Barb Caffrey's Blog

Writing the Elfyverse . . . and beyond

Archive for the ‘Informational Stuff’ Category

Continuing to Battle…(Dealing with Adversity, Part the Nth)

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As the title says, I’m hanging in there. My health is no better, but it’s no worse, either. And I have been able to do a little writing, even a bit of fiction writing, over the past several days. I also was able to help a friend out with a novella, and that gave me a great amount of personal satisfaction.

So that’s a positive step. And I’ve needed those, as temps fell to fifty below zero with wind chill factor for most of the past week in much of the Midwest — including where I live.

I don’t enjoy being shut in the house. (I don’t think most of us do.) While the work I do is internal and creative, it helps to be out and about at least a few times a week. I enjoy being around people (and dogs, and cats), for the most part.  And it gives added richness to my life to do more things, competently, than to just sit in the house and figure out why I’m not writing. (Or sit in the house and wonder why the current story isn’t speaking to me; what have I missed?)

But I have tried to look at it positively, or as positively as I can under the circumstances.

What’s helped me most is to realize that every day, I get to make another attempt. It’s like what former President Jimmy Carter said about spirituality and being a better person: every single day, you can choose to do better. Be better. Or at least do more with what you have. (This is my best paraphrase. But I do encourage you to seek out articles and books about the former President and his beliefs on faith and spirituality. They are definitely worth reading.)

The obstacles I have in my path are different from others. And they’re different from what they were before my husband passed away. But if I am careful, and try not to put undue pressure on myself (always difficult, as I am a perfectionist; you may have gathered this?), I can do a little at a time.

And those small things can add up to bigger things, over time, if you don’t get frustrated with the lack of instant satisfaction, the lack of instant creativity (ha! is there such a thing?), or your own lack of patience.

For those of you facing long-term health issues, way too much stress in your lives, or simply wondering whether or not what you do makes any difference at all: It does. Keep doing it. And try not to question your need for creative solace, if you can…because that’s one of the things that makes life worth living.

What are your tips on dealing with adversity of a health-related nature or anything else that takes away from your writing time? Tell me about it in the comments.

Written by Barb Caffrey

February 2, 2019 at 7:17 am

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

Word Counts: Don’t Believe the Hype

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Folks, lately every time I’ve turned around, I’ve seen writers bragging about how many words they’ve written in a day. And while telling people once in a while is just fine–or telling ’em every day when your readership knows full well you have a book due for turn-in Really Soon Now (TM)–some of these counts seem, well, excessive.

I tend to believe the following maxim, which I’ve already stated above: Don’t believe the hype.

Yes, some writers can and do write thousands of words a day when they’re on a roll. And there are a few who can do this for week after week, month after month, maybe even year after year until there’s some sort of major crisis in their life where they can’t. (Because we’re all human, and we all face various difficulties and crises, I can’t help but say that.)

But  here’s the thing. If someone is pushing how many words she’s written, and does so constantly, you have to ask why. (Unless it’s the issue of your book is due in, and readers are clamoring to know what the hold-up is, of course.)

Is it to reinforce their own self-image of a hard-working writer?

Is it to let their publisher and/or readership know they’re working as hard and fast as they can?

Or is it just to brag, because no one can say you’re wrong because writing is an individual activity?

Look. I know there are writers–many of them, in fact–who write faster than I do. But it’s not a competition. Or, rather, it’s a competition only with myself, as to what I can do creatively despite the obstacles in my path.

Someone else may have different things going on. He or she may have a supportive spouse. (Or not.) He or she may not have any bill problems. (At least, for now.) He or she may be in robust health, and has never missed a day at work, whether it’s at the keyboard or at a day job…

And none of that, not any of it, applies to me as a writer.

I can only do what I can do. My best is my best. And while I’m glad to see my friends happy and fulfilled with their word counts when they’re on a roll, I usually can tell by other means that they’re on a roll other than the “4800 words completed today” cryptic little posts on their Facebook or Twitter or Instagram pages.

They may well be telling the truth. But they may have other reasons to say what they’re saying, too–see above reasons for a starting point.

And again: None of it applies to me, so I don’t have to believe the hype.

The most important thing to take away from this blog is this: Do what you can do. Not what anyone else can do, or worse, what anyone else is saying they’re doing (without any proof at all, most of the time).

Anything else is time-wasting persiflage, at best.

Written by Barb Caffrey

January 22, 2019 at 6:49 pm

Very Small Steps, Continued…

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I figured it was time for another small bloglet, letting you all know how I’m doing.

The last few weeks have been a trial, to put it mildly. I still can’t edit for more than a few minutes at a time, and I can’t write much at all. (Note how infrequent my blogs have become, for example. And no fiction — none — since mid-December.) I have ideas galore, for both words and music, but my energy level is so low that when I try to write them down, they fly away into the ether.

One of my best friends told me that if these ideas are good ones, they will return when I am feeling better. I sincerely hope she’s right.

Yesterday, I fought off a nasty migraine that took out the entire day. Every plan I’d made went out the window as soon as that showed up — which is what migraines do, granted. And I mostly suffered, hurting but unable to sleep, and wondering when I’d be able to return to what I like to call “baseline functional.”

I remind myself daily — and sometimes more often than just once — that I am not this illness. I am not defined by it, and it does not have to make me feel useless, or valueless, or stuck.

We all face illnesses, either our own or that of our loved ones, and we all have to deal with this from time to time. I am reminding myself of that, too.

Mostly, though, it’s taking a series of very small steps, one after the other, to try to shake this illness off and return to what I need to be doing: writing, editing, playing music, composing music, maybe writing a few poems here and there…and helping others.

I will keep taking these small steps, even though on days like yesterday, it feels like ten of the small steps got wiped out, and I’m starting from way behind.

Still. I will continue to do the best I can, and I will find a way to get better. That’s all that I know how to do, and it’s all I can do right now.

Thanks for bearing with me during these struggles.

Written by Barb Caffrey

January 11, 2019 at 12:05 pm

Posted in Informational Stuff, Writing

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Sick at the Holidays…

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Folks, I have meant to write a blog or at least drop in a little bit of something for the past week-plus. But I have been quite ill.

I’ve been to the doctor twice and a third visit is in the offing. All I know is, I have had two ear infections (one in both ears, or a double ear infection), a bad sinus infection, an upper respiratory infection, and all of this happened more or less at the same time. As I have asthma, too, and other health issues already, none of this has helped me feel productive or like I have a place in the world.

Being ill is hard enough, but being sick at the holidays is even worse. I don’t know why that is, but it seems to add insult to injury somehow…and adds a bunch of stress to an already stressful situation.

I have so much stuff to do. Stuff to write. Stuff to edit. Stuff to read, even…and I can do none of it right now. I can’t even help my family members when they need help, as I usually do. Because I can’t get out to do anything for them right now. And that adds to my feelings of stress, not to mention that “do I have a place in the world?” thing I discussed above.

All I know is, I have to somehow heal up. That means another trip to the doctor, to figure out what happened this time, and how to fix it. Maybe I didn’t respond to the last bit of antibiotics? Maybe I caught something else on top of all the other stuff? Maybe something else is going on and I haven’t a clue what?

This is what’s running through my mind, as I write this.

So, folks: Don’t get this, whatever it is. And if you do somehow get something like it, get your rest as fast as you can, and don’t insist — as I unfortunately did — on trying to do any of your normal activities. As bad as it is to feel useless, it’s even worse to feel useless and sick…so pick the best of your available bad options, and rest/heal as best you can.

Oh, and try to laugh, too. That does help.

Written by Barb Caffrey

December 31, 2018 at 1:46 am

Announcing…”Citadel of Fear”

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Folks, a few months ago, I teased you all about a short story I’d sold. I couldn’t tell you much about it at the time, but I promised to come back and let you know when I could…then time got away from me. Work intervened. Real life (TM) got in the way of me talking about one of my few triumphs in 2018.

But now, I can discuss it, and actually have the time to do so. (What a luxury time can be. But I digress.)

The story “Citadel of Fear” was written for the latest Darkover anthology, itself titled CITADELS OF DARKOVER. The citadel in question could be metaphorical, could be literal; we just had to have our characters overcoming something major, something that could be a citadel of some sort. The editor, Deborah J. Ross, gave us wide latitude in what we chose as a citadel, and that helped me out enormously.

In “Citadel of Fear, my character, Miralys n’ha Camilla, is a Renunciate trail and mountain guide. (Think “Free Amazon,” and you’re not far wrong.) She is loyal to her Renunciate sisters, to her clients, and has built a life for herself doing what she enjoys the most: being in the outdoors, guiding clients up and down the perilous Darkovan mountains in all sorts of weather.

When the story opens, she’s guiding yet another client, a young woman, Jenella. It seems like any other day to her. She’s happy, she’s focused, she’s doing what she loves…

And then an avalanche drops on her. Literally.

How she overcomes her fear and takes up her job again is the focus of the story. Because it’s for the Darkover universe, I was able to use a weak psi-talent (called laran) to help her out a bit. But mostly, Miralys can only overcome her citadel of fear by using her mind, heart, and spirit; if she refuses to give in, she can keep going, and reclaim herself as best she can.

It took me somewhere between six or eight drafts to write this 4500-word story. Miralys was a tough nut to crack. She was incredibly closed at the start of this story (well, once the avalanche dropped on her, at any rate). She was not in a good place. And she didn’t have any idea what she was going to do next, or how she was going to do it.

She takes up the mantle of living again because she has to guide five young women down the mountain, as the price for her extensive healing. (Yes, she’d normally do it anyway, but without having to do it under these circumstances, she’d have balked.) She isn’t well. But she has to help, and so she does her best, until a very bad situation–one somewhat reminiscent of what she’s lived through in certain respects–arises.

Because I want you to read this story, I can’t tell you more than that. But I can say this: if you like stories with heroes or heroines who realistically overcome their fears, you will enjoy “The Citadel of Fear.” Guaranteed.

So, because I’m very proud of writing this story, I’m going to give you the table of contents for CITADELS OF DARKOVER now…and hope that in a few months, when it comes out, you’ll remember to look for it. (Of course, I will be talking about it then, too, but there’s nothing wrong with “priming the pump” now, is there?)

Table of Contents

DANCING LESSONS

By Evey Brett

SACRIFICE

By Steven Harper

BANSHEE CRY

By Marella Sands

THE KATANA MATRIX

By Lillian Csernica

SIEGE

By Diana L. Paxson

SEA-CASTLE

By Leslie Fish

FIRE STORM

By Jane M. H. Bigelow

THE DRAGON HUNTER

By Robin Rowland

FISH NOR FOWL

By Rebecca Fox

DARK AS DAWN

By Robin Wayne Bailey

CITADEL OF FEAR

By Barb Caffrey

THE JUDGMENT OF WIDOWS

By Shariann Lewitt

***

So, there you have it! And I do hope you’ll enjoy the story, and the rest of the anthology, when it comes out next year.

Written by Barb Caffrey

December 18, 2018 at 4:08 am

Holidays Are Hard, AKA Christmas Ramblings

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So, the holidays are coming. And they’re tough to take.

You see all the folks rushing here, rushing there (sometimes literally; today I saw a horrific car accident on the Interstate, and was very spooked by it), and you wonder what all that rushing is all about.

Then, there are the Christmas movies. The Christmas music, everywhere you go. (Even at the casino/hotel last night, where I was enjoying a rare night of R&R, I heard all Xmas music, all the time. I actually would’ve rather heard the 149th rendition of Britney Spears’ “Toxic,” which is not exactly my favorite song in the world, than that…because at least Britney is being honest.) The Christmas sales. The Pajamagrams. The Vermont Teddy Bears. And all the other ads you see, most especially for jewelry…

Everything is about conspicuous consumption. (Gag.)

Or about the assumption that every family is perfect (news flash: they aren’t), and that Christmas can make miracles happen out of even the most dysfunctional situation (and dysfunctional people). And while I want to believe that’s true (I know miracles can and do happen, for example), I don’t think it’s as easy as the movies make it out to be.

Look. Call me a curmudgeon. (Please.) But as I’ve said before, holidays are not about presents. They’re about presence.

As in, showing up, paying attention, making memories. Those are the only things that matter. Not how much you spend.

So, this may be an obvious take, but holidays are hard. We’re confronted with all we’re not, and we’re told we must aspire to be things other than what we are.

When you see stuff like that, or hear stuff like that, or think things like that, step back and take a breath. Then, realize that all you can do is take it moment by moment, give yourself permission to have human feelings (and human failings), and keep trying to do whatever good you can, wherever you can.

That’s what I’m going to try to do this year.

Written by Barb Caffrey

December 8, 2018 at 12:53 am