Barb Caffrey's Blog

Writing the Elfyverse . . . and beyond

Archive for October 2012

Hurricane Sandy Bears Down; Wisconsin, Midwest Will Be Affected

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If you, my readers, are anything like me, you’re keeping an eye on Hurricane Sandy.  I have friends who live on the East Coast, and I’m worried about them . . . plus it’s a huge storm, one that will have historical impact, and as a writer I can’t help but be fascinated — and horrified — at the same time.

At any rate, according to the local news, Wisconsin and the Midwest will also be affected by Sandy.  For example, waves on Lake Michigan are expected to be higher — quite a bit higher — than usual for this time of year tomorrow, and winds will be higher also, in the twenty to twenty-five MPH range.  That’s nothing compared to what my East Coast friends are facing right now in the teeth of Hurricane Sandy . . . but we still have to plan for it.  (And that doesn’t even touch the remains of the wind and rain that we’ll be likely to get later in the week, depending on the path of the storm.)

For all my friends in the direct path of this storm — be safe.  Be vigilant.  And keep an emergency radio and kit with you; if you have pets, make sure you have carriers (this will be essential if you have to be evacuated), food, and of course water for them.

As for the rest of us, we need to be compassionate, caring, and do what we can to help those who are directly affected.  And we also need to realize that we will be affected by this, too, as per local radio, and plan accordingly.

Written by Barb Caffrey

October 29, 2012 at 3:40 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

Just reviewed Mercedes Lackey’s “Redoubt” at SBR

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Folks, if you like Mercedes Lackey’s writing, or if you’re a big fan of her Valdemar series, you’re in luck.  Because REDOUBT, the fourth novel in the “Collegium Chronicles,” is out . . . and I just reviewed it over at Shiny Book Review (SBR).

Go check out my review, then go grab the book!  (And Happy Friday!)

Written by Barb Caffrey

October 26, 2012 at 5:46 pm

Health Care, the 2012 Election, and Why You Should Care

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Folks, even though I can’t stand it when people snipe at each other over the election (as I said in my previous blog in a “quick hit”), there are legitimate issues that need to be discussed.  To wit: health care.

Now, why am I bringing this up?  It’s simple — I just read two heartbreaking columns in the New York Times online edition by writer Nicholas Kristof (the second one is called “Scott’s Story and the Election”) about the life and death of his friend, Scott Androes.  Scott, you see, was self-employed, didn’t make a whole lot of money in his later years, and went without health care because he didn’t have health insurance.

Many people do this, in this day and age.

However, Scott’s story turned tragic when he found blood in his urine.   At this point, he went to the doctor; after some twists and turns, it turned out that Scott’s PSA was extremely high (4 is normal; Scott’s was over 1100) and that he had Stage 4 Prostate Cancer.  He started getting the treatment he needed — fortunately his local hospital was quite good and wrote off most of the care he needed (this was essential, as the cash cost was $550,000 — no misprint) — but it was not enough.  Scott Androes died at only 52.

The reason Kristof cares (aside from being a compassionate human being) is that Scott was Kristof’s college roommate.  Their lives diverged to a degree, but Kristof knew what was going on with his friend — knew that Scott Androes was, in general, a thoughtful and practical human being who tried his best to do what he felt was right.  But because he was low-income in the latter years of his life, Scott skimped on health care because he couldn’t afford health insurance — something Kristof’s first column about Scott called, in its headline, “A Possibly Fatal Mistake.”

It’s wrong that the United States allows men like Scott Androes to die far earlier than they should, merely because they lack financial means to buy affordable health insurance.  (Note that Kristof carefully explains that for many years, Scott did have enough money to buy health insurance and chose not to do so.  But my guess is that in the last few years of Scott’s life, where he was only making $13,000 per year as a part-time tax consultant, Scott no longer had the means to buy the health insurance that may have saved his life.)

Kristof is right that when people lack health insurance, they are afraid to go to doctors.  Thus, they put off regular screenings.  Which means if problems are found later, they’re going to be harder to treat — if not impossible — and far more expensive to treat, to boot.

I know this full well, because my best friend, Jeff Wilson, died last year one week before his 48th birthday.  (I wrote extensively about Jeff at the time; please see previous blogs about Jeff’s life, death, and my difficulties in coming to terms with his loss.)  Jeff definitely is someone Republican Presidential candidate Mitt Romney needs to know about, as Romney has insisted that people supposedly do not die in the United States because they’re poor because “we have emergency rooms.”  Yet that completely misses the point; people do die every single day because they lack money, they lack health insurance, and thus they don’t go to doctors when perhaps their illnesses are still treatable.

And in case I haven’t made the point strongly enough, here it is — my friend Jeff died because he was poor.  Because he didn’t have medical insurance.  And because he was afraid of racking up big bills he knew he couldn’t afford to pay, he didn’t go to the doctor soon enough.

That is the main reason why my friend, Jeff Wilson, one of the brightest and kindest men I’ve ever known, did not live to see his 48th birthday.  And for anyone to say otherwise is completely and utterly ludicrous . . . which is why I have no sympathy for Republicans like Mitt Romney or his running mate, Representative Paul Ryan, when they insist that people don’t die in this country for lack of health care due to being poor.

Maybe Mitt Romney means well; I’d like to think he does.  Maybe Paul Ryan means well, too — as he’s my U.S. Rep., I know his record rather well, so I have a much more jaundiced view of him than I do of Romney — and of course I’d like to believe that Ryan, too, means well.

However, the fact is that our health care system is completely and irretrievably broken.  And while the Obama “Affordable Health Care Act” is far from perfect — I don’t think it went nearly far enough, and the burden on independent doctors to get portable health care records up and running is completely asinine — at least it attempts to do something about the problems with the health care industry in this country, rather than ignore it and do nothing.

Or worse, what Romney and Ryan are doing right now in their insistence on hammering home the hard right talking point that “no one dies in the U.S. due to a lack of health insurance,” which is at best misleading, and at worst is wrong to the point of absurdity.

All I’m saying is this: if you like Romney and Ryan, fine.  But use your heads; think about the choices you’re making.  And then ask this one important question:  if you had no money, and you had a bad health condition, would you be more likely to wait because you were afraid to pay the bill?  Or would you instead be virtuous (as the hard right in this country believes we all must be) and go in and rack up those big medical bills, then wonder how on Earth you’re going to pay for it all?

Even if you’re in the second category (and get the charity care deductions, manage to get things written off as did Kristof’s friend Scott), how can you believe that this is the right way for any society to behave, when better alternatives clearly exist?  The city of La Crosse, Wisconsin, has a healthcare exchange that’s worked very well, for example.  Championing that makes sense.  So why don’t the right-wing candidates seem to believe that’s a viable strategy, rather than using this “us-versus-them” stuff that’s got us all in such an uproar that FB friends of long-standing are frothing at the mouth whenever any political comment is raised whatsoever?

That’s why I urge you to use your head for more than just a hat rack, folks; do your homework, and vote accordingly.  Then do whatever you can to remember that compassion is not a lost art, and that we really do have more in common with our fellow man than not, which is why we should work together rather than allow ourselves to be any further divided by petty partisanship than we already are.

Written by Barb Caffrey

October 26, 2012 at 3:40 am

October 2012 Quick Hits, Pt. 2

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Time for some more quick hits, folks . . . especially as I’ve been too busy to come up with a complete blog post this week.  Yet it’s wrong to neglect my blog, now, isn’t it?  (Don’t answer that.)

Anyway, here’s a few things I’ve been thinking about since my last blog:

  1. I’m sick and tired of all the sniping about the election on Facebook.  Whether you’re liberal, conservative, independent-minded or somewhere in between, watching people who otherwise like each other decide to savage each other instead over differing political beliefs just disgusts me.  Jason Cordova wrote an excellent blog about this very thing; I strongly urge you to read it, then reflect upon it.
  2. In case you missed it, Shiny Book Review turned two years old (and Jason Cordova got the domain name, finally) . . . and I forgot to get it a present!  (Unless you figure my ongoing series of book reviews is a present of sorts, that is.)
  3. The San Francisco Giants, behind Madison Bumgarner, won again tonight and have gone up two games to nothing over the Detroit Tigers in the 2012 World Series.  So far the Giants look like a juggernaut, while the Tigers look like they’ve run out of gas.  Look for more of the same in Game 3 unless the Tigers are able to regain some sense of life or energy in the meantime.

Other than that, it’s all writing, editing, and commenting, as per usual . . . and I will be reviewing Mercedes Lackey’s newest Valdemar novel, REDOUBT, tomorrow at SBR.  (Due to circumstances beyond my control, my review of Michael Casey’s THE UNFAIR TRADE is going to have to wait for next week.  That book requires more concentration than I’ve had lately to explain, and I want to do it justice.)

So keep an eye out for tomorrow’s book review, folks . . . and maybe between now and then, I’ll figure out something to blog about, else.

Written by Barb Caffrey

October 25, 2012 at 11:02 pm

2012 NLCS: San Francisco Giants Force Game 7

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Folks, two games ago, the St. Louis Cardinals had a nearly insurmountable 3-1 advantage in the National League Championship Series (NLCS).

But the resurgent San Francisco Giants have looked extremely sharp in their last two games, winning game 5 by a score of 5-0 behind Barry Zito, and Game 6 by a score of 6-1 behind Ryan Vogelsong.  This means that the Giants have tied up the NLCS at three games apiece and have now forced Game 7, which will be played on October 22, 2012 (otherwise known as tomorrow evening).

I got a chance to listen to the last two innings of the game (courtesy of ESPN Radio 540 in Milwaukee), and I enjoyed it; not only did the Cardinals lose, 6-1, they lost to Vogelsong, who three short years ago was a nearly complete unknown.  (Of course, since then he’s done more than a little to prove he’s an outstanding major league starting pitcher, posting records of 13-7 with a 2.71 ERA in 2011 and 14-9 with a 3.37 ERA in 2012.)

Best of all, this was the second time that Vogelsong won in this series, as he previously beat Chris Carpenter and the Cardinals on the 15th by a score of 7-1.  And this is the third time Vogelsong has won in the playoffs . . . out of three tries.  Impressive!

At any rate, Game 7 tomorrow night will be between Matt Cain of the Giants and Kyle Lohse of the Cards.  Cain got chased in Game 3, giving up three runs in six and 2/3 innings of work, so he is in need of a bit of redemption, while Lohse benefited from Cain’s rare off-day even though Lohse pitched only five and 2/3 innings during that same game (to his credit, Lohse did give up only one run).

So keep an eye on whatever happens during Game 7 — though to my mind, it’s much more likely that the Giants will win than the Cardinals, especially as the Giants are at home.  (Confidential for Matt Cain — Lohse is hittable.  Really.  So do yourself a favor and study the films accordingly; a timely hit, from you, may be the difference between success and failure in Game 7.)

Whichever team wins will be facing the Detroit Tigers, winners of the American League Championship Series.  Detroit is a strong team that has pitching (Justin Verlander and a cast of thousands) and great hitting, though not-so-wonderful defense; their line-up features American League Triple Crown Winner Miguel Cabrera and former Milwaukee Brewers first baseman Prince Fielder.  (It will be interesting to see how Fielder does in his very first World Series appearance.)

I believe that the Giants would be the stronger team against the Tigers, but that the Cardinals are perhaps a better-balanced team than the Giants.  Either way, though, I’m hoping that the Giants, not the Cardinals, will win Game 7 tomorrow evening and be on their way to the ’12 World Series.

Guest Blog by Stephanie Osborn About Her Displaced Detective Series

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Folks, it’s Sunday. And as promised, it’s time for a guest blog by novelist Stephanie Osborn, who’s written three of my favorite novels: THE CASE OF THE DISPLACED DETECTIVE: THE ARRIVAL, THE CASE OF THE DISPLACED DETECTIVE: AT SPEED, and THE CASE OF THE COSMOLOGICAL KILLER: THE RENDELSHAM INCIDENT, all featuring the legendary detective Sherlock Holmes and hyperspatial physicist Skye Chadwick. (My reviews of these novels are available here and here over at Shiny Book Review.)

Stephanie has kindly agreed to discuss her rationale for this series, plus some of the research that went into it and her plans for the near future, which include the hotly-awaited book four of the Displaced Detective series, THE CASE OF THE COSMOLOGICAL KILLER: ENDINGS AND BEGINNINGS. So without further ado, I give you . . . novelist and rocket scientist Stephanie Osborn!

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * *  (Insert drum roll here.) * * * * * * * * * * * *

A note from Stephanie Osborn:  It is my great pleasure to make a guest appearance in the Elfyverse. Barb is an amazing writer and editor, and I am so happy to have made her acquaintance through her review of several of my novels; she has become a special friend. We’ve been able to help lift each other up at times when things were down, and that’s so much better than trying to haul oneself up by one’s own bootstraps! I hope you enjoy my little cameo.

The Displaced Detective series, which Twilight Times Books debuted in late 2011 and which now includes 4 books with more on the way, involves bringing Sherlock Holmes from an alternate reality (supported by judicious use of M theory) into “our” modern world. (In actuality, even the spacetime continuum depicted in the books isn’t really ours, but it’s close enough to hardly tell the difference. The only way one can tell this is in knowing Colorado Springs, CO and environs, especially the geology, which I studied intensively during my trips there some years back. Also, the Sherlock Holmes museum, depicted in Book 3, has statues of Holmes and Watson in real life.) Currently the books comprise The Case of the Displaced Detective: The Arrival, The Case of the Displaced Detective: At Speed, The Case of the Cosmological Killer: The Rendlesham Incident, and the soon to be released The Case of the Cosmological Killer: Endings and Beginnings. Future books already in work include A Case of Spontaneous Combustion, A Little Matter of Earthquakes, and The Adventure of Shining Mountain Lodge. I plan on writing in this “world” for as long as I can, because I love it!

Anyway, the Displaced Detective series was my way of bringing my two favorite genres, SF and mystery, together, and using my favorite detective into the bargain. But it wasn’t a simple task.

The first thing I had to do was to determine if Holmes was in the public domain. That’s a long story right there in itself. It seems that the initial copyright on all of the stories expired 75 years after Doyle’s death as per normal, and then was, through much legal wrangling, pulled back under copyright again by the estate, but THOSE copyrights have now expired entirely in the UK, and all, except for the Casebook collection, have expired in the US as well. So Holmes was in the clear for me to use as a character, despite much controversy on the subject. (The gist of the controversy seems to stem from the estate wanting the Holmes stories to be placed in the same category as, for instance, the Tolkien stories. However, Tolkien set up a trust to maintain possession of the copyrights in the case of the Lord of the Rings books; Conan Doyle made no such provision.)

I’ve read Holmes since I was young. In fact I was given a copy of The Hound of the Baskervilles for my birthday when I was still in elementary school. This actually set me back a bit, because frankly it scared me half to death. But it never quite got me to stop reading them, and I’m now so familiar with the stories that I can, and have, beat the average person hands down in a trivia contest. (Another Holmes aficionado, maybe not quite so readily, but I can make it a good horse race.) I’ve also read a lot of the aficionado studies, and much of that stuck in my memory too. But I wanted to make sure I got the character right, so throughout the writing of the books, I’ve periodically immersed myself in the original Conan Doyle stories. I’ve joined the Nashville branch of the Baker Street Irregulars (“The Scholars of the Three-Pipe Problem”) under the so-called canonical name “Boswell,” and I participate in their activities whenever possible, which adds to the ability to study and get more perspective.

But that’s hardly all I’ve done.

I acquired several broken-in pipes, ranging from a long-stemmed pipe to a half-bend pipe, in everything from apple-wood to briar-wood to clay. (Contrary to popular belief, Meerschaum Calabash pipes are not the pipes that Holmes actually smoked, in all likelihood; they were introduced by stage actor William Gillette, because that type is well balanced for hanging from the mouth while he delivered his lines.) And I learned to smoke them. It turns out that there is a distinct talent to smoking a pipe; it is not easy, and it almost always requires lighting twice. The first time seems to heat the tobacco, and goes out quickly; the second time actually lights the pipe properly so it will stay lit – if properly attended. A pipe ignored for more than a minute or so will go out entirely and require the whole double lighting protocol all over again. Tobacco is an interesting substance; the smoke is very soothing to the smoker, and aids in putting aside things that one does not desire to think about, and I can see why it would have helped Holmes concentrate. Unlike most, however, I was fortunate not to find myself becoming addicted to the stuff.

As brandy is one of the more commonly mentioned liquors in the Holmes stories, I also researched the brandies in existence at the time. Now, brandy is the common English term for cognac, and it was developed by distilling wine. Given the long periods of time required to transport kegs of wine via ship, often the wine spoiled, or turned into vinegar, by the time it arrived. Transporting bottles was a poor idea; should the ship encounter high seas, the bottles would break. Converting the wine to brandy was a way to keep the liquor from spoiling. It was intended to be reconstituted back into wine at its destination, but proved to be tasty in and of itself.

Myself, I thought Holmes might be a bit of an Anglophile, and so I selected Hennessy as the brand I would drink with my pipe; my research demonstrated that it existed in Holmes’ time, and was easily obtainable now. (Interestingly, Glenlivet, a popular old single malt Scotch, was a relatively new label back then.) However, as Holmes was related to the French painter Horace Vernet (a real person in our own timeline) via his grandmother being Vernet’s sister, it is entirely possible he might have favored French cognac. Watson referenced brandy, however, not cognac. And so I felt my selection was reasonable for my research.

Unfortunately one night I discovered the reason why so many Victorian gentlemen retired to the study after dinner for a smoke and a drink. Firstly, you should know that I emphatically do not like the sensation of being drunk, on the few times it has ever happened by accident, and so I stop when I feel the buzz hitting, if not before. But it seems that tobacco “potentiates” (multiplies) the effects of any drug with which it is used. I later found that this is the reason that hookahs using a blend of opium and tobacco were used in opium dens; it provided a bigger high for less quantity of drug. In my case, the tobacco rendered the alcohol in the brandy much more potent than I had expected. It is the first, last, and only time I have ever been so drunk I threw up. I immediately decided at that point that I had more than enough knowledge of pipe smoking to write Holmes effectively, and while I still continue to collect pipes as an eclectic hobby, I no longer smoke them. Brandy, not so much either.

As mentioned, Holmes and Watson were both smokers – pipes, cigars, and cigarettes. But the cigarettes were hand-rolled, and all were lit with either matches or hot coals, or possibly at the jet of a gas lamp. The fusee, a type of flare or flintlock, was the first kind of automatic lighter, and was not particularly safe, especially, I have gathered, for men with facial hair.

There are other things that I had to take into consideration, such as the items of everyday existence. When Holmes was introduced to the modern day, he discovered that simple things like personal hygiene had changed considerably. Whereas we take the modern disposable razor for granted, as well as shaving foam or gel, Holmes would have used a straight razor, shaving soap, and brush, and would periodically have visited his barber for a beard touch-up. The beginning of what would become our modern razor was developed about that time, and was termed a “safety razor,” because the blade was contained within the head and it was more difficult to produce a serious wound with it. (No Sweeney Todd types with that.) Toothbrushes looked much the same, but were made of different, more natural, materials – when they were used at all. There was no such thing as toothpaste, per se. Various tooth powders were used, ranging from baking soda to literal powdered stone, e.g. pumice – which often eroded the tooth enamel, undermining their purpose. Deodorants existed; one of the first that was introduced (as “Mum”) later became the brand “Ban.” But they were typically pastes or creams applied with the fingers and as such, rather messy. After-shaves, while in use, would have been basic preparations of alcohol or witch hazel, possibly lightly fragranced, blended and provided by the local apothecary, or as known in London, “chemist.” Likewise any personal fragrances, colognes, etc.

Then there was the matter of furniture. Holmes’ flat at 221b Baker Street contained an item of furniture known as a tantalus. My research indicates that the tantalus still exists today, but we know it by different names: the wet bar, or liquor cabinet. That liquor cabinet would contain multiple decanters, likely of crystal, which in and of itself might not have been so healthy: crystal in those days contained lead, and alcohol is a solvent. How many people suffered from lead poisoning as a result, I have not researched. These decanters were probably marked with a metal sign hanging around the neck of each, denoting its contents. The cabinet also would have contained a “gasogene,” the early form of a seltzer bottle. It consisted of two bottles held together with wicker or wire, one containing tartaric acid and sodium bicarbonate which reacted to produce carbon dioxide, and the other containing water. When the handle was depressed, carbonated water emerged for mixing into drinks – when the thing didn’t explode from pressure, that is.

A proper gentleman, such as Holmes, would be attired from the skin up as follows: vest and pants (these today would be called boxers and undershirt – NOT a t-shirt, but a tank top style), stockings (socks), a shirt with replaceable collar (ring around the collar? Throw it away and get another), button-up trousers (modern pants, trousers, or slacks, but with a button fly) held up by braces (suspenders), a double-pocketed waistcoat (“WES-kət,” now known as a vest), and if in public or with visitors, a suit-coat of various styles, and a tie of some sort, approximating the modern bow or regular tie, or something even fancier. The tie was often referred to as a cravat. Shoes were leather, usually ankle height, and buttoned up, or possibly laced. Note also that some men of the era wore corsets, although there is no evidence that Holmes or Watson did so.

Accessories would include cufflinks and a pocket-watch. The watch was properly placed in one waistcoat pocket; the chain was threaded through a buttonhole in the waistcoat and over to the other pocket. On the other end of the chain would be some necessary trinket such as a pipe tool (for cleaning and/or tamping one’s pipe) or a jack-knife (pocket knife), and this would be tucked into the waistcoat pocket opposite the pocket-watch. If the gentleman were well-to-do, had a special keepsake/heirloom, or inclined toward ostentation, a decorative watch fob (in Holmes’ case, the gold sovereign coin Irene Adler presented to him while he was in disguise) might dangle from the watch chain. In addition, when going out, no London gentleman would be caught dead without his cane (young or old, handicapped or no), kid leather gloves, and silk hat (top hat). Optional accessories included studs instead of shirt buttons, a stick pin for the cravat, spats (to protect expensive leather shoes from the mud on the streets and in the gutters, which not infrequently still contained the contents of chamber pots, at least in certain parts of London), and overcoats and wool scarves in winter.

The only skin which showed on a Victorian male or female in public – if they were of any station at all – was the skin of the face and upper neck.

So imagine Holmes’ surprise to be in our modern society: women in trousers and jeans, short sleeves on everyone, low necklines, sport coats, shorts, tank tops, halter tops, and so forth. Hats are rarely seen except for cowboy hats in some circles, and baseball caps in others; top hats are only stage props. Canes are for the elderly or injured; t-shirts are worn as outerwear – and let us not even mention swimwear! To quote Dr. Skye Chadwick, Holmes’ foil and the other protagonist of the series, a Brazilian string bikini would “make your Victorian sensibilities run away screaming, if not outrightly curl up and die.” Holmes actually finds the military uniform much more comfortable mentally, as they are styled more along the lines to which he is accustomed, and uses them freely (under the government’s sponsorship) in his disguises.

As the series progresses, I’m finding myself delving into other historical aspects, such as the differences in dialects just within the city of London during Holmes’ time. How many Americans, outside of dialecticians, could tell the difference – or even know there was one – between an East End and a Cockney dialect? (Not many.) What do rural Englishmen sound like? (Not so different from redneck Southerners, but with a slight twist.) What exists in London today where 221b should be? (A bank headquarters, since converted to an apartment complex.) Did 221b ever exist in our reality? (No, it didn’t. Upper Baker Street, where Holmes’ flat would have existed, didn’t get numbers until 1932. The street numbers only went to 100 at the time Conan Doyle wrote the stories. This was apparently a deliberate choice on Doyle’s part, to prevent strangers turning up at someone’s door looking for Mr. Sherlock Holmes.) Did the Baker Street Irregulars really exist? (Yes, they did, but not as street urchins. In WWII the headquarters of the Special Operations Executive, an espionage, reconnaissance and surveillance organization that eventually merged into MI6, was located in Lower Baker Street, and took on the nickname, which is not to be confused with the international fan organization of the same name.) Is there an Underground station nearby that Holmes and Watson could have used? (Yes, the Baker Street Station, one of the world’s oldest. It was recently refurbished, and the newer part – since an additional tube was added and this station became a hub – decorated in a somewhat kitschy, amusing Holmesian theme; the older part, which was in place during Holmes’ time, has been restored to its original appearance.)

It’s been a fun ride so far, and I’ve no doubt it will continue to be!

~~Stephanie Osborn

http://www.stephanie-osborn.com

* * * * * * * * * * * * (Insert hearty round of applause here.) * * * * * * * * *

Once again, thank you, Stephanie. I greatly appreciated your guest blog, and I hope it will help you find a few more readers for your excellent books.

And if you haven’t read Stephanie’s books yet, take a gander at chapter one of THE CASE OF THE DISPLACED DETECTIVE: THE ARRIVALchapter one of THE CASE OF THE COSMOLOGICAL KILLER: THE RENDELSHAM INCIDENT, or take a look at the first chapter of BURNOUT for further details.  (Then, for heaven’s sake, go buy her books.)

Just Reviewed “Arcanum 101” at SBR

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Folks, if you’re looking for a short, but really good, urban fantasy novel — better yet, one written by such masters of the craft as Mercedes Lackey and Rosemary Edghill — look no further than Arcanum 101: Welcome New Students.  (My review over at SBR is available here.)  This is a fun, fast read that does many good things — it introduces two good characters, Tomas Torres, a fifteen-year-old pyrokinetic (read: fire-starter) from the barrio, and teenaged techno-shaman Valeria Victrix Langenfeld (always called “VeeVee”), who’s been raised with magic, accepts it as her due, and has more talents than she knows what to do with.  Both end up at St. Rhiannon’s School for Gifted and Exceptional Students — St. Rhia’s, for short — and both are attracted to each other within moments of their first meeting.

As this is a young adult story, their romance is PG-rated.  I appreciated this, because it seems most unlikely that a young romance needs to become explicit right away — especially while in a school setting.

Overall, I enjoyed Arcanum 101 thoroughly, and think if you enjoy urban fantasy, anything written by Mercedes Lackey and/or Rosemary Edghill, or better yet, all of the above, you will enjoy it as much as I did.

So what are you waiting for?  Go read my review — then go grab the e-book!

Written by Barb Caffrey

October 21, 2012 at 12:25 am

Quick Friday Update

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Folks, I’m writing, editing, and keeping myself so busy that I’ve barely had time to come up for air.

Now, what’s causing me to become this obsessed?  Parts 46 and 47 of AN ELFY ABROAD, the direct sequel to ELFY, that’s what.  I was stalled out for a long time in this manuscript — months and months, easily — and while I worked on other projects, writing-wise, I didn’t feel satisfied.  But because I think I’ve figured out a way to get through these chapters that makes sense and, more to the point, amuses me (in a humorous fantasy, if it doesn’t amuse the writer, it definitely won’t amuse the reader), I’m feeling a whole lot better, writing-wise.

Editing-wise, I have two very interesting projects right now, one a “big, fat fantasy” and the other a coming-of-age story.  So when I’m not writing or reading, I’m editing . . . and I hope to squeeze in a review or two over at Shiny Book Review, as well.

So that’s about it for my update; while I have plenty to say about politics, sports, current events, and more, while I’m working so hard on the writing and editing, it all tends to go by the boards unless it rivets my attention.  And even though I’m annoyed mightily by much of what I’m hearing on television from the Republican candidates here in Wisconsin (and across the nation; can’t stand that Todd Akin, and I’m not a big fan of either Paul Ryan or Mitt Romney, either), nothing “new” has happened that really bothers me to the point that I must blog about it, or else.

And if it doesn’t rivet me during a time where I feel intense creativity on my own projects, I’d much rather focus my energy on what I can do, personally, rather than my anger over how various pundits are saying this or that, or the candidates themselves have said this or that.

Because really, when you’re only a few weeks from a major election, it’s all over but the posturing.  And I’m tired of all the talk.  So let’s get to the voting, and then decide.

* * * * * *

One further note: I will have a “guest blog” post by writer Stephanie Osborn coming up on Sunday.  She’s going to discuss her “Displaced Detective” series, which I have enjoyed very much so far (book four is forthcoming from Twilight Times Books), and the research that’s gone into that series.  So please remember to come back on Sunday.

Written by Barb Caffrey

October 19, 2012 at 3:27 pm

Posted in Editing, Elfy, Elfyverse, Writing

Support Your Local Musicians

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Tonight, the Racine Concert Band played a concert at Horlick High School.  We played four pieces alone, and with the section leaders from Horlick’s Symphonic Band, we played Dmitry Shostakovich’s “Folk Dances.”

Now, we’re fortunate in Racine that people do come to the Racine Concert Band’s concerts — whether they’re the free ones in the summer over at the Racine Zoo, or in combination with local high schools.  We tend to have good, solid audiences who appreciate what we do; they enjoy live music, and want to hear more of it.

And that’s what I wanted to talk about — live music.  And hearing more of it.

The easiest way to support live music is simply this — go to a concert, and support your local musicians.

I can hear some of you now.  “But I live out in the middle of nowhere!  We don’t have any musicians here — we can’t have any here!  So what am I to do?”

In that case, I’d urge you to look around, because there probably are more musicians around than you might think.  But whatever area you live in, you need to get out there and listen to some live music.

And for those of you fortunate enough to live in a big metropolitan area, do me a favor.  Don’t limit yourself to the symphony orchestra, though that often is a great place to go for good music; go out and watch whatever music you can, as there’s probably much more going on in your area than you might be aware of.

Consider, please, that in Racine, we have several high school music programs, all of which have their own strengths — these are at The Prairie School, at Racine Lutheran, at Case, at Park, and of course at Horlick.  These programs have orchestras, bands, jazz ensembles, choirs, and much more — so get out there and listen to their music.

Also, keep an eye out for community bands and orchestras; for example, the University of Wisconsin-Parkside has both a Community Band and a Community Orchestra.  Good music is being made by these groups, and going out to listen to them is often less expensive than seeing a first-run movie.

And, of course, my own Racine Concert Band is in its 89th consecutive season.  Winner of the Sudler Silver Scroll for excellence in musicianship and in elevating the cultural and musical environment of Racine back in 1995, the RCB continues to make good music and help get the word out that Racine has more live music than the music being made by the Racine Symphony Orchestra, the Belle City Brass, the Racine Dairy Statesmen (for men only) and Opus 2000 (for women only).

Racine, you see, is blessed with many great musical groups, from choruses (the Dairy Statesmen, Opus 2000) to a brass band (Belle City Brass), to the RCB and the RSO.

But your area — whatever area you’re in — probably has a lot more going on, musically speaking, than seems to be the case.  That’s why you should do whatever you can to support music in the schools and in the community — whether it’s rock, jazz, country, swing, symphonic music or anything in between, go out and support your local musicians.

And if you think supporting your local musicians at such a difficult economic time is a frivolous act, I have news . . . you’re helping keep various musicians, music teachers, and associated others employed.  Which is a positive thing, possibly even a life-affirming thing — and should be commended.

So, once more — get out there and see a concert or two.  And support your local musicians.  (Please?)

Written by Barb Caffrey

October 16, 2012 at 10:51 pm

Posted in Music

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Milwaukee Brewers 2012 End-of-the-season Wrap-up

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As promised, here’s my end-of-the-season assessment of the Milwaukee Brewers.

While most writers have concentrated on the Brewers’ pitchers major league-leading 29 blown saves (ouch!), or the many injuries to key players (first baseman Mat Gamel, pitcher Chris Narveson, and shortstop Alex Gonzalez suffered season-ending injuries early, while catcher Jonathan Lucroy and pitcher Shaun Marcum spent significant time on the disabled list), or the weak first-half performances by Brewers second baseman Rickie Weeks and third baseman Aramis Ramirez as reasons why the Brewers finished third in the National League Central and missed the second Wild Card slot by four games, I’d rather focus on something else.

Put simply, the Brewers had an extremely inconsistent season.  Some months, the Brewers looked terrible.  Other months, the Brewers looked like world-beaters — with one of their best months being the month of September (which is why they were in Wild Card contention at all).

This is the main reason the Brewers could lead the league in positive categories like runs scored, home runs, and strikeouts (by pitchers), and also lead in such a horrible category as blown saves at the same time.

In other words, the 2012 season for the Brewers was one of some very high highs, some very low lows, and one of remarkably puzzling statistics.

That said, some players stood out more than others.

On the bad side:

Closer John Axford had the most inconsistent year of his young career.  While his stat line doesn’t look that bad — 35 saves in 44 chances, a 4.67 ERA, a 1.44 WHIP, a 5-8 record and 93 strikeouts in 69 1/3 innings — the fact remained that Axford’s ERA was much higher in 2012 than it was in 2011, when Axford posted a 1.95 mark along with 46 saves in 48 opportunities.  And of course Axford blew far too many saves, actually losing his job as a closer for a while before regaining it after a series of sparkling performances as a set-up man in July  (Axford posted three holds during that time).

But at least Axford was able to regain his form, as he looked much better toward the end of the year.  This bodes well for his future with the Brewers.

Backup closer/set-up man Francisco “K-Rod” Rodriguez had an even more inconsistent year than Axford; while K-Rod had 32 holds, by far the most on the club, K-Rod also had only three saves in 10 opportunities (seven blown saves, in short), a 2-7 record, and a 4.38 ERA in 72 innings of work.

As K-Rod had an $8M contract last season and vastly underperformed considering his talent and overall reputation, it’s obvious that unless K-Rod takes a serious pay cut, he’s likely headed to another team.

The rest of the Brewers bullpen (save only Jim Henderson): for whatever reason, most of the bullpen looked like deer caught in the headlights for the vast majority of the 2012 season.  There were reasons for this — for example, the death of Jeff Adcock the long-time assistant groundskeeper, who knew all of the relievers extremely well, certainly played a part in the Brewers’ overall inconsistency.

Even so, the performance of Kameron Loe (6-5 record with a 4.61 ERA in 61 1/3 innings with only seven holds and two saves out of seven opportunities, compared to his 2011 statistics of 4-7 record with a 3.50 ERA in 72 innings of work with 16 holds and one save out of eight opportunities) was perplexing; the performance of Manny Parra (2-3 record with a 5.06 ERA in 58 2/3 innings of work with nine holds and zero saves out of two chances, compared with his 2010 stats of 3-10 record with a 5.02 ERA in 122 innings of work, half as a starter and half as a reliever, with no holds and no saves) was merely irritating, and while Jose Veras’ stats look good (5-4 record with a 3.63 ERA in 67 innings of work with 10 holds and one save in two opportunities), more was expected of him than this.

Now to the disappointing starter, Shaun Marcum.  Marcum spent two whole months on the disabled list, and ended up with a 7-4 record with a 3.63 ERA in 124 innings of work, which looks OK.  But Marcum’s 2011 record of 13-7 with a 3.54 ERA in 200 and 2/3 innings of work showed that he’s capable of much more.

Marcum’s year was disappointing because of his injuries, not because of his talent.  But because he couldn’t pitch every fifth day for two months, the Brewers’ record suffered.  That is an undeniable fact.

And because of Marcum’s lengthy stint on the DL, the Brewers actually waived him late in the year, hoping someone else would pick him up.  When no one else did, it was obvious that the Brewers were less than pleased that Marcum was still on the roster.  That’s why it seems most unlikely that Marcum will remain a Brewer in 2013, especially as he’s now a free agent.

Then we get to perhaps the most disappointing player on the entire team — Rickie Weeks.  Weeks had a horrendously bad first half, as his .162 batting average on June 12, 2012, shows.  And while Weeks eventually did pull his hitting form together, as his ending line of a .230 BA with 21 home runs and 63 runs batted in shows, his fielding was atrocious: a .974 fielding percentage with 16 errors and perhaps the least range of any second baseman in major league baseball.

Weeks is thirty years of age.  This is significant because very few players improve their defense at this stage of the game (my favorite player, Vinny Rottino, is one of the few who demonstrably has, at least at the catcher position).  But Weeks shouldn’t have had this sort of precipitous decline in his range; the only possible excuse for it is the nasty injury he suffered in 2011 where his foot, at full extension, hit the first base bag at an odd angle, which put Weeks on the disabled list for a substantial length of time.

If that’s the case, Weeks’ range should improve again now that he’s fully healed.  But I’d still like to see the Brewers find Weeks a fielding mentor, as when Willie Randolph was the bench coach for the Brewers a few years ago, Weeks’ fielding improved markedly.

Now let’s get to the positives, some of which were quite surprising:

Reliever Jim Henderson came up from AAA, where he’d been the closer, and showed he has the talent and the moxie to pitch extremely well at the major league level.  Henderson posted a 1-3 record with a 3.52 ERA in 30 and 2/3 innings pitched, with 14 holds and three saves in seven opportunities.  Henderson was one of the few bright spots during the late July/early August part of the season, and he’s someone I’m rooting for in 2013 to cement his job as the primary set-up man for Axford.

Starter Yovani Gallardo improved from a 7-6 record at the All-Star break to finish at 16-9; his ERA was 3.66 in 204 innings.  Gallardo also had 204 Ks.

The main reason Gallardo’s late season dominance was important was due to the trade of pitcher Zack Greinke in late July.  Greinke had a 9-3 record with the Brewers in 123 innings of work; he also had 122 Ks, and was the undisputed ace of the staff.  That’s why Gallardo had to step up in the second half of the season — and step up he did.

Right fielder/first baseman Corey Hart was a revelation at first base; after being shifted mid-season, and after not playing first base since 2006 (that at the AAA level, and only part-time), Hart posted a .995 fielding percentage with only four errors.  And Hart’s hitting continued apace; Hart had a .270 average with 30 HRs and 83 RBI, which possibly would’ve been even better had he not been hobbled with a nasty injury to his plantar fascia late in the season.  (Hart hit only .254 in September due to that injury.)

Compare Hart’s fielding and excellent range with that of former Brewers first baseman Prince Fielder in 2011 — the 5’10” Fielder had a .990 fielding percentage with 15 errors and a much smaller range than the 6’6″ Hart — and it’s clear that Hart has an excellent future ahead at first base.  Because if Hart could do this well after changing positions mid-season, how well is he going to do after he’s fully recovered from his injury to his foot and has a full Spring Training under his belt in 2013?

Third baseman Aramis Ramirez ended the season with a .300 BA, 27 HR, 105 RBI and 9 SBs in 11 attempts, which seemed nearly inconceivable on April 24. 2012, as Ramirez was in his characteristic season-starting slump and was hitting only .164 with only one HR and six RBI.  Ramirez’s fielding in 2012 was much better than it had been in 2011; he cut his errors in half (from 14 in ’11 to seven in ’12) and improved his fielding percentage (from .953 in ’11 to .977 in ’12) while increasing his range.

And when you consider that in 2011, the Brewers had Casey McGehee — whose .942 fielding percentage and 20 errors, along with a very small range, didn’t exactly inspire confidence — it’s obvious that Ramirez was an extremely bright spot for more than just his bat.

Right fielder Norichika Aoki hit well and improved his fielding as the season progressed; Aoki should be a serious contender for the Rookie of the Year award with his .288 BA, 30 stolen bases in 38 attempts, 10 HR and 50 RBI.

The Brewers’ young pitchers Michael Fiers, Wily Peralta and Mark Rogers all did extremely well as rookies.  Fiers’ record of 9-10 is deceptive as Fiers ran out of gas in the final three weeks of the season; still, his ERA of 3.74 in 127 and 2/3 innings of work was quite promising, and his 135 Ks (a better than one strikeout per inning ratio, which is excellent for a starter) shows his talent in full measure.  Rogers, who came up in August, posted a 3-1 record with a 3.92 ERA in 39 innings of work, and his 41 Ks (again, a better than one strikeout per inning ratio) bode well for Rogers’ future.  And Peralta, who was called up in September, looked so good with his 2-1 record and 2.48 ERA in 29 innings of work that both Ryan Braun and Aramis Ramirez said Peralta has all the makings of long-term starter in the major leagues.

But I’ve saved the best for last.

Put simply, Ryan Braun is in a class by himself.  Braun had perhaps his best overall season in 2012 (.319 BA, 41 HR, 112 RBI, and 30 SB in 37 attempts), easily equaling or improving upon his 2011 National League MVP effort (.332 BA, 33 HR, 111 RBI, and 33 SB in 39 attempts) despite losing teammate Prince Fielder to free agency and having to deal with clean-up man Ramirez starting off in a horrendous slump.  While Ramirez eventually got it together (by the All-Star break, Ramirez was hitting .272), the fact remained that Braun didn’t have much support in the first month or so of the season, which meant Braun could be pitched around.

And, of course, due to the whole performance-enhancing drug scandal (did he or didn’t he?  I believe he didn’t.), Braun was booed mercilessly in every ballpark save one: Miller Park in Milwaukee.  But this didn’t stop him, nor did the rancor of various sportswriters, nor did the ruination of his reputation — absolutely nothing stopped Braun from putting up MVP-like numbers and carrying the Brewers to their 83-79 record and missing out on the second Wild Card by only a few, short games.

Ultimately, though, the Brewers 2012 season will be remembered for its inconsistency — for its excellent late-August to mid-September run to the playoffs and an above-.500 record, yes, but also for the bullpen meltdowns of mid-June to mid-July.  For their excellent cadre of young starters, yes — but also for the two months of Shaun Marcum’s stint on the DL.  For John Axford regaining his form, yes — but also for his losing his form, and losing it badly, mid-season.

The next question is, whither 2013?  Well, a lot depends on things that can’t be known right now.  For example, how many of the 2012 relieving corps will come back next year?  How many injuries will the ’13 Brewers have to deal with?  Will Chris Narveson be able to regain his form as a starter, or will his post-surgical recovery limit him to shorter stints out of the bullpen?

But things do look promising despite the ’12 Brewers’ puzzling inconsistency, which is far better than I thought back in early August.  And that, most of all, is why I believe that the 2013 Brewers might surprise everyone and finally make it back to the World Series for the first time since 1982.

Written by Barb Caffrey

October 13, 2012 at 12:12 am