Barb Caffrey's Blog

Writing the Elfyverse . . . and beyond

Archive for August 2021

Hey, #MLB: What’s With the Terrible Umps?

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This year in baseball, I’ve seen more awful calls by umpires than ever before.

I know this seems hyperbolic, but it’s true. The umps have made bad call after bad call after bad call. I don’t know who’s supervising them, but something has to be done.

Why am I saying this, other than the fact that I’m annoyed with the umps? Because over the weekend, my Milwaukee Brewers had a series with the Minnesota Twins in Minnesota. The umpires, led by crew chief Brian Gorman, made plenty of bad calls, most having to do with the strike zone. (For non-baseball fans, the strike zone is generally from the batter’s knees to the top of the letters on his jersey. The pitch also has to be reasonably close to the batter. Pitches that hit the zone but are in the opposite side’s batter’s box are balls, not strikes, because they’re too far away.)

But the most egregious thing was this: Bench coach Pat Murphy brought a lineup card out on Saturday night, and somehow managed to get ejected before the game even started. As Murphy is not known to be a hothead, and seems for the most part to be a rather calm and collected person, this made absolutely no sense whatsoever.

Now, you may be asking, “So, Barb, they have instant replay now. Why aren’t these calls being fixed by the instant replay folks?”

First, there is no such thing as an instant replay of a ball or strike count. No matter how bad it is, it can’t be challenged by instant replay.

Second, on the plays that can be challenged (such as a close play at first base, say), the instant replay people seem to get it wrong at least 40% of the time.

Third, sometimes it seems like all of the umpires have no idea what they’re doing in a major league baseball stadium. (And I say this being a fan of former umpire Ron Luciano, who was one of the most ebullient and charismatic umps to ever work a major league game.)

I know that major league baseball (MLB) has procedures to grade umpires on what they’re doing and what they’re not doing. But I have no idea if MLB realizes just how bad some of these umps are, as they don’t tell us anything about these evaluations.

Now, I will admit that I am especially frustrated because there have been not one, not two, but three umpires — female umps — in triple-A baseball in the past thirty to forty years that were every bit as good as the male umps, but never got a chance to umpire in a major league, regular season game.

Yet we have these yahoos out there, who are willing to throw out a bench coach before a pitch is ever thrown, and before a game has even started.

My solution would be to make the umpire evaluations public. (At least that they’re doing them. Please!) And take another look at the current female umps in the minor league system, if you would, ’cause I can’t believe they’d be any worse than some of the idiots we have up here now. (All apologies to the good umps, as I know there are still some in MLB. But really, this is just wrong.)

Written by Barb Caffrey

August 29, 2021 at 8:23 pm

Kindness Matters

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Folks, the last week has been often frustrating. The news — particularly the airlifts from Afghanistan after the collapse of their government, and the pullout of American troops — has been depressing in the extreme. And it’s seemed that nothing I can do — or that anyone could do — will matter.

That is an illusion. (Granted, one that’s particularly difficult to fight.)

Why?

Well, kindness matters. And one action — one kind thought, word, or deed — can change things for the better.

For example, some of the folks airlifted from Afghanistan are being housed, temporarily, at Fort McCoy up in Sparta, WI. (It’s actually kind of in between Sparta and Tomah. Both are smallish communities.) There are opportunities there to help the Afghani refugees; money is already being collected, I read at the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel, to help them acclimate to the United States. (I saw $50 increments, perhaps as gift cards to Target or Walmart, being suggested. But I’d imagine smaller amounts of money will also help, and I’m actively looking for ways to put my small amount of money with other people’s small amounts of money…again, I digress.)

These are kind acts for people who’ve lost everything, including their own culture and language.

(Yes, Americans are also being airlifted from Afghanistan, along with at-risk Afghani people such as former translators and others who worked with the U.S. government. But the Americans know how to acclimate. The Afghanis don’t.)

There are other kind things that you, or I, can do today.

“Barb, what are they? Since you won’t get off this subject, I may as well ask,” you say, in resignation.

Well, they start with talking to a friend you don’t often get to spend time with. (I did that last night. My friend and I chatted as I did laundry at the laundromat, by phone. Too bad I couldn’t do laundry by phone. Ah, well. Better get back to the blog…) Or, if you’re in the grocery store, helping someone who is a bit short with buying groceries to get what they need. (Only do this if you, yourself, can afford it.) Or maybe even something as simple as opening up an umbrella, and letting a stranger share with you, in a downpour…the options are endless, providing you keep an open mind and vow to do unto others as they’d do unto you. (Or as the Wiccans say, “An ye harm none, do what thou wilt.” It’s much the same philosophy.)

Ultimately, kindness is one of the strongest forces in the universe. It may not seem that way, with endless bad news happening day after day, from the never-ending pandemic to the Afghanistan mess to various state legislatures contemplating their own navels rather than trying to do anything productive. But without kindness, what would be the point?

After all, love starts with an act of kindness most of the time, doesn’t it? (It would be very, very odd if love started with acts of indifference. Or worse, outright hatred.)

Love is the strongest thing there is. But kindness, charity toward others, and the willingness to care even when all seems lost — as those poor Afghanis still undoubtedly care, up at Fort McCoy, getting used to a place they’d never before envisioned — is a close second.

So, whatever you do today, do it with kindness. Try to help a friend. Or even a stranger. But do it, because it’s the right thing to do.

Further the writer sayeth not.

Written by Barb Caffrey

August 23, 2021 at 5:03 am

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What Makes a Good Story?

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Recently, I wrote about Milwaukee Brewers relief pitcher John Axford, and I said that the way his story ended was not the way his story was supposed to go.

This begs the question: What makes for a good story, anyway?

By contemporary standards, what would’ve made Axford’s story much better would’ve been him coming into the game, striking out the side (or at least getting three outs), getting the save, and having the stadium rain cheers upon his head. (The crowd did cheer him when he came in — I think he may have even received a standing ovation — and cheered him on the way out, too, which is not usual when a pitcher is unable to get out of the inning. This last happened because we Brewers fans knew Axford well from his previous service with us, and knew he was deserving of such approbation due to how well he’d done before.)

In previous eras, though, they had stories such as MADAME BOVARY that sold a ton. Those stories would have characters put through the wringer and they’d never be able to come up for air; instead, even their children would be put through the wringer for no purpose, and would never be able to get ahead.

Why audiences appreciated such stories is beyond me, but that was the fashion at that time. The would-be heroine (or hero) had a tragic flaw (or two, or five), and because of that flaw would taint herself and everyone around her beyond any hope of redemption.

The fashion now tends more to happy endings, but well-deserved happy endings. Characters still get put through the wringer (see Lois McMaster Bujold’s MIRROR DANCE, or Katharine Eliska Kimbriel’s NIGHT CALLS, or any of Robert Jordan’s novels in the Wheel of Time series, among others), but they live to fight another day. They learn from their mistakes, too. And they continue on, having learned much more about themselves in the process.

Of course, the Harry Potter novels also exemplify this sort of story. Harry grows up to be a powerful magician, but he’s put through the wringer and must fight the big, bad, nasty, evil, and disgusting Lord Voldemort (and yes, I meant all those descriptions, as Voldemort is just that bad) in order to become the magician he needs to be. He and his friends Hermione and Ron are put through all sorts of awful things, but they eventually prevail.

My friend Chris Nuttall’s novels about Emily, starting with SCHOOLED IN MAGIC and continuing through to FACE OF THE ENEMY (with CHILD OF DESTINY coming soon), also have a plot that shows Emily being thrown into awful situation after awful situation, but she finds a way to prevail every time through hard work, effort, and a talent to get along with people even if they’ve crossed her (or she’s crossed them). Emily scans as a real person, and we care about her because she faces things most of us face even though we’re not magicians.

What are those things, you ask? Well, she has to learn from her own mistakes. She has to realize that she can’t fix everything and everyone. She has to find out that her snap judgments are not always correct. And she has to reevaluate people and situations, even when she doesn’t want to.

Of course, my own stories about Bruno and Sarah (AN ELFY ON THE LOOSE and A LITTLE ELFY IN BIG TROUBLE) have many of the same lessons. There are things Bruno can do, and does, once he realizes he’s been lied to about nearly everything. Sarah is in much the same boat, except she has different talents — complementary ones, in most cases — and the two of them have to find that they’re stronger together than they could ever be alone. But there are still things they can’t do, and they must make their peace with that (as every adult does), while continuing to work on the things they can.

In other words, they can control what is in their power to control. But they can’t control other people. (It would be wrong to do so, anyway. They have to make their own lives meaningful in whatever way they can, too. And make their own mistakes, as we all do…but I digress.)

Anyway, the stories I love best are those with happy endings. People sometimes start out with situations they don’t deserve (such as my friend Kayelle Allen’s character Izzorah, who went through a childhood illness that damaged his heart and nearly blinded him), but they get into better positions and find the people who can help them — maybe even love them the way they deserve. (Izzorah, for example, finds a treatment for his heart — it’s not a standard one, by any means, but it works in the context of the story — and finds love along the way in SURRENDER LOVE.)

So, to go back to the beginning of this blog, as we love happy endings and we want to see deserving people find good luck and happiness, the true ending we wanted for John Axford was to get the outs, get the cheers, bask in the glow of achieving his dreams once again at the baseball-advanced age of thirty-eight, and stay with the Brewers the rest of the season as they continue to make their run at postseason play.

That Axford was unable to achieve this happy ending was distressing. But all the hard work and effort he put into his return to the big leagues should still be celebrated. And my hope, overall, is that he will still be with the Brewers in one way or another after this season ends.

What makes for a good story? Do you agree or disagree with me, and if so, why? Tell me about it in the comments!

John Axford Rejoins Brewers, Gets Injured…Not the Way the Story Was Supposed to Go

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A few days ago, pitcher John Axford rejoined the Brewers, came out to pitch in the 9th inning to wild applause…then injured his elbow after first hitting a batter, then walking two (getting one out in the process). I could see the injury when he threw to the last batter (the second walk), as the elbow looked wrong in a way I can’t quite explain.

This was not the way the story was supposed to go.

Axford is now thirty-eight. He is the Brewers single-season saves leader with 46. And he’d recently pitched for Team Canada during Olympic qualifications, then was sent by the Toronto Blue Jays to their Triple-A ballclub as Axford had looked impressive and his velocity (upper nineties on the radar gun) was back. Then Toronto traded Axford, a then-minor league player, to the Brewers for cash considerations. This was a classy move by a classy organization.

To make matters even more interesting, Axford had worked for the Blue Jays as a TV analyst at the start of this season before making his comeback effort. (To say that all of this is quite uncommon, almost of a storybook quality, is understating Axford’s story.)

So, we return to Milwaukee and Axford’s appearance a few days ago. As I said, he came out to wild applause; there may have even been a standing ovation. (We Brewers fans do not forget our players.) Axford, who’d not pitched for the Brewers since 2013, seemed touched by this (I was watching TV, and saw his expressions). He warmed up on the mound, as every pitcher does, and he looked quite good.

I was happy to see Axford. I wrote about him years ago (that’s why I have a “John Axford” category here at my blog), and I know he’s a quality human being and a class act. I also knew that he’s not the type of guy to accept a challenge unless he believes he can beat that challenge.

Anyway, during the first at-bat by the opposing team (Pittsburgh), he looked impressive. His fastball was hitting 94 or 95 mph consistently and hit 96 at least once. (Fastball velocity matters because major league hitters can tee off on pitches that are slower than that, in general. There are exceptions to this, pitchers who can make change-ups work for them, such as Brewers pitcher Devin Williams. But Axford is not one of those exceptions.) And he’d gotten a couple of strikes on the batter — I forget the guy’s name now, but he always stands right on top of the plate — before hitting him.

So, that guy goes to first base.

Axford still looked OK. He wasn’t rattled. (As an experienced closing pitcher, he’s certainly done things like that before. Not often, but often enough that it wouldn’t throw him.) He kept going.

But something happened to his elbow during the next few at-bats. While he did get one guy out (soft outfield fly, if I remember right), he was not able to get any more outs. And with the last few pitches he threw, the ball came nowhere close to the plate. In fact, they didn’t even come close to the batter’s box, that’s just how far outside they were.

That’s not like Axford, or any experienced player. I knew this. And I also knew that if you ever see something like that in a professional ballgame, the pitcher’s hurt.

Axford was taken out of the game. An MRI was done the next morning, and all Brewers fans know to this point is that Axford is out for the rest of the season as he has unspecified elbow damage.

I feel for Axford. I truly do.

I am not a professional pitcher — not hardly! — but when I was in my teens I had a good fastball for a fourteen-year-old and tried out for the local team. (Unofficially, mind.) Another of the girls I knew, who ran cross-country, also tried out. And we showed enough that it’s possible both of us would’ve gotten an official tryout, even during a time where young women weren’t exactly encouraged to be athletes — and definitely not encouraged to be pitchers. (My friend was a first baseman, mind, and hit a ton. But I digress.)

Anyway, sometime over the next year, I messed up my right arm. I went in to see the orthopedist, and he said as I was not ever going to be pitching again, I didn’t need to have my arm fixed. But that I’d apparently torn something — a ligament, a rotator cuff, he wasn’t sure (and no, he didn’t do an X-ray, either; MRIs were quite expensive, then). Because I was a musician, not an athlete, he did not recommend getting my arm fixed.

Ever since, instead of throwing in the high 70s/low 80s (which was quite good for a fourteen-year-old, I point out again), I can maybe throw a fastball in the mid 30s. My right arm hurts when the weather changes, too.

I know that professional pitchers do get their arms fixed, and they should. But I’m here to tell you that I know these injuries are extremely frustrating. Even to someone like me, who wasn’t really an athlete (though I wanted to be, desperately), an arm injury of the type Axford apparently suffered is difficult to deal with. (I had pain while playing my instruments for at least six months, too. But I digress, again.)

Everyone among the Brewers faithful, and probably most others as well, wanted Axford’s appearance to go differently. They wanted Axford to get the save. They wanted Axford to remain uninjured. And they wanted Axford to enjoy a night that he’d worked hard to get back to: a night in the big leagues, again.

That did not happen.

The story did not go where it should’ve. And that just goes to show you that stories, even when they don’t go the way you want, are important.

I wish Axford well, hope he fully recovers, and pitches again in the big leagues before he retires. But if he isn’t able to make it back to “the Show” again, I hope he’ll remember that the journey to get there was important. All the work he’d done to stay in shape, to try out for Team Canada, to go to the minors and work hard, was important as well.

Hard work, dedication, sacrifice, and care are all important. Axford has all of that in droves. And now, he — along with the rest of the Brewers faithful — needs to remember that he’s done everything he can.

The rest, unfortunately, is out of his hands.

Written by Barb Caffrey

August 6, 2021 at 4:30 pm

Introducing STAND AGAINST THE LIGHT, a Great YA Novel by George Phillies

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Folks, I’m happy to introduce you to George Phillies’ newest novel, STAND AGAINST THE LIGHT. It’s a book about young superheroes, in a world where they know about such things; more specifically, it’s a book about twelve-year-old Eclipse, one of the baddest twelve-year-old girls you’re ever likely to meet (in the best of senses.) It’s an excellent book, the third in the “Eclipse: The Girl Who Saved the World” series, and I enjoyed editing it immensely.

(Note that I didn’t edit books one and two, but they are also excellent. You can get book one, ECLIPSE: THE GIRL WHO SAVED THE WORLD here for only ninety-nine cents, and book two, AIRY CASTLES ALL ABLAZE, here.)

Take a look at this gorgeous cover art by Brad Fraunfelter:

But you are probably wondering by this point, “Who is Eclipse, anyway?” Well, as I can’t do any better than George’s own blurb, take a gander at that:

Eclipse:
World’s greatest tween superhero.
World’s most terrifying tween supervillain.
Opinions differ.

She’s twelve. She’s hardworking, bright, self-reliant, good with tools,
vigorously physically fit, tough as nails, still young enough to
disguise herself as a boy. Since arriving she’s only blown up one
mountain range.  And she knows that when she faces the final doom, win
or lose, she will die trying.

I just loved working on this book, loved Eclipse, thought she was such a great character, and enjoyed everything about the milieu with the superheroes (called “personae” in their own universe). The best part of the book, though, were the friendships between Eclipse and the other young superheroes, most particularly with a girl named Trisha (persona name: Comet). And because I enjoyed the book so very, very much, I asked George for an excerpt, so you’d have some idea of just what you’re getting into — only in the best of senses! — and he obligingly sent the following:

Cloud stared at the wall clock.  Eclipse was supposed to appear in their
base in a few minutes.  Where was she?

“We’ll be ready in a moment, Cloud,” Comet said. “Just so soon as all
five of us are here.” Her wait was interrupted by the hitherto-unseen
Eclipse, who materialized in the room’s center. Her garb was freshly
washed and ironed.  Silver curls were precisely combed.  Her face was
the image of tranquility.

Star almost made a comment about girls needing to do their hair before a
fight, then bit his tongue.  When Eclipse walked, she left a trail of
power that rippled the space behind her. She moved her hands.  The air
through which her fingers passed curdled, warped by eddies and whorls
from half-called gifts. Looking near her was like staring at hot
pavement on a sunbright day. The slightest hint of screens flickered
above her garb, violet spiderwebs tracing the pattern of her motif.

“Sorry if I needed a little longer.” Eclipse’s voice was remote, as
though she no longer lived only in the here and now. “Calling the deeper
levels is more safely done through slowness and tranquility. Is all else
prepared?  Aurora?  Comet?”

The younger girl posed, arms outstretched, fading behind the pyramid and
eye that marked her powers’ manifestation. *Eclipse?  They’re a mile
down, spread along that mountain range, except that city. Their
tunnels…that mountain range is hollowed out, with barely enough rock
left to keep it from collapsing.  There! That’s all of them in Tibet,
`cept relay stations.  [Images of rock tunnels, a tracery penetrating to
the roots of the Himalayas.]  Rock’s laced with screens!*

Eclipse’s screens appeared, bright as a magnesium flare as they enfolded
her and Comet, burning the violet usually reserved for morning glories.

“We’re invisible…Now!” Comet shouted.  The two girls vanished.

“You’re invisible,” Star confirmed.

Eclipse’s teleport transported the two of them.  They hovered in the
upper air over the Tibetan High Plateau.

“How can you do this?” Comet asked. “Those mountains are huge.”

Eclipse smiled grimly. *I cheat.* This is Pickering’s world, she told
herself, not even understanding what they’re facing.  Saving them all
depends on me.  She shuddered at the name of the levels she would need.
*Lucky for us, I find breaking things real easy.* She reached into the
core of her being, deeper than the Fall of Crystal, deeper than the
Tomb, deeper than the Hall of the Lidless Eye. Deeper.  Deeper.  Beyond
the Straight Circle.  Beyond the warm touch of the Solid Rainbow.  All
the way to the bottom of the Well of Infinity.

A column of pure energy stabbed downwards from her right hand, piercing
thousands of feet of stone and tens of intertwined defense screens like
a surgeon’s needle lancing a troublesome boil.  Hidden chambers carved
from living rock were brilliantly lit, their contents transformed in
microseconds into incandescent gas.

Tibetan Empire defenses engaged. Colossal explosions shredded the air
around Eclipse and Comet.  Shock waves rolled out in all directions. 
Superheated fireballs, blindingly bright, rose through the stratosphere,
punching a hole in the sky above as they rose far into the ionosphere. 
Comet, frightened, leaned into Eclipse’s shoulder.

*Trisha,* Eclipse thought, *Don’t be afraid of these clowns. We’re
good.  Give me a little more space, please?*

Comet drifted back.

Eclipse summoned the full depth of her gifts.  For tens of seconds her
plasma torch probed through granite, a torrent of power momentarily
absorbed by the enormous mass of the mountains.

The Himalayan massif exploded.  A column of superheated gas burst
skywards, carrying with it an entire line of mountains transformed to
incandescent ash.  Steep cliff sides, crushed to white-hot sand, blew
out in all directions.  Shock waves tore through the bedrock, the ground
of the surrounding valleys rolling in great waves as majestic as the
swells of the distant Indian Ocean.

Eclipse focused her thoughts on holding her own screens against the
geological catastrophe she had created.  Her own attack lanced down,
deeper and deeper, striking to the ultimate core of the fortress beneath
her.

Comet managed a last glimpse of the doomed City of the Sun, a city whose
rigidly mathematical lines blurred under the impact of impact of earth
shocks, then disappeared behind falling rocks and clouds of glowing
ash.  She squeezed her eyes shut, knowing that her last images of the
City, architecture crumbling like a matchwood ship hurled against the
coast by gale-driven waves, would be with her until her life’s end.

From Chapter Forty-Four, Waging Peace Through Unlimited Firepower, STAND AGAINST THE LIGHT by George Phillies

At any rate, I hope you’ve enjoyed the excerpt, the cover art, and my blog…now, go to Amazon and get the e-books! (Again, book one, ECLIPSE: The Girl Who Saved the World, is only ninety-nine cents today.)

Computer Change Blues

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This past week, I had to change computers again.

As one of my Facebook friends said, this is a First World problem. That being said, it is still difficult to deal with, and I am not at my best in the first place due to the summertime exacerbation of my asthma and allergies.

Anyway, I have hopes of blogging about George Phillies’ new novel, STAND AGAINST THE LIGHT, later this week. It’s a very good young adult story about a young girl, Eclipse, who has superhero-type powers, and is the only one who can save two different worlds. (While her world understands superheroes, to the point there are many of them at various strengths and levels, very few have her level of gifts or compassion for the less fortunate.) Eclipse has faced adversity, has survived it, but now faces the toughest test of all. And the question isn’t so much “will she survive it” as “if she doesn’t survive it, will the world last long enough to matter?”

Putting a twelve-year-old girl into a situation like that isn’t easy, but I thought George managed it very well. This is the third book in his series about Eclipse, and I can’t wait to read the fourth. (If I’m very lucky, I hope to edit again for him, too.)

So, that’s all I can tell you. I’m dealing with “computer changeover” woes, to the point I want to tear my hair out and start throwing things (well, not really; I’m more mature than that, I hope), and my own writing remains mostly stalled out. But I can still help a friend or two…and I will continue to do what I can, as I can, for as long as I can.

As always.

Written by Barb Caffrey

August 1, 2021 at 3:50 am

Posted in Uncategorized