Barb Caffrey's Blog

Writing the Elfyverse . . . and beyond

Archive for January 2011

Alissa Czisny, figure skating champion — and lesson in persistence

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Alissa Czisny is 23 years old and a figure skater from the United States.  She’s also the two-time U.S. National Champion, winning in 2009, and again this year in 2011.  And if you only knew that about her — not knowing about her 10th place finish last year in 2010, about her 9th place finish in 2008, about her up and down career before that — you’d think she’d had an easy, and perhaps even tranquil, existence.

But knowing that she’s had an up and down career, not to mention that she’s now 23 years of age, which is ancient for a female figure skater (many of the best in the world are 18 or less), changes that perception immeasurably, doesn’t it?

I’ve watched Ms. Czisny’s career for the past seven or eight years; she has beautiful spins, gorgeous spirals, and yet her jumps were never quite up to snuff.  She also battled her nerves, which endeared her to me as I knew when I used to perform that nerves were the final hurdle I needed to jump before performing well.  These two areas — nerves and jumps — had to be part of why her performances were, to be charitable, wildly inconsistent.

However, now she has new coaches,  Jason Dungjen and Yuka Sato (he a former US pairs National champion, she a former World gold medalist for Japan), a new and much more reliable jump technique, and much better control over her nerves. 

All of this has resulted in outstanding performance after outstanding performance this past year, with Ms. Czisny winning the Grand Prix finale, winning Skate Canada, coming in third at Trophée Eric Bompard, and winning the Midwestern Sectionals before winning, easily, the U.S. National championship last night.

Clearly, Ms. Czisny’s new coaches, along with her re-work on her jumping technique to make her jumps more consistent, have helped her greatly.  But what impresses me most about Ms. Czisny is the fact that she’s persisted.  She’s refused to give up, and while she apparently considered quitting after her dismal 10th place performance last year at the U.S. Nationals, she knew she had more to give.  And she was right.

Look.  I root for Alissa Czisny for three reasons.  The first is because she’s a gorgeous skater, with beautiful lines, and she does things I could never do with an ease and serenity that I find extremely appealing.  The second is because she’s 23 — ancient, in her sport — and she’s only getting better as a skater.  The third is because I root for the underdog, big-time, and Ms. Czisny qualifies because of her past inconsistency, and because of her indifferent performances on the international stage prior to this year.

Watching Alissa Czisny skate is like watching a ballerina on ice.  She’s just that graceful, and looks so perfect as a skater that people “ooh” and “ah” over her even when she does the most basic moves.  (Of course, all that “oohing” and “ah-ing” gets considerably louder when Ms. Czisny spins.   She has to be the best female spinner in the world, with grace and center and perfect positions and forms.  No one can outclass her in that area — no one.)

But I think the main reason people root for her, myself included, is because we want her to succeed.  She’s been out there competing on a high level for the past eight or nine years, and has so many strengths, but it’s never quite been her time.

It looks like 2011 is now, finally, Alissa Czisny’s time.

Let that be a lesson to everyone — persist, and don’t give up.  Don’t let anything stop you if you know you’re right.  Be like Alissa Czisny instead, and let yourself soar.

Written by Barb Caffrey

January 30, 2011 at 4:56 pm

Stories at e-Quill Publishing and State of the Elfyverse

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Folks, it’s that time of year again . . . time for my periodic “state of the Elfyverse” post, and also a friendly reminder of my stories, and Michael’s, that are available at e-Quill Publishing.

As for the Elfyverse — Part 45 of AN ELFY ABROAD is complete.  Parts 43 and 44 have been revised and are complete.  Part 46 has been started.  Not a bad month’s work.

As for the Elfyverse (new) short story, “Boys Night In,” I have a new beginning that works a little better, but it’s still in progress.  I’ve maybe added 500 words, total, since the last time I discussed it . . . more work to go on that one.  The story stands, right now, at 8500 words in length.

“Keisha’s Vow,” the ELFY prequel set in 1954 (with dead characters being alive, while others are much younger), remains stalled out.  Right now it’s in the novella range, but I think it projects to a full (albeit short) novel . . . I know what comes next but not quite how to get there, as if I’d missed a few steps along the path that is this particular story.  Still working on this one.

As for ELFY, I haven’t found an agent yet, nor have I found a publisher for it, but I remain hopeful.

Now, as for the stories at e-Quill Publishing?  One is mine alone, a short story satire about friendship, aliens, and unemployment called “The Fair at South Farallon.”  It’s 3750 words long and is available at this link:

The next one is an Elfyverse short story that originally appeared at the Written Word Online Magazine in 2007, “Trouble with Elfs,” that was started with the able assistance of my late husband, Michael, thus he gets a credit for it.  It’s available at this link:

Finally, there are several stories of Michael’s available, the latest of which is the Joey Maverick adventure “On Westmount Station,” a story I finished for him and co-wrote.  It is 10,000 words long, and if there’s interest in this story I plan to continue writing in my husband’s “Maverick” universe.

Please go to this link to find it; it’s a bargain at only $1.00 (Australian):

Written by Barb Caffrey

January 30, 2011 at 11:40 am

State of the Union: Awful, awful, awful.

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Folks, I don’t even know where to start regarding last night’s State of the Union speech (henceforth to be referred to by its acronym, SotU), except for one word, repeated three times: awful, awful, awful.

Why would I choose to repeat one word three times?  Well, the state of the United States right now — or of our Union — is exactly that.  Awful. 

That the President of the United States, Barack Obama, talked around the problem rather than talked about the problem, is also exactly that — awful

And finally, that the pundits did not call the President to account for not coming right out and saying, “Right now, people in the United States are suffering and rather than talk about nonsensical things or irrelevant things, I’m going to talk about them,” they, too, can only be summed up by just one word (you guessed it): awful.

I listened to the SotU last night and was appalled.  Barack Obama is a very smart, literate, intelligent man who knows better than this.  The American people were waiting for him to say, “I know it’s bad.  I’m working on trying to make it better.  I really think these things will work,” and only pick a few things to discuss — not so many things that after an hour of draining words, you don’t have anything to show for it but a bunch of meaningless quotes that won’t mean anything to the average person at all.

Yes, I get it that we need Green Jobs.  Hillary R. Clinton ran for President in 2008 and this was one of her platforms; I am for Green Jobs.  I see how they could actively help the economy if carefully managed, because Green Jobs won’t be able to be created overnight.

But talking about that as one of the hallmarks of your plan is not something most people care about.

No, Mr. President.  What we care about is simple.  The economy, stupid.  (From Bill Clinton’s “It’s the economy, stupid,” not meant as a pejorative.)

The economy is in the toilet.  Unemployment is horrible — over 9% and rising — and the only reason it’s not well over 15% is because people have fallen off the rolls and have “aged off” the system.   No provision has been made for these people, which is beyond disheartening; it’s as if the people in Washington, DC, including the President of the United States who should know better, have turned their backs on these folks (collectively called the 99ers).  They can’t find work not because they aren’t qualified: most are.  Not because they don’t want to work: they do.  But because there aren’t anywhere near enough jobs for all the people who want work.  That’s the fact, and it wasn’t even touched last night.

Nor was the second-biggest issue that’s currently on people’s minds — guns, or at least semi-automatic handguns with extra-large clips** wielded by people who are delusional and unable to understand reality like Jared Lee Loughner.  Representative Gabrielle Giffords (D-AZ) was discussed very briefly in the opening paragraph, then dropped, which left a huge opportunity on the table.

Next, I realize the SotU address is political theatre, but did we really need the theatre of the absurd?

I’m referring, of course, to the ridiculousness of seeing the Republicans and Democrats uneasily co-existing in front of the President rather than sit on opposite sides as they’ve generally done.  No one looked happy with this, and if it was intended (as was said) to be a “call for civility” in action, it was a dismal failure.

Finally, I re-iterate: what about the jobs?  What about the economy?  What about the high unemployment?  What are you going to do, Mr. President, about any of this, other than pontificate, obfuscate, and talk meaninglessly for over an hour?

The address, Mr. President, was simply too long.   And it wasn’t what we wanted — nay, needed — to hear.

Regardless of the left-wing pundits, the right-wing pundits, the centrist pundits or whatever other pundits may exist . . . and regardless of how some of the SotU address might work in smaller “sound bites” . . . this speech failed the country.  I don’t care what anyone says; I know the truth, as I’m a highly educated woman with a Master’s degree, and I’ve read a lot of history.

This speech was a dismal failure.

We needed to hear that you care, Mr. President.  That you are trying to do something.  And that what you’ll do will take effect this year.  Not next year.  Not the year after that.  Not in 2020.  Not in 2040.  But this year.  Now.   Because things are bad and are getting worse.

That you did not, Mr. President, probably will affect your chances in 2012.  For the worse.  And I can’t believe you don’t have some advisor who isn’t a yes-man up there in Washington, DC, who should’ve told you that this speech was a stinker.  Because if that person did so, you should’ve listened.

The 2011 SotU speech will end up making no difference in the long run, except to cement that you, President Barack Obama, are seen as well-meaning and benevolent, but also out of touch.  Big-time.


** Jason Cordova kindly pointed out that Jared Loughner used a semi-automatic handgun rather than an assault rifle, and he is of course quite right.  The main reason I keep thinking “assault rifle” is how big that clip was that Loughner was using — a legal size, yes, but still, very large.  That doesn’t excuse why I got it wrong even though I’ve heard the term over and over again, of course.  The error has now been corrected, as you see.  BC

New book review at SBR for Donaldson’s “Against All Things Ending”

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Folks, I don’t know even where to begin trying to discuss AGAINST ALL THINGS ENDING, except that it’s excellent and depressing, hopeful yet sad, and develops further Stephen R. Donaldson’s theory that in guilt lies power, providing you use that guilt with wisdom and intelligence.

Please read my review for more:

Written by Barb Caffrey

January 26, 2011 at 10:43 pm

Posted in Book reviews

New Joey Maverick story up at E-Quill Publishing

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Ten years ago, my late husband, Michael B. Caffrey, completed his novel MAVERICK: LIEUTENANT, a novel of military science fiction in a far-future universe depicting the Atlantean Union (which comprises humanity, the Kiral, a cat-like race, and the Wyrm, who are sort of like flightless dragons, along with were-mice and cat-owls, sentient creatures who are more than animals but perhaps less — or other — than humans, Kiral and Wyrm).    He unfortunately did not live long enough to see an allied story about Joey Maverick, “A Dark and Stormy Night” (subtitled by me “A Joey Maverick Adventure”) published at the Written Word Online Magazine in May, 2005, nor did he ever intend for me to do any writing in his universe.  (By necessity, I both edited “A Dark and Stormy Night” and added about 1400 words, upping the romance a little bit and adding some internal monologue, in order to make it a legal collaboration and thus a little easier to sell.)

But Michael left behind what he called “The Big Book of Maverickiana,” a few notes, a great deal of personal reminiscence and, of course, me.  And I couldn’t leave Michael’s universe alone; I couldn’t leave his work unfinished and unable to be appreciated.

We’d been told by a few publishing insiders we trusted that the only thing Michael’s novel needed was action; it had everything else.  So I endeavored to add some, keeping in mind Michael’s main dictum about Joey Maverick, which was that Joey should have adventures — how not?  But not have them in such an obvious way that non-Naval people know much about them . . . or maybe anything at all.

I wrote most of what’s now “Joey Maverick: On Westmount Station” in 2006, then revised and updated in 2008 and again in 2009 before finally finding an ending I liked in 2010.  I added characters, dialogue, an important subplot, internal monologue and additional interaction between the already-extant characters in the narrative, making this a 50/50 collaboration (or perhaps a bit more; this was drawn from the first chapter of Michael’s novel but, shall we say, was liberally interpreted by me).  The story is approximately 10,000 words in length — a long short story, or perhaps closer to a novelette? — and would probably be the first tenth to twelfth of a proposed “Maverick” novelization/revision.

Michael and I actually discussed what to do in the event something happened to either one of us (I guess I should thank the whole mess surrounding the brain-damaged Terri Schiavo, which was still going on in early 2004 before her ex-husband, who was also her legal guardian, was allowed to end her life in accordance to what he said were his late ex-wife’s wishes), and what he’d told me was this: “If you are able to do anything with it, do what you think best.  I trust you.  But if you can’t, please don’t bend yourself out of shape just to keep this alive.  Work on your own writing, and enjoy your life, first.”

I’ve done the former — and I’ve been trying, very hard, to do the latter, ever since Michael’s untimely passing in September of 2004 — but I’m sorry.  I could not let this universe go.  There’s so much potential there; so much of what Michael had is really, really good and all it needs are what amounts to a few sub-plots and some additional action and then it can be sold.  It won’t be exactly what Michael would’ve written, but it’ll be as close as I can make it because this is what I must do in order to honor Michael’s memory, and keep faith with him in the way I see best — by bringing as much of his literary creation to the marketplace as I possibly can, as he undoubtedly would’ve done had his heart not inexplicably given out that fateful, tramautic, and inexpressibly sad day.

I hope you will enjoy this story, as it was a labor of love and faith to keep Michael’s universe alive all these years.  And providing it is appreciated as much as “Dark and Stormy Night” was, in 2005 and again with its re-release in 2010 by E-Quill Publishing, I’ll be writing a whole new chapter into Joey’s story, something Michael was talking about but did not get the chance to write . . . but that’s for another day.

For now, please go to the link at:

Thank you kindly, and please, let me know what you think of this story.



Updated as of 1/30/2015: Both of Michael’s “Joey Maverick” stories are now available on Amazon, not at E-Quill Publishing. (I thought people knew that, but I had some comments today indicating not everyone does.) I hope to be able to format these stories for the Nook later this year also, but for now, if you wish to read Michael’s work (and I do hope you do), please go to these two places, and enjoy!

For “A Dark and Stormy Night,” AKA how Joey meets the love of his life, the fiery Belinda Simpson, amidst a far-future sailing disaster:

For “On Westmount Station,” described above:

Just reviewed Modesitt, Jr.’s “Empress of Eternity” — Excellent.

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Folks, if you haven’t read EMPRESS OF ETERNITY yet, you should.

But in case you need a reason to read it, go read my review at Shiny Book Review right now:


Written by Barb Caffrey

January 23, 2011 at 3:55 pm

Posted in Book reviews

Just reviewed “Troubled Waters” at Shiny Book Review

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Folks, I enjoy Sharon Shinn’s writing a great deal, so reading TROUBLED WATERS wasn’t a hardship.  That said, it’s far from the best of her novels, and her magical universe — one which deals with five elements, but not the traditional five of air, fire, earth, water and spirit (instead, hers are water, air/spirit, earth, fire, and the Hunti or wood/bone element) — was not that unusual.

What was unusual, though, was a plot structure that required nearly a full half of the book before Zoe Ardelay (the main character) figures out who and what she is, and nearly a fourth of the book before Zoe makes much sense (as she starts off the book in the throes of grief as her father has just died; her mother died years before).  That Zoe’s personality was more or less subsumed by her father, one of the Sweela element (or fire/mind), is a given; how she comes out of that is unusual and worth reading, yet is so slow-going that at times it was nearly torturous compared to other Sharon Shinn novelizations.

At any rate, here’s my latest review:

Hope y’all will enjoy it.

Written by Barb Caffrey

January 22, 2011 at 8:04 pm

Keith Olbermann Ousted by MSNBC

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Keith Olbermann is out at MSNBC, and many of my friends among the Hillary Clinton Democrats (and Independents) are cheering tonight because of some of the awful things KO said about Mrs. Clinton (one of the comments was something like, “Someone should take her into a room, then only one of ’em come back out,” which was indeed a terrible comment to make).

But I feel . . . strange, I guess is the best word.  I don’t think this is a triumph at all, nor do I see it as a form of karmic comeuppance.  I feel that Olbermann , while controversial, would nearly always backtrack when something he believed later turned out to be wrong.  And in fact, earlier this year after the shooting of Representative Gabrielle Giffords (D-AZ), Olbermann apologized for any comments he might’ve made — including that awful one I alluded to above — that made violence seem at all an acceptable resort to combat any political candidate, or any politician.  Olbermann has made it clear in recent weeks that the only two things people should do are these:

1) Educate yourself, and learn about the candidates.

2) Vote for the candidate who best represents you and your beliefs.

(For which I applaud him, as he’s been one of the very few commentators who’s been explicit about what should be done in the wake of what’s now being called the “Tucson Tragedy.”)

In other words, I think Olbermann has realized he made a few mistakes here and there, and had become a slightly better balanced commentator over recent weeks.  I’d been heartened at this turn of events and hoped it would continue; that “Countdown with Keith Olbermann” is now off the air is, to my mind, a stunning disappointment because despite my objections to how Olbermann sometimes handled himself (especially over l’affaire Hillary Clinton in 2008), he was an entertaining host who made politics a little less complex and a lot more fun on his best nights.

Lawrence O’Donnell will be taking over Olbermann’s time slot, which isn’t an improvement by any means . . . while O’Donnell can have an interesting perspective, he doesn’t have much of a sense of humor, nor does he seem to know when to back off a little (his overwhelming personality, bigger than Olbermann’s in my opinion, does not help anything, either).   Then Ed Schultz moves into O’Donnell’s late-night slot — and while I like Ed’s program a great deal, I’d rather see it at 5 PM CST where it’s always been than have it move to the 9 PM slot.  And finally, Cenk Uyger, who’s called one of the “Young Turks,” is getting his own program at 5 PM for reasons that escape me . . . this, to my mind, does not bring MSNBC even close to being a balanced network, nor does it promote a balanced perspective in any way, shape or form.

Keith Olbermann has always been a lightning rod for criticism; he was one when he worked for ESPN as a sports announcer, and he’s been one at MSNBC as a news announcer.  But one thing KO has never been is boring . . . so in that sense, unlike many of my HRC friends, I will miss Olbermann, especially as he really did seem to be getting a better, and more centrist, perspective lately.

Written by Barb Caffrey

January 22, 2011 at 12:43 am

Are we _really_ supposed to want to work at Wal-Mart? A rant.

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Folks, I have grown tired of these “people who work at Wal-Mart” commercials, and as I just saw (and heard) another of these, I need to discuss why I do not appreciate them in the slightest.

First off, I am really surprised by the tone of these commercials.  The Hispanic woman who’s proud — very, very proud — of her work at Wal-Mart because it “got her off welfare” and now she’s even gotten her son a job there — far be it for me to say, but shouldn’t she have aspired to a bit more than this?

Look.  I worked as a cashier for three-plus years and a grocery stocker for a few more.  I do not look down on people who do these jobs; I know they’re valuable and that many very smart, capable people work in these jobs for a time, or maybe for their entire life.

But for someone who was basically lost, by her own admission, before she started working for Wal-Mart . . . either this is TMI (too much information) or she’s dissembling a little bit to be polite.  Either way, I dislike it very much and wish she’d stop.

Where you work is only part of who you are; I realize that and respect it.  And I recognize that this Hispanic lady, along with the others who are proud to work at Wal-Mart and have been trumpeting it to the skies for at least three months now, are smart people who would seem to have more than one option.

So why is it, then, that whenever I think about Wal-Mart, I have the Saturday Night Live skit in my head where Wal-Mart comes in and takes over everyone, so the folks who used to have independent thoughts or were independently opposing Wal-Mart are now subsumed into its inexhaustible matrix?

These “people who work for Wal-Mart” commercials, to my mind, are sad.  Just sad.  Because I don’t for one minute buy that Wal-Mart is a “hip and happening” place, or one where people often go and grow . . . that some do is undeniable, but that most do?  Unlikely at best.

All I can do is shake my head and change the channel when I see the “people who work at Wal-Mart” commercials, because it just rings so hollow.  And false.

I cannot believe I am the only one, either, which makes me wonder why these commercials are still on the air.

If this is an attempt at framing the narrative, Wal-Mart corporate board, it’s utterly failed, because I just don’t see how pointing out a bunch of people who happen to work for you who are uncommonly cheerful about it helps get people to spend money at your stores.  (If the thought behind this narrative framing failure was that if we saw the people who work at Wal-Mart that we might realize they’re just like the rest of us, well, all I can say is, “I see your point but that doesn’t mean I’m going to spend any more money in your stores.”  In other words, it’s a non sequitur of major proportions.)

So with all of that being said, all I can do is hope these “people of Wal-Mart” commercials will soon go off the air.  Because all I can think of when I see these bright, amiable people talk about their Wal-Mart experiences is this:  “Why?  Why?”

Written by Barb Caffrey

January 18, 2011 at 6:01 pm

Packers win; Rodgers being praised to the skies — and I don’t care.

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The Packers won tonight, 48-21, against Atlanta.  Aaron Rodgers had an excellent game, one of his best ever.

So, why don’t I care?  A little background, first.

Folks, I have followed the Packers since I was very small — something like three or four years old.  But I’ve grown tired of the need at every step by both state and national reporters to glorify Aaron Rodgers at the expense of former Packers QB (and sure-to-be Hall of Famer) Brett Favre.

Look at tonight’s story from Yahoo Sports; first, here’s the link:;_ylt=AnZs3MZQTLWirpX6pR06CFk5nYcB?gid=20110115001

Next, a relevant quote:

ATLANTA (AP)—Brett who? Aaron Rodgers(notes) has turned these NFL playoffs into his own showcase.

Moving down a few paragraphs, the article continues:

Rodgers completed 31 of 36 passes for 366 yards, more than Brett Favre(notes)—the guy he replaced in Green Bay—ever threw for in a playoff game. After knocking off Michael Vick(notes) and the Eagles in Philadelphia, then dominating Matt Ryan(notes) and the Falcons in Atlanta, Rodgers is creating his own legacy in Titletown USA.

That Rodgers surely is, but comparing him to Favre is unnecessary.  Favre was a great quarterback who is now retired.  Football’s rules have changed in the past few years allowing for more offense, and Rodgers — and the Packers’ offensive schemes — have taken advantage of that.

Either Rodgers is a good quarterback on his own — I believe he is — or he isn’t, but in any event a comparison to Brett Favre is unhelpful unless you want to go back to Favre’s second or third playoff game.  (This is Rodgers’ third playoff game, the second of this year, and before this year he’d played in one and lost in one, the 48-47 shootout in Arizona last year.)

Comparing Rodgers, who is a young man with only one significant injury this year (a concussion that kept him out of a game or two), with Favre, who is over 40 and was hobbled by at least five significant injuries (foot, ankle, elbow, throwing shoulder, and a nasty concussion that kept him out of his last two games and shortened a third), is not just an “apples to oranges” comparison — it is kicking a legend, Brett Favre, while he’s down. 

I blame headlines like this on those who are angry because of Favre’s off-the-field issues or his inability to give up playing football on someone else’s timetable other than his own.  I see them as childish, mean-spirited, unnecessary, and extremely rude.

Aaron Rodgers is a good quarterback who played a very fine game.  But he is not a certain Hall of Famer just yet, and as far as his personality goes, there’s no comparison between the engaging, “aw shucks, ma’am” persona of Favre and the driven, competitive, smart but rather taciturn Rodgers.

In ten years, perhaps we’ll know if Rodgers is another Steve Young — a legend following in the footsteps of another, greater legend (in Young’s case, he followed Joe Montana in San Francisco, as all football fans know) — or if he’s another guy who’ll have a few, brief years in the sun, then start to fade as injuries take their toll.

Until then, the folks writing stories such as these really should shut the Hell up.

Written by Barb Caffrey

January 16, 2011 at 12:32 am