Barb Caffrey's Blog

Writing the Elfyverse . . . and beyond

Archive for February 2012

Just Reviewed Darlene Craviotto’s “An Agoraphobic’s Guide to Hollywood” at SBR

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Folks, if you like writing, screenwriting, real-life stories about people circumventing their problems, wry humor, and/or Michael Jackson, you will love Darlene Craviotto’s non-fiction memoir AN AGORAPHOBIC’S GUIDE TO HOLLYWOOD: How Michael Jackson Got Me Out of the House.

Don’t let the long title fool you; this is a fun and fast read that packs quite a punch.  (At Shiny Book Review, I called it “moving, insightful, and honest,” which also works for most practical purposes.)

Go take a look!

Written by Barb Caffrey

February 17, 2012 at 12:13 am

Valentine’s Day 2012 — A Slow, Quiet Day

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Today was a slow, quiet day in most respects; I mostly focused on editing.  But then I realized that I hadn’t posted a blog subject in several days (bad, bad me), so that’s why you’re seeing a new one even though I have little to say of consequence.

That being said, let’s get to it.

Folks, those of you who have living spouses and/or significant others, I hope you’ve had a wonderful Valentine’s Day.

For the rest of y’all, who are in my position — that is, widows and widowers — do your best to remember how it felt to be fully alive in all senses, and how it felt to love and be loved in return.  That’s the best way we have to honor our loved ones, so treasure those memories and do not surrender them even if (when?) you manage to find someone new to love down the road.  Because if someone falls in love with you, they have to fall in love with every part of you, not just the parts they like — or the parts that are easiest to love.  And as a wise man once told me, “Michael was a very big part of your life.  How you could possibly excise him in order to tempt someone else into a relationship is beyond me.  So don’t listen to anyone who tells you not to talk about Michael, because that person is, as you say, ‘plain, flat wrong.'”  (Three guesses as to who said this, and the first two don’t count.)

Anyway, this is what I said last year, and it still holds true for this year and many years to come:

So remember, folks; V-Day should be all about love, not all about what gifts you give (or get in return).


Written by Barb Caffrey

February 14, 2012 at 10:56 pm

Powerball Jackpot at $325 Mil; Broke Down and Bought a PB Tix

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Folks, you may recall my post a few weeks ago about Powerball raising their basic price per line from $1 to $2 — and about how I believed that was a stupid, pointless, and unnecessary act.

While I still believe all that, when the jackpot hits $325 million, it’s hard to resist buying a ticket.  So I did buy one — and only one — due to the nature of the very high jackpot.

Does this make me a hypocrite?  Yes, it does.  (But at least I’m an honest one.)

My reflections on the $2 Powerball game after a few weeks of settling remain mostly unchanged; I don’t think the slight lowering of the odds (as it used to be that you had 42 balls to pick from in the actual “Powerball” part; now, there are 36 instead) and quicker rollover to higher jackpot amounts are worth having to pay $2 per line.

I still think, most of the time, you’re better off burying a dollar bill in the backyard and leaving it there until spring (or whenever) and then digging it up again than you are playing a line of Powerball ($1 a line or the current $2 per line).

But see above, as I broke down and bought one anyway.  (A fool and her money are soon parted, as they say.  Though I suppose there are worse ways to spend $2, too.)

We’ll see if it does any good.


Note: The reason “persistence” is tagged as a category here is because up until Powerball changed their price per line, I’d played nearly every draw since the games inception.  I continue to play the same numbers; the only difference is, now I am unwilling to play Powerball unless the jackpot is a really huge amount.

Written by Barb Caffrey

February 12, 2012 at 12:16 am

Just Reviewed Theresa Meyers’ “The Hunter” at SBR

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Folks, if you like inventive steampunk, especially with at least one mechanical horse and in a Western milieu, look no further than Theresa Meyers’ THE HUNTER.

However, as Meyers’ novel is also a paranormal romance, and as the romantic aspects of this book leave something to be desired (mostly because the putative hero of the book, Colt Jackson, doesn’t seem to have the brains necessary to attract anyone, much less a worldly-wise demon of a succubus named Lilly), this one was tough to grade.

Please read my review, which has just been posted at SBR as per usual:

Then you’ll understand why grading THE HUNTER was so difficult, as the pluses are many — but so are the minuses.


Written by Barb Caffrey

February 11, 2012 at 11:22 pm

Whitney Houston dies at 48

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Whitney Houston has died at age 48.

I heard the news tonight on various channels, including MSNBC, CNN, and Fox News, so there is no mistake.  Houston is dead, and her beautiful voice and ability to emote while singing has died with her.

From a musical standpoint, there was a great deal to admire about Houston.  She had an operatic range, which is rare for singers of popular music (only Mariah Carey among current pop singers has anything close to the range of Houston).  She also chose great songs from great songwriters; for example, one of Houston’s best-known songs, “I Will Always Love You,” was originally written and performed by Dolly Parton — herself no slouch as a singer.  Yet Houston was able to add something to Parton’s excellent song to the point that if you asked ten people who’d heard each version which one they liked better, seven out of ten would probably say they liked Houston’s version better.

Houston’s death is a great loss for the music community.  And even knowing that the Grammy Awards are tomorrow (where music as a whole celebrates music and musicians), and that there will have to be a Houston retrospective, it doesn’t help overmuch because it just doesn’t seem right that someone so vital die at age 48.

As anyone who’s read my blog knows, I resonate strongly to this because my late husband Michael died at age 46, suddenly and without warning.  Then my best friend Jeff died last year, suddenly and without warning, after he’d fought off the worst of a terrible bacterial infection and seemed to be on the upswing, at age 47.  This is why it really and truly does not seem right to me that someone who still had so much left to give is dead at age 48.

I tend to think a person’s life has to be measured by what he or she did with it; in the case of Houston, I believe she was as successful as she could be, considering the terrible toll drug addiction had exacted from her.  She was a gifted performer, a fine singer, and by many accounts was a very kind person whose only real weakness was drugs.

At any rate, Houston’s life is over; she’s done all she could, and now all we have left are the recordings she left behind.

I refuse to say “rest in peace” because the phrase has been so overused that it’s trite.  I’d rather say that my heart goes out to Houston’s daughter, Bobbi Kristina, Houston’s ex-husband, Bobby Brown (someone that Houston stayed close to even after she divorced him), her mother Cissy Houston (a gifted singer in her own right), and cousin Dionne Warwick (one of the best singers of the ’60s, ’70s, and early ’80s), along with anyone else who knew Houston or loved her music.  May they be comforted by their memories and/or her music; may her spirit find happiness in Eternity.  (Amen.)


** Note:  Whatever else that can be said about my late husband, or my best friend Jeff, know that up until the day of each man’s passing, they learned, changed, grew, and became better people the longer they lived.  This is not to say they were saints (saints are boring); they were good men, which is a whole lot tougher thing to be than it seems.

Whitney Houston, according to Rev. Al Sharpton, had beaten most of her demons (this is my best paraphrase from hearing Sharpton on CNN and earlier on MSNBC); CNN has reported that Houston was about to star in her first movie in 15 years.  So as far as anyone knows right now, Houston was clean and sober.  She was able to act.  And she was able to perform again, albeit with a voice that was badly ravaged by drugs — though even had she “stayed clean” throughout her life, the voice tends to break down for many operatic-trained sopranos in their late 40s.

To my mind, Houston’s life was a success.  Not because she was such a great singer, but because she kept trying and didn’t give up.  In this way — and perhaps only in this way — she was like my husband, or my friend, and that’s the main reason I mourn her passing.

Written by Barb Caffrey

February 11, 2012 at 9:45 pm

Just Reviewed books 1 and 2 in Jim C. Hines’ “Princess” Series

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Folks, if you’re looking for an intriguing, funny read about princesses who can and do fight for themselves, look no further than Jim C. Hines’ “Princess” series.

Both THE STEPSISTER SCHEME and THE MERMAID’S MADNESS are funny, have unusual story twists, and are lively adventures that will hold your interest.

While I believed the first book, THE STEPSISTER SCHEME, was far better than the second book in this series, they’re both worth buying in paperback.

That’s why I reviewed these books at Shiny Book Review tonight; please go to this link for further details:


Beware Absolutes

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Tonight’s blog post is simple: beware absolutes, especially when it comes to writing.

Look.  When we write, if we write about a character who has only one motivation, that’s going to be a one-dimensional character that’s tough to work with.  And yet the world is full of “shades of gray,” which you’d never know if you turned on the evening news or if you listened to political talk shows all day (as I often do; I do rotate from the leftward spinning ones of MSNBC to the rightward spinning ones of Fox News to at least get some variety in the coverage).

How people see things is often related to how they’ve heard those same things be described in the past.  This is just the way our contemporary, 21st Century world is; perhaps it’s because we don’t seem to have enough time to be able to think for ourselves after carefully studying the issues.  Or perhaps it’s just more comfortable for us to be around others who share our world view and belief system, which might be why so many of us look at the world in the most basic, absolute, black-and-white thinking imaginable.

For a writer, this sort of ultra-concrete thinking is deadly.  It creates dull, one-dimensional characters which populate dull, one-dimensional stories, and those are stories no one wants to read.

Now, there have been legitimate times in the world history where there was a really good system versus a terrible one — such as during the 1930s until 1945.  What Adolf Hitler did to Germany was unconscionable, but the reason we still read about him is because he wasn’t one-dimensional (no matter how much we might’ve wanted him to be).  This is a man who painted (though not well).  He loved music,  and was a devotee of Wagner.  He enjoyed comparative religion and religious philosophy.  And no matter how much you might loathe him (I know I certainly do), he definitely was a multi-faceted person with a huge amount of interests that fascinates readers even now due to both his psychological complexity and the fact that he was able to subjugate an entire country to his whims.

We writers must learn from history and remember that even the worst people thought they were doing the right thing by their lights.  (They might be the only one thinking they were doing the right thing, mind you.)  That even the worst people probably had occasional pangs of conscience.  And that even the worst people were not one-dimensional cardboard cutouts.

Mind you, you also need to be cognizant of the flip side, as there are very few angelic types in this world (Mother Teresa, Father Damien the Leper Priest, and a very few others).  These “earth angels” among us (or bodhisattvas, if you’d prefer that term) knew they were fallible, mortal, and just as guilty of having a bad thought or a bad day as anyone else.

Remember always to “beware absolutes,” and beware absolutism.  Because that is the enemy not only of good writing, but of good thinking as well.

Written by Barb Caffrey

February 9, 2012 at 12:22 am

Just reviewed Ellen Renner’s “Castle of Shadows” at SBR

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Folks, CASTLE OF SHADOWS is a good, solid YA fantasy-adventure about eleven-year-old Princess Charlotte of Quale (‘cept she’s always called “Charlie”).  Charlie’s mother left her and her father, the King, five years ago, without explaining why.  All Charlie knows is that her mother was a gifted scientist and physicist, and that apparently Charlie’s mother found out something that scared her so much that she burned her notes and then skipped town.

There’s a lot of intrigue here, and some good action-adventure down the line, too.

Here’s a link so you can read it at SBR:


Written by Barb Caffrey

February 8, 2012 at 7:26 pm

US Rep. Pete Hoekstra (R-MI) Approves of Racist, Polarizing Ad

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Pity former United States Representative Pete Hoekstra (R-MI).  He recently approved of an ad that, to put it charitably, is both racist and xenophobic.  This ad aired on his campaign’s behalf in the state of Michigan during the Super Bowl, which just goes to show that there’s no accounting for taste.

The ad, featuring an Asian-American girl speaking broken English while biking through a bunch of rice paddies, is an extremely tone-deaf way to say that current US Senator Debbie Stabenow (D-MI) spends too much money (as the Chinese girl says, “Thank you Debbie SpendItNow” and there’s an associated Web site, to boot).  Here’s the text of what this young woman actually says in the ad:

“Thank you, Michigan Senator Debbie Spenditnow. Debbie’s spent so much American money. You borrow more and more from us. Your economy get very weak. Ours get very good. We take your jobs. Thank you, Debbie Spenditnow.”  (Transcribed this evening while listening/watching to it on MSNBC’s “The Ed Show” and Current TV’s “Countdown with Keith Olbermann.”)

Do I even need to start in on how wrong this ad is?  (Or will you just go look at it for yourself in order to see how a candidate for the high office of US Senator can waste his money while offending nearly everyone in the process?)

Please see this link from Real Clear Politics, which has an embedded link to the commercial in question:

As the Detroit News put it, “Hoekstra Super Bowl ad Raises Sensitivity Question:”

GOP consultant Nick De Leeuw flat-out scolded the Holland Republican for the ad.

“Stabenow has got to go. But shame on Pete Hoekstra for that appalling new advertisement,” De Leeuw wrote on his Facebook page Sunday morning. “Racism and xenophobia aren’t any way to get things done.”

Good for De Leeuw.  I’m glad he stood up and called this ad exactly what it is: racist and xenophobic.

Going on (still from the Detroit News article sourced above):

A media consultant who has advised Democrats also thought it could prove problematic.

“Some Asian-Americans may be offended by the stereotype that is portrayed in the spot,” said Robert Kolt, who teaches advertising part-time at Michigan State University and had previewed a number of Sunday’s Super Bowl ads. “Pete seems like a nice guy in the ad, but I think he is wasting a lot of money now. … It’s just not Super Bowl-worthy. It’s not cute, it’s not funny and it’s not memorable.”

Ah, but I beg to differ — it’s memorable for all the wrong reasons, which is far worse for Rep. Hoekstra than if it were simply a mealy-mouthed, wishy-washy ad of the type we’ve all seen many times before.  (And if you think “some Asian-Americans” only “may be offended,” I have some prime real estate in Antarctica for sale.)

Hoekstra is not the only one running against Stabenow, mind you; Gary Glenn, of Midland, MI, is also vying to become the Republican general election candidate for the US Senate Seat.  And according to the same article sourced above from the Detroit News, Glenn is most unamused:

“Saving America from the Washington, D.C., politicians who gave us this crippling debt and deficit crisis, Republican and Democrat alike, means Hoekstra and Stabenow should both get benched,” Glenn said in a release.

And Michigan Democratic Party Chairman was equally unamused (quoted again from the Detroit News article):

“Hoekstra’s ad is nothing more than a hypocritical attempt at a Hollywood-style makeover because the fact is, Pete spends a lot,” Michigan Democratic Chairman Mark Brewer said. “Hoekstra voted for the $700 billion Wall Street bailout and voted for trillions more in deficit spending before quitting Congress to get rich at a Washington, D.C., lobbying firm. Hoekstra is using the big game to play games with Michigan voters.”

So let me get this straight.  We have an ad that some members of the GOP have condemned roundly, along with some members of the Democratic party.  We have an ad that’s meant to “make a big splash” (why else be so offensive?).  And we have an ad that, on the offensiveness meter, is totally off the charts.

And, of course, it’s an ad that Hoekstra and his campaign defends; they call it “satirical” (they must not be using the word the same way I would, then), and say that their real meaning is that Stabenow simply spends too much money, that’s all.  (Any racism that might be present — pshaw!  How can we think it?  We’re all Americans here, right?  Or so Hoekstra and his campaign prays.)

About the only good thing I can say for this ad is that it has brought disparate segments of the population together — the Ds and the Rs — who normally wouldn’t touch each other with a ten-foot pole.  But that’s the only silver lining in an otherwise dark and offensive cloud.


Further thoughts . . . otherwise known as, “After further review:”

As for what I’d do, were I Hoekstra?  (Inquiring minds wanted to know.)  If for some reason I’d been stupid enough to make this ad in the first place, then have been even more stupid in putting it on the air to cause big-time trouble, I’d first apologize.  Then I’d pull the ad.  And finally, I’d do whatever I could to put this behind me as quickly as humanly possible. 

But because Hoekstra apparently isn’t very smart, he’s standing by his “I didn’t mean any harm!” and “It’s satire!” defenses.

Nothing says Hoekstra must be intelligent, now, is there?  (But if he has even two brain cells together, he really should pull this ad because it is beyond offensive.  It is disgusting.)

Sen. Wanggaard Recall News: Wanggaard will not debate former Sen. Lehman

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Last week, former Senator John Lehman (D-Racine) said he would take on current Senator Van Wanggaard (R-Racine) in an upcoming recall election.**   Lehman, who lost to Wanggaard in 2010, says he wants a series of public debates; however, Wanggaard says he has “no interest” in debating Lehman whatsoever and will “stand on his record.”

Please see this link for further details:

About the best Wanggaard says he’s able to do is this; if Lehman is willing to attend one of Wanggaard’s weekly town halls out in the Town of Yorkville (a very small, rural part of Racine County):

“If (Lehman) wants to attend one of my town halls, he can sure ask questions,” said Wanggaard.
This doesn’t seem extremely forthcoming, to my mind; worse yet, it seems a tad bit cowardly on the part of Wanggaard.  But to Lehman, apparently this is par for the course:
In Lehman’s announcement Tuesday that he will run against Wanggaard in a likely recall, he said when he ran against Wanggaard in 2010, and was defeated by him, “Mr. Wanggaard never once would agree to an on the ground debate in Racine.” 

There was a television debate and The Journal Times hosted an online forum, but no public debates where people could ask questions in person. 

“They just avoided a discussion,” Lehman said in his announcement. 

Lehman said he would like to see a series of debates. “I think people deserve that,” Lehman said. 

When Lehman ran against former County Executive William McReynolds in 2006 for the Senate, he said there were about 10 debates.

. . . which just goes to show you how much McReynolds respected the public, and how much Wanggaard disrespects the public now.

Look.  There are good Republicans in Wisconsin who currently hold high office (Sen. Dale Schultz, R-Richland Center, is one such Republican), and there are good Republicans who’ve held office in the past, including McReynolds.  These are responsible people who believe in public debates, and want the public to be well-informed as to the nature of the decisions facing them.

For that matter, all six of the Republican state Senators who faced recall in 2011 allowed for public debates; one, Robert Cowles (R-Green Bay), didn’t have a debate, but that’s because his opponent, Nancy Nussbaum, had to deal with funeral arrangements due to the death of her mother on the day the debate had been scheduled.  For obvious reasons, the debate was called off.  (Let the record state, however, that Cowles was willing to debate.  Wanggaard is not.)

So why is it that the 2011 Rs were willing to debate the D candidates who were running in recall elections against them, but Wanggaard is unwilling to debate Lehman now?  (And for that matter, why was Wanggaard unwilling to debate Lehman back in 2010?)

Methinks Wanggaard knows that debates or no debates, he will be out on his ear — the first one-year Senator in the history of Racine politics.  (Former Senator George Petak, R-Racine, held office from 1990-6, and was successfully recalled during the middle of his second term.)  And that’s why his public stance — i.e., “No debates!” — is so wishy-washy at absolute best. 

Were I Wanggaard, I’d want to go down fighting, so the constituents I’d represented knew that I’d at least tried to do my best by my own lights.  But nothing says he must be smart or courageous, now, does it?

Anyway, as I’m one of Wanggaard’s constituents — not that he’s ever listened to me before, mind you — I want to say this to Senator Wanggaard:

Senator, it’s time to stop ducking the issues.  Debate former Senator Lehman in a public forum.  Take questions from your constituents.  And be prepared to explain why, oh why, you voted against collective bargaining when you, yourself, have benefitted handily from collective bargaining in the past (and continue to benefit from it in the here-and-now due to your police retirement).

It’s not that you’ve benefitted that’s so upsetting, Senator — it’s that you don’t want anyone else to benefit now that you have.  (Otherwise known as, “I have mine, so who cares about you?”)  That, sir, is hypocrisy at its finest, and that is why we are so upset with you.

We don’t like hypocrisy in Racine, Senator.  We don’t like it at all.

But you’re still allowed to explain yourself, and your actions, in a way that makes more logical sense than you’ve done thus far.  So do yourself a favor, and debate Lehman; it can’t hurt, might help, and will at least make those of us who oppose you appreciate your willingness to stand up and face the music.


**Note that while Wanggaard’s upcoming recall election isn’t a 100% lead-pipe cinch, I would put it at 99.9% likely due to the fact that over 24,000 signatures were turned in while approximately 15,400 were needed to recall Wanggaard.  Not all of those signatures will be valid, but most will be; Wanggaard is headed to a recall election and he well knows it.