Barb Caffrey's Blog

Writing the Elfyverse . . . and beyond

Archive for the ‘Framing Narrative’ Category

Book Recommendation: Leo Champion’s “Warlord of NYC”

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Folks, I’ve been meaning to write this blog for several weeks. I knew about Leo Champion’s book WARLORD OF NEW YORK CITY for quite some time, mostly because I was one of his beta-readers and proofread the final version. But the time never seemed right to talk about Leo’s book.

Now, the time is right. The word is given. (Abandon all hope, ye who enter here? /snark)

Leo's WarlordFirst, let me show you the book’s blurb:

In the twenty-second century, global civilization has moved into networks of arcology-skyscrapers that tower hundreds of stories above streets abandoned to anarchy. Inside the arkscrapers, a neo-Puritan cult of social justice rules absolutely; on the streets, feral gangs raid between feuding industrial tenements.

Diana Angela is a hereditary executive in the bureaucracy that runs the world, with a secret life as an assassin on the streets. A burned-out idealist, she’s long ago given up on trying to change the world – the best intentions of the past have only led to greater misery.

And she has no reason to think precinct boss Jeff Hammer’s intentions are even good. A former mercenary who may be a military genius, Hammer’s narrowly taken control of a small tenement. Now he’s facing vengeful exiles, aggressive neighbors, and uncertain internal politics.

Which might be the least of his problems now that he’s drawn the attention of one of the city’s most dangerous women…

And now, my comments.

Diana Angela, also known as DA, is a badass. There’s no question about it. She is tough, smart, strong, somewhat of a chameleon as her society requires it (she lives in the arkscrapers, and is a part of the Intendancy, an extremely corrupt yet also extremely politically correct society). She hates what she’s forced to do in her day job, and has worked all her life to do some good on the streets of New York City as an assassin.

(Yes, an assassin. And she’s damned good at it, too. But I’m digressing, and I shouldn’t.)

DA is a fully actualized woman. She cares about people and has compassion, but it comes out in very unusual ways. She also loves sex — why not? — and her society, with its beliefs that you have to do this (and “this” changes weekly, it seems) and you can’t do that (with “that” also changing weekly), makes it hard to enjoy it. (That you have to get permission for every sex act from the worst of the toadies she deals with — “Can I touch you here? Can I touch you here?” — drives her crazy. And it should.)

The fact that sex, itself, has become so far away from what it can be in taking you out of yourself for a moment and losing yourself in someone else is a huge symptom of what is wrong with the Intendancy.

Simply put, the Intendancy has got to go. But they have enormous power, and DA can only do so much topside in the arks.

She can do a great deal more on the streets, and she does. I do warn you, some of what she does is bloody and there’s a whole lot of violence. She kills people who “need killing,” and for the most part you’ll agree with her once you realize what these people have done — though in the moment, you may think, “Why be so happy about killing them?”

Diana is not a sociopath, though. She’s more of a frustrated idealist with a set of skills — judo, aikido, various other martial arts, swordsmanship, archery, guns — that allows her to live with the terrible things she has to put up with in the arks by balancing it with her vigilantism below.

But then, she realizes there’s a new player on the streets of NYC. A guy named Jeff Hammer (from Leo’s first book in the series, STREETS OF NEW YORK CITY) has overthrown the corrupt regime in his own tenement, and has started a new one. He’s an ex-flyboy (and flying, in his world, means using something akin to a bike with wings; I am not doing this concept any justice, and I apologize for that), he’s smart as a whip, and he knows things have been off for a very long time. And he’s going to do something about it…

DA goes to look in on Hammer, and can’t decide if he’s a criminal, a madman, or worse. That the last time someone like Hammer arose caused a bloodbath that DA, herself, was a part of, makes it even tougher for her.

So, will she decide to help Hammer? Or won’t she? And if she does, will NYC ever be the same?

Thus ends my plot summary, hoping I didn’t spoil it too much for you.

I still have one more comment, though: Leo’s book is damned good. Really, really good. It reminds me in some ways of Lois McMaster Bujold, even, though it’s far bloodier and DA’s overt sexuality is not something LMB would ever cotton to. I think the reason it does remind me of LMB, though, is because of the assuredness of the writing on the one hand and the capability of the female protagonist on the other. DA knows who she is, what she wants, and knows exactly how to get it…so don’t get in her way, as the only person she needs to fear is herself. (In that way, she reminds me a little of Cordelia Naismith Vorkosigan, or better yet of Elli Quinn or even Sergeant Taura. And if you don’t know who I’m talking about, go read every book LMB has ever put out, then come back, will you?)

In other words, you need to read this book, even if you’re normally squeamish regarding violence (as I am). It is funny. It skewers with manic glee many stereotypes regarding how “wonderful” a politically correct civilization would be if given its head. It has some interesting things to say about sex, power, and money. And the way DA is, herself, matters greatly…as does the way Jeff Hammer tries to change things for the better.

WARLORD OF NYC will make you think. And will make you root for DA, even when she’s at her most obnoxious…and wonder how on Earth she’s going to deal with Jeff Hammer when she can’t always see the forest for the trees.

It is, by far, the best thing Leo Champion has written yet. And he needs to be encouraged to write more in this vein. (Who knows what’ll happen next? I want to find out!)

Again, the Amazon link is here for WARLORD OF NEW YORK CITY. It is available on Kindle Unlimited. (Unfortunately, at this time, it’s not available at Barnes and Noble or anywhere else.) Or you can buy it outright for $3.99 (again, only at Amazon).

Narrative Framing, the Milwaukee Bucks, and You

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Folks, over the past week or so as I’ve battled an illness, I’ve been thinking about how we shape our own narratives. (Again, as this is one of my besetting sins as a novelist.) And that led me to ponder the Milwaukee Bucks, which have had one of the best years in their team’s history and have made it all the way to the Eastern Conference Finals…which you’d think would be good enough for anyone.

But as the Bucks were expected throughout to go to the NBA Finals, people have been up in arms (including yours truly) when they lost game 5 to the Toronto Raptors at home to put them down three games to two. They now face elimination in game 6.

The thing is, if you think about it, just getting to the Eastern Conference Finals is wonderful. The Bucks were “one and done” last year. And, I believe, the year before that.

But this year, they swept their initial playoff series, against the Detroit Pistons. And then they won easily over the Boston Celtics in the second round.

This, mainly, along with a stellar regular season, is why Bucks fans have taken a doom-and-gloom attitude.

And that led me to consider how else we tend to frame our own narrative in our lives. Do we think of the bright side? (Should we is another question, but that’s for another day.) Or do we think of what’s not working rather than what is, and concentrate on our failings rather than our successes?

I don’t know about you, but I tend to think about the failures, myself. I think about how I could’ve done this, that, or the other better. Sometimes, in the moment, it’s almost like I see myself from above and wonder, “Why can’t I do better than this? Why is it that I can barely explain myself? Why is it that I can’t make better decisions? Why do I run out of time?” and so on.

I wonder if that’s where the Bucks are at, right now. But I strongly suspect, as their season is not over, that they aren’t.

Are they happy to be down 3-2 and facing elimination? Of course not. (Who would be?)

But they have things they can still do. And I believe they’re most likely concentrating on them, and how they need to just do a few more things to get a win (in sports parlance, a W)…they may even be focusing on past success against the Raptors, and be looking at what they’ve done differently (and worse) in this series that hasn’t been working.

Forward, they are probably looking. Not back.

Now, does this make any difference in what happens in Game 6? You better believe it does. They can go in there and do their level best, knowing their season will be over if they don’t give it everything they possibly have.

And of course they could still lose. But if they do, they’ll know — providing they gave it their all, and tried their best, and focused their minds and bodies properly — it wasn’t their time to shine after all.

That can be a bitter lesson, sometimes. Because we try our best, and we want to shine all the time.

But no one — not Michael Jordan, not LeBron James, not Wilt Chamberlain, not George Mikan, nor any other basketball superstar over the years — has ever shined all the time. Because it’s not humanly possible.

So, let’s take a step back, and frame this differently, OK?

The fact is, the Bucks’ Giannis Antetokounmpo is a great player. He may well win the NBA Most Valuable Player award this year, and if so, it’ll be richly deserved.  And he’s  led the Bucks to an excellent season.

These pluses are not negated, nor should they be, if the Raptors do succeed in beating the Bucks.**

How does that relate to your own, personal situation, though?

In essence, you need to learn how to frame your own narrative. Stop beating yourself up because you can’t seem to get ahead no matter how hard you try. Think about your successes once in a while, rather than always and only your failures. And do what you can to remember that you are a vital person with a role to play whether it seems like it or not.

That’s how you can learn from the doom and gloom over the Milwaukee Bucks and their current situation.

What do you think about this blog? Tell me about it in the comments!

———-

**As a fan, I will admit that if the Bucks can’t win game 6 and force a game 7, for a few days I will go around with a bad taste in my mouth. (That comes with the territory.)

Computer Woes: Stuff I Learned While The Computer Was Down

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As the title says…here we go.

  1. I am very impatient. Waiting to get my computer fixed seemed like forever, rather than nearly eight days.
  2. I was more stuck in ruts than I’d previously thought.
  3. Trying to type on a phone — even on a smartphone — is much harder than I’d thought, and it’s not just because of my quasi-carpal tunnel syndrome.
  4. Following from #3, I figured out I owed a friend an apology from a while back. He and I got into it because I was being very chatty, and on a good day — and with a good computer, complete with a proper keyboard and my hands cooperating, I can type nearly 80 words per minute. He could not follow me on his phone, and said so. (He later admitted he wasn’t particularly nice about it and did apologize.) At the time, I didn’t understand this…but boy, do I ever, now.
  5. Following from #4…yes, I did apologize. Because it’s better to apologize late than never. And it’s a lot better to know, in and of yourself, that you tried to do the right thing, albeit late, and albeit when the other person may not even care anymore…because it was important once, and I muffed it. It’s a statement that I won’t do it wrong–at least not intentionally, anyway–again. (Of course, that leaves all the other stuff that I haven’t run across yet as potential things to do wrong. But I could do ’em right, too…moving on.)
  6. Tablets are damned hard to use.
  7. I don’t enjoy texting. Not on a flip phone, not on a smart phone, not at all. (“I do not like this, Sam I am.” — Dr. Seuss.)
  8. That said, texting my best friends when the computer is down beats staying out of contact all to Hell.
  9. And using a tablet is better than using a phone of any sort to stay in contact.
  10. Sometimes, life doesn’t go as planned, at all. And while I’ve known that for a damned long time, it bears repeating. (Like a clue-by-four upside the head.)
  11. I have a hard time reframing a bad situation, something I truly can’t stand, into anything remotely resembling a good one. I did try. I told myself over and over that I had more time to read. (I read all sorts of stuff, too. Found a couple of good new authors — new to me, anyway. One of ’em is Kate Stradling. Really am enjoying her work.) I told myself, over and over again, that I was still thinking about my stories — which I was — and that there have been times I’ve not been able to write for seven or eight days before, and I didn’t panic, so what’s the big deal?
  12. Enter panic. (Ding, ding, ding!)
  13. Getting my computer back was useful. I’m still not back up to speed. But I have friends to help. And I’m grateful for that.
  14. I have to believe, despite it all, that there are better days ahead. We all have trials and tribulations. That this affected my livelihood for a week-plus in addition to my communication and my mode of living wasn’t good. (To put it mildly, but I digress.) But several of my friends made a point of calling or texting daily. They were concerned. And they made absolutely sure I knew they were concerned. (Bless them forever for this.)
  15. My family was also very good through this crisis. (It wasn’t just this I was dealing with. This is just what I’m willing to talk about. Further writer sayeth not.)
  16. “Sufficient unto the day are the needs thereof.” (Intentional Biblical misquote by my husband, Michael.) I have to meditate more on this one, I guess.
  17. Buddhists point out that you don’t have to enjoy your circumstances. You just have to accept them.
  18. But yes, when you get an ounce of joy, wring it out to the fullest! (I intend to do so, just as soon as I get some sleep. I’m going to write, and edit, and write some more…)

What do you think of this stream-of-consciousness blog? And what have you, yourself, learned when you have not been able to be online for a significant amount of time due to a computer failure, power outage, or any other reason? Tell me about it in the comments!

Written by Barb Caffrey

April 25, 2019 at 12:53 am

Appearance Vs. Reality

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In daily life, I am struck often by the difference of appearance versus reality. And as a novelist, this strikes me with at least triple force, because I see how it could be otherwise, with just a bit of tweaking…and yet the pathos remains because the person (or people) in question just can’t make that tweak…

But I’m getting ahead of myself.

You may be asking, “So, Barb, what brought this on, hm?”

I’ve been thinking about the difference between appearance and reality for months, if not years. Not just because of the differences between reality starlets’ shows and their real lives (real lives are far more messy, are unscripted, and definitely have fewer camera operators and makeup personnel), but because of the difference in how people I know well — or at least people I once knew well — show off their lives in public but are all different in private.

This, of course, is not new to the 21st Century. We may have different ways of showing ourselves to be different and better and “all that” in public than in private than previous centuries, but it’s still the same old song.

Very few people, in short, feel confident in letting people know they’re real, with warts and all. They don’t want to admit they’re anything less than perfect, because they’re afraid the jackals may be circling…and sometimes, they’re probably right.

But most of the time, showing ourselves in our best light all the time is, to my mind anyway, self-defeating. It’s like a good friend of mine put it: “You see everyone else’s glamour shots, and your own blooper reel.” And you measure your blooper reel — that is, your real life with warts and all — against these highlight-reel things, and come up short.

Which, by the way, anyone would.

Back to why I’m talking about this today, though.

The whole “appearance vs. reality” thing has always been a particular interest of mine. This is only partly because I, myself, decided early on for whatever reason that I would not “fake it ’til I make it.” (That is, put on a front and pretend things were better than they actually were.) And I’m not sure what the rest of it was, excepting that I’ve always been someone who observed others keenly–and in so doing, figured out that all was not as it seemed.

I believe in leading as close to an authentic life as possible. That doesn’t mean burdening people with all my troubles, though sometimes it does seem that way. And it doesn’t mean, either, that I won’t share my triumphs, when I get them…it’s just that I won’t put on that false front, because I see it as wasting time and energy.

(And I don’t have enough of either, so let’s get on.)

That said, are there still things I keep private? Hell, yes. I don’t need to tell all and sundry everything about me just to lead that authentic life. And yes,  it’s a balancing act, for certain.

In essence, what I want you to think about today is this: Is your life what you want it to be? What’s the difference between how it appears, and how it actually is? And what can you do about it to make it any better?

These questions will also work well when you’re writing, mind, as every character ever written struggles with this (as well as more common motivations). And if you use it just right, it’ll deepen and broaden your writing to a degree that’s startlingly real…and may just help others in the process. (Not that you have to, in art, but it’s a good side benefit if you can.)

Written by Barb Caffrey

March 21, 2019 at 12:33 pm

How You Treat Cashiers Says A Lot About You…(A Rant)

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I decided to write this, to explain what I saw, as an exercise in narrative framing…and I hope it will make sense to all of you.

Folks, I was out shopping a few days ago, laying in supplies for myself and my Mom due to the incoming snowstorm. And I witnessed a terrible man lighting into a cashier for no reason at all…so I thought I might talk about this, and why it showed so much of this man’s negative personality.

First, it was busy in the store. The shelves were bare in some places. It was cold outside, we were anticipating snow in the next six to eight hours, and most folks with any planning sense at all were in the store. Which means the cashiers were overworked, harried, and tired.

How do I know this? I’m a former cashier. I also have some common sense. And I know that if you’ve been dealing with a lot of people with big orders for hours, you are tired, you are stressed, and you haven’t had any down time to even grouse to fellow cashiers about how cold the weather is, how worried you are that your car won’t start, or that you won’t make it home until the storm is well underway.

But you can’t help but think this. You do what you can to shove it away, and give the best customer service you can. You tell yourself that no one can control the weather, and that it’s not your fault all these people are cranky (oft-times, crankier than you are), and you do your best to be ultra-polite and get them out of the store as fast as you can.

Anyway, I was in line, paying for a large amount of groceries (especially by my standards), and heard a man behind me yelling at a cashier in the next lane over. (I turned to get a description. He was fortyish, with graying-brown hair, rather short, with a combative expression.) He’d just asked her if anyone had called in sick; she said no, and had turned her light off as she was about to go home. (I know this because the manager had just been over telling her to go home a minute or so prior.) He apparently took great exception to this, and started yelling at her about her “unprofessional behavior,” “bad attitude,” and suchlike. All he did was rant at this poor young woman, who did nothing wrong, and then insisted that a manager be called. All delaying her in going home, and souring her experience of working hard and well during a difficult day.

This guy had no reason at all to do this. She had tried to de-escalate the situation after he started yelling, asking if there was anything she could do. He said he wanted a manager, and he kept yelling and making an ass out of himself.

Look. I know it’s frustrating when the weather is bad, and you’re worried about driving, and you have kids (he had two, I think), and maybe you couldn’t find everything you needed. But yelling at a cashier who did nothing wrong says more about you than it does about her.

And none of it — none — is flattering.

As I am a former cashier, I decided to stick around and talk with the folks at the service desk to give them a better idea of what had happened. I didn’t have to do this. But I didn’t want them thinking this young woman had done anything wrong. (She was probably under twenty.)

I wanted to give that angry man a piece of my mind. But by the time I got out of my line, he was already with the manager. Then he stormed out, his kids in tow…there was no point to engaging with him, not under those circumstances.

Had he not been the final person in this cashier’s line, and had I been behind him, I might’ve asked him why he was getting all upset over nothing. (Then again, I might’ve just waited and then told the cashier she did nothing wrong, and that I was sorry she had to put up with asinine people like that.)

But he was. And he behaved very badly, so badly that he gave his two kids a lesson in bullying. Not to mention rudeness, completely misunderstanding the situation, and a show of just how obnoxious this particular individual can be on any given day.

I did what I could to repair the situation for the cashier. (She’d already gone home by then, or at least was counting her drawer somewhere I couldn’t see her.) But I don’t know how many other patrons would do that.

So I am here to ask you: If you are in a bad mood, please do not take it out on an innocent person like a cashier. Do not make a spectacle of yourself in public, and give bad examples for your kids (or other people’s kids).

And if you have a legitimate beef, be calm. Be courteous. Be respectful. Treat others the way you would want to be treated.

That’s the only way to be an adult. And don’t you want to be one? Especially if you have two kids looking up to you, trying to learn decent behavior from you?

Finally, I will tell you this: Any guy who behaves like this to a blameless cashier is not one I want to spend any time with whatsoever. Period.

Written by Barb Caffrey

January 29, 2019 at 1:36 am

Women Co-Authors are “Disappeared” by NPR, and the World Shrugs

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Folks, I am really upset right now.

NPR recently interviewed two authors, Silka-Maria Weineck and Stefan Syzmanski, for their radio show “All Things Considered.” The reason? Well, it’s World Cup season (championship soccer, as the US would call it; championship football, as everyone else does), and Weineck and Szymanski wrote a book called It’s Football, Not Soccer (and Vice Versa): On the History, Emotion, and Ideology Behind One of the Internet’s Most Ferocious Debates. The book sounds fascinating, and I would’ve loved to hear what Ms. Weineck had to say…except that NPR host Anders Kelto scrubbed all of her interview, and then compounded his error by attributing their co-written book to Szymanski alone.

That is what prompted the following letter to NPR’s ombudsman.

You see, as a female author myself, I know that if I had written a book with someone, and then only my co-author was named after I’d done an interview also, I’d be going ballistic right now.

Ms. Weineck isn’t too happy, either. (Take a look at this article if you don’t believe me.) And I don’t blame her at all.

Anyway, here you go with my letter to NPR:

I am deeply unhappy that in a recent on-air segment for “All Things Considered” host Anders Kelto did not name both authors of the book IT’S FOOTBALL, NOT SOCCER (AND VICE VERSA), instead only naming the male co-author. Refusing to name the female co-author was wrong and shameful, and further compounding his error by refusing to initially name her in the printed piece on your website (which was later corrected) is extremely disheartening.

I look to NPR for balanced coverage. And if there are two authors of a book, the only way to get balanced coverage is to talk about — and to — both co-authors, unless one is not available. In this case, the female co-author, Ms. Silke-Maria Weineck, was indeed available, and had spoken to the on-air host for thirty minutes by her account (I read it at the Chronicle.com, BTW), and yet none of her quotes were used. So your host, Mr. Kelto, was willing to talk with Ms. Weineck, but apparently not willing to use any of her quotes. Or even properly attribute the book to both her and her co-author, Mr. Szymanski, for that matter.

I am extremely frustrated that Ms. Weineck’s voice was silenced. But I’m even more frustrated, as a female author myself, that another female author was marginalized and “disappeared” in this way.

I believe NPR should rectify this problem immediately by talking with Ms. Weineck and working out some way of compensating her for this egregious error.

And please, please, for the love of little green apples, never make this type of mistake ever again. Because it is sickening.

Now, to the men in the audience:

I know most of you would never behave as Mr. Kelto did. (Most especially, the male authors wouldn’t.) But this behavior still must needs be challenged, as it shows the problem we female authors still run into from time to time. (I can’t believe this is the only time NPR has done something like this, either, and they’re supposedly the “liberal bastion” of radio — or at least, by their own charter, are supposed to promote equality and fairness. And what could be more fair than properly attributing a co-written book to both authors?)

(Mind, if you only think about how much you would hate it, if only the female co-author were named instead of you, maybe you’ll understand…such is my hope.)

The reason I am writing this blog, though, is very simple. You men need to realize that the women in your life, especially the creative women, are often discounted or dismissed. (It’s always wrong, too. A creative person is a creative person is a creative person, whether the person is male, female, trans, queer, intersex, or Martian.)

Without realizing that simple fact, the good men out there cannot work against this type of abhorrent behavior. As I do hope you will do, because it needs doing.

And if you, too, want to write to the ombudsman and complain that the female co-author’s name should not have been “disappeared” from the broadcast? Here’s a link.

Rolling with the Punches…

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Folks, before any of you freak out, I’m not talking literal punches, here. (No, the second coming of Muhammad Ali has not haunted my sleep, fortunately.) Just the usual stuff that tends to congregate that you’d rather not do, including minor car issues, a couple of minor medical tests, and the like.

But that got me thinking. (Ooh, a dangerous task, I know…but one I take up with abandon. Or something.)

What are you supposed to do when life throws you a curveball?

Whether it’s minor medical tests or a car problem you’d rather not have (like today’s refusal by my car’s battery to start the car, necessitating a call to AAA), you have to keep as calm as possible and solve the problem as best you can.

I don’t do well with medical tests, personally. I would rather not do any of them. (I freely admit this.) I know it’s better for my health to do them, however, so I do…grumbling all the way. (Hey, it’s not all sweetness and light around Chez Caffrey, hard though I try.)

Fortunately, I have good friends who listen to me and care enough that they’re willing to tell me when I’m being foolish or counterproductive. (Mostly they say this by omission rather than direct observation, but I’m not an idiot; I can tell if they think I’m behaving stupidly, and usually I adjust my behavior accordingly ’cause I don’t want to add to my friends’ burdens.)

To mix metaphors gleefully (the only way to mix metaphors, I can assure you), I think you have to roll with the punches life throws at you. Whether the car doesn’t start (bad battery; bad!), the doctor insists you need a medical test you’d rather not do, or anything else you’d rather not have to deal with, you have to try to remain calm.

But what do you do when you just can’t?

What I do is this: I try to envision the worst-case scenario. What is that, and can I survive it?

Since I’ve survived any number of difficult things in my life (including the deaths of my beloved husband and my best friend), if I think rationally — whether using the worst case scenario frame or not — I know that these problems, vexing though they are, are transitory.

In a week, I won’t think much about ’em. In a month, they’ll be in the rear view mirror so much, they’re barely a pinprick…so it’s all a matter of perspective.

Try to remember that, the next time you have something happen that makes your blood boil. Maybe it’ll help you maintain a cooler head, so you can think your way out of the problem. (Or at least keep your blood pressure down somewhat, which is also a win of sorts.)