Barb Caffrey's Blog

Writing the Elfyverse . . . and beyond

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Advice for Valentine’s Day, 2016 Version

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Folks, it’s nearly Valentine’s Day. And I wanted to write a few words, just in case you haven’t read my two previous blogs on the subject (which, for the record, are here and here).

Too many people get caught up in conspicuous consumption on Valentine’s Day, because commercials and books and movies and nearly every possible thing says, “You must buy a whole lot of unnecessary things, or your partner won’t know you love them!” Even if you walk into a grocery store, there will be reminders that Valentine’s Day is just around the corner, so have you bought your cake/roses/card/fill-in-the-blank yet? (The most inventive one I’ve seen around here was over at Festival Foods in Mount Pleasant, where they’re offering a Valentine’s Day dinner, catered, that you can pick up for something like $42. That might actually be useful, and didn’t bother me…but I can see where it might bother someone who feels pressured to do something for Valentine’s Day.)

The thing is, as I’ve said before, Valentine’s Day is not for conspicuous consumption. It is for love. But somehow, in our consumer-driven society, we’ve gotten it into our heads that the only way to love someone is to buy him or her a whole lot of stuff…and that’s just not right.

Let me give you a few examples.

The best Valentine’s Day I’ve ever had was in 2003. Why was it so good? Well, Michael was with me, then, and the two of us had a great and quiet dinner at home, watched some of his favorite “Danger Mouse” videos (Michael loved them, and I enjoyed ’em, too — mostly because I liked seeing how he reacted to them), and then retired to “none of your business land.”

Note that this didn’t cost us anything. We already had the “Danger Mouse” videos. We already had the food. We already had anything else we needed in the house…we didn’t need roses, or wine, or fancy chocolates, or even sushi (something Michael and I both enjoyed, and I continue to appreciate), because we had each other and that’s what counted.

And my second favorite Valentine’s Day was in 2004. Michael and I had just moved from San Francisco to Iowa, and were living in a motel. The move had been stressful and we were close to flat broke, and finding work was a challenge that we hadn’t expected.

So, what did Michael do? This time, we went to a scenic overlook outside Davenport on I-80 with a couple of sub sandwiches, some soda, and sat and talked. It was the middle of winter, but I didn’t feel cold…and I don’t think he did, either. We felt the world was full of possibilities, because we were with each another…and I was touched that Michael remembered I liked spicy-hot peppers on my sub (something he wouldn’t touch because of long-term stomach distress).

You see, if a guy remembers what you like, that is sexy to a woman. Michael knew that.

Now, what did I do for these Valentine’s Day outings? (Maybe you’re asking this, and it’s a valid question.) Mostly, I was there and fully in the moment…yes, I’d asked Michael what he wanted on both days, and I’d actually tried to cook for him in 2003, but he wasn’t having it. (Mostly, Michael cooked for us, because he enjoyed it. And besides, he said I’d done too much for people as it was, over the years; now it was time someone did something for me.) I did suggest the “Danger Mouse” videos in 2003, and I probably suggested going out for subs in 2004…but for the most part, Michael made those outings happen.

So, to sum up…the important thing about Valentine’s Day, or any day, is for your partner to know that he or she is loved. Spending large amounts of money on a Pajamagram or a Vermont teddy bear or fancy chocolates (much though I enjoy that) is not necessary. Showing you care, that you pay attention, that you know what your partner likes…listening to him/her speak and asking intelligent questions (or giving intelligent answers)…being fully in that moment with him/her, with your cell phones/tablets off and your attention undivided…well, those are by far the best gifts you can give.

Don’t let the “must spend big money NOW!” narrative of the commercials blind you to this, OK?

Formatting, Writing, and Other Stuff

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Folks, it’s Friday. And as such, I wanted to talk about a great many things…so, let’s get to it!

First off, I am going to get “A Dark and Stormy Night,” “On Westmount Station,” “Columba and the Cat” and “To Survive the Maelstrom” formatted for Barnes and Noble and Smashwords as well as Kindle. This means I will soon be taking all four stories out of the Kindle Unlimited program, so if you still want to read them for free but haven’t yet done so, this is your one and only warning.

When I have the new formats, I’ll be uploading them to Barnes and Noble and Smashwords (and, of course, be putting a cleaner and better-formatted copy on Amazon as well).

I’m excited about this, because it gives me the chance to tap into a wider audience…and besides, these four stories have not exactly burned the house down with regards to sales figures at Amazon alone. Those who’ve read them enjoy them, and many have told me so privately. But they’ve been but lightly reviewed, and mostly haven’t found their audience yet.

Next, I’m still working away at CHANGING FACES. The story continues to evolve. That’s a good thing, in one respect, because it means I’m writing a deeper and richer story; on the not-so-good side is the fact that the more the story continues to evolve, I haven’t any idea how much longer it’s going to take to finish it.

Finally — and this is not about writing, sorry — what in the world is going on in Flint, Michigan? Why did a Governor Rick Snyder-appointed emergency manager allow Flint’s water to become poisoned by lead? And why isn’t Gov. Snyder taking much in the way of responsibility for this?

The people of Flint deserve better from their Governor than this. And make no mistake about it — this problem was created solely by Gov. Rick Snyder (R-Michigan), because Snyder is the one who appointed the emergency manager. And the emergency manager, rather than anyone actually voted for by the citizens of Flint, is the one who made the atrocious decision to change where Flint gets its water from, and then not do anything about how corrosive that new water source was…much less test it for lead levels, or anything else.

This is a problem that should’ve been prevented.

It should never have happened, because the people who lived in Flint, including the Mayor of Flint and other elected leaders from that area, all knew that the river water (the new source) needed to be properly treated before sent to Flint. Because that water was not treated, it caused massive problems.

Until Rachel Maddow of MSNBC started talking about Flint’s plight nightly, Gov. Snyder didn’t do anything. He insisted there was no problem for over a year and  a half.

Finally, he allowed for the National Guard to go into Flint and give out water, along with water filters and other helpful items. But much damage has already been done, all because that emergency manager (appointed by Snyder, remember) insisted on saving a few nickels by using the river water instead of the water from Detroit (that was properly treated and much safer to use) and didn’t either know that the water had to be chemically treated before human use or just didn’t care.

Here’s just a few of the problems the people of Flint, Michigan are facing right now:

  • All 8,000 children in Flint have been exposed to toxic levels of lead. And all of them now have the potential for many medical problems, including cognitive difficulties (and at worst, mental retardation).
  • Because of the lead in the water, no one in Flint can sell his/her home. That lead, and other chemicals besides, have corroded the pipes.
  • This has drastically hurt Flint’s image, and has pushed away businesses who might’ve wanted to relocate there.

Now, why haven’t the people of Michigan risen up as of yet and demanded satisfaction from their Governor over this debacle? I don’t know.

What I do know is that this problem should not be occurring in the United States of America. We are not a Third-World country.

But there is a solution for Michigan, folks, and it’s simple: Recall Governor Snyder.

Why? Because Michigan’s elected representatives have thus far failed to impeach or otherwise hold Governor Snyder accountable for this debacle. And when the duly elected officials refuse to do their job, it’s time for the people themselves to step in and do it for them.

The buck stops with him, and Gov. Snyder has failed in his responsibilities.

So it’s time for him to go. Period.

Thoughts on the Meaning of the Term “Mixed Marriage”

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Folks, it’s December 27, 2015. And I was thinking this morning about the changing definition of the term “mixed marriage.”

We rarely hear the term “mixed marriage” these days, but when we do, it usually refers to a marriage between two people of different races. For example, a black man marries a white woman, maybe…or an Asian woman marries a Hispanic man. So if you use the term “mixed marriage,” it’s usually seen to mean a marriage between people of two different races.

Now, does it matter much that one person is one color and the other is a different one, if the love is there? No, it does not. But there are still cultural differences, so the term “mixed marriage” seems to apply even if the awareness of the term and the meaning behind it seems to be changing.

That said, when my grandmother was a girl — in the 1920s and early 1930s — the term “mixed marriage” meant something entirely different. Then, it meant “a marriage between two people of different religions.” She entered into a marriage with my grandfather despite the fact she was Irish Catholic and he was German Protestant — and while in today’s terms no one would bat an eye, back then, that was not “the done thing.” (It might not have been scandalous, but it wasn’t exactly easy, either.)

Unfortunately, we seem to be returning to this earlier definition to a degree. Now, if a Muslim lady marries a Christian man in the United States, that term is getting trotted back out. And the feelings that term engenders of fear, disbelief, anger, worry, misunderstanding and more are back with a vengeance…mostly because the dominant culture of the United States doesn’t seem to know what to do with people raised in a different culture — and religion — entirely.

I don’t know why this is, to be honest. I do know that this isn’t the first time the United States has dealt with such an issue — and I know that because of my own, personal history.

It took years for my grandmother’s marriage to be first tolerated, then accepted, and then finally — in her seventies and eighties, after my grandfather passed away — seen as “what’s the big deal?”

We are starting to see that now, in mixed-race marriages. All sorts of biracial children are coming into their own — President Barack Obama is far from the only one. No one bats an eye at them, and no one should.

I hope that in time, we will see more tolerance and respect for people of all faiths, all cultures, all ethnicities, all skin colors, and all gender expressions.

Love is love. And we need to start respecting that, wherever we may find it.


Written by Barb Caffrey

December 27, 2015 at 5:29 am

Thoughts About Lamar Odom

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Folks, as most of you are probably aware, former NBA star Lamar Odom is currently in a coma. As he is a major media personality due to his marriage with Khloé Kardashian, his illness has been front-page news in many places — not just the sports pages, and not just the society pages, but the general interest pages as well.

Why is this?

Some of it is because of Odom himself. He’s a talented basketball player, yes, but he also has appeared to be a warm, caring human being during episodes of “Keeping Up With the Kardashians” and “Khloé and Lamar.” Teammates have come forward saying this was no act; Odom was known as being a “good egg,” helping younger teammates in various ways (including buying them designer suits); he was seen as someone who wasn’t all about himself, but truly a team player.

I’m not a huge fan of reality TV (my interest in “Dancing with the Stars” and “So You Think You Can Dance” notwithstanding), but I have seen Odom in context amidst the sprawling Kardashian-Jenner family. Odom seemed a bit bemused to have support, especially as he’d married Khloé after a whirlwind one-month relationship…but he also seemed to enjoy having the Kardashians and Jenners around him.

Anyway, Odom is now 35. He hasn’t played in the NBA for a few years. He’s been battling a drug addiction for a few years, and perhaps because of this, cheated on his wife, Khloé. The two had been presumed to be divorced, before Odom fell ill during a sojourn at a legal brothel in Nevada…but apparently, they are still legally married.

I never thought I’d say this, but I feel terrible for Khloé Kardashian right now. I’ve been where she’s standing, to a point; my husband Michael was in a coma, had brain damage, and no one knew what his outcome would be during the final day of his life. (Granted, Michael did not cheat on me. He would not have ever done that; he was not that type of person.)

It is not easy to stand by and watch, in a hospital. All you can do is talk with your beloved, and pray. (Or think good thoughts. Or grasp for positive vibrations. Or think about positive, healing energy. Whatever you do to try to tap into the Deity — or at least the good wishes of fellow humans.)

There’s an old song by Kansas called “Dust in the Wind” that pretty much sums up how I felt when I stood there, in the hospital, desperately praying that my husband would not die.

Khloé Kardashian has many things I never had. She’s young, beautiful, extremely wealthy, has access to the best of medical care (and has for most if not all of her life)…but all of that does not help, when you’re there in the hospital.

Mind, from what little I can tell from the copious media reports, Khloé has done everything possible — everything I’d have done, in her place. She flew in Lamar’s father and children; she’s been beside Lamar Odom, talking to him, talking to the doctors, doing what she can to let Lamar know that she’s there and will do everything she can to help.

(I know she doesn’t need me to say this, but I will anyway: Good for you, Khloé. Doing your best in a bad situation is admirable.)

I don’t know what’ll happen next with Lamar Odom. Most media reports I’ve seen, either online or on TV, have said that he’s suffered at least one and possibly as many as three strokes. He’s obviously unwell. He may have cocaine in his system. He may have taken too much herbal Viagra, which could’ve led to many of the health problems he’s now suffering…there is the possibility that he will never wake up. And there’s also the possibility that he will, but much altered.

Though I’ve never met Lamar Odom or Khloé Kardashian, I wish them well. I hope that out of this awful illness, there will be peace. And that Lamar will wake up again, know who he is, know who Khloé and the rest of his family is…and can restart his life again.

Written by Barb Caffrey

October 16, 2015 at 7:21 am

Advice for the New Writer

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Folks, the other day I met a new writer in an unexpected place. He told me he feels overwhelmed; he doesn’t know where to go for any support, and he doesn’t know how to get any help for his writing. He’s in the very early stages; he’s trying to organize his thoughts, and needs to have confidence that these thoughts will be able to be organized eventually.

While I cannot give anyone confidence — sometimes I can’t even give myself that! — I was at least able to point him in the right direction, as far as a few helpful writing groups are concerned.

But this got me thinking. What about the other new writers out there, who don’t know very much, and are overwhelmed? Do they even know which sites to start with? And are they aware that free advice is there for the taking, if they can just find out where they need to go?

Because I’m not sure of that, I figured I’d give some advice myself.

First, before you go anywhere, you need to trust in yourself and your story. If something is telling you to write it down, you should do that.

Second, try not to censor yourself. Accept whatever comes out in a first draft as best you can. (You can always fix it later.)

Third, try to write at least five times a week, for at least a half an hour to an hour a day. If you can get 750 to 1000 words each time, you’ll have a solid short story within a week or two. And you could have a short novel (something in the neighborhood of 60K words) in twelve weeks.

Fourth, try not to let this all feel overwhelming. I know it’s new to you. But every writer has been there; we all didn’t know what we were hearing, at first, and we didn’t necessarily trust ourselves all that much, either.

And fifth and last? Check out some of the sites I’m about to talk about, to see if any of them appeal to you. Because every single last one of them has helpful advice, for the novice writer all the way up to the professional.

Now, let’s get to these sites!

  • I’ve talked before of Kristine Kathryn Rusch’s site, which used to be called The Business Rusch. There’s all sorts of helpful advice over there, especially for the practical-minded writer. If you have a business-related question about writing, Ms. Rusch has probably already answered it — or if she hasn’t, will know how to point you in the right direction so you can find your answer.
  • In addition, the Forward Motion Writers Group (otherwise known as is extremely beneficial. I’ve been a member for years, though I’ve been more inactive than not. Still, whenever I drop in over there, I’ve found support, friendship, advice, and more. The folks at FMWriters are knowledgeable and helpful, and all they want to do is help “pay it forward” a little with other writers.
  • If you are looking to see if a publisher or agent is reliable, check out Preditors and Editors. They have the most up-to-date information anywhere.
  • Another good place to go is Writer Beware. There’s all sorts of helpful information there about contracts, what’s good, what’s bad, and what should never be accepted under any circumstances. Also, pay close attention to the publishers Writer Beware does not recommend (along with the agents). Those are places that have significant complaints/complainants, and you want to avoid like the plague. (Note you can cross-reference with Preditors and Editors if you need more information, or the publisher in question is not listed.)
  • As far as marketing your work goes — which is essential for small press and indie writers in particular — please check out Marketing for Romance Writers, whether you write romance or not. I am a member of this fine group (our hashtag on Twitter is #MFRWAuthor), and have obtained all sorts of good advice from the people there.
  • Finally, check out author blogs. (Start with some of the fine authors I’ve listed on the side of this blog. These are reputable people who often talk about writing, publishing, and other interesting things.)

So, in conclusion, remember that you do not need to feel intimidated by NaNoWriMo (National November Write a Novel Month) or anything else. All you have to do is keep faith with yourself, keep writing, and do not give up.

That’s the only way to go.

Written by Barb Caffrey

October 1, 2015 at 5:29 pm

Milwaukee Brewers Shut Down Ryan Braun for the Rest of 2015

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Folks, this is how you know the Milwaukee Brewers have had a horrible year.

Ryan Braun has a back injury that he’s been playing through for most of the year. Recently, when he spent seven games without playing whatsoever, the team admitted that Braun will have surgery in the off-season to repair a herniated disc. So the assumption was that Braun would not play any more during 2015.

Then Braun played last night in St. Louis.

Now, the Brewers have returned to their original script with Braun. He’s been shut down for the remainder of the year, mostly because there’s no point to playing as the Brewers cannot affect the outcome of the regular season at all. Every playoff team in the National League is now set; three of them, the Cardinals, the Chicago Cubs, and the Pittsburgh Pirates, come from the NL Central Division. And the only thing that could change between now and the end of the season is whether the Cardinals hold on to their NL Central lead, or if the Pirates manage to best them.

Everything else is set in stone, barring a major losing streak for the Pirates and a major winning streak for the Cubs — and all that will change is which team hosts the Wild Card game.

Look. I understand why the Brewers have shut Braun down. There is nothing for him to prove, and very little for him to gain. Braun could worsen his back if he plays, though that wasn’t a concern last night for some reason…and if Braun worsens his back injury, that may put part or all of 2016 in jeopardy.

I get all that.

But as a Brewers fan, I’m disheartened. There are very few stars on the Milwaukee baseball club right now. The team that started 2015 has been almost completely dismantled; Braun is out, Carlos Gomez got traded to the Astros (and has been in a hitting funk ever since, from what I can tell), Gerardo Parra got traded to the Orioles, Aramis Ramirez got traded to the Pirates (at least he’s going to the playoffs), Mike Fiers — possibly the Brewers most consistent starter during 2015 — got traded to the Astros and promptly threw a no-hitter.

As for those who remained?

  • Jean Segura had a nice bounce-back year on both offense and defense. He narrowly avoided a major injury a few weeks ago (more on that in a bit). But he’s not playing much right now, as the 2015 season is lost.
  • Jonathan Lucroy was out for nearly ten days with a concussion, though he’s back now (and limited to first base).
  • Jimmy Nelson got hit in the head by a batted ball and was shut down for the year with a concussion.
  • Wily Peralta was generally ineffective during 2015 and has been shut down, reason unknown or untold.
  • Matt Garza also was ineffective, and has been shut down since mid-September.
  • And poor Elian Herrera — he ran into Shane Peterson while trying to field a ball in “no man’s land” (behind third in shallow left field shading toward the foul line), and has been on crutches ever since with what’s been called a “thigh contusion.” Herrera was one of the few guys who’d stepped up after all the trades, and performed consistently both on offense and defense; his steady presence in the infield has been missed since he got injured. (As for Peterson, he’s pinch-hit a few times; he came away from that collision injured, but lightly so, compared to Herrera…who, of course, has also been shut down for the year.)

So who’s left?

Well, Francisco “K-Rod” Rodriguez has done well as the closer, and he’s still here. (He gets maybe two attempts a week to close a game, but that’s not his fault.) Lucroy is able to play a little at first base. Adam Lind’s back has been a little balky lately, but he’s played more games with the Brewers than he managed with the Blue Jays last year (at least, that’s what they keep saying) and he’s done better defensively at first base than I’d expected.

And then there are all the rookies. Only three have impressed me thus far: Zach Davies, who the Brewers got in the Parra trade, has shown some good flashes since getting the call to come to the big leagues. Catcher Nevin Ashley spent ten years in the minors, and reminds me a great deal of Vinny Rottino (my favorite player, also overlooked to my mind). And Domingo Santana has shown unusually good plate discipline and some real power, even though he’s been forced to play out of position most of the time in center field (he’s a corner outfielder).

The rest…meh.

For weeks, watching games has been like watching Spring Training, except these games count. Most of the guys seem eager, young, and want to make a good impression. But for me, as a fan, I feel fatigued; there have been 11 guys making their major league debut this year, with a twelfth coming today. I have a hard time keeping up with all these people, and while I’m glad all these young guys have managed to get call-ups (most especially Ashley), it’s hard to figure out what I’m watching.

Truly, these teams are like seeing a Triple-A version of the Brewers with a few stars sprinkled in. And that’s not what I’d expected for the 2015 season, even though I do think retiring General Manager Doug Melvin did the best he could with what he had (and received several strong players in return for our previously established stars).

So here we are: Braun won’t play again this year. The young, eager, Triple-A-like Brewers will continue to do their best to make some sort of impression.

And while I’ll continue to watch, I don’t hold out a lot of hope that this depleted Brewers club will win many more games.

Why Are People More Worried about #Deflategate than #NFL’s Pay-for-Play Faux Patriotism?

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Folks, a while back, I wrote about the biggest scandal to hit the NFL in quite some time.

No, it wasn’t Deflategate. (For the record, I truly don’t care whether Tom Brady threw deflated footballs or not.)

No, it wasn’t even Spygate, which is a much worse problem in that the New England Patriots admitted to spying on at least one other team in order to gain an unfair competitive advantage.

Instead, it was a pay-for-play scandal that Keith Olbermann found out about while browsing the Internet. NFL teams, including the Green Bay Packers, the Miami Dolphins and the Pittsburgh Steelers were paid $5.4 million dollars to put “Hometown Hero” spots on jumbotrons; the Department of Defense gave the NFL this money to promote not patriotism — faux patriotism though this is — but for recruitment purposes.

It’s like the Department of Defense was saying, “See, men and women? If you join the military, you can be feted at a NFL game! Yet another reason to sign up!”

The reason this was and is plain, flat wrong is because most people — myself included — believed that these men and women were being singled out truly because they were — and are — heroes. Not because the Department of Defense had paid money to 14 NFL teams to do so.

The only major broadcaster who picked this story up was Keith Olbermann. He was passionate, explaining just what’s wrong with this sort of faux patriotism, and read NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell the riot act.

Olbermann was right to do this. What the NFL did in taking this money was absolutely shameful. That the NFL pushed the blame onto the 14 teams that took the money is at best a deflection; it is not an excuse.

At the moment, Olbermann is off the air. (Rumors abound that Olbermann will be reunited with MSNBC, one of his former employers, soon — MSNBC has a huge ratings problem, and Olbermann always drew great ratings. I hope for once that rumor will prove to be fact.) No other major broadcaster has taken up the baton in this area — meaning it is impossible for me, as a fan, to know that the “hometown hero” segments that continue to go on to this day in both the NFL and in major league baseball are legitimate — or if they’re the same type of phony patriotism Olbermann rightly excoriated months ago.

Now, there are two Senators, both from Arizona, who are continuing to look into this, these being Senator Jeff Flake and Senator John McCain. They’ve both been critical of this practice. (McCain is a former POW, as well as being a former Presidential candidate, and his voice carries great weight.) Flake said, according to an ESPN report from May of 2015:

“You go to a game and you see a team honoring ‘Hometown Heroes,’ and you think it’s some sort of public service announcement, that the team is doing it out of the goodness of their heart,” Senator Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., said to ESPN on Monday. “Then you find out it’s paid for? That seems a little unseemly.”

What I want to know is this: Why is everyone so worried about whether or not Tom Brady threw deflated footballs, when taking money to “promote” the military in this cynical fashion is a far bigger scandal?

As Olbermann rightly said months ago (see his full comment on YouTube here):

If this time, our time, is one in which the country is pro-military, and if that is reflected at sporting events, so be it.  But for that sense for where the nation is regarding sending our citizens in harm’s way — for or against — for that to be secretly tampered with by the government, by the Defense Department, using your money to purchase public sentiment and pay off the NFL, MLB, NBA, the HIGH SCHOOLS, and all the rest to influence that, that is intolerable! And it is dishonest! It is dishonest in an area where honesty is the only acceptable policy. As dishonest as if the LA clubs never revealed that they are paid nearly $6 million to call it Staples Center and instead insisted that they did so out of admiration for the company.

Folks, I hope the two Arizona Senators continue to be vigilant. Because until Olbermann gets another program, it is very unlikely we’re going to find out the whole story…because no one else seems to care.

And I, for one, see that as incredibly sad.


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