Barb Caffrey's Blog

Writing the Elfyverse . . . and beyond

Archive for the ‘romance’ Category

Neither Fish Nor Fowl

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I don’t know about you, but I sometimes don’t feel much like anyone else.

In general, this is a good thing. I have no doubts about my individuality or individualism. I know who I am; I am self-aware; I work on being my best self, especially as I know full well what my worst self is (and want no part of it, thank you).

Mind, I don’t want my worst self to dominate. And I’m not the only one who has ever thought of this, as we shall see.

In a classic Star Trek episode, Captain Jim Kirk was split into his two biggest “parts.” One half was good but weak. The other half was evil but strong. The good half waffled and could not make a decision as his compassion was so strong, every decision felt like the wrong answer. The bad half made snap decisions, tried to pretend he was something he wasn’t (that is, the full Jim Kirk, when he was only half), and had no remorse even after making the wrong judgment calls. Obviously, both halves of Jim Kirk were necessary for the full Jim Kirk to be able to be decisive–yet moral–at the same time.

So, the worst self I have, that can be ruthless and even cruel at times, has to be taken into account as part of who I am. Suppressing it isn’t the right answer, either, as too much suppression of part of ourselves has difficult and sometimes unwieldy consequences.

That’s why I often feel like I’m neither fish nor fowl.

Of course, the conception of an author’s blog usually is to explain more about why the person writes what they write than explain the person themselves. My answers are huge, sometimes elliptical, yet they boil down to one thing: This is who I am.

So, when I write a romance like Bruno’s and Sarah’s in the two Elfy books, it’s because I believe that romance is–or at least can be–vital to people’s well-being. When I write a romance like Allen’s and Elaine’s in CHANGING FACES, it’s because I believe love can indeed conquer all, even though there will be unforeseen difficulties, and even if the people in question have lots of work to do on themselves to be good partners.

Even in the short stories I’ve written, there usually is a romantic component. In “Baseball, Werewolves, and Me,” psychic Arletta James is a huge baseball fan, married to a werewolf, and has been brought in to consult for a major league baseball team due to unforeseen events. Her husband Fergus is her perfect foil, smart, dedicated, and not willing to take any crap from anyone. The two of them make an excellent team. (I also have a second story about them in the works, for those who’ve asked.)

The two stories about Marja and Tomas, the first a shapeshifter and the second a telepathic Troll, are also in the same vein. They found romance where it was least expected. They both feel like outcasts. (For that matter, so do all the others I’ve mentioned already, particularly Bruno and Sarah of the Elfy books and Elaine of CHANGING FACES.) But together, they thrive, and they use their talents to their best advantage.

I have other short stories that have no romance, mind. And I have a few others that do have at least the glimmering of a romance. But I think you get my point, which is that life should be shared with those you love.

If you’re fortunate enough to have a romantic partner who understands you, celebrate that every single day.

If you’re not, but you have friends who understand and love you for who you are, celebrate that.

And if you’re the most fortunate of all in that you not only have a living romantic partner to stand beside you but have good, caring and decent friends as well, recognize that you live in a bounty of riches. Do not take that for granted, ever. And do what you can for everyone you know, because life is fleeting.

So, while I continue to feel as if I’m neither fish nor fowl, I recognize that my skills and talents can still be effective.

I do hope this blog will give someone the hope they need, or at least some points to ponder. (Let me know that you’re reading, will you? I’m still smarting over that “comment” from Malwarebytes about how “lightly trafficked blog sites often carry viruses and malware.”)

Written by Barb Caffrey

October 15, 2021 at 4:31 pm

Seventeen Years Later…

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Folks, the last few weeks I have been very quiet. There was a reason for that.

If you’ve read my blog for any length of time, you’ve probably read about my late husband Michael. I’ve never stopped talking about him and his manifold talents. He was a writer, editor, contracts administrator, and overall Renaissance Man. He was my equal, my partner, my best friend, my co-writer, and so much more. By far, Michael was the most important person ever to be in my life, and by far, his loss seventeen years ago was the most devastating loss I’ve ever suffered.

Mind, I had been married before I met him. He, too, had been married before he met me. We both knew what we wanted when we finally found each other, and we both vowed to do everything we could to make our marriage work and to support each other to the limit our human bodies would allow…and maybe a bit more.

And we both lived up to those vows.

There’s no way I will ever be able to forget Michael’s life, but around this time I also am bombarded with images from Michael’s untimely death.

I remember the EMTs, and their idiocy. (One asked if I was Michael’s daughter, and I snapped, “No, I’m his wife. Now please get him into the ambulance already!”)

I remember the doctor at the hospital asking why I didn’t catch my husband as he fell from the first heart attack. (He was behind me, I told them, and he fell backward. I would’ve surely tried, though I’m sure I’d have dislocated both arms had I managed, if I’d been behind him.)

I see that. I can’t help but see that. And the only thing I know that will get me away from seeing that is to work as hard as I can and hope I’m too tired to worry about it, else.

That means over the past week I’ve finished two full-length edits.

So, when I’m working hard on the one hand, and am seeing all this other stuff due to the sad anniversary on the other, I don’t blog much.

I’ll try to blog more, though, now that I’ve officially gotten past the sad anniversary of my husband Michael’s death. I want to talk more about writing, more about editing, and because the world is what it is, probably other things I see or hear that drive me batty.

So, do keep dropping by, will you? And I’ll try to keep you all in the loop. (Promise.)

Written by Barb Caffrey

September 22, 2021 at 8:29 pm

What Makes a Good Story?

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Recently, I wrote about Milwaukee Brewers relief pitcher John Axford, and I said that the way his story ended was not the way his story was supposed to go.

This begs the question: What makes for a good story, anyway?

By contemporary standards, what would’ve made Axford’s story much better would’ve been him coming into the game, striking out the side (or at least getting three outs), getting the save, and having the stadium rain cheers upon his head. (The crowd did cheer him when he came in — I think he may have even received a standing ovation — and cheered him on the way out, too, which is not usual when a pitcher is unable to get out of the inning. This last happened because we Brewers fans knew Axford well from his previous service with us, and knew he was deserving of such approbation due to how well he’d done before.)

In previous eras, though, they had stories such as MADAME BOVARY that sold a ton. Those stories would have characters put through the wringer and they’d never be able to come up for air; instead, even their children would be put through the wringer for no purpose, and would never be able to get ahead.

Why audiences appreciated such stories is beyond me, but that was the fashion at that time. The would-be heroine (or hero) had a tragic flaw (or two, or five), and because of that flaw would taint herself and everyone around her beyond any hope of redemption.

The fashion now tends more to happy endings, but well-deserved happy endings. Characters still get put through the wringer (see Lois McMaster Bujold’s MIRROR DANCE, or Katharine Eliska Kimbriel’s NIGHT CALLS, or any of Robert Jordan’s novels in the Wheel of Time series, among others), but they live to fight another day. They learn from their mistakes, too. And they continue on, having learned much more about themselves in the process.

Of course, the Harry Potter novels also exemplify this sort of story. Harry grows up to be a powerful magician, but he’s put through the wringer and must fight the big, bad, nasty, evil, and disgusting Lord Voldemort (and yes, I meant all those descriptions, as Voldemort is just that bad) in order to become the magician he needs to be. He and his friends Hermione and Ron are put through all sorts of awful things, but they eventually prevail.

My friend Chris Nuttall’s novels about Emily, starting with SCHOOLED IN MAGIC and continuing through to FACE OF THE ENEMY (with CHILD OF DESTINY coming soon), also have a plot that shows Emily being thrown into awful situation after awful situation, but she finds a way to prevail every time through hard work, effort, and a talent to get along with people even if they’ve crossed her (or she’s crossed them). Emily scans as a real person, and we care about her because she faces things most of us face even though we’re not magicians.

What are those things, you ask? Well, she has to learn from her own mistakes. She has to realize that she can’t fix everything and everyone. She has to find out that her snap judgments are not always correct. And she has to reevaluate people and situations, even when she doesn’t want to.

Of course, my own stories about Bruno and Sarah (AN ELFY ON THE LOOSE and A LITTLE ELFY IN BIG TROUBLE) have many of the same lessons. There are things Bruno can do, and does, once he realizes he’s been lied to about nearly everything. Sarah is in much the same boat, except she has different talents — complementary ones, in most cases — and the two of them have to find that they’re stronger together than they could ever be alone. But there are still things they can’t do, and they must make their peace with that (as every adult does), while continuing to work on the things they can.

In other words, they can control what is in their power to control. But they can’t control other people. (It would be wrong to do so, anyway. They have to make their own lives meaningful in whatever way they can, too. And make their own mistakes, as we all do…but I digress.)

Anyway, the stories I love best are those with happy endings. People sometimes start out with situations they don’t deserve (such as my friend Kayelle Allen’s character Izzorah, who went through a childhood illness that damaged his heart and nearly blinded him), but they get into better positions and find the people who can help them — maybe even love them the way they deserve. (Izzorah, for example, finds a treatment for his heart — it’s not a standard one, by any means, but it works in the context of the story — and finds love along the way in SURRENDER LOVE.)

So, to go back to the beginning of this blog, as we love happy endings and we want to see deserving people find good luck and happiness, the true ending we wanted for John Axford was to get the outs, get the cheers, bask in the glow of achieving his dreams once again at the baseball-advanced age of thirty-eight, and stay with the Brewers the rest of the season as they continue to make their run at postseason play.

That Axford was unable to achieve this happy ending was distressing. But all the hard work and effort he put into his return to the big leagues should still be celebrated. And my hope, overall, is that he will still be with the Brewers in one way or another after this season ends.

What makes for a good story? Do you agree or disagree with me, and if so, why? Tell me about it in the comments!

Observing Sad Anniversaries…

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Folks, if you read my last blog, you know I’ve been keeping track of various sad anniversaries. (Or “sadiversaries,” as I’ve called them before.) The atrocity at the Pulse Nightclub is one of those observations because of many reasons, which I’ve already enumerated.

“But Barb,” you say. “Why are you going over this again?”

I have another sad anniversary coming up that’s far more personal. (That’s why.) And it started with a very happy day, the day I married my beloved husband Michael. That particular day couldn’t be more incandescent if it tried, as it was the culmination of the best life-choice I have ever made.

If you’ve been reading my blog over the years, you know this is true. Michael changed my life for the better in many ways. He helped me learn how to believe in myself. He gave much encouragement. He was an outstanding husband, and we lived and worked well together. He was a creative person, too, and he understood me — everything about me.

I wish I would’ve found Michael when I was 21. But I’m glad I found him, even if it was a bit later than 21…(I’ll not say how long).

Remembering all this is bittersweet now, of course. But that makes sense, as I am human. I miss my husband with every breath I take, and even if I am so fortunate as to find another good man some year who understands me and loves me and wants to be with me and is endlessly fascinated by me (why, I don’t know), I will never forget Michael.

I can’t. Not and still be the person I am today.

So, this week I will be observing my nineteenth wedding anniversary. It will be the seventeenth I’ve observed alone.

If you believe in such, please think good thoughts, say a prayer, or wish me well if you can. I will truly appreciate it.

Written by Barb Caffrey

June 20, 2021 at 8:58 am

Sunday Surprise: Kayelle Allen’s blog Romance Lives Forever features my #LGBTQ novel CHANGING FACES

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Folks, I woke up to a lovely Sunday surprise.

Author Kayelle Allen — who is one of my editorial clients, and a good friend — has a blog called Romance Lives Forever, where she features all sorts of books and authors. As she writes #LGBTQ science fiction, she was one of the first people I told about my novel CHANGING FACES back in 2016 (when I was finishing it up, and struggling mightily to do my two lovers — Allen and Elaine — justice). And she never forgot this.

Today, I opened my email to see that she’d posted a blog about CHANGING FACES. To say I hadn’t expected this is the understatement of the day, but I am greatly appreciative of it. (Who wouldn’t be?)

She did this once before, back in 2017, too, as she loved CHANGING FACES and thought more people should read it. If I remember correctly, she thought this was a timeless romance about two young souls who loved each other regardless of form (even if it does take Allen a bit of time to work it out, and Elaine a bit of time to figure out — while in a coma — that she’s worthy of Allen’s love).

It’s a body-switch romance, yes. Elaine’s terrified of telling Allen that she’s trans and gender-fluid; Allen’s terrified of Elaine leaving him. He prays for help, and gets it in the form of a car accident. While they’re both unconscious, two beings — call them angels, if you want — change their forms expeditiously by putting Allen in Elaine’s body, and Elaine in his (but in a coma, so one of the beings/angels can talk to her — and yes, Elaine sees herself as “she” even when she’s at her most male-feeling, so go figure. People asked me why I did that, and I replied, “Human beings are complex, and not easily pigeonholed.”)

Anyway, I also figured I’d give you just a taste of their story, just before the car accident…so here goes:

I sighed. Everything inside me was a jumbled mess right now. How could I explain this to Allen when I didn’t fully understand it myself?

“Look, Allen. Even though I’m very happy with you, I don’t know for certain that I can stay in this body. I’ve never felt right in it.” Yes, this was what I had to say. I just hoped he’d understand. “I’ve spent twenty-eight years of my life in this body.” I indicated my womanly form, and grimaced. “I’ve tried to be as normal as I can be, for your sake–“

“It’s not for my sake. Don’t lie to yourself.” He looked at me, evenly.

“Listen, Allen. Our love for one another doesn’t have to change, no matter what my body looks like. You’ve said before you’d love me no matter what; if I gained weight, or lost it, changed my hair color, pierced my navel…why does changing sexes have to be different?”

“It’s very different!” Allen shook his head so hard I was afraid his neck would snap. “You’d be a man, and I’d be…what? Wouldn’t I have to change sexes, too?” Allen put his narrow hand through his wiry brown hair, and pulled it. “I’m confused!”

“You wouldn’t have to change. I love everything about you.” I stopped pacing, and went to hug him. He hugged me back, but tentatively–almost as if I were made out of spun glass.

That wasn’t the reaction I wanted.

CHANGING FACES by Barb Caffrey, published by Twilight Times Books

Anyway, you can see that they both love each other. Allen’s confused. Elaine’s worried Allen can’t accept her, and Allen’s initial reaction — I’m not going to lie — is not at all what she had hoped for. This promotes an initial misunderstanding that is tough to get past, but an unusual boost from the beings that may as well be angels should help get them through. But they must have the courage to both change how they see the world and themselves, and to understand that their souls — their intrinsic selves — have not changed regardless of form.

CHANGING FACES is priced at just ninety-nine cents as an e-book. I hope you will enjoy the story.

P.S. Allen and Elaine are clarinetists. If you love music, you’ll enjoy CHANGING FACES even more. (That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.)

Written by Barb Caffrey

May 2, 2021 at 12:48 pm

Why You Need to Read Kayelle Allen’s SURRENDER LOVE (Especially if You Love Romances)

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My friend Kayelle Allen just released a new book called SURRENDER LOVE. And this book is so much fun, I just had to write a blog about it.

So, what is SURRENDER LOVE about? (Yes, I can hear you asking that question.) It’s about the healing power of love, and about how universal love can be, regardless of who the lovers are or what species they come from. The book is set in the far future, where humanity has spread out to twenty-two planets and other groups, including the Kin (Felinoids who can breed with humans/humanoids), have been discovered.

In this case, SURRENDER LOVE is a male/male romance (between two men) featuring Luc Saint-Cyr, a nearly immortal man who’s lived many lifetimes but has never found true love, and Izzorah Ceeow, a young man from the Kin race. Izzorah, also known as Izzy, is a drummer for a successful rock band. But he’s not in the best of health despite his young age (he’s a legal adult, but only by a year or two), and has had to grow up fast due to his homelife. (More on that in a bit.)

First, here’s a banner for you…I love the purple color, and the stars in the background.

Anyway, Luc is a very complex man.** He’s had many relationships with men, women, and other sentients of various types (as Luc is pansexual), but Luc has never found true happiness. He’s mostly blamed himself for this, though the fact that humans live so much shorter of lives than he does as a quasi-immortal Sempervian (his planet of origin, roughly) has made it extremely difficult for Luc as he usually can’t tell his lovers who and what he is. (Why? Well, there’s a society of immortals that are hiding in plain sight. But that’s not important to know at the start; just know that’s part of the background.)

Izzy, on the other hand, is an open book. He is a kind, empathetic, and smarter than he thinks. And yet because he’s “sahnamay,” (which means gay in the Kin language), he had to run from his home planet because it’s matrilineal and gay men there can be put to death by the women in power.

I mentioned Izzy’s homelife before. He has great parents who understand him, but they either don’t realize he’s gay or don’t know what to do about it. They have brokered a marriage to a woman who leads a powerful clan, and Izzy’s heard horrible things about that woman. (She’s a sociopath, to put it bluntly.) He decides to run for it, despite the fact that he’s all but blind due to a childhood illness. And he manages to make it to the spaceport, and makes his way to Tarth (where Luc resides). Once there, he auditions for and is accepted by the rock band, and becomes wildly popular. But he hasn’t told anyone he’s gay for obvious reasons…

…then he meets Luc. (Play some happy music behind this. Preferably rock, in Izzy’s honor. But I digress…)

In the excerpt that follows, Luc’s coming off a bad breakup with a human man. He and Izzy are talking privately, and Izzy’s talent for understanding smells at a deep level comes in handy (as you’ll see):

“You didn’t know what to do when he left, did you?” Izzorah played with one of Luc’s buttons. “Should you forget him? Try to win him back?”

“I tried making him jealous by having an affair with a Kin male named Jawk.” A tinge of lavender and bitter nutmeg sparked, showing Luc’s regret. “What a pointless attempt that was. I doubt anything I did would have kept Wulf from leaving. He was already in love and we were finished.” Luc faced Izzorah. “Pardon me for rambling. I shouldn’t have burdened you with that.”

“No, you needed to tell it. You’re glad it’s over, but it still hurt.”

“It did. I tried telling myself it wasn’t happening. That I didn’t love him anyway, but–” Luc stopped. “I did. Wulf and I lived in the same house but led separate lives. It was pitiful, the way things ended. No final conflict. No big blowup. More like air leaking from a balloon. I let him go. Gave him my blessing. Then moped because I was alone. I was pathetic.”

“No. You’d never be that. Breakups are a kind of death. The loss aches. Slowness doesn’t make it less painful.”

“True.” Luc’s focus made Izzorah’s mouth go dry. But then the man smiled, and it warmed Izzorah’s soul. Luc leaned his head against the wall. “You have incredible insight. And you’re right about the pain. With you, I’m at peace. Last thing I need is to fall in love with another heartbreaker. I’m hoping you don’t turn out to be that, because it’s too late.”

The truth was in Luc’s scent, a faint smell of sweet grass, along with fresh linen, showing respect. The mixture meant what Luc felt surprised him.

“I don’t understand.” Izzorah understood all right, but Luc needed to admit it to himself. That was in his scent too. And Izzorah wanted to hear the words. “Too late for what?”

“Too late for me to turn back. I’ve already fallen for you.”

Izzorah scooted closer to Luc. “I promise.”

Luc shifted a bit, allowing Izzorah to fit against him. “Tell me what you mean by that.” He looked down.

Holding Luc’s dark gaze, Izzorah smiled. “That I’ll be what you need.”

“Will you, now?” Patience and amusement eddied through Luc’s scent in an appealing mixture. With one hand, Luc stroked Izzorah’s hair and then he coiled a strand around one finger. “Suppose you tell me what you think that is.”

Izzorah curled up against Luc’s chest and wrapped one arm over Luc’s waist. “A shelter for your heart.”

——— End Excerpt ——–

SURRENDER LOVE is a wonderful book about the healing power of love. I urge you to read it ASAP, especially if you love your romance with a healthy dose of SF&F.

Note: If you haven’t read A STOLEN HEART yet, about Luc’s adventures with Senthys “Senth” Antonello at age three, you need to read that book…yes, you will understand SURRENDER LOVE without it, but you’ll have so much better of a reading experience if you’ve read A STOLEN HEART first.

Written by Barb Caffrey

March 3, 2021 at 11:15 pm

Continuing on, Slowly, and Solely…

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Folks, I let you all know when I was attempting a long-term, long-distance relationship. Unfortunately, that relationship has now ended; my male friend and I decided we were better off as friends than prospective lovers, but I will admit I was the one to make the break.

Why?

What I found, under the pandemic, is that my mood is shorter and sharper. I am much more tired, too. And the usual things I would do to relax, such as playing in the Racine Concert Band, just haven’t been available due to the pandemic.

How does that relate to the relationship? Well, I think it made it harder for both of us. I was home more. I was stressed out more. And I couldn’t get to see him, where he was, due to Covid-19.

All of that frustration did not help, at all, on any level.

You see, sometimes with all the will in the world, two good people cannot make a go of it as a romantic pair.

That’s just the way it is. (But oh, how I hate to admit it.)

I will always care about my male friend, and I hope our friendship will survive. (He said he wishes the same thing, but you never know until you’re actually at this point after a relationship ends as to whether or not a friendship will happen or not.) I am glad that we got to find out what we could of each other, even if it didn’t turn out the way either of us planned.

I still believe in love, though. There are many kinds of it. Love of friends. Love of family. A higher love, an altruistic love, a spiritual love…as well as romantic love, with all of the wonders and terrors of that very thing.

So, when I said months ago that I was doing my best to get to know someone, I talked of love too soon, I think. Or maybe didn’t clarify it, even to myself. My expectations perhaps were too high. Or maybe I just wasn’t ready.

Anyway, what I had with my late husband Michael was every type of love there was. Agape. Philios/philia. Eros. All of it. That’s why I’ll honor that love, and my husband’s memory, forever.

And I have to believe that eventually I will find someone else who I can have at least some of all three things (agape, philios, eros). A good friendship, where we understand each other, and want to know more and more about each other for better understanding and more love…excellent communication…a positive feedback loop that bears fruit, perhaps, is the way to go.

Anyway, at this point all I can do is go on, slowly, still dealing with the bronchitis, and put my head up high. I know I tried my best; I know my friend and former love-interest also tried his.

Sometimes, no matter what you want, it just does not work.

Written by Barb Caffrey

February 17, 2021 at 9:32 pm

Sitting, Resting, Loving

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Folks, the above title is kind of odd, but I hope you will bear with me.

Over the past several months, I’ve been battling with some long-running illnesses. They don’t stop me from editing. They do get in the way of writing, whether this blog or any fiction. And I’ve been frustrated by a lot of things because of this.

I’ve had to rest a lot. And that got me to thinking. Did I want to keep living the life I’d been living, where I was lonely all the time, and just frustrated overall? Or did I want to try to see if I could find someone I liked to spend time with, online or off? (As Covid-19 is still around, and is still prevalent most especially in the U.S., online time is more important than ever. And long-distance doesn’t matter if you can’t do any short-distance dating anyway.)

Michael would never have wanted me to feel like he was the be-all, end-all, of my existence. He knew how important he was. He knew how much I loved him (and will continue to love him, come what may). But  he’d have not wanted me to be alone for sixteen long years.

That wasn’t what Michael was about.

Michael was about joy. Shared sacrifice. Enjoyment of each other’s quirks and follies. Appreciation of who we were, good and bad. And so many other things, I can’t possibly list them all.

In short, Michael cast a very, very long shadow. And for years, I didn’t think I had enough room in my heart to share it with anyone else, knowing I would love Michael until the end of time (and then some).

Then came Jeff Wilson, my very good friend. I cared about him a lot, and talked about everything with him. But he died suddenly in 2011, just three short days after he said, plaintively, “Can we please proceed to the dating phase now?”

And I was devastated.

Jeff was a good man, someone I believed Michael would’ve liked. We laughed together, sometimes cried together (or at least I cried; him being a Confucian, he’d not admit to such frailties), enjoyed each other’s online company, and I was making plans to go see him in Colorado when he suddenly died.

I miss him to this day.

Fast forward to 2015.

A few years ago, I met someone I thought might be the guy. (I have talked a little about this, elliptically, over the years.) I was wrong. He wasn’t the right guy. But he did remind me that life is short, and that feeling something good for someone else was not wrong.

It didn’t work out. But it did get me to thinking.

Now, we’re up to 2020. And throughout all this time, one man stood beside me. He was the first person I called after Jeff died. He was the first person I called when I had to go into the hospital for heart issues. (Fortunately, they weren’t serious.) He was the first person I contacted when I was ready to talk about anything, and he was always there. It might take him a day or two to figure out what he was going to say, if I contacted him by e-mail…but he always, always answered.

And he was also there when Michael died. He was worried about me, and despite disliking the phone, called quite often in 2004 and 2005. (I also called him.)

He liked Michael. Respected Michael. And understood why I felt so terribly. He didn’t want to rush me. (He certainly knew about Jeff, too.) And until the past few months, had thought I was too far away on the one hand and not attainable on the other.

But Covid-19 changed everything.

We’ve been friends for twenty years, this man and I. But it still surprised me when, about a month and a half ago now, he said to me, “Can we try a virtual date?” (That is, listen to the same music, talk online, relax, play board games, etc.) And I said, “Sure!”

Our virtual date was a rousing success, so we didn’t stop there. We’ve continued to chat. We’ve even exchanged short video messages, and are trying to figure out what comes next. Because of him, I smile a lot more. I laugh a great deal. And while I am still tired, and still recovering from whatever Ye Olde Mystery Illness is, I feel much more optimistic despite all the vagaries of the outside world, and all the political messes, too.

Because of Covid-19, I can’t go see him anytime soon. But I do plan on finding a way to do just that, now.

What I’ve learned, over time, is this: Love matters. It may take time. It may not show up the same way every time. But when someone declares himself, and you have an honest connection together, it changes your life for the better.

The main difference between the last two people is this: the gentleman from 2015/2016 was more interested in helping himself than helping me. He didn’t see me as a priority and despite knowing me for quite a number of years never tried to visit me. He never told anyone about me, and he never admitted that I was anything other than a good friend if asked. Whereas this man, my 20-year friendship-turned-romance man, is as interested in helping me as he is helping himself. He does see me as a priority. He does want to visit, but Covid-19 won’t allow it. And his health right now is such that I’d be the one who must visit him in any event, though he still would rather come to me if he had his druthers because he knows this is going to be hard on me, finding a way to go to him.

Despite how it sounds, I’m grateful, in a weird way, for the gentleman from 2015/2016. He showed me that I was wrong about whether my heart could handle yet another love-interest. And that prepared me when, all unlooked for (at least by me), my very good friend stepped up and said, “I’m here. I care. Will you try with me?”

So yes. I am going to try. And I believe Michael would be very happy that I’m willing to do just that.

 

 

Thoughts for Valentine’s Day: What Love Is…and Is Not

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I keep meaning to write this, every single Valentine’s Day. And then I never do. So I guess today’s the day…enjoy?

In my writing, I’ve tried to show what I believe love is.

In the Elfyverse (so far comprised of AN ELFY ON THE LOOSE and A LITTLE ELFY IN BIG TROUBLE; more to come), it’s care, compassion, support, loyalty, friendship, and many other things that lead to intense romantic feelings for the young Bruno and Sarah. Bruno had a good marriage modeled for him by his late parents; Sarah’s parents did not give her good models, but her grandmother at least gave her someone to love who was worth the time.

Mind, even with that, love is a work-in-progress for the two of them. And I think that’s something we all deal with, as we go. It’s not like being in love waves a magic wand over you and says, “Now, everything will be wonderful.”

Instead, what love does is to make any problems that befall you far more bearable to deal with. Because you’re not alone anymore. You are supported. You are appreciated. And you are understood. (Or it’s not the love you’ve been looking for…but more on that, anon.)

Problems come to everyone, you see. And it’s how you communicate that helps you deal with them. Or not.

Bruno and Sarah, despite their tender ages, both know that. And they’ve made the commitment to stand by each other, to love one another, to appreciate each other’s differences as well as each other’s things in common…they’ve done what they need to do, in order to forge a strong bond between them.

But that’s not my only take when it comes to love. Far, far from it.

In CHANGING FACES, my stand-alone LGBTQ-friendly fantasy romance, Allen and Elaine’s plight is different. They know they love each other, and they can communicate well…except for one issue, that being Elaine’s gender-fluid nature. Allen knows Elaine considers herself bisexual (and monogamous! She’s not about to sleep with anyone but Allen, regardless of what her outer self looks like.) But he doesn’t know that Elaine considers her gender to be fluid, especially as Elaine likes the pronoun “she” and is a feminist scholar. And when he finally finds out, both he and Elaine don’t know how to handle it. But eventually, they find a way. (I hope that’s not too much of a spoiler for you, but if you are a long-time reader of romances, you know most of ’em go for happily-ever-afters. So why can’t mine?)

What I was trying to get at, in CHANGING FACES, was that love can conquer anything. But that you have to be willing to be vulnerable. You have to be willing to tell your partner, “Hey, I’m like this. Can you deal with it?” And if you’re really ambitious, you can be even more vulnerable and admit, “I’m not so sure I can always deal with it. But I appreciate that you have my back while I try.”

These are hard things to do. They’re very adult things.

So, while Bruno and Sarah are young adults and are finding their way — fortunately! — through a meaningful and deep love, Allen and Elaine are older and yet still have some of the same issues going on. I did that on purpose, because I think no matter what your age is, you’re going to have issues. And it’s how you deal with them that matters.

Either way, though, they show what love is. Commitment. Shared sacrifice. Honesty. Communication. Vulnerability. Loyalty. The willingness to laugh at yourself when needed, or with your partner as needed. The ability to say to yourself, “I don’t have to be perfect every day,” and of course that your partner doesn’t have to be perfect either, in order to be loved for who you are. To keep trying to communicate, even when it’s hard. To keep doing whatever you can, as long as you can, as often as you can, to let your partner know that you care, you appreciate them, you want them in your life, and you are going to do whatever you can to facilitate that so long as they feel the same way.

As I’ve heard it said, a romantic commitment takes 110% from each partner. I think that makes sense. (Though if you are a mathematician and are pointing out that it can’t be more than 100%, that’s OK, too. Just so long as you give your all, and your partner gives his/her all, that’s what matters. Not the number we put to it.)

Before I go, I want to talk about what love decidedly is not.

It’s not about gifts. It’s not about wealth, or fancy cars, or how big the bouquet of flowers is on any given day. It’s not about fancy restaurants (though I’m all for them, when possible); it’s not about what you can get from your partner.

Instead, it’s about what you give.

I hope most of you realize by this point that love is a two-way street, one you both want to be on at the same time and in the same place. And that anything else is not worth the price.

But if you’re doing all the giving in your relationship, and your partner is doing all the taking, that is not a love-relationship I’d want to have.

Anyway, I hope this has helped you figure out what’s worth it in a relationship, and what isn’t. And why I still think love matters more than anything…even though aside from the love of friends and family (predominantly agape love), I haven’t had it in over fifteen years.

Written by Barb Caffrey

February 14, 2020 at 10:33 pm

Survivors Heal at Their Own Pace

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Folks, I read a Facebook post from a friend I’d like to know better earlier tonight. It was from two years ago, and I missed it at the time.

Without any privacy violations, my friend had gone through an ordeal while in middle school (once upon a time called junior high school; whichever works). A teacher had abused him for over a year, and he ended up with PTSD and other problems.

While I left as supportive of a message as I could now, albeit two years late, I wanted to say more about this.

Many of us have suffered wounds that take years, if not decades, to heal. And because we have had these problems, we think we’re less than we are; we think that maybe, just maybe, we deserved to be abused, or mistreated, or assaulted, or even molested.

I’m not saying we do this consciously. But we still do it.

How do I know this? Because I’m a survivor of sexual assault, that’s why. It happened in my teens. And for years after, I felt I wasn’t good for anyone, and never would be.

It took me over seven years to get any sort of a handle on it. I went to counseling. I read as many books as I could. I tried to forgive the person who’d assaulted me — which I found to be impossible, setting back my healing for a few more years.

And then, I found The Courage to Heal Workbook. That, along with a good counselor who knew how to use it, was my salvation. It taught me that I did not have to forgive the person who’d assaulted me. Instead, I could leave it up to the Higher Power.

Best of all, I learned that I was not to blame for any of it. And that I was stronger because I’d survived.

All of that helped me heal.

After I did all that hard work, I eventually found my late husband, Michael. He and I found a fulfilling life together in all aspects. He wasn’t afraid of my flashbacks, and would hold me until I was better; he had empathy, and knew how to use it. (I wish all people did. But empathy is still an exceptionally rare quality, it seems…but I digress.) And our sex life was second to none, because we both understood each other, loved each other unconditionally, and wanted to make each other feel that love every minute of every day.

Why am I’m sharing this now, rather than at the height of the #MeToo movement? Well, it’s mostly that I want my friend, who has found a good woman at long last and will be married soon, to know that he, too, can have a fulfilling relationship and that his past — the stuff that was inflicted on him — doesn’t have to derail anything.

The right person, you see, will be there for you no matter what. That’s what unconditional love is all about. And once you find that person who loves you, no matter what, hold on to him or her — because that’s a person whose worth is above rubies.

If you are reading this, live in the United States, and have suffered from rape, incest, molestation, or other forms of sexual violence and need to talk with someone, call RAINN at (800)656-HOPE. They are free, confidential, and open 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. And if you can’t call now, but need to find out more about how you’re not alone — as indeed, you aren’t — and that people do care (as we do!), go to https://www.rainn.org and read at your leisure what they’re doing to combat sexual violence in the United States.