Barb Caffrey's Blog

Writing the Elfyverse . . . and beyond

Archive for the ‘Comfort books’ Category

Redemption, Tonya Harding, and Chris Nuttall’s newest novel, THE FAMILY SHAME

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Redemption. It’s one of the strongest words in the English language, or at least it should be. It means to be saved from sin, evil, or error. Or to save yourself from the past consequences of bad or immoral actions…or, perhaps, it means this:

Living. Learning. And improving yourself, because you can’t live with the person you used to be.

My friend Chris Nuttall wrote a book recently based around this theme called THE FAMILY SHAME, set in his Zero Enigma universe. (I was one of his editors, so I got to see the book early and often.) In it, young Isabella Rubén has lost everything she once had, all because she trusted the wrong person. She’s only twelve, but the person she trusted plotted treason against the powers-that-be, and Isabella knew about it — and didn’t say anything to her father, or anyone else. Worse yet, she actively collaborated with this person to commit treason, mostly because she saw it as her only reasonable way to obtain political power due to what amounts to her family’s benign neglect of her talents (she’s a female magician and her particular family can only be led by male magicians).

the-family-shame-cover-revised

See, Isabella, in any other family, probably wouldn’t have done this. Every other family in the city of Shallot (where she’s from) picks their leader from everyone, male and female alike, based on a combination of magical and political ability. But her family, the Rubéns, don’t.

But she did it. She feels terrible about it, but she did it, and she can’t take that combination of deliberate non-action (in not telling her father or any of her teachers) plus actively aiding and abetting the treasonous older “friend” along the way.

And she is paying the price, as she has been exiled to Kirkhaven, an old, ramshackle estate about as far away from Shallot as you can get by horse. She’s also been told not to send letters to her father, mother, or brother, as she’s now “the family shame.”

So, not only has she lost everything — family, friends, wealth, schooling, political standing (which she did care about, even though she was only twelve as she was quite precocious in some ways) — she now has to deal with this ramshackle manor. Two adult magicians live there, Morag Rubén and Ira Rubén. (No, they’re not married to each other.) Morag is a cook, while Ira is a type of experimenter who admits he wants to find ways to make Dark-inflected spells work for good. And both of them, too, are exiles…

Did they want young Isabella around? The answer is a resounding “no.” But there she is, and now she has to figure out how to deal with them (not easy), how she’s going to continue her schooling independently (definitely not easy), and how she’s going to deal with the loneliness of this deserted, remote place (almost impossible). All while wrestling with the problems that brought her to this place, which she knows she created and cannot change.

When she manages to befriend a boy around her own age, Callam, her life starts to improve a little. But she has to keep the friendship secret, as she’s not supposed to leave the grounds, nor is he supposed to be on the grounds himself. (It’s a very innocent friendship, as is befitting for their respective ages.)

It’s getting to know Callam that helps to slowly but surely make Isabella realize just how badly she behaved before, and avow that she will find a way to do better.

I don’t want to give away the plot, so I’ll stop there with a plot summary. But I’ve given you this much because I wanted you to think about just how hard it’s going to be for Isabella to redeem herself in the eyes of society — and worse, how hard it’s going to be for Isabella, herself, to redeem herself in her own eyes.

Redemption, you see, is hard. People judge you by your past actions, and no matter what you do, no matter what you say, no matter how much you might apologize, and no matter how much you’ve actually changed, there are still going to be some people who will hate you, and not give the new version of you — the better version, the one tested in the fire — the time of day.

We see that in contemporary life every day.

One of the most current examples is that of figure skater Tonya Harding, who’s now nearly forty-eight years old. But when she was only twenty-four — in 1994 — she somehow failed to stop an attack on fellow figure skater Nancy Kerrigan, then not quite twenty-five. Kerrigan was hit on the knee by thugs sent by Harding’s then-husband, and one of those thugs was Harding’s bodyguard. Harding, herself, was sentenced to probation, given community service, and ended up being banned for life by the United States Figure Skating Association.

What Harding did back then was awful. That she had a rotten childhood (she truly did), that she came from abject poverty (she did), that her husband was mean and abusive to her as far as the public could discern, and that figure skating was her one gift (she was the first American woman to land a triple axel in competition, and was known for her athleticism, her jumps, and her footwork passages) may ameliorate things slightly, but the fact remains that she could’ve apparently done something to keep Kerrigan from being harmed. (I must say “apparently” because the facts are not completely in evidence. What we know is that Harding took a plea deal.)

But did she deserve to be ostracized the rest of her life for this?

Is the assumption going to be that Harding can’t learn, can’t find a way to be a good person, and that it’s supposedly OK for her to never use her one, true gift ever again, even to teach young kids how to skate?

See, that’s the quandary my friend Chris’s protagonist Isabella is in, too. Isabella is a gifted magician, but she misused her magic and hurt people. She knows it was wrong. She has apologized (as Harding, back in 1994, 1995, and 1996, apologized multiple times to the best of my recollection). But she was ostracized, cast out, exiled.

Isabella does find redemption, or at least finds a way toward redemption.

I would like to think that Harding also has found some sort of redemption, too. (Being on TV’s Dancing with the Stars surely has given her an athletic outlet, and may help pay for her son’s education down the line for all I know.)

But what’s sad about the quest for redemption, and what’s sad in both cases I’ve discussed here, is that some people will never forgive you no matter what good you might do. And no matter how much you might’ve changed. And no matter how much you might want them to forgive you…they just won’t, and you have to learn to live with it.

That Harding still has people, even to this day, leave feces (yes, actual feces) on her doorstep or rude messages on her phone or random people on the street swearing a blue streak at her, twenty-four years later, illustrates just how hard it is to seek redemption, even if you do it privately and out of the public eye.

You pay a heavy price, when you do something wrong, bad, or something that society judges immoral or flat-out evil.

But you still have to learn to live with yourself and your talents, and use them to the best of your ability. Which is what I think Harding is trying to do, as the older, presumably wiser version of herself…and it assuredly is what the young Isabella Rubén is trying to do in THE FAMILY SHAME.

I’m proud to have edited Chris’s new novel, and I hope you will find it a fun read, as well as an instructive one.

And personally? I think redemption is definitely possible. I just wish people would learn to see others for who they are today, not for how they hurt them yesterday, or how bad they behaved the day before that (or twenty-four years ago). Don’t forget it, no, as that’s revisionist history and unnecessary. But do forgive, if you can, at least as far as to say, “If I lived that person’s life, I can’t say for certain I wouldn’t have done the same things.”

That is the best way to be a decent human being, bar none.

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The Zero Curse — Chris Nuttall’s Excellent Middle-Grade Sequel

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Folks, yesterday I talked about two books that I felt had beaten sequel-itis — that is, the fate of books that don’t live up to its potential after a great first book. And after I talked about Jason Cordova’s DEVASTATOR and Kayelle Allen’s BRINGER OF CHAOS: FORGED IN FIRE, one of my other good friends pointed out yet another book that beats sequel-itis, hands-down.

That book is Chris Nuttall’s THE ZERO CURSE. It takes the wonderful character of Caitlyn Aguirre (also known as Cat) from THE ZERO BLESSING and gives her new challenges, while upping the previous stakes in the process. And the fact that Cat is just twelve years old, and isn’t an idiot savant, isn’t even necessarily a genius — just a reasonably normal smart kid with an unusual ability for her world, that of having no magic at all — makes things all the more poignant.

Chris’s work just keeps getting better and better. And these particular stories are close to my heart for many reasons, most particularly because I got to see them early (as I am one of Chris’s editors), and enjoyed seeing them come to fruition.

Why? Well, I flat-out love Cat. She’s a self-sufficient girl to root for, being without magic in a magical world. And first, she has to figure out how to make her way without having any magic, while finding a way to make her lack a blessing, in THE ZERO BLESSING…before Chris ups the game entirely in THE ZERO CURSE, where Cat starts to realize that the other side of a blessing is a curse, so must start to figure out how to minimize the ways her unusual status as a “Zero” (that is, without magic) can be exploited by evildoers.

Zero Cursed Cover FOR WEB

Once you read about Cat, along with her odious sister Alana and her slightly nicer sister Bella, you’ll never forget her, her world, the school she goes to (Jude’s), her friend and fellow forger (kind of like a magical blacksmith) Akin Ruben, and her best friend, Rose, you’ll never forget it. (Cat’s great-aunt Stregharia in particular is a major piece of work, and you’ll enjoy booing and hissing whenever she shows up, guaranteed.)

So Chris’s book also beats sequel-itis, and is a great book to read on a cold day. (Or any day!) And I, for one, can’t wait until I read the third book in the Zero series, which even I haven’t seen yet. (But I will. Even if I have to find a way to tickle Chris until he says “uncle” to do it.)

Tell me about more books that beat sequel-itis in the comments! (I love hearing from y’all.)

Written by Barb Caffrey

January 6, 2018 at 12:05 pm

Thoughts on Comfort Books

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Folks, over the past several weeks, I have been struggling with a wide variety of things.

To wit…does my writing matter? Does what I’m doing as a person matter? Are my perceptions accurate, and will I be able to turn them into some decent-to-better quality writing in the not-so-distant future?

I don’t know if these questions would’ve hit me quite so profoundly without the ongoing housing crisis, mind. (That remains unresolved, by the way. I probably will be writing about that again…but not today, yes?) But they have…and in a big way.

That said, I have found a lot of comfort reading and re-reading my favorite books and authors. Some of the books I’ve read over the past couple of weeks include Katharine Eliska Kimbriel’s Night Calls series, Lois McMaster Bujold’s THE CURSE OF CHALION and PALADIN OF SOULS, Patricia C. Wrede’s CAUGHT IN CRYSTAL and Enchanted Forest chronicles…and, of course, my go-to standby, Sharon Lee and Steve Miller’s wonderful Liaden Universe (TM), most particularly the stories featuring Daav yos’Phelium and Aelliana Caylon.

What reading these stories tends to do for me is twofold. One, it takes me away from my immediate problems and reminds me that others, too, have faced adversity (even if fantastical and unusual — then again, I like that sort of thing, as you might’ve guessed). And two, these stories are life-affirming, they often make me laugh, and they always make me feel better after I’ve read them.

In short, these comfort books remind me of why I started writing, oh, yea many moons ago…I wanted to tell stories like that, that made people laugh, and maybe gave them an hour’s ease from life’s burdens…and if I did my job superbly well, maybe someone would find my stories life-affirming, too.

I can’t be certain I’ve done that as of yet. But I’d like to think that in the not-so-distant future, I may well yet attain just that…ah, well.

Anyway, what are your favorite comfort books, and why? I’d love to hear all about it in the comments section.

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Edited to add: Mind, there are so many great storytellers out there, and I’m only naming a fraction of the people I’ve read over the past few weeks that I’ve enjoyed…so if your name isn’t on this list (yet), please don’t despair. (No need for that.)

Written by Barb Caffrey

June 1, 2016 at 3:51 am

Announcing…”Realms of Darkover” Is Out!

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Folks, I’ve been so preoccupied with edits, my novel CHANGING FACES, and other things that I completely forgot to announce this very important event:

REALMS OF DARKOVER is out! And my third story in the Darkover universe, “Fiona, Court Clerk in Training,” is included.

Realms of Darkover cover FB sized

What’s my story about? Well, all three of my stories have been about Fiona n’ha Gorsali or members of her immediate family; this one features Fiona as a child, when all she wants is to become a judge like her father. But Darkover has never before had a female judge…and even though her mother is a Renunciate and her father has no objection to Fiona becoming one as well (indeed, Fiona must become a Renunciate, or she can’t become a judge at all; Darkover has very straitened paths for women unless they choose the Renunciate path), it’s still not going to be easy for Fiona to obtain her heart’s desire. And as we see, the first step on Fiona’s path toward becoming a judge is to become an official court clerk, despite her tender age.

I had a ball writing about Fiona as a feisty thirteen-year-old, and I hope you’ll enjoy my story immensely, along with all the other great stories in REALMS OF DARKOVER.

Written by Barb Caffrey

May 15, 2016 at 5:53 pm

A Quick, Drive-By Bloglet…

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Folks, I’m still here. I’m just absorbed by a number of things right now, including several ongoing edits and trying to devote some brainpower toward fixing another thorny problem in CHANGING FACES. Because of that, I haven’t had a whole lot of energy to devote to blogging.

That said, I wanted to make sure everyone knew about N.N. Light’s news. From her recent blog post:

Planting the Seeds of Love: A Novella has passed the first round of The Romance Reviews Readers’ Choice Awards – Summer 2016. WHOO! This is the first award I’ve entered for this book and I’m super excited.

The next round is called the Nomination Round and this is where I need your help.

Folks, “Planting the Seeds of Love” is my friend N.N. Light’s contemporary romance novella. I read it, I enjoyed it, and I thought it quite interesting. (I keep meaning to review it at SBR right along with PRINCESS OF THE LIGHT, also written by Mrs. Light. And I keep running out of time. Sometime soon, I have to make time to review these books.) And now, Mrs. Light’s novella has been nominated for an award…but she needs fifty nominations between March 14 and March 31, 2016 to move to the next round.

If you’re like me, you probably don’t want to nominate a story you haven’t read. That said, rectifying that problem is very easy…go buy a copy at Amazon right now, or borrow it if you’re a member of Kindle Unlimited (as it’ll be free). Then, if you enjoyed “Planting the Seeds of Love” as much as I did, go to this link at the Romance Reviews and nominate it. (If you’re not a member of the Romance Reviews, it’s easy to become one. I did it about twelve hours ago…so can you.)

Thus concludes today’s quick, drive-by bloglet…I hope to be back to blogging, book reviewing, and other such interesting activities Real Soon Now.

Written by Barb Caffrey

March 17, 2016 at 1:58 am

Friday Free-For-All (AKA News, Round-up, Etc.)

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Folks, I have a bit of news for you.

ALittleElfyinBigTrouble_medFirst, as you know, I wrote about “the story behind A LITTLE ELFY IN BIG TROUBLE” and it was posted yesterday over at the Opinionated Man’s blog. I tried to discuss, for readers new to me, a little bit about why I do what I do — and why I’ve fought so hard to keep the Elfyverse alive.

But then, I thought a little more. And realized that readers who have been with me every step of the way deserved a better answer. So, after much struggling, here it is.

The main reason I kept trying, with the Elfyverse, was because the stories interested me. In that, I’m no different from any other writer.

But the secondary reason was because it made me laugh, even in the darkest hours…and I figured if it could make me laugh, it could make anyone laugh.

Look, folks. We all have days where we wonder why we’re still here. (I can’t be the only one who’s ever wondered this.) Work doesn’t go well, the traffic on the Interstate is bad, family members get sick, you ran out of money before you ran out of month…the list of things that go wrong is seemingly endless, and there’s almost no relief in sight.

But there are books that make you laugh, or make you think, or maybe take you out of yourself.

This, in a nutshell, is why I started writing in the first place. And it’s why I fought so hard for my Elfy duology, because I hope AN ELFY ON THE LOOSE and A LITTLE ELFY IN BIG TROUBLE might be able to do that for you — if it can’t, it’s not for lack of trying.

Anyway, I did say “round-up,” didn’t I?

Realms of Darkover cover FB sizedLast week, I pointed out that REALMS OF DARKOVER will be out in May, and is available for pre-order. Editor Deborah J. Ross has interviewed all the writers, with Shariann Lewitt being the first up last week. But this week, it’s Rosemary Edghill’s turn…and she has some very interesting things to say about Darkover, about writing, and about why she enjoys doing both.

Do go take a look at her interview, will you? (Rosemary Edghill is a fantastic writer. You could learn a lot from her.)

Happy Friday, folks!

Thoughts about N.N. Light’s Review of “Columba and the Cat”

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Folks, I’d meant to write this yesterday, but time got away from me. So, here are my further thoughts regarding N.N. Light’s wonderful review of my late husband Michael B. Caffrey’s story, “Columba and the Cat.”

Columba and the Cat coverFirst, it’s great to get a positive review like that. Michael had a lot of talent as a writer, and that’s one of the reasons I’ve tried so hard to keep his work alive. To know that someone else loves his writing as much as I do is extremely gratifying.

Second, for someone to appreciate it and understand it at the level N.N. Light did it makes me believe that finishing Michael’s work — in Columba’s universe, and in the Atlantean Union with Joey Maverick and Peter Welmsley (among others) — is not only doable, it will be appreciated and understood.

Third, it reminds me of something Michael often told me. “The work will be appreciated, in the end,” he said with a twinkle in his eye. “Even if no one else knows it but us and the universe, it will be appreciated.”

I always thought he said that because of Michael’s Buddhist leanings. But maybe that wasn’t it…or at least, maybe that wasn’t it precisely. (And Michael always was precise, y’know.)

Look. I don’t write the same way Michael did. He used to write all his stories out longhand, then type them into a computer file. Only then would he edit, revise, and keep going.

Whereas my process is much more fluid than that, and usually involves thinking about something for a great deal of time, and then — and only then — going back and fleshing out the initial idea.

But we got to the same place, in the end. And we were able to understand each other, to the point that I can finish his stories despite his style being markedly different than my own…even if the way I do it isn’t quite the same way as he would, maybe the stories will still make sense, and still do what Michael wanted them to do.

That’s why I’m working on the outline of THE QUEST FOR COLUMBA, which is the Columba story as told by Cat, otherwise known as the Duc d’Sanchestre (and a shapeshifter). This is Cat’s story, told my way, and through my voice…but it’s also Columba’s story, as seen by Cat. And in a way, it’s quite fitting, as Michael wrote the Columba stories for me.

Now, I’ll write Cat’s story for him.

I can’t be certain that the stories I’ll tell in his universes are the same ones he’d have come up with, given time. I can tell you that I knew Michael better than anyone, and it makes me feel better to keep working on stories in his universes…more like part of him did not die, and that might yet, if given time, be discovered and appreciated.

That said, I’m very glad that N.N. Light enjoyed “Columba and the Cat” so much. It gives me hope…and really, isn’t that what life is all about?