Archive for January 2017
Folks, it gives me great pleasure to let you know that my novel, CHANGING FACES, will be available soon in e-book. The estimated time of arrival is March 15, 2017. It’s not yet available for pre-order, and the advance reader copy (ARC) is not out as of yet. But we’re getting there.
So, if it’s not ready for pre-order, and the ARC isn’t out, you might be wondering why I’m telling you about it. The answer to that is very simple; there’s a four-chapter excerpt up now at Twilight Times Books that may whet your interest, and my hope is that you’ll share it far and wide.
Note that there still may be a few niggling issues here and there due to file conversion. If any errors remain, I hope they do not impact your enjoyment of the four chapters. (The ARC looks great. No problems there. And yes, I will keep you posted as to when the ARC is available.)
Anyway, I do hope you’ll go look at the excerpt, but to get you started, here’s the entire first two chapters, cut and pasted:
by Barb Caffrey
It was the middle of July in Nebraska. Sweat started dripping down my back even before I’d stepped foot outside my apartment. My hair was already sticking to my neck, and I didn’t know how I was going to play my clarinet. And I had to do that, because my best friend Jolene Harris was marrying her long-time partner Paula Adelson today.
You see, this was a very special wedding. Paula and Jolene had waited for years to get married, and until recently, they couldn’t. But the Supreme Court of the United States made up their mind a short time ago that same-sex couples are like anyone else—if they want to marry, legally, they should be able to do so. Of course I agreed with this. Anyone who ever saw Jolene with Paula and their son, Adam, for longer than two minutes would agree, if they had any sense at all.
Fortunately for me, my boyfriend, Allen, completely understood. He was coming with me—and playing his clarinet, too. (He was going to play Ave Maria at Jolene’s request.) Allen, unlike me, identified as straight, but he’s no bluenose—he’s even walked with me in Lincoln’s Gay Pride parade.
Yes, I knew I needed to tell him…everything. And soon.
But not today, as that might spoil Jolene and Paula’s wedding.
The sun was shining. The birds were chirping. We’d even seen a rare double rainbow last night, after a brief but intense thundershower. Most people probably would’ve thought that today was absolutely perfect for a wedding, if they didn’t mind having to stand outside in 90-plus degree weather.
Allen and I made it to the car, we stored away our clarinets and music stands, and started driving. Considerate as always, he turned the air conditioning on and let me bask in it a few minutes before he spoke.
“I wish it were our wedding,” he said wistfully.
Oh, no, not that again, I couldn’t help but think. I loved Allen—truly, I did—and I wanted no one but him. But…
“I’d rather get married in the winter than the summer,” I told him, trying to keep it light. “It’s way too warm right now for my liking.”
“Are you sure you’re from Florida?” he half-joked back.
“Hey, it’s humid there, but it rarely hits the triple digits.” At his cocked eyebrow, I added, “That’s my story, and I’m sticking to it.”
He laughed, as I’d intended, and the subject was defused. For now.
Somehow, I had to tell him what I really was. But I didn’t have the words just yet.
* * *
I snuck a peek at Elaine as we set up our music stands. She looked gorgeous, as usual, though by her standards she was a bit dressed-down for such festivities in a burnt orange blouse, dark slacks and low heels, with an orange flower in her hair for the sake of whimsy. Chestnut brown hair cut short for the summer, bright brown eyes with flecks of gold only I could see, when she was particularly happy, high cheekbones…a beautiful woman, inside and out.
Who cared that she, like me, had been known to look at women from time to time before we met? Not I. (And no, I’ve never had that whole threesome fetish thing going on, thank you. I’ve always refused to share.)
Because it was hot, I’d worn dark slacks, a long-sleeved white dress shirt, and a tie with musical notes on it. (Jolene had told Elaine it was to be a less formal wedding, so what I wore would be more than good enough.) My glasses were starting to slide down my nose—occupational hazard, on a day as hot as this—but I knew the music well. Even if my glasses fell off, I’d be able to play and no one but Elaine should notice.
The caterers were still fussing with the food, and neither Jolene nor Paula was anywhere to be seen. It was an hour and a half until the ceremony, so this wasn’t entirely a surprise. Elaine and I liked to be early, to get ourselves acclimated, whenever we played a gig—not that we’d played a ton of weddings, but we’d certainly played at enough other places that this should not be much of a stretch.
We started with the Telemann Canonic Sonatas, easy enough pieces to play as they hadn’t been designed for the clarinet’s three-octave range. They were fun, though, and suited the day well…after a while, I noticed Adam, Jolene’s son and a burgeoning clarinetist, watching us avidly. His two-toned blond head bobbed to the music, and he seemed to be enjoying himself immensely. But he wasn’t dressed for a wedding; instead, he wore a t-shirt and ratty old jeans with shoes that looked two sizes two big.
When we took a break, I nodded toward him and asked Elaine, “He seems happy, don’t you think?” Of course, I wanted to say, What on Earth is he wearing? But I was far too polite.
“He’s probably glad I didn’t assign him to play these pieces,” she said with an arched eyebrow.
I stifled a laugh. “He’s still a beginner, so he doesn’t need to worry about that yet.”
“Ah, but does he know that?”
After we put our clarinets down, Adam came over and handed us each an ice-cold bottle of water. “You two sound great!”
“Thanks, kiddo.” I resisted the urge to ruffle his hair, taking a sip of water instead. “Are you wearing that to your mothers’ wedding?”
Adam shrugged. “They’re worried about what they’re wearing. I didn’t think they’d care what I wore.”
“Try again,” I said kindly. “I’m sure they’ll have someone taking pictures, as they’ve waited a long time to get married.”
“I don’t see what the big deal is. They’ve been together since I was a baby. Do they really need a piece of paper after all that?”
Before I could say anything, Elaine jumped in. “Yes, having the relationship matters more than the piece of paper. But they want that piece of paper. They’ve dreamed about having that piece of paper. And you, Adam, are going to go in the house and find yourself something to wear that shows you made an effort, or I’ll give you five extra scales next week.”
“And if you don’t find something better than that,” I added, “I’ll have to come in and help you.”
Adam shuddered dramatically. “Okay, okay already.” He went into the house.
The minister had arrived, a cheerful, fortyish woman. The food had all been brought out. The guests were starting to assemble, so Elaine and I played some more duets. The music flowed out of me, and I became so caught up in that that I didn’t care how hot it was. It was just me, Elaine, and the music.
Life was good.
By the time I looked up again, it was fifteen minutes until the ceremony. Jolene, tall and resplendent in a bright blue satiny long dress, was chatting with the minister, but Paula was nowhere to be seen. Then Jolene came over to us, murmuring, “Paula’s nervous. Says she can’t find anything to wear. And we went over this yesterday—I can’t believe this is happening.” She bit her lip, adding, “Maybe she wants to back out.”
“I’m sure it’s not that,” I put in, trying to settle her down. “She loves you to distraction.” My words were absolutely true. I’d never seen a more devoted couple.
Elaine sighed. “Let me guess. She won’t let you see her, because of that old superstition about brides—even though I’m sure you don’t care—”
“Got it in one,” Jolene said, nodding.
“And I can’t go to her,” I put in.
Both women looked at me like I’d grown a second head. “Of course you can’t,” Elaine snapped. Then, her eyes silently apologized…she must’ve realized I’d been joking. “I’ll go.”
“Would you?” The look Jolene gave her would’ve melted an iceberg—that is, if it hadn’t already melted due to the heat.
Elaine touched my hand, and was gone.
I turned back to my clarinet, and started playing the Miklos Rosza Sonatina, ideal for today as it required no accompaniment. Before I immersed myself fully in the music, I prayed that Elaine’s errand would not take too much time.
I didn’t get nearly enough time with Elaine as it was.
* * *
I went down the hall to Paula and Jolene’s bedroom, and knocked.
Paula let me in without saying a word. She wore a bra and a half-slip, but nothing else. The last time I’d been here, the bedroom had been painfully neat but a bit cluttered; now, though, it was as if a tornado had hit the place. Black pants were draped over the wooden headboard along with a shiny silver bolero; a red dress was covered by a bright yellow swath of something in the middle of the carpet—had I ever seen either Jolene or Paula wear yellow? I didn’t think so—while I saw green, brown, white, and checkered blazers, pants and skirts all over the place.
And a lonely light blue dress sat in the middle of the bed, crumpled as if Paula had thrown it.
Before I could say anything, Paula beat me to it. “Feeling femme today, Elaine?”
I blushed. “You two are marrying. It doesn’t matter what I feel like.”
“Then why the flower in your hair?”
Paula was the only person who’d guessed that I wasn’t simply bisexual, though I was certain Jolene knew something was off, too. Paula knew what I was in its entirety—I’m a gender-fluid person, and some days I feel female, others male. But I’ve never felt fully comfortable giving in to my impulses, not the way I was raised.
I realized I was woolgathering. “Who cares why? I’m here to help you. Jolene’s a mess. I think she’s afraid you’re going to call off the wedding.”
“No, never,” Paula said with a faraway smile. “But I have to have something to wear. And the blue dress that I was going to wear must’ve shrunk at the cleaners.”
“Are you sure this isn’t just bridal jitters?”
“Jitter me this,” Paula snarled, and put on the blue dress. Despite Paula’s tiny frame, the dress didn’t fit over her slender hips, much less meet in the middle of her back. “Could anyone wear this?”
“Maybe a dwarf could, but certainly not you.” I shook my head, and sighed. “You didn’t want to try it on yesterday, why again?”
“It’s a tradition in my family that we don’t wear our wedding dresses between the time we try them on and actually are about to get married. My parents are out there, and I figured they’d know—” She looked like she was about ready to cry.
“I understand that you want to be as traditional as possible,” I said gently. “But isn’t it more important that you wear something that you might actually feel good in on a day like today?”
“Point.” Paula smiled ruefully. “I certainly can’t wear this. And everything else, except for one outfit, I’ve already worn…and that isn’t very festive.”
“Show me the outfit,” I told her.
Paula pulled a charcoal grey sleeveless top with a bit of shininess to it out from under the pile of clothes on the floor, and grabbed a grey pair of pants. “I’d intended to wear this to dance with Jolene later. But it’s not good enough to wear now!”
“Put it on, and let’s see.”
After shrugging off her slip, Paula got into the outfit. The top fit well, but wasn’t too snug; considering it was at least ninety-five degrees in the shade, I didn’t see a problem with it. And the grey pair of pants looked comfortable and easy to move around in.
“To my mind,” I said, “this is the right outfit. Wear your best black shoes, and maybe add a black or white scarf? Or do you have a statement necklace, something that will visually draw the eye?”
“Who knew you knew this much about fashion?” Paula teased, as she got out her shoes and a white, fringy scarf. Once the scarf was draped, she added a chunky pearl-and-onyx brooch that went perfectly with the outfit, almost as if it had been designed for the thing.
“Don’t tell anyone,” I advised her. “It might ruin my reputation.”
As we laughed, I took her arm, and escorted her outside to her waiting father.
“Dad, this is Elaine,” Paula told him.
“I saw you playing the clarinet before, didn’t I?” But before I could answer, he added, “Thanks for your help.” He took my place at Paula’s side, and walked her down the flower-strewn path toward Jolene and the minister.
Allen started to play Ave Maria. Before he got four measures in, I saw people dabbing at their eyes.
Of course, Jolene and Paula both looked beautiful, Jolene tall and buxom in blue, Paula petite and dainty in grey and white. So that might’ve been it…but I still think Allen’s playing had a great deal to do with it, too.
I went to Allen, unnoticed in the crowd, and squeezed his shoulder. He put his clarinet down, and grabbed my hand; as I had been about to hold his hand, I had no problem with that at all.
We could barely see Paula’s blonde head back here, due to the crowd, but it didn’t matter. We were ready to play again long before Paula and Jolene shared their first kiss as a married couple, and before the audience had finished applauding, we were playing recessional music—Mendelssohn, I thought—that Allen had arranged for two clarinets.
After a while, everyone had gone toward the refreshment table but us. But before we could go get something, Jolene came up to us and insisted that we get our pictures taken. I hate having my picture taken, as my outer self doesn’t always match my inner self…and even on a day like today, where I felt more feminine than not, I still hated having the flower in my hair memorialized for all time.
Still, Allen’s kiss on the cheek was nice, and my smile at him was genuine. He was truly a good man, the best person I’ve ever known…someday soon, I’d have to tell him the truth about me.
And if he still wanted to marry me then, I’d let him.
* * *
Later on, after we’d stored our clarinets away and the food had been cleared out, I took Elaine back out to the yard again. Toward the back, there was a patch of green grass near the fence that I didn’t think anyone had stood on today; an untrammeled bit of grass, if you will. The sky was breathtaking, all bronzy red and pinkish orange, fading into the deep twilight blue I’d only ever seen in a Nebraska summer sky. It was a sky Maxfield Parrish might’ve painted, had he the chance.
“Such beauty,” Elaine breathed.
“What better omen for a wedding,” I added.
For once, Elaine didn’t give me a reproving look. Instead, she looked soft, touchable, feminine in a way I rarely saw…I knew I couldn’t waste this moment.
As Jolene and Paula were saying goodbye to their guests, we were quite alone. Our temporary solitude suited me well.
I went down to one knee on the grass, and said, “Elaine Foster, will you marry me?”
Elaine bit her lip, which wasn’t the response I wanted.
So before she spoke, I tried again. “Look, Elaine. We are meant for one another. I love you to distraction. I want you to become everything you have always wanted—a great writer, a great educator. You’re already a great person, and the only woman I want to be with. Will you please put me out of my misery and say yes?”
At that, Elaine laughed, pulled me up, and kissed me. When I broke away again, I looked down at her shining eyes and said, “So, is that a yes?”
“It’s a yes,” she murmured. “But…”
Before she could say anything more, Adam came barreling out into the yard. “My mothers told me to come and find you.”
As we went inside, I thought, This is the happiest day of my life.
* * *
I loved Allen. So I said yes, when he asked me this time—hoping I’d be able to explain just who and what I really was, after. And it made Allen so happy, for a time, I basked in his reflected happiness, and felt transformed.
If only we could’ve stayed in that moment forever.
The Big Man had told me to call him Michael, because humans had names. He was calling me Massimino for that reason, though I wasn’t truly accustomed to it, because we didn’t want to stand out among the humans. We were proud to be at Jolene and Paula’s wedding, though for a different reason than most. While everyone else had been watching Jolene and Paula take their vows, Michael and I had snuck peeks at Allen and Elaine.
We’d been in human form, of course. Michael told Jolene that Paula had invited us; he told Paula that Jolene had. We were both dressed appropriately, in dark slacks and white shirts; Michael had worn a rainbow tie, while I’d worn my shirt open at the collar so I didn’t feel stifled. He’d called us “the Lights,” as we were both, ultimately, made of light…I’d worn the body of a human teen, androgynous, of course, as Masses have no gender as humans knew it. And Michael delighted in “getting back to his roots,” as he’d called it; he’d worn the adult male body he’d chosen, graying brown hair, bronze skin, and a tall, erect frame, with pride.
Michael had kissed the brides, even, while I’d hung back and listened to the music with Adam, Jolene and Paula’s son. I didn’t have to say much, which was just as well; I didn’t know what to say in order not to stand out, and it was essential that I blended in just now.
No one had guessed that Michael was actually a being of rainbow light, or that I was an Amorphous Mass. Which was as it should be; the humans didn’t need to know about us, or what we did.
When the sky darkened, we’d made a great show of leaving along with everyone else, but we hadn’t. Instead, we became invisible and went back into the yard to watch Allen Bridgeway’s marriage proposal to Elaine Foster. I still wasn’t in my preferred, amorphous form, because that was too hard to control right now. But it was easier for me to be incorporeal than it had been to hold the body of a teen for six straight hours.
After everyone had left, including Paula and Jolene, we drifted outside a few miles to what the humans called a “rest area.” It was a deserted place just off the main roads, something called an “Interstate,” and was a place we could safely talk without bothering anyone.
We materialized in a deserted cornfield just behind the rest area, again in the human forms we’d taken for the wedding earlier, and walked the rest of the way there. This time, we were both in comfortable clothes—blue jeans, short-sleeved t-shirts, and tennis shoes. Michael had added a rainbow bandanna to his outfit, perhaps as a nod to what he really was—or perhaps because he’d just witnessed one of Nebraska’s first-ever same-sex weddings. He looked quite comfortable in his skin, whereas I felt miserable. The dryness stung my eyes, and multiple small insects tried to bite me. But as I wasn’t truly human, I didn’t smell right to them, and they flew away again.
As we ambled along, Michael asked me, “What do you think about what you saw?”
“Paula and Jolene? Or Allen and Elaine?”
Michael snorted. “Allen and Elaine, of course. We’re here for them.”
“They’re in love,” I said, stating the obvious. “They’ll marry in time. Right?”
“Wrong.” Michael’s lips twisted, and his eyes darkened. In them, I could see hints of the rainbow light he held inside him—but the light stood still. It did not dance, as per usual. “If they were able to marry, if Elaine were healthy enough inside to marry, we’d not be here, Mass.”
“Shouldn’t I have a regular name, too?” I asked irreverently.
“I know your designation, so knock it off,” Michael said, unrepentant, before he ruffled my hair. That felt strange.
“Hey!” I couldn’t help it; I chuckled. “Hands off the merchandise.”
“That language update I gave you definitely is coming in handy, I see,” Michael commented.
I wished I could fully show my displeasure, as my normal amorphous form would’ve done. As it was, I only shrugged, shook my head, and frowned, which wasn’t nearly enough.
“What sense did you get of them, as a couple?” Michael asked, persisting.
“Allen didn’t take his eyes off her. And Elaine didn’t take her eyes off him. They look perfect together, and seem deeply in love…I don’t see what the problem is. Unless she truly doesn’t love Allen?”
“She does, or we’d not be here.” Michael frowned, the light behind his eyes darkening to a midnight blue. “But she’s been heavily traumatized in her past. Didn’t you run their life histories?”
“Of course I did. But I thought Allen would get her past all that. She’s been with him for what, seven years?”
“Almost,” Michael corrected. “And yes, Allen loves her very much. He’s stable, knows who he is, and has come to terms with it. But Elaine is more like you. She’s not truly settled in herself, much less with just one gender.”
“The humans mostly don’t understand people who have, as they say, gender fluidity in their makeup. They understand someone who wants to be a male who wasn’t born in a male body, for the most part. And they also usually understand someone who wants to be a female who wasn’t born in a female body. It’s not easy for them to become outwardly what they feel inside, but for the most part it’s something civilized people understand. Yet someone who’s more like you isn’t understood…it’s a real problem.”
“And you’re telling me this, why?”
“Elaine needs you,” Michael admitted. “She isn’t healing from her trauma, and won’t let anyone in—not even Allen.”
“I take it I can’t talk with her like this?” I indicated my borrowed human form.
“No, though it’s an idea.” Michael brightened. “There is one place where Allen came to terms with Elaine, but—”
“I sense there’s a problem, even there?”
“Yes, unfortunately.” Michael paused, twisted his lips again, and shook his head. “It’s because of what Allen said there that I decided to intervene here and now.”
“But they haven’t asked for help…have they?”
“Not yet. But they will.”
As there was no one around to notice except a couple of cows and a whole lot of chirping cicadas, we wasted no time fading back into the fabric of the universe.
(Want more free chapters? Go to the excerpt and read chapters 3 and 4 of CHANGING FACES right now!)
It’s Sunday, and I was in need of spiritual sustenance. So I started thinking about hope, and its necessary qualities.
See, when you’re down, it’s hard to believe that anything matters. Life has given you a bunch of lemons, sour ones at that, and your attempts to make lemonade out of them don’t seem to be working…and it’s hard to believe in hope.
But you have to, because that’s when you need hope the most.
There’s a reason that hope was in Pandora’s Box. That one thing can make the difference between success and failure, because it reminds you that it’s all right to fail once in a while, just so long as you get up again.
It’s because of hope that I keep writing.
I realize that hope alone is not enough. But if I believe I have a good story idea, and do my best to flesh it out, I can use that hope and weld it to my will and work ethic to get something done.
I know this works. Because today, finally, after several weeks of illness and frustration, I did what was necessary and finished up my final edits with regards to my novel CHANGING FACES. My publisher has the file now, and aside from proofreading the PDF advance reader copy when it comes out (I’ll keep you posted on that), my work is now complete.
While I was feeling poorly, it was very hard to hope that I would be strong enough to do what was required. But I held on to my hope that I would do it, and I did it.
So that’s why the title above.
You need to believe in hope, because without hope, it’s nearly impossible to believe in yourself.
If you remember only one thing today, believe in this: Hope. Just do it. (For me. Please?)
Folks, the above title — “keep trying, no matter what” — is my personal philosophy.
But sometimes it’s much harder to do that than others. When that happens, I have to realize that I’m human, fallible, mortal, all that…and try again the next day, and the day after that. And the day after that, etc.
What’s caused me to write this blog at this time is very simple. I’ve struggled now for about a month with an illness that started as a cold and flared into something akin to bronchitis. My asthma is acting up, and my energy is much lower than it should be.
I try to be positive, as much as I can, but I’m not into this nonsensical “happy happy joy joy” stuff, either. I am a realist. Right now, being a realist, but also being optimistic, means I have to say, “OK, today I can’t do much. But tomorrow, if I am careful, I can do more…so I will be as careful as I can.”
Of course, this isn’t the only thing I’ve got to deal with. I have a number of physical limitations that I deal with daily that I work around, including bilateral carpal tunnel syndrome, arthritis bad enough in my back and knees that I walk with a cane, and more.
But I get up every day, and I deal with it the best I can. I try to think about what I can do. Not what I can’t. Because thinking about what I can’t do is self-limiting and self-defeating.
And thinking about what I can do is life-affirming. It reminds me that as bad as things can be, as lonely as I am and have been since my husband Michael died, there’s still something I can do that’s creative and fulfilling.
Besides, something in me says about writing, editing, and music, “Yes, you should do it.”
Why? Well, it seems to me that even if the world seems against me, even if no one else seems to care, I have to do what’s inside me or I’m not being my best self.
Why does that matter? Well, as a creative person, I try hard to be my best self. It’s where the words come from, I think…or maybe the music of the words, if my late husband was right. (Michael, as you might recall, believed that I thought music first, and then only translated those musical notes and chords into words. And who am I to say he was wrong, especially as I do compose some music as well?)
I want to be attuned to whatever it is that makes me a creative person. It may not be easy to be creative. (In fact, it’s often as difficult as all get-out.) But I know who I am, and I want to keep doing whatever I can to maximize my talents and abilities the best I can.
So, the journey has been tough. (That I’m still struggling, due to the recent illness, to concentrate well enough to wrap up the last little bits for CHANGING FACES so I can turn it in to my long-suffering publisher and get it placed firmly on the schedule drives me batty, too, I must admit.) It probably will not get much easier, either.
But I will do it. I will get up every day, and keep trying.
No matter what.
See that you do the same.
Folks, it’s time for a Monday Motivation post. (And as I’m still — somewhat, anyway — on Twitter, I decided to use the hashtag in the title. For my sins, I guess.)
When you were young — or at least, younger, as most of us do not enjoy pointing out that we’re not as young as we used to be — your teachers, mentors, and even your parents used to say, “Figure out what you’re best at, and do it.”
But how do you do that, exactly? Especially if you’re a creative type, when creativity isn’t exactly understood?
Maybe this is where Malcolm Gladwell’s book OUTLIERS holds a few of the clues. (I reviewed this book a while back at Shiny Book Review — yes, I do plan on writing a review or two this year, thanks for asking — and I’ve never forgotten it.) Gladwell insists that to become an expert at your field, you need approximately 10,000 hours of hard work to get there. (And even more time than that to stay there, improve upon your expert abilities, and keep going at that high level after that, no doubt.)
The way I view this has to do with persistence, otherwise known as ramming your head into the wall over and over and over again until the wall falls down. It’s not an elegant solution, but it’s the only way I know to get things done.
So, when you get a story idea, or an idea for a poem, no matter how outrageous it seems, you should write it down as best you can. (If I’m pressed for time or tired or ill or all of the above, as I’ve been lately, I try to write it down in prose note format — that is, whatever I get, I write it down, sans dialogue, sans much in the way of description unless it’s absolutely essential, so the idea is not lost.) Even if you can’t do anything with it today, even if you can’t do anything with it next week either, it’ll still be there, waiting for you, when you can look at it again and develop it.
I know this method works, because I’ve had at least four stories that I’ve developed after writing them down in prose note form…and in two cases, I got halfway into the story, then had to put it aside for six months to a year before returning to it.
(What can I say? I’m like a dog with a bone. I have to finish what I start, no matter how long it takes. No excuses.)
So, to figure out what you’re great at, you need to keep working at your talents as much as you possibly can. Whatever they are, figure them out, keep going, refuse to give up on yourself, and give it your best shot. Don’t listen to anyone who tells you differently, either…because the only person who can tell you when it’s time to stop (if it ever is) is you.
It’s Friday the 13th, so I thought I’d talk about how to turn bad circumstances into good ones. (Or, at least, into better ones?)
“Why, Barb, did you pick Friday the 13th for this blog?” you ask, wearily.
Well, the answer is simple. On Friday the 13th, everyone worries more about accidents, superstitions, odd events…and what’s odder than turning a bad circumstance into a good one?
Yeah, I realize that’s not how most people think of it. Instead, we think about the negative stuff going on all around us. And it’s very easy to find…we all have stuff in our lives that could be, shall we say, improved.
And it’s hard to think about improving things, when everything seems against you.
I’ve had my back to the wall at least ten times in my life. It’s not pleasant. Every time, I’ve thought whatever was going on would break me. I’ve been through deaths of loved ones (including my beloved husband Michael), divorces before I even found Michael at all, at least five major moves, job losses, and economic hardship, and I haven’t enjoyed any of it.
(If I did, though, wouldn’t you wonder what I was about? I would, in your place. But I digress.)
What you have to do when you’re at a breaking point is to keep going. Remember that you didn’t ask for this to happen. You are just doing the best you can. Maybe you’ve made mistakes, but we all have…the trick is not to give up on yourself and not to give up on your talents, no matter what is stacked against you.
And as bad as dealing with horrific events (like deaths of loved ones in particular) can be, there actually is one positive side to it that I’ve found.
I realized that going through all the negative experiences in my life has actually sensitized me to other people’s suffering. And along the way, I found that being able to help someone else, even if it’s only a little bit, did two great things: It helped the other person realize they were not alone, and it also made me feel better as a human being to reach out and help someone who truly needed it.
Maybe that’s why we have things like “Do unto others as they do unto you” (the Golden Rule). It’s not just that we want to be treated well; it’s that we need to treat others well for our own well-being, and to become our best selves.
Anyway, the point of this blog is, sometimes life just stinks. There are things you have to do sometimes that you never wanted to — that you never even conceived of, when you started out as a young adult — but you have no choice.
When you’re at one of those places, step back, and try to realize that you are not alone. You can come back from whatever it is that you’re facing with time, courage, fortitude, will, and effort. Best of all, you will be able to better understand yourself and others when you do…and I don’t know of any other way to turn a bad circumstance into a good one than that.
Sometimes, late at night, as I struggle to get words down, I ask myself the following question:
“Why, Barb, are you putting yourself through this?”
I suppose it’s because I feel I must. I enjoy writing, usually, even when it comes slowly and painfully. It keeps me amused, and focused, and allows me to question to my heart’s content.
Lately, I’ve been struggling especially hard because of whatever illness that’s laid me low this time. (I am starting to get a teensy bit better. But I say that while mentally crossing my fingers, as the last time I thought that, I was overly optimistic.) When I can’t concentrate, I can’t tell stories — period, end of discussion.
And when I can’t tell stories, I get completely frustrated, am incredibly hard to live with, and just am a major pain in the caboose.
(Hey, at least I admit it.)
But maybe this is missing the point a little bit. Because my questioning skills — whatever it is that makes me go, “Hm. What would happen if…” and then start writing down whatever comes next — are still there. Waiting for me to get healthy enough so I can use them; waiting for me to realize that even if I can’t write tomorrow, can’t write the day after that, I assuredly will write as soon as I possibly can because that is what’s inside me.
(My late husband taught me that, and he was right. As he usually was, but that’s another story for another day.)
So, maybe along with all the other things that make up my palette of writing skills and abilities, I should admit that the whole idea of questioning — or, as I put it in the title, the art of the questioner — is useful, in and of itself.
Because if you can’t question, you can’t possibly come up with a different scenario. And without different scenarios, you don’t do so well as a writer — especially not as a writer of science fiction and fantasy.
At any rate, the important thing to remember is that if you are having trouble writing today, that doesn’t make you a bad person. (I know that’s blindingly obvious, but it still needed to be said. Bear with me, OK?) Maybe you’re just stressed out. Maybe you’re sick. Maybe you’re exhausted. Maybe you’ve just had it with the world around you, and your body and mind and heart are all shouting, “Enough already!”
But whatever it is, you need to be kind to yourself. Understand that if you can’t write today, you will write tomorrow. And if you still can’t write tomorrow, you will write the day after that.
Because that is how you’re made. And that is what you’re going to do, come Hell or high water or whatever else, because you must do it or you’re not being your best self.
And in the meantime, keep asking questions!
Mr. and Mrs. N.N. Light are a married writing team with a lot of heart and perspective. I like them greatly, and think their ten tips are fantastic. Give ’em a try!
“Marketing is first and foremost about connecting.” – Wendy Paine Miller
Today’s publishing market requires authors to wear several hats, one of them being marketer. For many authors, they haven’t a clue what to do or how to get the word out about their book(s). I see it all the time on Twitter, Google+, Facebook, LinkedIn; authors posting about their books in an unending stream of impersonal tweets and posts.
“BUY MY BOOK! BUY MY BOOK! BUY MY BOOK, PLEASE!”
I shake my head because these authors miss the whole point. Social media is at its core, social. It’s a powerful marketing tool, if you know how to use it. Let me give you an example:
Back in 2012, I wrote my debut novel, Princess of the Light. When the time came to edit and publish it, I started chatting with some of my Twitter followers about it. Nothing…
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