Barb Caffrey's Blog

Writing the Elfyverse . . . and beyond

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More on the War Poetry Contest at WinningWriters.com

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Folks, I wrote to the kind folks at WinningWriters.com and asked for a link that would work so I could talk more about the War Poetry contest than I had, and Adam Cohen wrote back to me this morning with a link that will work:

http://www.winningwriters.com/contests/war/2010/wa10_pastwinners.php

Now, let’s talk about the top three poems since I have a good link to the contest that y’all can use.  (By the way, if you are a poet or a writer or want to know more about what is available out there to read and to try for as far as contests go, the WinningWriters.com Web site is an outstanding place to start your research.  I’ve been getting their free newsletter for at least a year and a half and I’ve found it very helpful.)

The Grand Prize winner was Gerardo “Tony” Mena with his poem, “So I was a Coffin.”  (He won $2000.)  He is a veteran who served in Iraq and Afghanistan, and his poem was written for his friend Corporal Kyle Powell.

This poem is searing in its imagery, and goes through a series of steps — we first see a spear, and when that doesn’t work, we see a flag.  When that isn’t quite right, we see a bandage — and this is where the poem really starts to hit between the eyes — and when the bandage doesn’t work, then the poem talks about coffins.  And about how finally, at long last, he’s a “good coffin,” when he’d been inadequate as a spear, a flag, and a bandage.

This poem stands one step away from heartbreak from the beginning, and its imagery is stark in its simplicity.  Knowing it was written for Mr. Mena’s friend just adds another layer to what makes this personally moving, but even had I not known that (had Mr. Mena not said anything about it) I believe this poem would’ve had similar emotional intensity.

The second place winner, Bruce Lack, sent in three poems entitled “FNG,” “Get Some” and “Hadji.”  Mr. Lack is a former member of the United States Marine Corps, and it’s obvious he’s used his military service as a springboard for his poetry.  All three of these poems are searing, and there’s bad language in two of ’em — understandable bad language, to be sure.  (I mention this in case anyone wants to read these with their children; adults, please check these out by yourselves just in case.)  He won $1200 for his poems, but as with Mr. Mena, it appears far more important to Mr. Lack that his poetry be read and understood than that it earned money.  (I’m sure neither of them are adverse to the money; it’s just that these poems do need to be read and understood by as many as possible.)

Specifically, “FNG” is about a soldier’s duty and how you’re supposed to keep yourself “shipshape and Bristol fashion” at all times.  (That’s not how Mr. Lack puts it, mind you.)  “Get Some” is all about a soldier who saw one of his friends die, and how he can’t put that image out of his mind no matter how hard he tries to resume his life.  And “Hadji” is about war, and about what he thought he’d see but didn’t — yet what he saw was far more than he could deal with.

All three of these poems work as a set, but they’d work by themselves, too.  But as a set, they show that even the most mundane tasks a soldier deals with daily can be difficult to deal with because all of them — all — lead to the soldier’s ultimate duty, that of war and how he (or she) must learn to deal with what they’ve seen and done, not to mention wanted to do.

The third place winner is Anna Scotti, and is the only non-veteran in the top three winners.  Her poem is called “This is how I’ll tell it when I tell it to our children,” and it’s about “prettifying” the war so what the soldiers did to the protagonist doesn’t seem as terrifying as it actually was.  Ms. Scotti won $600 for this poem, and it is a nice counterpart to the four other poems written by Mr. Lack and Mr. Mena in that it’s quieter, but no less intense.  This is the one poem of the five that takes some effort to read, but once you figure out she’s talking around the subject rather than about it,  it becomes just as heart-rending as the others.

I believe that this War Poetry contest is extremely important to highlight, which is why I’ve written this second (and far more comprehensive) blog about it.   The two wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have fallen out of the public consciousness to a degree because for whatever reason the media isn’t covering it as much as it used to — maybe they’re bored with it.  Or maybe they just don’t think it’s “sexy” to talk about people dying in a far-away place for an undetermined objective.  (Or, rather, an objective that the media would rather not discuss; trying to undermine al-Qaeda or the Taliban is very important, but it’s something that can’t be conveyed in a quick “sound-bite.”)

I’ve known many veterans in my life; my husband Michael was a proud Navy veteran, my father is a proud Navy veteran, my uncles served in the Army and Marines, my cousins have served in the Marines and the Army, and my friends have served in all branches (Army, Navy, Coast Guard, Marines, and Air Force).  I believe that serving our country is extremely important — my own health would never allow me to serve (I tried, in my youth) — but we can’t forget what our fine men and women see when they’re dealing with war and death.  We can’t “prettify” it — that’s why Anna Scotti’s poem is so moving — or “gussy it up” so it’ll be more acceptable in a conversation.   And we certainly cannot ignore it, because that also ignores the huge sacrifices our military men and women have made for us over the years and is damned cruel, besides.

Those fighting the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq deserve our support, and our understanding.  And the first part of giving our support and our understanding is to listen, to read, and to understand — not to shut out the soldiers who’ve given everything of themselves in order to derail the al-Qaedas and Talibans of this world so perhaps fewer innocents will die than would’ve died had our soldiers not given everything they have in the attempt.

The War Poetry contest is a good way to keep the conversation going, and to understand exactly what is going on with our returning soldiers and how hard it is to deal with what most of us see as “normality” after dealing with things that no man, or woman, or child should ever have to see.  It also is a way to affirm the sacrifices of our men and women in a positive, life-affirming way.  

But the War Poetry contest really needs more people to go and read these fine poems (including the honorable mentions and the published finalists — I didn’t see a bad poem in the lot) and reflect upon what our veterans have done for us, as shown by the many veterans (and non-vets) who’ve written outstanding poetry about war for this contest.

So please, go to the WinningWriters.com Web site — go to the link that was provided — and read these poems.  Then think about them, and talk about them, and pass them on to your friends and neighbors.  Because maybe we can get the conversation going that seems to have been woefully absent in Washington, DC, and in all of our state legislatures besides — and a “maybe” in this case is far better than the “Hell, no!” our servicepeople have been getting to date in their personal re-writing of history in order to make it more palatable to their children, to their spouses, and to their friends.

Written by Barb Caffrey

November 21, 2010 at 2:34 pm

It’s NOT a Mandate, Folks; Rather, a Repudiation.

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The election is over, but the bloviating goes on.  Today on WTMJ Radio (AM 620 in Milwaukee, Wisconsin), both Governor-elect Scott Walker (Republican) and Senator-elect Ron Johnson (R) used the word “mandate” while presumably wearing a straight face.

Yes, what happened last night is a slap-down for the people presently in power, the Obama Administration and many Democratic Senators and Representatives who followed their lead — along with some who didn’t, but were Democratic incumbents, and got washed out with the tide.

But it’s not — repeat, not — a mandate.  Rather, this is an exercise in the Republicans framing the narrative: they’re doing their level best to show voter rage at not being listened to as a “mandate” for themselves, which shows them to be completely ignorant of recent history.

So I’m going to educate them.  Starting right now.

What happened in this election is what my friends among the Hillary Clinton Democrats (some also under the name PUMA Democrats, with PUMA meaning either “People United Means Action” or “Party Unity My A**”) have been predicting since Barack Obama was named the Democratic nominee over Mrs. Clinton — and that is, many Democrats who were shut out by the Democratic National Committee on 5/31/2008 at their Rules and Bylaws Committee meeting were angry, and joined with the angry Republicans and angry Independents who didn’t feel they were being listened to — and that’s why we have an incoming Republican Speaker of the House (presumably John Boehner from Ohio, though it’s remotely possible the Republicans may select someone else) and a Senate that’s only nominally Democratically-controlled after the election results were known.

What people need to understand is that the Democratic Party fissured as of that moment, 5/31/2008, between those who felt what happened on that day — Barack Obama getting delegates he didn’t earn from Michigan, where he wasn’t on the ballot, and Mrs. Clinton having delegates she fairly earned (because she was on the ballot, and very popular in Michigan) taken away — was OK, and those who felt it was absolutely reprehensible.  Also be reminded that on 5/31/08,  Floridians were told to be happy that their representatives to the Democratic National Convention would only get 1/2 a vote, each — both of those things set badly with over half of the Democratic Party, including many who liked Obama and had voted for him, but could not get behind such blatantly slanted and non-voter-representative tactics.

You see, the DNC (most especially member-and-CNN-analyst Donna Brazile) believed “rules are rules,” and they didn’t care that the voters went out to vote and believed their votes would be respected.  They hid behind fig-leafs such as Florida supposedly voting “too early” when several other states moved up their primary dates as well but no one said word-one to them (most of those were states Obama won handily in), or saying from the beginning, “Oh, that primary doesn’t count because they moved it up without our approval,”  even while Michigan residents were voting in record numbers in their January primary.

Excuse me, DNC, but the voters voted.  They did what they were supposed to do: they voted, and in record numbers.  And they did not care about your rules.  They were told to vote, and they did.  They clearly expressed a preference, one you definitely didn’t like, for Hillary Clinton — and thus, you managed to mute the impact of her historic primary victories.  (Mrs. Clinton was the first woman to ever win a primary in the United States, much less a whole bunch of them.  And she won the most votes from primaries, too; we know that.  Mr. Obama won most of his victories in the caucuses, where many vote totals were disputed; please see Gigi Gaston’s excellent documentary “We Will Not be Silenced” for further details.  Here’s a link:  www.wewillnotbesilenced2008.com — this should help.  I know the movie, in four parts, is available on YouTube.)

The ill-feeling the DNC caused by refusing to listen has not dissipated in the last two years; instead, it’s simmered and boiled over in many cases.  I know that I am still angry and will always be angry at what happened at that meeting, because it showed that the DNC — the governing board of the Democratic Party, more or less — did not care one whit about the voter’s intentions or the voters themselves.  Instead, the DNC decided they knew better than we did, than what the polls were telling them — than what their own common sense should’ve told them if it hadn’t been taking a coffee break.

I know that while many Hillary Dems did what I did — vote for competent, qualified people wherever possible, including Democrats — some were so angry due to what happened on 5/31/08 (where we were told that we did not count, that our votes did not matter, and when our massed voices crying out for justice went unheard) that they voted a straight Republican ticket.

So the Republicans — including those in Wisconsin, where they won control of both the Assembly (the lower house) and the Senate (upper house) — are wrong when they think they have received a “mandate” to do anything.  What they received was the gift of many Democrats who are angry at how Obama was selected in the first place, along with many who were flat-out frustrated at the policies of Harry Reid (who, inexplicably, held his seat in Nevada) and Nancy Pelosi (easily re-elected, but almost assuredly to retire as former Speakers rarely stay in the House after they lose their Speakership).

So if the Republicans think this is a mandate, they are wrong.

What this was, instead, was a repudiation of the tactics of the DNC on 5/31/08, along with a repudiation of Nancy Pelosi, Harry Reid, and the entirety of the Obama Administration in particular.

If the Republicans take the wrong message from this, and start cutting unemployment benefits, start cutting health care benefits that are already extant, and mess with Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security, Food Stamps, or any of the “social safety net” programs that are so vitally needed with the country as a whole having over 9% reportable unemployment (and more like 17% functional unemployment throughout the USA, with some areas having far more), they will be voted out in turn.

Personally, I am disgusted that Wisconsin voted out Russ Feingold, an 18-year veteran of the Senate.  Feingold is an honest, ethical and principled politician; the only thing he’d ever done that I fully disagreed with was backing Barack Obama over Hillary Clinton in 2008 (though he did not like what the DNC did on 5/31/08 any better than anyone else — such was the impression I received).   I voted for Mrs. Clinton in the Wisconsin Primary, and am as disgusted as anyone I know — and enraged, too — about what the DNC did on 5/31/08, but I cast my vote anyway for Feingold because unlike many politicians, he actually explains himself and has taken it upon himself to visit every county in Wisconsin every single year.  (Plus I looked at it this way, as a HRC supporter: Hillary Clinton is a centrist/pragmatist.  She’d want Wisconsin to have the best possible person representing the state, who in my opinion was Russ Feingold, whether or not she gets along with him.)

What we have now in Ron Johnson, the Republican Senator-elect, is a man who is independently wealthy, has no compassion whatsoever (or at least has evinced none), and believes in TANSTAAFL — an abbreviation for what Robert A. Heinlein called “There Ain’t No Such Thing as a Free Lunch.”  Which in general is a maxim worth living by — and is one of the most Libertarian philosophies around — but at a time where there’s 17% “real” unemployment in the country and where employers are not adding jobs, so many are getting by with unemployment checks while praying for a miracle (including myself), TANSTAAFL has to be modified, or a whole lot of people are going to end up dead on the streets as if the US of A had become a Third World country overnight.

Now, is that what Ron Johnson wants?  Probably not, but he hasn’t examined his beliefs too closely, either, by all objective analysis — his only two stated “platforms” were to cut taxes (whatever question he was asked, he’d say he’d cut taxes, even if it was something about Medicaid or getting our troops out of Iraq or Afghanistan) and to repeal Obama’s health care overhaul.  And while many in Wisconsin are very nervous about the Obama health care plan because of Ms. Pelosi’s blithe “we won’t know what’s in the bill until we pass it” comment (one of the worst things a sitting Speaker of the House has ever said, and definitely a factor in this election), that doesn’t mean all of it is bad.

Simply put, the main reason businesses go overseas is because of our health care costs — Ron Johnson is right about that.  But sometimes they go to Europe, which has nationalized health care, or China, which has something similar, or Canada, which definitely has nationalized health care, and that’s because the state is paying for the health care — the business is not.  That’s what Obama was trying — and fumbling — to say, and why he seems to feel that an overhaul is necessary because way too many people are falling through the cracks now, and it’ll just get worse if the businesses like HMOs or PPOs keep running healthcare as a for-profit business.

Perhaps Barack Obama’s idea (which may as well be called Nancy Pelosi’s idea) wasn’t the best one.  I definitely think it wasn’t.  But it was at least a small step in the direction our country needs to go in, though to my mind encouraging more low-income clinics to be built and forgiving new-doctor debt if they work in those for a few years seems to be a far better option all the way around.

People are suffering in this country.  I am one of those afflicted, and I am telling you right now that if the Republicans believe this was a “mandate” for anything, they are as wrong today as Barack Obama was wrong in 2008 after he was elected President of the US that his election was a “mandate” for anything whatsoever, except the mandate “we don’t like who we have, so we want someone else, and pray for a miracle.”  But I don’t think that counts.

Loren Jones’s novel “All that Glitters” now available from e-Quill Publishing.

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NOTE: This is a post from 2010. Things have changed. See the update at the end, and see this post immediately if you wish to buy Loren’s novel INADVERTENT ADVENTURES.

Second note: Loren’s ALL THAT GLITTERS is back out via Twilight Times Books as of July, 2016. Please go here to buy Loren’s novel as an e-book at Amazon.

*** Back to post from 2010, already in progress ***

My friend Loren K. Jones now has two novels available, the first being All that Glitters at e-Quill Publishing.  All that Glitters is a fantasy novel/coming of age story about Stavin kel’Aniston, once the smallest and least-regarded of all the warrior-candidates in his village.  Because of this, he feels he has nothing to lose in attempting to beard a dragon in its den, and ends up with a quasi-friend in the dragon along with dragonscale armor, something no one else in his village has or has ever had.

But this is just the start of Stavin’s problems; he still must learn how to work within the system in order to show his worth.   If he can do so, fame and fortune will be his, but more importantly, he’ll be able to marry the woman of his dreams (a slightly older, and nearly blind, scholar).

All that Glitters is just under 100K words, and is an excellent read.  I urge everyone who loves fantasy, coming of age tales, or simply something fun to read to check out Loren K. Jones’s fine novel.  And better yet, it is the first in a four-book series . . . more reading pleasure awaits, if you only will accept the challenge of buying — and reading — the first book in Stavin’s journey.

Go here to purchase Loren’s novel All that Glitters:

http://www.equillpublishing.com/all-that-glitters.html

Loren also has available another very strong novel, this one through Amazon Kindle’s wireless e-book program.  This novel is called Inadvertent Adventures and is also right around the 100K mark.  Inadvertent Adventures is space opera/humor; Sterling Silver is a veteran who’s been cashiered from his job due to spurious reasons, and now must make shift for himself.  He finds space on a tramp freighter and learns the ropes, all while missing his ex-wife, Ann . . . in the process, this middle-aged man re-learns how to enjoy his life, and that no matter how boxed in he might feel himself to be at the start, there are more options and opportunities available than he’d ever dreamed.  This novel, too, is highly recommended; please follow this link in order to buy Inadvertent Adventures:

http://www.amazon.com/Inadvertent-Adventures-ebook/dp/B0042P5F1I/ref=sr_1_4?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1287536667&sr=1-4

A bit about how I know Loren:  my late husband and Loren were very strong Internet friends and writing critique partners, and after Michael died, I continued working with Loren (and Loren returned the favor with my stuff).  Loren is a good man and a very fine writer; his writing has been compared to David Eddings and L.E. Modesitt, Jr., as it has freshness, authenticity, and the ability to effortlessly carry the reader into another place.  If the science fiction and fantasy community were not so difficult to break into with all the closed book markets, requiring agents to help you find a way in for the most part, and the few “opens” like Tor, Baen, DAW, etc., being overloaded with manuscripts on the one hand and being understaffed on the other (meaning no disrespect to anyone — it’s simply a fact of life), Loren would’ve broken in years ago.  And so, no doubt, would’ve my late husband, Michael, me, Jason Cordova, and many other good writers without major publisher book contracts I have the privilege to know.

Please do not let the fact that Loren does not have a major book publishing contract fool you, in short.  This man can write.  Give him a chance, and you will enjoy your reading experience.  Thus ends today’s public service announcement.

*** UPDATE FOLLOWS ***

As stated earlier, things have changed.

Since 2010, E-Quill Publishing has folded. Most of Loren’s novels are now out-of-print, though he’s working to change this as I understand it.

But INADVERTENT ADVENTURES is again available as of February 5, 2016, and is even better than before.

Why? Well, Twilight Times Books liked INADVERTENT ADVENTURES, bought it, and it’s now out in e-book form. It has been comprehensively edited, it has a great cover, and the formatting is pristine…it is a thoroughly professional edition, and readers should enjoy it immensely.

Please see this post about how you can get INADVERTENT ADVENTURES right now…then meditate on the virtues of persistence in this business.

As you see, I’m not the only author out there who refuses to give up.

 

Written by Barb Caffrey

October 19, 2010 at 8:10 pm

A Bunch of Stuff — new Publications, Yoplait Yogurt lids, and Brett Favre observation.

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Well, I don’t have enough for a full blog post today, but I do have a lot of little things to discuss.

First, e-Quill Publishing has accepted an original story; for those of you who’ve known me a while, this story started as “Dream/Reality,” then became “Betty goes to the Fair.”  It’s now entitled “The Fair at South Farallon,” I think — Lawrence at e-Quill liked that much better.   I do not know when it will be available, but I am glad that it’s been accepted.

Second, I am writing a collaborative novella with Piotr Mierzejewski for e-Quill Publishing that’s titled “Iron Falls.”  It is near-future military suspense; I’ve never written anything like this before, and have been doing a great deal of research.  It is in Piotr’s world with Piotr’s characters; we’re still hammering out the plot.  Two chapters have been written with a third on the way; estimated time for this story’s completion is late December 2010.  (Lawrence is very confident and has already announced this at the e-Quill Publishing Web site.  I would’ve preferred to wait until at least four chapters were completed.  But now that the cat’s out of the bag . . . . )

Third, anyone who eats Yoplait yogurt knows that around this time of year, they start making all the lids pink for breast cancer awareness.  My Mom is taking part in all that; it’s called “Save Lids to Save Lives.”  So please, save your pink lids and send ’em to Yoplait down the road, OK?

Finally, my Brett Favre observation.  I’m sure most if not all of you know Favre is in trouble due to some allegations made by two massage therapists working for the New York Jets and a “game hostess” also employed by the Jets.  (I don’t know what a “game hostess” does.  Sorry.)  These were all attractive women, and Favre is alleged to have sent racy text messages to them and also to have sent naked “below-the-waist” pics.  He also left voice mail messages for the “hostess.”

Look.  Favre is a married man; his wife is the inestimable Deanna Favre, who has beaten breast cancer once (though it may return).  They’ve known each other all their lives, have two children (one who is grown and has already reproduced, so Favre is the NFL’s only known player that’s also a grandfather), and have been married fourteen years.  Their marriage has been strong, though there have been allegations in the past of Favre cheating on her — I’ve always thought that Favre loves Deanna like no other, but maybe has trouble being faithful to her, even though I could be wrong about all of it.

What I am sorry about is that Favre’s life is played out in public.  These problems are difficult for anyone to deal with; infidelity is not easy for the non-cheating partner to have to deal with.  And women, more than men, have to deal with this — it’s an awful situation even if it’s all happening behind closed doors.  It is a thousand times worse, it seems to me, to have all this happen in the public eye.

Favre is a major, big-time player with many NFL records; he’s still playing at 41 and is still highly competent as a QB (though it seems to me he now has to pick his spots; last night’s game against the Jets, where Favre played a good fourth quarter but the first three weren’t good at all, is a case in point).  He has the consecutive games-played record — not just for quarterbacks, but for all NFL players — and is considered the “iron man” of professional American football.

All that being said, he’s a man like any other.  And his faults seem to be remarkably similar to many other men; he apparently has a wandering eye, and now his marriage may be in major trouble.

I believe the publication Deadspin.com, who has reveled in these Favre allegations (even to the point of paying $20,000 for the voice-mails and “corroborating evidence”), is mostly to blame for all this.  They don’t need to be muckrakers.  Yet to get publicity for themselves, Deadspin.com has played this for all its worth — and I find that disgusting.

I would prefer that Brett Favre re-commit to his marriage, if indeed any of the allegations against him are true.  Deanna Favre is a remarkable, strong, intelligent lady and she’s stood by him through many difficult times — including Favre’s Vicodin addiction in the ’90s.  She deserves better treatment from her husband.  And Favre really needs to learn that, at 41 years of age, he should appreciate the great woman he has and stop trying to re-live his youth or behave in a crass, classless manner.  He’s not young; he’s a grandfather.  He should set an example for his teammates and clean up his act.

Written by Barb Caffrey

October 12, 2010 at 10:00 pm

Furiously trying to finish a story for WotF

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My blog once again has been suffering this week, partly because I’m doing my best to finish a story in time for the 9/30/10 deadline for the Writers of the Future contest.  I have done a great deal, but I still have at least three or four more solid hours of work to go, providing the story continues to hold together — only then can I send it off with a clear conscience.

I don’t know how much longer I’ll be eligible for WotF, as once a novel (not a novella, a full-fledged novel, something over 60 K words) is published with my name on it, I will be ineligible.  This could happen soon; I am holding a positive thought.  Which is why this particular quarter might be the very last time I am definitely eligible for the contest . . . and it’s why I am working as hard as I can to bring a story together, so I can say I entered every quarter I had something ready until I was declared ineligible.

I suppose I should give some context here.  My first entry into the Writers of the Future contest was the Winter quarter of 2002 — which is their first quarter, the end of December deadline.  And I have entered more often than not ever since, mostly entering stories I’ve written alone, but sometimes entering co-written stories.   I’ve never received an honorable mention, much less semi-finalist or finalist status, yet thousands of people enter the WotF contest every quarter, and I know the only way to win a prize (they give three) is to enter.  Which is why despite how frustrating it’s been over the years to never get any recognition at all, I have kept at it.

Basically, to be eligible for WotF, you have to have three stories or fewer published — full credit stories in magazines that have circulations of over 5,000 people, or at an online publication where your story has received 5,000 hits.  The places that are known to meet this criteria are those that are Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America-eligible also — some of those include the Grantville Gazette, the Intergalactic Medicine Show, Strange Horizons, Apex, Fantasy magazine, the Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, Asimov’s, and Analog.    As I have only one-half a story credit by that measure (I’ve sold three stories, all co-written with my late husband Michael; two of them do not count by WotF standards as they do not meet SFWA guidelines of 5,000 circulation or 5,000 hits), I would only become ineligible when I either sold three stories on my own (or six more co-written stories with Michael or anyone else), or if I published more than one novella (so far I haven’t any novellas), or more than one novelette (only one of my stories, co-written with Michael, is even close to that), all with a full credit.  But a novel, whether it’s co-written or not, will immediately disqualify me no matter what — and something I’m working on now may go over the 60K word count and be published sooner rather than later.

At any rate, that’s what I’ve been up to, along with researching two different, disparate stories (one being the fourth “Columba” tale, which I discussed last week); that leaves very little time available for my blog.

But as soon as I have something that interests me after I’ve completed the story for WotF, I’ll be blogging away again — no worries about that.  So watch this space, as I might just surprise myself.

Written by Barb Caffrey

September 29, 2010 at 10:50 pm

Research in progress to finish Michael’s fourth “Columba” story

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I’ve been quiet this week, folks, partly because earlier this week was the sixth-year observance of my late husband Michael’s death.  I don’t enjoy this — who does? — but I feel it’s important to do my best to remember his life, and what he meant to me (I do this every day, but try especially hard during this particular week), and re-dedicate myself toward this difficult, often frustrating and sometimes rewarding business of writing.

Michael left behind a fourth “Columba” story that is, at best, 1/3 finished.  I know the title, which I will not share right now, and I know the circumstances Columba and her husband, the Duc d’Sanchestre, were in after they attempted to cross to his demesne but ended up somewhere else instead.

Complicating matters, I don’t have any notes for this story or universe — none whatsoever, unlike the “Maverick” universe (where there’s two completed stories there I’ve finished, and two novels I’m working on), which has plenty — all I have is the title, my knowledge of Michael’s writing style, and the completed 1/3 (or maybe 1/4) I have of the story to work with.

What I’ve done is figure out the setting — Michael has set this well, but I need to know how I can continue to describe it as it doesn’t come naturally to me — figure out some of what’s about to happen next, and because I know these characters very well (even though I’ve never written them before, I’ve read these stories over and over as they are outstanding), I believe I’ll be able to start writing the fourth story (or at least my continuation of it) very soon.

Very few authors have attempted what I’m doing — what I’ve already done to a degree with Michael’s “Joey Maverick” stuff — most especially in the realm of trying to finish in the same style as the original author .  A husband-wife pair (or spousal unit pair, if you prefer), where only one is left to finish the work of the deceased, is even more rare — I know of Ariel Durant, the much younger wife of Will Durant, completing her husband’s work, and of a few SF authors (Leigh Brackett, C.L. Moore, perhaps Janet Asimov to a degree) working in their late husband’s universes by permission or actually finishing stories in their late husband’s style.

At any rate, it can be done, but it’s difficult and often frustrating — this is not the writing that comes easily to me, and it tends to block out everything else I want to do until I’ve gotten enough of it out that I can get back to my work — and that’s the main reason my blog is languishing at present.

Aside from that, I continue to submit stories, write more stories, and edit various things — so I’m doing whatever I can to keep my dreams alive.

I can only believe that Michael would very much approve.

—–

Note:  Please, please go to eQuill Publishing and look for my late husband’s “Columba” stories — it’s not too late for his work to gain a following.

Here’s the link:

http://www.equillpublishing.com/manufacturers.php?manufacturerid=13

Written by Barb Caffrey

September 23, 2010 at 7:05 pm

Calumet County (WI) DA Ken Kratz — one of the World’s Worst People.

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Wisconsin’s District Attorney of Calumet County, Ken Kratz, must be one of the world’s worst people.  He sexually harassed a victim by sending her text messages showing his sexual interest in her — mind you, doing this to a young woman who’d sought help from his office due to being physically abused by her ex-boyfriend — and believes he has done nothing “ethically wrong.”

How he can live with himself after sending these racy texts — one of which called this poor abused woman a “hot, young nymph” — I just don’t know.

Read the initial story at the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel here:

http://www.jsonline.com/news/wisconsin/102983229.html

A few relevant quotes:

According to the police report, Kratz, 50, began sending text messages to Stephanie L. Van Groll, 26, after she met with him Oct. 20 regarding domestic abuse charges that had been filed against her ex-boyfriend. Van Groll reported the text messages to Kaukauna police two days later.

Kratz wrote in his first text that it was nice talking with Van Groll and that she should feel free to text him between 8 a.m. and 4 p.m., according to copies of the messages included in the police report.

“You have such potential,” Kratz wrote in the initial text message. “See ya. KEN (your favorite DA).”

Van Groll thanked Kratz in a reply text message, but he continued texting her, sending 30 messages over three days, according to the report.

Yet Kratz did not quit — here’s one of his racy text messages to Van Groll:

“Im serious!” Kratz wrote in another text. “Im the atty. I have the $350,000 house. I have the 6-figure career. You may be the tall, young, hot nymph, but I am the prize!”

Listen.  This is so wrong — so very, very, very wrong — that I have a hard time containing my disbelief and anger.

First off, the way Kratz has handled this has been plain, flat wrong.  Yesterday he confronted a Journal-Sentinel reporter and was abusive over the invasion of Kratz’s privacy — and today, all he did was to read a prepared statement saying he was “willing to seek counseling” (I heard the statement on WTMJ-Radio, AM 620 in Milwaukee, WI) and that he didn’t do anything wrong — but that he felt it was “inappropriate” and “disrespectful.”

Not strong enough, Mr. Kratz.  And not nearly enough for Wisconsin’s victim advocates, who are calling for Kratz’s removal as DA (since Kratz defiantly said today he “will not step down” but only may seek some “personal time off.”)

Here’s a link to one article about that:

http://www.wfrv.com/news/local/Victim-advocates-call-for-DA-Kratzs-resignation-103156264.html

This article is important, because in it, you see that the Wisconsin Coalition Against Domestic Violence, the Wisconsin Coalition Against Sexual Assault, American Indians Against Abuse and victim advocates statewide — all of them —  released this joint statement in reaction to Kratz’s abhorrent behavior:

Since Ken Kratz’s sexual harassment of a domestic violence victim has come to the public’s attention, he has had the opportunity to acknowledge and take responsibility for the full impact of his actions. He has failed to do so and must resign.

Absolutely!  But I’m going to keep posting their statement, which is lengthy, with my commentary in between.

Going on:

In his public statement, Kratz said his sexual harassment was a ‘lapse of judgment’. Rather, his conduct and failure to take responsibility show a lack of character.

Once again, absolutely!  I can’t think of a worse example of a public servant anywhere, because Kratz was elected to the position of District Attorney, not appointed.  Remember, he was elected — which is why I put this in “United States politics” as one of my categories for this blog.

Going on:

As former chairperson of the Crime Victim Rights Board, Kratz knew that subjecting a domestic violence victim to unwanted sexual advances violated the Wisconsin state constitution’s guarantee that crime victims should be treated with fairness, dignity and respect for their privacy. Moreover, once his misdeeds came to light, he should have understood the real issue—victims in his community will have legitimate concerns in coming forward to report abuse.

 

Now, do you see what the problem is with Kratz’s behavior?   Kratz knew exactly what he was doing — and he didn’t care.  Appalling!

And Kratz can’t try to tell me he didn’t understand the implication of his actions, because he’s a lawyer who’s worked on behalf of victim rights’ advocates for a long, long time.  (He had to resign from a victim’s rights board over this — and rightfully so.)

Going on, and talking specifically about Kratz’s resignation from the board:

Instead, he has attempted to minimize and mislead. Kratz said that stepping down from the Crime Victim Rights Board was a ‘self-imposed sanction’. This is not true. It is clear from released email correspondences that the Wisconsin Department of Justice required Kratz to resign as a condition of not disclosing the victim’s complaint.

Why am I unsurprised?

Going on:

His mishandling of this incident is consistent with his authorship of the appalling text messages. In both instances, he has shown an entitlement to his own position and power and a willingness to manipulate others for personal gain.

That’s for sure.

Going on — note that I broke the paragraph, not the various organizations who wrote this condemnatory and effective press release:

About one year ago, Kratz wrote to a battered and bruised strangulation victim, “I’m the atty. I have the $350,000 house. I have the 6-figure career. You may be the tall, young, hot nymph, but I am the prize!” He further demonstrated his willingness to emotionally exploit the victim by writing, “Hey..Miss Communication, what’s with the sticking point? Your low self-esteem and you fear you can’t successfully play in my big sandbox?” Later when authorities investigated the victim’s complaint, Kratz pressured investigators to not pursue the matter, characterized these messages as compliments and expressed concern only for his ‘reputational interests.’ Now, he feels he owes victims and citizens no further comment or explanation.

I’d call Kratz a Neanderthal, but that’s insulting the poor Neanderthals, who didn’t do anything to anyone — and couldn’t help what they were, for that matter.  (Innocent savages, mostly.)

This guy, Kratz, is a man who has abused his position for attempted gain at absolute best.  But in the process, he sexually abused and harassed this poor woman, Ms. Van Groll, which makes his offense a thousand times worse.  That it apparently is not illegal is no excuse — it is immoral, and is shockingly bad conduct.

And I know if I were living in Calumet County, I would already be starting to find out how quickly this guy could be recalled.  Because as he was elected, he should also be able to recalled if he refuses to step down — as so far, he has refused. 

Remember, Kratz did all this last year, in 2009.  He’s known about this for a year and done diddly-squat.  So it’s obvious he won’t go on his own.

Now, I heard Kratz’s press conference, carried live on WTMJ Radio — and I was quite displeased by it.  Seeking counseling is not enough, and saying it was “inappropriate” and “disrespectful” is also not nearly enough.

I am with these victim advocates, who conclude their statement with the following:

As Ms. Van Groll’s case demonstrates, domestic violence is a matter of life and death. 67 people died in Wisconsin last year during domestic violence incidents. A victim’s confidence in the system can make all the difference in whether he or she gets help and safety or becomes a murder victim. Sadly, this is a fact that despite claiming to have a ‘25 year career… as a vigorous advocate for crime victims’ Kratz is too self-interested—on many levels—to understand. He must resign.

(Emphasis mine.)

As I said before — how can this man live with himself?

Oh, one more thing.  Kratz is now going through a divorce.  (Is anyone surprised, except Kratz?  I think not.)

Do the right thing, Mr. Kratz.  Resign.  Now.  Or face recall.   Or possibly even be removed by the Governor of Wisconsin, Jim Doyle (WTMJ Radio reported around 6 PM this evening, 9/17/2010, that Doyle will be meeting with State Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen to see what can be done in this case, which sounded plenty ominous to me), something that has never before happened in my lifetime.

Because one way or another, Mr. Kratz, you will be out very soon.  Which seems to me to be a very good thing for the people of Calumet County — the victims in particular!

Written by Barb Caffrey

September 17, 2010 at 8:06 pm

The Role of the Professional Critic: Don Rosenberg v. the Cleveland Orchestra and Plain Dealer.

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The saga of Donald Rosenberg, erstwhile classical music critic of the Cleveland Plain Dealer, has brought to my attention how difficult the role of the professional critic may be — and how quickly even a highly-regarded critic like Rosenberg can fall if not backed by his employers.

Oh, you don’t know Mr. Rosenberg’s work?  Well, many don’t, but for thirty years he wrote about the Cleveland Orchestra (formerly known as the Cleveland Symphony Orchestra), and he’s written a book about the orchestra called The Cleveland Orchestra Story: Second to None, which came out in 2000 and is available at Amazon.com at this link:

http://www.amazon.com/Cleveland-Orchestra-Story-Second-None/dp/1886228248/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1282906301&sr=1-1

The upshot of Mr. Rosenberg’s story was that he was demoted by his employer, the Plain Dealer, because the Cleveland Orchestra was upset over comments Rosenberg had made about the Orchestra’s conductor, Franz Welser-Most.  Rosenberg sued, claiming among other things that his freedom of speech was infringed upon, that the Plain Dealer had practiced age discrimination against him, and that Welser-Most had abused his position as conductor in order to get what Welser-Most viewed as a “hostile” critic removed from his post.  More about this suit is available here:

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2008/12/11/cleveland-plain-dealer-su_n_150404.html

Recently, Mr. Rosenberg lost his lawsuit, which is why this subject came to my attention in the first place.  (For the record, I think it’s wrong for a critic to lose his job merely because a conductor does not like him or what he writes.  If Leonard Bernstein had been that way, half the reviewers in New York would’ve lost their jobs in the ’50s and ’60s.)  A good blog that’s followed the whole situation from the beginning is called Sounds & Fury; a good place to start is the following post, a “final comment” on Mr. Rosenberg’s unfortunate situation:

http://www.soundsandfury.com/soundsandfury/2010/08/a-final-comment-on-the-plain-dealer-donald-rosenberg-affair.html

But all of this has made me think — what is the role of the professional critic, especially if someone does not like what he or she is writing?  Because if you ask someone, “What is a critic?,” you’re going to get a really odd look, followed by, “Someone who criticizes!” or maybe, “Someone who gets paid to criticize for a living.”

Now, I know from reviewing books for Amazon.com and elsewhere, not everyone’s going to agree with me regarding a review.  Sometimes, the disagreement is over something profound, but most of the time it’s over something that’s seemingly trivial — such as, whether a book is suitable for someone who’s seven, or eight; whether a love story in the background is detrimental (even if there’s no actual sex going on) — and the fact that I see this as trivial while someone else sees this as profound is part of the human condition.

However, when a professional critic is effectively muzzled by an orchestra, or worse, by the conductor of the orchestra, that is not helpful to the entire profession of critics.  As Michael Phillips wrote in his 8/12/2010 column at the Chicago Tribune, available here:  http://featuresblogs.chicagotribune.com/talking_pictures/2010/08/critic-donald-rosenberg.html

There is so much fear and self-censorship in the critics’ ranks in America today. There are so few full-time salaries. You can smell the caution and paranoia in too many reviews weighed down by generalities and a stenographer’s devotion to “objectivity,” which isn’t what this endeavor is about at all. It’s about informed, vividly argued subjectivity.

(I added the bold in last paragraph, just in case you missed it.)

Phillips goes on to say that:

Approached the wrong way criticism is an inherently arrogant and narcissistic pursuit, yet what I’m left with, increasingly, is how humbling it is. It’s hard to get a review right for yourself, let alone for anyone reading it later. It’s even harder to be an artist worth writing and reading about, because so much conspires against even an inspired artist’s bravest efforts.

I agree with this; I agonize over the book reviews I write, and the music reviews, and when I used to write movie reviews for the Daily Nebraskan (and elsewhere), I used to worry myself to pieces over those, too.  Because if you’re a good critic, or you’re at least trying to become one, you do worry about whether or not you’ve explained what it is you’re criticizing well enough so your critique of it all will make any sense to the reader who’s not as able to make an informed, rational decision as you (not having seen and heard what you have as “the critic”).

Finally, Phillips says this:

. . . no critic has a ‘right’ to a compensated opinion. We serve at the pleasure of our employers. And yet we’re only worth reading when we push our luck and ourselves, and remember that without a sense of freedom, coupled with a sense that we cannot squander it, we’re just filler.

(Once again, the emphasis here was mine.)

Many points to ponder for both the writer and critic alike, but what I think most troubles me about all of this is how the Cleveland Plain Dealer attempted to frame the narrative.  Their version of events is strikingly different than Mr. Rosenberg’s, yet as a highly trained classical musician, I am much more sympathetic to Mr. Rosenberg’s version of events (where Rosenberg quoted, verbatim, some unflattering statements from Welser-Most about music lovers in the US of A, etc.).    The fact of the matter is, many European conductors are dismissive of posts in the United States of America and they’d rather be working in their home countries, where they feel their art is more respected.  Most conductors from Austria (where Welser-Most is from), France, Germany, Italy, etc., view the US of A as being uncultured, uncivilized, and far less interested in classical music than their homelands.  And many of these guys have put down Americans in general for years — this is no secret, and while it should be shameful for these European conductors, it isn’t.

For Welser-Most to get upset because Rosenberg dared to call Welser-Most to account for some of his comments about Cleveland’s “blue-haired ladies” and about how Welser-Most apparently didn’t think much of Cleveland, seems mighty thin-skinned to me.  In addition, any criticism of a conductor — especially when it’s backed up by many other critics the world over (Welser-Most has a reputation that basically equates to, “If W-M loves the piece, he does a good job; if not, well, whatever”) — should be allowed and understood.  (Free speech, remember?)

The fact that Welser-Most, the conductor of the Cleveland Orchestra, managed to force Rosenberg from his position at the Plain Dealer, shows a great deal more about Welser-Most than Welser-Most probably wishes were the case.  Further, that the Cleveland Orchestra’s board of directors are able to say with supposedly clean hands (and without any air of hypocrisy about them) that they did nothing wrong, that they did not force Rosenberg out — well, it smells.  To high heaven.

I view what happened the same way Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist Martin Bernheimer does, available at this link from the Financial Times:

http://www.ft.com/cms/s/2/ad3fb6c6-a668-11df-8767-00144feabdc0.html

Pointing out that Rosenberg is a horn player and holds three music degrees, Bernheimer put it plainly in the opening of his column:

Donald Rosenberg lost. So did Cleveland. And so did journalism in general and the precarious practice of music criticism in particular.

Absolutely right, Mr. Bernheimer.  And what a shame, and a loss, that Rosenberg lost his lawsuit; what a horrible commentary on our life and times.

Written by Barb Caffrey

August 27, 2010 at 11:13 am

Words, Meanings, and Change

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Every writer knows that the meaning of words changes over time.  Sometimes it’ll be a really small shift, while other times, the word “bad” might mean good but retain its original meaning for most practical purposes.

But how are you supposed to be accurate while writing fantasy or science fiction, as for the most part fantasy tends to deal with times gone by or “the present, but with magic” or additional characters such as vampires, werewolves, or Elves, while science fiction is futuristic and up-to-the-minute?

Mostly, I try to stick with one approach whenever I’m dealing with a story — I tend to write in contemporary vocabulary unless the fantasy world I’m dealing with is obviously based on our past (but with magic, or a different religion, or whatever), in which case, my characters will speak in longer sentences and with more formality.  This is because in some ways, contemporary American English is used by most in our culture and society in a casual fashion — not just our slang terms, but our idiomatic turns of speech are far more casual than, say, the Victorian English used by our predecessors.  Or the English used in Regency-era England.

In ELFY, as well as in AN ELFY ABROAD and to an extent in KEISHA’S VOW, Michael and I came up with a language, Bilre, for the Elfys.  (Bilre is also the term they use to describe themselves “when they’re at home,” or among their own people.  There’s precedence enough for this in our own history that it shouldn’t draw any comment.)  We came up with rules for how it works, with various terms and even a few regional variant slang terms (as in our own world, where some words are used more frequently in the Midwest than on the West Coast, for example); there is an Elfy Lexicon.  All of this was done for the sake of consistency, and while Michael was by far better at this than I, I learned enough from him that I’ve been able to make up a few terms on my own since his untimely passing.

As for science fiction, noted writer Connie Willis came up with two words for her near-future “Doomsday Book” — they were “apocalyptic” for something great, fantastic, and awesome, and “necrotic” for something awful, bad and disgusting.  They were used by one of her pre-teen characters — pre-teens in books are generally the ones who use the most slang terms, though not always — and helped add to the illusion that we readers were in a slightly different place.  In a much tougher and far more comprehensive vein, eluki bes shahar came up with a whole new language, idioms and all, for her “Hellflower” trilogy; other authors have done similar things with regards to adding a few additional words (Marge Piercy comes to mind in Woman on the Edge of Time in her far-future sections) or a whole, new, comprehensively thought out language — from J.R.R. Tolkien to the more contemporary Robert Jordan (Jordan in particular had to come up with a number of languages, not an easy feat).

At any rate, in science fiction, the main thing is to be consistent and to stay consistent in your usage — readers will pick up on the idioms used if given time, and if it helps the reader to open a dictionary and look up a word while reading, say, a Gene Wolfe story, all the better.

Some examples of contemporary words in transition are “vacay,” which is a shortened form of the word “vacation” — I’ve seen this show up in a few articles lately and it reads oddly but sounds OK in actual speech — and “efforting,” as in, “I’m efforting Chris Capuano” — this particular turn of phrase annoys me, and takes some explanation if you’ve never heard it before.  Basically, instead of “I’m trying to get Chris Capuano on the phone” or “I’m making the effort to speak with Chris Capuano,” our local sportscaster Bill Michaels may say the shorthand “I’m efforting Chris Capuano” and hopes we’ll understand him.

Granted, Michaels wasn’t the first person to say this in the sports world — I’ve also heard sportscasters Dan Patrick and Jim Rome say the same thing, probably several months to perhaps a full year before Michaels.  But this is how a changed meaning to a word gets into the language — slowly, bit by bit, until it’s accepted.  Until it’s understood, graceless though it may be.

My brother, who is a teaching assistant, said recently that a word that annoys him is “flustrated,” which is a combination of “flustered” and “frustrated.”  He says he hears this all the time in Indiana, where he lives and works — so the rest of us may as well be warned, as this appears to be another word creeping into the language — something like “ginormous,” I suppose (a contraction of “gigantic” and “enormous,” though those two words mean exactly the same thing, while “flustered” and “frustrated” are not the same — just similar).

Other words I’ve noticed that have contracted are baseball terms.  For example, when I was a teenager in the 80s, it was common for a broadcaster to use the term “fouled out,” as in a baseball player hit a foul ball for an out.  But now, that’s been contracted into one word — “foulout” — though broadcasters in general do not use this.  (Instead, you see this on scoreboards or perhaps on TV.)  This is similar to the other contracted words “strikeout” instead of “struck out,” a two word, more active phrase (note that a pitcher getting a strikeout was already in the language; this particular contraction adds an additional meaning rather than a brand new word to our vocabulary); “popup,’ which may be seen also as “pop-up,” instead of “popped up” or “popped it up,” which is hitting the ball high and straight into the air rather than for any sort of distance, so an infielder might catch it; “popout,” which is the same thing as a “popup;” “lineout,” instead of “lined out” or “hit the ball hard, but right at someone for an out.”

At any rate, language changes over time, as these few examples show — we as writers need to be observant as new words enter the language, even if we think they’re silly or stupid or unnecessary (as, quite frankly, I find the word “efforting” to be).

What are some of the “new” words you can’t stand?  Or those you really like?

Written by Barb Caffrey

August 16, 2010 at 11:45 am