Barb Caffrey's Blog

Writing the Elfyverse . . . and beyond

Archive for March 2019

It’s All Grist for the Mill…

with 8 comments

As a storyteller, no matter how halting I find the process to be sometimes, I’ve learned one thing and one thing only in this life:

It’s all grist for the mill.

What do I mean by this? Well, everything that happens, good and bad — but most especially the bad — can be used in a positive way toward illuminating your stories.

Why?

Well, think about it. When someone tells you off, how do you feel in that moment? What would you do differently, if you could? What would you do better? Or what, if the devil on your shoulder was in charge for a moment — for story purposes only, of course! — would you do worse, to get a bit of your own back?

See, we’ve all been there.

We’ve all had someone tell us off. We’ve all had someone treat us terribly, for no reason, without warning.

And we’ve all been unable to do what we wanted in those moments, for good or ill…and the virtue of storytelling is, you get to figure out what you might’ve done, and how it might’ve been, without hurting yourself or anyone else. (While making it fun to read, too, if you do it right. Otherwise, why bother?)

Mind, the good things are also grist for the mill.

We’ve all had wonderful, amazing, spine-tingling things happen. Maybe they’re split-second things, like seeing a double-rainbow (or better yet, the Northern Lights — I hope to see that someday). Or they’re the most astonishing things ever known to man, like climbing Mount Everest…or, closer to home, finding someone who loves you, warts and all, and cares only about you and nothing but you — not your bank account, not your health or lack thereof, not your putative beauty or lack thereof either, but YOU.

These things all illuminate your stories. They make them deeper. Richer. More intense. More believable. More relatable. And more interesting by far.

So, the next time you have a bad day, try to remember this: it’s all grist for the mill. It may help. And even if it doesn’t, you can tell yourself in your best Evil Writer (TM) voice, “Hey, I’m going to remember this person, and– (insert worst possible thing you’d do to him/her here)” and that may get you to laugh.

What’s grist for your mill? Tell me about it in the comments!

Written by Barb Caffrey

March 27, 2019 at 12:55 am

Appearance Vs. Reality

with 2 comments

In daily life, I am struck often by the difference of appearance versus reality. And as a novelist, this strikes me with at least triple force, because I see how it could be otherwise, with just a bit of tweaking…and yet the pathos remains because the person (or people) in question just can’t make that tweak…

But I’m getting ahead of myself.

You may be asking, “So, Barb, what brought this on, hm?”

I’ve been thinking about the difference between appearance and reality for months, if not years. Not just because of the differences between reality starlets’ shows and their real lives (real lives are far more messy, are unscripted, and definitely have fewer camera operators and makeup personnel), but because of the difference in how people I know well — or at least people I once knew well — show off their lives in public but are all different in private.

This, of course, is not new to the 21st Century. We may have different ways of showing ourselves to be different and better and “all that” in public than in private than previous centuries, but it’s still the same old song.

Very few people, in short, feel confident in letting people know they’re real, with warts and all. They don’t want to admit they’re anything less than perfect, because they’re afraid the jackals may be circling…and sometimes, they’re probably right.

But most of the time, showing ourselves in our best light all the time is, to my mind anyway, self-defeating. It’s like a good friend of mine put it: “You see everyone else’s glamour shots, and your own blooper reel.” And you measure your blooper reel — that is, your real life with warts and all — against these highlight-reel things, and come up short.

Which, by the way, anyone would.

Back to why I’m talking about this today, though.

The whole “appearance vs. reality” thing has always been a particular interest of mine. This is only partly because I, myself, decided early on for whatever reason that I would not “fake it ’til I make it.” (That is, put on a front and pretend things were better than they actually were.) And I’m not sure what the rest of it was, excepting that I’ve always been someone who observed others keenly–and in so doing, figured out that all was not as it seemed.

I believe in leading as close to an authentic life as possible. That doesn’t mean burdening people with all my troubles, though sometimes it does seem that way. And it doesn’t mean, either, that I won’t share my triumphs, when I get them…it’s just that I won’t put on that false front, because I see it as wasting time and energy.

(And I don’t have enough of either, so let’s get on.)

That said, are there still things I keep private? Hell, yes. I don’t need to tell all and sundry everything about me just to lead that authentic life. And yes,  it’s a balancing act, for certain.

In essence, what I want you to think about today is this: Is your life what you want it to be? What’s the difference between how it appears, and how it actually is? And what can you do about it to make it any better?

These questions will also work well when you’re writing, mind, as every character ever written struggles with this (as well as more common motivations). And if you use it just right, it’ll deepen and broaden your writing to a degree that’s startlingly real…and may just help others in the process. (Not that you have to, in art, but it’s a good side benefit if you can.)

Written by Barb Caffrey

March 21, 2019 at 12:33 pm

Be That Someone

with 2 comments

As we’ve entered Lent, a season in the United States that is observed more in its breech than in its keeping, I wanted to write about something I’ve only rarely talked about. (Yes, me. The person who seemingly talks about everything.)

In the 21st Century, the vast majority of people seem disconnected. There are many studies showing it, and there are a number of reasons for it. We are more electronically connected than ever, but somehow it’s made us feel less important and less necessary.

Granted, there are billions of people on Earth, and most of us will not be remembered once we pass into eternity. That’s just the way it is.

Do I like that fact? No. But that doesn’t change the fact either.

So, what can we do against the oncoming oblivion?

My advice is, help others. Be that someone. Take an interest. See who’s in need, and try to meet at least part of that need. Don’t act in a way Lois McMaster Bujold’s character Mark Vorkosigan once described (my best paraphrase) as, “People always say they can’t do it all, so they don’t do any,” even though that seems easier.

And you can take small steps to help, if you’re struggling yourself, as many of us are these days.

When you’re out in a checkout line, really look at your cashier and say “thank you.”

When a friend is hurting, but you don’t know why, and they just won’t tell you, stay in that person’s life. Tell them you care. Tell them, “You matter. I see you.”

I know it’s hard to keep trying. It seems useless.

But it’s not.

Do these small things. Be that someone.

Written by Barb Caffrey

March 9, 2019 at 5:07 am

When Winter Finally Leaves…

with 2 comments

…will it please turn out the lights?

Seriously. This has been one of the worst winters I have ever encountered. It’s probably because of how cold it’s been that I’ve been sick on and off since mid-October. (I know that was still fall, but we had kind of an odd fall, too.) We haven’t had as much snow as some years, but it all tended to fall in bunches…and with the extreme cold we’ve endured (several days below negative thirty F wind chills, for example, including one week in February where basically no one in Southeastern Wisconsin went out if they could help it), it just hasn’t been a fun experience.

Perhaps because of that, I’m thinking in terms of the apocalypse today. Reading about a paper called “Deep Adaptation,” where writer and professor Jem Bendell discusses how we’re in for a world of hurt due to the severity of ongoing climate change, has only added to my overall feelings of pointlessness.

That said, life is what you make it. Civilization changes all the time. We’ve had several extinction-level events on Earth already. And if humanity is smart enough, perhaps we’ll outlive this one even if it’s as bad as Bendell says it’s going to be.

In other words, you can only decide to do what you can do. Control whatever you, yourself, can control. And refuse to give up despite doom and gloom prophecies, scientific or otherwise…because while life is short, it doesn’t have to be meaningless.

Unless you let it.

So, I’m still here, still fighting, and I’m going to do the best I can. (Not that this is any surprise to you whatsoever, if you’re a regular reader of my blog.)

…and I am definitely looking forward to spring! (Brewers baseball, anyone?)

Written by Barb Caffrey

March 7, 2019 at 5:27 am

Posted in Uncategorized

Want to Read Some of My Books, Free? (Here’s How…)

leave a comment »

Schooled in Magic; Read an eBook Week 2019Folks, we’re almost into Read an E-Book Week, which is held from March 3 to March 9, 2019. Two of my books will be given away by Twilight Times Books if you go to their site here, one on the third (tomorrow!), one on the fifth.  So, if you have ever wanted to read something by me but have not had the money to do it, now is the chance to check out what I’m doing.

For nothing.

(Nada. Zero. Zilch. You get the point.)

At the Twilight Times Books freebie site (again, the link is here), AnElfyontheLoose_medyou can download my first novel, AN ELFY ON THE LOOSE, on March 3. (Again, that’s tomorrow, though you may be able to get it now if you’re reading late on Saturday night as the links appear to be open and active.) You will have your choice of a PDF file, a .mobi file (that’s for Kindle), or an e-pub file (that’s for just about everything that’s not Kindle). I’ve talked a good deal about AN ELFY ON THE LOOSE here at my blog, so I’ll only say this about it: It’s funny fantasy with two young kids who aren’t what they seem, and there are layers and layers to it. You may meet a few ghosts, too…

Anyway. There are other folks also giving things away that you should know about.

For example, you also can download my friend Loren K. Jones’ first book in his story about Stavin DragonBlessed, ALL THAT GLITTERS, on March 3. I edited Loren’s book, and it is a lot of fun. If you give it a chance, you’ll enjoy it, especially if you like military realism with your fantasy.

And that’s not all. Loren is giving away his book STORIES OF THE CONFEDERATED STAR SYSTEMS as well, and not just on March 3…but all week long.

And as if that weren’t enough, you also can download my friend Chris Nuttall’s first novel in his Schooled in Magic series, also titled SCHOOLED IN MAGIC, all week long. I also edited this book, and am happy to point people to it as I believe it’s one of Chris’s best books to date. (Though I am also partial to several others, this is the one that started it all.)

“But Barb,” you say. “What about your second book? The one you’re giving away on March 5…what book is that?”

That book is CHANGING FACES. It is a contemporary fantasy/CHANGING FACES coverromance between a straight male clarinetist in graduate school, his bisexual (and, secretly, gender-fluid) girlfriend, also a clarinetist and in graduate school, and two meddling, but mostly good-hearted angels. They mix in because the female half of the pair (and yes, despite being gender-fluid, she uses female pronouns to describe herself all the time) is afraid to tell her boyfriend that she is gender-fluid and wants to explore a more masculine self-image. This isn’t what he signed up for, and while he loves her desperately, he doesn’t know if he can handle her presenting as male, or possibly even going as far as having surgery later to confirm her believe in her masculine side. (She is more than a little confused, herself, about all this, at least how to describe it. She knows how it feels to be who she is, but living her truth is not easy.) So, she’s going to leave her boyfriend, even though she loves him, and he prays that he will do anything, absolutely anything, so long as he gets another chance with her.

That “anything” ends up with him in her body, now a straight man in a woman’s body (definitely transgender), and her in his body in a coma is also not what he expected. And he can’t tell anyone what happened…while she’s forced to deal with herself and her demons, as only that way can she wake again and try with her boyfriend, this time with the outward masculine identity she felt she needed (even though she’s always going to be who she is).

The angels are funny. The music is inspired. And the two main characters, Allen and Elaine, are deeply in love, but aren’t too good at communicating with each other…and yet, they both want to try. So the angels give ’em this chance…can they realize that even though their faces have changed, their love remains?

I hope you will remember to go to the TTB Freebies site often this week, and download as many books as you want. Every day, new books will be given away, to let people know we’re here, we have good books to offer, and we hope folks will give us a chance.

There’s also a general site (not run by TTB) for Read an E-Book Week on Facebook here. More publishers will be giving things away there…lots of stuff to choose from, so maybe you can mix and match?

Enjoy!

Written by Barb Caffrey

March 3, 2019 at 12:01 am