Barb Caffrey's Blog

Writing the Elfyverse . . . and beyond

Archive for December 2016

Happy New Year (Early…)

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Folks, it’s that time again…we’re almost up to the New Year.

I wanted to wish you all strength, happiness, peace, security, serenity, joy, love, and whatever else you have most desired over the past year.

2016 was a tough year for many, myself included. Personally, I’m glad it’s almost over (thus my push to say “Happy New Year” a bit early).

I hope all of you stay safe, but enjoy your New Year festivities, whatever they may be. (I plan to be watching a lot of football, myself — college and pro.)

Anyway, Happy New Year to all…and to all a good night. (Or something.)

Written by Barb Caffrey

December 30, 2016 at 4:31 pm

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The True Meaning of Christmas, and Brandon Burlsworth

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Folks, last night I watched the movie GREATER, which is about Brandon Burlsworth, a young man who with faith, optimism, hope, and hard work transformed himself into not just a football player, but a starting guard with the Arkansas Razorbacks. Burlsworth even got drafted by an NFL team, the Indianapolis Colts, and everything looked bright…

Then, he was in a car accident, not too far from his home. He died at age twenty-two, just three weeks after being drafted by the Colts.

Despite Burlsworth’s life being incredibly short, he was a truly inspirational figure. He realized early what he wanted to do, didn’t have the natural talent or stature to do it (a late growth spurt helped with the last), but worked harder than anyone else. He listened to his coaches, who appreciated his hard work and dedication; he listened to himself when others told him he couldn’t do something, and he listened to the Higher Power, and trusted that what he believed in — what he wanted to do — was the right thing.

Did every day go well for him? Of course it didn’t. Did he have days where he wondered why he was doing what he was doing? Of course he did. Did he have ups, downs, and frustrations like the rest of us? Of course he did.

But every day, he got up, and he did what he could to work toward his goal.

And he achieved it. He went from walk-on to three-year starter at Arkansas, he became an All-American, and he was drafted by the Colts.

Of course it would’ve been better had he lived longer. Burlsworth was the type of person others respected, and because of his own unshakeable faith and hard work, who knows what he could’ve become over time?

But his was a truly remarkable and inspirational life. This was a bookish, overweight kid with very little (if any) athletic talent, but he had a dream and he worked hard every day to achieve that dream.

And he did.

What does this have to do with the true meaning of Christmas, you ask?

It’s simple.

The story of Jesus’s life is powerful, partly because of his humble beginnings. Everything seemed stacked against him from the start. His family was not wealthy or powerful. He grew up in a hostile environment (what else can you call the persecution of King Herod, anyway?), was different from everyone he knew in many ways, and had a quiet, unshakeable faith that he would find his path and make a difference.

And he did.

We still remember Jesus, two thousand plus years later. We remember the power to make a difference, to love one another, to be good to one another, to appreciate one another, to work hard and not let anyone stop you — not even yourself.

Every single day will not be easy for you. It wasn’t for Jesus. (It wasn’t for Brandon Burlsworth, either. Read more about his inspirational life here at the blog Sports on Earth.) But it’s worth it if you get up every day, work hard, have faith (yes, even when it’s difficult or nigh on to impossible), and believe that tomorrow will be better than today.

That, to my mind, is far more the spirit of Christmas than anything commercial. Because it boils down to just a few things:

Love one another.

Treat others with respect and kindness. (Yeah, the first kind of implies that, but why not spell it out? Can’t hurt.)

Work hard.

Have faith.

Keep trying.

Don’t give up.

And if you can believe in the Higher Power — whatever and however it manifests for you — good. Because that may allow you to tap into more optimism, and that’s all to the good.

Written by Barb Caffrey

December 25, 2016 at 1:50 pm

Buy Some Easy, Last-Minute Xmas Gifts Today Via Joan Reeves’ #SlingWords Blog…

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Hey, everyone.

Just ’cause I don’t have much in the way of holiday spirit this year, that doesn’t mean the rest of you don’t. (I hope someone does, somewhere…otherwise the world is a very cold and cruel place. But I digress.) And part of your holiday spirit, if you’re in much of the Western World, is to find the perfect gift for someone.

It may be December 23rd, but you still have time to buy an e-book. That is the point of author Joan Reeves’ blog post today entitled “Easy, Last-Minute Gifts.” My two books of the Elfy duology, AN ELFY ON THE LOOSE and A LITTLE ELFY IN BIG TROUBLE, are part of this promotion, as you see:

AnElfyontheLoose_med#31 An Elfy on the Loose by Barb Caffrey

When young Bruno the Elfy meets Sarah the human girl, they find romance and must save Bruno’s mentor from the clutches of a Dark Elf.

An Elfy on the Loose is 99cents.

Visit Barb Caffrey at Barb Caffrey’s Elfyverse.

 

#32 A Little Elfy in Big Trouble by Barb Caffrey

Bruno and Sarah fall further in love and gather allies to save Northern California from a Dark Elf.

A Little Elfy in Big Trouble is $2.99.

Visit Barb Caffrey at Barb Caffrey’s Elfyverse.

However, don’t despair if you already have them but are in need of a good, quick e-book purchase from a fun author who tells a good story. There are plenty of other great choices to choose from at Joan’s blog today, and I’m sure you can find one of ’em, or more, to whet your interest.

So, please, do take a look at Joan’s blog today. Then buy a book, or two, or three…and I would appreciate it greatly if you’d at least consider buying my two if you don’t already have them. (OK?)

Holidays, Grief, and Disappointment

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Folks, as we all know, the holidays are upon us.

As I have written before (most recently last year, here), this is an awful time of year for anyone who has suffered losses. You can’t help but think about those you miss, especially when you have happy memories of better days when they were alive, well, and completely themselves.

I don’t have the answers for how to deal with this, despite having to deal with it for so long. As time passes, I know I’ll be grieving more and more people, and that’s the way life works — some of us keep going, and remember those who have passed before us, and try to honor their memories as best we’re able.

But that doesn’t make it easy.

In addition, because this is a highly-fraught time of year, any disappointment you receive at this time seems magnified. By a hundred, maybe, or even a thousand…it’s an illusion, mind, borne of the fact that you’re probably already under stress for various reasons, you’re expected to be “happy happy, joy joy” all the time at this time of year, and maybe you’re expending energy you didn’t realize you were using to stay on an even keel.

When I’m disappointed, whether it’s in someone else, myself, the world at large, whatever, I try to take a step back. Will this matter in a week? Will this matter in a month? Will this matter in a year?

If the answers to all of those questions are “no,” it’s a little easier to push past the disappointment.

“But Barb,” you say. “What is it about this time and people getting on each other’s nerves?”

Believe me, I wish I knew.

What I do know is that I try hard not to get upset by what other people do. Sometimes I observe this more in the breach than in its keeping, but I honestly do try.

OK, not everyone is going to be be what you want them to be. (Maybe no one is. Maybe you, yourself, aren’t, either.) Maybe you don’t have the life you want. Maybe nothing went right for you this year. And maybe, just maybe, you are having trouble hoping that tomorrow will be better than today.

That is normal, human, and you have to realize that other people feel the same damned thing.

So, yeah. This time of year is very hard for me. I feel almost as if I’m a chronic observer rather than completely in the mix of life and all its pleasures (and annoyances), and that’s only partly because I’m a writer and my observational skills have been heightened by years of practice.

All I can do, quite frankly, is endure the holidays. Get past them. And hope that 2017 will be a whole lot better than 2016.

Anyway, may we all treat our loved ones, friends, and co-workers gently at this time of year, and throughout the year…and may we all be richly blessed, one way or another.

Written by Barb Caffrey

December 22, 2016 at 11:32 am

Driving Adventures in Winter

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Folks, if you live in the Northern Hemisphere — especially if you live in the Upper Midwest, as I do — you know that driving conditions right now tend to range from “iffy” to “downright bad.”

It’s because of this that I decided to share a few tips I’ve learned about winter driving…in the hopes that maybe, just maybe, it’ll help you to know them as well.

First, before you go out on the road, make sure your car is in the best repair possible. If you’ve been putting off buying tires, now is the time to get them…if you’ve been putting off replacing your windshield wipers, definitely replace them now (or possibly suffer the consequences — more about this anon).

Second, make sure that whenever you’re going out in the cold weather that you have a full gas tank, especially if you have a smaller car (as I do). Don’t assume that half a tank, or worse yet, a quarter of a tank, will do, because you’re only going across town. You have to plan for the worst-case scenario here, which means you need a full tank (or at minimum, three-quarters of a tank).

Third, don’t assume that the roads will be plowed, sanded, or salted. (Worst-case scenario, got it?) That way, you’ll be less stressed out if they aren’t.

Fourth, if your car does skid, you need to turn into the skid and lay off the brake pedal if at all possible — brake lightly and gently, else. That way, you may not go into the ditch, and can get off the road in one piece. (If you go into what would’ve been oncoming traffic except for the snowstorm, so what? Providing no one is there, no harm, no foul. So keep your cool, get the car turned back around, and go on your way again, thanking your lucky stars that you didn’t hit anyone today, and that no one hit you, either.)

Fifth, if you do land in the ditch — I have, though not in many years — don’t panic. That is what your cell phone and/or AAA or whatever roadside assistance you have is for. If you don’t have that, call a tow truck. (And if you are between paychecks and just don’t have any money at all, it’s time to call a friend who can tow you out.)

I say all this after surviving some of the worst driving conditions I have ever faced last night. There was black ice, then snow on top of that, then rutted ice on top of that…at least six inches of snow on the ground, and I saw no sand or salt trucks out. And the only plow I saw showed up just as I got into my driveway…which means that plow didn’t exactly help me much.

As I’m an intelligent person, I definitely did not enjoy these horrible driving conditions whatsoever. But what I did to survive them was to do one thing: find a line, and stay on it.

“But Barb,” you protest. “What in the world does that mean, anyway?”

It means that if the roads are so bad you can’t possibly see the lane lines, and no plows have been by, and there are ruts everywhere, pick the best line you can in order to stay out of the ditch. Adjust your speed accordingly; I went only fifteen to twenty miles per hour on city streets that were rated thirty, thirty-five, or forty…not because I am a nervous Nellie (though I can be, sometimes), but because I was more concerned with preserving my own skin and getting home in one piece than in how long it was going to take me to get there.

When you get to a stop sign or a stoplight, know that you may not be able to stop in such horrible conditions, too. Plan to skid around other cars, if you must. Try to avoid any obstacles…but yes, try to brake gently and lightly first, before you take evasive action.

That’s one of the reasons you go more slowly, mind, so you have a hope in Hell of actually stopping in such dreadful conditions. But you have to realize you still may not be able to do so, and figure out what you’re going to do in the worst-case…it’s the only way to be safe, truly.

Two more things before I go:

If you are in a four-wheel drive vehicle, truck, or SUV, don’t assume that you’re going to have any better traction than I do in my little car. Chances are in conditions like that, you don’t. Try to take your additional car’s mass into account, and be as safe as you can; don’t believe that your bigger car or truck will save you if you don’t use your head as well.

And finally…remember what I said about windshield wipers, before? Well, last night as I got into my own driveway, my driver’s side wiper actually fell off. Both wipers had more or less stopped functioning during the snowstorm as the snow and sleet mix continued to come down, and were badly iced over. The roads were so bad, I didn’t trust going to an auto parts store and getting back out again, so I took a calculated risk and made it all the way home instead.

Could I do it over again, I’d have made sure I had enough money in my pocket to buy two new wipers. (By the way, I did that today. I got the teflon-coated ones, too…they won’t stick to the windows, and it’s going to be far less likely that they’re going to stick to the windshield and thus be inoperable.) And I’d have bought them before that snowstorm hit, considering how bad it was.

I was very, very fortunate last night to make it home in one piece, not get into an accident, and avoid the three-four accidents waiting to happen that I clearly saw in the process.

What I want you to do is learn from my almost-mistake, all right? Make sure you have good wipers on the car if at all possible. And if you are between paychecks, treat your wipers gently and hope like fire they’ll make it until you do get paid…because that’s the only way you’re going to be safe. (And safety is the name of the game, in winter. Trust me.)

Written by Barb Caffrey

December 17, 2016 at 6:26 pm

Jason Cordova’s “Wraithkin” — and Music?

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Folks, it seems to be my week for stories, so let me tell you another one.

Years ago — I’m not sure how many, now — my late husband Michael told me, “Barb, I swear, you think in music, not words.” It was Michael’s contention that every time I wrote something, I was automatically translating it from the music I heard in my head.

I don’t know if that’s true or not, mind. But it was a poetic conceit he enjoyed, and as such, I appreciated it.

For some reason, that came to mind when I recently read an advance reader copy of Jason Cordova’s WRAITHKIN. Something about this book reminds me of a musical suite, and as I’m both a musician and a writer, I thought I’d use that to my advantage to try to explain why I like this book so much.

As I’m having no luck today uploading the cover, here’s the blurb instead:

How far would a man go to protect those he loved? For Gabriel Espinoza, the answer was simple: to the ends of the universe.

When a failed genetic test ruins his life, Gabriel and his fiancée prepare to run to a world where the laws aren’t as strict. There they could remain, in peace, for the remainder of their days, their love unspoiled by the strict regime which controls the Dominion of Man.

But Fate is a cruel, fickle mistress.

Torn from the only woman he had ever loved, Gabriel is prepared to burn the galaxy to get her back.

How far would a man go to protect the empire he was sworn to uphold? For Andrew Espinoza, the answer was a bit more complicated.

Torn between family loyalty and his duty to his country, Andrew must infiltrate a rich and powerful clan to determine if they are plotting against the Dominion of Man, but while undercover he discovers something far darker and more dangerous is lurking in the shadows, and he is the only man who can stop it.

But Fate is a cruel, fickle mistress.

How far will Andrew go to ensure the success of his mission?

One brother must save himself; the other must save the universe. But can either survive long enough to achieve their goal?

Now, here are my musically-related thoughts:

To my mind, WRAITHKIN is like a symphony in four parts. First, we have a slower, quieter, more intense first movement, where all the major themes are laid out. We meet Gabe and Sophie, see their love for one another, see it dashed after Gabe fails a genetic test (technically, he’s supposed to be sterilized right away, but his family is wealthy and powerful and keeps that from happening), and then they attempt to run away.

But Sophie has to pretend to be angry, and leaves her world in feigned grief and despair, meaning she goes out to a lightly defended colony world all but undefended. And when Gabe finds out that world has been attacked, and Sophie is missing, he vows revenge.

Then we have the second movement, which is more about Gabe’s brother, Andrew. Andrew is a spy, pure and simple, or if you’d rather, he’s a chameleon/mole. He has been trained to do what he does, but because of that, he submerges himself in other people’s roles — or, as this is my blog, the music of other people’s thoughts. So while the second movement moves faster, and hints at much, it uses similar themes as the first, but reversed and in retrograde…as befits a symphony, where many things must come together to make a greater whole.

The third movement is about how Gabe meets up with a bunch of guys in his position — they all have failed genetic tests, so are considered expendables, the lowest of the low. But they all want to serve…something. Or at least blow up stuff. So there’s training involved, and a bunch of gadgetry to use, and all the military SF trappings that are required are there for the use…almost as if there’s a template for the third movement.

Still, there are touches of humor. Pathos. Genuine characterization. Friendship, all unlooked for, and camaraderie, too…proving, as if there was any doubt whatsoever, that new music can be reminiscent of older music, but still pack a walloping punch.

Then comes the fourth movement. Andrew and Gabe must somehow complete their joint missions. Will they manage to do this, or won’t they? And what will be the consequences either way?

This fourth movement ties up all the themes of the book nicely, and lays hints for books to come…kind of like how if you’ve heard one symphony by Haydn or Brahms or Mozart, you want to go hear another one if you’re smart. They all have things in common, sure, but they’re all a little different and they all have much to teach you, much for you to appreciate, and much to savor, time after time…

Anyway, I liked Jason’s book quite a bit, in case you couldn’t tell. I think it has a little bit of everything. Slam-bang action. Romance. Family. Friendship. A big canvas, with a dystopian government to be alternately fought and defended…Jason’s writing keeps getting better and better, and this is a story to immerse yourself in fully.

That’s why I compared it to music, and I hope you’ll understand why, once you read it.

(And do go read it, will you? If you like milSF, you will love this book. And even if you don’t, but like big novels full of life and vigor, you will still love this book…)

Written by Barb Caffrey

December 16, 2016 at 1:55 pm

Racine Concert Band Plays Tonight at Park High School

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Folks, it gives me great pleasure to announce that tonight (otherwise known as December 15, 2016) at Racine Park High School, the Racine Concert Band will be performing a Christmas-themed concert. Showtime is at 7 PM, and ticket prices are $4 for adults, $3 for kids, last I checked.

Tonight, we’re going to play four pieces. The first is a transcription of Frescobaldi’s Toccata for band; it’s not a lightweight piece, but it’s not ultra-heavy either, and it suits the mood and ambience of Xmas well. The second is Celtic Hymns and Dances by Erik Ewazen; this is an original piece that is more “inspired” by Celtic themes than anything else. (To my mind, it sounds more like the music for the movie BRAVEHEART, but Celtic and Scottish music have a number of things in common, and perhaps Kwazen was inspired by both for all I know.) The third is Russian Christmas Music by Alfred Reed; this again is an original piece, but it’s based off Russian themes instead. And the final piece the band will play alone is Leroy Anderson’s venerable Sleigh Ride…complete with the “whinny” from Dave Kaprelian’s trumpet at the end.

After that, we’ll play Jingle Bells Fantasy with some of the Park students, we’ll take our bows, and go out into the frigid air, perhaps lightening a few spirits along the way (hey, it could happen).

Hope to see you there!

Written by Barb Caffrey

December 15, 2016 at 5:05 pm

Mea Culpa, Mea Maxima Culpa…(a CHANGING FACES Update)

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Folks, before I get into this update, I want to tell you a story.

Years ago and far away — Nebraska, to be exact — I was at a holiday party. I was drinking a little, and as I almost never drink, I wasn’t aware of how dumb I sounded nor how hurtful I was being. Worse yet, because of this one moment of stupidity on my part, I blew an important job interview as the person I was mouthing off to was the interviewer’s sister…and I set back progress in my life by years thereby.

I’m not proud of this.

At the time, I didn’t realize what I was doing. It took me months to figure out that the person I’d talked to was the interviewer’s sister at this party, and I never did apologize to her, or to the interviewer himself, partly because I didn’t know I should.

This time, I know better.

How does that get into the CHANGING FACES update, you ask? Well, it’s simple…recently, on Facebook, someone had asked me what was going on with regards to CHANGING FACES. I turned in my copy — technically a draft, though in actuality an extensive revision that took me over a year to complete — just before Thanksgiving. I had hoped at the time that I could still maybe get CF out by the end of the year, but I knew that because of the amount of time it took me to get this done, the chances weren’t good.

Then I got the news that most likely, CF will be out in February of 2017. Which actually makes sense in a wide number of ways, but at the time — I was sick, though again, that’s no excuse whatsoever — I was thinking, “Oh, my God/dess, I’ve missed the 2016 window completely. Damn it!”

But I didn’t say that on Facebook.

Instead, what I expressed was merely my frustration. Not the cause of it, especially the cause being myself, because I thought folks on my page knew this.

That was my first error, as I’ve known for a long time to never assume anything.

Worse yet, my publisher saw this, and was hurt by this, as she’d done nothing wrong whatsoever. I like my publisher, Lida Quillen of Twilight Times Books, and consider her a friend. There’s no way in the world I’d ever want to hurt her feelings, especially considering how patient she was in waiting for me to turn in something that she could work with.

This was my second error.

But unlike my younger self, I take responsibility for the things I do and say that are wrong and hurtful, or at least woefully incomplete.

So, here’s the rest of the story.

Over the past year-plus, as I fought to keep from losing my home, as I fought to help my former house-mate, I struggled with CHANGING FACES. Every time I thought I had an epiphany, I’d get set back the next week or month with some other crises. And every time I made headway, I’d end up having yet another road block.

During this time, Lida was both encouraging and sympathetic. She didn’t have to be either of these things. But she was, which I truly appreciated.

Why did I say little about this at the time, and nothing at all about how encouraging Lida was the entire time? Because I didn’t want to dwell on the major problems I was trying to get past in this forum. I wanted to talk about something encouraging, uplifting, or at least something that was in the news that other people could relate to.

That, too, was an error.

I apologize for all of that. I know I’m better than that.

I’ve been very fortunate in my friends, and that includes my publisher, Lida Quillen. I am sorry to have not explained myself better and even more sorry I popped off during a moment of weakness. (That I further compounded my error by getting a friend of mine, doing his best to give sympathy, in trouble as well only gives me greater pain. And yes, I’ve already apologized to him, too, but that’s yet another story…and I hope that one doesn’t have to be explained in public.)

I can’t take that back now. But I can at least let you all know that Lida helped me enormously over the past difficult, challenging, and often intensely frustrating year.

So, the reason CHANGING FACES will be out in 2017 is because of me. No one else.

Now back to our regularly scheduled blogging, already in progress…

Written by Barb Caffrey

December 13, 2016 at 11:50 am

Life, Blogging, and Everything…

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Folks, you probably have noticed that I haven’t blogged all week. There is a reason for that.

Earlier in the week, I was sick. Something akin to the flu, I thought…it passed in about three days, but in the middle of that three days was a rehearsal for the Racine Concert Band as we have a Christmas concert coming up next week at Racine Park High School. I couldn’t miss that, so I exerted myself and went…most people didn’t know I was ill, though my stand-partner Vivian surely did.

Anyway, because of that I wasn’t able to write or edit much until Friday evening. Fortunately, I was able to write and edit some tonight, then I remembered I’d best come over here and let y’all know what’s been happening to keep me away from blogging.

I wish it had been something more fun, mind…something like a Jamaican vacation with a fun tour group, and maybe an interesting man to keep me amused. (Hey, I doubt my husband would mind at this point. It’s been twelve years, and he didn’t ever expect me to be alone all this time. He’d probably ask me what took me so long, if he could, for all I know…but I digress.) That would’ve been great to talk about, and the pictures…oh, Goddess, the pictures!

(No, you’re not about to see me in a bikini. Not now, not ever. I’m talking about sand, surf, fruity drinks, maybe undersea diving…stuff like that.)

I figure that seeing the sun rise in a strange place, with someone I truly cared about by my side, would be fun. Especially at this time of year, when it’s cold, colder, coldest outside, it’s nice to fantasize about warmth, whether it’s the human variety or the weather variety…or better yet, both.

So there you have it…I am again writing a little, editing a little, and am preparing for a concert next week. And I’m fantasizing a little, too, which I guess is…good? (Proves I’m human, in case anyone wondered.)

Hope everyone in Southeastern Wisconsin and Northern Illinois will find ways to stay warm, stay indoors, and read good books. (Fantasizing optional, of course. Though if it helps you, why not?)

Written by Barb Caffrey

December 10, 2016 at 2:55 am

Be Yourself, Be a Friend…

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Sometimes, when you’re someone’s friend, it’s not easy.

Maybe that person does something you don’t like, and you don’t know what to say. Or that person has political beliefs that shock you, or least surprise you…or that person insists on going his/her own way, calmly (but not quietly) pointing out the errors in your argument. Or maybe that person, who you thought was so much like yourself, turns out to be his/her own person after all…and while you want that, because who wants to live in an echo chamber, it can be quite disconcerting.

The best thing you can do, when you’re someone’s friend, is to listen. (It’s also the hardest, but it’s necessary.) Try not to pass judgment. Try to step into your friend’s shoes, and see whether or not you can find common ground; even if you can’t, the fact that you took the time to listen and care should matter.

None of us agree all the time. (Even my late husband and I had the rare — OK, extremely rare — disagreement.) So we’re going to have times where all we can do is listen, care, and agree to disagree.

Somehow, some way, we have to learn to be fine with this. And take people as they are, rather than how we’d like them to be.

That way, when you say something to your friend that’s shocking, or surprising, or (in contemporary parlance) a “buzz-kill,” maybe you’ll get the same courtesy.

Ultimately, it all comes down to one thing: Treat others the way you, yourself, want to be treated.

So if you want understanding, dignity, common courtesy, and respect, you’d best give that to your friends — and maybe even your enemies. (Capisce?)

———

Before I go, I wanted to make sure to ask my readers to say a quick prayer (or think good thoughts, or send positive energy, whatever you do in your own, personal belief system) for SF&F author Sarah A. Hoyt. She’s being kept overnight for observation at a Colorado hospital, and while her family is around her (which you’d expect, knowing Sarah at all), she needs all the good wishes, warm feelings and positive prayers she can get right now.

Written by Barb Caffrey

December 3, 2016 at 12:39 am