Barb Caffrey's Blog

Writing the Elfyverse . . . and beyond

Archive for the ‘Prescient observations’ Category

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.

Thoughts About Discrimination

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Happy Labor Day, folks!

My mother suggested today’s topic, which is simply this: discrimination. Who faces it, what can we do about it, and why are we still having to talk about it in 2015?

Look. Most of us have faced some form of discrimination in our lives. Some face far more than others, including African-Americans, Latinos, LGBT individuals, and the disabled. Women are often discriminated against in subtle ways, even in the United States, even when able-bodied; straight men sometimes get discriminated against because of their race, ethnicity, creed, or religion.

It is a rare individual indeed who’s faced no discrimination whatsoever in this life.

So why is it that politicians make so much hay pointing one group against another group? Do we not understand that every single one of us is likely to be discriminated against for one reason or another before we die?

Again, some of us face this discrimination every day. One of my earliest friends, an African-American viola player in high school, used to tell me that when she’d show up at auditions, conductors would give her a surprised look. (This quickly went away, as she was a very fine player.) Another of my friends, who is Japanese-American and disabled, has faced so much discrimination in her life, it would be harder for her to find a day where she didn’t deal with any discrimination than the reverse.

I, too, have faced discrimination. I’m disabled — I walk with a cane and wear braces on my hands on bad days due to carpal tunnel syndrome, and these two issues are very hard to camouflage. Plus, I’m not a small woman by any stretch of the imagination; as I’ve told people in the past, people come in all shapes and sizes, and my size is definitely curvier than most.

This might be one reason I have a great deal of sympathy for those currently facing overt and systematic discrimination. (Though just being human should do it, many people cannot put themselves in someone else’s shoes unless they’ve actually been there.) I think people should be judged on what they say, what they do, rather than what they look like or whether or not they need a wheelchair to get around.

And lest you think discrimination is a newfangled idea, it isn’t.

Most of us know about Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr. He fought hard for civil rights, for labor unions, and for the dignity of the individual. But did you know other groups of United States citizens have been systematically discriminated against in the past?

My grandmother was of Irish descent, and grew up in Chicago. She told me about the signs she used to see, when she looked for employment in her teens — “No Irish Need Apply.”

And before the Irish were discriminated against, the Italians were discriminated against. Then the Poles. The Finns. The Swedes. The Norwegians. And on, and on…for some reason, the newcomers to the U.S. always seem to see this.

Then, usually, it settles down.

(Why it hasn’t settled down for African-Americans, Latinos, GLBT individuals, or the disabled is something I can’t answer. But I digress.)

All I know is this. We have to do our best every single day. Whether we’re gay, straight, bisexual, gender-fluid, Christian, Wiccan, Buddhist…whether we’re able-bodied or disabled…no matter what the color of our skin, the content of our character matters far, far more — just as Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., said.

I urge you to become acquainted with people of different backgrounds. Get past your personal prejudices. Try to see others as individuals. And see where common ground might be found.

Who knows? You might just make a new friend.

Written by Barb Caffrey

September 7, 2015 at 6:04 pm

Just Reviewed “Station Eleven” and “Timebound” at SBR — and more Hugo Awards Commentary

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Folks, I’m happy to report that I finally got a couple of book reviews up today for both Emily St. John Mandel’s STATION ELEVEN and Rysa Walker’s TIMEBOUND. This took me a little extra time, so I decided to make them a 2-for-1 SBR special (with SBR meaning “Shiny Book Review,” as per usual).

Now, why did I like both of these novels so much? It’s simple. There’s hope there. Desperate situations, yes — two very different ones. But there’s legitimate hope, and there are people doing the best they can to foster that hope.

I am very happy I was able to review both of these today, and I do hope you will go check out my review forthwith.

This has been a very difficult week in many respects. It saw the shooting of two young journalists while on the air, which is by far the worst thing I’ve seen in many years. It also saw a lot of SF&F infighting due to the fallout after the Hugo Awards because of five categories (including the two that normally reward editors) giving out “No Awards” instead.

I prefer to talk about good things that inspire me rather than talk about distressing things that upset me. Yet it’s often the distressing things that seem to draw people to my blog for whatever reason. And the Hugo Awards controversy has drawn people like nothing else in recent memory. Only my posts on the Wisconsin recall elections rivaled the attention my little post on editing and how I felt the Hugo Awards should not have given out “No Awards” in those two editing categories received.

I wish I knew what the answers were to help heal the divide in SF&F right now. Life is so short — we saw that earlier this week in Roanoke, VA — and we need to make the most of it. Do positive things. Do creative things. Enrich ourselves. Maybe even make the world a better place because we were here.

I fail to see how the SF&F controversy does any of that.

There are good people on both sides of this who have their backs up something fierce. But to even say that, I get dismissed by the long-term SF&F cognoscenti — not the Sad Puppies, not even the Rabid Puppies, but those who’ve been in publishing the longest.

Those are the ones who seem to be taking the gleeful attitude of, “If you aren’t with us, you’re against us. Nyah, nyah, nyah.” And that is just not acceptable for adults.

Edited to add: Before anyone else says it, I know Vox Day is also gleeful over the five “No Awards” at the Hugos. He believes he’s won. Which, if true, means this is possibly the unholiest alliance ever…but I digress.

As SF&F authors, we want people to read our books and be inspired, or taken out of their lives for a small instant so they can reflect on something else. Space travel. Worlds where Elfys, Trolls and Dwarves get along (much less Humans). Post-apocalyptic worlds. Time-travel. Machinery gone wrong. Machinery aiding space travel. What happens to the human condition when advanced biology allows a ninety-year-old woman to give birth via something akin to Lois McMaster Bujold’s uterine replicator. And so forth and so on.

I’d rather talk about what’s uplifting. Positive. Meaningful. Even educational, as bad of a rap as that gets.

Instead, I’m still talking about the Hugo Awards, because I know so many who’ve been hurt badly by this mess. (Most of them are on the Sad Puppy side. A few are on the traditional publishing side.)

I’m little-known. It may always be this way. But I write, too. I edit, too. And I have a perspective on this.

No one should be getting death threats for his or her opinion on this matter. No one should be gleeful that so many people are angry and frustrated. And no one should be happy when a bunch of authors who are skilled with words end up having to defend themselves or their positions rather than creating interesting new worlds for readers to discover.

All of this takes energy, folks. All of this takes time. And while I believe in creative dissent — how not? — I am very tired of the childishness I’ve seen from some in the long-term, traditionally published community.

While I still do not align myself with the Sad Puppies (and will never be a Rabid Puppy), I think it’s time to admit that at least some of what the Sad Puppies were talking about was the truth.

And that truth — insular authors shutting out fans or other authors they don’t particularly like or get along with — is extremely heartbreaking to see.

Written by Barb Caffrey

August 29, 2015 at 1:16 pm

Why Caitlyn Jenner’s ESPY Award Speech Matters

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Even though I’m a sports fan, I rarely watch the ESPY Awards. But I made a point of it this evening, as I knew Caitlyn Jenner would receive an award for courage (the Arthur Ashe Award, to be exact).

Some have given Jenner a very hard time since she came out as transgender months ago. This mostly is because of two things: One, the former Bruce Jenner has been a high-profile athlete and media personality since he won the Olympic gold medal in the decathlon in 1976. And two, Jenner was married to Kris Jenner — matriarch of the Kardashian clan — for quite some time. (They are now apparently on the road to divorce and seem to be living separate lives.)

I said months ago when then-Bruce Jenner admitted that he saw himself as “she” that many people were missing the point. Whether Jenner is outwardly male or female, the soul inside is still the same. And we need to start understanding that people are a diverse bunch, and stop condemning people for being different.

I know, I know. Most people don’t condemn people. (Thank goodness.) It’s only a vocal minority that does. But as Jenner said tonight at her ESPY Award speech (my best paraphrase), she can handle criticism. But the young transgender children out there cannot…they are being bullied, shunned, and treated worse than their peers for the simple fact that they carry more of their differences on the outside.

I wrote about Leelah Alcorn a while back, too. She was a young girl who had a family that totally did not understand her, and parents who were so rigid, they only would refer to her by her birth name of Joshua. Not by the name she knew herself as, Leelah.

The Alcorns did everything they could after their child’s suicide to show that “Joshua” was a normal boy in interviews. They also said they “didn’t believe in that” when any reporter tried talking to them about their biological son’s transgender identity. And they made the funeral service private, kept away Leelah’s closest friends, and took down Leelah’s final note asking for acceptance and tolerance for others (as they had that right, ’cause Leelah was underage).

So I am certain that Caitlyn Jenner understands what’s at stake for transgender youth.

I’m also certain that Jenner understands just how important it is for the entire LGBT community to have positive role models.

Much is made of what Jenner wears nowadays — the hair, the clothes, the shoes, the makeup, etc. And I understand why. The Kardashian clan is widely followed; they are famous for being famous, the lot of them, and the paparazzi cannot help themselves whenever any of them are around. (Why that is, I haven’t the foggiest. But it is undeniably true.)

But I would rather there was more focus on what Caitlyn Jenner is saying rather than what she wears, who she goes out with, whether her divorce is in train or whether or not her family agrees with her decision to be open about her new life as a woman.

What Jenner said tonight about acceptance, about trangender people needing to be respected, was vital. So if you haven’t seen her ESPY speech yet, you really should seek it out. (If you need a quick read, check out this one from Yahoo Celebrity.)

I’m very glad that someone has finally said what needed to be said, though if you’d have asked me a year ago, the last person I thought would ever say it would be Caitlyn (formerly Bruce) Jenner.

Please read these words, ponder them, and then ask yourself this question:

What can I do today to be more tolerant, more accepting, and more nurturing?


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