Barb Caffrey's Blog

Writing the Elfyverse . . . and beyond

Archive for July 2014

National Outrage Ensues After Ray Rice Gets Suspended by the NFL for Only Two Games After Domestic Violence Arrest

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Folks, there are some things as a human being that deeply offend me. Domestic violence against your life partner is one of those things.

Recently, Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice was caught hitting his then-fiancée, now-wife on camera at a casino to the point that she ended up unconscious from the blow. This was a senselessly stupid act in more ways than one, and he was quite properly arrested for it.

However, as he married his fiancée not long afterward (exactly one day after an Atlantic City grand jury indicted him, according to this New York Times article), and as Rice both pled not guilty and entered a diversion program as a first-time offender (this according to an article from Huffington Post), apparently the NFL did not think it needed to suspend Ray Rice for more than a mere two games.

Considering Rice’s suspension is less than your typical four games for using steroids or other performance enhancing drugs, this has caused a national furor. And not just from outraged female sports fans, either.

Take a look at this quote from this past Monday’s Shutdown Corner column over at Yahoo Sports, which points out that this particular suspension doesn’t make sense compared to other suspensions dealing with NFL players committing violent acts:

Cedric Benson once received a three-game suspension for assaulting a former roommate. Albert Haynesworth got five games after stomping on an opponent’s head in the heat of a game. Terrelle Pryor received five games in the Ohio State tattoo case before he ever entered the NFL. Tank Johnson was suspended half a season for illegal firearm possession.

Where is the consistency? Is there any scale at all here?

And when you consider that someone who’s used marijuana and been caught using typically gets a four-game suspension for a first offense, this particular two-game suspension becomes even more baffling.

Look. I know that pro football is a very violent game. I know that the men who play this game have a good amount of aggression in them — they have to have it, or they could not possibly play pro football at a high level. And there are very, very few men like the late Reggie White who are as gentle off the field as they are near-murderous upon it.

Even so, it’s wrong that a man like Ray Rice gets only a “piddling two-game suspension” (paraphrased from the words of Frank DeFord, who’s on record as asking if Roger Goodell is truly good enough to lead the NFL) for hitting his then-fiancée when someone who takes Adderall without first getting a therapeutic use exemption (or whatever the NFL calls it; I’m using MLB terminology as I’m much more conversant with that) gets a four-game suspension?

How can the NFL possibly justify only a two-game suspension for Rice under these particular circumstances? How is taking Adderall or smoking Mary Jane worse than hitting your fiancée?

Also, this sends a terrible message to any female fan of every NFL team. That message goes something like this: “We don’t care about you. At all.”

Because if they did, the NFL wouldn’t have come out with this stupid, pointless, ridiculous and utterly senseless two-game suspension for Rice. Instead, they would’ve ordered him into counseling — tougher and more stringent counseling than he’s already paying for on his own. They would’ve suspended him at least the same four games for any other first-time offense whether the police pressed charges or not, or allowed Rice into a diversion program or not. And they would’ve then gotten some counseling — big-time, major counseling — for Rice’s now-wife. (Remember her? The woman Rice hurt badly? The woman the NFL doesn’t want to talk about, because they seemingly want to see this as a “victimless crime” because Rice already is in counseling and he’s already married his then-fiancée?)

Right now, the NFL’s message is really bad. It says that their players can hit any woman they please and knock them out, and they will do almost nothing. Then, after giving the player what amounts to a mild slap on the wrist, the NFL will turn around and say what a tremendously wonderful human being the guy in question is (in this case, Ray Rice), and how this was an aberration and will never happen again.

And how do I know this is their message? Because their actions speak much louder than their actual words; they say, loudly and clearly, that domestic violence just doesn’t matter to the NFL. Or Rice would’ve at minimum received a four-game suspension, and quite possibly longer than that.

That he didn’t, my friends, is just wrong.

“Youngstown Boys” a Story of Hope, Redemption, and College Athletics

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Folks, over the past few weeks, I’ve been struggling with first something akin to strep throat, then a nasty sinus bug. While I’ve continued to edit and write as much as I can, I haven’t been able to be online much and I certainly haven’t been able to blog. It’s not a fun state to be in, to put it mildly.

What I do when I’m feeling like this is watch a lot of television. But in addition to watching the Milwaukee Brewers play baseball, which I do whether sick or well, I’ve been catching up with ESPN’s “30 for 30” documentaries. And one, in particular, I felt was quite memorable: Youngstown Boys.

Why? Well, this is a documentary of troubled running back Maurice Clarett, once of Ohio State University, and his college coach, Jim Tressel. Both were from Youngstown, Ohio (hence the name); both started at OSU at the same time. And while Tressel stayed involved in Clarett’s life, good things happened for both of them, culminating in a 14-0 season and a double-overtime win over Miami in the Fiesta Bowl during the 2002 season.

Then Clarett ran into trouble. He’d gotten some help with getting a car and a cell phone. He admits to this in the film. The NCAA, in their infinite whatever, started an investigation — but before the NCAA could suspend Clarett, OSU suspended him instead . . . for the entire 2003 season.

And Tressel, the guy who had said he’d help Clarett when Tressel had recruited him, stood aside. (Possibly Tressel was in fear of losing his own job, or maybe Tressel just didn’t have the strength of character to intercede right then and there. But Tressel redeemed himself later on . . . more on that later.)

At this point, I was livid. I am a big proponent of players being paid, and think the way the NCAA forces athletes to live is utterly wrong. And the whole idea that a young man like Clarett, whose only goal in life was to play professional football, could get derailed like this was quite frustrating.

But it got worse. Clarett’s lawyers sued the NFL and tried to get him “draft-eligible,” as this was Clarett’s best shot at making a living. Clarett won his first-round court case, too . . . but lost later on.

So what’s a guy to do when he doesn’t have his scholarship, is poor, has tremendous athletic gifts, but has no direction? Clarett tried for a few years to ready himself for the NFL on his own, with indifferent success. And while Clarett was drafted by the Denver Broncos down the line, he never took so much as one snap in a preseason game before being let go by the Broncos.

After that, things just went into a downward spiral for Clarett. He ended up in prison, which could’ve broken him.

Instead, prison actually saved him — saved his life — as he started using his intelligence for good things. He started to read voraciously. He stayed in good contact with his girlfriend, calling her every day, and even started a blog (he’d read what he’d written to her, and she’d post it online). And he vowed to both redeem himself and to reform.

At this point, Tressel ran into trouble himself due to a recruiting scandal at OSU. Maybe because of this — the movie wasn’t clear — Tressel decided to involve himself again in Clarett’s life. And the two of them have become fast friends, working on behalf of improving other people’s lives. Reminding people that so long as you live, you can hope for better, dream of better — and you should do those very things no matter how badly the deck is stacked against you.

Mind, both of these men’s lives have not gone according to plan. Clarett, who had all the talent in the world to become a star running back in professional football, is now a motivational speaker and runs football camps. And Tressel, oddly enough, is now the President of Youngstown State University — a place where he won multiple national football championships at the I-AA level (now called the Football Championship Subdivision, or FCS) — and has retired from coaching college football.

But I venture to say that the detours both men’s lives have taken have made them better and stronger people. Clarett speaks to many, including former and current inmates, and his words have the ring of authority. He’s done some very strong and positive things since getting out of prison, and it’s possible that none of that would’ve happened if he hadn’t gotten into bad trouble — then clawed his way out of it. And Tressel is active in many charities and has stayed in contact with many of his former players, including a number of troubled ones, and his life has been deepened and broadened thereby also.

Youngstown Boys, in short, was a powerful film that affected me deeply.  It showed that no matter how long it takes, goals and dreams matter. Even if you don’t achieve one goal today, you can still achieve it tomorrow; even if you can’t do it tomorrow, you can do it the next day if you refuse to give up, you refuse to give in, and you refuse to take “no” for an answer.

I think many people — not just writers, editors, and musicians — can learn from these men. Because it shows that redemption is truly possible, and that you can, indeed, become a better and stronger person through adversity.


Quick note: I’ll be working on a couple of stories the rest of this week, so blog posts may be scarce. But I hope to finally get a review up of VICTORIES at Shiny Book Review later this week, so do stay tuned for that (computer connectivity problems kept me from it last week).

Keeping Hope Alive . . .

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Over the past few weeks, I’ve been doing my best to keep hope alive. Life has been difficult and frustrating; it’s almost inconceivable to me, sometimes, that I’m still alive and my husband Michael has been dead for nearly ten years.

And I’m all that remains of what we’d hoped and dreamed for. I’m the only one who can finish his work, as well as my own. And as it’s difficult for me to figure out just what Michael had intended to do — writer Ursula Jones called this phenomenon “breaking into” someone else’s thinking (she was discussing finishing up her sister Diana Wynne Jones’ novel THE ISLANDS OF CHALDEA in the end-notes) — sometimes I wonder if I’m doing the right thing in carrying on Michael’s work.

Then again, I loved Michael, and I loved his stories, too. It makes me feel closer to him to do whatever I can to keep things going, even if what I write isn’t exactly the same as what he’d have written. Even if it’s taking me ten times as long to figure out this new novella set on Bubastis as it undoubtedly would’ve taken him, at least I’m trying to do it.

And that, in and of itself, is worthwhile. Michael would tell me so, if he were here . . . though of course, if he were, I’d not be doing this.

Mind you, I’m not the only writer who has ever wondered whether or not what I’m doing makes any sense. This blog from about Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and writing explains why writing and hope are so inextricably mixed:

As human beings and creative writers, we sometimes have a tumultuous relationship with hope. Hope keeps us going. We hope someone will understand what we’re trying to say with our writing. We hope the world will be a better place for our children. But when times get tough, hope can also feel like cold comfort.

Why have hope? we ask ourselves. What good will it do me if I know I can’t succeed? Sometimes when the task ahead seems truly impossible, hope seems futile.

But few people understand what it means to be hopeful as deeply as the man we honor every year at this time: Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., a pioneer of the civil rights movement. King’s dream was simple, but achieving it meant overcoming countless barriers and complexities. In many ways, hope was the driving force behind his remarkable achievements.

I missed this blog when it was first put up in January of 2014, but I find its words to be especially meaningful right now. (After all, studying the work of Martin Luther King, Jr., is never a bad thing.) I cannot imagine the odds against Dr. King when he first started agitating for civil rights and fair pay for laborers and equal rights for women and any number of other positive things — and he must’ve felt discouraged from time to time, too.

He didn’t show it very often, because Dr. King knew that people needed to believe that their lives, however meaningless they seemed, could indeed make a difference. So on bad days, he must’ve said, “I’m going to go out there and do the best I can,” and given whatever speech he had planned with whatever energy he had. And in so doing, he helped to lift people up with his words.

Words matter. Whether you’re an orator or a writer (or somewhere in between).

When I write a story, I want to make you think about something beyond yourself. Pondering something else can give you hope, because it means you can still think, still feel, still understand.

And I know that was Michael’s motivation for writing, also. He wanted to divert people, get them outside of themselves, and give them a few hours of entertainment that might actually make ’em smile . . . maybe that’s why I’ve pushed so hard with my own novel AN ELFY ON THE LOOSE, because as a comic fantasy, what else can it do but make people smile?

Before I go, let me share one quote (also cited in the Writer’s Relief article) I found especially meaningful from Dr. King: “We must accept finite disappointment, but never lose infinite hope.”

That, in a nutshell, is why I keep writing. Because I believe in hope. And that hope has to come from my own, hard work and effort — otherwise, why would it be worth anything?

Just Reviewed Aaron Lazar’s “Spirit Me Away” at SBR

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Before I forget, I wanted to let my readers know that I just reviewed Aaron Lazar’s SPIRIT ME AWAY over at Shiny Book Review (SBR for short, as always), which is a new mystery in his long-running Gus LeGarde series. SPIRIT ME AWAY is set in 1969 and is a prequel to many of his mysteries featuring Gus.

In SPIRIT ME AWAY, Gus married his young bride, Elsbeth, a few months before the start of this novel; they’re music students living in Boston. When a young woman who’s lost her memory shows up nearby, they take her in and try to find out who she is. But there are some bad people out there who want her for nefarious purposes . . .it’s not a “cozy mystery” as are many in the LeGarde series, being rather a mystery with a great deal of romantic suspense. But it’s very, very good, and I enjoyed it thoroughly.

Also, I reviewed Aaron’s LADY BLUES over at SBR a couple of weeks ago. This, too, is a novel featuring Gus LeGarde, but is in the present-day and deals with the mystery of an old man in a nursing home who’s struggling to recover his memories with the aid of a new and experimental drug. But then the drug’s formulation is changed . . . slowly the old man loses his memories again. And then a friendly nurse goes missing, then the old man himself seemingly wanders away . . . Gus must get to the bottom of whatever is going on and, if possible, reunite the old man with his long-lost lover in the process before the man’s memories are gone for good.

I enjoyed LADY BLUES. It’s a warm, comforting mystery with a lot of musical ambiance and tons of food references. Gus and his family and friends are vital people who enjoy life and live it to the fullest, and they seem like people you know (or at least should know) . . . anyway, go take a gander at these reviews, and let me know what you think of ’em.

Written by Barb Caffrey

July 20, 2014 at 1:25 am

New Guest Blog about Bruno the Elfy and Characterization in AN ELFY ON THE LOOSE is Up at Stephanie Osborn’s “Comet Tales”

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Folks, my newest guest blog — which is about my favorite Elfy, Bruno, hero of my novel AN ELFY ON THE LOOSE — is up and available over at Stephanie Osborn’s blog Comet Tales right now.

Now, why did I write this particular blog? Two reasons. First, I’ve participated from the start in Stephanie’s “Elements of Modern Storytelling” blog series, and Stephanie’s enjoyed what I’ve had to say thus far. And second, because she’s transitioning from romance as an element of storytelling to characterization, she figured me talking about my favorite character Bruno from my novel, AN ELFY ON THE LOOSE, would be a good bridge under the circumstances.

If you’ve followed along with my blog or my writing for any length of time, you’re probably aware that AN ELFY ON THE LOOSE is relentlessly cross-genre. It’s a young adult comic urban fantasy/mystery/romance that also has paranormal elements and Shakespearean allusions. (Say that five times fast.) And as such, without a strong central character, the book just wouldn’t work.

Fortunately for me, Bruno the Elfy is as strong of a central character as anyone could wish for. As I said in the guest blog:

But none of (the plot) – not one blessed thing – would work without Bruno. He is a fully realized, multidimensional character with likes and dislikes, strengths and weaknesses, and seems like someone you might just know…that is, if he weren’t so short. And it’s because of this that you can buy into his adventures, you can buy into his romance, and you can buy into the fact that this young Elfy just might be able to save everyone if he just can figure it out in time.

In other words, this particular guest blog discusses what AN ELFY ON THE LOOSE is all about after the fact. And it all starts and ends with Bruno. He’s a guy from another dimension; his ways are strange to us, and ours to him. And crazy things happen to him that he must get past . . . or he has no chance whatsoever to save his mentor, much less make his nascent romance with Sarah work.

Mind, I didn’t know that Stephanie saw some parallels between my character Bruno the Elfy and J.R.R. Tolkien’s Frodo Baggins before I read her endnotes to this guest blog — that’s some high praise right there. (And I have to admit that I don’t see it. But I’m glad she does.)

Anyway, please do check out today’s guest blog. Then, if you haven’t taken a gander at AN ELFY ON THE LOOSE yet, what’s stopping you? (Here’s a link to the five sample chapters to whet your interest.)

Political Activist Sara Johann, Candidate for WI Assembly District 10, Needs Your Help

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Folks, I’m doing something different today. So if you don’t live in Wisconsin, or you don’t have any interest in politics, you may as well tune out right now — I promise, I won’t be offended.

Now, as for the rest of you . . . I had a request from Sara Johann, a brilliant woman I’ve known for several years due to our joint political activism; you see, she is running for Wisconsin Assembly District 10, and is having trouble getting the word out about her candidacy.

Now, I don’t live in District 10. (Think “Shorewood,” and you’re not too far wrong as to where District 10 is in Wisconsin. Take a look at this map from the blog Retiring Guy’s Digest; it’ll give you a good idea.) But I do know Sara. She is a hard-working, principled, honest and forthright person who believes with all her heart that Wisconsin is on the wrong track economically — and she believes if she can get to the Assembly and give the other Assemblymen and women a dose of some good Wisconsin common sense, she can make a positive difference.

This is why she’s running for office.

But because she is not wealthy, and because she’s running against three other Democrats and hasn’t any endorsements, this is very much an uphill struggle. She needs to be able to get out and meet the people of her district, bare minimum; she needs to know them, for them to know her, and traveling around takes money.

Sara is a citizen activist. She is in many ways a moderate. The independents who supported the recall, much less the statewide judicial recount of the race between David Prosser and Joanne Kloppenburg a few years ago, should like Sara if they only can find out she’s out there and shares their needs and interests.

And obviously, most Democrats are going to flock to her if she can get past the actual primary. But they won’t do that if she can’t make a go of it right now.

Personally, I think anyone who has the courage to put her money where her mouth is and run for office deserves to be supported regardless of party. But in this particular case, because I know Sara and know how hard she works — and how strong her commitment is to a better and brighter economy, to marriage equality and social justice and civil rights and safe, legal and extremely rare abortions — I believe she’d be an outstanding member of the state Assembly from her first day in office.

If you worked on the recalls, if you worked on the recount between Prosser and Kloppenburg, or if you just want to support a solid, hard-working Wisconsinite who isn’t made of money but wants and needs to run for office because she’s sure she can make a difference, please consider making a donation to Sara’s campaign at this link. It doesn’t have to be a lot; even $3, if 100 people all decided to give that, would make an enormous difference to her.

And I know there are far more than 100 political activists in Wisconsin who want to see moderate, citizen legislators in office who aren’t beholden to special interests.

Besides, Sara not having any endorsements is actually an asset in an odd way; she’s not going to be beholden to anyone but the voters.

And isn’t that a refreshing change?

So please . . . consider donating to Sara’s campaign. And do help her get the word out that she is running.

Because we need more real, honest, hard-working Wisconsinites in the Assembly. Truly.

(Thus concludes today’s political missive. I’ll be back to baseball and writing and everything else tomorrow, no doubt.)

Fourth Blog Anniversary Today

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Folks, it’s been four years today since I started this blog. And because it’s a special day of a certain type, I figured I’d get on here and ask you for something special, too.

(No, it’s not publishing related.)

Please consider becoming an organ donor.

Why do I care about this? Well, when Michael died, as per his wishes I donated his organs. This was not easy to do — they asked a number of questions that were both difficult to answer and invasive, because by law they must ask these terrible questions (such as: did he have AIDS? Did he have any diseases you know about? If so, what?).

Fortunately, I knew this was what Michael wanted. So I persevered with these awful questions, and donated his organs. Several people were helped thereby.

At the time, we lived in Iowa, so I continue to receive newsletters from the Iowa Donor Network thanking me (and my husband) for donating his organs. If you live in Iowa, that’s where you need to go if you’re thinking about organ donation for yourself or any family members.

However, if you live in Wisconsin, if you want to donate your organs after your death, you need to go to the Wisconsin Donor Registry and sign up.

Other states, of course, have different donor registries.

Aside from that, the only other thing I’d like my readers to do today is to make sure their after-death wishes are known. It can be difficult to discuss this, especially if you are young and in the prime of life. I get that, but if Michael and I hadn’t had this conversation, I’d not have known what to do when the time came.

No one wants to think about losing a loved one at a young age. No one wants to think about themselves dying early, either.

But it happens, sometimes. And if that terrible thing does occur, it’s best for your loved ones to know exactly what they must do.

Stop the Presses! Jeffrey Getzin’s “King of Bryanae” is Out . . .

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I’m pleased to report that Jeffrey Getzin’s newest novel, KING OF BRYANAE, is now available. This is the fourth book in his series revolving around the Kingdom of Bryanae, and is an interesting and captivating read.

But why am I announcing this novel release here? Well, it’s simple. I’ve known Jeff for quite a few years. I’ve also edited his last several novellas, including SHARA AND THE HAUNTED VILLAGE and A LESSON FOR THE CYCLOPS, and was fortunate enough to edit KING OF BRYANAE as well.

So trust me when I tell you that this story, which is all about Willow the Elf, swordswoman and Captain of the King’s Guard (also the protagonist of his first novel, PRINCE OF BRYANAE), and her encounter with a man who may — or may not — be the King of Bryanae, who’s reappeared after a long and mysterious disturbance — is unlike anything you’ve ever read in the sword and sorcery genre. And somehow, Getzin’s iconic swordsman, D’Arbignal, will also play a role . . . (note that because I don’t want to completely ruin your reader’s experience, that’s all I’m going to say).

With Jeff’s kind permission, here are two short chapters to whet your appetite for KING OF BRYANAE:


Chapter 1   

The elf Willow feared no one. No matter how outnumbered, she had yet to meet her match in battle—which was largely why they had made her the Captain of the Guard in the first place. She did more than carry a weapon; she was one. She was efficient, deadly, and unbreakable.

No, danger did not worry her; what concerned Willow was boredom. She’d seen and done so many things over the many, many years that her life had become monotonous. Sometimes, she felt like she was living in a dream.

Take now, for instance: she crouched in the rough vee between two gnarled branches of a large pinterac tree, spying on an old, dilapidated farmhouse. She knew three of the five suspected kidnappers she hunted were holed up in there. She expected the other two to arrive shortly with the stolen infant. The Runjuns had been hiding elsewhere, some place Willow hadn’t yet discovered. But instead of waiting for information, she’d decided instead to smoke them out of hiding. If she couldn’t go to the Runjuns, the Runjuns would have to come to her. She knew about their family farm, which was why she was out here, observing the farmhouse, and waiting for the last two Runjuns to show up.

The farmhouse had once belonged to Meriema Runjun, an extremely wicked woman who’d died a long time ago. The contemporary Runjuns all knew of the place; it had served as a hideout on numerous occasions. Willow had leaked false information that the Runjuns’ lair had been located, but that the kidnappers themselves had not been identified. She knew they’d hear that a raid from the King’s Guard was imminent. She had bet that they’d flee to their family farm again … and so far, that bet looked to be paying off.

Within a few hours, she would enter that dilapidated farmhouse, kill some people, retrieve the child, and return him to his family as per the Chancellor’s orders. Which meant that within a few hours, she would be fighting for her life.

But she felt nothing.

No nerves, not even a trace of the pre-battle excitement that used to make her hands shake.

She did not worry about anything. She knew she’d recover the child—probably alive—and she certainly did not fear the Runjuns.

She felt … nothing.

Actually, that wasn’t entirely true. She felt boredom. Willow’s mad worship of that thankless bitch goddess Discipline kept her moving and fighting, but where she moved or whom she fought was largely immaterial. She had no drive other than to carry out her duties with clinical efficiency.

Come to think of it, how long had it been since she last genuinely smiled? Years?

Life had become dull: dull, joyless, and tedious. And oh, so predictable.

Willow had been Captain of the Guard for more than a hundred and fifty years. She had fought in battles waged first with enormous two-handed swords and heavy plate armor, and then later with rapiers and leather. She had seen royalty come and go. She had seen kingdoms rise and fall, the bizarre technical innovations of the Szun spreading like a disease from Panineth in the north, and the deaths of countless men and women.

Right now, she just did not care about any of it. And she hadn’t for a long, long time.

But she still had her duty.

Tonight there would be five kidnappers here, all brothers, and two wives. Willow predicted that by sunrise, she would kill at least three of the Runjun brothers and one of the wives. She was largely certain she would be able to recover the Snyde infant alive.

But none of that really mattered to her. She didn’t care about the kidnappers. She didn’t care about their wives. She didn’t care about the anxious family awaiting word and she didn’t even care about the damned baby.

She would fulfill her duty to the letter as always, and it would be easy. Easy, predictable, and oh, so boring.

 *   *   *

The sky was nearly black, and sheets of midnight blue clouds muted the stars. The rain had started an hour ago: dull, fat droplets that splattered on the tree limb and plunked on the cowl of her dark wool cloak. A cold wind blew from the west, chilling her. She wrapped the cloak tightly around her body for warmth.

The activity touched the wisp of a memory, and despite herself, Willow shivered. She had been in a similar position once before—shivering in a tree, frozen and wet—but the details eluded her. Memories leaked from Willow like from a weathered keg, little rivers of her past trickling away.

She heard the ghostly wail of a crying baby. She shuddered for a moment before realizing the sound came from nearby, and not from her past. Ah yes, that would be Dillis Runjun and his wife Mara with the stolen Snyde child.

The hours sitting nearly motionless in the tree had left Willow stiff. She began to loosen up her body, starting with small shoulder rolls. She felt more than heard the little pops her body made as it prepared once more to kill.

Her keen elvish eyes discerned two figures moving furtively through the dark. There was precious little light on this dismal evening, yet the two remained vigilant and dashed from the cover of one tree to another.

Dillis was the larger of the pair, and was the leader of this little coterie of criminals. He was strong, and while he wasn’t especially bright, he possessed a raw cunning that often caught his adversaries by surprise. He was skilled with the club and the dagger, but he preferred the silent lethality of the stiletto. He was a low-level thug with aspirations for more. Those aspirations often involved breaking bones for local enforcers, and as of now, kidnapping.

Willow had been aware of Dillis for years, of course. She’d known that he’d eventually try something stupid enough that she’d have to find him. Kidnapping the Snyde child certainly qualified.

Mara followed a few steps behind. She was a shrewd and vicious little harpy who seemed almost as devoid of emotion as Willow herself. She had managed to keep her hands clean as far as the law was concerned, but multiple informants had told Willow that Mara was the brains behind her evil little family.

Willow watched as they crossed the field to the small, two-story farmhouse. Two sentries, most likely El and Elgy Runjun, eased from the mudroom’s doorway and spoke with them at length. One of them held a lantern at arm’s length, looking into the night.

Idiot. The lantern made him visible but would make it all but impossible for him to see anything outside the radius of its light.

Willow hated dealing with stupid criminals; if she had to be sent out here at all, couldn’t she at least be sent up against someone who might prove to be a challenge?

It was indeed Elgy; his bearded and pockmarked face was unmistakable, even at this distance. El lacked the intelligence to commit any crimes on his own, but he often went along with whatever schemes Dillis and Mara hatched.

The sentries stood aside to let Dillis and his wife enter. Once the couple had disappeared within, Willow climbed down from the tree. She collected the various items for the next stage of her plan, including the sharpened branch she had whittled while she had watched the house.

She circled along the tree line toward the back of the house. She moved slowly and silently over the moist ground, which was covered with twigs and leaves. The damp cold clung to her skin and seeped through any gaps in her clothing. The wind whipped against the hem of her cloak.

When she was directly behind the farmhouse, she sprinted toward the back door across a weed-filled field. When she reached the house, she pressed against its outer wall. Its boards were beginning to rot, and she felt the slime along her back as she moved. She was careful not to lean too hard against the wall for fear it might crack and give her away. She thought that if she pushed hard enough, the whole house might cave in.

She fit together the pieces she had brought—the stick, the cord, and so on—and set the assembly in place near the back door. Then she reversed her path, and returned to her tree. She climbed up to a thick branch and reached down for her bow and quiver, which she strung, then hung across her back. She adjusted the quiver several times until she could draw from it quickly.

She paused. She observed.

The wind whispered through the trees. Leaves blew along the ground. The sentries were stationary; the one on the left leaned against the doorjamb, smoking a pipe; the one on the right sat on a barrel, trying to get his own pipe lit.

Willow gauged the speed and strength of the wind. She drew an arrow and nocked it to the bow. She sighted Elgin on the left and held her breath, adjusting her aim to compensate for the wind and distance. As she exhaled, she let the motion of her breath bring the sight line lower. She released the arrow halfway through her exhale.

Before that speeding arrow reached its target, she loosed a barrage of arrows at El on the right. Her first shot pierced Elgin’s throat; in the two seconds it took El to realize what had happened, four arrows hit him in the face, shoulder, chest, and abdomen.

Elgin died within moments. El was not so fortunate. He tried to say something, perhaps even to yell, but all Willow heard was a wet gurgling sound, and that only because she had been listening for it. It was unlikely that those in the house had heard a thing.

Now that she had silenced El, she lined up another, careful shot and loosed the arrow just to be certain. It pierced the struggling man’s eye socket, and he fell to the ground dead.

So much for the sentries.

Willow removed the quiver from her back and hung it upon a convenient branch. She unstrung her bow, lowered it carefully to the ground, and climbed down.

She checked that her rapier was loose in its sheath and then drew her knife from her belt. Crouching once more, she zigzagged across the field toward the front door. When she reached it, she verified that both sentries were dead. (They were. Very.) Neither had been particularly smart, nor remotely honest; the world would not miss them.

* * *

Chapter 2       

Willow squatted beneath the boarded-up window adjacent to the mudroom, and listened for several minutes. She heard nothing.


Next, she examined the ramshackle door, which appeared to have been repaired many times with mismatched boards. She inspected the gap between the door and its frame, verifying that the door was not barred from within. If it had been, of course, she could just kick through the door; it looked like it would be hard-pressed to keep out a strong sneeze, let alone a determined soldier. However, the less warning she gave the Runjuns, the better chance the Snydes had of getting their child back alive.

She placed the tip of her index finger upon the door handle. She exerted a minute amount of pressure, increasing the pressure gradually until the handle began to move. She remained patient, easing the handle until the latch had cleared the mortise notched in the rotting frame.

Willow placed her ear to the door one more time, verified that the entryway was clear, and eased the door open. The hinges started to squeak when the door was only a third of the way open, but that space was sufficient.

She slid her lean body through the gap in the doorway and into the mudroom. The room was empty and smelled of rot and mildew. It was dark save for the lamplight flickering in the adjacent room. She heard the baby crying and the Runjuns talking in that nearly unintelligible dialect of theirs. They seemed agitated and at odds, which served her purposes since it kept them distracted.

Using the shiny surface of her knife’s blade as a mirror, she reflected the lamplight within the room, allowing her to spy and map out its occupants in her head.

Kel Runjun was closest, leaning against the wall by the door, and seemed indifferent to the squabbling. His wife Sil stood a few feet away from him, her arms crossed, arguing vigorously with Dillis and Mara. Willow could only understand snippets of what they were saying.

“… killt de cholde now a’fer the Gerd comma finddit ‘im,” Sil was demanding.

Willow arched an eyebrow, grimly amused. The “Gerd” had already “finddit” them, and the child was the only thing keeping them alive. If they killed him, they might as well just cut their own throats and be done with it.

“Ain’t se s-s-sure …” Dillis said, wavering. Anxiety tinged his voice. Willow often wondered if the reason he was so vicious was to compensate in some way for his stutter. “Hiz f-f-adder iz loads with d-d-de gold an—”

“Notting done!” snapped Mara. Her voice contained a note of exasperation, as if she had had this same argument many times before. She held the bundled child at her bosom, her dark eyes bearing down first on her husband Dillis and then on Sil. “Weze fer the money an de cholde iz needs fer the money. Haf yer ballacks falled off, Dillis? Are nit ye a man?”

“Ye dern unnerstand.” Sil said. “I herd theyz sending the elf beech.”

That line almost brought a grim smile to her face. The reason they had heard that was because she had deliberately leaked that information. Idiots.

An ominous silence filled the room, interrupted only by the gurgling of the Snyde infant.

“That ain’t be true,” Mara said, but there was no conviction in her voice. “An if she a-come, we’d take her.”

“Sh-she ther one’s a-kilt Eryon,” Dillis said, his voice almost a whine. The man was spineless … and he was their leader?

Willow tried to recall which one Eryon was. She couldn’t remember. She had killed so many people during her career, it would be impossible to recollect all of them.

Willow risked a quick peek into the room. Sil had a knife in her hand and seemed to be working up her nerve to kill the child. Her husband Kel had likewise drawn a knife. His misaligned teeth were set in a humorless grin.

Willow sighed quietly. Yes, this was pretty much going the way she had expected. Might as well get started.

She took a deep breath, picturing the positions of the Runjuns in the room. She planned her attack and took a deep breath.

Then she moved. Fast.

She shouldered through the door and rounded the corner low. She cut a deep gash across Kel’s thigh, severing the artery. He howled and stooped to strike at Willow with his knife. She grabbed his knife hand at the wrist and yanked him down into an induced somersault. Willow yanked his hand upward as he fell, stabbing him in his groin with his own knife.

The two Runjun women shrieked. Mara fumbled with the blanket-wrapped child. Willow stood and flipped the knife in her hand, holding it by the blade.

Sil watched as Kel bled out and died. She exhaled puffs of rage through flared nostrils. Her lips were pressed tightly together.

“Ye merd’ring beech,” she said. She fixed her eyes on the child in Mara’s arms and took a step toward her, raising a dagger.

Willow threw her knife. It whizzed through the air and landed in the side of Sil’s neck. Willow grimaced; she had been aiming for the carotid artery, but had missed her target by less than an inch. She needed more practice.

“Give me the child,” Willow said to Mara, drawing her rapier.

Dillis’s face had turned as white as bleached parchment. A wet stain spread on his crotch. He slowly removed a stiletto from his boot and tossed it out of reach. Then he dropped to his knees and raised his hands in supplication.

Wise choice.

Sil yanked the knife from her neck and howled in pain. Doing so, she managed to sever the artery Willow had missed. Blood jetted from her neck. Her eyes rolled up to the whites. She collapsed into a crimson pool on the floor, not three feet from her dead husband.

Amateurs, Willow thought. It scarcely constituted a fight when going up against idiots of this magnitude.

Willow took two running strides toward Mara and dropped into a feet-first slide. She scissored her legs, buckling Mara’s knees in with one and kicking her ankles out with the other.

Mara toppled forward, with the Snyde infant perilously close to following. Willow was preparing to catch the child, but then Dillis unexpectedly reached up and steadied his wife so she didn’t fall. Instead, she righted herself, grabbed the infant even tighter, and fled to the back of the farmhouse.

Dammit. It was supposed to be Dillis running, not Mara.

Willow climbed to her feet. She stomped Dillis’s face with the bottom of her boot. He fell back, blood gushing from his nose. She pointed her rapier at him while calling after his wife: “I’m not here for you, Mara! I just want the child. Give him to me, and you get to live.”

Mara didn’t slow.

Dillis looked like he wanted to get up, so Willow discouraged him with a solid kick to the knee. His howls turned to sobs and pleas, but she had no time for him. Instead, she sprinted after Mara. The baby in Mara’s arms wailed in distress. Once more, Willow felt her chest tighten. Goosebumps rose on her arms, and for a moment, Willow had a sense of impending doom.

She shook it off and yelled again, “Don’t run, Mara! Just give me the child. You and your husband will both live.”

Too late. Mara had reached the back door and yanked it open.

The cord Willow had secured to the door yanked free of the chock restraining the bent branch. The branch straightened, and the sharpened stick plunged into Mara’s thigh. Mara shrieked as the baby flew from her arms and into the night.

Willow hurdled over Mara into the darkness, trying to locate the child. Its ghostly wails echoed in the cold night.

She dropped to her hands and knees and crawled through the freezing mud. The cold wetness seeped through her breeches and sleeves. The unearthly cries guided her until at last, her hands closed upon the infant’s pudgy leg. She gathered him into her arms. The screaming child grasped at Willow’s neck. She ran toward the lamplight leaking from the open farmhouse door.

Of course, he was covered in mud; Willow used her shirttail to wipe as much off as she could. A raw scrape along his chubby cheek made him look almost demonic in the flickering light. However, he was alive and healthy.

Objective achieved.

Willow wrapped the child in her cloak and walked back into the farmhouse. Mara was still transfixed by Willow’s trap, but she started wriggling, trying desperately to break free and escape Willow’s vengeance.

Only Willow had no vengeance. She hadn’t been lying when she said she was only here for the child. She really didn’t care about Mara or Dillis, but for their sake, they had better not ever cross her path again.

The two of them would survive if they just were sensible. Mara’s wound looked severe, but if she kept her head, she had every chance of surviving. Dillis’s nose would never be straight again, but he certainly would recover. Of course, Willow would barely have noticed such minor discomfort as a broken nose, but the amateur kidnapper clutched his hand to his face, howling in pain and misery.

Earlier in the day, Willow had considered torturing one or both of them to ask if that monsters Four Fingers had somehow been behind this kidnapping plot. Now that she had the child, though, she decided that it was best to get him back to his family as soon as possible. The last thing she needed was for the child to catch a chill and die on the way back.

She stepped over Mara as if she were going for a casual stroll. She walked through the room, pausing only to tell the dumbfounded Dillis: “Apply pressure to the wound in her leg and get her to a healer. She might live.”

Then she walked past him, too, and out through the front door. She stepped calmly past the two dead brothers and headed for the field and her tree, where she collected her bow and quiver.

The child wailed in Willow’s arms, but she assiduously ignored it.

* * * End of Excerpt * * *

Now, if you want to find out what happened to the little baby, much less what else happens to Willow and the man who may — or may not — be the King of Bryanae, head to this link (which will take you straight to Amazon).  Or if you’d prefer the Nook version, go here instead.

Hours of reading enjoyment await!

Written by Barb Caffrey

July 8, 2014 at 11:48 pm

Five Things about the Milwaukee Brewers, July 2014 Edition

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Thus far in 2014, the Milwaukee Brewers have played exceptionally well. They have led the National League Central division since early April, they have the best record in the entire National League at 52-38, and they’re sending four people to the All-Star game next week: CF Carlos Gomez and 3B Aramis Ramirez will be starters, as they won the fan vote, while C Jonathan Lucroy and closer Francisco “K-Rod” Rodriguez are also on the squad, voted in by the players.

And as such, they’ve received massive media publicity. So you’d wonder why I’d want to blog about them (especially if you don’t already realize I’m a big Brewers fan) . . . but I have noticed five interesting things about Milwaukee’s season thus far that I felt were worthy of sharing.

1) Baserunning errors need to be minimized.

Look. The Brewers are a very good team, no lie. But they’d be even better if they didn’t make stupid mistakes on the basepaths.

Last night’s game was a case in point. Milwaukee lost to Philadelphia, 3-2, mostly because of three baserunning mistakes killing rallies: the worst was when Jean Segura got thrown out at third base in the fifth inning, just after Jeff Bianchi had delivered a pinch-hit single with the bases loaded to drive in two runs and get the Brewers on the board. Segura needed to stop at second base, but was overly aggressive and ended up getting thrown out at third by a mile.

Later, Ryan Braun delivered a double to start off the eighth inning, but was obviously hobbled due to injury. (Ryan Howard actually jogged alongside Braun while Braun made his slow way toward second base. I’ve never seen an opposing player do that before.) So Logan Schafer came in to pinch run for Braun, which was sensible . . . however, when Lucroy weakly hit a ball to the right side of the infield, Schafer should’ve stayed where he was.

But did he? Hell, no.

Instead, Schafer went with the pitch and was easily thrown out at third. So a promising rally was immediately snuffed out, and the Brewers went quietly.

Somehow, these baserunning blunders need to stop. Because it’s reasonable to assume the Brewers could’ve come up with one more run and tied the game, especially back in the fifth inning before Segura’s mistake . . . if they’d just shown some common sense.

2) The relief pitching has been stellar.

Every reliever the Brewers have, with the exception of Wei Chung-Wang, has been somewhere between good to outstanding. Rob Wooten pitched two scoreless innings last night, and he has the highest ERA of any bullpen pitcher who’s pitched regularly and not been hobbled by injury at 4.34. And the best of the lot have been Will Smith, whose 21 holds and 2.16 ERA are worthy of an All-Star game appearance, and of course K-Rod, who’s 27 saves in 30 opportunities leads all of baseball is going to the All-Star game, as he ought.

3) The hitting isn’t working on all thrusters.

You might be wondering how I can say that when the Brewers, in general, score a lot of runs. I’m well aware that Lucroy is having the best season, hitting-wise, he’s ever had, and Gomez has done well also. Ramirez and Braun are performing well despite some nagging injuries. Davis and Reynolds have respectable power numbers. In addition, Scooter Gennett has done better than anticipated, while Rickie Weeks has had a good bounce-back season thus far.

So why am I saying the hitting isn’t quite there yet? Well, it’s not just that Braun is obviously hobbled by injuries (so, too, is Davis, who went station-to-station on the basepaths last night, a clear sign that he isn’t running well). Jean Segura really hasn’t found himself at the plate at all. Schafer isn’t using his speed to leg out hits, as he should. Both Reynolds and Davis strike out far too much, and often look completely befuddled at the plate. And Lyle Overbay is mostly showing that while he still has value as a part-time player, he’s definitely in the twilight of his career.

4) The starting pitching, with one exception, has been solid.

Kyle Lohse has pitched like a bona fide ace all year. Matt Garza and Yovani Gallardo have both been solid #2 starters. Wily Peralta has looked much steadier than last year and has killer stuff, but I’m not yet certain he’ll ever be an ace. (He may top out at the same level as Gallardo — very good, but not quite an ace.)

The one exception, of course, is Marco Estrada. Estrada has given up many, many home runs, to the point that you could probably win a betting pool if you bet that Estrada was going to give up a HR to someone whenever he starts. He’s had some rough outings. And yet, he’s a smart and talented pitcher, so his lack of success, comparatively speaking, is baffling.

Is he a decent #5 starter? Sure. But Estrada has the potential to be much better than this.

Personally, if I had to bet on one player being traded any time soon, I’d bet on Estrada as that player, even over Rickie Weeks and Weeks’ bloated contract. Because Estrada has clearly underperformed, so another team may take a chance on straightening him out.

5) The defense has, with one exception, been much better than anticipated.

For the most part, the Brewers have had solid defense all season long. Reynolds, in particular, has been much, much better than anticipated, making many sparkling plays at both third and first base.

However, Khris Davis’s outfield play continues to perplex. Even before Davis’s recent injury that limits his speed on the bases and in the outfield, Davis doesn’t seem to know how to play left field very well. His arm is quite weak, and down the line, his ultimate position would probably be designated hitter as he does hit pretty well most of the time.

Even Weeks’s infield defense has improved, but nothing much seems to improve for Davis. He reminds me of the older Carlos Lee out there, before Lee was moved to first base, minus Lee’s obvious intelligence (Lee at least knew how to position himself in the outfield, most of the time, and Davis seems to lack that despite having superior coaching available).

As Davis is hurt right now, my advice would be for him to rest over the All-Star break. (Braun needs to do that, too.) Then, after that, Davis needs to listen to Gomez and Braun and Schafer, who are all much better outfielders than Davis will ever be, and try to learn from them. Davis also needs to listen to coach John Shelby, who was an excellent defensive outfielder in his time, and do whatever Shelby and his fellow outfielders tell him to do.

Maybe that way, Davis will improve.

In summation, the Brewers have to limit their baserunning mistakes. They need better pitching from Estrada, or to acquire a solid and serviceable fifth starter. They need better defense, by far, from Davis. They need better hitting from Segura and Overbay and they need to get healthy.

Otherwise, everyone needs to keep doing what they are. Because that’s the way to win baseball games and get to the playoffs . . . maybe even the World Series. (One can dream, anyway.)

Written by Barb Caffrey

July 8, 2014 at 5:47 pm

Happy Fourth of July!

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Happy 4th of July, everyone!

Floats in the parade, music galore, fireworks at night (and scared little dogs, natch) . . . just a few of the things our country does as it celebrates Independence Day.

What are your Fourth of July plans?

Written by Barb Caffrey

July 4, 2014 at 6:45 am