Barb Caffrey's Blog

Writing the Elfyverse . . . and beyond

Archive for the ‘Prescient observations’ Category

A “Changing Faces” Update…or Persistence is Key, Part 2

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Folks, back in 2011 I wrote a blog called “Persistence is Key.” While I’d reword a number of things differently now, I feel much the same way…which is why I’m writing another blog about why persistence is key. (Calling it “Part 2” hopefully links it in your mind that this is a recurring theme. And themes work well for writers. Right?)

Edited to add: Yes, there’s a CHANGING FACES update here. Bear with me. Now, back to your regular blog, already in progress…

Now, why do I feel that the quality of persistence is so important? Simple. Without a rock-solid belief in yourself and your abilities, and the willingness to continue to work hard at whatever they are, nothing of any substance is likely to get done.

Consider, please, that writers often take up to a year to finish writing a book. (OK, OK. Some write faster than this. Some, like my friend Chris Nuttall, write so enormously fast, they put out at least six books a year. But I digress.) We first think about it, which to some involves outlining and/or writing prose notes explaining just what you intend to do. (This would predate a formal synopsis, mind. It’s your formative thoughts about what you think you’re about to do. Clear as mud, no?) Then, after thinking about it for a while, we sit down to write…and after a time, the first draft is done.

Now, do we writers rest on our laurels after the first draft? No, we don’t. We can’t, because the first draft of a story may not be anything close to the final version.

I’m running into that right now with my transgender fantasy romance novel, CHANGING FACES. (See, I told you I’d get to it.) I’ve had one of the characters, Allen, down cold for years. But the other one, Elaine, is continually surprising me with her insight, her biting wit, and the enormity of her challenges. (That she’s a gender-fluid person who prefers the pronoun “she” all the time is only one of those challenges.) And then there are the nonhuman characters to worry about, too (as I did tell you it’s a fantasy romance, right?) — they’re like angels, except they’re a completely different conception than any angel I’ve ever read about before.

Now, I’ve been working on CHANGING FACES, off and on, for at least the last fifteen years. It’s gone through multiple revisions. The way I “see” my characters has evolved over time. And the way I describe them, and show their story as best I can, has also evolved as I’ve gained skill as a writer.

That is what persistence is all about. (Well, that and sheer cussedness. But that’s another blog subject entirely.)

So, while I continue to fight it out to finish this final version of CHANGING FACES for publication later this year via Twilight Times Books, I want you all to remember something Malcolm Gladwell said in his book OUTLIERS. (I reviewed it at Shiny Book Review years ago; here’s a link.)

It takes people an average of 10,000 hours to become skilled in his/her field. That means you have to keep working at your craft, or you’re just not going to be very good at it by definition. Very few, if any, of us come fully formed out of our mother’s womb and know exactly what we’re going to be…and even when we do know where our skills are strongest, it still takes at least 10,000 hours to be able to use them well.

It’s not easy to amass this many hours doing something in this day and age. Those of us who don’t have much in the way of money have to be extremely stubborn in order to persist, work on our craft, persist some more, work on our craft some more, etc., until we achieve some measure of success.

And that success may not always be worldly success. Gladwell talks about genius Chris Langan, who has not managed thus far in his life to break through to worldwide fame and fortune despite his scientific gifts. Then again, Langan doesn’t seem to care about that overmuch; he just wants to use his gifts productively. (He has come up with something called a Cognitive-Theoretic Model of the Universe, so all his thinking has come up with something different and original. Good for him!)

Are we supposed to give up if we don’t make a financial success of ourselves immediately after doing all this work? I say, “Hell, no!” to that.

Why?

We can’t control the market, you see. We can’t control how we’re received in that market, either. But we can control whether or not we’re still in there fighting, to give ourselves the chance to break through — and in the process, let our voices be heard. (And our books be read, too!)

That is why I say that persistence is key. Because gifts and talents are not enough without sheer, hard work to back them up.

So work on your craft. Keep trying. Refuse to give up. And learn as much as you can along the way.

That’s the way to become a true success in any field of endeavor.

Written by Barb Caffrey

April 8, 2016 at 5:57 am

Milwaukee Brewers 2016: Opening Day Thoughts

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Folks, as most of you know, I am a huge fan of the Milwaukee Brewers baseball team. I’ve watched them for years, through good years and bad…and this year is shaping up to be unpredictable at best, and downright awful at worst.

Why do I say this? It’s simple.

The Brewers have seven guys who’ve never been on an Opening Day roster before. Their best pitcher is Wily Peralta. And their leadoff hitter is likely to be rookie OF Domingo Santana, a high-risk, high-reward type player.

Or, to put it another way — “Who are these (flippin’) guys?” — quote from the movie Major League, 1989.

There are only a few players on this roster I recognize, including Ryan Braun, returning Brewers pitcher Chris Capuano (now a reliever), and Jonathan Lucroy — providing he isn’t traded anytime too soon.  Much of the roster is made up of guys like Jonathan Villar (before he came to the Brewers, I’d never heard his name before), Yadiel Rivera (good-field, little-hit IF prospect), Keon Broxton, and Ramon Flores.

So, with a team that I barely recognize, it’s almost impossible for me to say what the 2016 “new look” Brewers will do. But I can tell you what it’s unlikely they’ll do — and that’s win over 70 games.

Of course, the young Brewers are going to play with chips on their shoulder. And in a week or two, I’ll know these guys better and their capabilities/weaknesses/upsides, too.

Still. The Brewers play in the toughest division in Major League Baseball. They’re likely to be beaten regularly by the St. Louis Cardinals, the Chicago Cubs, and the Pittsburgh Pirates, all division rivals with legitimate postseason chances. That alone makes their quest for a seventy-win season nearly impossible.

The 2016 Brewers will probably be fun to watch. They’ll give it their all, their fundamentals will be sound, they’ll steal bases and at least a few of ’em (like Santana, Braun, and new first baseman Chris Carter) will hit beaucoup home runs. And at least one pitcher will have a good-to-great year (perhaps hoping to pitch himself onto a contenting team at the All-Star break).

So, the 2016 Brewers are likely to have an entertaining team, but not a good one.

What do you think? (Give me a shout in the comments.)

Reflections on Good Friday

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I wrote this back in 2012, but it still reflects my thoughts on Good Friday, and why Western culture still finds it meaningful. See what you think.

And oh, yes…I know today is Good Friday. (Why d’you think I’m reblogging this, hm?)

Barb Caffrey's Blog

Tomorrow is Good Friday, the day Christians observe Jesus’s crucifixion.  It can be a very depressing day, partly because the idea of anyone being crucified for any reason is abhorrent, mostly because Jesus is adjudged one of the best people who’ve ever walked the face of the Earth even by most non-Christians.  (Of course, Jesus is seen as the Son of God by Christians.)  But he died via crucifixion, in agony, despite his goodness/divinity.

Yet for whatever reason, most non-priests would rather speak of Easter than Good Friday.  Granted, Easter is a much easier holiday to speak of as it’s a day of celebration, forgiveness, and hope.  (I wrote about Easter last year.)  It’s a day that should be celebrated.  But we also need to consider the importance of the day that preceded Easter — the day made Easter possible.  That day is Good Friday, one of the worst days in the history of the world . …

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Written by Barb Caffrey

March 25, 2016 at 6:38 am

Easter Week Thoughts: Carrying Each Other’s Burdens

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Is it possible for human beings to comprehend that other people have burdens, too?

Sure, we know our own burdens — the problems we carry mile after mile, day after day. They’ve become so much a part of us, it goes without saying…they’re just there, and we keep on shouldering them because we know no other way.

But we don’t always know what burdens the other person is carrying, just as the other person doesn’t know our burdens.

Yes, there’s a way around this problem. You can ask what’s going on. Maybe you can help shoulder the load for a while, if the other person allows it…if the other person lets you reach inside, so you can see them in the same way you see yourself.

Because it’s Easter Week, I’ve been thinking a lot about this. I know all sorts of people, and every one of them has problems. Some are more profound than others; some are of more immediate concern than others, too. But every single last one of us has problems.

Buddha recognized that, in his time. So did Jesus Christ. So did other notable religious figures…it’s one of those universal truths that everyone respects, but no one knows how to solve. (Though Buddha’s dispassionate look at suffering is certainly worth a try, to be sure.)

Is it possible for us to carry each other’s burdens? Can pain be halved, if someone else knows of it and cares about you and wants to relieve your burden(s)?

I hope so. I believe so. But I don’t know for certain.

What I do know, for certain, is that if you don’t talk about what’s bothering you — or worse, you can’t talk about what’s bothering you — for most of us, that pressure builds and builds like heating food inside a pressure cooker. Eventually, as in the pressure cooker, that heat is going to escape…and it might escape in all directions.

That’s why discussing your problems, discussing your pain, discussing your burdens, can give comfort and peace even if there’s no ready solution for any of them.

Try not to be upset if you need to unburden yourself. Why?

Two examples:

  • Mother Teresa talked of how depression could overcome her, in her diaries. (In her case, she was definitely unburdening herself to the Higher Power.) She gained comfort and clarity from this, and was able to go back to her work with the poor of Calcutta with a lighter heart.
  • And Jesus Christ, the night before he was taken to be crucified, seems in retrospect to have wanted his friends to know he was aware of his fate and accepted it. (If that doesn’t show just how much comfort can be gained by discussion, I don’t know what will.)

Maybe this is why unburdening yourself to a friend tends to help, even if your friend cannot solve your problem(s) for you. By doing so, you remind yourself that you’re not alone, and that someone else cares about you and the burdens you carry.

That, to my mind, is an important thing to keep in mind. Especially during Easter Week.

Written by Barb Caffrey

March 22, 2016 at 4:18 am

A Saturday Request: Give Yourself Time

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Folks, after reading this post from Jason Cushman (also known as the Opinionated Man) about an acquaintance of his who committed suicide years ago, I have some thoughts.

Jason’s post discusses a young man he knew from church camps, Josiah. Josiah was often teased, as Josiah’s name means “the Lord supports, the Lord saves, and the Lord heals.” (Or to put it another way, Josiah is a very tough name to live up to — the kids often teased Josiah because they felt he was meant to be a messiah, if I understood Jason’s post correctly.) Perhaps none of the kids meant badly by it, but Jason quite rightly calls it a form of casual bullying. As Jason put it in his post:

When I reflect on these trips and more importantly Josiah, I feel like he probably dreaded coming to them and that was a shame for someone who obviously valued our faith. I stop myself from thinking that way because I don’t know for sure and it really does no good to burden one’s self with guilt if you aren’t sure you are guilty. I can say that I am somewhat ashamed that a boy going through his own journey of self-realization couldn’t recognize another person who was doing the same. More importantly my own experiences receiving daily bullying from my differing cultural surroundings did not create any sense of understanding at the time of what I was taking part in and that it was wrong. Like I said, we were children and children can be some of the most evil creatures on this planet when it comes to social drama and interaction.

I think the most important line there — or at least the one that resonated the most with me — is this one: “I can say that I am somewhat ashamed that a boy going through his own journey of self-realization couldn’t recognize another person who was doing the same.”

But we’ve all been guilty of that, from time to time. Haven’t we? (If we’re honest, we’re going to say yes.)

Anyway, Jason’s post got me to thinking. Thus today’s request, which is simply this: Please, give yourself time.

Sometimes, it can be difficult to shrug off someone else’s opinion of you, especially when you want them to care or be impressed by what you’re doing. But if you live long enough and give yourself time to understand yourself a little better, eventually you learn that their opinion of you is not what’s important.

What’s important, ultimately, is what you do in this life. How much you learn. How much you grow, and change, and experience…but to do all that, you must first give yourself time to figure yourself out.

Too many kids, whether it’s Jason’s childhood acquaintance Josiah or transgender youth Leelah Alcorn, don’t realize this. They are in so much pain, and they think that pain will be everlasting, unending, and of course they can’t stand it. They get to the point that it seems that no one will understand, or care — and they take themselves out of life before they can learn otherwise.

I understand this feeling quite well. I was often depressed, growing up. For a time, I felt like I was encased in a wall of ice, and I couldn’t reach out…fortunately, my parents found me a good counselor, and I was able to open myself up to him.

You see, I was different than everyone around me. I often was bullied, too, especially in junior high school. (We didn’t call it “middle school,” then.) I got along with many people, yes, but most of them were a great deal older than I was…I thought I was a misfit, doomed to never find a friend, doomed to never be happy with anyone, ever.

Eventually, I learned I was wrong. But it took me time, and a good amount of trial and error, until I figured this out.

So, today, I want you to do one, simple thing: Give yourself time. Time to step back. Time to forgive yourself, if need be. Time to recognize your growth. Time to recognize that you, yourself, are a worthwhile and valuable person.

If you can do that, you are one step ahead of the game. And you’ll be much more mentally healthy, besides.

Written by Barb Caffrey

March 19, 2016 at 3:11 am

Sunday Reflections: Kalamazoo Shooting

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Folks, it’s Sunday. I try to reflect on Sundays, due to my early religious training, and sometimes my reflections matter more than others.

Today, I’m thinking a lot about the guy in Kalamazoo, Michigan. (I won’t name him, as is my policy.) He shot six random people as he was out and about (he’s an Uber driver, and apparently he drove a number of people around safely during his rampage), and no one knows why. Among the six people dead was a mother (her three children, in the back of her car, were unhurt), which seems particularly heinous.

I don’t know what causes people to behave like this. I don’t know how to fix whatever is broken inside them. But we’ve had a number of shootings now that have been almost completely inexplicable, from the Sikh Temple shootings in Oak Creek to the Sandy Hook school shooting to the shooting at an Aurora, Colorado movie theatre, much less the bombing at the Boston Marathon a few years ago. Something is going on, something deep-rooted and fundamental, to cause unstable people to snap.

It can’t all be explained away as domestic terrorism, either. And it certainly can’t all be explained away as untreated mental illness, though that might be close to the truth in some cases (certainly in the case of the Aurora shootings).

When I hear about something like this, it’s all I can do not to give in to despair. What is this world coming to? Why does this even happen?

I can’t begin to understand why this guy in Kalamazoo was thinking, and I don’t even want to try. But I wish with all my heart and soul that those six innocent people in Kalamazoo yesterday were still alive, and that this particular Uber driver had never gone on his rampage.

That said, what can we do, in the United States, to combat these types of crimes? Is there anything we can do at all?

I’ve already advocated for better care for the mentally ill, and I stand by that. I’ve also advocated for universal background checks, and I stand by that, too…but I’m guessing neither one of things would’ve prevented this particular shooting from taking place.

What I do know is that somehow, we have to keep a light shining in the darkness. We have to believe that something, anything, can bring hope and peace and a stable, workable future…that something we do, no matter how small, can make a positive difference in someone else’s life.

It won’t bring back those six innocent souls, no. But it might bring a smile to someone else’s face who’s having a terrible day, and remind him or her that we all matter, in our own unique ways…and that’s an important thing to reinforce.

In my own life, I try to do that as best I can. I observe what’s going on with other people, and when I can help, I do that.

My friend, fellow author N.N. Light, has a mantra, “Spread the Light.” I think that’s an excellent thing to do, and I hope we can all find ways to do just that in the days ahead.

Finally, folks…when Belgium was threatened with terrorism last year after the Paris attacks, what did those brave people of Belgium do? They sent around cat pictures, dog pictures, or something to make each other laugh. They refused to give in to fear; they refused to allow terrorists to ruin their lives.

I think we must somehow learn from their example, and keep doing our best to make a positive difference in this world. Even if it’s small, even if it seems infinitesimal, it’s the only way to go.

Written by Barb Caffrey

February 21, 2016 at 6:20 pm

Two Articles of Interest to Share…

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Folks, I’ve been reading a number of interesting things lately, and today seems like a good time to share two of the most thought-provoking posts.

First, from the world of publishing, is an interview my friend Chris Nuttall did for the Observer. Chris talks about his career path as an indie writer, and discusses the insights he’s learned along the way — including the importance of cover art.

Do take a look at this interview, will you? (Mind, if you’re an author or editor or have anything to do with publishing, you’ll enjoy it a lot more…but even if you aren’t, you should find something that rivets your attention.)

Next, while I was rooting around the Observer, I found this post about the 2016 United States presidential election cycle, and about how it’s being actively shaped by corporate media interests to drive business interests. It is the author Ryan Holiday’s contention that neither Bernie Sanders nor Donald Trump would be doing anywhere near as well if they weren’t being propped up, de facto, by the media because the media wants drama with a capital D. And the more serious candidates (like Hillary Clinton or Jeb Bush) just don’t give them “dirty laundry” the way they want and need (to misquote Don Henley’s old song).

Worse, because Clinton and Bush don’t give the media DRAMA, they aren’t getting covered in a substantial/substantive way.

Look. I love reality TV, in its place. But United States elections are not the time for reality TV.

As Mr. Holiday says in his article:

…atypical candidates like Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders are effectively subsidized by the media in order to provide the story lines those outlets require to create the compelling spectacles they need to keep the cycle going and audiences hooked.

It is in this last area that we see the highest manipulation. In Donald Trump we have a candidate who has received so much  media coverage that he did not need to run his first TV campaign ad until January—some seven months after entering the race and five months after the first televised debate. Has anyone in history gotten as much free media coverage as Donald Trump?

Mr. Holiday’s article is a must-read, especially if you’re wondering just how and why it is that we’re stuck in a poisonous, destructive election cycle with very little focus on issues that matter and way too much focus on style and DRAMA.  (Note that “drama” is Mr. Holiday’s word, but it fits so well, I had to use it, too.)

Then, after you’ve read it, ask yourself this — is this any way to run a democracy?

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