Barb Caffrey's Blog

Writing the Elfyverse . . . and beyond

Archive for August 2010

Reprinted stories soon to go up at eQuill Publishing.

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Finally, some good news to report — I have agreed in principle to place Michael’s Joey Maverick SF/adventure story “A Dark and Stormy Night,” my Elfyverse story “Trouble with Elfs,” and a poem, “A Love Eternal,” with eQuill Publishing.  They are a new e-press located in Australia, and I know about them mostly due to my friend Piotr S. Mierzejewski, who has placed a number of stories there already.

At any rate, “A Dark and Stormy Night” is a novella — 14,000 words — and my contribution to it is about 1400 words to even it out a tad and up the romance a mite.  “Trouble with Elfs” is 8,000 words — a long short story, if that’s not an oxymoron — and is an urban fantasy set in the same universe, with many of the same characters, as ELFY.  The Maverick novella is the very start of Michael’s book MAVERICK, LIEUTENANT, currently being revised by me in order to add action.  And for the record, the Maverick story carries the byline “by Michael B. Caffrey, with Barb Caffrey,” while the Elfyverse story carries the byline “by Barb Caffrey, with Michael B. Caffrey,” though I wrote well over 85% of that story.  (I simply believe that without Michael’s 15%, the story wouldn’t be worth reading, which is my prerogative.)

As for my poem “A Love Eternal,” it is the best way I’ve come up with yet to describe how Michael’s loss has affected me — and how to describe how I felt while Michael was alive.

All three reprinted stories/poems accepted for publication originally appeared at the Written Word — “A Dark and Stormy Night” appeared in ’05 and is not archived online, while “Trouble with Elfs” appeared in ’07 and the poem “A Love Eternal” appeared in ’06.

I may have further good news in the reprint quarter to note soon — but for now, please check out eQuill Publishing here:

Also, please know that while publishing remains a very difficult occupation to break into, there are good moments from time to time.  This is one of those moments, and I’m pleased that my persistence has paid off in order for these stories to appear in the way I’d always hoped.

Michael did not live long enough to see our first story, “Bright as Diamonds,” published, though he did know it had been sold.  (We cashed the check and enjoyed the proceeds immensely, going to a Japanese restaurant and seeing the “floor show.”)  He was looking forward to seeing the BEDLAM’S EDGE anthology in print at the time of his passing, but did not get that wish.  And Michael obviously did not get the chance to see any of his own work published, either — me getting Michael’s “Maverick” novella published in ’05, after adding the 1400 words to make it a legal collaboration and thus, much easier to sell, was an act of love, faith and persistence. 

Michael believed very strongly in my ability to write.  Without his faith in me, without his help (as he’d already completed a novel before I started on ELFY), I would not be the same writer.  And I’d be no kind of editor, as Michael had major skills there that he did his level best to pass on.

I continue onward as best I am able though sometimes it seems like an inordinately difficult task.  Still, I was not raised to give up, and my wonderful, amazing husband believed I could do anything I set my mind to do.

My mind is set on publishing, in case you hadn’t figured it out already, and I will continue onward toward this goal.

Btw, the title of “Trouble with Elfs” is not a misprint.  (You need to read the story to find out why.)

Written by Barb Caffrey

August 29, 2010 at 4:09 am

The Role of the Professional Critic: Don Rosenberg v. the Cleveland Orchestra and Plain Dealer.

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The saga of Donald Rosenberg, erstwhile classical music critic of the Cleveland Plain Dealer, has brought to my attention how difficult the role of the professional critic may be — and how quickly even a highly-regarded critic like Rosenberg can fall if not backed by his employers.

Oh, you don’t know Mr. Rosenberg’s work?  Well, many don’t, but for thirty years he wrote about the Cleveland Orchestra (formerly known as the Cleveland Symphony Orchestra), and he’s written a book about the orchestra called The Cleveland Orchestra Story: Second to None, which came out in 2000 and is available at at this link:

The upshot of Mr. Rosenberg’s story was that he was demoted by his employer, the Plain Dealer, because the Cleveland Orchestra was upset over comments Rosenberg had made about the Orchestra’s conductor, Franz Welser-Most.  Rosenberg sued, claiming among other things that his freedom of speech was infringed upon, that the Plain Dealer had practiced age discrimination against him, and that Welser-Most had abused his position as conductor in order to get what Welser-Most viewed as a “hostile” critic removed from his post.  More about this suit is available here:

Recently, Mr. Rosenberg lost his lawsuit, which is why this subject came to my attention in the first place.  (For the record, I think it’s wrong for a critic to lose his job merely because a conductor does not like him or what he writes.  If Leonard Bernstein had been that way, half the reviewers in New York would’ve lost their jobs in the ’50s and ’60s.)  A good blog that’s followed the whole situation from the beginning is called Sounds & Fury; a good place to start is the following post, a “final comment” on Mr. Rosenberg’s unfortunate situation:

But all of this has made me think — what is the role of the professional critic, especially if someone does not like what he or she is writing?  Because if you ask someone, “What is a critic?,” you’re going to get a really odd look, followed by, “Someone who criticizes!” or maybe, “Someone who gets paid to criticize for a living.”

Now, I know from reviewing books for and elsewhere, not everyone’s going to agree with me regarding a review.  Sometimes, the disagreement is over something profound, but most of the time it’s over something that’s seemingly trivial — such as, whether a book is suitable for someone who’s seven, or eight; whether a love story in the background is detrimental (even if there’s no actual sex going on) — and the fact that I see this as trivial while someone else sees this as profound is part of the human condition.

However, when a professional critic is effectively muzzled by an orchestra, or worse, by the conductor of the orchestra, that is not helpful to the entire profession of critics.  As Michael Phillips wrote in his 8/12/2010 column at the Chicago Tribune, available here:

There is so much fear and self-censorship in the critics’ ranks in America today. There are so few full-time salaries. You can smell the caution and paranoia in too many reviews weighed down by generalities and a stenographer’s devotion to “objectivity,” which isn’t what this endeavor is about at all. It’s about informed, vividly argued subjectivity.

(I added the bold in last paragraph, just in case you missed it.)

Phillips goes on to say that:

Approached the wrong way criticism is an inherently arrogant and narcissistic pursuit, yet what I’m left with, increasingly, is how humbling it is. It’s hard to get a review right for yourself, let alone for anyone reading it later. It’s even harder to be an artist worth writing and reading about, because so much conspires against even an inspired artist’s bravest efforts.

I agree with this; I agonize over the book reviews I write, and the music reviews, and when I used to write movie reviews for the Daily Nebraskan (and elsewhere), I used to worry myself to pieces over those, too.  Because if you’re a good critic, or you’re at least trying to become one, you do worry about whether or not you’ve explained what it is you’re criticizing well enough so your critique of it all will make any sense to the reader who’s not as able to make an informed, rational decision as you (not having seen and heard what you have as “the critic”).

Finally, Phillips says this:

. . . no critic has a ‘right’ to a compensated opinion. We serve at the pleasure of our employers. And yet we’re only worth reading when we push our luck and ourselves, and remember that without a sense of freedom, coupled with a sense that we cannot squander it, we’re just filler.

(Once again, the emphasis here was mine.)

Many points to ponder for both the writer and critic alike, but what I think most troubles me about all of this is how the Cleveland Plain Dealer attempted to frame the narrative.  Their version of events is strikingly different than Mr. Rosenberg’s, yet as a highly trained classical musician, I am much more sympathetic to Mr. Rosenberg’s version of events (where Rosenberg quoted, verbatim, some unflattering statements from Welser-Most about music lovers in the US of A, etc.).    The fact of the matter is, many European conductors are dismissive of posts in the United States of America and they’d rather be working in their home countries, where they feel their art is more respected.  Most conductors from Austria (where Welser-Most is from), France, Germany, Italy, etc., view the US of A as being uncultured, uncivilized, and far less interested in classical music than their homelands.  And many of these guys have put down Americans in general for years — this is no secret, and while it should be shameful for these European conductors, it isn’t.

For Welser-Most to get upset because Rosenberg dared to call Welser-Most to account for some of his comments about Cleveland’s “blue-haired ladies” and about how Welser-Most apparently didn’t think much of Cleveland, seems mighty thin-skinned to me.  In addition, any criticism of a conductor — especially when it’s backed up by many other critics the world over (Welser-Most has a reputation that basically equates to, “If W-M loves the piece, he does a good job; if not, well, whatever”) — should be allowed and understood.  (Free speech, remember?)

The fact that Welser-Most, the conductor of the Cleveland Orchestra, managed to force Rosenberg from his position at the Plain Dealer, shows a great deal more about Welser-Most than Welser-Most probably wishes were the case.  Further, that the Cleveland Orchestra’s board of directors are able to say with supposedly clean hands (and without any air of hypocrisy about them) that they did nothing wrong, that they did not force Rosenberg out — well, it smells.  To high heaven.

I view what happened the same way Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist Martin Bernheimer does, available at this link from the Financial Times:

Pointing out that Rosenberg is a horn player and holds three music degrees, Bernheimer put it plainly in the opening of his column:

Donald Rosenberg lost. So did Cleveland. And so did journalism in general and the precarious practice of music criticism in particular.

Absolutely right, Mr. Bernheimer.  And what a shame, and a loss, that Rosenberg lost his lawsuit; what a horrible commentary on our life and times.

Written by Barb Caffrey

August 27, 2010 at 11:13 am

Persistence Pays Off, Part II — Chris Capuano Wins Again. Also Ben Sheets Surgery Update.

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This past week hasn’t been much fun; I celebrated my birthday while dealing with a nasty sinus infection, and thus my blog was inactive during that time as I hadn’t much to write about — or at any rate, what I would’ve tried to write wouldn’t have made much sense due to feeling so terrible.

But last night, I had another epiphany, and thus, a second blog post about Brewers left-handed pitcher Chris Capuano.  Capuano, as you might recall, has returned to the major leagues after having a second “Tommy John” ligament replacement surgery performed in mid-2008.  His rehabilitation was extensive, and without a whole lot of faith in himself, along with a great deal of hard work rehabilitating his surgically-repaired left arm, he’d never have returned to pitch again, period — much less in the majors.

But he has, and he has pitched for the most part with amazing efficiency — or to be less unnecessarily wordy, he’s been very good indeed, one of the best pitchers the Brewers have had during this lost season of 2010.

Last evening, Capuano came in after Yovani Gallardo — the Brewers’ best starting pitcher, and their supposed “ace” of the staff thereby — gave up six earned runs (ERs) in only three and one third innings pitched.  He left the bases loaded, too, meaning if those runners had scored, nine runs would’ve been charged to Gallardo.

So what did Capuano do?  He mopped up the damage, that’s what.  He got out of the fourth inning with none of Gallardo’s runs scoring — and pitched 3 2/3 innings of scoreless baseball.  Eleven men up, and eleven men down — no hits, only one walk, and one double-play ball which wiped the walk off the board.

This was Chris Capuano’s first win at Miller Park since May of 2007.  And in it, he also went one for two in hitting — getting his first hit in the bigs since 2007.  See this post about the game, although it did not stress enough to my mind the magnitude of Chris Capuano’s second win:

At any rate, you probably see where, if Chris Capuano were a different sort of person, all that rehab might’ve put him off from returning to baseball.  You can also see that Chris Capuano, fortunately for the Brewers, has more dedication, drive and determination than most people — because it’s incredibly difficult to recuperate from one “Tommy John” surgical procedure to pitch well.  It’s even more difficult to recover from two.

Chris Capuano’s stats for the season are now two wins, two losses.  He’s started two games, winning one, losing one.  He has a 3.86 ERA in 28 innings pitched, with 8 walks, 27 strikeouts (Ks), and has given up three home runs.  These may not seem like outstanding stats, but consider how hard this man has worked — then consider the Brewers staff pitching ERA average of 4.90, and the fact that only Yovani Gallardo, Zach Braddock, Kameron Loe and John Axford have lower ERAs on the entire Brewers staff of thirteen pitchers.

Chris Capuano is now thirty-two years old.  He’s recovered from two surgeries that are life-altering for pitchers; usually, if a pitcher works hard and is fortunate, he can recover from one such procedure.  Only rarely has a pitcher recovered from two on the same arm — and Chris Capuano is, if not the first, possibly the second pitcher in the majors to have returned from two “Tommy John” surgeries.

I mention this because another of my favorite players, former Brewers pitcher Ben Sheets, recently had a surgery so extensive that it was reported by Susan Slusser of the San Francisco Chronicle (Web site as a “surgery (that) involved every structure in the elbow — both tendons and the ligament — ” that Slusser was:

“amazed he was pitching with that kind of damage, and he wasn’t getting shelled; he was adequate.  That’s extraordinary.  There was basically nothing working in his elbow.”

The rest of Slusser’s blog from 8/11/10 is available here:

Sheets, like Capuano, is thirty-two years old.   He’ll be nearly thirty-four (and that only because he has a July birthday)  if — and when — he can attempt a comeback.   His surgery has been called the “most extensive” in the history of baseball — this headline at NBC Sports Hardball Talk on 8/11/2010 says it all:

Ben Sheets just had the most massive surgery in the history of pitching

Or how about this headline from the Contra Costa Times of 8/11/2010 — 

A’s update: Pitcher Ben Sheets faces long odds after undergoing Tommy John surgery

This article points out that Sheets is looking at nearly a two-year rehab cycle to rehab his surgically repaired right elbow, complete with both tendons and the “Tommy John” ligament replacement surgery.   And he’s a pitcher, unlike Capuano, who’s always relied on his plus-fastball and his plus-curveball (meaning he throws high heat, really fast, over 90 mph fastballs with serious movement on them, and the curveball he has moves so much that it’s not only hard to hit, it’s hard to catch, besides) to win in major league ball, whereas Capuano was always a control pitcher.  These surgeries do take a toll on the arm and they do lower the velocity on the fastball for most pitchers; it will be harder for Sheets to be effective in the majors afterward even if his rehab goes successfully.  (As I sincerely hope it will.)

Sheets ended his season with a 4.53 ERA, a 4-9 record (a bit deceptive; the A’s didn’t give Sheets much in the way of run support), and a walks plus hits per inning (WHIP) rating of 1.39, the highest in his career.  But as Ms. Slusser said, basically nothing was working in Sheets’ elbow; it’s amazing Sheets struck out 84 guys while walking 43 in 119 1/3 innings, considering that datum.

At any rate, Chris Capuano was always known to Brewers fans as a “workout warrior” while Ben Sheets was considered, at best, to be a guy who would rather pitch than do running, stretching, weight training, or anything else pitchers are supposed to do these days to keep themselves in shape.  This perception of Sheets by Brewers fans is probably less than accurate, especially considering Sheets’ recovery from his surgery after the 2008 season for a torn labrum (a different elbow ailment) took all of 2009 to rehab.  So it’s obvious Sheets can and will rehabilitate serious injuries — the main question here is, can he do it twice, as has Capuano?  And can he do it at an advanced age for any pitcher, much less a power pitcher like Ben Sheets?

Granted, Capuano (who’s now 32) was able to come back from two serious surgeries.  But it took him nearly two years the second time, and he had to swallow a great deal of pride, no doubt, when he signed a minor league deal with the Brewers in ’09 (he was in the low minors, mostly rehabilitating, toward the end of August last year), then again in ’10.

Chris Capuano has shown that it’s possible for someone with a strong will and a strong gift to win out over a recalcitrant body.  I hope Ben Sheets will be able to do the same; I hope his body will let him.   I do know that Sheets should be well aware of Capuano and the struggles Capuano had returning to the majors, because Sheets and Capuano were teammates for many years, though were never known to be close friends.

At any rate, the lesson here for writers, or for anyone at all, is the same as my first post about Chris Capuano — persist.  Keep trying.  Don’t give up.  Don’t lose hope.  Or if you do, shake it off and keep trying some more.  Because that is literally the only way — the only way — to win.

Written by Barb Caffrey

August 22, 2010 at 2:16 am

Words, Meanings, and Change

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Every writer knows that the meaning of words changes over time.  Sometimes it’ll be a really small shift, while other times, the word “bad” might mean good but retain its original meaning for most practical purposes.

But how are you supposed to be accurate while writing fantasy or science fiction, as for the most part fantasy tends to deal with times gone by or “the present, but with magic” or additional characters such as vampires, werewolves, or Elves, while science fiction is futuristic and up-to-the-minute?

Mostly, I try to stick with one approach whenever I’m dealing with a story — I tend to write in contemporary vocabulary unless the fantasy world I’m dealing with is obviously based on our past (but with magic, or a different religion, or whatever), in which case, my characters will speak in longer sentences and with more formality.  This is because in some ways, contemporary American English is used by most in our culture and society in a casual fashion — not just our slang terms, but our idiomatic turns of speech are far more casual than, say, the Victorian English used by our predecessors.  Or the English used in Regency-era England.

In ELFY, as well as in AN ELFY ABROAD and to an extent in KEISHA’S VOW, Michael and I came up with a language, Bilre, for the Elfys.  (Bilre is also the term they use to describe themselves “when they’re at home,” or among their own people.  There’s precedence enough for this in our own history that it shouldn’t draw any comment.)  We came up with rules for how it works, with various terms and even a few regional variant slang terms (as in our own world, where some words are used more frequently in the Midwest than on the West Coast, for example); there is an Elfy Lexicon.  All of this was done for the sake of consistency, and while Michael was by far better at this than I, I learned enough from him that I’ve been able to make up a few terms on my own since his untimely passing.

As for science fiction, noted writer Connie Willis came up with two words for her near-future “Doomsday Book” — they were “apocalyptic” for something great, fantastic, and awesome, and “necrotic” for something awful, bad and disgusting.  They were used by one of her pre-teen characters — pre-teens in books are generally the ones who use the most slang terms, though not always — and helped add to the illusion that we readers were in a slightly different place.  In a much tougher and far more comprehensive vein, eluki bes shahar came up with a whole new language, idioms and all, for her “Hellflower” trilogy; other authors have done similar things with regards to adding a few additional words (Marge Piercy comes to mind in Woman on the Edge of Time in her far-future sections) or a whole, new, comprehensively thought out language — from J.R.R. Tolkien to the more contemporary Robert Jordan (Jordan in particular had to come up with a number of languages, not an easy feat).

At any rate, in science fiction, the main thing is to be consistent and to stay consistent in your usage — readers will pick up on the idioms used if given time, and if it helps the reader to open a dictionary and look up a word while reading, say, a Gene Wolfe story, all the better.

Some examples of contemporary words in transition are “vacay,” which is a shortened form of the word “vacation” — I’ve seen this show up in a few articles lately and it reads oddly but sounds OK in actual speech — and “efforting,” as in, “I’m efforting Chris Capuano” — this particular turn of phrase annoys me, and takes some explanation if you’ve never heard it before.  Basically, instead of “I’m trying to get Chris Capuano on the phone” or “I’m making the effort to speak with Chris Capuano,” our local sportscaster Bill Michaels may say the shorthand “I’m efforting Chris Capuano” and hopes we’ll understand him.

Granted, Michaels wasn’t the first person to say this in the sports world — I’ve also heard sportscasters Dan Patrick and Jim Rome say the same thing, probably several months to perhaps a full year before Michaels.  But this is how a changed meaning to a word gets into the language — slowly, bit by bit, until it’s accepted.  Until it’s understood, graceless though it may be.

My brother, who is a teaching assistant, said recently that a word that annoys him is “flustrated,” which is a combination of “flustered” and “frustrated.”  He says he hears this all the time in Indiana, where he lives and works — so the rest of us may as well be warned, as this appears to be another word creeping into the language — something like “ginormous,” I suppose (a contraction of “gigantic” and “enormous,” though those two words mean exactly the same thing, while “flustered” and “frustrated” are not the same — just similar).

Other words I’ve noticed that have contracted are baseball terms.  For example, when I was a teenager in the 80s, it was common for a broadcaster to use the term “fouled out,” as in a baseball player hit a foul ball for an out.  But now, that’s been contracted into one word — “foulout” — though broadcasters in general do not use this.  (Instead, you see this on scoreboards or perhaps on TV.)  This is similar to the other contracted words “strikeout” instead of “struck out,” a two word, more active phrase (note that a pitcher getting a strikeout was already in the language; this particular contraction adds an additional meaning rather than a brand new word to our vocabulary); “popup,’ which may be seen also as “pop-up,” instead of “popped up” or “popped it up,” which is hitting the ball high and straight into the air rather than for any sort of distance, so an infielder might catch it; “popout,” which is the same thing as a “popup;” “lineout,” instead of “lined out” or “hit the ball hard, but right at someone for an out.”

At any rate, language changes over time, as these few examples show — we as writers need to be observant as new words enter the language, even if we think they’re silly or stupid or unnecessary (as, quite frankly, I find the word “efforting” to be).

What are some of the “new” words you can’t stand?  Or those you really like?

Written by Barb Caffrey

August 16, 2010 at 11:45 am

Narrative fail: why Lauren Froderman from SYTYCD is no “sex bomb.”

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Full disclosure:  I have watched the reality TV program “So You Think You Can Dance” for several years now — since season two.  Which is why I believe an attempted framing of the narrative failed this season.

Lauren Froderman is eighteen years of age, a recent high school graduate, and is from Phoenix, Arizona.  She also is the season seven winner of “So You Think You Can Dance,” and was extolled as “a perfect female dancer” time and time again by Mia Michaels, choreographer and judge.  She also was told again and again by Nigel Lythgoe, executive producer and judge, and Adam Shankman, well-known producer and judge, that she had “become a woman” on the show and was the epitome of sexiness when she danced.  She also was told that she was the “best female dancer” they’ve “ever had on the show” time and time again.

Um, excuse me.  No.  She.  Wasn’t.

Look.  I’ve watched SYTYCD every season since Benji Schwimmer’s year and win (season two), and I know what dancers have been through there.   Alison Holker, one of this year’s All-Stars (dancers from previous seasons who did not win, but impressed the judges, and were brought back to dance with this season’s eleven finalists), was probably the best all-around female dancer they’ve ever had — and she was in season two’s cast.  Other excellent female dancers have included Heidi Groskreutz (season two), Lacey Schwimmer, younger sister of Benji (season three), Chelsie Hightower (season four), Katee Shean (season five), and this season’s Ashley Galvan.  All of them, without fail, were more mature as dancers than Lauren Froderman, and projected more sexuality and sass, perhaps because nearly all of them were older than Lauren Froderman.

This doesn’t mean Lauren Froderman can’t dance.  She can.  She’s very good, but she’s also rather juvenile — she has almost no figure because she’s so young and she’s danced herself to under two percent body fat, no doubt — and she looks like she’s maybe fourteen years of age no matter how much makeup they put on the poor girl.

Now, did she work hard enough to win SYTYCD?  Of course she did.  SYTYCD is brutal, as shown by the fact that two dancers this season came up with severe injuries (Alex Wong, Ashley Galvan) and two more had injuries which, while not season-ending, didn’t help them (Lauren Froderman was injured two or three weeks from the end with a concussion and severe dehydration but danced anyway, while Billy Bell had to take a week off due to a knee problem). 

Lauren Froderman is as deserving as anyone who survived this year’s SYCYTD ; the problem is, why was it that there were no female dancers available who were up to the weight of Alison Holker, Lacey Schwimmer, et. al.?  And why was it, with the exception of Alex Wong and Billy Bell, that so few male dancers were up to the weight of past male contestants such as Travis Wall (runner-up, season 2), Danny Tidwell (runner-up, season 3), Will Wingfield (season four), or Ade Obayomi (season five), one of this year’s All-Stars?

The main problem I had with this year’s SYTYCD was the blatant manipulation by the judges Lythgoe, Michaels and Shankman.  We knew from the first they wanted Alex Wong, which didn’t bother me so much as he was excellent; then after he was injured, they hitched their wagon to Kent Boyd, who was charming and likable but also extremely young at eighteen years of age, but they obviously were also rooting for Lauren — especially as she was the only female contestant left standing around the top seven dancer mark. 

I don’t mind rooting, but I do mind blatant favoritism, and it gets old to hear “you are everything,” as Michaels said over and over again.  Because when that’s all a judge can say, it means someone isn’t doing their job to give constructive critiques to help these young dancers —  it means instead that someone is attempting to frame the narrative.

At any rate, Lauren Froderman is a very good, highly competent dancer.  She’s not great at ballroom, but she was good at everything, and was exceptional in her own specialty, contemporary dancing.  (AKA “fall, roll, fall, flail.”  That’s all it looks like to the uninitiated.)  She didn’t need the judges to tell her she was the sexiest woman who ever walked, or need the judges to tell her that her butt was the best part of the season (this happened again and again) — all she needed was for the judges to praise her dancing for its consistency, not all that other stuff.

I consider what judges Lythgoe, Michaels and Shankman did in extolling thin-as-a-board Lauren Froderman as the epitome of female sexuality a failure to frame the narrative, because while Lauren Froderman was a deserving winner, she did not exude sexuality or maturity as a dancer — she’s far too young for any of that — and the judges telling her that she did was a major disservice to the poor girl.

One final thought on this subject.   Season Three’s winner was a gal named Sabra Johnson, who was spunky and cute and a good dancer in a wide variety of styles.  But she hasn’t made a mark on the dance world since then, partly because she probably won too early in her development.   It’s possible Sabra listened to the hype, which was similar to the hype Lauren has been dealing with for the past several weeks — it’s also possible that Sabra’s development as an artist stopped because the competition messed with her head.  (As a former competitive musician, I understand this aspect.)  I can only hope that Lauren will realize as she matures that SYTYCD is only part of her life, part of her eventual career, and come to a more realistic self-image: that of an outstanding dancer, but one on the spunky and cute side rather than a “sex bomb” like Anya Garnis (yet another of this season’s All-Stars, from season four).

— Note: Dancers are athletes.  Even Gatorade has recognized this.  Which is why this post ended up in sports figures and sports marketing as well as the others.

Written by Barb Caffrey

August 13, 2010 at 3:14 am

My blog’s one-month observance, 8/11/2010.

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As of tomorrow, 8/11/2010, I’ll have had this blog for one full month now.  So as Dan Patrick often says on his radio show, “What have we learned?”

So far, I’ve learned that there really are people interested in reading what I have to say on a variety of subjects — imagine that!   And I’ve realized that even with my limited resumé to date with regards to fiction writing, I have something to offer those who haven’t been writing as long — namely, the voice of experience.   (Though in small letters, not caps.  Calling me “the Voice of Experience” makes me feel old.)

So far, I’ve done my best to frame the narrative, express my opinions on various subjects, and discuss my book, ELFY.  (Thus the name for the blog site, “Elfyverse.”)  I’ve also discussed publishing, e-books, writing, a few sports figures, persistence, oddities in commercials, and not to be outdone, I discussed the whole issue of how LeBron James attempted to frame his narrative — but failed — after his disastrous ESPN “The Decision” special.

Not too bad for one month’s work, eh?  (What a shame I’m not getting paid for it.  Then again, it does serve to keep me occupied and reasonably amused, so it has that much going for it.)

As for the state of the Elfyverse, I’ve completed two more chapters during the past four weeks for AN ELFY ABROAD, two more for KEISHA’S VOW (ELFY prequel set in 1954), and have completely looked over ELFY.  I now have the option of figuring out where ELFY may best be split to perhaps interest a few publishers (ELFY is 240,000 words long, which is very long for a first-time novelist.  Yes, Susanna Clarke got away with it in her novel JONATHAN STRANGE AND MR. NORRELL, but she had already sold at least one story in her alternate history prior to selling her novel, and the publisher knew it would have audience appeal and the backing of many critics.  Or at least was willing to bet on the latter while hoping for the former.  I have no such backers for ELFY, just my own will and strength, and of course the words and faith of my late husband Michael which must never be discounted or ignored.) — at any rate, such is the state of the Elfyverse at this time.  More updates as they become available.

But be sure to stay tuned.   ‘Cause I’m just getting started.

Barb Caffrey, who writes the Elfyverse — and anything else she pleases.

Written by Barb Caffrey

August 10, 2010 at 10:01 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

Bad Commercials: How to Damage the Narrative.

with 15 comments

We all see commercials on television every day.  Someone thinks up these commercials, writes scripts for the commercials, casts actors in the commercials and shoots the commercials.  Which means someone is trying to frame the narrative in a constructive, preferably positive, way.

But what happens when you get a bad commercial, one that not only fails to frame the narrative in the expected way, but actually brings up a terrible reaction?

I’m not the only writer who’s thought of this issue; there are blogs and blogs of information about bad commercials out there.  Here are just two:

There’s even a Web site posting that claims even bad commercials, those which you can only describe as “cringe-worthy,” are good for you:

My contention is far more humble.  I have watched much live television lately (Milwaukee Brewers baseball games, mostly) and cannot fast-forward through commercials, so have been forced to deal with three horrible commercials.  I am uncertain how to put up video links, so I will describe the commercials instead — if I later get video links, I will be happy to update this post.

The first, and worst, commercial I’ve seen during the Brewers telecasts is one for Motorola Droid phones.  There’s this thirtyish nebbish, a dark-haired, dark-eyed, rather frazzled man who’s still at work but is about to take a break.  He looks at his Droid phone, which has Blockbuster pre-loaded as an application (or “app”), and suddenly he can see his three-inch cell phone clear as day due to eyes that look to be straight out of the original “Terminator” movie.

Now, why doesn’t this commercial work?  (In a writerly sense, why does this narrative fail?)  Simple.  First, the guy is at work.  Yes, people check their cell phones at work, but very, very few are going to be watching movies at work — and if they do, they most likely would be doing it as a work exercise so could use a better computer.

For the record, I also thought the guy was too intense, too focused and too driven to watch a movie at work; when his eyes bug out and turn into reddish-black orbs that expand outward, I felt disgusted and almost lost my lunch.  The visual image that Motorola was trying to convey was that their little three-inch phone is more than powerful enough to play a movie — but what I got instead was a picture of an insecure, unsettled man who’s about to throw his job away because the telephone has messed with his brain.

Big thumbs-down to that.

My second least-favorite commercial during Brewers games is one for Miller Lite Beer.  (There are several for Miller Lite I don’t care for, but this is the worst of the lot.)  A couple is sitting in the park; the guy (he’s African-American, as is his girlfriend) is extolling the virtues of his beer.  (Very common in beer commercials.)  Then, when his girlfriend asks why her boyfriend loves her (as he’s been saying why he loves his beer for most of the minute commercial,) he can’t come up with anything.   As time starts to run out with the commercial, he tells her that he likes her hair (though he says “I like what you’re doing with this,” twirling a piece of her hair in the process), he loves “all her teeth,” and asks in desperation why she loves him.

Of course, she says, “You’re my soulmate.”  (Odd soulmate to have, IMO, but I’ll go along with it for the case of argument.)

What is his reply?  “Ditto.”

The narrative intended to be framed here is simple: if you drink Miller Lite, you’ll love your beer so much it’ll crowd everything else out of your head.  But what I got instead is, if you drink Miller Lite, you’ll turn into an insensitive, inarticulate jerk.

So these folks get a big thumbs-down as well.

The third is less offensive, but just as annoying.  It’s for a local car dealership, Porcaro Ford in Racine, WI.  These commercials (there are a series of them) always start out with someone using the “Dragnet” theme — “dum-de-dum-dum,” then one of the guys starts talking about what a crime it was that a lady customer had gone somewhere else.  But now that the woman has come in to see them (it’s all rendered in cartoon format, too, which I find cheesy rather than amusing), she has her pick of cars and Porcaro will give her top dollar on her trade whatever she picks.

The narrative here is that Porcaro is honest — they won’t “rob” you (their whole thing about how they’re “working robbery out of the Racine division” tips you off to that aspect), they won’t cheat you, they’ll give you “top dollar” — but also that they’re so relentless that they won’t leave you alone.

Now, why would I get that out of a simple 30 second spot or at most one minute spot?  Simple.  This commercial is played over and over again, as are the other two I mentioned during Brewers telecasts.  And because they’re played multiple times per game, and there are 162 games in a season — well, let’s just say these commercials go from mild dislike to active hatred to visceral disgust in a matter of days.  And the longer I see them, the less likely I am to get a Miller Lite beer, purchase a Droid phone from Motorola (much though I know Motorola needs to stay open and employs many people in Northern Illinois), or most especially go to Porcaro Ford.

These commercials, as marketing, are probably reaching someone.  I can’t imagine who really likes these commercials, though I can see a guy being mildly amused by the Miller Lite commercial and perhaps if you’ve only seen the Porcaro Ford commercial once, it might not annoy you.  (I can’t figure out for who, or what the purpose was, or even why that Droid commercial was aired once, much less multiple times.  Sorry.)

But as an exercise in framing the narrative, they have failed.

What are the worst commercials you’ve seen?  And do you think most commercials actually hit the target, miss the target, or are somewhere in between?  (In other words, do most commercials actually frame the right narrative?)

Written by Barb Caffrey

August 9, 2010 at 3:11 am

Publishers, e-books, and why the Baen Free Library Exists (UPDATED).

with 6 comments

The e-book is here to stay.  So the question now is, how should publishers deal with e-books?  More importantly, how much in royalties should be paid to authors?

My friend Jason Cordova wrote a very interesting blog tonight about publishers and e-books and these questions exactly, available here:

What set Cordova off was an article by Michael Bhaskar at BookBrunch (written on 7/29/2010).  There is a long-standing fight going on with regards to e-books, and its Kindle device, and MacMillan, which may be why Michael Bhaskar wrote his article; at any rate, that article is available here:

The Bhaskar article attempts to frame the narrative in such a way as to make authors look greedy for wishing to have more than 25% of net royalties.  Yet this is only one part of the entire narrative, as Cordova ably points out in his blog.

Random House, according to Bhaskar, believes 25% of net receipts is fair.  Whereas to many authors, including Cordova, that simply isn’t enough considering the lesser overhead of an e-book compared to a “dead tree” version.

The second question has to do with the fight between Digital Rights Media (DRM) and open source coding being used in order to sell e-books.  Cordova’s points need to be read in their entirety, but the upshot is that many publishers put out e-books in a way that is intended to keep people who haven’t paid for an e-book to read an e-book.   I know that sounds clunky, but the idea behind it is clunkier still — DRM, or to use a less fancy term, encoding or encryption, is to blame for any real long-term costs to the publisher, because it’s the cost of keeping a book encrypted and making sure no one has cracked the encryption that tends to cause long-term problems for publishers.

Yet several publishers, including Baen, Tor, Pyr, Twilight Times Books, Paladin Press and the new MuseItUp Publishing, have not chosen the way of DRM.   These companies believe it is far more important to be friendly to the customer and make it as easy and as rewarding as possible for the customer than to encrypt their books using DRM.

Baen in particular has made it as easy as possible to buy e-books through something they call WebScriptions — they come in as many formats as need be, using non-encrypted materials.  This has been a big marketing draw for Baen.

Better still, there’s something called the Baen Free Library, where many of Baen’s authors have chosen to allow one or more of his/her books to be put up so anyone, anywhere, can read it free of charge.  This has not hurt Baen’s business model; it’s actually helped instead.  Because most people want a dead-tree version of their favorite book; it’s still the easiest way to read a book, and will almost certainly continue to be so until and unless the Kindle, Nook and other electronic book devices become more user friendly.  (I know there’s been progress in this regard.  But I can still read a regular book far faster than an e-book, partly because it takes me less time to flip an actual page than it does to hit a mouse key or toggle downward.)

Not every publisher can put out their e-books in multiple formats; it’s almost certainly time-consuming to set up such a system, and I know Baen requires at least one full-time Webmaster to keep things running along smoothly.  But there must be some “wiggle room” between a publisher that puts out everything using DRM and those who don’t; customers like it when a company like Baen or MuseItUp Publishing offers several different, easy ways to buy an e-book, which tends to drive customer loyalty and satisfaction over time.

I wish I were more of a computer “geek,” because the esoteric points being made by those who swear by DRM (many of the publishers, including MacMillan and Random House to the best of my knowledge) tend to get lost in the aether.  That’s one reason I can’t explain them in more than general terms, though many of my friends are computer specialists and do completely understand all sides of this taxing and frustrating issue.

I do know that I very much appreciate what Baen Books is doing with its Webscriptions and the Baen Free Library, and that I’m very pleased to update this post by adding Tor, Pyr, Twilight Times Books, Paladin Press and MuseItUp Publishing to the list of smart publishers that want to please their customers and their writers.  Because it’s a simple equation for readers: if a publisher puts out books that are high quality and well-edited — Heck, puts some of them out for free! — that aren’t encrypted, this leads to higher sales, better royalty payments overall, and far higher customer and writer satisfaction.

That, my friends, is a win-win.  Which is why it puzzles me so much that the other heavy hitters in the industry haven’t followed the Baen model — which works — rather than continue to swim stubbornly upstream.


** Note: Jason Cordova’s comment about other publishers that do not use DRM have been incorporated into this blog post.   In addition, I heard from Lea Schizas, the publisher of MuseItUp Publishing, and she assured me that MuseItUp plans to offer several user-friendly options with regards to e-books, and that absolutely, positively, MuseItUp will not be using DRM.

Written by Barb Caffrey

August 4, 2010 at 8:07 am