Barb Caffrey's Blog

Writing the Elfyverse . . . and beyond

Archive for May 2019

Monday Reading — Time for a New Book (or Four)

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Folks, I have been remiss about letting you know about a few books that are out that I’ve either had something to do with, or that I have reviewed. I even managed to find cover photos this time. (Yay, me!)

So, without further ado:

citadels front cover blog size THE CITADELS OF DARKOVER is out in e-book and trade paperback. I have a short story in this called “Citadel of Fear,” and I hope you’ll enjoy it. I also was interviewed by the editor, Deborah J. Ross, at her blog; I did the interview in February (I think), and it went up in April. But I missed it at the time and only saw a link to it on Twitter a few days ago.

 

Cursed_med_smallI was one of two editors on Chris Nuttall’s newest novel, CURSED, which is out in e-book form now. CURSED is the seventeenth book in Chris’s long-running Schooled in Magic series, and I’ve been fortunate enough to edit all but two of those books. His heroine, Emily, is a young woman originally from Kansas who’s been transported to another world entirely (Chris calls it the Nameless World). But during a recent battle against a crazed monarch, Emily nearly died…and woke up without access to her hard-won magical powers. Now she must get them back, and has to cope with a host of unexpected challenges. (Further editor sayeth not.)

 

Bro coverKayelle Allen has a new entry in her long-running Sempervians saga called BRO. It’s a fun story about two brothers who meet at an odd time; one (Senth) had no idea he had a brother, while the other (Khyff) has had the wrong idea about his long-missing brother for quite a few years. Neither is in an ideal situation, though both are making the best of things…will they manage to find common ground before it’s too late?

I was fortunate to edit Kayelle’s story, and know it’s excellent. It is also available via Kindle Unlimited, so if you have that, you should give it a try forthwith.

 

sons-of-the-lionFinally, I reviewed Jason Cordova’s newest novel, SONS OF THE LION, and as usual Amazon is playing silly buggers with the review. In case Amazon kicks it out (or just eats it), here it is:

SONS OF THE LION is a very well-written book filled with characters I adored and cheered for. The action works. The military ethos and care is profound. The distaste for child slavery and the uplifting of one exceptional child saved from the slavers into the merc company was perhaps my favorite thing overall.

So, you may be asking me, why didn’t I give it five stars if I liked it so much?

It’s the ending. I didn’t like that at all. And as I don’t want to spoil things, I will just say this: as an editor myself, I would’ve chosen a different route. I am unsure if the writer was boxed in by other issues in the Four Horseman Universe (I’ve read all the books to date, but the writer may be aware of things coming that I am not; surely the publisher, Chris Kennedy is). But I was very pleased with everything up to three chapters from the end.

Even with that — something that threw me out of the reader’s trance with great force — I thought this an exceptionally well-written book that did everything and then some that it was supposed to do. Military SF fans will love it. Four Horseman Universe fans will, too — that should go without saying — but anyone who loves military adventure (even if they don’t usually read SF) should appreciate it as well.

Four very solid stars. Recommended (despite its jarring and frustrating ending).

Barb Caffrey

I was happy to review SONS OF THE LION, though I had to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth about how I felt about that ending without revealing spoilers. That proved to be difficult.

But do I think you should read it anyway if you enjoy military adventure, military SF, or have read any of the other novels or anthologies in Chris Kennedy’s wildly popular Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse universe? Yes, I do.

Why? The writing is stellar. The characterization is great. And while I hated the ending — let’s get real here — everything until three chapters from the end was exactly what I wanted. (Am I going to make up alternate endings like some of the folks signing petitions asking for a different ending to Game of Thrones on TV? No. But would I like to if I had enough energy? Hmmm…have to ponder.)

So, there you have it. Some books to whet your interest that you may not have known about, and I hope at least one of them will be to your liking. Have at!

Sunday Thoughts: Be a Better Person (Starting Today)

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Former President Jimmy Carter is the inspiration for this blog post. Enjoy!

Have you ever felt like wishing that you could just start over? That you messed up something so bad, so vital to your well-being, and you have no way in the world to fix it?

We all have done things we’re not proud of, as there are very few saints walking the face of this Earth. (At least, saints the quality of Mother Teresa, or Father Damien the Leper-Priest.) So I’m guessing that at least a few of you know what I mean.

You’ve had a bad day. Or a bad succession of days. And you wonder what you can possibly do to redeem yourself. Or at least do better than you’ve been doing.

Jimmy Carter has the answer, and it’s surprisingly simple. Decide to be a better person. Starting today.

See, the first thing you have to do, if you feel like you’ve messed up in an irredeemable way, is to tell yourself, “No more. I will do better. I will be better.”

Then, of course, you have to do the work. You have to figure out what type of person you want to be. And do everything in your power to work toward what you see as your best self — a more generous person, perhaps. Or a wiser one. Or maybe even one that’s more self-forgiving…ahem.

But you first have to make up your mind that you are going to change for the better. And that you’ve had enough of the status quo, whatever it is that’s plaguing you; that, too, you have to decide to get past, because otherwise, you’re going to fall into the same old traps.

That said, every day is a new day. If you screwed up badly yesterday, today is a clean slate. You can still make it a worthwhile day full of laughter and love, or creativity and inspiration (or better yet, all of the above). You, too, can make a better life for yourself, brick by brick, resolution by resolution.

You do not have to be held back by your fears, or by your past mistakes. Not if you don’t wish to be.

No, you can’t change the past. But you can learn from it. And you can grow, and change, and deepen, and make yourself more interesting and empathetic and kinder if you truly wish.

So, what do you want to do? Stay in the same ever-changing rut? Or learn from your failures, and make a clean, fresh start?

Yes. You can be a better person. Believe in yourself, give yourself a chance, and go forward rather than reliving the past.

You can still change the future, if you act today. But ultimately, it is all up to you.

Written by Barb Caffrey

May 26, 2019 at 4:43 am

Narrative Framing, the Milwaukee Bucks, and You

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Folks, over the past week or so as I’ve battled an illness, I’ve been thinking about how we shape our own narratives. (Again, as this is one of my besetting sins as a novelist.) And that led me to ponder the Milwaukee Bucks, which have had one of the best years in their team’s history and have made it all the way to the Eastern Conference Finals…which you’d think would be good enough for anyone.

But as the Bucks were expected throughout to go to the NBA Finals, people have been up in arms (including yours truly) when they lost game 5 to the Toronto Raptors at home to put them down three games to two. They now face elimination in game 6.

The thing is, if you think about it, just getting to the Eastern Conference Finals is wonderful. The Bucks were “one and done” last year. And, I believe, the year before that.

But this year, they swept their initial playoff series, against the Detroit Pistons. And then they won easily over the Boston Celtics in the second round.

This, mainly, along with a stellar regular season, is why Bucks fans have taken a doom-and-gloom attitude.

And that led me to consider how else we tend to frame our own narrative in our lives. Do we think of the bright side? (Should we is another question, but that’s for another day.) Or do we think of what’s not working rather than what is, and concentrate on our failings rather than our successes?

I don’t know about you, but I tend to think about the failures, myself. I think about how I could’ve done this, that, or the other better. Sometimes, in the moment, it’s almost like I see myself from above and wonder, “Why can’t I do better than this? Why is it that I can barely explain myself? Why is it that I can’t make better decisions? Why do I run out of time?” and so on.

I wonder if that’s where the Bucks are at, right now. But I strongly suspect, as their season is not over, that they aren’t.

Are they happy to be down 3-2 and facing elimination? Of course not. (Who would be?)

But they have things they can still do. And I believe they’re most likely concentrating on them, and how they need to just do a few more things to get a win (in sports parlance, a W)…they may even be focusing on past success against the Raptors, and be looking at what they’ve done differently (and worse) in this series that hasn’t been working.

Forward, they are probably looking. Not back.

Now, does this make any difference in what happens in Game 6? You better believe it does. They can go in there and do their level best, knowing their season will be over if they don’t give it everything they possibly have.

And of course they could still lose. But if they do, they’ll know — providing they gave it their all, and tried their best, and focused their minds and bodies properly — it wasn’t their time to shine after all.

That can be a bitter lesson, sometimes. Because we try our best, and we want to shine all the time.

But no one — not Michael Jordan, not LeBron James, not Wilt Chamberlain, not George Mikan, nor any other basketball superstar over the years — has ever shined all the time. Because it’s not humanly possible.

So, let’s take a step back, and frame this differently, OK?

The fact is, the Bucks’ Giannis Antetokounmpo is a great player. He may well win the NBA Most Valuable Player award this year, and if so, it’ll be richly deserved.  And he’s  led the Bucks to an excellent season.

These pluses are not negated, nor should they be, if the Raptors do succeed in beating the Bucks.**

How does that relate to your own, personal situation, though?

In essence, you need to learn how to frame your own narrative. Stop beating yourself up because you can’t seem to get ahead no matter how hard you try. Think about your successes once in a while, rather than always and only your failures. And do what you can to remember that you are a vital person with a role to play whether it seems like it or not.

That’s how you can learn from the doom and gloom over the Milwaukee Bucks and their current situation.

What do you think about this blog? Tell me about it in the comments!

———-

**As a fan, I will admit that if the Bucks can’t win game 6 and force a game 7, for a few days I will go around with a bad taste in my mouth. (That comes with the territory.)

Asthmatic Thoughts

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Folks, I’d intended to write two more blogs starting with “The Transformative Power of” rather than this, but here’s what I’ve got. Enjoy?

The last few days for me haven’t been that wonderful. I had an asthma attack that was bad enough to force me to go to the emergency room — something that hasn’t happened in years — and interrupted my rehearsal on Thursday night with the Racine Concert Band for the upcoming concert at Case High School on Tuesday, May 21.

At least, for me.

I hope I didn’t interrupt it for anyone else. But I had to leave. I couldn’t breathe well. And about fifteen minutes into rehearsal, I took four hits on my albuterol rescue inhaler — the max dose. But all that did was get me to the break without passing out. It didn’t allow me to regain my energy or breath well enough to continue playing my saxophone, and I only barely had the energy to concentrate on driving to the ER.

I’ve been asthmatic most of my life, but it wasn’t diagnosed until age 27. Most of the time, I’ve been able to do everything I want to do, including five K walk/runs (I used to power walk, when my back still allowed me to do such). With a little prudence, even on very hot and humid days, I can do what I need, providing I rest a great deal and be sure to have my rescue inhaler handy.

But that’s why this was so frustrating. I know what to do. And yet, I was running a bit late, was afraid I’d get into rehearsal late, and I didn’t want that. While I’d taken my rescue inhaler around five p.m. — meaning it should’ve still been able to help for the 7 p.m. rehearsal — I had just done the fastest walk I’m capable of from the parking lot, with my cane, sax, and big, heavy purse in tow. So that, right there, was probably all I had, breathing-wise…and that’s why, fifteen minutes in, I had to take four puffs of albuterol.

What also was difficult for me, then, was not realizing how bad off I was. My stand-partner, Vivian, who’s known me since I was 18, is the one who realized what was going on. She told me I should go seek medical attention, and get a breathing treatment; I told her that I wanted to stay at rehearsal, so I’d try to take the rescue inhaler instead.

And you already know what happened then.

When I got to the ER, they took me right back to a room. (The local hospital, Ascension-All Saints, takes shortness of breath in an asthmatic seriously, which I greatly appreciate.) Within a half an hour or so, I was given a breathing treatment on a nebulizer, and my mind started to clear. (That my oxygen saturation when I got there was approximately 85% did not help, though it did go back up after I sat for a few minutes.) They then gave me three tablets of prednisone, and while that made me very jumpy and jittery, it also allowed me to have enough energy to drive home a few hours later.

I didn’t call my parents, or my sister, until I knew what was going on and could talk without gasping. (My sister works very early in the morning, and I was in the ER until after midnight.) As my brother lives in another state entirely, I didn’t think to even tell him about this, either. But I wasn’t thinking too clearly at the time.

I did text a few friends who were expecting to hear about my rehearsal, and had been worried as they knew I didn’t feel that wonderful when I left on Thursday for rehearsal in the first place. I did that mostly because I knew they were waiting to hear from me. I always try to keep in contact when someone’s expecting to hear…anyway, fortunately for me, one of my best friends I’d texted lives in town.  She came over to the ER, sat with me the last half-hour until they let me go, and drove behind me all the way home to make sure I’d get there all right.

This gave me great comfort.

I was told by the doctor to take it easy over the weekend. No practicing at all. No heavy shopping trips for my mother, if I could avoid it. (Light stuff was OK providing I took my time about doing it.) No editing, if I could avoid it. I could write, to tolerance, and I have — not just this blog either. (1000 words of fiction, yay!) And providing I do take it as easily as possible, he said I could play the dress rehearsal on Monday night, and the concert on Tuesday night — providing I take my rescue inhaler beforehand and after, and continue to take steroids for several days to aid my breathing overall.

I still have hope that I will play this concert. It isn’t going to be easy for me. I am not going into it with much strength, energy, or clarity of mind. But I can do it, and have promised I would…so I will find a way, if at all possible.

I was very scared by this episode. I used all the biofeedback techniques I have learned recently to stay as calm as possible on the road to the ER, and was able to “stay in the moment” to drive safely over there even feeling the way I did. (Why did I do this, you ask? They tow cars if you leave ’em at the practice site overnight. I can’t afford that!)

But I was fortunate. My stand-partner knew I was ill, which prompted me to take my rescue inhaler in the first place. She also urged me to go to the ER when I was still ailing after. And after that, I got good attention in the ER; my friends helped as much as they could from where they were; my family, while being miffed that I didn’t call or text or do anything to let them know in the moment, has been very understanding of how little I’ve been able to do over the last two days since that happened.

I promise you all, I will take my meds on time. I am not going to ever forget to take my rescue inhaler directly before practice again, either, even if I’m already fifteen minutes late…though I hope I won’t be late at all, so I can go in without feeling like I have to “haul ass” and thus have almost nothing to work with from the get-go.

All I can say, else, is that I survived this. And I’m glad, though I wish I hadn’t had to deal with it and had just been able to play as normal.

Anyway, I do hope to write the other blogs about “the transformational power of” later this week, if all goes well. And I would like to know what you think about this, the most personal of blogs I’ve written in a very, very long time…tell me about it in the comments, please. (You are reading, right?)

 

The Transformative Power of Music

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Folks, this is the first in a three-part series. All will start with “The Transformative Power of…”, so you have been warned if this isn’t your thing. (Though why it wouldn’t be, I haven’t any idea whatsoever.)

Music can transform your life, if you let it.

What do I mean by this? (I can practically hear a few of you thinking, “Barb, you have gone off your rocker with this one. What gives?”) It’s simple: music can actually heal you. Or at least improve your mood while giving shape to your feelings, which is nearly as good.

Who hasn’t felt better after singing in the shower? Who hasn’t felt better after singing along to their favorite songs in the car?

For me, playing music takes that feeling and amps it up to eleven. (H/t if you got the Spinal Tap reference, there.) And being able to play music in a group, whether it’s a concert band, a jazz band, a small group, or just by myself, is one of the best feelings there is when it’s going right.

But as this post is titled “the transformative power of music,” I suppose I should get down to brass tacks.

After my husband Michael died in 2004, I didn’t want to do anything. My grief was so profound, it took me at least five years to process, and another few after that to realize I still had a life to live — and what was I going to do about it? All that time, my health worsened, my hands especially, and when I decided I wanted to play my instruments again (sax, clarinet, and oboe), I was barely able to do it due to my hands aching so much.

And it wasn’t just trying to play my instruments that made me frustrated. I was to the point with my hands that driving in the car was painful. I could only use one hand a few minutes at a time, and then switch off to the other. It was just that bad.

Fortunately, I went through a few rounds of occupational therapy, which helped a great deal. The pain lessened, I gained range of motion again, and I learned how to properly stretch the areas. And ever since, when my hands have started approaching that state again, I’ve asked for — and received — another date with the occupational therapist, and gone through more therapy as required.

Mind, I’d have never gone through with any of that if I hadn’t wanted to play my instruments again. But I did. And that allowed me to make a positive decision in the depths of my grief to do something positive, meaningful, and healthy.

Anyway, in September of 2011, I asked to play in the UW-Parkside Community Band again. (I’d been a member before I left the area for graduate school, back in the day.) One of my professors from Parkside, Mark Eichner, was still conducting it, and he told me when rehearsals were for the December concert. So I rejoined it in late October, played the next concert, and voila! I was a performing musician again.

(For the record, my first concert back was on alto sax, and I played a lengthy solo on a piece called “Roma.”)

Soon after, I rejoined the Racine Concert Band in 2012, again on alto sax. (I’d been a member of this in high school and again in college, and only stopped when I moved away to attend graduate school in Nebraska.) Ever since, I’ve played many concerts with them. Most have been on alto, but a few have been on clarinet.

And last week, on Saturday, I played clarinet — first chair, de facto concert master/mistress — with the UW-Parkside 50th anniversary alumni band. That was an exceptionally challenging concert, as we had only one rehearsal beforehand and the parts were very tough. But I was there early, practiced my parts, and was as prepared as I could be.

It paid off. The concert went well. And I had a few folks come up to me afterward, praising what I did (nice, when you can get it), along with asking why I wear a neckstrap to play the clarinet as few clarinetists do. (It helps keep the weight off my hands, and allows me to play for a longer period of time with a whole lot less pain.)

Why am I going into all this detail? Mostly to explain what playing music has done for me. It has given me my confidence back. It has reminded me I can still do something, something positive, something very few other people can do.  It has rewarded my perseverance and search for excellence…it has allowed me to give the gift of music to others in performance, also.

All in all, music has transformed my life.

You don’t have to be a musician to allow music to transform yours, though. Just listen to whatever you want. If you are hurting, let the pain out. If you are healing, allow yourself to feel safe and comforted. And if you just want to hear music for the sake of music, good for you: that’s the best listening experience of all.

What do you think of this blog? Tell me about it in the comments!

Love Matters. (Really.)

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The most powerful force in the universe is love.

This may seem simplistic. But it’s the flat truth. There is nothing more powerful than love in its purest form; there’s nothing that can motivate you more, make you try harder, make you want to be better, or give you more joy than love.

When we run into life’s difficulties — and oh, aren’t there a bunch of them! — love helps smooth the way. Knowing that you are cared for, needed, appreciated, and loved for yourself without any preconditions and without any need to be anything other than what you are is the most phenomenal feeling in the world.

I write this today mostly because a good friend of mine, in New Zealand, is struggling. He just got married — only a few, short days ago — and his wife is ill. (As in, in the hospital.) He and his wife found each other online, she flew to meet him and spend a few weeks with him, she flew home, they became engaged, and she flew back out to be with him. They have been very happy together despite all that life has thrown at them thus far, but I wish very strongly that my friend’s wife were not ill and that they’d been able to have the first few days as a married couple without so much stress and strain.

That said, they love each other deeply and well. I know they can and will come through this, precisely because of the love they bear for each other.

While I don’t know much else with a great deal of exactitude at the moment, I do know this: If you find true love, nurture it, work with it, and let it heal you…as much as it possibly can. (It may not heal you physically. But it can heal you every other way.) And celebrate it, every day of your life.

I know my friend and his wife have done all that, are doing that now, and will keep doing that. And I am certain they will continue to appreciate each other, for as long as they both shall live.

That is what is truly important, in life. (Don’t let anyone else tell you anything different, either.)

Written by Barb Caffrey

May 6, 2019 at 6:42 am

Announcing…”The Chronicles of Amberdrake” by Loren K. Jones

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Folks, I’d meant to tell you about this several weeks ago, when it first came out. But my friend Loren K. Jones has a new book out called THE CHRONICLES OF AMBERDRAKE, and I wanted to tell you a little about it. (I should know enough to do that. I edited it.)

Loren's Amberdrake bookDrake, son of Standral, is a young, impetuous teen. When he sees two higher beings–I’ll call them this because at the time, Drake has no idea what or who they might be–duking it out, rather than run into the house or hide anywhere at all, Drake stays outside and watches in fascination. Because of this, he manages to distract one of the fighters, but gets killed in his original, human form. However, as the other fighter who benefited from Drake’s interference was the God of Chaos,  that Being tells Drake he’ll grant Drake any wish at all, just name it. (Yes, I’m oversimplifying.) And Drake’s wish is to be the most powerful mage in the world, the most powerful  mage who’s ever lived. This seems simple enough to the God, so the God grants Drake’s wish and goes on his way…

…and Drake is now left in dragon-form.

Why? Because the most powerful mage who’s ever lived prior to Drake (now) was Dandershandrake, a dragon…so to grant Drake’s wish, Drake, too. had to become a dragon. (Probably, to the God of Chaos, a human and a dragon aren’t that dissimilar, or maybe the God of Chaos just wanted to create more chaos within the dragon ranks. Who knows?) Dragons live a very long time, and often die only when they get tired of living after a few millenia. As Drake’s dragon-form is yellow-gold, he becomes known as Amberdrake.

Magic indeed comes easily to Drake/Amberdrake, and he gets used to his new circumstances. But he’s lonely for human companionship; dragons, you see, aren’t the same thing at all. (They’re smart, dragons are, and they certainly have relationships. But they think on such a grand scale, you see.) In fact, the dragon Drake becomes closest to, Sahrendrake, takes human form at Drake’s suggestion…but therein lies a tale, and I don’t want to get in the way of your reading, so further editor sayeth not. (Hey, I can’t give it all away, can I?)

So, what can I tell you that won’t spoil your reading?

First off, Drake is a fun character. He’s a lovable rogue, the first one Loren’s ever written. (Yes, Drake has a conscience, but it’s on his time and his terms.) He enjoys life, he enjoys beer (especially the beer he makes himself!), he enjoys women (though he’s not a Lothario; he’s more of a serial monogamist than anything), and he definitely enjoys his food. Drake’s adventures are a blast of fresh air, and he acts just the way you’d think he should; his characterization is true to itself throughout, and that makes the book just that much more fun.

Second, I was encouraged by Drake’s personal growth during his journey in Vernardia. This is when Drake finally meets a woman (a human woman at that) who is up to his weight both magically and mentally, and gives as good as she gets…and the interpersonal journey Drake goes on is very well-drawn, especially considering it’s mostly done via subtext.

Third, there is so much rich detail here to be savored. (Again, I don’t want to spoil your reading, so I will stop…there. Yeah, there.)

In other words, I just adore Drake/Amberdrake, and I hope you will, too.

So do, please, check out the e-book version of THE CHRONICLES OF AMBERDRAKE, soonest…it’s only $2.99 for about 500 pages of pure, reading pleasure. (Is that too smarmy? Well, if it is, too bad. It’s my blog, so I can be as smarmy as I want.)

Written by Barb Caffrey

May 3, 2019 at 3:12 am

Posted in Books, Loren K. Jones