Barb Caffrey's Blog

Writing the Elfyverse . . . and beyond

Archive for the ‘Editing’ Category

Language, Editing, and THUNDER AND LIGHTNING

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Folks, my most recently edited book is Chris Nuttall and Leo Champion’s THUNDER AND LIGHTNING, about first contact with aliens gone spectacularly wrong. I was very happy with this book, because I thought it showcased Chris’s gift for political machinations of the interplanetary sort plus Leo’s gift for the nuts and bolts of warfare. Putting them together in one book was a worthwhile challenge for me as an editor, and one I welcomed.

Both of these men did what they did best, and did it superbly. And I was not disappointed.

thunder and lightning cover

But, you must be sitting there asking yourselves, “Barb, what is this about language? Why are you talking about that with regards to editing and THUNDER AND LIGHTNING?”

Some of what I’m going to say is blindingly obvious, but here goes: When you’re writing about soldiers, you cannot take the high road all the time. And you certainly can’t use what I derisively call “sparkly language,” in that you dumb-down what soldiers say during a war.

Chris and Leo’s soldiers start off in a nasty fight in Africa against terrorists they call “the Wreckers.” These Wreckers are abysmal human beings who, like others in the past, have corrupted a holy book — in this case, the Koran — for their own purposes. The soldiers call them “radical Islamicists,” which is not that dissimilar to what is said overseas now in the Middle East or in other war zones.

And there’s a reason they do this. The reason is very simple. They are fighting a war. They cannot afford to see these people as worthy of redemption, for the most part, and they have many reasons not to see them that way either as the behavior of the Wreckers is truly abhorrent. (Hell, they even take female slaves.)

So, when I saw that, as an editor, I left it alone. I’ve heard from my own cousin, who’s served overseas any number of times in the Middle East as a member of the Armed Services, that what’s said about those we’re fighting (ISIS now, Al Qaeda earlier) is far worse than that.

But will some people be offended by this term? Probably.**

My job, though, as an editor, is not to dumb down what anyone says or feels even if I think it’s something someone out there will dislike. My job is to make that soldier sound and feel real. So you can get caught up in the story. And keep going.

If that soldier says some things you don’t like, well…I urge you to read James Clavell’s KING RAT. There’s lots of stuff that’s not said in “sparkly language,” but if it were, you’d never buy into it.

And you shouldn’t.

Anyway, THUNDER AND LIGHTNING isn’t just about soldiers. It’s about an idealistic woman scientist, Samra, who first finds evidence of aliens we later come to know as Oghaldzon (kind of like three-legged deer), and believes that any aliens coming must be peaceful. (She’s wrong, but you can see why she’d believe otherwise.) And what happens when she finds out the Oghaldzon are almost completely incomprehensible to humans, and humans to the Oghaldzon in terms, is scary, difficult to read, and sometimes incredibly sad, in turns.

We see her in lighter days, when she’s just a scientist at work. We see her finding the aliens’ signal (a fleet) in space, the scientific high point of her career.

And then, we see her disastrous fall, and with her fall, the attempted subjugation of Earth.

We also see a cyborg commando soldier, who saves Samra and stays by her side as they try, somehow, to stay alive and hope for better days. (Perhaps the commando is hedging his bets. Or waiting for a better opportunity. But it’s important to know that without him being there, Samra likely wouldn’t have a reason to fight so hard.)

Along the way, we meet numerous others. Some are politicians. Some are just average Joes. Some are Rockrats — that is, asteroid miners, extremely isolationist in outlook and incredibly hard-headed, to boot.

We need every last one of them to come together, in whatever ways they can, or we cannot save our own solar system from the Oghaldzon.

And along the way, the Oghaldzon are found to be, oddly enough, a different type of idealist entirely. But their idealism doesn’t match ours by any standard, and that is part of why we end up in a protracted war.

I don’t want to spoil the outcome of the book. So I will stop there.

Just know that as an editor, I maximized everything I could for the sake of realism, verisimilitude, and dammit all, for the sake of a damned good read. That is my job.

And if you read the book, and you like the book, do tell Leo and Chris that you enjoyed it. (You can come tell me, too. I’d enjoy that, also.) Reviews matter.

(I know that from personal experience. But I digress.)

In other words, when I edit, I try to find the authors’ voices. And I believe I did exactly what I should, to make THUNDER AND LIGHTNING the best it could be, in the hopes that people would feel, think, and enjoy the book and tell others.

Or in shorter form: Sparkly language, get lost.

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**Note that I, myself, have a Koran and have read it many times. My late husband admired the Sufi Muslims, and often called himself a “Zen Sufi Pagan.” And Chris Nuttall himself was exposed to all sorts of different religions when he lived in Malaysia, certainly including Islam, and knows, as I do, that people come in all flavors in all religions: that is, followers of the prophet Mohammad are mainly very good people.

Those who’d chain and enslave women, though, are hardly that. And if they’re using Islam as a way to make that palatable to their (mostly male) believers, that is disgusting.

There are bad apples in any bunch. These Wreckers definitely fit the bill for the type of people who’d try to turn religion to their own ends, rather than live in loving kindness and generosity, as I believe Mohammad truly wanted.

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Written by Barb Caffrey

March 19, 2018 at 6:45 am

Musing on Sunday: Making Difficult Choices

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It’s Sunday, so I thought I’d try a different type of post today.

What do we do, as writers, and as people, when we have to make a difficult choice?

In our writing, sometimes we have snippets of dialogue and characterization that leap off the page, but don’t go with anything in the story. What do we do with it, then?

And in life, we never seem to get exactly what we want. The people around us — and we, ourselves, for that matter — make bad decisions from time to time. Or maybe they make good decisions for them, but bad ones for us…because they’re human, and they make mistakes. (Just as we do, but I digress.)

In writing, it’s easier to figure out what you’re going to do with a difficult decision. First, you can turn that snappy dialogue or great characterization into a new story that doesn’t conflict with the one you already have. Second, if that doesn’t work, you can simply excise it — the whole “kill your darlings” thing that all writers know, and all writers hate. And third, you can try to find a way to incorporate the good stuff into your manuscript anyway…though that last is the most difficult choice of all, as if it had been easy, that bit that stands out but doesn’t go with anything would’ve been incorporated already.

Note I said “easier.” It’s still not easy. You have to think, long and hard, about what you’re going to do, and make a choice that you have to live with.

In life, sometimes we can only react to what is put in front of us. Where we are today might not be at all where we want to be. (I think I can safely say that, under the circumstances; if I had my druthers, my husband would still be alive, we’d be about to celebrate fifteen years of marriage, and we’d have I don’t know how many books out, together and separately.) Because we’re in uncharted territory, we don’t know what to do, and we feel our way toward the best solution possible.

We have to have faith in ourselves that we can find a good answer, even when the question itself seems like it has no answer. We have to believe that we can reason our way out, think our way out, know ourselves well enough that we can stay on an even keel while everything around us feels unsteady, almost as if we’re enduring a long-lasting earthquake that doesn’t quite — quite — swallow us whole.

This is hard.

It’s especially difficult for our friends, who watch as we struggle, and give advice, and give comfort and support, and try to do their best to help you keep your body and soul together another day, so you can continue the fight.

But ultimately, the choices you make are up to you. You have to live with them.

So please, make your best decisions. Use your reason as well as your gut reaction. And then act accordingly…knowing full well that you can revisit your decision if and when the situation changes.

What do you do when you face a difficult choice, in writing or in life? Let me know in the comments.

Written by Barb Caffrey

March 12, 2017 at 4:21 pm

New Interview Is Up at Ally Shields’ Blog

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Folks, I’m very pleased to let you know that author Ally Shields — who writes a great deal of YA urban fantasy — had me over for a second “coffee chat” to discuss A LITTLE ELFY IN BIG TROUBLE and other interesting subjects. (The first “coffee chat,” which discussed AN ELFY ON THE LOOSE, can be found here.)

Want to see just a bit of what I talked about? Here’s a teaser from the interview:

Ally:  What was the inspiration for the Elfy books?

BARB:  My inspiration comes from three places. One was my late husband Michael, who was one of the most encouraging people I’ve ever been around. The second was an anthology I read — I now can’t remember the name of it — where the editor said something to the effect that the stories in that antho wouldn’t be “the normal Elfie-welfie stuff.” And the third was a dream I had after that, where a short young man dressed all in black came to me and said, “It’s not like that!” and proceeded to tell me just what Elfy-welfie stuff was (yes, he insisted on the change from -ie to -y) and why he wanted no part of it, thanks.

I woke up from that dream, not long after my honeymoon, and told Michael about it. Rather than looking at me like I was an idiot, as I would assume most men would do, he said, “Well, then. You have to write about this, and figure out who this guy is, now, don’t you?” with a big smile on his face.

And I proceeded to do just that.

So, I hope you will go take a look at that, and maybe read it while enjoying a cup of coffee yourself, taken any way you like. (I think Ally would approve of that. I know I would.)

Written by Barb Caffrey

August 10, 2016 at 12:14 am

A Flattering, Appreciative Comment Can Do Wonders, Sometimes…

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…whether it’s about you, personally, or, as in this case, about you as an editor.

(What, you thought I’d be talking about something else? For shame…the summer romance bug hasn’t bitten me in a long, long time. Though I suppose it’s still possible…but I digress. Back to the blog.)

Folks, I’m very happy to pass along the following link from an interview author Kayelle Allen did with authorsinterviews (a WordPress site). Kayelle kindly mentioned me, and especially my editing. She didn’t have to do that. The interview was all about her, and about her excellent book, BRINGER OF CHAOS: THE ORIGIN OF PIETAS.

In response to the interviewer’s question about “one entity who supported you outside of family members,” Kayelle discussed her friend, writer Houston Havens, and then said this:

And Barb Caffrey, my editor. She’s a brilliant writer in her own right, but she sees details that I would have missed. She suggests slight changes that make all the difference in a scene. Often, simply the change of structure in a sentence can put an all new slant on a scene. I recommend her as both author and editor.

Thank you, Kayelle!

As I have said before, if you haven’t read Kayelle’s book yet, you should. It’s a military SF/action-adventure/bromance like no other. I said once to Kayelle that Pietas starts out almost like the ultimate bad guy, but he’s not; he’s complex, multifaceted, multi-layered, and in some ways, very human despite his genetic engineering and overall socialization/conditioning. That he makes common cause with Six, a guy who amounts to a Special Forces operative in the far future — reanimated, ’cause hey, it’s SF and you can get away with that (and why not?) — and has to learn that at least one human being is worthy of his friendship is…startling. That Pietas can be friends and admit to vulnerability and loss and frustration like anyone else despite all of his abilities at regeneration and immortality is, in an odd way, extremely moving. Pietas wants no pity. But he does want, ultimately, your understanding…hoping there may be one other human out there like Six who’s worth one iota of his time.

Why his people, the Ultras, feel this way toward non-altered humans is for you to read. But I think you will want to read it, if you enjoy milSF/action-adventure.

Now, as to what I did for Kayelle as an editor? She’s a very accomplished writer who turned in a sparkling-clean manuscript. A copy-edit, in her case, was more, “How can I help you make this section over here stand out a little more?” or “Did you ever consider X instead of Y” in a different place. I tried to give her a few options, and did my best to smooth out the (very few) rough spots.

My whole editorial philosophy, in a nutshell, is to help my client strengthen his/her authentic voice. If I make every book I edit sound like my style, that is doing my clients a disservice. And if I make every book I edit look and sound like something I’ve already seen — even if it’s from a widely acknowledged SF/F master writer like Stephen R. Donaldson or Lois McMaster Bujold — that, too, is doing my clients a disservice.

The trick in editing is to figure out what your client’s voice is, then strengthen it. That’s what works best.

Yes, fix all the typos and the grammar and punctuation, address all the stylistic concerns**, all that. But make the book better. Don’t just put in the hours…figure out what that book’s story actually is, and enhance it.

Otherwise, what are you doing?

Now, considering I am an independent editor, I can only suggest the changes rather than require them. But I’m reasonably persuasive in my arguments, and usually can point to various books or stories of my own or others and say, “What I’d like you to consider is X. What you did is Y. Maybe you don’t want to do X, but can you do Z instead?”

Anyway. I appreciate what Kayelle said. She’s the third editorial client I’ve had who’s publicly said she appreciates my editing. (The others, by the way, are Chris Nuttall and Dora Machado.) Most of the time, editors are treated more like furniture than an essential part of what goes into a book, so I’ve appreciated it immensely when someone recommends me as an editor…it means more than I can possibly say.

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**Sample stylistic concern: “You give Doctor Evil ‘s title as ‘Doctor’ in one section, but ‘Dr.’ in another. I don’t care which one you pick, but for ease of reading, it’s usually better to pick only one.” (This seems picayune, but can make all the difference to a self-published novel in looking professional — or looking like you just fell off the turnip truck.)

Written by Barb Caffrey

July 27, 2016 at 9:14 am

My Patreon Update…and Other Stuff

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Folks, I’m glad to have finally written an update…and it’s up at my Patreon page.

What’s Patreon, you ask? It’s a place where you can support writers, artists, musicians, or other creative types…it’s a very old idea done in a very new, 21st Century way.

I know I’ve been very behindhand on explaining what’s going on. There’s a reason for that. If I think too much about the circumstances that surround me — the fact that my living situation is not fully under my control, and that I am unable to affect the outcome very much at all — I can’t create. And that would be lethal, especially as I grow closer to completing CHANGING FACES at long last…I have to get that book done, there’s no two ways about it.

So, I’m going to cut and paste from my own post at Patreon, that I just put up less than fifteen minutes ago:

Unfortunately, since I last posted, very little has changed. My living situation — it’s hard to know what I can say about it, because I’m not the only one affected, but suffice it to say that from day to day I barely know where I’m going to be. This is frustrating and confusing, and it’s not exactly conducive to creativity.

As for how I’m doing/feeling? I fight exhaustion. I fight the feeling of inertia, of nothing changing, of still being in a reasonably unstable situation and being almost completely unable to affect it…and it’s extremely frustrating and disquieting.

I know that I’m doing everything I possibly can to positively affect this outcome. As I said at my long-delayed update over at Patreon, I have edited five books in the last two-plus months, and I’ve written 20,000 words. These are good things, and I’m proud of these accomplishments.

In addition, I played a concert on Sunday night with the Racine Concert Band at the Racine Zoo (though I wasn’t able to play the parade, alas, on Monday as I’d planned). We had an enthusiastic crowd, as we always do — free summer concerts have resumed, and will be held at the Zoo every Sunday night at 7:30 in July, and at 7:00 in August (through August 14, 2016).

I’m not able to play at the same level I could years ago, mind, but I can still play well most of the time. I’d prefer to have some solos now and again, but that rarely happens…still, I’m glad to be able to play, and I think I add something, even when I’m playing the second part and it seems like no one pays attention to me being there besides my stand-partner.

So, I’m trying. I have a temporary situation, and am trying to look on the bright side. (Though sometimes I want to kick whoever started that whole idea squarely in the nether region. Why can’t we admit just for one minute that things are bleak, but we’re going to do our best every day anyway?)

I do know that life can change, sometimes on what seems to be an instant. And it’s very possible that all the hard work I’ve done will lead to something much better…my husband believed that, my best friend Jeff Wilson believed that, too, and my friends now firmly believe that as well.

Who am I to say they’re wrong?

Anyway, if you want to help support me get through this rough patch, you can go to my Patreon page and make a pledge…or, if you wish to support me privately, let me know and I’ll give you my PayPal address. (And thank you very much for even considering this oblique request. It truly is the best I can do right now.)

Written by Barb Caffrey

July 5, 2016 at 2:26 pm

Catching Up

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Folks, I know I’ve not blogged very much in the past week or two. I’ve been working on a big project, and now that it’s out I can talk about it.

That project is Chris Nuttall’s newest novel in his Schooled in Magic series, INFINITE REGRESS. In it, his heroine, Emily, must deal with a new headmaster, romantic complications with her long-term boyfriend Caleb, her own, burgeoning magic, and some hints of a long dormant, malevolent power underneath her school, Whitehall.

Now, if you’re unaware of this series, you’re in for a treat. Emily, you see, is an American girl who was brought to a magical realm by a necromancer. She won free of the necromancer, made an alliance with an enigmatic sorcerer, Void, and ever since has run into a variety of circumstances that have tested her, her power, and her other abilities at every turn. Because of her practical knowledge, garnered from our Earth, she’s become a wealthy woman; she’s even been named a Baroness by another kingdom, Zangaria, though for the moment she’s set that duty down. (She never plans to go back there, in fact, but that’s for another book.) Emily is smart, resourceful, and would seem to have all the advantages…if you didn’t know she’s also autistic, and must deal with things in a slightly different way than others.

I edited INFINITE REGRESS, and am happy to recommend it to all lovers of fantasy.

Aside from that, I’ve done a little bit of writing and a whole lot of thinking about CHANGING FACES, which is still — still! — in progress. (Here I finally have people talking about my books, and waiting for one, and I am still fighting it out with same. Par for the course, I suppose.)

As far as everything else — the living situation is exactly the same as last reported. (No improvement, but no worse, either.) I don’t know what will happen there, and that unsettled feeling doesn’t help much when it comes to writing. (I can put it aside more easily as an editor, for whatever reason.) Much of this story isn’t mine to tell, so all I can say is this…I’m still trying, I still hope for better, and I haven’t given up.

But yes, it’s frustrating, not knowing where I’m going to be from day to day.

Anyway, that’s about all I can say right now. Do look for a new blog over the weekend, where I’ll be talking about Christine Amsden’s newest, KAITLIN’S TALE (yes, I edited that, too — why did you ask?), and will have a bit from the author herself about why she wrote it.

Written by Barb Caffrey

May 25, 2016 at 3:34 pm

Why I Wrote “Bringer of Chaos: The Origin of Pietas” — a Guest Blog by Kayelle Allen

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Folks, do I have a treat for you today!

A few months ago, I edited Kayelle Allen’s BRINGER OF CHAOS: The Origin of Pietas, and couldn’t wait to tell you all about it. Pietas is a strong character, someone who starts out dark, forbidding, and almost impossible to like…but somehow, with Kayelle’s insight, Pietas becomes much more than that. BRINGER OF CHAOS is a science fiction novel of cultural clashes, personal growth, friendship, sacrifice, and much, much more. It’s beautifully written, in some spots deeply moving, and a book I hope everyone will check out right away.

Now, on to Kayelle’s excellent guest blog, already in progress…

3d-boc1When I wrote Bringer of Chaos: the Origin of Pietas, I was creating the background and origin story for the most notorious villain in my scifi universe. In a series of books based in the Tarthian Empire, I had gone to great lengths to instill a sense of awe and fear in readers regarding the immortal king. Honestly, Pietas scared me, and I created him! I knew the depth of his cruelty because I’d created him to be the baddie all the other baddies feared. In the universe of those stories, he was known by many names: Impaler, Hammer of God, Marauder, Soul Ripper, Destroyer of Worlds, Slayer of Innocents, Hound of Hell, and more famously, the Bringer of Chaos. To reveal the reason he became such a terrifying person, I needed to delve into his head and get to know him better. *Gulp.*

I mentioned to my friend, author Houston Havens, that I didn’t know how to write an emotionless sociopath. First she laughed, then she took me to passages in my own books and showed me the emotions Pietas had displayed. Houston was right. Pietas was far from emotionless. Sociopath was as far from his reality as moonlight is from sunlight. One is cool and pale; the other hot and vibrant. I was trying to write him as a moon. Pietas was a sun.

Houston suggested that we “interview” him. She and I talk almost every day on Skype, so that was easy. I would “be” Pietas and answer on Skype as him. It would be an exercise in free association, and we would record it so I would have reference. Once we got started, it was surprisingly easy to get into his head. She asked him questions that were simple at first. Then she asked about his father, which made me delve into my own past as a child and parent. Mine was innocent and filled with love. My villainous hero, however, had a different bent.

When I was a child, the parent-child bond set my life on a certain path, and I believe no matter how old I get, I will always be the way I was molded to be from childhood. Pietas is immortal, and apparently, so is his love/hate-mostly-hate relationship with his father. Delving into that in detail will take more than one book. In fact, I’ve gone from wondering how I could possibly write a whole book about Pietas to planning another four.

Pietas now fascinates me. Getting to know this character helped me break past an episode of writer’s block that had lasted seven years. I had written, but was producing only non-fiction (Tarthian Empire Companion) and books about the characters (An Immortal’s Guide to Tarth). With Bringer of Chaos out of the way, I’m back where I belong — in the world of the Tarthian Empire. The galaxy of stories beyond that is, as Pietas would say, “ripe for the plucking.”

About Kayelle Allen

Kayelle Allen is a best selling American author. Her unstoppable heroes and heroines include contemporary every day folk, role-playing immortal gamers, futuristic covert agents, and warriors who purr.
Homeworld/Blog https://kayelleallen.com
Twitter https://twitter.com/kayelleallen
Facebook https://facebook.com/kayelleallen.author

About the Book

Bringer of Chaos: the Origin of Pietas
Author: Kayelle Allen
Publisher: Romance Lives Forever Books
Editor: Barb Caffrey
Heat level: PG13
Genre: YA (older young adult), action adventure, science fiction, space opera, military science fiction, space marine, genetic engineering
Wordcount: 52,492
Pages: 186

Two enemy warriors: one human, one immortal. Different in belief, alike in spirit, marooned together on an alien world.

Imprisoned and in isolation over a year without food or water, the immortal Pietas survives. Though broken in body, his intellect and will are intact, thanks to Six, the special ops warrior who captured him, but kept him sane. The warrior had no hand in his deprivation and, like Pietas, was betrayed by his own kind. When Pietas is abandoned on an alien world with nothing but his honor–and Six–he must find and rejoin other immortal exiles. After centuries of war, Pietas detests humans and kills them on sight, but he is too damaged to continue on his own. Though he despises needing help, he allows Six to nurture and restore him to full strength, and then accompany him. As they cross the planet together on foot, the immortal begins to wonder if he has found his first human friend, or if Six is loyal only because Pietas could keep the others from tearing him to shreds. This human will either be his closest living friend, or the one whose betrayal will trigger all-out vengeance by the most powerful immortal ever born.

Immortal. Warrior. Outcasts. Traitors took everything. Except their honor.

Read the first chapter https://kayelleallen.com/chaos-origin/
Amazon http://amzn.to/1R8DAbb
Amazon print http://amzn.to/1SSmueB
CreateSpace http://bit.ly/boc-origin-csp

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So, now that you’ve read all this, what are you waiting for? Go get Kayelle’s excellent novel right now. You will not regret it.