major counseling — for Rice’s now-wife. (Remember her? The woman Rice hurt badly? The woman the NFL doesn’t want to talk about, because they seemingly want to see this as a “victimless crime” because Rice already is in counseling and he’s already married his then-fiancée?)

Right now, the NFL’s message is really bad. It says that their players can hit any woman they please and knock them out, and they will do almost nothing. Then, after giving the player what amounts to a mild slap on the wrist, the NFL will turn around and say what a tremendously wonderful human being the guy in question is (in this case, Ray Rice), and how this was an aberration and will never happen again.

And how do I know this is their message? Because their actions speak much louder than their actual words; they say, loudly and clearly, that domestic violence just doesn’t matter to the NFL. Or Rice would’ve at minimum received a four-game suspension, and quite possibly longer than that.

That he didn’t, my friends, is just wrong.

“Youngstown Boys” a Story of Hope, Redemption, and College Athletics

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Folks, over the past few weeks, I’ve been struggling with first something akin to strep throat, then a nasty sinus bug. While I’ve continued to edit and write as much as I can, I haven’t been able to be online much and I certainly haven’t been able to blog. It’s not a fun state to be in, to put it mildly.

What I do when I’m feeling like this is watch a lot of television. But in addition to watching the Milwaukee Brewers play baseball, which I do whether sick or well, I’ve been catching up with ESPN’s “30 for 30″ documentaries. And one, in particular, I felt was quite memorable: Youngstown Boys.

Why? Well, this is a documentary of troubled running back Maurice Clarett, once of Ohio State University, and his college coach, Jim Tressel. Both were from Youngstown, Ohio (hence the name); both started at OSU at the same time. And while Tressel stayed involved in Clarett’s life, good things happened for both of them, culminating in a 14-0 season and a double-overtime win over Miami in the Fiesta Bowl during the 2002 season.

Then Clarett ran into trouble. He’d gotten some help with getting a car and a cell phone. He admits to this in the film. The NCAA, in their infinite whatever, started an investigation — but before the NCAA could suspend Clarett, OSU suspended him instead . . . for the entire 2003 season.

And Tressel, the guy who had said he’d help Clarett when Tressel had recruited him, stood aside. (Possibly Tressel was in fear of losing his own job, or maybe Tressel just didn’t have the strength of character to intercede right then and there. But Tressel redeemed himself later on . . . more on that later.)

At this point, I was livid. I am a big proponent of players being paid, and think the way the NCAA forces athletes to live is utterly wrong. And the whole idea that a young man like Clarett, whose only goal in life was to play professional football, could get derailed like this was quite frustrating.

But it got worse. Clarett’s lawyers sued the NFL and tried to get him “draft-eligible,” as this was Clarett’s best shot at making a living. Clarett won his first-round court case, too . . . but lost later on.

So what’s a guy to do when he doesn’t have his scholarship, is poor, has tremendous athletic gifts, but has no direction? Clarett tried for a few years to ready himself for the NFL on his own, with indifferent success. And while Clarett was drafted by the Denver Broncos down the line, he never took so much as one snap in a preseason game before being let go by the Broncos.

After that, things just went into a downward spiral for Clarett. He ended up in prison, which could’ve broken him.

Instead, prison actually saved him — saved his life — as he started using his intelligence for good things. He started to read voraciously. He stayed in good contact with his girlfriend, calling her every day, and even started a blog (he’d read what he’d written to her, and she’d post it online). And he vowed to both redeem himself and to reform.

At this point, Tressel ran into trouble himself due to a recruiting scandal at OSU. Maybe because of this — the movie wasn’t clear — Tressel decided to involve himself again in Clarett’s life. And the two of them have become fast friends, working on behalf of improving other people’s lives. Reminding people that so long as you live, you can hope for better, dream of better — and you should do those very things no matter how badly the deck is stacked against you.

Mind, both of these men’s lives have not gone according to plan. Clarett, who had all the talent in the world to become a star running back in professional football, is now a motivational speaker and runs football camps. And Tressel, oddly enough, is now the President of Youngstown State University — a place where he won multiple national football championships at the I-AA level (now called the Football Championship Subdivision, or FCS) — and has retired from coaching college football.

But I venture to say that the detours both men’s lives have taken have made them better and stronger people. Clarett speaks to many, including former and current inmates, and his words have the ring of authority. He’s done some very strong and positive things since getting out of prison, and it’s possible that none of that would’ve happened if he hadn’t gotten into bad trouble — then clawed his way out of it. And Tressel is active in many charities and has stayed in contact with many of his former players, including a number of troubled ones, and his life has been deepened and broadened thereby also.

Youngstown Boys, in short, was a powerful film that affected me deeply.  It showed that no matter how long it takes, goals and dreams matter. Even if you don’t achieve one goal today, you can still achieve it tomorrow; even if you can’t do it tomorrow, you can do it the next day if you refuse to give up, you refuse to give in, and you refuse to take “no” for an answer.

I think many people — not just writers, editors, and musicians — can learn from these men. Because it shows that redemption is truly possible, and that you can, indeed, become a better and stronger person through adversity.

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Quick note: I’ll be working on a couple of stories the rest of this week, so blog posts may be scarce. But I hope to finally get a review up of VICTORIES at Shiny Book Review later this week, so do stay tuned for that (computer connectivity problems kept me from it last week).

Keeping Hope Alive . . .

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Over the past few weeks, I’ve been doing my best to keep hope alive. Life has been difficult and frustrating; it’s almost inconceivable to me, sometimes, that I’m still alive and my husband Michael has been dead for nearly ten years.

And I’m all that remains of what we’d hoped and dreamed for. I’m the only one who can finish his work, as well as my own. And as it’s difficult for me to figure out just what Michael had intended to do — writer Ursula Jones called this phenomenon “breaking into” someone else’s thinking (she was discussing finishing up her sister Diana Wynne Jones’ novel THE ISLANDS OF CHALDEA in the end-notes) — sometimes I wonder if I’m doing the right thing in carrying on Michael’s work.

Then again, I loved Michael, and I loved his stories, too. It makes me feel closer to him to do whatever I can to keep things going, even if what I write isn’t exactly the same as what he’d have written. Even if it’s taking me ten times as long to figure out this new novella set on Bubastis as it undoubtedly would’ve taken him, at least I’m trying to do it.

And that, in and of itself, is worthwhile. Michael would tell me so, if he were here . . . though of course, if he were, I’d not be doing this.

Mind you, I’m not the only writer who has ever wondered whether or not what I’m doing makes any sense. This blog from writersrelief.com about Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and writing explains why writing and hope are so inextricably mixed:

As human beings and creative writers, we sometimes have a tumultuous relationship with hope. Hope keeps us going. We hope someone will understand what we’re trying to say with our writing. We hope the world will be a better place for our children. But when times get tough, hope can also feel like cold comfort.

Why have hope? we ask ourselves. What good will it do me if I know I can’t succeed? Sometimes when the task ahead seems truly impossible, hope seems futile.

But few people understand what it means to be hopeful as deeply as the man we honor every year at this time: Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., a pioneer of the civil rights movement. King’s dream was simple, but achieving it meant overcoming countless barriers and complexities. In many ways, hope was the driving force behind his remarkable achievements.

I missed this blog when it was first put up in January of 2014, but I find its words to be especially meaningful right now. (After all, studying the work of Martin Luther King, Jr., is never a bad thing.) I cannot imagine the odds against Dr. King when he first started agitating for civil rights and fair pay for laborers and equal rights for women and any number of other positive things — and he must’ve felt discouraged from time to time, too.

He didn’t show it very often, because Dr. King knew that people needed to believe that their lives, however meaningless they seemed, could indeed make a difference. So on bad days, he must’ve said, “I’m going to go out there and do the best I can,” and given whatever speech he had planned with whatever energy he had. And in so doing, he helped to lift people up with his words.

Words matter. Whether you’re an orator or a writer (or somewhere in between).

When I write a story, I want to make you think about something beyond yourself. Pondering something else can give you hope, because it means you can still think, still feel, still understand.

And I know that was Michael’s motivation for writing, also. He wanted to divert people, get them outside of themselves, and give them a few hours of entertainment that might actually make ‘em smile . . . maybe that’s why I’ve pushed so hard with my own novel AN ELFY ON THE LOOSE, because as a comic fantasy, what else can it do but make people smile?

Before I go, let me share one quote (also cited in the Writer’s Relief article) I found especially meaningful from Dr. King: “We must accept finite disappointment, but never lose infinite hope.”

That, in a nutshell, is why I keep writing. Because I believe in hope. And that hope has to come from my own, hard work and effort — otherwise, why would it be worth anything?

Just Reviewed Aaron Lazar’s “Spirit Me Away” at SBR

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Before I forget, I wanted to let my readers know that I just reviewed Aaron Lazar’s SPIRIT ME AWAY over at Shiny Book Review (SBR for short, as always), which is a new mystery in his long-running Gus LeGarde series. SPIRIT ME AWAY is set in 1969 and is a prequel to many of his mysteries featuring Gus.

In SPIRIT ME AWAY, Gus married his young bride, Elsbeth, a few months before the start of this novel; they’re music students living in Boston. When a young woman who’s lost her memory shows up nearby, they take her in and try to find out who she is. But there are some bad people out there who want her for nefarious purposes . . .it’s not a “cozy mystery” as are many in the LeGarde series, being rather a mystery with a great deal of romantic suspense. But it’s very, very good, and I enjoyed it thoroughly.

Also, I reviewed Aaron’s LADY BLUES over at SBR a couple of weeks ago. This, too, is a novel featuring Gus LeGarde, but is in the present-day and deals with the mystery of an old man in a nursing home who’s struggling to recover his memories with the aid of a new and experimental drug. But then the drug’s formulation is changed . . . slowly the old man loses his memories again. And then a friendly nurse goes missing, then the old man himself seemingly wanders away . . . Gus must get to the bottom of whatever is going on and, if possible, reunite the old man with his long-lost lover in the process before the man’s memories are gone for good.

I enjoyed LADY BLUES. It’s a warm, comforting mystery with a lot of musical ambiance and tons of food references. Gus and his family and friends are vital people who enjoy life and live it to the fullest, and they seem like people you know (or at least should know) . . . anyway, go take a gander at these reviews, and let me know what you think of ‘em.

Written by Barb Caffrey

July 20, 2014 at 1:25 am

New Guest Blog about Bruno the Elfy and Characterization in AN ELFY ON THE LOOSE is Up at Stephanie Osborn’s “Comet Tales”

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Folks, my newest guest blog — which is about my favorite Elfy, Bruno, hero of my novel AN ELFY ON THE LOOSE — is up and available over at Stephanie Osborn’s blog Comet Tales right now.

Now, why did I write this particular blog? Two reasons. First, I’ve participated from the start in Stephanie’s “Elements of Modern Storytelling” blog series, and Stephanie’s enjoyed what I’ve had to say thus far. And second, because she’s transitioning from romance as an element of storytelling to characterization, she figured me talking about my favorite character Bruno from my novel, AN ELFY ON THE LOOSE, would be a good bridge under the circumstances.

If you’ve followed along with my blog or my writing for any length of time, you’re probably aware that AN ELFY ON THE LOOSE is relentlessly cross-genre. It’s a young adult comic urban fantasy/mystery/romance that also has paranormal elements and Shakespearean allusions. (Say that five times fast.) And as such, without a strong central character, the book just wouldn’t work.

Fortunately for me, Bruno the Elfy is as strong of a central character as anyone could wish for. As I said in the guest blog:

But none of (the plot) – not one blessed thing – would work without Bruno. He is a fully realized, multidimensional character with likes and dislikes, strengths and weaknesses, and seems like someone you might just know…that is, if he weren’t so short. And it’s because of this that you can buy into his adventures, you can buy into his romance, and you can buy into the fact that this young Elfy just might be able to save everyone if he just can figure it out in time.

In other words, this particular guest blog discusses what AN ELFY ON THE LOOSE is all about after the fact. And it all starts and ends with Bruno. He’s a guy from another dimension; his ways are strange to us, and ours to him. And crazy things happen to him that he must get past . . . or he has no chance whatsoever to save his mentor, much less make his nascent romance with Sarah work.

Mind, I didn’t know that Stephanie saw some parallels between my character Bruno the Elfy and J.R.R. Tolkien’s Frodo Baggins before I read her endnotes to this guest blog — that’s some high praise right there. (And I have to admit that I don’t see it. But I’m glad she does.)

Anyway, please do check out today’s guest blog. Then, if you haven’t taken a gander at AN ELFY ON THE LOOSE yet, what’s stopping you? (Here’s a link to the five sample chapters to whet your interest.)

Political Activist Sara Johann, Candidate for WI Assembly District 10, Needs Your Help

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Folks, I’m doing something different today. So if you don’t live in Wisconsin, or you don’t have any interest in politics, you may as well tune out right now — I promise, I won’t be offended.

Now, as for the rest of you . . . I had a request from Sara Johann, a brilliant woman I’ve known for several years due to our joint political activism; you see, she is running for Wisconsin Assembly District 10, and is having trouble getting the word out about her candidacy.

Now, I don’t live in District 10. (Think “Shorewood,” and you’re not too far wrong as to where District 10 is in Wisconsin. Take a look at this map from the blog Retiring Guy’s Digest; it’ll give you a good idea.) But I do know Sara. She is a hard-working, principled, honest and forthright person who believes with all her heart that Wisconsin is on the wrong track economically — and she believes if she can get to the Assembly and give the other Assemblymen and women a dose of some good Wisconsin common sense, she can make a positive difference.

This is why she’s running for office.

But because she is not wealthy, and because she’s running against three other Democrats and hasn’t any endorsements, this is very much an uphill struggle. She needs to be able to get out and meet the people of her district, bare minimum; she needs to know them, for them to know her, and traveling around takes money.

Sara is a citizen activist. She is in many ways a moderate. The independents who supported the recall, much less the statewide judicial recount of the race between David Prosser and Joanne Kloppenburg a few years ago, should like Sara if they only can find out she’s out there and shares their needs and interests.

And obviously, most Democrats are going to flock to her if she can get past the actual primary. But they won’t do that if she can’t make a go of it right now.

Personally, I think anyone who has the courage to put her money where her mouth is and run for office deserves to be supported regardless of party. But in this particular case, because I know Sara and know how hard she works — and how strong her commitment is to a better and brighter economy, to marriage equality and social justice and civil rights and safe, legal and extremely rare abortions — I believe she’d be an outstanding member of the state Assembly from her first day in office.

If you worked on the recalls, if you worked on the recount between Prosser and Kloppenburg, or if you just want to support a solid, hard-working Wisconsinite who isn’t made of money but wants and needs to run for office because she’s sure she can make a difference, please consider making a donation to Sara’s campaign at this link. It doesn’t have to be a lot; even $3, if 100 people all decided to give that, would make an enormous difference to her.

And I know there are far more than 100 political activists in Wisconsin who want to see moderate, citizen legislators in office who aren’t beholden to special interests.

Besides, Sara not having any endorsements is actually an asset in an odd way; she’s not going to be beholden to anyone but the voters.

And isn’t that a refreshing change?

So please . . . consider donating to Sara’s campaign. And do help her get the word out that she is running.

Because we need more real, honest, hard-working Wisconsinites in the Assembly. Truly.

(Thus concludes today’s political missive. I’ll be back to baseball and writing and everything else tomorrow, no doubt.)

Fourth Blog Anniversary Today

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Folks, it’s been four years today since I started this blog. And because it’s a special day of a certain type, I figured I’d get on here and ask you for something special, too.

(No, it’s not publishing related.)

Please consider becoming an organ donor.

Why do I care about this? Well, when Michael died, as per his wishes I donated his organs. This was not easy to do — they asked a number of questions that were both difficult to answer and invasive, because by law they must ask these terrible questions (such as: did he have AIDS? Did he have any diseases you know about? If so, what?).

Fortunately, I knew this was what Michael wanted. So I persevered with these awful questions, and donated his organs. Several people were helped thereby.

At the time, we lived in Iowa, so I continue to receive newsletters from the Iowa Donor Network thanking me (and my husband) for donating his organs. If you live in Iowa, that’s where you need to go if you’re thinking about organ donation for yourself or any family members.

However, if you live in Wisconsin, if you want to donate your organs after your death, you need to go to the Wisconsin Donor Registry and sign up.

Other states, of course, have different donor registries.

Aside from that, the only other thing I’d like my readers to do today is to make sure their after-death wishes are known. It can be difficult to discuss this, especially if you are young and in the prime of life. I get that, but if Michael and I hadn’t had this conversation, I’d not have known what to do when the time came.

No one wants to think about losing a loved one at a young age. No one wants to think about themselves dying early, either.

But it happens, sometimes. And if that terrible thing does occur, it’s best for your loved ones to know exactly what they must do.

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