Barb Caffrey's Blog

Writing the Elfyverse . . . and beyond

Archive for December 2019

A Writer’s Meditation: Can People Change?

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This is one of my more experimental blog posts. I hope you find it useful.

People change in stories. I love that about writing.

In fact, if there is no change at all in a story, there is no story. So you’d better have change, you’d better account for the change, and you’d better understand just what change is going to do if you’re writing a story.

But in real life, it’s a lot murkier.

For years on end, it seems like people don’t change at all. For good or bad, their situations stay the same. (Though the way you approach your situation can indeed change, as if you’re changing the lens on a camera to get sharper emphasis, the actual mess you’re in stays the same day after day, year after year.) And it makes it harder to explain their stories, because a steady state does not — in general — tell a compelling story.

Now, someone else telling you the story of your life as they see it may indeed be compelling. That’s because they hit the high points. They usually skip the low points, or maybe make those low points into something that turned into grist for the mill and self-improvement galore. (And as I’ve said before, it’s all grist for the mill.)

But how you see yourself? How you see the folks around you that you’re closest to? How you see the situations you tend to be in, and what you do about them, and what happens after you’ve done (or not done) those things?

In general, we tend to see sameness in ourselves. Because we want to recognize who we are, cradle to grave; we want to know exactly why we’re doing what we are, even when sometimes that’s impossible; we don’t want to live lives without meaning and resonance and value.

That’s sensible, too. It’s a good evolutionary strategy.

But it messes with the thought of change. Because we all do change in our lives. We learn things. We improve, or sometimes don’t; we take the experiences we’ve had, and use them as a way to give the framework of our lives more meaning, more value, and more understanding.

Or at least, we should do this if we’re smart.

But it’s hard. So hard, it’s much easier to explain when someone else has changed, rather than recognizing it in and of your own self.

And recognizing you need new and different experiences for self-growth and actualization is even harder, sometimes, because it feels like a betrayal of the self and a loss of the framework of the person you thought you knew.

Ultimately, I think change is going to happen. But it depends on how much you “lean in” to it versus opposing it at every turn. And it’s conditional upon understanding that you, yourself, are still a work-in-progress…

My view, in summation, is that people do change. But they don’t always recognize it. And when they do recognize it, sometimes, they don’t like it very much.

The good thing about that? When you realize you don’t like something, you can change it to better fit yourself, your values, and your goals. Or at least you can change the way you look at it, in order to find more peace with what you’re dealing with and less stress.

Written by Barb Caffrey

December 28, 2019 at 3:15 pm

Book Recommendations, Plus My Review of Jason Cordova’s “A Christmas Surprise”

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Folks, I’ve wanted to write a blog for weeks now about several books I’ve enjoyed, either reading or editing. But as I read a book last night I truly wasn’t expecting whatsoever — Jason Cordova’s A CHRISTMAS SURPRISE, I want to lead with that review first. (I’ll cut and paste from my Amazon review, as I never know exactly when that will go up. Or even if.)

Here goes:

I didn’t know Jason Cordova had something like A CHRISTMAS SURPRISE in him. Lately he’s been writing dark, depressing, and despairing military SF, where most of the characters die and the few who remain never seem to remark on what’s gone missing.

Thank goodness he took a detour and wrote a smart, sweet, and timely Christmas story for a change instead.

Bluntly, I loved A CHRISTMAS SURPRISE. It was a fast read, and probably is intended for kids aged about eight and up; it’s also a clean read, with no profanity whatsoever. (Another surprise, as sometimes in Cordova’s work I can count how many people are going to die by the amount of f-bombs used in process.) It has a great message for Christmas, too: we have to work together with people who don’t look like us, and maybe people (or in this case, a baby kaiju, one of the most adorable kaiju I’ve ever seen in print — another thing that looks like a misnomer, but isn’t) will surprise you if you give them a chance.

I was also pleasantly surprised with the resonance here — how the story sounds, in addition to how well it reads — as it has a style that was reminiscent, at least to me, of C.S. Lewis’s work in the Narnia series. (While Cordova doesn’t bring in a brand new mythology, he does talk briefly of all the different ways Christmas is celebrated around the world, and a Hawai’ian moon goddess is a significant player.)

Overall, this is a can’t-miss Christmas SFnal tale of hope, faith, optimism, and the true meaning of Christmas (giving, rather than receiving, in addition to gifts not being what you may want, but instead what you need). And I loved the little baby kaiju, Georgie, something fierce.

Five stars-plus, with the highest recommendation possible.

And please, write more in this vein, Jason. You have a gift for it.

Barb Caffrey

OK, now that I’ve gotten your attention, here are a few more books I want you to check out.

First, take a look at Ken Lizzi’s KARL THORSON AND THE JADE DAGGER. I edited this book, and I know it’s wonderful. Karl is a military vet and a type of “muscle-for-hire” at the site of an important archaeological excavation, and many things happen to Karl that he never could’ve expected. There is true magic here, as well as the ever-present fight between good and evil; there is a good deal of character-based humor; there are many, many excellently rendered fight scenes; there’s a swift-moving story; there’s a wonderfully compelling and spare, yet still luxuriant, writing style.

And — best of all — it’s only ninety-nine cents as an e-book. (How sweet is that?)

Next, take a gander at Loren K. Jones’s latest, THE LEGEND OF MARY DEATH. I also edited this book, and I know it’s a terrific read. Loren’s main character, Marydyth “Mary Death” Zel’Karyn, is a renowned swordswoman. She’s also a trailblazer, a Captain of Cavalry, then a Knight of Justice…eventually also a wife, mother, and teacher. If you’ve read any of Loren’s previous work, most especially the books in the Stavin Kel’Aniston series, you may recognize Mary a bit. (But only a bit, because in those books, she was legend. They knew she’d lived, and existed, but what she found important in her life and what the legends found important may not have been one and the same.)

What I found the most fun about this book was how Mary, herself, hated her nickname of “Mary Death.” She never wanted to be “Mary Death,” and the only reason the nickname took off was because one of her officers burped in the middle of her name during a bit of drunken revelry after a decisive battle. (Hee hee!)

But there’s so much here for people to like, if they just pick up the book. It’s not selling as well as Loren’s previous books, perhaps because people are out Xmas shopping and it may not seem as timely as some books. But if you enjoy fun, fast adventure with a bit of romance along with the power of trailblazing women, you’ll enjoy THE LEGEND OF MARY DEATH.

Finally, there are two books of Chris Nuttall’s I want to point out. (No, he doesn’t need the help, but I enjoyed the books so I may as well mention them. Humph.) The first of these is his latest in the Schooled in Magic series, MIRROR IMAGE. His heroine, Emily, is trying to get a magical university off the ground in the Nameless World (the world she was transported to, way back in book 1, by a necromancer she later killed). And it’s not going well…plus she has to deal with tensions both mundane and magical, as well as an alternate-universe versions of several people…perhaps including Emily herself.

Mind, as this is book eighteen in the SIM series, it’s probably not the best place to start it. But I do think you would understand most of it if you haven’t read any…still, the first few books in the series are on sale for ninety-nine cents, so if you haven’t read any of this compelling magical series yet, you should.

And as I am one of two editors for this series (and yes, we both work on every single book in the series, one way or another), I know how wonderful they are. (So do get to getting, will you?)

And the second of Chris’s books — the last of my recommendations for this Saturday before Xmas — is the sixth book in his Learning Experience series, THEIR LAST FULL MEASURE. This is military SF at its most deadly, with an alien race in the Tokomak that wants to wipe all humans off the map as they feel threatened. Chris’s twist is that the Tokomak could’ve once been humanity’s ally, if only the Tokomak hadn’t looked inward and stagnated. (And then started to hate everyone who was able to continue to adapt, of course.)

Of course, that’s not stated full-out, but it’s there. (I know this, again, ’cause I edited it.)

Not to mention, there are space battles galore, some expeditions behind enemy lines, some new and dangerous tech, a bit of romance between long-term couples…you name it, THEIR LAST FULL MEASURE probably has it.

So, there you have it! Some book recommendations you probably weren’t expecting, and one I definitely, myself, wasn’t expecting…but that’s the fun of the Christmas season, isn’t it?

Enjoy!

——

P.S. You may have noticed I didn’t have any cover photos. I’m sorry about that. But if the authors in question will get them to me, I will be happy to incorporate them into this post at a later date. (You have been warned.)

 

Written by Barb Caffrey

December 21, 2019 at 9:20 am

Holiday Musings on a Prescient Bob Costas Quote

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“I am a firm believer in this: one of the measures of a person is how do they treat someone they have no reason to believe can do them any good.” — Bob Costas, legendary sportscaster, quoted in MADDEN: A Biography, p. 189-90**

Bob Costas is right.

How you treat people is what matters. Whether they can help you in the moment or not, how you act when the world’s supposedly not watching is what defines your character.

But not everyone believes this.

Why? Well, there there are so many people in this life that can’t seemingly do us any good. From your local grocery cashier, to the clerk at the gas station, to the folks who answer telephones for your local Congresscritters, these are folks that some people seem to believe are disposable.

Obviously, I am not among them.

What you do for a living is not what matters. Who you are — that is what matters.

Your character, your soul, your willingness to understand others even if they seem very different from yourself…this is what separates good people from bad, in my opinion.

But in case you disagree, I want you to consider the following:

We are all human beings, fallible and mortal. We all have hopes, dreams, fears, and struggles. You name it, we all have it. And we are all worthy of care, consideration and respect.

I’d believe this even if I hadn’t been, often, in the situation where I was the one who seemingly “couldn’t do any good” for someone.

Please do your best, especially at this critical time of the year with the holidays fast approaching, to remember the Golden Rule. “Do unto others as you would have done unto you.”

That may help you recall that there are no disposable people.

We all matter, each and every one. We should be treated respectfully, with care, with consideration, and with as much compassion as possible.

Remember Bob Costas’ quote.

It is important. And so are you.

——–

**This quote stuck with me, even after I finished reading MADDEN: A Biography. It’s an older thought, but it’s well-encapsulated by Bob Costas here…and I realized, at the time, that I needed to come talk about this further.

Written by Barb Caffrey

December 20, 2019 at 2:05 am

To The Grieving…Some Thoughts

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Folks, I have written about this subject before, most notably here, here, and here. And I’ve also pointed out the many difficult problems when it comes to grief in a few essays, most notably this one on Lois McMaster Bujold’s GENTLEMAN JOLE AND THE RED QUEEN and this one on Debbie Macomber’s HANNAH’S LIST. But I have even more thoughts on the subject of grief, so…here we go again.

Grief is incredibly hard to deal with. I know I’m not telling you anything new. But it’s because I want to give some sort of comfort that I’m writing again about grief, loss, and the frustrations at expressing all of it in words, in the hopes that someone out there will understand that he or she is not alone.

I have a number of friends who are grieving. Some are recent widows and widowers. Some have been widows and widowers for quite some time. But all are hurting, because their spouses and the loves of their lives are not here on this Earth anymore. Yet they are left behind, powerless to do anything except remember what was, and what never will be again. And none of them, not one, knows what to do except putting one foot in front of the other, because it hurts so badly to go on when you’ve sustained such a deep loss.

I don’t believe in platitudes or weasel-words. So I refuse to say that eventually it’ll get easier to handle the loss of your spouse to anyone. Especially as I haven’t found it to be such at all.

But I can give at least a little comfort to those of you who are suffering, because I’ve been through it. (Sometimes, still going through it. One slow step at a time.) I do understand where you are, why you hurt so badly, and why you’re angry that you’re in this place at all.

Death comes for us all, yes. But sometimes it comes so early, it’s impossible to process. As advice columnist Carolyn Hax of the Washington Post put it recently, “Here we were, thinking we were X. And now the universe says, ‘nope, now you’re going to be Y.'” (My elaboration on that theme is, “And too bad that you enjoyed being X, ’cause you’re not going to get to be X again.” So no wonder why we hate it, no? But I digress.)

What I have found is that over time, I can handle the pain a little better.

But I’m not going to lie. I still hate it. The man who understood me, loved me, and appreciated me the most in all the worlds and time is on the Other Side, and I am still here. I defy anyone to tell me why this is a good thing.

Yet I have also figured out — slowly, painfully, and painstakingly — that as long as I live, at least a part of my husband lives on in me. (In the “two shall become one” sense, if nothing else.) And that gives me great comfort.

But I want to say one more thing to those of you grieving right now. (Ready?)

Your life matters. Not just because you were the spouse of someone wonderful who’s passed on to eternity. But because you, yourself, are an incredible person with much to offer the world. And unique gifts of your own that your spouse, were they here to tell you, would want you to continue using to the best of your ability.

I know it doesn’t feel like that now. It can’t. You are hurting, you wonder what in the Hell the point is, and you wonder why on Earth you’re still here when your spouse isn’t.

But it’s still the truth.

You matter. And as long as you live, you can still affect the outcome at least a little bit, while keeping the memory of your beloved spouse alive.

So walk on, with your memories and your love intact. And never listen to the fools and idiots out there who may say “get over it” and “move on,” as those are both impossible and irrelevant to the grieving process.

Written by Barb Caffrey

December 10, 2019 at 5:26 am

Posted in Widowhood

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Just Trying to Get By…

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As the blog title says, the mood around Chez Caffrey tonight is exactly that: trying to get by.

I can’t ignore the stresses in the world. They bother me. And I can do so little about them.

For example, I hate it that the people in Hong Kong, who are protesting for democracy, are not being backed up by the United States in word or deed. (I don’t want the U.S. to go to war with China. But this is a situation where diplomacy might’ve done some good. Yet the Congress, as well as the President, remains for the most part eerily silent.)

I also am unhappy by much of what I’ve seen and heard regarding the impeachment inquiry in the U.S. Congress. Everything I’ve read (and I have read the entire 300-page report put out by the Congress yesterday) shows that President Trump seems to believe that Presidents are like Kings, and can do whatever they like. I can’t abide that. And I don’t understand why others can.

Mind, I believe in the rule of law. If the Senate, which probably will get the impeachment from the House sooner or later (the House hasn’t taken a vote yet), refuses to carefully ponder the evidence, I will be extremely unhappy. And if they do what Senator Lindsay Graham (R-SC) has already said he will and refuse to even read the evidence, that will make me furious.

These people are not being paid to duck the evidence. They are being paid to do what is in the best interests of the country.

Not their party. The country.

Anyway, I mention all of this because it does weigh on my mind. And I can do so little about it.

What I can do, mind, is write about it. (Which you see, for what good it does.) I can register people to vote when my health is strong enough. I can also weigh the evidence, when it fully comes out, in my own mind, with my own knowledge of the U.S. Constitution, and decide for myself what I’d do if I were in the Senate.

(Hint, hint: I do not believe in party over country. I believe in what John McCain did. Country over party. Or as John Quincy Adams said, “Always vote for principle, though you may vote alone.”)

Mind, if the evidence ultimately isn’t there, then it’s not. (Though it’s hard to believe right now there won’t be enough evidence to show that. And if you doubt me, go read that report and put “Obama” in there instead of Trump. Would you think this behavior is OK then? But I digress.)

The evidence should be heard, should be weighed, should be measured…and if the folks in the Senate who are apparently blinded by Donald Trump’s cult of personality can’t figure out that what the current president has done will be used as a measuring stick for all presidents to follow, then they are idiots. (And should be voted out of office forthwith.)

Anyway, I see all this, and wonder what in the Hell the point is. There’s so little I can affect. And it bothers me.

But all I can do, from day to day, is be my best self.

(And so should you, even though it may seem completely pointless to try.)

So, I’ll keep on trying to get by. And as I do that, I’ll continue to work on my writing, my editing, my music, and whatever other abilities I have that can do some people some good somewhere…as that’s all I know how to do.

——

P.S. We still do live in a free society. I am grateful for this. I am able to say what I feel, in a way I feel is right, and not be hauled off to jail for doing so.

May it continue ever so.