Barb Caffrey's Blog

Writing the Elfyverse . . . and beyond

Archive for the ‘Prescient observations’ Category

Monday Motivation: Write Your Story — and No One Else’s

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Sometimes, when you write, you worry about all sorts of stuff.

Will anyone ever like what I’m doing?

Will what I’m writing make any sense?

And, sometimes, this poisonous, midnight thought creeps in: What if what I write is too much like someone else’s work?

I call that a poisonous midnight thought because it saps your creativity something fierce. It makes you think that what you’re doing isn’t special, or vital, or interesting. And it makes you want to give up.

Want my advice?

Here it is: Don’t.

Refuse to give up. Keep writing, as long as it takes.

Never give up on your stories.

Now, as to why I say this? The simple fact is, you can give ten different writers one story prompt, and end up with ten wildly different stories. They might be in different genres; they might be in different voices; they might be in different time periods, even. So that one story-prompt, which you’d think would lead to a bunch of very similar stories, often leads to anything but.

Why is this?

It’s simple. Every person writes differently. Our minds are all different. Our stories are all different, too. And the way we tell the stories, much less how we tell the stories, is also all different.

That’s why you should not be afraid to write your story. No matter if everyone else has done vampires to death, if your story has a vampire heroine (or villain), go ahead and write it — ’cause it’s still your story, and it’ll be unique because of you.

Or if it’s military science fiction, say…there are a ton of great milSF writers out there, and maybe they’ve written a story very similar to the one you want to write already. But your characters are different, and you are different, too…you have to trust that your story will be different, and that you will not commit unintentional plagiarism.

Now, if you’re truly worried about unintentional plagiarism while you’re writing, just don’t read books in the same genre as the story you’re working on.

I realize this is a hardship, mind. Most of the time, you wouldn’t be writing in the genres you’ve picked unless you truly loved the work of other authors. (Cutting yourself off from these authors is quite difficult, but it’s not forever — it’s just until your own book is done and put to bed.) That helps protect you, and your writing, and may give you some peace of mind.

But if you can’t do that, you need to trust that your story will be different, because it has you at the heart of it rather than Other Writer.

So, please. Do yourself a favor, and set that worry aside. You don’t need it.

All you need is you, your belief in yourself, and enough time to work on your stories. Because they are important, as are you…but you won’t know that until you work through your fears, and just keep going. (Damn the torpedoes, eh?)

Written by Barb Caffrey

September 19, 2016 at 8:49 pm

Milwaukee Burning

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Folks, I started this evening by watching a Brewers game on TV, and am ending this evening watching live footage of at least three small businesses in Milwaukee go up in flames. There’s currently looting, burning, and much vandalism, and firefighters have had trouble getting to areas to fight the fires because of the crowds on the street.

I am horrified.

All of this started because earlier on Saturday, an officer stopped two people in a car. One went left, the other went right. The policeman followed one of them; that person ended up getting shot, and then later died. All of this was caught on camera, as the policeman was wearing a body camera.

A young man, who says he’s a relative (a brother) of the young man who was killed, says the police have failed to protect the people of Milwaukee, and that’s why the rioting, looting, and burning is going on. He says the police must do a better job keeping the peace — this is my best paraphrase, as I just heard the young man speak on CBS 58’s live newscast at approximately 1:45 AM CDT — and certainly seemed extremely upset.

Basically, this area is a powderkeg.

I live about twenty-five miles from the area that’s going up in flames right now. But I have to admit that I am deeply frightened.

When people become mobs, and mobs become violent, that is an extremely scary situation.

There are legitimate, long-standing problems in this area with poverty, underemployment/unemployment, a lack of education, and a lack of positive opportunities. I understand all of that, and agree fully that all of these problems must be addressed.

We need opportunities. We need positive change. We need help, and support, and healing.

Looting, rioting, and burning does not help any of that.

Now, fewer people will have jobs than before. What good does that do?

Some people who just happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time will probably end up injured, perhaps may even die; how does that highlight economic inequality?

And at best, innocent people who probably don’t have much in the way of financial resources will lose their vehicles to the fires, as some already have. Lose their livelihoods, as a few already have. Or may even lose their homes.

How is this right or just?

Tonight, at least four small businesses and a bank branch have been either torched or seriously vandalized (to the point there may be no point to ever reopening the store that was once in that location). There’s much more looting going on than that; there’s much more destruction going on than that. I have seen traffic lights vandalized and bus stations completely demolished.

As the anchorwoman on WTMJ (channel 4 in Milwaukee) just said, these people are destroying their own neighborhoods. And that’s what is the saddest part of all.

My hope now is that we will somehow be able to stop the violence, stop the destruction, rebuild the businesses and heal the injured…but it’s extremely awful to see all of this happening.

My heart hurts.

Pray for Milwaukee, folks. Because I don’t know anything else that might do any good right now. (And when will the national news figure out that Milwaukee is burning? So far, they’re not paying any attention whatsoever…damn them. We’re not just flyover country!)

Skip the Self-Sabotage; Instead, Use Your Talents Today

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Folks, I’ve been pondering something, and here goes:

Why do we sabotage ourselves so much? Why do we use so much negative self-talk?

Worse, why do we listen to others who have nothing to say except negativity?

Look. As a creative person, I need to be able to create. It’s like air, to me; if I can’t create, it’s like I’m slowly getting smothered. (That’s one reason I’m so happy to report I wrote 1500 words tonight — yay! But I digress.) If I can successfully create something new, something all mine, something unique and different and real…well, I feel like I’ve cast a blow against the darkness of conformity, misunderstanding, and, of course, negativity.

Including self-sabotaging negative self-talk, mind.

See, it’s all too easy to get down on yourself. Life is difficult, frustrating, there’s never enough time in the day, it’s hard to get in the right frame of mind sometimes to write, and it’s even harder still to make yourself believe that it’s relevant sometimes.

I mean, in my case, I’m barely known. (Not that it matters for the purposes of discussion, after all, but sometimes that still matters to me. I’m human, and I have my egotistical moments. I freely admit that. But again, I digress.) It can be hard to tell myself, “Hey, Barb, what you do matters. Even if no one else but you will ever know it, it matters, OK?”

Why does it matter? Because I haven’t given up yet. I haven’t given up on my talents, or abilities…I haven’t stopped trying to use them, and I hope I never will.

Yes, life is damned difficult, sometimes. I’ve not had an easy road, and I’m betting very few of you out there have, either. But what we do with what we’ve learned, and how we use it to create with, matters very much.

So, for today — just for today, mind you! — when your mind tries to tell you that your writing, music, art, or other creative impulses don’t matter, tell your mind to go mind its own business.

Then go create.

Just use your talents, please, as best you can.

That is the winning strategy, whether anyone else knows it or not.

 

Written by Barb Caffrey

July 6, 2016 at 3:55 am

Divorce Can Be Beneficial

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For the past several days, I’ve been pondering one question given to me by a new friend — someone I’ve known for less than a week. That said, this person is remarkably perceptive, and she asked me this penetrating question:

“Can divorce, contrary to popular opinion, actually be beneficial?”

Here is my answer:

“Why, yes. Yes it can.”

“But Barb,” I can almost hear you protest. “Divorce is painful. Why would I ever want to go through that, and why do you say it can be beneficial?”

My answers:

“Yes, divorce is painful. But if you and your spouse do not understand each other, have grown apart, or worst of all, he’s brought another child into this world outside of your marriage (which my second unlamented ex-husband did), you need to be gone. It’s not good for you to stay. And if you have children, your children will see all your pain, all your anger, all your dysfunction, and start to model it for themselves in their own relationships…something you truly don’t want.”

In other words, divorce in some ways is like a rebirth. It’s hard. It is not for the timid, no. But it allows you to restart your life, reassess who you are and where you’re going, and get yourself back on track if nothing else.

(Again, if you have kids, be sure to be civil to one another. For example, I understood that my parents were divorcing; I would not have understood them bad-mouthing each other. Thankfully, I do not remember either of them doing that, which in retrospect was a huge blessing.)

Mind, in case you’re sitting there thinking, “Your divorce must’ve been the easiest on record,” my answer is, “Um…no.”

My divorce was brutal. I remember eating baby food, because nothing else would stay down. I saw my soon-to-be-ex-husband parading around town with the woman who became his second wife, and I could do nothing but swallow helpless rage. (It took me some time to realize that I was enraged, mind, because at first I was so saddened by all of this, and wondered how it could have ever come to pass.) I played in a group with my soon-to-be-ex-husband and his new girlfriend, the woman who became his second wife, and it sometimes was agonizing…yet I refused to give up the comfort of music, as I knew I needed it to help me somehow get past the pain.

I did not enjoy going through the divorce process at all. But eventually there was light at the end of the tunnel…and it wasn’t an oncoming train.

In other words, I found Michael (or, as he would no doubt want to have it, he found me). And finding him, being with him, being married to him, was worth every other pain in my life, past and present. He understood me, he was creative and funny and helped me be my best self, and I did my best to give him all the support, encouragement, laughter and love that I could, too.

Because that is what love is.

So, if you are divorcing right now, try to avoid giving in to despair. Divorce gives you the opportunity to find someone who is truly right for the you-who-is right now, rather than continuing to fight the same old battles in the same old ways.

In other words, do not see yourself as a failure if you must proceed with a divorce.

Instead, see yourself as a survivor. Someone who will do what’s necessary, so you can have the chance to meet the person who truly is right for you down the road…just as I met Michael.

——————

**Edited to add: I am not ashamed to say I was twice-divorced before I finally found Michael, my late husband. I just didn’t want to bog down the narrative, which I would’ve, so I didn’t discuss my second ex hardly at all. Seems appropriate. (I know who mattered to me in this life, and my ex-husbands did not, except as shining examples of what not to do.)

Written by Barb Caffrey

June 18, 2016 at 1:26 pm

Why Can’t Female Reporters Make — and Correct — Bad Mistakes?

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Folks, I’m frustrated right now. I just read the story of former major league baseball sideline reporter Emily Austen (see link here from the story at AOL: http://www.aol.com/article/2016/06/10/mlb-sideline-reporter-fired-after-making-several-inappropriate-c/21393140/), who said a number of derogatory things during a social media video. This video was made on the Barstool Sports Live Facebook broadcast, and while I don’t like any of the things Ms. Austen said, none of them were so abhorrent to my mind as warranting her immediate dismissal from her sideline duties without at least giving her a chance to rectify her error.

Here’s a bit from the Business Insider story (carried at AOL at the address above):

During the broadcast, Austen made several racist and anti-Semitic comments. At one point, she said she “didn’t even know Mexicans were that smart,” then later said that everyone knows the “Chinese guy is always the smartest guy in math class.” While recalling stories from when she worked as a bartender, she called Jewish people “stingy.” She also referred to Kevin Love as a “little b—-.”

Edited to add:

I haven’t a clue why any sportscaster, male or female, worth her salt wouldn’t realize that when the camera is on, she has to watch what she says. With a beer, without a beer, she should be professional.

Much of what she said is insensitive at best, outright racist at worst. (Saying that she “didn’t even know that Mexicans were that smart” is ludicrous. Doesn’t she know any history at all?)

I don’t approve of this behavior. At all. But I also don’t understand why a male sportscaster like Curt Schilling, formerly of ESPN, was given chance after chance to rectify his own public off-the-job comments before he finally was booted out.

Now back to our regularly scheduled post, already in progress…

I am not a fan of this sort of behavior, folks. But I also don’t think it’s something that warrants an immediate dismissal.

Consider, please, that Ms. Austen was probably having a beer. She was off-duty, discussing her job as a sideline reporter for both the Tampa Bay Rays (MLB) and for the Orlando Magic (NBA), and was probably trying to make “good copy” for the folks on Barstool Sports. Male sports personalities push the envelope all the time, and only get suspensions, at best…yet Ms. Austen got the axe right away, without any possibility of coming back to say, “I know I went too far. I’m sorry.”

Note that to my mind, especially out of context, I don’t have a problem with her saying these obnoxious things as much as I have a problem with her being immediately booted from her job without any possibility of correcting the obnoxious things she said.

I’d only fire Ms. Austen if she refused to try to correct any of this. (What she said about the Asian guy in math class, while not necessarily a bad thing, is still a stereotype. My Japanese-American friend would be happy to tell you all about how much effort she put into her studies; she loved school, and still enjoys learning things, but effortless, it was not. And math was not her best subject, either.**)

This, to my mind, smells more like political correctness than a sensible personnel decision. If Ms. Austen was good at her work — and I’m going to assume she was, or Barstool Sports wouldn’t have wanted to have her as part of their Facebook Live broadcast after hours — she should’ve been talked with, and she should’ve been allowed to make amends. Giving her a chance to grow, to change, to learn that people are individuals and not stereotypes…that is a far better way to handle the situation than just firing her.

This way, what does Ms. Austen learn? That male sports personalities can be outrageous, but female sports personalities had best watch their backs?

In short, while what Ms. Austen said was not flattering, it did not warrant immediate dismissal.

Fox Sports Florida (and Fox Sports Sun, who together were her employers) should be ashamed of themselves. They at minimum should be called before the EEOC, and be prepared to defend their actions.

And in the meantime, Ms. Austen should do some volunteer work with the poor, the disabled, and those who are otherwise disenfranchised in this society. She’d learn a lot, I think…and never again would she be tempted to make such ridiculously stupid and bigoted statements as she did on Barstool Sports’ live broadcast on Facebook.

——–

**Yes, I know that Chinese people and Japanese people and Korean people and Laotian people and Vietnamese people are all different people, different cultures, different ethnicities, and all have to be taken for themselves. But the stereotype I’m referring to — that Asians are better at math than anyone else — is still real, and it’s done a lot of harm. (End rant.)

Writing: When Done Well, it Only Seems Effortless…

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Folks, haven’t you ever wondered just how much work goes into your favorite books?

I’ve been pondering this lately, and here’s my best answer: a whole lot of effort goes into what later seems to be effortless prose…in other words, a writer works hard for what seems effortless, in the end.

We writers often castigate ourselves because our writing isn’t coming easily enough, or quickly enough, or (fill-in-the-blank) enough. Yet, later on, when you re-read your efforts, you barely remember, “Oh, didn’t I have the flu then?” or “My goodness, how did I write that while under so much stress?”

Of course, some writers use their writing as a way to GAFIAte — that is, get away from it all. To those writers, anything they do with their stories is like a mini-vacation; it’s still work, mind you, but it’s work done with a will and a smile on their faces.

For the rest of us (including yours truly), that type of writing — the GAFIAting I just discussed — is elusive, at best. Most of the time, writing takes planning; hard work; effort. It still gives you, the writer, a feeling of satisfaction in the end…but it doesn’t feel like a mini-vacation at all.

Nope.

Instead, it feels like the hard work that it is. Worthwhile work, granted. Work we’ve chosen to do in this life…work that we see, so we must do it, and tell the stories we have inside to their best advantage, in the hope that someone else will find some worth in it, or maybe get a chuckle out of it and get through their day a little better, or perhaps even come back to your words time after time and find renewed meaning and purpose if we’ve done our jobs particularly well.

Those who aren’t writers may not understand how much work and effort there is in what you do. (I can’t speak for them, so I don’t know.) But one thing is clear: those of us who are writers know full well how much goes into our stories. How much of ourselves, and our drive, and our will, and our care, and everything that we are — our souls, maybe, for all I know — are reflected in our books, if we’ve done them just right.

So. For today, writers, try to do this one thing — just write. Don’t expect it to be effortless, ’cause that is beyond absurd. But do expect it to be from your heart, from your spirit, from your soul, even if you’re fighting with verb tenses and spelling and your story doesn’t seem to make much sense.

Because down the line, what you’re doing will be worth it. Trust me.

Written by Barb Caffrey

June 6, 2016 at 1:53 am

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