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Sunday Introspection: When Friendships End

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Folks, if you’ve read my blog regularly for any length of time, you know that I am a firm believer in the value of persistence.

But there’s one thing and one thing only where I’ve found that persistence doesn’t seem to help. And it has to do with friendship.

Yeah, you do want to persist through good times and bad, and most of us do. But what are you supposed to do when a friendship ends?

There are good reasons for friendships ending, mind. Your lives go in different directions. Or maybe you have found your values aren’t as similar as you thought. Or perhaps there’s just no meeting of the minds any longer…

Whatever it is, all you can do is accept it. You can’t make that person be your friend any more. And even if you could, it wouldn’t be worth anything anyway…so why even waste your time thinking about it?

This is not a mindset that’s easy for me to embrace. At all. I’m the type of person who keeps running at the walls in her path until the walls fall down.

But yes, there are some battles even I can’t fight. And one of ’em is when someone I have cared about for years decides, “Nope, I’m tired of talking, and this is the end.” (Sometimes they don’t even say anything, either. And that’s even worse.)

I had this happen several years ago. Someone I trusted and was incredibly close to me got angry because I defended another friend — someone she did not like — in her presence. This was enough for her to cut me loose.

At the time, I felt horrible, but I knew I’d done the right thing. I could not allow my fears of losing a friend to stop me from standing up for what I believe in. And I truly believed that my first friend was being unkind and unfair to my second friend…I had to say something, or I wouldn’t be myself.

Now, looking back, I realize I’d do the same thing again. Because as Lillian Hellman once said, I refuse to fit my conscience to fit this year’s fashions.

Sometimes it is very hard to stick up for yourself. It makes you feel like you’re the only person in the universe, shouting into the void, and hoping the void will eventually shout back.

But it’s all you can do. Or you’ll lose your self-respect.

I still miss this friend who cut me loose, and wish her nothing but the best. I don’t know why things got to this particular crisis point, and I wish that somehow, I could’ve cut it off at the pass.

Maybe, though, the reason the friendship ended had more to do with something I saw, oddly enough, in a women’s magazine. An actress said that she believed people are in our lives for a reason, a season, or a lifetime. And if that’s the case, if my friend was in my life for less than a lifetime, the friendship ended naturally. As it should, no matter how awful I found it then — and now.

I’ve lost other friends since, mind. And I’ve hated to lose every single one.

But one thing I do know: While I believe firmly in the value of friendship, it has to be a two-way street. If you have a disagreement with a good friend, you have to be willing to talk it out rather than shut the person out, or worse, decide you’re right and that you’re not going to change and that’s that.

I’ve made these mistakes before, and they never are good.

Now, I believe that if I’ve invested time and energy and care into a person and they’ve become a friend, they deserve that same time and energy and care for me to figure out what’s gone wrong and attempt to fix it. Maybe I can’t. Maybe the other person can’t. Maybe he or she is just there for a reason or a season, not a lifetime, and that reason or season is over.

Still.

I never forget my friends. I’ll never stop caring about them.

But yeah. Communication is a must, in friendship and in life. And if you don’t have it, your friendship will wither on the vine no matter what you do.

So do remember to talk with your friends, and listen, and engage, and do what you can to help them as you help yourself. Because I think that’s one of the reasons we’re here — to learn from others.

 

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Written by Barb Caffrey

August 6, 2017 at 2:00 pm

Language, and the Writers Who Use It

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Over the past week or so, I’ve been struck by the changes in language over the past ten years or so…namely, the uptick in allowable profanity on the one hand, and the uptick in allowable “gross slang” on the other.

For example, I doubt that ten years ago I’d have heard the word “pissed” on television, much less on a show like Divorce Court that features a real judge with real people trying to solve difficult relationship problems. Yet I heard it this past week from Judge Lynn Toler, a retired municipal court justice — and no one batted an eye.

Ten years ago, the word wouldn’t have been “pissed” at all. It would’ve been “ticked” (as in, ticked off) or “perturbed” or “displeased” or even “upset.” But not “pissed,” as it was considered vulgar and uncouth.

Another word that’s attained much more acceptance is the word “farted.” Ten years ago, most who now use this word wouldn’t have chosen this particular expression; instead, it would’ve been “passed gas,” “broke wind,” or if you were highfalutin’ (or like me and just liked the sound of the word), you’d say “flatulent” instead.

Finally, ten years ago it was considered at least slightly impolite to say “Hell” or “Damn” while discussing business matters. (Note it wasn’t at all considered impolite while talking with your friends, those who knew you best.) But now, it happens all the time.

What does that mean? Mostly, it means that language changes. And writers need to keep on top of that.

That doesn’t mean your own speaking habits need to change. But it does mean you need to be aware of what your characters are saying, and more to the point, how they’re saying it.

So when you’re writing dialogue, be aware of your setting, your characters, their particular temperaments…and, of course, keep an ear out for slang. Because that way lies verisimilitude (or at least a better reading experience).

Written by Barb Caffrey

October 20, 2014 at 5:18 am

A Guest Blog from Stephanie Osborn: The Differences in Writing British and American English (and How to Write Both)

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Folks, Stephanie Osborn is no stranger to the Elfyverse (or my blog, either, though sometimes they seem to be one and the same). She’s previously written a few guest blogs (here and here), and as her latest book in her popular Displaced Detective series featuring Sherlock Holmes and his wife, hyperspatial physicist Skye Chadwick, has finally arrived — this being A CASE OF SPONTANTEOUS COMBUSTION, it seemed like a good time for Stephanie to write another one.

So without further ado, please welcome writer extraordinaire Stephanie Osborn back to the Elfyverse!

******

A note from Stephanie Osborn:  It is my great pleasure to make another guest appearance in the Elfyverse. Barb is an amazing writer and editor, and I am so happy to have made her acquaintance through her review of several of my novels; she has become a special friend. We’ve been able to help lift each other up at times when things were down, and that’s so much better than trying to haul oneself up by one’s own bootstraps! I hope you enjoy my little cameo.

 

American English and British English, and Learning to Write Both

By Stephanie Osborn

 

I’m sure you’ve all seen it.

We in America would say, “I don’t recognize this caller ID on my cellphone; I thought this app specialized in emphasizing identification. Could you wake me up at seven in the morning? Everything has been taken care of, but I have to run over and see Mom before the announcement is publicly known.”

But a Brit would say the same thing like this: “I don’t recognise this caller ID on my mobile; I thought this app specialised in emphasising identification. Would you knock me up at seven in the morning? It’s all sorted, but I have to pop over and see me Mum before the announcement is publically known.”

It’s the difference between the American version of English, and the British version of the same language. Sometimes people who travel back and forth between the two countries — the US and the UK — have been known to remark, “We speak the same language, but we don’t.”

And the difference encompasses terminology, slang, and even spelling.

Did you know that J.K. Rowling was made to change the name of the very first book in the Harry Potter series before it could be published in the USA? The original title, the title you’ll find on bookstore shelves in London, is Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone. But publishers felt that Americans might not recognize the alchemical reference, and so it was changed to Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone. And you may, or may not, be familiar with the use of “trainers” to mean athletic shoes, or “jumper” to refer to a pullover sweater. Cell phones are “mobiles” and refrigerators, regardless of brand, are “Frigidaires.” (I suppose this is analogous to our referring to all disposable facial tissues as “Kleenex” and cotton swabs as “Q-Tips.”)

Americans may call it a plow, but Britons call it a plough — that was even a major clue that Holmes found in one of the original adventures, denoting the suspect wasn’t British as he claimed. There is, it seems, and has been for something like a century and a half at the least, a tendency for Americans to eliminate so-called silent letters and spell more phonetically than our British counterparts. But at least Sir Arthur Conan Doyle only had to write in one version thereof.

When I started writing the Displaced Detective series, which has been described as, “Sherlock Holmes meets The X-Files,” I made a deliberate decision: If the speaker was American, dialogue (and later, thoughts and even scenes from that character’s point of view) would be written in American English. If the speaker (thinker, observer) was from the United Kingdom, dialogue etc. would be written in British English. This has held true right down to the book currently being released, A Case of Spontaneous Combustion, book 5 in the series (with at least 3 more in work, and more in the planning stages).

The series itself traces the exploits of Sherlock Holmes — or one version of Holmes, at least — when he is inadvertently yanked from an alternate reality in which he exists in Victorian Europe, into modern, 21st Century America. Because in his particular alternate reality, he and Professor Moriarty were BOTH supposed to die at Reichenbach, if he is returned, he must die. So he wisely opts to stay put and come up to speed on the modern world. Working with Dr. Skye Chadwick, her continuum’s equivalent to Holmes and the Chief Scientist of Project Tesseract (the program responsible for his accidental transition), Holmes ends up being asked to investigate unusual and occasionally outré situations.

In his latest foray, after an entire English village is wiped out in an apparent case of mass spontaneous combustion, London contacts The Holmes Agency to investigate. Holmes goes undercover to find a terror ring. In Colorado, Skye battles raging wildfires and mustangs, believing Holmes has abandoned her. Holmes must discover what caused the horror in Stonegrange and try to stop the terrorists before they unleash their bizarre weapon again, all the while wondering if he still has a home in Colorado.

And the cast of characters includes an American FBI agent, several members of the US military, two entire units of MI-5, and more. All of whom have to be rendered in their appropriate version of English.

Simple, you say? Just set Word to use the British English dictionary.

Right. Except then Skye, Agent Smith, Colonel Jones, and the other Americans would then be speaking Brit.

“So set both dictionaries operational,” you suggest.

Great idea. I’d love to. But Word doesn’t have that option — the two dictionaries would conflict. And even if it could use both, how would it know whether an American or an Englishman were speaking? More, one of those characters — Holmes himself — actually uses a somewhat archaic form of British English, in that he is a man of the Victorian era, and speaks in such fashion. So I am really using three different forms of English.

Well, the end result is simply that I have to make sure I read back through the manuscript very carefully, looking for places where either I’ve slipped up, or autocorrect replaced the British with the American equivalent (which it does every chance it gets). I’m also pleased that my publisher has assigned me a regular editor who is quite familiar with the British version of English, to include the euphemisms, exclamations, and general slang. She’s been amazingly helpful, and I do my best to stay up to speed on the latest version of slang in both the US and the UK.

So what has been the response?

Well, I’ve had one or two Amazon reviews refer to “misspellings,” and there’s one venerated author (of whom I like to refer as one of the “Grand Old Men of Science Fiction”) who is currently reading the first couple of books in the series and is amazed that I even attempted to pull such a thing off, let alone that I’m doing it.

But other than that, it’s rather strange; not one reader has volunteered the observation that I am writing in two different forms of the English language. Yet the sense among fans of the series is that I have captured Doyle’s tone and style, despite the fact that I do not use a first-person Watson narrative, despite the fact that we see what Holmes is thinking, at least to a point.

I believe the reason is because, subconsciously, readers are picking up on the fact that Holmes speaks, thinks, and observes in proper, Victorian, British English. And even when referring to more modern conveniences, maintains a solid British presence. Consistently. Throughout.

And that’s precisely what I intended, from the very beginning.

I love it when a plan comes together.

* * * * *

And that concludes Stephanie Osborn’s latest guest blog! (Insert another hearty round of applause here.) Thank you again, Stephanie . . . as always, I enjoyed your guest blog heartily.

For the rest of you, please do yourselves a favor, and go check out Stephanie’s  intelligent novels of Sherlock Holmes as brought to the modern-day by hyperspatial physicist Skye Chadwick — and who later marries him, becoming akin to Dr. Watson in the process. They are truly SF novels, contain solid science and world building and characterization, and yet even with all this somewhat “heavy” subject matter are gripping and full of suspense.

That’s tough to pull off. But if you’re like me, you won’t recognize this in the heat of finding out just how Sherlock and Skye are going to solve the case this time . . .

Weird NBA Story: Commissioner Stern Insults Sportscaster Jim Rome During Interview

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Folks, I really don’t understand what the commissioner of the National Basketball Association, David Stern, thought he was doing on Wednesday afternoon, June 13, 2012, but here goes: Stern intentionally insulted sportscaster Jim Rome during Rome’s live call-in, nationally syndicated radio show after Rome asked a perfectly legitimate question regarding the upcoming NBA Draft.  This happened about twelve hours ago, and is all over the news.

Here’s what happened.  According to the Yahoo Sports blog “Ball Don’t Lie,” Rome asked the question everyone’s been asking since the New Orleans Hornets won this year’s NBA “draft lottery,” meaning the Hornets will get to pick first, consequently getting the best player available in the 2012 NBA Draft.  As the Hornets are currently owned by the NBA (and have been since December of 2010), this didn’t look very good.  Rome, being a well-known sportscaster, asked the question in what surely appears to be a rather non-confrontational way.

To wit (as transcribed by Yahoo Sports from the article referenced above):

“You know, New Orleans won the draft lottery, which, of course, produced the usual round of speculation that maybe the lottery was fixed,” Rome said. “I know that you appreciate a good conspiracy theory as much as the next guy — was the fix in for the lottery?”

“Uh, you know, I have two answers for that,” Stern said. “I’ll give you the easy one — no — and a statement: Shame on you for asking.”

“You know, I understand why you would say that to me, and I wanted to preface it by saying it respectfully,” Rome replied. “I think it’s my job to ask, because I think people wonder.”

“No, it’s ridiculous,” Stern answered. “But that’s OK.”

“I know that you think it’s ridiculous, but I don’t think the question is ridiculous, because I know people think that,” Rome said. “I’m not saying that I do, but I think it’s my job to ask you that.”

“Have you stopped beating your wife yet?” Stern asked.

Now, this was a truly ridiculous answer, especially as Stern had already said above that the draft lottery wasn’t fixed.   It’s especially dumb because Stern is sixty-nine years of age, an accomplished and learned man, and really shouldn’t have said any such thing, especially because his asinine statement has for the moment eclipsed the NBA’s premiere event — the NBA Finals.

Rome handled this pretty well, as you’re about to see from the transcript:

“Yeah, I don’t know if that’s fair,” Rome responded. “I don’t know that that’s fair.”

“Well, why’s that?” Stern asked.

My aside — oh, come off it, Commish!  You’re playing dumb here.  (Or were you having a “senior moment?”)  Whatever you’re doing, it’s wrong.  Cut it out.

Back to the transcript:

“Because I think that there are — and I know you read your emails and I’m sure you follow things virally on Twitter — people really do think it, whether it’s fair or not,” Rome said. “You don’t think the question’s fair to ask if your fans think it?”

Good question.  So, how does Stern answer it?  (Warning: this next exchange is rather lengthy.)

“People think it because people like you ask silly questions,” Stern said.  “I expect it to be written about — and actually, I commented last night in my presser that there was one guy who I won’t dignify by naming who says, ‘I have no reason to know anything, and I don’t know anything, but I tell you, I believe it’s fixed.’ OK, that’s good. Why is that? ‘Well, because this team won.’ And if that team won, it would’ve been fixed also, and if that team won, it would’ve been fixed also. And if every team was invited to have a representative there, and there were four members of the media there, and if Ernst and Young certified it, would you still think it? ‘Yes.’ So, I guess …”

“I think two things, which responds to this,” Rome interjected. “Number one, I don’t think so. I don’t think so — and I’m not covering myself — I don’t think so, and I think by asking the question, it would not suggest I think so. But the one thing I would say: The league does own the team, does it not?”

“… Yes,” Stern said, a question mark at the end of his sentence.

“Does that not make the question fair?” Rome asked.

“I don’t think so,” Stern said. “Number one, we sold it. We’re gonna close this week. We already have established our price. I think that if it had gone to Michael Jordan, which was the next team up with, in terms of a high percentage, they would’ve said, ‘Oh, David’s taking care of his friend Michael.’ And if it had gone to Brooklyn, which is going into Barclay Center, it would have been fair to speculate, I suppose, that we want to take Brooklyn off of the mat. So there was no winning. And people write about it, and it’s OK to write about it, and we sort of expect it, but that’s not a question that I’ve been asked before by a respectable journalist.”

This actually is a logic chain that makes sense.  But why did it take Stern so long to come up with it?  And why did he have to needlessly insult Rome before he got there?

———

Edited to add:

Upon further reflection, it seems that Stern wished to “frame the narrative” by giving a reason that explained why Stern had said something so insulting to Rome.  Notice the slur about “respectable journalists” who supposedly  wouldn’t ask such a question about “rigging the draft” — what was the point of that, especially as Rome had asked a perfectly legitimate question?  (And am I really supposed to think that other sportscasters and journalists hadn’t asked Stern this question before Rome got around to it?  Because I have a hard time buying that, too.)

That’s why, upon further reflection, I don’t think that Stern’s attempt at framing the narrative passes the “smell test,” even with the proviso that Stern’s logic chain regarding the other teams does make sense.

Back to the original blog.

———

From the transcript:

“I think I understand why you’re frustrated by that; I think that I understand why that would upset you,” Rome said. “I would hope that you would not hold that against me.”

“I wouldn’t hold it against you — you know, you and I have been into more contentious discussions than that,” Stern said.

“I don’t know, I’d put that one right up there,” Rome replied.

That’s the understatement of the year.  But Stern was not yet done; check out this next line:

“Well, you know, it’s good copy, and you do things sometimes for cheap thrills,” Stern said.

I don’t know what Stern thought he was doing here, but that just escalated an already tense situation.  And by this time, Rome was obviously getting exasperated:

“I did not do that for a cheap thrill,” Rome answered.

“Well, that’s what it sounds like,” Stern said.

“No, not at all,” Rome answered. “See, that’s where you and I — that’s our point of disconnect. That was not a cheap thrill and I was not throwing anything against the wall, and I was trying to be as respectful as possible. I’m just saying that people wonder about that. And here’s what I don’t want to do — I don’t want to say, ‘Hey commissioner, people would say …’ Because I’m going to ask a direct question. But people do wonder. But that was not a cheap thrill. I got no thrill out of that.”

“Well, it’s a cheap trick,” Stern said.

“No, flopping is a cheap trick,” Rome said.

Good one!  (I get tired of watching NBA players, especially the stars, doing this all the time.  It weakens the game and slows down the action.)  This was an excellent way for Rome to re-direct the conversation back to basketball rather than whatever it was Stern thought he was doing.  But once again, Stern didn’t take the high road:

“Well, no. But listen, you’ve been successful at making a career out of it, and I keep coming on, so …” Stern said.

“Making a career out of what, though, commissioner?” Rome interrupted. “See, I take great offense to that. Making a career of what? Cheap thrills?”

“What offense are you taking? You’re taking offense?” Stern asked.

I really do not buy Stern’s “I didn’t do anything” response here.   Neither did Rome.

“I am. Now I am,” Rome answered. “If you’re saying I’ve made a career out of cheap thrills …”

“… taking on the world, and now Jim Rome is pouting? I love it,” Stern said.

Um, excuse me?  Why do you wish to keep escalating an already bad situation, Mr. Commissioner?  (Especially when this was entirely your own fault.)

Here’s the rest of the transcript:

“I’m not pouting; I take offense,” Rome said. “There’s a difference between pouting and taking offense. I take offense like you took offense to the question. What if I said — were you pouting when I asked the question?”

“What offenses? Do you want to hang up on me?” Stern asked.

“No, I can’t hang up on you, because I’m running out of time — I would never hang up on you,” Rome said.

“OK,” Stern said. “Listen, I’ve got to go call somebody important, like Stephen A. Smith, right now. He’s up next.”

“All right, you go make that call, and I’ll go talk to somebody else, too, I guess,” Rome said.

“All right,” Stern said.

“All right, commissioner. Have a nice day,” Rome said. “I did not hang up on him — we are officially out of time. We will come back and reset that momentarily. Stay tuned.”

As writer Dan Devine of “Ball Don’t Lie” said, Stern should not have done this because Stern is a “grown-ass man.”  Devine also said, earlier in his critique:

Setting aside the moral/ethical/sensitivity argument you might make — “Hey, we probably don’t need to evoke domestic violence during a sports talk radio interview, especially when it’s not one about, y’know, domestic violence” — this wasn’t a loaded question. There most certainly was a way for Stern to answer Rome’s question — which, again, was “Was the fix in for the lottery?” — without in any way implicating the league in any impropriety.

Exactly right. 

This is undoubtedly the strangest sports story in the past ten years or more, because here, we have a commissioner in David Stern who’d rather cause trouble for a sportscaster than talk about his own product — the teams who are playing in the NBA Finals (the Oklahoma City Thunder and the Miami Heat, to be exact). 

Let me say it again, louder this time: David Stern would rather score cheap shots off Jim Rome than do his job, which is to promote NBA basketball.  Stern shouldn’t behave this way no matter what questions Rome or any other sportscaster asks (even though Rome’s questions were fair), because it’s part of Stern’s job to handle the tough questions.  (Otherwise, why accept the paycheck?)

And if I were an owner of any of the twenty-nine NBA franchises that aren’t owned by the NBA at this time, I’d be furious at Stern and be looking for a way to oust him over this.  Because it’s just not right when a commissioner of a professional sport makes the story all about him, rather than about the players, coaches, or even the owners.

Persistence is Key

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Nothing gets done in this world without one, simple truth: persistence.

Without persistence, we wouldn’t have one of our greatest American Presidents, Abraham Lincoln — admittedly an exalted example — because what most people fail to remember from the 1858 Lincoln-Douglas Debates is that Abraham Lincoln was then a candidate for the United States Senate from Illinois.  And he lost, which ultimately was a great thing for the country (how could Abraham Lincoln have become President in 1860 if he’d been a sitting Senator?), yet he couldn’t have known this in 1858.

In the writing field, the career path of Sharon Lee and Steve Miller has already been discussed, extensively, by me, as they are shining examples of what persistence, faith in yourself and genuine talent can do to keep dreams alive. 

In the music field, the career of Art Pepper (1925-1982), alto saxophonist, is an insightful example.  Pepper had major drug problems, and ended up in prison for over ten years in the 1950s, just as he was starting to make a name for himself.  He resumed his career after that ten years only after he met his third, and last, wife, Laurie; some of his best work was recorded between 1975 and 1982, the year of his death.  In his autobiography (transcribed by Laurie Pepper), STRAIGHT LIFE, Pepper described the difficulty he had in believing he could still make great music, and credited his wife, Laurie, for her faith and belief in him until the end of his life.  (Sometimes, behind every great man really is a great woman.)

And not everyone becomes famous or appreciated his or her lifetime; Charles Ives (1874-1954) is a famous example in music (he was a composer, but was known more for being an insurance executive than as a composer or musician).  Ives’s best-known composition, “Variations on America,” features bitonality and polyrhythms, and was far ahead of its time in how melody and harmony were conceptualized.  Ives, in general, was at least fifty years ahead of his time in how he conceptualized harmony and melody.  (This is partly why Ives’s music wasn’t much appreciated until he was near death, and afterward.)

Going on with this theme, Emily Dickinson (1830-1886) was barely-known during her lifetime; she’d written thousands of poems, but only a dozen were published during her lifetime, often altered by publishers to “fit the rules of the times.”  (Haven’t we all heard this, writers?)  She was known for writing poems without titles; for using “slant rhymes,” or close-to rhymes (like “ill” and “shell”); for short sentences, and for unconventional capitalization and punctuation.

All of these examples — every single last one of them — shows the importance of continuing to do whatever the person (or people) in question was good at, because by doing so, that was eventually what caused the breakthrough in every single life.  It wasn’t always noticeable at the time — I’m sure Sharon Lee and Steve Miller had no idea their Liaden Universe (TM) books had become so popular before the advent of the Internet (they’ve said so, in other places) — but that was what did it for them.

In other words, PERSISTENCE IS KEY.  Because we cannot force a breakthrough; we might not even recognize a small breakthrough when it happens.  But we can persist, and keep on going; we can continue to believe in ourselves, and keep up “the good fight,” while refusing to surrender our creativity to anyone for any reason.   And being married to a good person — as Sharon Lee is to Steve Miller, as Charles Ives was, to Harmony Twitchell, as Art Pepper was, to Laurie Pepper — can really and truly help.

It is that last quality that I tend to highlight, being fortunate enough to marry the right man for me, Michael B. Caffrey, and I do my best to remember, every day, how much faith and belief he had in me.  But all of the other qualities — talent, self-belief, drive, honest ambition, a willingness to “do your thing” regardless of what anyone else thinks about it — are just as important; in some cases, like Emily Dickinson’s, if a person was relying on finding and marrying the right person to propel him or her to greatness, it just wasn’t going to happen.

So I urge you, once again, to keep on trying.  Refuse to give up, no matter how long it takes.  Give yourself a chance, even if no one else will . . . and do your best to let your dreams take shape.

Written by Barb Caffrey

February 13, 2011 at 11:34 pm

My favorite “comfort books”

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After several extremely trying days, I read some of my favorite “comfort books” in order to feel better and be able to keep going.   And that got me thinking about what, exactly, is a “comfort book?”

To my mind, a “comfort book” is one that will give you a positive feeling time and time again.  It’s a book that gets your mind off your troubles, or at least diverts you from them somewhat.  And it’s a book that you tend to admire for some reason — maybe due to how well the writer in question uses language, maybe because the characters “speak” to you, maybe because it has a bright and lively feel to it, or maybe just because these characters have survived something terrible but have lived to tell the tale.

These books all inspire me to do more, be more, and to keep trying, no matter how hard it gets and no matter how long it takes.  Though the plotlines are disparate, and the situations all over the map, they all have in common one thing — they reach me, no matter how awful I feel, and no matter what sort of chaos is going on all around me.

So in no particular order, here are my favorite books that I turn to again and again when I’m feeling the most down and out:

MIRROR DANCE, Lois McMaster Bujold — Mark Vorkosigan’s story goes from anti-hero to full-fledged hero, has huge peaks and miserable valleys, and contains some of the best writing of Ms. Bujold’s career to date.

CORDELIA’S HONOR (omnibus of SHARDS OF HONOR and BARRAYAR), Bujold — Cordelia Naismith Vorkosigan’s story is humane, interesting, revealing, and engaging.  Cordelia makes her own life her own way, yet realizes she’s as fragile down-deep as anyone else.   Finding a mate as extraordinary as she is in Aral Vorkosigan is half the fun — watching what they accomplish together is the rest.  This is my favorite of all Ms. Bujold’s novels/novel compilations; it also was my late husband Michael’s favorite work by Bujold.

Poul Anderson, the “Dominic Flandry” series (two outstanding novels in this series are A KNIGHT OF GHOSTS AND SHADOWS and A STONE IN HEAVEN) — Flandry is an interstellar secret agent, a literate and erudite man with impeccable taste who still manages to be a flawed human.   He’s also a bon vivant with an alien valet and a romantic heart buried beneath his cynical exterior.  If you haven’t read any of these stories yet, you should.

André Norton, FORERUNNER FORAY and ICE CROWN — Note that Miss Norton wrote many, many outstanding novels in the science fiction, fantasy, romance and historical romance fields; these are my two favorites.  The former novel has a heroine in Ziantha who goes from unwanted child to highly-trained psychic, albeit in thrall to the latter-day version of the Mafia; how she breaks free and finds friends and companions is well worth the read.  The latter features Roane Hume, an unwanted cousin forced to do her uncle’s will on a backward planet that knows nothing of space travel or advanced societies; Roane finds her own inner strength and throws off her shackles while finding the right man for her (more alluded to than delineated, but there), proving that knowledge indeed is power.  (Note that André Norton was Michael’s all-time favorite SF&F writer.  He had good taste.)

Stephen R. Donaldson — A MAN RIDES THROUGH.  This is the second book of the “Mordant’s Need” duology and is a rousing tale of romance, mistaken motivations, political intrigue, and contains an unusual magic system dealing with the shaping and control of various mirrors.  The two main protagonists, Terisa and Geraden, go from not knowing anything to being supremely powerful and confident in and of themselves while maintaining their fallible, undeniably human nature in a realistic way that reminded me somewhat of medieval epics (albeit with magic).  Excellent book that works on all levels, and as always, Donaldson’s command of language is superb and worth many hours of study.

Rosemary Edghill, TWO OF A KIND and THE SHADOW OF ALBION (the latter written with André Norton) — the first is a hysterically funny Regency romance, the second is an “alternate Regency” with magic.  Excellent books.

Mercedes Lackey, BY THE SWORD and Vanyel’s trilogy (MAGIC’S PAWN, MAGIC’S PROMISE, MAGIC’S PRICE) — both emotional and well-conceived, these books draw you in and don’t let go.  Ms. Lackey is one of the most popular novelists in fantasy literature, and it’s easy to understand why.

KRISTIN HANNAH, WHEN LIGHTNING STRIKES — I go back to this book again and again because of the strength of its romance between contemporary woman Alaina “Lainie” Constanza and the outlaw John Killian in 1896; this is a paranormal, time-traveling romance that gets everything right.  The characters are engaging though deeply flawed, and have had terrible things happen to them in the past but manage to overcome all difficulties by believing in the power of their love — but taking time to get there, which makes things far more realistic.

Linnea Sinclair, AN ACCIDENTAL GODDESS.  I enjoy all of Ms. Sinclair’s work, but it’s the story about psychic priestess Gillaine “Gillie” Davré in the far future (she’s a Raheiran, is also a soldier and member of the Raheiran Special Forces) that always draws me back.  Gillie is a complex heroine that, despite her special abilities (of which she has many), still remains a flawed human being.  (The Raheirans think of themselves as human.  Other types of humanity, such as the Khalarans Gillie works with, tend to think of them as lesser Gods and Goddesses, which discomfits Gillie no end.)  Her love story with Khalaran Admiral Rynan “Make it Right” Makarian, a man as complex and interesting as she is, holds my interest time and time again.

Jane Austen, EMMA and MANSFIELD PARK — these are my two favorite novels of Miss Austen’s output, partly because the first is a biting satire and the second a morality play in addition to the “comedy of manners” Miss Austen seemingly could write in her sleep.   I appreciate Miss Austen’s work more and more as I get older; her craftsmanship was outstanding and her eye for detail even better.  (Note that Jane Austen, like André Norton, was one of Michael’s favorite writers.  It was because of Michael’s insistence that I re-read EMMA and realized the fluffy nature of it concealed biting wit and savage satire, then I went on to re-read everything else.)

Finally, there’s the writing team of Sharon Lee and Steve Miller and their entire “Liaden Universe” series.  I can’t say enough how much I admire these two writers, how much I appreciate their fine series of books (twelve or so to date), and how much I’m looking forward to GHOST SHIP, the sequel to both SALTATION and I DARE.

These books are all emotionally honest, they get the issues right, they don’t play games with the reader and the way these writers use the English language is superb.   I gain more every time I turn to these authors and their books, and I believe you will, too, if you give them a chance.

Just reviewed “The Dragon Variation” and “Mouse and Dragon” at SBR; Comments.

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Folks, here’s the link before I forget:

http://shinybookreview.wordpress.com/2011/01/01/the-dragon-variation-and-mouse-and-dragon-two-more-excellent-books-by-lee-and-miller/

Now, a few comments from me (otherwise known as the peanut gallery):

These books are excellent.  Truly outstanding.  Magical, even . . . they get all the emotions right.  All the mores right.  All the cultural issues right.  The language is impressive, the descriptions are just right, and the romances are conflicted, realistic, sometimes amusing and touching, all at once.

I wish I could write this like this pair of authors, Sharon Lee and Steve Miller; I truly do.

The end of my review talked about the emotional, powerful impact MOUSE AND DRAGON had on me.   MOUSE AND DRAGON is about the too-brief marriage of Aelliana Caylon and Daav yos’Phelium, and is realistic in so many ways about what happens to a widower when his spouse dies that I can’t even tote them up on a toteboard.  That Aelliana’s presence sticks around (more or less in ghost form) is not the most amazing part of this achievement; it’s that Sharon Lee and Steve Miller — neither of whom have been widowed as far as I know — got it right that our deceased spouses do live on.  In us.

One of the issues I’ve had with widowhood from the beginning is that I didn’t know how to express my feelings over the loss of my husband beyond rage, despair, extreme frustration and loss.  It’s really hard to lose a spouse when you’re only thirty-nine years old, and you’ve only had a few, short years together.  Blissful years, sure.  But still — far too short.

The entire story of Daav’s marriage — how he met Aelliana, in SCOUT’S PROGRESS.  How he married her, then lost her, in MOUSE AND DRAGON.  How he dealt with her continued presence in FLEDGLING and SALTATION — has now been sketched out.  It is a stunning achievement, one that I can’t praise highly enough; it shows two extremely intelligent people who are constrained by circumstances that manage to forge a life together, then manage to keep on loving each other in a meaningful way after one of the pair’s physical death.

Daav’s solution — which I will discuss here, but I warn you it is a spoiler if you haven’t read the end of MOUSE AND DRAGON, or any of FLEDGLING or SALTATION — is to immerse himself in an alternate identity, Jen Sar Kiladi, and thus take a lover.  He has a child, Theo Waitley, by his lover, who is a half-sibling of his son Val Con yos’Phelium by his wife, Aelliana Caylon.  And Aelliana has stuck around; she still views herself as Daav’s wife, and despite him taking a lover (at her insistence, I might add), nothing has changed for them as far as their feelings go.  It’s just that because she no longer has a physical body, she can’t meet all his physical needs.

I’ve been pondering this.  I think there’s something here that might help me, psychologically, deal with something I’ve really not wanted to have to think about — possibly being with another man.

You see, Michael was the ultimate in my experience.  The best husband (as I had two previous ones, believe you me, I know how good a husband he was).  The best, and most supportive person, I have ever had the privilege to know, yet he was not sycophantic and would tell me off if he felt the need (which, fortunately for me, was rarely).

How do you go beyond “the ultimate?”  How do you find any meaning with anyone else?

I don’t know, but I’m finally willing to at least consider the possibility that someone extraordinary — someone like Kamele Waitley was for Daav/Jen Sar — might exist out there.

I’d best end this now, or I’ll get maudlin — and trust me, none of us need that.

Written by Barb Caffrey

January 1, 2011 at 6:25 pm