Barb Caffrey's Blog

Writing the Elfyverse . . . and beyond

Archive for March 2021

Yes, I’m Alive (Really)…

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Folks, the last few weeks haven’t been much fun at Chez Caffrey.

First, I’ve been dealing with some sort of digestive issue, so it’s not easy to eat much or keep it down. No one has any idea what this is about as of yet, though they did find out I have gallstones. (However, the surgeon I consulted said he felt it was an “incidental finding” and the gall bladder should remain inside my body rather than yanked.)

Second, because I haven’t been able to eat as well as I’d like, my energy has been affected. This means the five — yes, five — editing projects on the table have all been slowed. (I haven’t stopped, though. I am still working on them, and two are close to completion, while the others are all in various stages.)

Third, because of all this, my online time has been much less than usual. And that time mostly has gone into reassuring my clients that I’m not dead and am doing the best I can.

I legitimately have felt too awful to even write a short bloglet for you all, to let you know what’s been going on. Everything seems like it’s been a big blur since I was in the ER a week-plus ago, when they found the gallstones.

But that’s only a rationalization. And I think you, my readers, deserve more than that.

When I started this blog nearly eleven years ago, I vowed to myself to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth (so help me Deity) even when I felt rotten. I wanted others out there to know that they weren’t alone if they were battling physical illnesses; I wanted others to know that I, too, understood.

In that vein, I am openly admitting that my health has been rock-bottom bad for the last three weeks or so. I have no answers for what’s wrong. And it’s been all I can do to get out of the house a few times a week, go see my Mom and her dog as per usual, and carry on.

I am extremely frustrated by this as-yet unknown illness. If I had my druthers, I would wake up tomorrow free of it, with boundless energy, and be able to spend many hours editing, then going over to see my Mom, then come back and do many more hours of editing. I pride myself on getting things done, dammit, and this is no way to get stuff done.

That said, I am alive. And where there’s life, there’s hope.

I hope to be back writing more blogs about books, life, the universe, and everything ASAP. But for now, I’d best go back to rest a bit, so I can edit and get a few of these projects out the door. (My clients depend on me. I’d better step up and get it done, no matter what.)

Written by Barb Caffrey

March 29, 2021 at 6:23 pm

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“Stay Calm” — A Message From the Past

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Folks, last year about this time I wrote the following message on Facebook, and I continue to stand by it:

Try to stay calm. This has thrown people for a loop, having their lives upended this way. Remember to do whatever you can to stay on an even keel (or as even as possible). Reach out to your friends and loved ones. Care, and keep on caring…never stop trying. That’s my advice.

(Of course, I was referring to Covid-19 when I said “this.”)

Most of us, for the past year, have struggled mightily due to the various restrictions and changes that Covid brought into our lives. Depression has been on the rise. People have been cut off from one another, been unable to touch each other or even stand within six feet of each other unless you’re all in the same household.

Human beings aren’t meant to live this way, which is partly why we’ve in general felt disconnected, anxious, and fearful. (I call ’em as I see ’em.)

But we can still help each other. We can let others know we care. We can reach out, as often as it takes, to let our loved ones hear the love in our voices. (Or, I suppose, our online presences.)

For my friends battling depression, my hope is that you will read this little bloglet today (or whenever) and realize that sometimes, the best we can do is the best we can do. Refusing to give up, refusing to believe that everything is always going to be bleak (or worse, black), and refusing to succumb to despair are all within our grasp. We just have to tell ourselves things will improve. Or at least that they can improve, and we have to stay around to find out just how they’re going to do that.

I also have one suggestion that may do you some good, especially if you’re battling depression.

Remember the Zen Buddhist trick I believe I’ve mentioned before (that my late husband Michael taught me)? Take fifteen minutes, and feel everything: all the pain, all the anger, yes, even all the despair. Whatever you’re feeling, go ahead and wallow in it for fifteen minutes. Then, after that, tell yourself, “Self, I have heard you. I appreciate what you’re saying. But it’s time to get on with everything else.”

Sometimes, that little trick has saved my sanity. Maybe it’ll save yours, too. (Here’s hoping.)

Written by Barb Caffrey

March 15, 2021 at 8:13 pm

Friday Reading Fun: Chris Nuttall’s Two Newest Fantasy Novels Are Out…

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Folks, I have to admit that I am biased in favor of Chris Nuttall. I often edit for him, and indeed edited the two newest books I’m about to talk about here at my blog. (One, THE RIGHT SIDE OF HISTORY, I co-edited with author and editor Christine Amsden, and of course Twilight Times Books publisher Lida Quillen also keeps an eye on things, so it’s like having three editors for the price of two.) But as with Kayelle Allen’s newest book SURRENDER LOVE, these books are just so much fun that I have to write about them.

First, take a look at this gorgeous cover by artist Brad Fraunfelter:

THE RIGHT SIDE OF HISTORY is the 22nd book in the Schooled in Magic series, and stars Emily, a young woman from our Earth’s Kansas who was translated to the Nameless World in her mid-teens. Emily was bookish to a fault before she was brought over; unfortunately, she was originally meant to be a human sacrifice to a necromancer. She was saved, at the last minute, by an enigmatic man who goes by the name of Void. (I have to put it that way, as true names are seen as more powerful than not, so most sorcerers and sorceresses go by use-names or partial names like a nickname.)

In the intervening twenty books since the original SCHOOLED IN MAGIC novel, Emily has grown, changed, and developed. She’s unquestionably powerful, and as Void’s surrogate daughter (he’s more or less adopted her; the people in that world think she’s his true offspring), she’s recently been on an extended internship with Void learning about the roots of magic. She’s also killed six or seven necromancers along the way, not to mention several people who wished her ill. And during most of the novels, she’s had a running adversarial relationship with a young woman named Nanette…and yes, that’s relevant to the discussion. (Trust me.)

So, Emily starts off THE RIGHT SIDE OF HISTORY by fighting off a posse of corrupt magicians in the pay of one of her adversaries, Master Lucknow. (Chris would tell you I’m skimming over a lot of stuff, here, but I’m trying to highlight the best without getting unduly bogged down in details. That’s hard in a twenty-two-book series.) Void helps her at the last minute, as he often does, then Emily is taken into custody by Lucknow under the eyes of Void and Emily’s mentor, Lady Barb. (Yes, she’s named after me. But she has blue eyes, for one…I definitely don’t. Going on…) That way, Emily can have as close to a fair trial as possible, while Void goes and rallies her other allies (of which Emily has many.)

Now, how did Void know Emily was in trouble again? This time, her boyfriend — a young sorcerer by the name of Jan — went to go get him. This was a real problem for Jan, because he had been an apprentice of Master Lucknow’s. (When you work against your master, that effectively ends your apprenticeship nine times out of ten.) Jan isn’t as engaging as Emily’s two previous boyfriends, Caleb and Cat, nor have we seen as much of him as we’ve seen of Caleb and Cat. (Emily has a talent for keeping her friends close, even if they once were her boyfriends.) But he did the right thing here, and that’s all that counts.

Anyway, a deal is brokered by another of Emily’s allies, Queen Alassa of Zangaria. (Emily is a Baroness there, though she truly doesn’t like it.) Alassa and Emily are old friends (to the point Emily does not have to say Your Majesty except in public), and the deal brokered is for Emily to go to Alluvia — a place that’s in massive unrest, partly because the peasantry there have risen in Emily’s name.

Of course Emily had nothing to do with that, but that was one of the justifications Master Lucknow was using to get her arrested, tried, and jailed. So it has to be mentioned as a plot point.

What is Emily going to find there? How does Nanette play into this mess? And will Jan lose his apprenticeship, or not? All of these questions, along with some truly shocking plot twists, will be answered by the end of THE RIGHT SIDE OF HISTORY.

You may have noticed that I haven’t mentioned Void much since the beginning. There is a reason for that. He is key to the end, in such a way that I can’t talk about it unless I want to give the whole game away. (And I truly don’t want to do that; what’s the point in you going to read the book if I do?)

Next, it’s time for another lovely cover, again by artist Brad Fraunfelter:

In THE FAMILY NAME, we have two equally compelling stories going on at the same time.

First is Akin Rubén, the Heir Primus to the Rubén Family (a huge family that is wealthy, well-run, and overly proud of its descent from nobles from the old Thousand-Year Empire). Akin is engaged to a young woman, Caitlyn Aguirre (known as Cat; note that Cat in this series is a very capable woman, while Cat in the Schooled in Magic ‘verse is a very capable man). Technically, they’re betrothed, and have been since about age twelve; this was done to broker a peace deal at the time as the Aguirre family is also extremely wealthy and powerful. The two of them together can perhaps steer a more peaceful course, but there’s infighting within and without both families that’s been causing distress since they were betrothed. Fortunately, Akin and Cat have grown to love one another, and truly want to be married.

Second is Isabella Rubén, the disgraced twin sister of Akin. If you read THE FAMILY SHAME (and I truly hope you have; it’s a marvelous book), you know that Isabella has dealt with major changes in her life that were brought on because she’d taken part in an attempted coup with a disgruntled member of the Aguirre family, Stregharia. Only the fact that Isabella was just twelve at the time saved her life, and she was packed off to remote Kirkhaven to deal with a mad warlock named Ira. She did that, but along the way met a young man, Callam, who has similar talents as Akin’s fiancée Cat does. They both have these talents (Callam and Cat) because they have no magic at all, which is rare in that world, but necessary for the forging of powerful Objects of Power. (Think of it as blacksmithing and you’re not too far wrong.)

Anyway, Isabella and Callam have become engaged because of a true bond, same as Cat and Akin. However, when Isabella at long last is recalled to her home, she finds much trouble brewing. Will she be a factor in the instability, or will she back her brother? And what will Callam think of it all?

As for Akin, what will he do when the faction in his family tries to interrupt his plans to marry Cat? Will he stick with the family? Will he run? Will he back his sister in her schemes (if she indeed has any)? And what will he think of Callam?

All of this, plus a whole lot more, is in store for you as you read THE FAMILY NAME.

I’m proud to have worked on both of these books, and urge you to read them without delay if you love young adult fantasy (mixed with romance more so in THE FAMILY NAME). They’re fun reads, both of ’em, yet they have a lot of questions for you to ponder once they’re done. And as both series have progressed, Chris gets better and better at telling a full story, yet always leaving people to want much more. (Further editor sayeth not.)

Written by Barb Caffrey

March 5, 2021 at 4:44 am

Why You Need to Read Kayelle Allen’s SURRENDER LOVE (Especially if You Love Romances)

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My friend Kayelle Allen just released a new book called SURRENDER LOVE. And this book is so much fun, I just had to write a blog about it.

So, what is SURRENDER LOVE about? (Yes, I can hear you asking that question.) It’s about the healing power of love, and about how universal love can be, regardless of who the lovers are or what species they come from. The book is set in the far future, where humanity has spread out to twenty-two planets and other groups, including the Kin (Felinoids who can breed with humans/humanoids), have been discovered.

In this case, SURRENDER LOVE is a male/male romance (between two men) featuring Luc Saint-Cyr, a nearly immortal man who’s lived many lifetimes but has never found true love, and Izzorah Ceeow, a young man from the Kin race. Izzorah, also known as Izzy, is a drummer for a successful rock band. But he’s not in the best of health despite his young age (he’s a legal adult, but only by a year or two), and has had to grow up fast due to his homelife. (More on that in a bit.)

First, here’s a banner for you…I love the purple color, and the stars in the background.

Anyway, Luc is a very complex man.** He’s had many relationships with men, women, and other sentients of various types (as Luc is pansexual), but Luc has never found true happiness. He’s mostly blamed himself for this, though the fact that humans live so much shorter of lives than he does as a quasi-immortal Sempervian (his planet of origin, roughly) has made it extremely difficult for Luc as he usually can’t tell his lovers who and what he is. (Why? Well, there’s a society of immortals that are hiding in plain sight. But that’s not important to know at the start; just know that’s part of the background.)

Izzy, on the other hand, is an open book. He is a kind, empathetic, and smarter than he thinks. And yet because he’s “sahnamay,” (which means gay in the Kin language), he had to run from his home planet because it’s matrilineal and gay men there can be put to death by the women in power.

I mentioned Izzy’s homelife before. He has great parents who understand him, but they either don’t realize he’s gay or don’t know what to do about it. They have brokered a marriage to a woman who leads a powerful clan, and Izzy’s heard horrible things about that woman. (She’s a sociopath, to put it bluntly.) He decides to run for it, despite the fact that he’s all but blind due to a childhood illness. And he manages to make it to the spaceport, and makes his way to Tarth (where Luc resides). Once there, he auditions for and is accepted by the rock band, and becomes wildly popular. But he hasn’t told anyone he’s gay for obvious reasons…

…then he meets Luc. (Play some happy music behind this. Preferably rock, in Izzy’s honor. But I digress…)

In the excerpt that follows, Luc’s coming off a bad breakup with a human man. He and Izzy are talking privately, and Izzy’s talent for understanding smells at a deep level comes in handy (as you’ll see):

“You didn’t know what to do when he left, did you?” Izzorah played with one of Luc’s buttons. “Should you forget him? Try to win him back?”

“I tried making him jealous by having an affair with a Kin male named Jawk.” A tinge of lavender and bitter nutmeg sparked, showing Luc’s regret. “What a pointless attempt that was. I doubt anything I did would have kept Wulf from leaving. He was already in love and we were finished.” Luc faced Izzorah. “Pardon me for rambling. I shouldn’t have burdened you with that.”

“No, you needed to tell it. You’re glad it’s over, but it still hurt.”

“It did. I tried telling myself it wasn’t happening. That I didn’t love him anyway, but–” Luc stopped. “I did. Wulf and I lived in the same house but led separate lives. It was pitiful, the way things ended. No final conflict. No big blowup. More like air leaking from a balloon. I let him go. Gave him my blessing. Then moped because I was alone. I was pathetic.”

“No. You’d never be that. Breakups are a kind of death. The loss aches. Slowness doesn’t make it less painful.”

“True.” Luc’s focus made Izzorah’s mouth go dry. But then the man smiled, and it warmed Izzorah’s soul. Luc leaned his head against the wall. “You have incredible insight. And you’re right about the pain. With you, I’m at peace. Last thing I need is to fall in love with another heartbreaker. I’m hoping you don’t turn out to be that, because it’s too late.”

The truth was in Luc’s scent, a faint smell of sweet grass, along with fresh linen, showing respect. The mixture meant what Luc felt surprised him.

“I don’t understand.” Izzorah understood all right, but Luc needed to admit it to himself. That was in his scent too. And Izzorah wanted to hear the words. “Too late for what?”

“Too late for me to turn back. I’ve already fallen for you.”

Izzorah scooted closer to Luc. “I promise.”

Luc shifted a bit, allowing Izzorah to fit against him. “Tell me what you mean by that.” He looked down.

Holding Luc’s dark gaze, Izzorah smiled. “That I’ll be what you need.”

“Will you, now?” Patience and amusement eddied through Luc’s scent in an appealing mixture. With one hand, Luc stroked Izzorah’s hair and then he coiled a strand around one finger. “Suppose you tell me what you think that is.”

Izzorah curled up against Luc’s chest and wrapped one arm over Luc’s waist. “A shelter for your heart.”

——— End Excerpt ——–

SURRENDER LOVE is a wonderful book about the healing power of love. I urge you to read it ASAP, especially if you love your romance with a healthy dose of SF&F.

Note: If you haven’t read A STOLEN HEART yet, about Luc’s adventures with Senthys “Senth” Antonello at age three, you need to read that book…yes, you will understand SURRENDER LOVE without it, but you’ll have so much better of a reading experience if you’ve read A STOLEN HEART first.

Written by Barb Caffrey

March 3, 2021 at 11:15 pm

Thinking Hard…Or Something Like That

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The last few days, I’ve been thinking hard about a manuscript I’m editing. While I do this on a regular basis, I don’t always have to stop and think for several days in a row. But that’s why I decided to write this blog, as I thought it might interest someone out there…and at least it’s something different.

When I am editing a manuscript, I tend to narrow down to a laser-like focus. (An actual laser, of course, would wreck my computer.) There are many things I look for, including continuity issues, clarity of thought, whether there’s enough description (or, very occasionally, if there’s too much that has to be pruned away), and much more.

But the one thing that always makes me stop and think about a book in a lengthy series is this: Will this book represent the series to date as it stands? And if it doesn’t, what does it need in order to do so?

When you’re in a series, readers have an expectation of how well-known characters are going to act. Even if the characters are doing something completely different — as they should, or you’re just writing the same book over and over (and what in the Hell is the point of that, anyway?) — the way a character acts has to ring true.

Right now I have two different series books by two different authors on the table. One, right off, I told the author I loved it and I thought she got her characterization down cold. For the second book with the second author, I said that I enjoyed the book, but it needs more in several places to flesh it out some in order to make it truly shine.

Mind, when I realize a book is missing something, sometimes it takes me a few days to figure out just exactly what that is, much less what I can suggest to fix it. Here, I saw some of the issues right away, but not necessarily all. And until my mind figures out enough that I can go back to the manuscript with, I have to leave that manuscript alone until it does.

It’s most vexing, trust me.

Anyway, I once read an interview with a writer who said that her subconscious mind blocks her if she is missing something in a plot. I sometimes wonder if that is what’s going on with me with regards to editing someone else’s work in a situation like this.

What I’m going to have to do is, with that second author/second book I’m talking about, is hope that I can sleep on the problem and wake up with a solution. (With the first book/first author, it’s just a matter of me finishing up the second editorial pass, then sending it on its merry way.) The author in question is very good with making changes, so once I figure it out I’m sure my input will be understood and taken into account.

(When you edit independently, as I often do, all you can do is suggest. You can’t insist, as that won’t get you anywhere. If your suggestions are cogent, usually an author dealing with you is going to try his/her/their best to address your editorial concerns.)

So, at the moment I’m thinking hard, but coming up empty.

Other than that, I did want to clue you in on an interesting blog I intend to write later today or tomorrow on behalf of writer Kayelle Allen. Her newest book is called SURRENDER LOVE, and it’s a far-future male/male romance. I loved working on this, as one of the two men in the relationship, Izzorah (or Izzy for short) is just a sweetheart. Izzy has empathy to burn, and I enjoy seeing that in my romances. The far-future stuff is all well-done, too. And the other man in the relationship, Luc, is complex, sometimes difficult, but takes on new dimensions once he gets involved with Izzy. (If you think you’ve seen me talk about Luc before, you’re right. He’s also the hero of A STOLEN HEART, a lovely story about an alienated man fostering a three-year-old half-human, half-alien child, and how that relationship between them changes Luc for the better.)

So, look for me to talk more about that later. (I still have plenty to say about Luc, Izzy, and their milieu.)

What did you think of this blog? Do you have any tips or tricks you use when editing either for yourself or someone else when you get stalled? Tell me about it in the comments!

Written by Barb Caffrey

March 2, 2021 at 5:05 am

Posted in Editing, Writing

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