Barb Caffrey's Blog

Writing the Elfyverse . . . and beyond

Archive for the ‘Persistence’ Category

Compartmentalization Vs. Alienation

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I’m worried about the state of the world. I truly am.

As I write tonight, there are many cities in the United States that have protests — some peaceful, but most not — over the senseless killing of George Floyd by a Minneapolis police officer. That now-former officer knelt on Mr. Floyd’s neck for six minutes, and the other three police officers around him did nothing. Mr. Floyd was black; the now-ex officer was white. It was a non-violent crime that Mr. Floyd was alleged to have committed — he may have passed a counterfeit $20 bill — and he was not resisting arrest in any way.

We have every right to be angry over this. It was reprehensible behavior by the now-ex officer. (I will not name him, as per my long-held beliefs that bad actors should not be named.) Mr. Floyd should not be dead.

But watching the protests is deeply disconcerting. People are rioting, and often burning their own neighborhood businesses; that only hurts themselves down the line, along with the innocent business owners. People are letting their anger, their justifiable rage, spill over to the point it almost seems as if the world is on fire.

And that doesn’t even go into half of what’s going on in the world, as Covid-19 is still rampant. In the U.S., we have had over 100,000 deaths, as I’ve said before. In three months! And many people who’ve been changed for the worse for life, who will live with lifelong health ailments…the hospitals in this area continue to be overloaded, the medical professionals are stressed to the max, and everyone’s on edge.

I think these two things are part of why cities are burning tonight. People are alienated, and people are scared. They don’t know what to do. They don’t think anyone cares. They don’t think anyone is listening. And they wonder what in the Hell the point is.

I get it. And I am worried.

“But Barb,” you ask. “You said something about compartmentalization in your blog title. What the Hell is that about?”

Well, I don’t know about you, but I still have to get my day-to-day stuff done despite the background of chaos that seems to be everywhere. That I can’t shut out. That I wish I could help, but for the most part can’t do anything about other than be as upset as everyone else (but hopefully in a more constructive way than burning everything to the ground).

The only way I can get stuff done — whether it’s writing, editing, or anything else — is to compartmentalize my brain. To say, “OK, I’m going to do whatever I can do right now on this one, small thing. I am going to keep trying, and keep my head up, and do positive things, even if they don’t matter to anyone but me.”

I think this is all I, or anyone else, can do right now.

But yes. I remain deeply concerned. And I wish I knew what else to do, as the world — or at least the United States — continues to burn.

Written by Barb Caffrey

May 30, 2020 at 8:32 pm

A Semi-Quick Update…Books, Health, Etc.

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Folks, because I’ll be taking part in a promotion soon — Read an E-Book Week is only a few days away — I wanted to make absolutely sure I came back here and let you know that’s going to happen. I’ll be giving away copies of my first novel, AN ELFY ON THE LOOSE, and my third novel, CHANGING FACES, via the Twilight Times Books website. (That’s my publisher.) I’ll give links, so if you don’t already have copies of my books, you can go get them for free — and all I ask is that you please, please read them, comment on them somewhere, and let other people know they exist.

So, more on that in a couple of days.

But I also owed you all some sort of explanation for my untoward silence. If you’ve been following along with my blog for any length of time, you know I’ve been battling some unforeseen health issues. And that so far, the doctors don’t seem to know what to make of them — or me.

(Well, this is my succinct way of putting it.)

I’ve had a number of tests in the past month. Most have given me answers I already knew — such as, I have asthma — while a few have been mixed. The stuff in the middle between “answers I already knew” and “mixed” seems to be coming back with, “Nothing to see here, move along.” (Though I did find out one strange thing, which I’m coping with…at some point, I apparently had a pulmonary embolism, which didn’t kill me outright. That’s a damned good thing, because approximately 20% of the people will die without even know what killed them. And I’ve been put on blood thinners so I won’t have any more.)

So, more stuff gets ruled out than explained. And I continue to battle Ye Olde Mystery Illness, for whatever reason…while doing what I can to edit, live even a shadow semblance of a normal life, and try not to fret myself into oblivion.

The main thing now is to keep trying, keep looking, keep hope alive, and believe that eventually they’re going to find a way to help me.

And the secondary thing is to keep doing whatever I can to make my life better and easier — or at least less difficult and distressing — while I continue to search for answers.

I do hope I’ll find some answers soon, though, because I am tired of the stuff that I haven’t been able to do.

For example, I haven’t been able to play my instruments now in nearly three months due to respiratory distress. I missed the last concert with the Racine Concert Band (which I’ve played in, on and off, for nearly twenty years) and at this point have no idea if I can play the next (in a few months).

And, for yet another example, I haven’t been able to write much fiction in three or four months, either, beyond either prose notes or a thousand words here and there (which isn’t terrible, but it’s not what I hoped for, either; it’s particularly vexing because I’d been making good progress with one book, and had reached the halfway point, only to have my health stall out, and me have to wait until I get my strength back and enough energy to figure the rest of the book out.)

And you all know how spotty my blogs have become. (I would hope you know it’s not for a lack of interest. I always have something to say, or ponder, or want to discuss, but I have to have enough energy with which to do it. And just trying to live halfway well, plus help my friends and family, and then of course edit — I probably should put that first, as I love to do it nearly as much as I love writing or playing music, but I’m typing this stream-of-consciousness — is taking everything I have and then some.)

That said, I am still in the fight. I am doing everything I can to get to a good outcome, one way or another. And I do hope to return to writing, return to playing my music, and most importantly, return to some sort of decent health in the not-so-distant future.

Here’s hoping.

————

P.S. You may note that I am still editing. This is my livelihood, so I’d damned well better. (And as I said, I love to do it nearly as much as writing or playing music.) And I will honor my commitments as I always do, because that’s the only way to live in my not-so-humble opinion.

Written by Barb Caffrey

February 29, 2020 at 7:21 am

Writing in Spite of Difficulties

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Folks, I just wanted to check in to let you know I’m working hard again on a novel. I don’t want to talk too much about it before I get to the three-quarters mark, but I can at least tell you I am working on it.

This is a big deal to me, because after my last novel failed to make a dent in the marketplace, I had to think seriously about what I’d do next. I wasn’t about to stop writing, but…did I want to be like the musical composer Charles Ives, where his work wasn’t truly played until after his death? Did I want to be like composer Nadia Boulanger, whose most important work wasn’t her own compositions (fine as they were) but championing her sister Lily’s, not to mention working with American composers Aaron Copland and Virgil Thomson (among others)? Or could I keep going in the uncertain marketplace, and have faith, and continue on the path I’d already set for myself?

It took me over two years to figure this out, but I am continuing on my original path.

The important thing to remember here is, you have to write for yourself as much as anyone else. Yes, you hope your work will find its audience (how not?), but you have to write for yourself.

Nadia Boulanger did that, even though later she put her work aside. So did Charles Ives, who continued to write interesting music though his day job was in something else. (Insurance, I think.)

I hope I’ve learned that lesson now, and that I won’t have to learn it again.

Anyway, I’m back to working on my writing. And I do hope to have a novel done by the end of the year, along with a few short stories and maybe even finish that novella in my late husband Michael’s Atlantean Union universe…stay tuned.

Written by Barb Caffrey

January 9, 2020 at 3:48 pm

When Life Is Like Baseball

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Folks, if you’ve read my blog for a while, you may have noticed that I am a baseball fan. (My Milwaukee Brewers jersey, worn in the picture I put in the “About” section, kind of gives it away.) And while I haven’t written much about baseball in recent years, that doesn’t mean I’ve stopped watching it.

Or learning from it, either.

Yesterday evening, the Brewers played the Washington Nationals in the National League Wild-Card play-in game. This is a one-game playoff, and whichever team wins the game advances.

My Brewers did not advance.

Now, they were ahead until the bottom of the 8th inning. (One inning away from winning the game, if you’re not a baseball fan.) But at that time, three pivotal events happened:

  1. Home plate ump called a hit-by-pitch instead of a batted ball when the ball clearly hit the knob of the bat of the hitter rather than any part of the hitter’s hand. And when the Brewers complained, and asked for a replay, the umps doing replay didn’t fix the call.

    Had that call been a batted ball (inadvertent, but still), that runner would’ve been out. Instead, the runner was awarded first base, and that ultimately mattered because…

    2. Josh Hader, the Brewers bullpen ace (and “closer,” meaning he finishes games and usually shuts down opposing hitters cold), did not have his best stuff. He was missing the locations catcher Yasmani Grandal was asking for that Hader normally would’ve hit…and Hader was clearly rattled by the ump’s bad call, too. And that led to the bases being loaded, which led to…

    3. Hader gives up a single to Juan Soto of the Nationals. Soto’s ball went to right field, where Brewers OF Trent Grisham waited. However, the ball got past Grisham (somehow), meaning three runs scored rather than one, or two. (Probably two runs would’ve scored there no matter what, but for the sake of argument, you could say it was possible that had Grisham fielded the ball properly, he could’ve thrown out the second runner at home.)

    This error was costly.

    Check that. Beyond costly.

And after all that happened, instead of the Brewers leading, 3-1, as they had at the beginning of the inning, they now trailed, 4-3. And they weren’t able to muster a rally in the ninth and climactic inning, though OF Lorenzo Cain singled with one out. (This meant the tying run was aboard, but was unable to score.)

Game over.

But that doesn’t mean the season was a waste. Far, far from it.

The Brewers season was good this year. They had ups and downs. They could be streaky. They lost their best player, NL MVP Christian Yelich, at the beginning of September. Several of their other best players, such as former NL MVP Ryan Braun, Lo Cain, Keston Hiura, and Mike Moustakas, were battling through injuries. And they still kept going, and made an improbable run in September (going 20-7) to get to the Wild-Card Game at all.

Persistence, grit, and heart in action. It was fun to watch them overcome so much adversity in September.

That said, this was a disappointing loss. It hurt, as a fan, to watch it. And I’m sure the players didn’t enjoy it either, most especially not Grisham and Hader.

Now, the title of this blog is, “When Life Is Like Baseball.” So you might be wondering, “Barb, what on Earth are you going on about, nattering about the Brewers game? They lost. So what?”

Well, life is like this, too. You try, and try, and try again, and sometimes you make errors. Sometimes you get bad calls, where you did everything right, but the person in charge feels you still did it wrong…and sometimes, your best play (or player) is going to let you down, because that’s what the law of averages is all about.

No one wants to make a critical error in a one-and-done situation like Grisham did, mind. And no one wants to blow a save at the worst possible time, as Hader did.

Sometimes, you are going to make your best effort, and still lose. This doesn’t mean that you should stop trying, but it does mean you have to learn from your mistakes.

You have to keep going, though. Despite disappointment. Despite adversity. Despite setbacks.

You have to pick yourself up and dust yourself off, and sometimes you have to wait a long time to “get a bit of your own back.” (Or better yet, just live well and let that be the best revenge. Or in the Brewers case, play well.)

But you can do it. No matter what the adversity, setback, or disappointment, you can do it if you learn from your mistakes, you keep on trying, and you make your best effort every day.

I firmly believe that. And I hope you do, too.

Writers, Choose Your Strategy

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We writers tend to group ourselves into different camps.

Some are seat-of-the-pants writers (also known as “pantsers”). Some are meticulous plotters. Some are half-and-half…and no matter which type of storyteller you are, at some point you realize that your meticulously plotted story has somehow warped itself into an entirely new shape.

It’s for those days I’ve come up with my new saying, which is the title above: Writers, choose your strategy. Learn how to deal with the unexpected. And then take it from there.

Why do I say this?

Well, when your story goes sideways, that can be difficult to deal with. For many writers, writing seems like the one thing we can control in this life; when it, too, shows we can’t, that can be deeply disturbing.

Plus, even when your story is cooperating, there are times in the story where you step away from it and just have to shake your head. The villains are one thing; you expect bad behavior from them. But the moral equivalency, the bad behavior from otherwise good characters, and the rationalization that if they’re otherwise good, this bad behavior can’t be as bad as all that…where does that come from?

Quite simply, it comes from us.

We contain multitudes (hat tip to Walt Whitman). We all have darkness inside us, as well as light. Our characters can’t help but reflect that. And sometimes, the spattering of darkness and light leads us into weird corners…but we have to trust the process, and persevere.

If you’re at a weird place in your story right now, I want you to remember one thing. You may not be able to control what comes out of you, not entirely. But you can choose what to do with it once you have it.

May that bring you comfort, if it’s one of those writing days.

 

Written by Barb Caffrey

August 16, 2019 at 7:24 am

The Transformative Power of Writing

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Writing is one of those activities that can transform you, if you let it.

How? Well, it’s simple. You have to throw enough of yourself into your writing to inform each character, at least enough so they’ll feel real. And in so doing, you can make more of your memories, or your abilities, or your hopes/dreams/fears, by working them out to their natural conclusions.

(Or, as I write a lot of fantasy and we all know it, their unnatural conclusions. But I digress.)

Giving yourself the permission to explore sides of yourself you’d rather not — such as when you write villains — helps you to harmlessly bleed off your worst impulses, and transforms that into something more. Something better.

Or at least something different.

Writing, as a transformative ability, is something writers almost take for granted. I can almost hear some of you going, “But Barb, really! Here we are, writing our stories, doing what we need to make our stories sing…why do we need to think about it as a transformative ability, anyway? What’s the point of that?”

Well, you don’t have to think of it as transformative, if you don’t like. But that doesn’t make it any less the case.

Every single thing we do as writers is intended to create something. Or transform something. Or inform something. Or maybe educate you, along with your enjoyment of same…no matter what book or story you might be reading (and no matter how awful it may be in the moment), there’s something you can take out of nearly every piece of writing. (Yes, even the dullest Puritanical “erotica” out there, that was Bowdlerized before Bowdler even came onto the scene.) Even if it’s just what you know you definitely don’t want to do, you learn something from everything you read — whether you realize it or not.

Some folks refuse to throw out anything they’ve ever read, no matter how boring or mundane or stupid or pointless. I’m not necessarily saying you need to go that far, because I think it’s more important you learn whatever it is from stuff you can’t stand as quickly as possible (thus keeping you from having to go back and read it ever again). But whether it’s mores, culture, language, description, dialogue, or all of the above, there’s something in just about everything to appreciate — even if you decidedly don’t like it.

ALTERNATIES, by Michael P. Kube-McDowell, is one such book. It’s well-drawn, the different alternate realities stark and compelling, and the characterization is professional. But the protagonists are, to a person, unlikable. There are some things done in this book, such as torturing of sex slaves, that turned my stomach so much that I would never read the book again even though it is very good.

What I took from reading this book at the time was, “Sex sells. And dysfunctional, sadistic sex sells even more.”  But now, with the perspective of an author with three novels and any number of shorter works under my belt, I look at it a little differently. I think what Kube-McDowell was doing was masterful, in its way — but I don’t have to like it, and I don’t.

So, appreciate the craftsmanship, yes. Appreciate the time and effort and hard work, yes. (Respect the hustle, as Jason Cordova would say.) But don’t get lost in the depravity of it all, or the enervating sense of despair…because while that is in its way transformative, that isn’t at all what most people would like to be transformed into, if you get my drift.

And in your own work, look for ways to find hope, if you can. Even the worst situation may have one hint of hope; for example, all those French resistance folks trying hard during the occupation of France (Vichy France) in World War II had to deal with many stark and terrible realities. But they had hope nevertheless; they could believe their hard work would make a difference, no matter what it looked like, and no matter how long it took.

Ultimately, they were right.

So when you write a book with a lot of stuff that’s depressing or enervating or hopeless, try to find at least a few moments of comedy or light to balance it out. When you’re able to do that, that’s when a book really sings.

And if you’re writing something lighter (as I tend to do), finding moments of darkness to set off the light also works. (It’s all in the contrast, ultimately.)

So, how do you feel about the transformative power of writing? Tell me about it in the comments!

 

 

Computer Woes: Stuff I Learned While The Computer Was Down

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As the title says…here we go.

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

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

Written by Barb Caffrey

April 25, 2019 at 12:53 am