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Writing the Elfyverse . . . and beyond

Archive for February 2016

Revision — or, How do you find your Story?

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Folks, as I wound up my writing this evening/morning, I had a thought.

Yes, thoughts can be dangerous. But this one probably isn’t. In fact, this particular thought might actually be useful to those working on revising a story, and wondering just how long it’s going to take to fix it. Much less what sort of story you’re going to end up with once you’re done…and whether or not it has anything to do with the story you started with.

The revision process is daunting, you see. It’s also frustrating, nerve-wracking, confusing, sometimes painful, and downright difficult.

Mind, I’m not the only writer to say this. (Far, far from it.) Anne Lamott said this in her book BIRD BY BIRD; she even said that her own first drafts are so awful, she barely can stand looking at them. (My best paraphrase, mind, as I don’t have the book in front of me.)

But these painful first drafts are needed, you see. Only after you get down everything you visualize in your head can you work with the raw materials of your story…and figure out what, exactly, your story is.

Now, some writers work much faster than others, and everyone’s process is a little different. So I can’t give you a timetable as to how long it’s going to take to refine your story from the raw material of your first draft.

All I can do is give you a little encouragement, if you’re dealing with a revision right now. And remind you of three simple things:

  1. Every writer goes through this; you’re not alone.
  2. You do have a story there, no matter how obscured it seems right now.
  3. The end product is worth your time and investment, even though you can’t see that right now.

So, if you’re stuck in the throes of “revision Hell,” as I am right now with regards to CHANGING FACES, try to remember these three things. And ask yourself, “What is the story, and how do I advance it from here?”

That should help you get through the rough spots a little better.

Written by Barb Caffrey

February 29, 2016 at 7:56 am

Thoughts about N.N. Light’s Review of “Columba and the Cat”

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Folks, I’d meant to write this yesterday, but time got away from me. So, here are my further thoughts regarding N.N. Light’s wonderful review of my late husband Michael B. Caffrey’s story, “Columba and the Cat.”

Columba and the Cat coverFirst, it’s great to get a positive review like that. Michael had a lot of talent as a writer, and that’s one of the reasons I’ve tried so hard to keep his work alive. To know that someone else loves his writing as much as I do is extremely gratifying.

Second, for someone to appreciate it and understand it at the level N.N. Light did it makes me believe that finishing Michael’s work — in Columba’s universe, and in the Atlantean Union with Joey Maverick and Peter Welmsley (among others) — is not only doable, it will be appreciated and understood.

Third, it reminds me of something Michael often told me. “The work will be appreciated, in the end,” he said with a twinkle in his eye. “Even if no one else knows it but us and the universe, it will be appreciated.”

I always thought he said that because of Michael’s Buddhist leanings. But maybe that wasn’t it…or at least, maybe that wasn’t it precisely. (And Michael always was precise, y’know.)

Look. I don’t write the same way Michael did. He used to write all his stories out longhand, then type them into a computer file. Only then would he edit, revise, and keep going.

Whereas my process is much more fluid than that, and usually involves thinking about something for a great deal of time, and then — and only then — going back and fleshing out the initial idea.

But we got to the same place, in the end. And we were able to understand each other, to the point that I can finish his stories despite his style being markedly different than my own…even if the way I do it isn’t quite the same way as he would, maybe the stories will still make sense, and still do what Michael wanted them to do.

That’s why I’m working on the outline of THE QUEST FOR COLUMBA, which is the Columba story as told by Cat, otherwise known as the Duc d’Sanchestre (and a shapeshifter). This is Cat’s story, told my way, and through my voice…but it’s also Columba’s story, as seen by Cat. And in a way, it’s quite fitting, as Michael wrote the Columba stories for me.

Now, I’ll write Cat’s story for him.

I can’t be certain that the stories I’ll tell in his universes are the same ones he’d have come up with, given time. I can tell you that I knew Michael better than anyone, and it makes me feel better to keep working on stories in his universes…more like part of him did not die, and that might yet, if given time, be discovered and appreciated.

That said, I’m very glad that N.N. Light enjoyed “Columba and the Cat” so much. It gives me hope…and really, isn’t that what life is all about?

Columba and the Cat by Michael B. Caffrey @BarbCaffrey #bookreview #99cents #ASMSG

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I was extremely pleased to see Mrs. N’s review of my late husband’s “Columba and the Cat” today. If you haven’t yet seen anything about this story — or even if you have — I urge you to go read her review right away, then go and grab yourself a copy without delay. (Hey, it’s only ninety-nine cents, so how could you go wrong?)

Written by Barb Caffrey

February 25, 2016 at 1:57 am

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Sunday Reflections: Kalamazoo Shooting

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Folks, it’s Sunday. I try to reflect on Sundays, due to my early religious training, and sometimes my reflections matter more than others.

Today, I’m thinking a lot about the guy in Kalamazoo, Michigan. (I won’t name him, as is my policy.) He shot six random people as he was out and about (he’s an Uber driver, and apparently he drove a number of people around safely during his rampage), and no one knows why. Among the six people dead was a mother (her three children, in the back of her car, were unhurt), which seems particularly heinous.

I don’t know what causes people to behave like this. I don’t know how to fix whatever is broken inside them. But we’ve had a number of shootings now that have been almost completely inexplicable, from the Sikh Temple shootings in Oak Creek to the Sandy Hook school shooting to the shooting at an Aurora, Colorado movie theatre, much less the bombing at the Boston Marathon a few years ago. Something is going on, something deep-rooted and fundamental, to cause unstable people to snap.

It can’t all be explained away as domestic terrorism, either. And it certainly can’t all be explained away as untreated mental illness, though that might be close to the truth in some cases (certainly in the case of the Aurora shootings).

When I hear about something like this, it’s all I can do not to give in to despair. What is this world coming to? Why does this even happen?

I can’t begin to understand why this guy in Kalamazoo was thinking, and I don’t even want to try. But I wish with all my heart and soul that those six innocent people in Kalamazoo yesterday were still alive, and that this particular Uber driver had never gone on his rampage.

That said, what can we do, in the United States, to combat these types of crimes? Is there anything we can do at all?

I’ve already advocated for better care for the mentally ill, and I stand by that. I’ve also advocated for universal background checks, and I stand by that, too…but I’m guessing neither one of things would’ve prevented this particular shooting from taking place.

What I do know is that somehow, we have to keep a light shining in the darkness. We have to believe that something, anything, can bring hope and peace and a stable, workable future…that something we do, no matter how small, can make a positive difference in someone else’s life.

It won’t bring back those six innocent souls, no. But it might bring a smile to someone else’s face who’s having a terrible day, and remind him or her that we all matter, in our own unique ways…and that’s an important thing to reinforce.

In my own life, I try to do that as best I can. I observe what’s going on with other people, and when I can help, I do that.

My friend, fellow author N.N. Light, has a mantra, “Spread the Light.” I think that’s an excellent thing to do, and I hope we can all find ways to do just that in the days ahead.

Finally, folks…when Belgium was threatened with terrorism last year after the Paris attacks, what did those brave people of Belgium do? They sent around cat pictures, dog pictures, or something to make each other laugh. They refused to give in to fear; they refused to allow terrorists to ruin their lives.

I think we must somehow learn from their example, and keep doing our best to make a positive difference in this world. Even if it’s small, even if it seems infinitesimal, it’s the only way to go.

Written by Barb Caffrey

February 21, 2016 at 6:20 pm

Two Articles of Interest to Share…

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Folks, I’ve been reading a number of interesting things lately, and today seems like a good time to share two of the most thought-provoking posts.

First, from the world of publishing, is an interview my friend Chris Nuttall did for the Observer. Chris talks about his career path as an indie writer, and discusses the insights he’s learned along the way — including the importance of cover art.

Do take a look at this interview, will you? (Mind, if you’re an author or editor or have anything to do with publishing, you’ll enjoy it a lot more…but even if you aren’t, you should find something that rivets your attention.)

Next, while I was rooting around the Observer, I found this post about the 2016 United States presidential election cycle, and about how it’s being actively shaped by corporate media interests to drive business interests. It is the author Ryan Holiday’s contention that neither Bernie Sanders nor Donald Trump would be doing anywhere near as well if they weren’t being propped up, de facto, by the media because the media wants drama with a capital D. And the more serious candidates (like Hillary Clinton or Jeb Bush) just don’t give them “dirty laundry” the way they want and need (to misquote Don Henley’s old song).

Worse, because Clinton and Bush don’t give the media DRAMA, they aren’t getting covered in a substantial/substantive way.

Look. I love reality TV, in its place. But United States elections are not the time for reality TV.

As Mr. Holiday says in his article:

…atypical candidates like Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders are effectively subsidized by the media in order to provide the story lines those outlets require to create the compelling spectacles they need to keep the cycle going and audiences hooked.

It is in this last area that we see the highest manipulation. In Donald Trump we have a candidate who has received so much  media coverage that he did not need to run his first TV campaign ad until January—some seven months after entering the race and five months after the first televised debate. Has anyone in history gotten as much free media coverage as Donald Trump?

Mr. Holiday’s article is a must-read, especially if you’re wondering just how and why it is that we’re stuck in a poisonous, destructive election cycle with very little focus on issues that matter and way too much focus on style and DRAMA.  (Note that “drama” is Mr. Holiday’s word, but it fits so well, I had to use it, too.)

Then, after you’ve read it, ask yourself this — is this any way to run a democracy?

Advice for Valentine’s Day, 2016 Version

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Folks, it’s nearly Valentine’s Day. And I wanted to write a few words, just in case you haven’t read my two previous blogs on the subject (which, for the record, are here and here).

Too many people get caught up in conspicuous consumption on Valentine’s Day, because commercials and books and movies and nearly every possible thing says, “You must buy a whole lot of unnecessary things, or your partner won’t know you love them!” Even if you walk into a grocery store, there will be reminders that Valentine’s Day is just around the corner, so have you bought your cake/roses/card/fill-in-the-blank yet? (The most inventive one I’ve seen around here was over at Festival Foods in Mount Pleasant, where they’re offering a Valentine’s Day dinner, catered, that you can pick up for something like $42. That might actually be useful, and didn’t bother me…but I can see where it might bother someone who feels pressured to do something for Valentine’s Day.)

The thing is, as I’ve said before, Valentine’s Day is not for conspicuous consumption. It is for love. But somehow, in our consumer-driven society, we’ve gotten it into our heads that the only way to love someone is to buy him or her a whole lot of stuff…and that’s just not right.

Let me give you a few examples.

The best Valentine’s Day I’ve ever had was in 2003. Why was it so good? Well, Michael was with me, then, and the two of us had a great and quiet dinner at home, watched some of his favorite “Danger Mouse” videos (Michael loved them, and I enjoyed ’em, too — mostly because I liked seeing how he reacted to them), and then retired to “none of your business land.”

Note that this didn’t cost us anything. We already had the “Danger Mouse” videos. We already had the food. We already had anything else we needed in the house…we didn’t need roses, or wine, or fancy chocolates, or even sushi (something Michael and I both enjoyed, and I continue to appreciate), because we had each other and that’s what counted.

And my second favorite Valentine’s Day was in 2004. Michael and I had just moved from San Francisco to Iowa, and were living in a motel. The move had been stressful and we were close to flat broke, and finding work was a challenge that we hadn’t expected.

So, what did Michael do? This time, we went to a scenic overlook outside Davenport on I-80 with a couple of sub sandwiches, some soda, and sat and talked. It was the middle of winter, but I didn’t feel cold…and I don’t think he did, either. We felt the world was full of possibilities, because we were with each another…and I was touched that Michael remembered I liked spicy-hot peppers on my sub (something he wouldn’t touch because of long-term stomach distress).

You see, if a guy remembers what you like, that is sexy to a woman. Michael knew that.

Now, what did I do for these Valentine’s Day outings? (Maybe you’re asking this, and it’s a valid question.) Mostly, I was there and fully in the moment…yes, I’d asked Michael what he wanted on both days, and I’d actually tried to cook for him in 2003, but he wasn’t having it. (Mostly, Michael cooked for us, because he enjoyed it. And besides, he said I’d done too much for people as it was, over the years; now it was time someone did something for me.) I did suggest the “Danger Mouse” videos in 2003, and I probably suggested going out for subs in 2004…but for the most part, Michael made those outings happen.

So, to sum up…the important thing about Valentine’s Day, or any day, is for your partner to know that he or she is loved. Spending large amounts of money on a Pajamagram or a Vermont teddy bear or fancy chocolates (much though I enjoy that) is not necessary. Showing you care, that you pay attention, that you know what your partner likes…listening to him/her speak and asking intelligent questions (or giving intelligent answers)…being fully in that moment with him/her, with your cell phones/tablets off and your attention undivided…well, those are by far the best gifts you can give.

Don’t let the “must spend big money NOW!” narrative of the commercials blind you to this, OK?

Now Available in E-Book: Loren K. Jones’s “Inadvertent Adventures”

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Folks, it’s been a while since I was able to announce something fun for one of my friends, but I’m happy to do so tonight.

As some of you might know, Loren K. Jones has been a friend of mine for many years now; he knew my husband Michael well, though by long-distance, and Michael edited for Loren. (I have also edited books and stories for Loren since Michael’s passing.)

Now, Loren’s first novel for Twilight Times Books, INADVERTENT ADVENTURES — a funny military SF adventure — is now available for purchase at Amazon. And for a week or so as an introductory deal, it’ll be available for only ninety-nine cents. (Yes, I grabbed a copy right away. I have no shame.) It will also be available via OmniLit and Barnes and Noble within a day or so.

Loren’s a fine writer, and I’m glad to let you all know his latest novel is available…especially as many of his other works are currently out of print. (Don’t worry; I asked him about this recently, and he told me he’s working on bringing them back. And if INADVERTENT ADVENTURES does as well as I’m hoping, maybe that’ll be sooner rather than later.)

This is a big deal for Loren, and I’m very happy to support him and his efforts.

So, please do take a gander at Loren’s novel — hey, it’s only ninety-nine cents right now, so how could you go wrong? — and then come back and let me know what you think.

Written by Barb Caffrey

February 5, 2016 at 11:12 pm

Trying WattPad

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Folks, it’s no secret that I’m looking for more readers for my series about Bruno the Elfy and his mostly-human teenage girlfriend, Sarah. I’ve tried a number of things to get the word out about my writing, with mixed success…and sometimes, that makes me quite frustrated.

That said, I’ve heard some great things about WattPad, especially for urban fantasy authors. And after checking out the site, I decided to upload my first chapter of A LITTLE ELFY IN BIG TROUBLE there, in the hopes it might garner a few reads, comments, and maybe even some reviews or sales down the road.

Now, why did I pick this novel rather than AN ELFY ON THE LOOSE to start with? I figured it might be an easier “get,” if that makes sense, because it’s obvious from the start that Bruno and Sarah are young, they are in love, and they are in a huge amount of trouble. For a young adult urban fantasy reader, that’s most of what they either want or need to see (along with the magical component, which both Bruno and Sarah have in spades).

Note that I discussed various methods of promotion with my publisher, Lida Quillen, months ago, and Lida assured me that anything I did was fine with her.

That’s why I posted the first chapter of A LITTLE ELFY IN BIG TROUBLE at WattPad today. (Go take a look if you don’t believe me.)

So, for the next three weeks, I’m going to post my sample chapters. They are already up at the Twilight Times Books website, so if you’ve come to my blog looking for more of A LITTLE ELFY IN BIG TROUBLE, please go there forthwith and read the rest right now…and if that intrigues you, please go to Amazon, Barnes and Noble, or OmniLit and get yourself a copy of A LITTLE ELFY IN BIG TROUBLE today.

Happy weekend, folks!

Written by Barb Caffrey

February 5, 2016 at 11:49 am

In It for the Long Haul

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Folks, over the past few days, I’ve been working on CHANGING FACES (amidst some work on edits). This isn’t easy, as I’d hoped to be done by now…as nearly every regular reader of my blog probably knows.

However, I’m in it for the long haul. Which means I’m going to keep going, keep striving, keep thinking, and keep working, for as long as it takes.

Do I have moments where I wonder what I’m doing? Of course I do.

Do I wonder if all this effort is going to matter in the end? Of course I do.

Still, I have to keep doing it…or I won’t be me.

I’m also reminded of something my late husband Michael told me about his own writing. We were talking about fame, and fortune, and whether or not we’d ever find that as writers–cynics that we were, we figured it probably wasn’t ever going to happen.

Then he said something rather surprising. He told me, “The universe knows what I’ve done. I’m satisfied with that.”

I figured this was the Zen Buddhist in him, at the time. But since his passing, I’ve often wondered about this.

Do we create merely out of ego? Or do we create because we must, or we won’t be ourselves? And does it matter to the universe that we were here, that we did our best, that we tried to create something rather than just take up space to no purpose?

I don’t know the answer to that. But I do know that my husband was a wise man. And I want to believe he was right, even though he didn’t get enough time to finish his stories the way he wanted.

So…I’m in it for the long haul. I will persist, and I will keep trying as hard as I can, as long as I can, and work as much as I can to finish CHANGING FACES and make it the book I know it can be.

Because that’s what matters to me, and I hope eventually it may matter to the universe as well.

Written by Barb Caffrey

February 4, 2016 at 10:25 pm