Barb Caffrey's Blog

Writing the Elfyverse . . . and beyond

Archive for March 2013

Just Reviewed K.E. Kimbriel’s “The Fires of Nuala” at SBR

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Folks, if you haven’t read any of Katharine Eliska Kimbriel’s novels before, you need to go find them and read them immediately.

I don’t often say this.  In fact, I’ve said this with regards to maybe two other authors in my entire life, those two being the novels of Rosemary Edghill (in any genre) and the novels of André Norton.  These two authors — one extremely well-known and a Grandmaster, the other who should be much better known than she is — are must-reads in any genre.

So far, I’ve read the three books in Ms. Kimbriel’s The Chronicles of Nuala, but only reviewed the first, THE FIRES OF NUALA, this evening over at Shiny Book Review (SBR).  (The second two books will be reviewed next week.)  What I’ve read  has shown me that Ms. Kimbriel knows what she’s doing, as she’s developed a complex world with a mythos all its own and characters who are vital people who demand attention at all times.

THE FIRES OF NUALA came out in 1988.  Somehow, I missed it back then.  The reissued** version came out in 2010 courtesy of Book View Cafe.

I’m glad I read it now, as it’s a first-rate novel that combines space opera, mystery, romance, epic world building and a complex plot into something that’s even more than the sum of its parts.  (I didn’t call it “…a book that should be in every science fiction library as it is complex, engrossing, interesting, compelling, and outstanding” for nothing, folks.)

THE FIRES OF NUALA should’ve won every award there was, as far as I’m concerned, unless the 1988 version was radically different than this one (something I find extremely hard to believe).  But due to the nature of the e-book revolution, at least it’s back out there and available to captivate new readers.

Seriously.  Read my review, then go read the novel.  Then ask yourself, “What happened back in 1988 that I missed this?”  (Unless you’re too young, of course, for this to apply.  In which case, just go grab the book and save steps.)

——–

** Upon further review, I’ve been reliably informed by Ms. Kimbriel that THE FIRES OF NUALA that I just read is the very same, exact version put out in 1988.  I really do not understand how a book like this one could be completely overlooked by the Hugo and Nebula Awards, but then again, I don’t run in those waters and never have.

However, I do know quality when I see it, or read it.  This book is quality with a capital “Q.”  So go out and read it, if you haven’t already.  (If you have, great!  But if you want an e-book, $4.99 for a book of this length and excellence is, as previously stated over at SBR, an absolute steal.)

Written by Barb Caffrey

March 30, 2013 at 7:20 pm

Milwaukee Brewers to Start Five Right-handers in 2013

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With the recent acquisition of right-handed pitcher Kyle Lohse (16-3, 2.86 ERA for the St. Louis Cardinals in 2012), the 2013 Milwaukee Brewers pitching rotation is now set.

The odd thing is, all five starters — Yovani Gallardo, Marco Estrada, Lohse, Mike Fiers and Wily Peralta — are right-handers.  It’s highly unusual to go with an all right-handed starting rotation in this day and age, especially when you have a capable left-hander like Chris Narveson on your roster.

“But Barb,” I can hear you saying.  “Narveson was injured last year.  Don’t you remember?  Season-ending arm injury, the 60-day disabled list, the whole enchilada?”

Of course I remember.  But until Lohse was signed this past week to a three-year deal (the widely-reported terms were for $33 million over that time span, with some money being deferred), the Brewers’ brain trust maintained that Narveson would not be on a pitch count and would be in the starting rotation.  Then, they suddenly changed their minds after Lohse was signed.

What I’ve seen out of Lohse over the years is heartening.  He’s a smart pitcher, as Brewers third baseman Aramis Ramirez said in several news reports (including this one from ESPN Wisconsin’s Drew Olson).  He has a steady, even temperament that works well with other teammates and rarely riles up opponents.  And he’s saying and doing all the right things thus far, which you’d expect out of such a savvy veteran.

The only possible downside has to do with Lohse’s age.  He’s thirty-four.  Very few pitchers have been able to pitch well for three straight years at thirty-four.  But it’s possible that Lohse will do very well and buck the trend, especially as he seems to be much like former Brewers pitcher Chris Capuano with regards to work-ethic and training regimen.

The signing of Lohse was welcome, as it now gives the Brewers two solid starters in Gallardo and Lohse, along with experienced swingman Estrada (now firmly ensconced in the starting rotation).  But the Brewers will still have two pitchers in their starting rotation with little major league experience in Peralta and Fiers, which is why it’s so puzzling that Narveson was put in the bullpen despite a solid spring.

Of course, Narveson is coming off major surgery.  The Brewers obviously don’t want to reaggravate any shoulder problems that may not have healed properly, which might be considered a wise move considering what happened to New York Mets starter (and left-hander) Johan Santana — about to miss all of 2013 after re-aggravating his left shoulder.  Many past Brewers pitchers recovering from injury — including Capuano, Ben Sheets, Mark Rodgers, and others — have been placed on pitch counts while they get back to full arm strength.  And every good baseball fan knows that it’s far easier for a manager to keep a pitcher to a stated pitch count if he’s coming out of the bullpen,

This, of course, is provided that the manager doesn’t overuse the relief pitcher by calling upon him several days in a row, as doing so negates any advantage sticking to a strict pitch count could possibly bring.

At any rate, Lohse is now in the Brewers’ fold.  That’s good.

But it remains to be seen what the Brewers will get out of Fiers and Peralta, especially as Peralta’s exhibition start against the Chicago White Sox last night was, to be charitable, awful.  (Four runs in four and a third innings is not good by any stretch of the imagination, even if two were unearned.)  Peralta actually looked so shaky in the third inning that it was surprising when Brewers manager Ron Roenicke left him out there long enough to get rocked in the fifth.

Because of how young Peralta is, I’d say he’s the most likely candidate to be sent down if he’s unable to regain the form he flashed during the Brewers end-of-the-season run toward the second Wild Card spot.  Which is why if I were Narveson, I’d bide my time, and be prepared to pitch multiple innings when called upon in order to stay as “stretched out” as possible (so a spot start, or return to the rotation down the lines, is less difficult).

Because it seems to me that if Narveson does all that, he’ll be rejoining the starting rotation sooner rather than later regardless of how Peralta and Fiers actually perform.

Written by Barb Caffrey

March 30, 2013 at 10:15 am

The Importance of Wills for Writers

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Over the past several weeks, I’ve been trying to get a few projects back up and running.  These projects, some of them years in the making, have become stalled out not for lack of interest, but because of the lack of time I’ve had to spend on them.

This can be frustrating, mostly because I have more stories than I have energy to work with — and partly because I have the sense that I’m running out of time.

Mind you, I’m going to keep working on the various projects.  But the idea of running out of time needs to be discussed . . . and as I’m here, I guess I’m the lucky one who gets to discuss it.

Don’t think that just because you’re not in your dotage that you still have plenty of time.  Because maybe you don’t.

Consider, please, that my husband Michael died before he was able to become known as a fiction writer (though after he and I had sold one story, this a SFWA qualifying sale).  The stories he left behind are ones I’m trying to keep alive, because they’re really good stories and I want them to see the light of day.

Then consider that my best friend Jeff also died before he was able to become known as a fiction writer.  And then further consider that his stories — which were thoughtfully sent to me by his brother — will never be published, or finished either, because he didn’t get time to flesh them out.

And because, unlike my late husband, Jeff did not have an inheritor.

Kristine Kathryn Rusch wrote a post about how important it is for a writer to have a will — no matter how “unimportant” that writer may be, and no matter how unknown his or her work, your literary estate matters.  (Yes, she wrote it last November.  But the advice still applies.)  This is why we all should sit down and make wills if we possibly can.

Bare minimum, we really should start thinking about it.

I’ve already lost two men in their mid-forties who mattered a great deal to me.  I’ve only been able to “save” the output from one writer — my husband — and I’m not even sure where all of his files are.  (I just believe I can reconstruct them if they’re unable to be found, because I knew Michael so well.)  His writing will live on, partly because we’d discussed things and I knew what he wanted done . . . and partly because I’m too damned stubborn to just give up on them.

But my friend Jeff’s writing will not.  And that saddens me greatly.

Please, folks.  For the love of God/dess and little green apples, if you are a writer of any sort (including a musical composer), figure out who you want to be the executor of your literary estate.  Then sit down with your chosen executor, discuss what you will need done after you pass from this earth, and make sure that the person you’ve picked not only understands your wishes, but wants to be your executor . . . then make out your will accordingly.**

That way, whoever ends up being your inheritor will have as good of an idea as possible as to what, exactly, you want done with your literary estate.  Because otherwise, who knows what will happen?

So don’t take the chance.  Figure out what you want done with your words, and make out that will as soon as you possibly can.

If you do that in a timely manner, your words will have a chance to live on.

And a chance beats no chance at all.  Doesn’t it?

————

I’d be remiss if I didn’t point out that  Neil Gaiman blogged about this very issue a few years ago due to the problems that occurred after writer John M. Ford passed away. Gaiman’s post on the subject includes a simple PDF form will that should get you pointed in the right direction.

Written by Barb Caffrey

March 29, 2013 at 4:00 am

Easter Week Odds and Ends

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Folks, I’ve been engrossed in several major projects this week, which is why I haven’t had much time for blogging.  That said, it’s Easter Week and there are several topics I’d like to discuss — so let’s get to it.

First, there have been a number of stories recently about good deeds that have gone viral.  (This particular phrase is vexing in and of itself, mind you.  “Gone viral” used to discuss epidemics, not Internet usage.  But I digress.)  The latest one is about a family who had their meal “comped” at Olive Garden in Vernon Hills, IL . . . and of all things, people are actually posting comments saying this particular complimentary meal was a stunt by the public relations firm that represents the Olive Garden chain.

Look.  I really don’t understand the motivation behind people posting every single thing that happens to them online, as if it’s not real unless it’s discussed on the Internet.  But I’ve seen story after story lately about good deeds (such as the forty dollars left by an anonymous person on a windshield because a woman had a “half my heart is in Afghanistan” bumper sticker on her car), all of which have been picked up after some individual posts a story online — usually at Reddit or Twitter or Instagram, or any of the services that allow you to post a picture and a short caption of what’s going on.

I adore stories about good deeds.  Yet there’s something about how people are posting these stories themselves that bugs me.

I’m glad that people are reaching out to help others in a time of need.  (The first story about the Olive Garden is a case in point.)  But I’m very concerned about this trend of posting every single thing you see or hear or want to discuss online, because it’s a way of eroding your personal head space.

Or to put it more bluntly, people seem to be giving their privacy away much more easily than ever before.  And that is an extremely worrisome trend.

Second, there was a sad story today that I wish I didn’t have to write about.  A retired couple from Indiana had moved to Washington to be close to their son, his wife and their newborn grandson, and had spent the first ten days of the child’s life with him.  But today, a drunk driver who had already surrendered his driver’s license hit the couple as they were crossing a street with their grandson and daughter-in-law, killing the retired couple instantly.

The only good thing is that so far, the mother and child have survived.  But they are both in critical condition, and the outcome is far from certain.  I hope to post an update (with luck, a positive one) in a few days’ time.

This particular drunk driver had five previous DUIs, this according to the UK newspaper The Daily Mail.   Somehow, he managed to slam into not one person, but four — and his weak excuse amounted to, “The sun was in my eyes, and I didn’t see them,” according to newspaper reports (such as this one from the Washington Post).

Mind you, this is a paraphrase of what the various newspaper and TV reports I’ve read (and heard) have said.  But from all reports, after hitting four people including a newborn baby, this is all the drunk driver in question (I refuse to name him) had to say for himself.

He’s obviously learned nothing.

And last but not least, it is Easter Week.  I’ve written about Good Friday before (last year, in fact), and about Easter itself (two years ago) . . . basically, Easter Week is all about transfiguration, repentance and redemption.  And as such, it can be a very stressful time to deal with if you have any empathy at all, or any sense of what, historically, Christianity has meant to this world (for good and ill).

Religious historian Mircea Eliade wrote extensively on Christianity, and because I’ve read most of Eliade’s work, I realize that in many respects, Christianity was a major step forward.

Mind you, there were good Pagan cults that were suppressed, subsumed and/or stamped out.  That was not good by any stretch of the imagination.

But there also were bad Pagan cults and bad pre-Christian religions of all sorts that were also suppressed, subsumed and/or stamped out, too.

On balance, Christianity when it was adopted was a major step forward.  There were women who advocated for the church in early times — perhaps more of them than we’re currently aware of, because the chroniclers of that time were largely male.

It was only later, when the Church fathers (always fathers) got their hooks into Christianity that abuses were suffered.  And while there have always been good and kindly priests of all sorts in the Catholic Church and other Christian sects (as there have been in other churches worldwide throughout our history), the Christian faith as a faith must be vigilant against anyone or any thing that perverts its overall message.

Which, believe it or not, boils down to one and only one thing: love one another.  (Jesus said so, too.  It’s in the Bible.  Go look it up.)

Or, if you want two things, try the Golden Rule.  (Which Wiccans know as, “An ye harm none, do as thou wilt.”  Same thing.)

Everything else is window dressing.  And everything else, as such, should be viewed that way — with extreme caution.

Jesus is celebrated because he loved everyone.  The widows.  The orphans. The lepers.  Those who didn’t have enough to eat.  The homeless.  The scared.  The dying.  The condemned.

Jesus loved them all.

Yet the modern church, for the most part, has gone away from this.  (There are individual exceptions, such as Mother Teresa, Father Damien the Leper Priest, and so forth.)  They need to realize that any faith, if it’s any good at all, needs to care about everyone.

Not just those it understands.

Everyone.

Meaning the gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered community.  Meaning women who want to be priests rather than nuns (great as nuns are, it’s not the same job, yet it’s the best any female can do in the Catholic Church).  Meaning kids who get so many piercings, you can barely see their skin.

Or convicts.  Prostitutes.  Villains of all sorts and descriptions . . . because redemption is possible even in the worst of all circumstances.

That’s what Jesus said, and that’s the life Jesus lived.  It was a heroic life in many respects, which is why Christianity is a very tough religion (I’m not the only one who’s said so, either; so did G.K. Chesterton).

We tend to view Jesus as an example rather than a man like any other man — or, perhaps better stated, a man with a spark of divinity in him that could not be denied even by his detractors.

Maybe we’d do a little better in this life if we viewed what he did as a man in comforting widows and orphans, healing the sick, feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, etc., etc., and tried to do the same in whatever small ways we possibly can.

That way, we would show how much we truly care for others.  And we’d be following both the Golden Rule and Jesus’s “Eleventh Commandment” (that of loving one another as Jesus loved us) — which is something worthwhile to do whether you’re a Christian, a NeoPagan, a Muslim, an atheist, or a Martian.

Written by Barb Caffrey

March 27, 2013 at 5:56 pm

MLB: In Pursuit of Ryan Braun, Again?

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Folks, some stories seem like broken records.

Take the story broken by Yahoo Sports through its blog “Big League Stew.”  The headline reads, “MLB’s PED Vendetta Against Ryan Braun: Seeks Informants, Offers Immunity for Players Testimony.”

This article points out that Major League Baseball, in its infinite whatever, is using the Biogenesis Clinic information that has been leaked to the press as a way to go after Milwaukee Brewers left fielder Ryan Braun.  Braun is the only major leaguer known to have successfully appealed a positive drug test, and MLB apparently just cannot handle it at all.

Instead, they wish to punish Braun after the fact despite losing their case in arbitration against Braun in 2012 — legally binding arbitration, at that.

MLB is even willing, according to an article at USA Today by Bob Nightengale (which the Yahoo Sports blog references), to grant some players immunity even if they test positive for PEDs themselves.  Which seems extremely counterproductive if MLB’s interest here is in the cleanest sport possible . . . but more on that in a bit.

The reason MLB is upset is because their officials insist that Braun used performance-enhancing drugs due to a highly elevated level of testosterone in Braun’s urine sample back in 2011.  Braun won his appeal in 2012 (here’s my earlier blog post on the subject); at the time, MLB “vehemently disagreed” with the decision.  Later, MLB fired arbitrator Shyam Das, which looked terrible from a public relations standpoint — as apparently, the only arbitrators they want are the ones who rule in MLB’s favor.

As Ray Ratto pointed out in this column from February 23, 2012 (note that the lack of punctuation is also in the original column; the look of this has not been altered in any way save to cut out one link):

Rather than announce that Braun had won his appeal and had been found not guilty according to the procedures and protocols set up and approved BY Major League Baseball, it chose instead to swine-slap Das ruling, deciding that when they say guilty, they mean guilty.Now we dont know whether Braun hornswoggled the arbitrator, the system or nobody at all. We wont call him innocent or guilty. We will say, though, that he played by baseballs rules, he followed baseballs procedures, he went through baseballs process, and he was found not guilty.Thus, it is inconceivably bad form for baseball to scream about the result just because they wanted it to be something else.

Obviously, I agree with this assessment.

Ratto’s words, however, have proven prophetic in how MLB has behaved with regards to Braun.  Take a look at this (also from Ratto’s above-referenced column):

The process is supposed to be about finding the truth, not getting the desired result. The desired result IS the truth, and baseballs system says Braun didnt do what he was accused of doing.MLBs reaction, though, shows that for it, testing isnt about determining a players guilt or innocence, its about nailing guys.”As a part of our drug testing program, the commissioner’s office and the players’ association agreed to a neutral third party review for instances that are under dispute, a statement from Rob Manfred, managements representative on the three-man appeals panel, read. While we have always respected that process, Major League Baseball vehemently disagrees with the decision rendered today by arbitrator Shyam Das.”Vehemently disagrees? Its your system, Robbo, the one your negotiators demanded. Is it only a good system when you win? (emphasis added by BC)

And if that’s the case, MLB is going to keep going after Braun in the same way Inspector Javert went after Jean Valjean in Les Miserables — even though it will do no good, much harm, and cause much strife for all concerned.

Look.  I’ve thought and thought about this, and I’ve come to the same conclusions as in my original blog post on the Braun/PED issue:

Braun has been an outstanding player from the time the Brewers brought him up.  He won the Rookie of the Year Award in 2007.  His lifetime numbers are comparable to his MVP numbers; over his last five seasons, he’s averaged 36 HRs and 118 RBIs a season, and has hit over .300 every year except 2008 (when he “only” hit .285); his lifetime batting average, over five complete seasons, is .312.

So I don’t really see where Braun could’ve been taking anything that was of an enhancing nature, especially if he’s never tested positive before (and indeed, he hasn’t).

Jumping a few paragraphs, I said back in 2011:

. . . my view is that Braun’s statistical performance was well within his own normals.  So it’s very hard for me to believe that Braun actually did take anything illegal of the PED variety; because of that, and because of my admittedly laissez-faire attitude toward baseball players and legal drugs, I believe Braun should be considered innocent until and unless he is proven guilty.

And as we now all know, Braun was found not guilty.

Which makes me think that Braun had a point.  He wasn’t juicing then, isn’t juicing now, and that as much as anyone’s performance can be in these days of high-tech nutrition and personal trainers, he’s as clean as they come.

Since Braun has been proven to not have taken PEDs under binding arbitration, MLB should really let it go.  Because the longer they pursue this mindless vendetta, the more they look like Inspector Javert — and with far less reason than that fictional French bureaucrat of old.

My final take?  I suppose it’s MLB’s prerogative to look silly, spiteful and stupid when it comes to this apparent vendetta against Ryan Braun.

But speaking as a long-time baseball fan, I wish they’d knock it off.

About to Play a Concert

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Tonight, I will take another step toward reclaiming my musical abilities by playing my clarinet with the University of Wisconsin-Community Band.

“But Barb,” you longtime readers of my blog may be saying.  “You’ve played concerts with them before.  What’s the big deal?”

Well, last year I played my alto saxophone in several concerts with the Community Band — a symphonic band made up of various community members from the Racine, Kenosha, and Northern Illinois areas.  I played several solos, including a memorable, lengthy one on “Roma” (a piece inspired by the Romani, or Gypsies).  But in some ways, playing the saxophone is easier on my bad hands than is the clarinet.

Consider, please, that it took two rounds of occupational therapy in 2011 to bring my hands and wrists back to the point that I could play at all.  (I have carpal tunnel syndrome, though I try not to make a big deal of it.)  That’s why I wanted to play more saxophone than clarinet, as saxophone is easier on the wrists due to the fact the alto saxophone is played by using a neckstrap to take the weight of the instrument off both hands and wrists.

I wasn’t sure what could be done to help my hands with the clarinet, but fortunately Steve Schoene of Racine’s own Schmitt Music had the answer.  Schoene told me about the Clarichord, which is somewhat like a neckstrap but does not require a hole to be drilled in the clarinet and a ring installed . . . instead, it wraps around the thumb rest, and seals with a velcro closure around the neck.

Voila!  I was able to play my clarinet far more easily, and without anywhere near as much pain and strain.

Still, two-plus hour rehearsals seemed beyond me, which is why playing the saxophone in both Community Band and the Racine Concert Band seemed like the best course unless a clarinet player was truly needed.

However, my hands have improved enough that I asked to play clarinet in the Community Band.  I am playing the first part, which is the most wide-ranging and difficult (for the most part), and I have several solos in a piece by Ingolf Dahl called “Sinfonietta for Band.”

These solos are challenging and require all of my thought and energy.  Which is why when we had our dress rehearsal last night, I came home drained — thus was unable to blog about tonight’s concert as I’d hoped.

It’s rather late for most people in the Racine, Kenosha and Northern Illinois area to decide to go out to Parkside for a concert.  (For those of you not from this area, Parkside is somewhat between the cities of Racine and Kenosha, and is located next to a scenic park.  Thus the name.)  Plus, it’s cold, windy, and worst of all, it’s Tuesday — not on a weekend, when we might have a bit more people willing to brave the elements to come see a live concert with real, live adult performers.

Still.  The concert starts at 7:30 p.m.  It’s now 6:20.  If you live within forty-five minutes of Parkside, you can still make it — and if you want to see the Community Band perform, we are second on the program, not first.  (Which means you don’t have to break all speed limits in order to get to the show on time if you want to see us perform.)

For those of you who don’t live in the area, or who cannot attend the concert, please wish me well.  This certainly is the most challenging work I’ve played in at least twenty years — and it would’ve been a beast to play even before my hands started acting up fifteen years ago.

——

By the way . . . I always tag my late husband’s name with regards to something like this.  Michael didn’t get a chance to hear me play live in concert.  He did hear me practice many times, but that’s not necessarily the same thing.

It depends on what you think happens after the body dies as to whether or not you believe my husband has finally been able to hear me play in concert or not.  But I like to think that he does hear it, wherever he is, and that he’s happy I’m making the attempt.  Because if any part of him still exists, he has to know that me continuing onward with my hands and wrists like this is far from easy . . . but this is a big part of who I am.

He’d be happy I’m continuing to try, even though it’s painful and much more difficult than it used to be for me to play either the clarinet or the saxophone.

And I think he’d get a kick out of the fact that I have solos, too.

Written by Barb Caffrey

March 19, 2013 at 6:21 pm

Hillary Clinton, Rob Portman Latest Pols In Support of Same-Sex Marriage

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In the last week, two prominent politicians have come out in favor of same-sex marriage — one, of course, being far more prominent than the other.

The latter person is former Secretary of State, Senator and First Lady, Hillary R. Clinton, who today endorsed same-sex marriage with a video put out by the Human Rights Campaign, while the former is Republican Senator Rob Portman of Ohio.  Portman said his main reason for changing his stance from firm opposition to firm support is his son — who has told him he’s gay, and wants full rights to marry any partner he may take in the future.

This article from PennLive points out how difficult it’s been for Portman, the only Republican Senator in open support of gay marriage, since he’s made his stance public last week.  And despite such well-known Republicans as former Vice President Dick Cheney and former Sec. of State Colin Powell also being in support of same-sex marriage, it’s far more easy for a Democrat like Mrs. Clinton or sitting President Obama to admit that he or she supports same-sex marriage than it is for any active Republican officeholder.

Why is this?

PennLive points out that Portman said:

Portman said his previous views on marriage were rooted in his Methodist faith. However, he wrote, “Ultimately, for me, it came down to the Bible’s overarching themes of love and compassion and my belief that we are all children of God.”

Yet most Republican leaders apparently met this with either stony silence or, as PennLive’s article put it, “a shrug,” while Republican Speaker of the House John Boehner actually told ABC’s This Week that he’d oppose gay marriage even if his own son was gay.

It’s hard to see this particular comment as anything except a slam against Senator Portman.

Fortunately, it’s not as difficult for a well-known Democrat to let it be known she is in favor of marriage equality.

Mrs. Clinton said that her work at the State Department, including the signing of measures meant to protect long-term same-sex couples, made her reconsider her beliefs (best paraphrase from her video for the HRC, which is available via PennLive).  That’s why she, too, has now come out in full support of same-sex marriage.

And, thus far, the Democratic (or democratic-leaning) talking heads on both MSNBC and CNN seem in full support of Mrs. Clinton’s stance, which is not a surprise.  The titular head of the party is the President, who is also in support of same-sex marriage (though perhaps less wholeheartedly than Mrs. Clinton).

So, on the one hand we have the Republican Party, which doesn’t seem to want to budge except for a few brave individuals like Senator Portman and several retired Republicans like Cheney and Powell.  And on the other, we have the Democratic Party, which has an openly lesbian sitting Senator (Wisconsin’s own Tammy Baldwin), and has embraced advocacy of same-sex marriage as a human rights issue.

Which, to my mind, it is.

Look.  This is an issue that everyone should get behind, but it may be impossible for some older Americans to fully understand.  Nevertheless, if two people want to marry, and both are consenting adults, the state should allow them to marry.  Not stand in their way.

And as far as the religious objections go, we have separation of church and state in our Constitution for a reason — which is why individual churches may still say no to same-sex marriage without penalty.

But it’s also why our country, as a whole, should say yes.

On a personal note, I’m very pleased that Senator Portman has been willing to publicly admit that his stance has changed.  This makes me believe there’s at least some hope for the Republican Party to stop making marriage equality a partisan issue — despite well-known obstructionists such as Speaker Boehner.

Written by Barb Caffrey

March 18, 2013 at 5:16 pm

Just Reviewed Lackey and Mallory’s “Crown of Vengeance” at SBR

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Folks, if you are looking for a compelling epic fantasy that’s never boring, features a fine, yet flawed, heroine and a subtext that heroines need love, too (yet can rarely find it), you will really adore Mercedes Lackey and James Mallory’s newest novel, CROWN OF VENGEANCE.  Set in their world of Jer-a-Kaliel deep in the misty past, they tell the story of the great Elven Queen Vieliessar Farcarinon . . . and how the myths and legends that have arisen in the centuries upon centuries since her adventures are both more and less than what she actually was.

Before I discuss more of my typical “after-action report,” here’s the link to my review: http://shinybookreview.com/2013/03/17/lackey-and-mallorys-crown-of-vengeance-one-compelling-epic-fantasy/

Now, back to the AAR.

See, Vieliessar is a very complex person.  She’s a mage.  She’s a fighter.  She’s a scholar.  She’s a wise and benevolent ruler.  But she starts out very much behind the eight ball, as her mother died giving birth to her, the rest of Vieliessar’s family has been killed due to infighting among the Hundred Noble Houses, and because of that infighting, Vieliessar barely knows anything about herself until age twelve or so.

Instead, she thinks she’s Varuthir, and no one special.  But she hopes to become an Elven knight anyway, and win glory on the battlefield, as that’s the best way for her to gain a name, and home, of her own.

At that point, she is instead sent to the Sanctuary of the Star — the place her mother gave birth, mind you — to become a perpetual servant.  The reason this happens is because the Hundred Houses want no one of Farcarinon left able to reclaim her birthright.  But because one petty, spiteful noble actually tells Vieliessar her real name and just a tad about her heritage, Vieliessar becomes both curious and angry as to why she’s been misled all this time.

The Sanctuary is a safe place for Vieliessar for a number of years.  She learns more about who she is by doing various things, including learning that servants are just as important as nobles, that the status of the Landbonds (serfs tied to the land, more or less — farmers) is far below their actual worth and value, and that she actually has magical talent.

Then, after she’s resigned herself to becoming Vieliessar Lightsister (sort of a combination of mage, cleric and scholar), she has to reinvent herself again due to factional infighting at the Sanctuary.  (Mind you, I didn’t have time to get into that in my review, plus I didn’t want to give too much away.  Read the rest of this AAR at your own risk!)  And she becomes a swordswoman.

At this point, she finds a few of her family’s old retainers — the few that were left alive after the destruction of House Farcarinon — and decides to go to war.

But she’s not going to war with the other nobles, even though they think she is due to her destiny as the “Child of the Prophecy.”  (I talk more of this in my review.)  Instead, she knows she must unite the noble houses behind her banner in order to fight the nasty, vicious, disgusting and evil Endarkened — blood mages of the worst sort, who don’t see themselves as evil but obviously are.

Note that Vieliessar does not know who the Endarkened are, much less what.  But she does know that some sort of monstrous evil has been prophesied.  She also knows that she’s sensed something really bad out there that doesn’t like Elves, and figures that this must be the evil that’s been prophesied.  (She’s right, too.)

Book one mostly discusses Vieliessar’s quest to unite the noble houses.  It’s an absorbing read so long as it’s fixed on Vieliessar’s hopes, dreams, and aspirations — and it’s even interesting when dealing with the petty, political one-upmanship seen in the various maneuvering of the noble houses as they try, in vain, to escape their eventual joint fate as vassals to Vieliessar.

Really, if you enjoy a good, solid epic fantasy, you will love this book.  And if you loved any of Lackey and Mallory’s previous six collaborative efforts, you will assuredly love this book . . . so what’s stopping you from first reading my review, then reading the book itself?  (Go pick up a copy today!  Further reviewer sayeth not.)

Written by Barb Caffrey

March 17, 2013 at 3:09 am

Editorial Ramblings

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Before I get into this long-overdue blog about my actual profession (writing and editing), let me say something important:

Happy Saint Patrick’s Day!

Now that I’ve gotten that out of the way, let’s talk about editing.

Because I’ve been doing so much editing lately, I’ve had trouble snapping out of “editor mode” and back into whatever mode I’m in when I write.  This makes it more difficult to write blogs — even short ones — as much of my energy is being applied elsewhere.

The ability to write words is something I’ve called the “alpha state,” also known as the best place to be for a writer.  This is when words flow naturally, and it’s seemingly easy to tell a story.  I say “seemingly” because once you’re in the editing phase, you realize how much more work there is yet to do.

That’s why I thought today might be a good day to say a few specific words about editing.  Because even though I’ve not specifically talked much about editing, it’s an extremely important part of any writer’s job whether you call yourself a “writer/editor” or not.

Writers often consider editors to be a “necessary evil” even if they, too, are editors.  This is one of the odder things about the whole “writing/editing” profession; you don’t start editing unless you know something about writing, and you also don’t start editing unless you really enjoy writing (or at the very least, enjoy reading).

Yet the myth of the “Evil Editor” can’t help but persist, especially among writers who are just starting out or those who haven’t worked with many editors over time.  I don’t know how this myth got started, but it really needs to come to an end.  Pronto.

I can guarantee to you that, as an editor, I don’t go out of my way to cause trouble for writers.  I understand writers (I should, because I am one), and I also understand the worry that an editor possibly won’t understand what you’re writing, and thus won’t be of any use to you.

For those extremely nervous writers out there (I won’t call you “nervous Nellies,” as at least some of your nerves are justifiable, if not actually justified), you need to remember that a good editor helps you clarify your thoughts and clean up your manuscript.  Editors exist to help writers, to help polish up that gem of a story you have that’s ready to go out into the big, wide world — otherwise, what would be the point?

I mean, if editors were out there hoping for “perks,” the profession would’ve died out long ago.

Smart writers want editors to look over their work and give suggestions for improvement — at least, I know I want as much editorial help as I can find.  Because while my writing is sound, and my ideas are fresh, why not run it by an editor and make my book even better?

Also, remember that even if you, the writer, don’t always agree with your editor, usually some sort of consensus can be reached if the lines of communication remain open.  And if you’re willing to trust in the process — and not just eschew all editing because your book is perfect as it is, thank you.

Bottom line?  You need to stop fearing the editor, or at least fearing the editorial process.  Because your editor — whomever he or she may turn out to be — can help you improve your manuscript.

And really, isn’t that what it’s all about?

————

Note: For those of you who would prefer not to deal with editors, and think your work is perfect as it stands, thank you very many — I have news.

It isn’t.

We all need editing.  Every single last solitary one of us.

So rather than fearing the editorial process, or worse, disdaining it as unnecessary, you need to work with it.

Because it’s part of being a professional writer.

And if you’re in this business to be an obnoxious boor, and are insistent that you do not need editing or editors because you are perfect in every conceivable way and the words you’ve written don’t need editing because of your self-same perfection . . . and you then proceed to denigrate editors and editing whenever you can . . . all I can say to you is this:

Grow up.  (Seriously.)

Written by Barb Caffrey

March 17, 2013 at 1:25 am

Biased Judging Rears Its Ugly Head Again in Figure Skating

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Folks, when I turn on the World Figure Skating Championships in any year, I expect to see great competition.  I expect to see artistry, athleticism, dynamic performances, and proper, unbiased judging that’s based on what the figure skater in question actually does, rather than whether or not the judges in question like the figure skater.

I don’t always get it.

In 2010 at the Vancouver Olympics, United States figure skater Johnny Weir, a three-time U.S. champion, was denied a place on the podium.  There was never any explanation given for this, even though Weir arguably skated the best and cleanest program of any of the top male skaters.   Other skaters who finished in front of him included Patrick Chan (5th), who fell, Stephane Lambiel (4th), who fell, and Daisuke Takahashi (3rd), who also fell but received the bronze medal anyway.  Nobonari Oda, who had a skate lace break, necessitating a break in the action while he went to get a new one and a mandatory deduction taken off his score, finished just behind Weir.

Weir was able to rise above this unfair result, and has become one of the most popular, visible, and undoubtedly flamboyant figure skaters of his era.  But he shouldn’t have had to do so.

Instead, he should have won the bronze that night, and be known forever after as an Olympic medalist.

Today, there were two biased and inexplicable judging events at the 2013 Worlds.  (Note that Weir, being injured, did not compete in the U.S. Nationals, much less this particular competition.  But he did take in the action.  More on that later.)

The first problematic judging was seen in Friday afternoon’s pairs event, held in London, Ontario, Canada.  German pair Aliona Savchenko and Robin Szolkowy skated a flawed, yet entertaining program that normally would’ve landed them in fourth or fifth place if the skating alone had been judged.  However, they were instead held up by remarkably high program component scores — what used to be called the “artistic presentation” scores — and won the silver medal over two more deserving Canadian pairs, Meagan Duhamel/Eric Radford and Kirsten Moore-Towers/Dylan Moscovitch.  The Canadian pairs had to settle for third and fourth place, respectively.

Universal Sports Network’s color commentator, Peter Carruthers (himself a silver medalist at the 1982 Worlds and the 1984 Olympics in pairs), couldn’t believe it.  He even said — rare for a commentator — that he felt the PCS scores had been “padded” to help Savchenko and Szolkowy out.

But that, bad as it was,  paled compared to tonight’s fiasco in the men’s singles competition.

Denis Ten of Kazakhstan went out and skated the performance of his life in the men’s long program.  He was by far the best and most entertaining skater, and — more importantly — he didn’t fall.  And Ten won the free skate . . . but somehow still finished second to Patrick Chan of Canada.  Despite Chan’s two outright falls, three double-foot landings, and several jumps that looked to the naked eye as if they were under-rotated in Chan’s long program, Chan — just like Savchenko and Szolkowy before him — was “held up” by overly inflated PCS scores.

And what’s so silly about this is that Chan had a very good short program.  That gave him a lead of nearly ten points going into tonight’s free skate.  Due to Ten’s brilliant program, Chan’s lead would’ve evaporated if he’d been judged fairly.  Especially considering all the times Chan fell, double-footed jumps and otherwise looked like he was sleepwalking through his program.  Which was pretty much all of the final three minutes and thirty seconds.

Sure, Chan landed two quadruple jumps early on.  (Ten, to be fair, did only one.)  But other than that, Chan did not look like he deserved to be on the podium tonight, much less win the gold medal.

Much less be what he is right now — a three-time gold medalist at the World Figure Skating Championships, despite falling several times during his 2012 long program as well.

The only way I can reconcile Chan’s standing with the judges compared to what Chan actually does on the ice is this: The judges seem to have a love affair with Patrick Chan.  They believe he has superb skating skills — which, to be honest, he does.  (Not better than several others in the field tonight, but I’ll grant that he’s among the top five or six in the world among current, competitive “amateur” skaters.)  They appreciate his artistry, far more than anyone outside of Canada does, and they reward him for it.

To the detriment of other skaters.

What’s really frustrating about tonight’s judging fiasco is that, lost in the shuffle, Brian Joubert of France skated a powerful, clean program that should’ve landed him in the top five — if not garnered him a place on the podium with a bronze.   But the judges put his PCS marks down and did not give him credit for what he actually accomplished — shades of what they did to Weir in Vancouver in 2010.

Which is why Joubert, who skated very well — much better than many others, including Patrick Chan — landed in an undeserved spot, finishing in ninth place.

That’s just not right.

Other than that, Max Aaron of the United States came in seventh — good for him, especially considering tonight’s abhorrent judging — and Ross Miner did not do well at all, finishing in fourteenth place.  (The crew at Universal Sports didn’t even show his long program, more or less conceding that it wasn’t very good.)   This may have been Miner’s only shot ever to skate at the World Figure Skating Championships, as both Weir and former Olympic, World and U.S. Champion Evan Lysacek plan to compete for the two spots available for the 2014 Sochi Olympics in addition to three-time U.S. Champion Jeremy Abbott (who finished third at this year’s U.S. Nationals, barely missing a chance to compete at the Worlds) and, of course, reigning men’s champ Aaron.

At any rate, it’s not just me who’s frustrated and upset by the men’s event tonight.  Here’s Johnny Weir’s take, from Twitter:

Johnny Weir-Voronov@JohnnyGWeir

This judging is ridiculous and the only reason people buy it is because it’s in North America. Imagine the outcry if it were Russia+Plush!?

Then Weir posted this:

Johnny Weir-Voronov@JohnnyGWeir

My world champion is @Tenis_Den. No question. Congratulations. Everyone should be feeling some Kazakh pride! #Молодец

Earlier in his Twitter feed, Weir also had kind words for Brian Joubert:

Johnny Weir-Voronov@JohnnyGWeir

Brian Joubert’s performance was the most encouraging of the night. Our generation can still do it. 🇫🇷

Weir wasn’t the only well-known figure skater publicly left scratching his or her head regarding tonight’s judging.  Here’s what United States figure skater Christina Gao had to say:

Christina Gao@christina_gao

Amazing skate, @Tenis_Den! #inspiring

Then, after Ten was inexplicably robbed of his rightful gold medal, she posted this:

Christina Gao@christina_gao

Wait what? I’m confused by my own sport. #somethingswronghere#FSworlds13 more like #BSworlds13

So if two really fine figure skaters think there’s something wrong, there probably is.

Clean it up, International Skating Union.  Or soon, figure skating as a sport will be considered no better than World Wrestling Entertainment.

Fun to watch, sure.  But . . . dare I say it . . . fixed.