Barb Caffrey's Blog

Writing the Elfyverse . . . and beyond

Archive for October 2013

Just Reviewed Ash Krafton’s “Blood Rush” at SBR

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Folks, I just reviewed Ash Krafton’s BLOOD RUSH at Shiny Book Review (SBR for short, as always).  It’s a worthy sequel in many ways to the excellent BLEEDING HEARTS (previously reviewed at SBR), but it features one thing I had a really tough time getting past — an odd, almost completely nonsensical romance.

Normally, a book like BLOOD RUSH would be featured during SBR’s “Romance Saturday” promotion, but I just couldn’t do it this time because of the nature of this particular romance.  Krafton’s main character in both books, Sophie Galen, has taken up with the brother of her former lover, Rodrian Thurzo, for reasons that aren’t well-rooted.

It’s tough for me to review a book like BLOOD RUSH, which does so very many things right as it has great dialogue, interesting plotlines, excellent characterization, and fits Krafton’s own DemiVampire (DV for short) into the prevailing “otherworld” mythos alongside better-known magical races such as Vampires and Werewolves (note that Krafton does not use an -s for either DemiVampire or Vampire), but doesn’t root the romance to the same depth as all the rest of it.

I actually put BLOOD RUSH down for a whole month because I was afraid of what Krafton was going to do with the nascent Sophie-Rodrian romance.  Wisely, she found a way out of that morass (no, I’m not going to say how).  But going there at all didn’t make any sense to me.

Krafton’s writing is so good, I expected better from her even though this is only her second novel.  My guess as to why she’d put this strange romance into BLOOD RUSH is because she probably wanted to show that Sophie is just as human and fallible as everyone else despite having great power as an empath (which is why Sophie’s been called to become a Sophia, or wise counselor/problem solver, in the first place).  If so, I can understand why she did it even though I still don’t like it.

As a reviewer, I have to mention it whenever I have big problems with a plotline, no matter how much I love the rest of the book.  I did so recently with my review of Sharon Lee and Steve Miller’s DRAGON SHIP — those two are among my very favorite authors and have been so for a very long time.  I did so, most spectacularly, in my review of Debbie Macomber’s HANNAH’S LIST, even though there was a time in my life where Macomber’s Heart of Texas series helped me get through a nasty divorce (this being long before I ever met my wonderful late husband, Michael).

It’s tougher to do this with a novelist with only two novels under her belt as compared to a pair of authors with over a dozen (Lee and Miller) or someone with over a hundred (Macomber).  I don’t like doing it.  But I do a disservice to myself and my readership if I fail to point out something I really don’t like, even if the rest of the book is good and I still plan to read the rest of the series.

Overall, my hope for the third book in the Demimonde series is that either Marek will somehow be able to come back to Sophie or another strong character completely unrelated to Marek or Rodrian comes into the picture and is a worthy match for Sophie.  Anything else doesn’t make sense, and as a writer myself, I know I’d rather write a worthy foil for my romantic lead than someone who really isn’t up to par for this character, even if he might be a good match for 99 out of 100 other women.

Written by Barb Caffrey

October 25, 2013 at 6:11 am

EMILYs List Endorses Mary Burke, Leaves Sen. Kathleen Vinehout Out in the Cold

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Yesterday, the influential group EMILY’s List (Early Money is Like Yeast) endorsed Democratic candidate Mary Burke for the 2014 Wisconsin Gubernatorial race.  Their stated reason for doing so, according to the President of EMILY’s List, Stephanie Schriock, is that Burke has “been quietly changing the world for the better for years, by breaking barriers herself and by making opportunities for others to get ahead.”

But as the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel’s article said in an almost throwaway line, the person this really hurts is state Senator Kathleen Vinehout (D-Alma).  Vinehout, one of the “Wisconsin 14” who stood up to Republican Governor Scott Walker and left the state due to the controversial Act 10 repealing collective bargaining for most public employee unions, ran for Governor during the 2012 recall race but didn’t really have the money to contend with the two top Democratic candidates, former Madison County Executive Kathleen Falk and Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett.

Vinehout was my pick last time for Governor, mostly because I met her, listened to her positions, researched her, and knew that if the general public got any sense of her whatsoever — she’s a woman of substance who’s been a dairy farmer and a college professor, and is known as a “budget hawk” — I believed she’d beat Scott Walker.  Vinehout’s district is more Republican than not, yet she’s won re-election in that district, which means she has bipartisan appeal.

By EMILY’s List endorsing Burke — a woman who’s never been elected to state office, though she was appointed to state Commerce Secretary by former Governor Jim Doyle — this significantly hurts Vinehout.

Worse yet, Burke is a millionaire in her own right and a former executive at Trek Bicycle, a company her father founded.  (Please see this article from Blogging Blue about the problematic issues facing Burke if she continues her gubernatorial run.)  Which begs this question: Is big money the only reason Burke is getting these endorsements?

Currently, Burke sits on the school board in Madison.  While there’s nothing wrong with that, this is the only position she’s ever been elected to in her life.  Whereas Vinehout is a sitting state Senator who’s actually had to do something extremely difficult and take a stand — all while not getting paid in the process (as she is not wealthy, I’m sure this did not help her or her family much).

Overall, I’m deeply unhappy EMILY’s List has decided to endorse Burke.  From this vantage point, the only thing Burke has to offer is a whole lot of her own money to throw into the governor’s race.  She has no record to run on.  She has no idea how to improve things as a Governor because she’s never been elected to public office (excepting her current stint on the Madison school board).  She officially has “no platform” and has made “no promises,” according to the Wisconsin State Journal, which, as they put it, “has led some Democratic activists to express concerns about her candidacy” while union leaders and the main Democratic Party have largely been silent.

All these types of endorsements do is limit the prospects of candidates like Vinehout who might really have a chance if that big money came her way later on, favoring those who already have big money themselves or big money pledged, as now, from influential Democratic organizations.

Besides, I have a real problem with a woman who gets into a race but hasn’t a clue how to fix anything.  Especially when an outstanding candidate like Sen. Kathleen Vinehout is available.

If I were the state Democratic Party Chairman, Mike Tate, what I’d do is throw money at Vinehout.  Vinehout is by far the best chance we have in Wisconsin to take back the Governor’s chair.  She’s articulate, she’s funny, she’s an impressive candidate “on the stump,” she has been both a dairy farmer and a professor (you don’t get that combination very often), and she’s had to stand up for what she believed in by walking out of the Senate and leaving the state as one of the “Wisconsin 14.”

At an absolute minimum, I’d want a primary if I were Tate in order to improve Burke as a candidate.  Right now, Burke is a “one-percenter,” a millionaire who’s never had to face most of the issues most Wisconsinites face every single day.  Vinehout, on the other hand, is not wealthy and has had to face every single last one of them and can relate to most if not all Wisconsin voters.  If Burke has to debate Vinehout, Burke would either quickly improve or implode.

Either way, the state would win, the voters would win, and we’d get a far better chance to oust Scott Walker from the Governor’s chair.

One final thought: How does it improve democracy to run a well-heeled candidate with deep pockets who doesn’t have a clue how to run the state, especially when a much better candidate is available and all she needs is money to help her out?

Written by Barb Caffrey

October 25, 2013 at 4:26 am

Some Good News to Report — An All-Around October ’13 Update

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I know it’s early Wednesday morning, and it’s been a week since my last blog.  But there’s been a good deal going on that’s taken my energy away from blogging — plus, there really haven’t been any stories that have demanded I write about them, either.

Let’s start out with the good news: The story I worked so hard on was bought.  I cannot tell you who bought it yet, as the contract hasn’t been signed and the editor hasn’t made a public announcement.  But I can tell you the story was accepted, and I’m looking forward to receiving the contract and signing it.

I also am nearly done with a book-length edit. I have three others in progress at this time, not counting my own final edit of the first half of ELFY, which is over 3/4 complete as of this writing.  As this is most of how I make my living, it’s obvious I’ll be spending a lot of time editing in the weeks to come (as I always do).

My plans for the week include a new book review for Ash Krafton’s BLOOD RUSH  over at Shiny Book Review (long-delayed due to my health), an interview with author Stephanie Osborn (it may be up next week, but I’m working on it right now), and continuing to write, edit, and comment as often as possible.

Now let’s talk about the World Series, which starts later today between the Boston Red Sox and the St. Louis Cardinals.  I’ve already said on my Facebook page that I am underwhelmed by this matchup for two reasons: One, Boston is an older, veteran team without superlative pitching and thus doesn’t seem to have the wherewithal to stand up to St. Louis, a younger team with far better pitching.  And two, I’m really tired of seeing the same teams going year after year.

Look.  I basically lost interest in the National League playoffs once the Pittsburgh Pirates were out.  I really wanted the Pirates to go to the National League Championship Series because it’s been so long since they’ve been there (or to the World Series, either).  I knew that Pittsburgh had the best shot of knocking the Cardinals out — and if Pittsburgh couldn’t do it, it was likely the Cardinals would sweep everyone else out of the way and go to the World Series.

Which, of course, they did.

As for the American League playoffs, I lost interest there far earlier as what I’d wanted to see was a Cleveland-Boston matchup — the old Red Sox manager turned Indians manager Terry Francona against new Boston skipper John Ferrell.  But Cleveland lost the Wild Card game and was out right away.

After that, while I had a mild interest in Detroit as I wanted to see if Prince Fielder would be able to hit any better in the postseason this year (he didn’t), I wasn’t riveted.  I did think Detroit would go back to the World Series because the Tigers have two excellent pitchers in Max Scherzer and Justin Verlander and Boston’s pitchers, while still good in Clay Buchholz and Jon Lester and John Lackey (the latter victimized by poor run support), weren’t in the same class.

However, in a short series anything can happen.  Detroit was plagued by some poor defense, some baserunning miscues (poor Prince Fielder, getting caught off third base in a rundown), and just wasn’t able to handle the pressure of returning to the World Series.

My best guess as to what will happen — knowing full well guesses don’t mean much until at least one or two games have been played — is that St. Louis will win easily over Boston.  (I like Boston better.  But they don’t seem to stand much of a chance.)  St. Louis’s pitchers are far better, they have excellent hitters and their defense was among the best in the National League all year long.  I just don’t think Boston has enough to compete with the Cardinals.

The main questions remaining are: Does Boston have some fight left?  Or did they use it all up getting Detroit out of the way in the ALCS?

If they don’t, this particular World Series is likely to be a yawner for all but hard-core Cardinals fans.

Written by Barb Caffrey

October 23, 2013 at 3:24 am

Government Shutdown Finally Ends (with a Whimper, not a Bang)

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Well, folks, it’s official: the federal government has re-opened for business.  And it only took sixteen days for the United States Congress to get it done.

Consider me underwhelmed.

During the past sixteen days, many people far from the halls of Congress were hurt due to the Congress’s collective intransigence.  The law of unintended consequences seems to apply, considering people as diverse as mollusk fishermen in Maine and Alaska, restaurant owners in rural Wisconsin and Oregon, and federal park goers the nation over had their lives interrupted.

And what good did all this do?  Not a blessed thing, as it made the United States look like idiots — far worse than laughingstocks — in the eyes of the world.  Here are just a few things pointed out by Ed Schultz on his “The Ed Show” program on MSNBC in the past few weeks: Most countries around the world are appalled by how the Congress shut down the federal government, including Germany, France, Russia, and the UK.  Even Syria said they do better by their federal employees than we do, and that’s pretty bad.

But guess what?  There’s one organization or country that’s known to be even worse than Syria, and even they are taking potshots at the United States.  None other than the Taliban (yes, that Taliban) actually said Congress is “sucking the blood” from the American people.

(Words fail me, knowing that.)

So how low can this Congress go, anyway?  They’ve already proven by this latest fiasco they’re all about petty political gamesmanship rather than doing the will of the American people.  If they had been about the will of the people, the government wouldn’t have been shut down for one hour, much less sixteen whole days.

Because of the Congress’s obduracy,  we now have China, of all nations, wondering why the American people aren’t in open revolt.

And that’s saying something.

Don’t get me wrong.  There are still some good legislators, though not many.  (My personal favorite Senator is Bernie Sanders of Vermont, an Independent.)  These legislators want to do their jobs and work for the best interests of the American people by doing “the art of the possible,” (read: compromise) and they’re no doubt just as tired of these stupid partisan games as the rest of us.

But there are way too many sitting in Congress right now who don’t want to do anything at all.  These are the ones actively harming the country.

I blame Speaker of the House John Boehner (R-OH) for most of this latest mess.  I realize he didn’t start it — Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX) is usually credited instead — but Boehner had the power to bring a vote to the floor at any time in the past sixteen days.  He just didn’t do it.

When a politician would rather pursue his own agenda instead of the good of the country, it’s time for that politician to go.

I’m not the only person ever to think this, either.  The words Oliver Cromwell spoke in 1653 certainly seem to apply.  But if you don’t have time to read all of Cromwell’s historic speech, you should at least read this one (a paraphrase of Cromwell’s), delivered by British Conservative Member of Parliament Leo Amery to outgoing Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain in 1939 after Chamberlain’s policy of appeasing Adolf Hitler hadn’t worked.  Consider, please, that Amery was one of Chamberlain’s best friends when you read the following words:

You have sat too long for any good you have been doing lately. Depart, I say, and let us have done with you. In the name of God, go!

Honestly, isn’t this what all Americans want to say to Speaker Boehner right now?  (If it isn’t, what planet are you living on?)

Written by Barb Caffrey

October 17, 2013 at 4:15 pm

A Quick Saturday Update

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Folks, I’ve been remiss this past week in getting some blogs up to be read, but there is a reason for that.

You see, I’ve been working on an anthology submission for the past week-plus.  It has taken a lot of time, mostly because I was asked to substantially revise a story and I wasn’t quite sure how to do it despite the editor’s excellent notes.

This is why I didn’t review anything last week, it’s why I may not review anything this week, either (it depends on how fast I can do the remaining work, really), and it’s also why my blogging has been nonexistent since I posted my end-of-the-season take on the 2013 Milwaukee Brewers.

On the plus side, I have been able to play my instruments and will be playing next week’s concert with the UW-Parkside Community Band after all.

On the minus side, the Racine Concert Band (of which I’m a member) got exceptionally bad news in that Racine Mayor John Dickert’s budget has no money whatsoever for the band in it.  There is still time to counter this, but the easiest thing to do if you’re a Racine resident and love the free summer concerts out at the Racine Zoo is to call both your alderman and Mayor Dickert and ask that the RCB be properly funded.

Anyway, this week has been taken up with writing and editing, which is why I haven’t written any blogs.  But next week I should have more time, and thus should write at least a few blogs on various subjects — but personally, I’m hoping the federal government will have re-opened for business by then and that the debt ceiling crisis will have been averted even if it is a rather easy blog subject to write about.

Written by Barb Caffrey

October 12, 2013 at 2:58 am

My Final Take on the 2013 Milwaukee Brewers Season

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The 2013 season for the Milwaukee Brewers was one of intense disappointment, yet with some glimmers of hope for the future.  The play of the “baby Brewers” (Caleb Gindl, Khris Davis, Scooter Gennett, et. al.) down the stretch was extremely enjoyable, and the starting pitchers finally rounded into form in late July to help them along.

So, without further ado, here’s my take on the Brewers’ high points, low points, and “huh, what were they thinking?” points of 2013.

The high points:

Brewers CF Carlos Gomez’s many highlight-reel worthy catches made watching the Brewers far less painful after Ryan Braun ended up getting a 65-game suspension.  Gomez had his best overall season, batting .284 with 24 home runs, 73 RBI and 40 stolen bases, and was named to the 2013 All-Star team.  Gomez has a legitimate chance to win a Gold Glove award for his work this past season; if he wins, he’ll be only the second Brewers OF to win (Sixto Lezcano was the first, in 1979) and will be the first Brewers player to have done so since Robin Yount in 1982.

Brewers SS Jean Segura, in his first full-time major league season, performed extremely well with the exception of his running the bases backward (see below).  Segura played well defensively at short (committing only 15 errors in ’13 versus 10 in ’12 in a much smaller sample size) while batting .294 with 12 HRs, 49 RBI, and 44 SBs, and was named to the 2013 All-Star team.

Note: Segura was easily the top first-year player in major league baseball during 2013, but is not eligible for the Rookie of the Year Award because he played too many innings for the Brewers during the 2012 stretch run.

The Brewers bullpen was the best in the league for most of the 2013, slipping only in August and September due to their season-long heavy workload.  The best of the bullpen were Francisco Rodriguez, who notched his 200th overall save before being traded to the Baltimore Orioles, Jim Henderson (5-5, 2.70 ERA, 28 saves in 32 chances) and setup man Brandon Kintzler (3-3, 2.69 ERA, 26 holds, 77 innings pitched).  Kintzler’s success story is remarkable in two ways: One, he sustained an injury last year that resulted in him getting designated for assignment in late June — fortunately for the Brewers, every other major league team passed on Kintzler and they kept his rights and contract.  And two, it wasn’t so long ago (four years, to be exact) that Kintzler was just a regular guy, pitching in one of the independent leagues to keep his baseball dreams alive and driving a limousine to support himself.

Finally, the outstanding pitching of starter Kyle Lohse (11-10, 3.35 ERA, 20 quality starts in 198 2/3 innings pitched) needs to be discussed.  Lohse was signed right before the season started, so it took him a few months to get into his regular season form.  But once he did, Lohse became the ace of the Brewers staff while mentoring many of the Brewers younger pitchers.  Lohse’s record is deceptive due to exceptionally poor run support during June and July, which caused Lohse to get a substantial amount of no-decisions rather than wins.

Lohse’s best game was that wild win in Atlanta just one week ago, where he pitched a complete game shutout while giving up only two hits and throwing only 89 pitches.  This particular effort was noteworthy because of the game’s odd start — Carlos Gomez hit a home run, then was impeded from scoring by Atlanta Braves C Brian McCann.  An altercation ensued, punches were thrown (by bench player Reed Johnson, mostly), Gomez and Braves 1B Freddie Freeman were both ejected while McCann and Johnson were inexplicably allowed to continue onward.  A lesser pitcher than Lohse would’ve allowed himself to get thrown by all this drama; instead, Lohse concentrated on what he had to do — and did it brilliantly.

The low points:

Oh, brother.  Must I even say it?  (Yes, I suppose I must.)

Obviously, the suspension of Brewers LF Ryan Braun was the biggest, baddest low point of the entire 2013 season.  (See my blogs here, here and here for further details.)  Braun is the best player the Brewers have; he’s a former MVP, has been named to the All-Star team several times, and was also a former Rookie of the Year.  So when his season was cut short due to a 65-game suspension (after having significant time on the disabled list for a thumb issue), it couldn’t help but adversely affect the Brewers.

Once Braun had to admit that he’d lied about ever taking performance-enhancing drugs (PEDs), he was excoriated in the court of public opinion.  This was due to the fact that before the scandal broke, he had been seen as what the best of baseball is supposed to be about — a clean game played by clean players on a clean field.

(Yes, that’s hyperbolic for a reason.  I’m getting to that.)

As you might expect, no one is as perfect as all that, most especially not a major league baseball player.

When Braun finally had to admit that he’d lied about taking a performance-enhancing substance (believed now to be some form of quick-acting testosterone), all Hell broke loose in the media.  Jeff Passan was possibly the worst offender, writing several columns about Braun that showed that Passan viewed cockroaches above Braun — way, way above — and making a major journalistic mistake late in August when he failed to check his sources before again excoriating Braun, then having the sources roundly deny his allegations.  But other respected writers like Christine Brennan and Bob Nightengale also were extremely critical of Braun (though they didn’t make Passan’s sourcing mistake), mostly because they seemed to feel a sense of personal betrayal that usually is only felt by fans, not by reasonably impartial journalists with major reputations to consider.

Nothing else — no, not even the Brewers woeful 6-22 record in May — came close.

But because there were obviously many, many other low points to consider, I’ll name just a few:

  1. The revolving door at first base due to Corey Hart’s knee surgeries was a major key to the Brewers’ failures, both defensively and with regards to driving in runs.  None of the replacements did particularly well, with Juan Francisco being perhaps the worst of the lot due both to his slipshod defense and his propensity for swinging wildly at balls in the dirt.
  2. The infield defense was suspect, partially due to the gaping hole at first base.  When utility infielder Yuniesky Betancourt ends up playing 137 games (including numerous stints as a defensive replacement at first despite never playing the position in the majors prior to this year), that’s a sign of desperation right there.
  3. Second baseman Rickie Weeks’ season (.209, 10 HRs, 24 RBI, 7 SB in 10 attempts with 105 Ks in 399 plate appearances) was abhorrent.  Weeks has lost what little defensive range he ever had, lost the vast majority of his speed on the bases along with his bat speed, lost most of his power . . . in some ways, it was almost a blessing that Weeks tore his hamstring because nearly every Brewers fan was calling for Weeks’ head due to Weeks’ $11M contract.  It’s even money that Weeks will lose his job to rookie Scooter Gennett in 2014.
  4. The starting pitching in the first two months of the season was Godawful.  (‘Nuff said.)
  5. John Axford’s early meltdown as the Brewers closer was both surprising and sad.  While Axford eventually rebounded as a setup man (allowing only one ER from May 15 to July 27), he never got close to sniffing the closer’s job again due to the joint performances of Rodriguez and Henderson before getting mercifully traded to the St. Louis Cardinals.

And the “huh?” points:

The first one is obvious — what on Earth was Jean Segura thinking back in April when he first stole second base, then “stole” first base and tried to steal second again?

For that matter, why did Segura make so many baserunning mistakes early in the season?  It seemed like he was always getting thrown out at third, or at home, or trying to stretch a double into a triple . . . granted, Segura’s fast and smart, and he did eventually learn from these mistakes.  But it was really difficult to watch him make these mistakes over and over in the first three months of the season before he finally caught on.

That gets into the second “huh” — that is, so many Brewers got thrown out on the bases that I was tempted to send them all to baseball re-education camp.  (Sample re-educator dialogue: “Now, children, you don’t want to make the first out by getting thrown out due to carelessness.  Pay attention to what the other team is doing, children!  Don’t let your mind wander so much!  Don’t run yourselves out of innings!  You’re old enough to know better, really!  Pay attention, pay attention, pay attention!”)  There was no excuse for this, either, aside from the whole “youth and inexperience angle” that was trotted out time and time again for Segura — and as he was far from the only offender, and as the others on the team were much older than his own twenty-two years, I just didn’t understand this at all.

Why did the Brewers re-sign Alex Gonzalez, anyway?  Yes, he was and is a quality individual; yes, he probably was a good role model for the younger players.  But after a year on the disabled list, Gonzalez had lost his hitting stroke and was never able to regain it, and was released midseason.

Everything else from the 2013 Brewers season falls into the realms of what might have been.  To name just two burning questions:

  1. What would’ve happened had Corey Hart not played on his bad foot during the tail end of 2012, when the Brewers were desperately trying for the second Wild Card spot?  Hart’s injury to his plantar fascia was the same one suffered by Albert Pujols of the Angels this year, and the Angels quickly put Pujols on the season-ending DL.  Had the Brewers done the prudent long-term thing and shut Hart down rather than taping him up to the point his bad foot was immobilized and it was hard to watch him move around in the field or bat, would Hart have ended up needing not one but both of his knees surgically repaired in 2013?
  2. What would’ve happened had Braun told the truth in 2012?  If he’d have served a 50-game suspension then, would he have been treated like Melky Cabrera and Bartolo Colon rather than the pariah he’s become?  And would it have made any difference whatsoever to the 2013 Brewers’ record?  (It surely would’ve made a difference to the Brewers players — not to mention Brewers fans.)

So here’s to 2014, Brewers fans.  And let’s hope that for all our sakes that Braun will rebound, that Hart will be re-signed and have a monster season, and that if Weeks is still the starting second baseman at the start of 2014 that he actually deserves to be.

A Guest Blog from Jason Cordova — ‘How to Genre Hop Without Driving Yourself Completely Insane’

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Folks, I’m pleased to welcome fellow author Jason Cordova to my blog.  Jason and I have known each other for several years now, and have even attempted to collaborate on a novel together (maybe that’ll come to fruition one of these years, as the idea was really, really good).  Jason wrote a novel, CORRUPTOR, and has sold a number of short stories, with the most recent sale being to the anthology MENTAL WARD.  He’s currently working on a number of projects and is one of the busiest people I know, which is why I’m really pleased he stopped by.

Jason is also the owner-operator of Shiny Book Review, which means that technically, he’s my boss over at SBR.  Fortunately, he doesn’t seem to think in hierarchical terms very often, which is why he’s a very good boss.

So here he is . . . the one, the only, Jason Cordova!

*********** Guest Blog Starts Now ***********

  Barb mentioned a few weeks ago (or last week, maybe) that she was open to me doing a guest post on her blog. Since her blog has many more visitors than mine (primarily because she actually has interesting stuff going on), I figured, “Sure, sounds like fun!” Then she even gave me a subject matter to discuss, which made it, like, even easier. So take a seat, relax, and have a sip of Earl Grey. I’m about to bore you to tears.

How To Genre Hop

(without driving yourself insane)

            *cue dramatic music*

One of the hardest things for any writer to do is to write in a genre they are unfamiliar with. Most of the popular writers get labeled in one genre and stay there. This isn’t always a bad thing, no. I myself have found that when I’m searching in the horror section, I’m looking for Dean Koontz. In fantasy, usually the team of Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman catch my eye first. Science fiction? David Weber.

We mentally lump our favorite writers into their genres and keep them there. And for the most part, the authors are content to stay there. But… did you know David Weber wrote a fantasy series? I didn’t, not until someone pointed it out to me (The War God’s Own, for those of you interested). Would you read a science fiction novel by Margaret Weis? Or a romance by Dean Koontz?

Barb asked me once how I genre-hopped. You see, I write in just about every genre, and though I still think of myself as a science fiction author, I’ve published fantasy, horror, thriller, YA and alternate history. Barb’s question made me think about the difficulties of writing in various settings. How do you genre hop without tripping up? How do you keep the settings straight in your head? I then had a revelation. Perhaps that’s the difficulty with genre hopping? Perhaps the problem is that writers are focusing too much on the setting and it’s being difficult?

One of the first things I worry about when writing a story is the main character. Who are they? What are they up to? Why are they doing whatever it is that makes them worth writing about? I want them to be, well, cool. I want them to do things that I can only dream about doing (which includes, but is not limited to, being a super secret ninja warrior assassin in the 1000 BC). I want them to be funny, smart, and interesting enough that when a reader picks up the book, it doesn’t matter to them what the setting is, because they like the main character that much.

(side note/disclaimer: if Jim Butcher stuck Harry Dresden in space, fighting an alien invasion and using ray guns, I would read the sh*t out of that book.)

You see, the setting really isn’t all that important, not at first. Who your main character is, now that is important. It’s easier to build the setting around a fantastic character than it is fitting a character into a setting. Generally speaking, that is. I can already hear the clamors of “Well, that’s not how I do it, and I can hop genres fine!” If that’s the case, awesome. I’d love to review your book sometime.

Ray Bradbury had a solid piece of advice: First, find out what your hero wants, then just follow him!

So you’ve got the character set? Not yet? Okay, well, when you do, what do you do them next? For example, when I was writing Nightwalker, I had the image of a really articulate, well-dressed doctor traversing the Wild West to kill evil. I didn’t know much about where he was, but I knew all about him. A former Civil War doctor who had been injured in battle, he was cursed/possessed by an ancient demon in exchange for him life. The demon, however, is bound by oath to destroy all evil. So an internal struggle for the soul of a man. But is it horror? Urban fantasy? Something else?

Who cares? He’s an interesting character. He’ll find a home somewhere.

I think (I may be wrong here) that a lot of problems stem from a fear of writing the wrong setting. But if your character is just that awesome, does it really matter?

I can already hear people shouting about A Song of Fire and Ice (aka Game of Thrones) and how George R. R. Martin focuses on the setting and it works for him. To which I reply “Really? So you’ve never come upon a certain character’s chapter and found yourself glazing over as you read, waiting for one of your favorites to pop up?” I know I do this when I read a Daenerys chapter (what? she’s gotten boring over the past three books!)**, and I’m fairly certain I’m not alone.

So try to remember that setting (by extension, genre) is secondary when it comes to your book and that your main character is what’s going to sell it. If you can make your character interesting (and cool; never forget the cool), then your book will be a little more memorable.

            For those of you searching for my titles, I have links on both my website ( as well as an Amazon author page (


Thank you, Jason, for that excellent guest blog,  Stop by anytime!

And for the rest of you, please do check out his new story in the anthology MENTAL WARD, which is available right now.

BTW, the ** is for my agreement with Jason over Daenerys’ character in the last three books in the Song of Ice and Fire series.  She’s a strong woman.  I know this, as I’ve reviewed all five of the books over at SBR (here’s a link to all of SBR’s reviews if you don’t believe me).  But these last three books, well . . . Daenerys seems sexually obsessed to the point of near-madness, and I don’t buy it that this is all because of her link with her three dragons.  And all of that makes her predictable at best, boring at worst — and makes those the chapters I’m the most likely to skip over and never read again if I can help it.

Jason is right.  He’s not the only one wondering what’s up with Daenerys, because I am, too.  And while I know that sex sells, especially on TV (it’s doing bang-up business for HBO, words chosen precisely), it can be really, really annoying to read the same sorts of scenes over and over and over again.

Written by Barb Caffrey

October 2, 2013 at 4:48 pm

‘This is a Disaster:’ Federal Government Shuts Down

with 2 comments

What a mess.

The federal government has been shut down, all because the Congressional Republicans wanted to defund the Affordable Care Act (popularly known as “Obamacare”).  The Rs did not get their wish as the ACA was funded anyway . . . but the government is still shut down until further notice.

Does this make any sense to you?  Because it surely doesn’t make any to me.

“But Barb,” I can hear you saying now.  “You’re a political junkie.  Surely you knew this was coming, so why are you so bemused?”

I did know this was coming, yes.  But I don’t understand why anyone — especially a cool political operator like Speaker of the House John Boehner (R-OH) — would want to shut down the United States government.  Because, as Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-IL) said on Rachel Maddow’s Monday evening late night show at 11 p.m. CDT, “This is a disaster.”

Now, Schakowsky was talking specifically about the people who will be “furloughed” due to the Congress’s overall inaction tonight — many of them making less than $30,000 per year.  Those are the people who do not have the resources to withstand even a day without pay, much less weeks or months . . . and the knowledge that the current Republican leadership has absolutely no endgame in progress (that is, any way to avoid doing what they’ve just done) makes this even worse.

“But Barb,” again you say.  “The Republicans do not like Obamacare and are standing on principle.  Isn’t that a good thing?”

Um, no, it isn’t.

Obamacare was funded anyway.  So the people who aren’t going to get paid now that the government has been officially shut down are the lower wage workers Rep. Schakowsky mentioned, right along with people who work in the federal park system (shut down), much of NASA (shut down), much of the Department of Defense (yes, the active duty military will be paid, thank goodness, but the civilian analysts helping to analyze threats have all been effectively laid off for no good reason, something Boehner and his compatriots among the Rs had to know), and many, many more.

All of this gets even worse, folks, when you consider that Congress will still be paid even though most of the rest of the government is shut down.  And that is not just wrong — it’s completely and utterly hypocritical.**

All night long, I’ve tried to understand why the Republicans — supposedly the party that wants to “keep the United States safe” — would want to cause this catastrophe.  Because it’s obvious that shutting down the government is likely to harm national security.

But then again, I suppose the Rs weren’t satisfied with simply harming the people just trying to get by — those G-1 and G-2 workers out there who have been indefinitely “furloughed” (meaning: sent home without pay).

So, why did all this happen, anyway?  Was there any rhyme or reason to it whatsoever?  Or is this all the equivalent of the political theatre of the absurd?

The pundits, whether they’re on MSNBC, Fox News, CNN, or some other station, all seem to blame the radical right-wing Tea Party Representatives right along with freshman Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX) for the current government shutdown.  (Fox News is complimentary toward these people, while the others are all condemnatory.  But the person mostly being named as being the prime mover here is, for better or for worse, Senator Cruz.)

To my mind, though, the one person who is responsible beyond a shadow of a doubt is Speaker Boehner.  Boehner’s been in the U.S. House of Reps. since 1990, which means Boehner saw what happened the last time the government shut down.  At that point, Newt Gingrich (R-GA) was the Speaker of the House, and things did not go favorably for him or his party due to Gingrich’s insistence on shutting down the government to get his own way.

Speaker Boehner knows better than this.  He has to know better than this.  But for whatever reason, he either couldn’t get his Republican caucus to listen to him, or he just didn’t care to set them straight.##

So here’s where we stand at this hour: The federal government has shut down.  The low-wage workers will be hurt badly by this, the defense contractors will be hurt badly by this, NASA will be hurt badly by this . . . and the Congress will still get paid for their overall intransigence.

It’s at times like this that I truly wonder about the state of American democracy.  Seriously.



**Before anyone says it, I am aware that the Rs wanted to level the playing field and make sure that everyone in the Congress, the White House, and elsewhere in the government that’s currently exempted from the ACA would have to abide by the same rules as everyone else.  I agree that this makes sense, and had the House tried to talk about this earlier this year — long before now — I’d have been happy to entertain the idea.

Now, though?  What sense does it make?

##I’m not enamored by the way the Congressional Democrats have acted, either.  But the Ds in the House have no real power, while the Ds in the Senate have at least tried to do their jobs, as they’ve been trying to get the House to come to the bargaining table since late March or early April.  The R-driven House refused to do so, which is why I blame them far, far more than the Ds.