Barb Caffrey's Blog

Writing the Elfyverse . . . and beyond

Archive for the ‘romance’ Category

My Thoughts, As A Widow, On Recent “This is Us” Episodes

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(What a pretentious title, huh? But it was the best I could do…moving on.)

My Mom and I have watched NBC’s TV show “This is Us” about the Pearson clan for several years. (I can’t recall if we watched it regularly until the third year, but we did watch.) I’ve had a great deal of empathy for various characters. I remember Randall (played by Sterling K. Brown), the Black man raised in a white family, meeting his biological father for the first time. That was both difficult and heartening, all by itself; when the Pearsons, en masse, decided to welcome William (Randall’s bio father), it became something more.

Anyway, the matriarch of the Pearsons is Rebecca, played by Mandy Moore. We see her when she’s young and heavily pregnant; we see her when she’s in her late twenties/early thirties, raising her kids; we see her in her fifties and sixties, after her first husband’s passed away and she’s married her second one; we see her, finally, with Alzheimer’s disease, dying with her kids and grandkids around her.

Rebecca’s story is the one that I took to the most, over time. (This is not surprising, I suppose.) She loved her first husband Jack with everything that she had, and when he died unexpectedly, still in his prime, her world collapsed.

I understand how that feels extremely well.

Rebecca, unlike me, had three children who were all teenagers. She still had to be there for them. She also had good friends, including Miguel (the man who later became her second husband), her husband’s best friend. The friends helped Rebecca and her kids accustom themselves to a life with a Jack-sized hole in it.

This was not easy for any of them. Jack was an interesting, kind, funny, hard-working, loving man who adored his wife and was so ecstatic to be a father. He had his faults, including battles with alcoholism, that he tried to hide from his wife (and mostly did hide, successfully, from his children). But his virtues far outweighed his flaws.

Obviously, Jack’s loss was hardest on Rebecca. She was still in her prime, in her late thirties/early forties. She hadn’t expected to be a widow, much less so soon. But she was one, and she had to adapt on the fly, just as her kids were starting to flee the nest.

As her kids married, divorced, remarried, had children, and lived their lives, one thing was clear: even if their spouses had been divorced, they were still part of the Pearson clan. They were still welcome at every family function. They were included, not excluded, because the Pearsons believed “the more the merrier,” which probably came from Rebecca being pregnant with triplets in the first place. (The third triplet died, which is why Rebecca and Jack adopted Randall, who was born on the same day and needed a family as his mother had died and his father — then — was completely unknown.)

Of course, there were oddities that happened to the Pearsons. (How else? Life itself is strange.)

One of them was when Randall’s father, William, made contact with Rebecca and Jack when Randall was quite young. William felt Randall was better off where he was, as William was battling a drug addiction along with poverty and much frustration; that was an extremely hard decision, but one that reaped major dividends late in life when Randall (in his thirties, roughly) found that William had known a) he was Randall’s bio father and b) where Randall was the entire time. Randall forgave William, in time, and as I said before, the Pearsons welcomed William until the day William died.

That said, for many fans, the oddest oddity of them all was the fact of Miguel marrying Rebecca. We knew Miguel was with Rebecca from the start (or nearly), because “This is Us” has always told its story in a non-linear fashion. We also knew that Miguel was Jack’s best friend, that he was appreciative of Rebecca from the start (he told Jack to make sure he married Rebecca, because “someone else” would; maybe even he didn’t know that someone else, someday, would be Miguel himself), and that while Jack lived Miguel made no moves (as a quality human being, of course he didn’t).

Because of the jumping back and forth in time effect, though, until the last few episodes it was impossible to tell when Miguel had married Rebecca. (That Rebecca had developed Alzheimer’s, and Miguel was caring for her until his own death, was something explored in great depth this past season.)

Why?

Well, Miguel didn’t get an episode revolving around him until a few weeks ago. That’s when I found out that Miguel had waited several years, had moved away to a different state, and made sure his feelings were real (and not something conjured out of pity and the deep, abiding friendship he’d always had with Rebecca while Jack was still alive) before he married Rebecca.

We still didn’t see his marriage, which was the second marriage for both of them. (Miguel’s first marriage ended in divorce.) But we saw how he took care of Rebecca. He was tender, kind, compassionate, loving, and altogether the right person for her after Jack died.

I was happy she found another good man to love.

This may sound odd, if you’ve read my blog for years. I thought for quite a few years that my heart was not big enough to admit another love — romantic love, anyway — after Michael’s way-too-early death.

While I found out that was wrong, the two men I’ve cared about in the past few years did not end up growing with me in the same way. They did not want the same things. (Or in one case, even if he had, he could not express that. He is neuro-divergent.)

The man who might’ve been “my Miguel” was Jeff Wilson, who died in 2011. Jeff didn’t know Michael, so that part wouldn’t be analogous. But Jeff knew I was the person I am because of Michael. Jeff also was my best friend of many years (seven, at the time of his death), and during his fatal health crisis said to me, with a weary yet humorous tone in his voice, “Can we please proceed to the dating phase now?”

I’ll never know what would’ve happened had Jeff lived. But I knew I was going to try, and I told him that.

Then he died, after he’d been improving; his death was unexpected, and he was only a year older than Michael had been when Michael died.

So, two men. Both interesting, intelligent, funny, hard-working, creative…both themselves, indelibly themselves, and I cared about them — loved them — both. (I did not yet have romantic love for Jeff, but I certainly was getting there at the time of his death. I definitely had agape love and philios also.)

Anyway, Rebecca’s death episode was this past Tuesday. She was pictured on a train. She saw William (acting as the conductor); she saw her obstetrician (acting as a bartender). She saw her kids, possibly including her deceased triplet (I wasn’t sure about that), at various ages. She heard the various well-wishes of the Pearson clan, including from her daughter’s ex-husband, her son Kevin’s wife (he’d only married twice, to the same woman, but many years apart), and her sons. But she was waiting “for something”…

As she’s waiting, she sees Miguel, a passenger on the train. He salutes her with his drink, and tells her she’s still his favorite person.

This made me cry.

Miguel got no more time in that episode, which upset me. I thought Rebecca should’ve gone to him, hugged him, and said “thank you.” Her mentation has been restored, on the train; she knows that Miguel helped her while she was so ill with Alzheimer’s. She also got a second wonderful husband in addition to her first, which is very rare…yet while she smiled at him, and seemed happy to see him, she didn’t go to him.

This made me even sadder.

The end of the episode came when her daughter, Kate, was able to get there (she’d been overseas). As she says goodbye, Rebecca clearly crosses over and enters “the caboose,” where her first husband, Jack, waits.

That’s where the episode ended.

I don’t know what’ll happen in the finale of “This is Us.” I do hope that Miguel’s contribution to Rebecca’s life, and to the entire life of the Pearson clan, will somehow be recognized. (Her children all told her to say “hey” to their father for them, but no one asked her to hug Miguel if they saw him. That, too, bugged me, but maybe the writers wrote it and they had no time to get it into the episode.) It’s obvious that without him in her later years (even before she got Alheimer’s), there wouldn’t have been as much acceptance and love from the Pearsons as a whole.

Anyway, my take as a widow is that I want there to be some recognition of how much good Miguel did for Rebecca, and that Jack had no problems with it as Miguel both made her happy and helped her as her mentation declined. (Miguel also still saw Rebecca as the same person, even with her mind going; her own children couldn’t always do that, as her daughter Kate pointed out in a recent episode.)

To be able to love again after such tragedy was wonderful. To not express thankfulness and gratitude for loving again…well, had it been me in that position, I hope I’d have done better.

(And yes, I know they’re all characters. Not real people. But they surely felt real, which is why I hope that Mandy Moore wins an Emmy for her portrayal of Rebecca and that Jon Huertas wins an Emmy as well for his excellent supporting work.)

My Thoughts on Tonight’s Packers-49ers NFL Playoff Game

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Folks, as it’s now Saturday, that means the Green Bay Packers will be playing its first playoff game of the NFL season against the San Francisco 49ers at home. Seemingly everyone in Wisconsin is ready for this. (If you’re not a Packers fan in Wisconsin, you probably follow along enough to get by. We’re quite rabid when it comes to football, here.)

I think the Packers are likely to win today because they have a better quarterback in Aaron Rodgers and because the Packers defense has been surprisingly good most of the season.

But that’s not why I’m writing this blog.

Nope. I’m writing this blog because it reminds me of one of the special moments in my life.

You see, back in 2002, the Packers were preparing to play the 49ers in the Wild Card round of the playoffs. (This time, the Packers got the bye, meaning they could rest during the Wild Card round.) My late husband Michael and I had been dating long-distance (as nearly all of our courtship was long-distance due to living about 1500 miles apart) for about a month, maybe a month and a half. And we both knew we’d watch this game, as we were both football fans.

We really wanted to watch this game together. But as we were not independently wealthy (far, far from it), the best way we had to watch the game together was to talk on the telephone for three hours while I watched the game in Iowa as he watched the game in San Francisco.

We both vowed that whichever team won, we’d continue to root for it throughout the remainder of the playoffs.

But that’s not why I remember the game so well. The reason I remember it has to do with the three hours of conversation, including digressions as to what sort of commercials were on, whether the announcers on TV or radio were better (I think we both agreed the radio announcers had more skill and knowledge), and, of course, cheers and jeers when our respective teams made good plays.

After the game, we both hung up, and then went to talk some more via instant messaging. (We didn’t have webcams. It was 2002. This meant we had to learn to communicate, quickly, or our relationship would founder. Fortunately, both of us were extremely motivated to find a way to do just that…)

That football game was one of the best moments of my entire life, all because I had Michael to share it with. It was astonishing then, as it is now to recall, just how much Michael wanted to be with me, and how creative he was in finding ways to do whatever he could to make my life better. (Yes, I was creative, too, and did my best to make his life better also.)

I’ve never met anyone else with both the tenaciousness and the tenderness that Michael showed me, though I have met three other special men since his passing. (None worked out as relationships, but I still have soft spots for these guys, two of whom are still living.) I believe the reason I could try again is because of how wonderful Michael was, though of course he’s a tough act to follow.

So, this football game reminds me, just a bit, of the 2002 playoff game between the same teams. And I’m wishing, right now, that my husband Michael was still alive to root for his 49ers, and to make whatever other interesting comments he could about everything else along the way.

Written by Barb Caffrey

January 22, 2022 at 4:11 am

In Romance, See What’s There, Not Just What You Think Is There

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I’ve been thinking a lot about two things. One is about romance, and the second is about the nature of observation.

See, we as human beings want to see what we desire most. This can delude us into staying in bad relationships far longer than their sell-by date (certainly, I did, in my first marriage; thank goodness I found Michael in the end). Because we see every single small gesture as full of meaning…which it is, if the feelings are true.

But what if they aren’t? What if your significant other is lying to you? What then?

We have to observe what the truth is before we can grasp that truth.

In my case, with my first marriage, it took me several long years to realize two things. (Yes, I’m big on two things today for some reason.) The first was that the way I saw my then-husband was not who he truly was. The second was that he was not the person I needed.

When I met him, I was quite young. So was he. Maybe he wanted to be the man I needed. But he just couldn’t be that person, no matter how much I wanted him to be.

There were good things, even then, that I missed after I divorced him. He liked the same music I did. He read many of the same books.

But then, there were the drawbacks, which I decidedly did not miss. He had wit, but not a lot of depth. And at the time, he was incapable of being faithful.

(I hope his second wife has found him to be much more faithful than I. But that’s up to them, of course. And as always, I digress.)

So, persistence of vision led me into a trap. The trap was that I saw only the best iteration of my ex-husband. Not the entirety of him. (Not even close.) I saw that because when we met, he was on his best behavior. And I hoped that was all he was…or that he would deepen and broaden and become more and more interesting over time.

That did not happen.

The person it did happen with, eventually, was Michael. He was funny, smart as a whip, shared many interests with me, but not all. We had amazing, long, in-depth, interesting conversations. He was more fascinating the longer I knew him. I loved him, I loved being with him, and I very much enjoyed being his wife, because he was exactly who he said he was.

(Not to mention, he was as faithful as the day is long. And honorable. And so many things that I could go on for days and still not tap the entirety of him. But I’d better finish this blog instead.)

Michael was not the first person I’d entered into a relationship with after my first marriage failed. But he was the only one who mattered.

I could tell, by observation, that Michael cared about me and wanted only what was best. I knew by what he did — how often we talked (as our relationship started as a long-distance one and proceeded that way for about six or seven months), what we talked about, how much he remembered of what I’d said, even what he sent me in the mail — that he was an honorable, loving man.

Someone worthy of me. Someone worthy of love.

Michael was ever-changing, but always at the bedrock level was the same. Honest. He’d tell you the truth, even if he would’ve rather not, because he knew nothing real could proceed without it. And the depth of feeling he had for me was incredible.

Ultimately, even though we didn’t get a lot of Earthly time together, Michael’s love and influence changed my life. It’s made me a better person.

Again, I know this by observation. I know this by re-reading our letters to each other. (Mostly e-mail, but a few are dead-tree versions.) I know this by the stories he wrote. I know this by every action he ever performed.

There’s a big difference between someone who truly loves you and someone who only says they do. That difference is as clear as night and day, but you have to first perceive it before you can see it. And you have to admit to yourself, when you’re in the wrong relationship, that it’s time to go.

I fought that realization before I divorced my ex. In a way, he forced my hand, because he started the next relationship before he was done with me. But his action in doing that somehow got through to me that he was not about to change; he could not be the person I needed, and he’d already left, emotionally and spiritually. He’d made that choice to go.

So, you may be wondering why I’m talking about this. (No, it’s not just because of rewatching the new Matrix movie, Resurrections, again. Though I enjoyed it even more the second time around, I will say.)

We see, often, what we expect to see. So if we are in love, we expect to see that our significant other loves us in return. We look for reasons to believe what we think is right, rather than observe how they’re behaving, or listening to what they actually say, or watching their body language, or a thousand other little details that tell a quite intricate story if we just paid attention.

In this New Year of 2022, I urge you to pay attention to what is real. Observe. Listen. Pay attention.

Whether in romance, in life, in work, or in play — or in all of them — paying attention matters. And you should not ever stay with someone who doesn’t respect you as much as he respects himself.

Written by Barb Caffrey

January 1, 2022 at 6:54 am

Sunday Thoughts: Creativity and the New Matrix Movie, Resurrections

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I found no way to write this without spoilers. If you have not seen Matrix Resurrections yet, proceed at your own risk.

As a writer, I am often inspired by unusual things.

I take note of all sorts of things, you see. I observe them. I think about them, sometimes only subconsciously, but I ponder them. And I wonder, often, what would have happened if I’d have chosen a much smaller life.

(I do not think that would’ve been a good idea, mind you. But let’s stay with the concept.)

This all matters to me, as a person, especially due to the fact that I’ve been creative my entire life. And as I’ve grown into midlife, there are so many different messages that have been thrown at me. “Grow up,” says one. “Stop fantasizing that your career will ever matter,” says another. “What you do as a writer…what’s the point of it? No one reads what you say, so who cares?”

And then, there are the bills. The obligations. The chores. The never-ending minutiae of life.

All of this can weigh me down. Add in health problems, as anyone who’s read this blog for a while has to have figured out, and the weight of sorrow as my life-partner has been dead now for over seventeen years, and it sometimes seems overwhelming.

“But Barb,” you say. “What about the new Matrix movie, Resurrections? You put that into your title, right? You are going to talk about it, aren’t you?”

Yes, I am. Because I think much of the commentary regarding Matrix Resurrections is flat-out wrong. They are missing the point, which is this: Just because you’re older, your love shouldn’t be trivialized. And fighting for love matters more than anything in this world.

Anything.

Very few of the critics have even touched on this, and that annoys me. Even those critics who’ve enjoyed the movie have discussed more obvious themes and have pointed out that Resurrections builds heavily on what has gone before in the previous Matrix trilogy. (How it was supposed to do anything else is beyond me. But let’s not go there.)

Mind you, some of the commentary is quite interesting, as it discusses trans rights and “deadnames” — that is, the name you were given at birth is not the name you go by (such as the fate of the late Leelah Alcorn) — and some of it quite rightly points out the romance between Trinity and Neo carries the film.

But they still are missing a huge point, and I can’t help but point out the elephant in the room.

Look. It’s easy, when you get into midlife, to let those messages I delineated above overwhelm you. It’s really easy to let the weight of words, and life itself, stop you from being who you truly are.

Neo, in Matrix Resurrections, is again going by his original name, Thomas Anderson. Trinity is now a character, only, in a game Thomas supposedly created. (That the Matrix was diabolical enough to do this is another problem entirely, mind you, but often when we get to midlife, people completely misunderstand what the Hell we’re doing as creative sorts. I tend to take that as allegory, personally.) The person who’s alive and should be Trinity is now named Tiffany (going by Tiff), and she has children and a husband. And only Neo knows that “Tiffany” is really Trinity.

But how can he convince anyone of that, when he can’t convince anyone that he’s Neo, not simply Thomas Anderson? Especially when other people only see an older and broken man, someone who’s survived a suicide attempt, and who lives alone and mostly unnoticed.

Hell, he doesn’t even have a pet to take care of. He’s that isolated.

Those around him completely misunderstand what he’s about, and he’s been led to believe that the one person he’s ever loved was someone he made up himself.

I understand all of this very well.

For Neo to reclaim himself, to reclaim his life, and to free Trinity so the two of them could go on and live the lives they were born to lead is the most important part of this film. (How they get there is not relevant to this discussion, but I will say that as an editor of SF&F, it worked well for me.) That they have a true partnership, a true meeting of the minds, and a truly good relationship where both are more together than they are separately (even though they’re both interesting, separately) is extremely important, to me as a widow.

(Yes, I like vicarious wish-fulfillment, sometimes. Sue me.)

At any rate, I was deeply moved by Matrix Resurrections. I loved the new characters (Bugs in particular, a blue-haired and fierce female warrior/captain), I enjoyed the main plot, but the subtext and the emotion was what got to me.

I believe in love. I believe it matters more than anything in this world. And I believe in soul bonds that endure between one creative soul and another, that call to us despite all the noise this ultra-connected world throws at us.

I also believe that memories matter. And that no one can frame your memories except yourself.

So I urge you to check your assumptions at the door before you see Matrix Resurrections. But do see it, and then if you are in midlife — as I am — ask yourself these questions:

Does what I do matter? (Hell, yes.)

Even if no one ever reads what I write, should I continue? (Absolutely.)

Can you reclaim your life against nearly impossible odds? (I would like to think so!)

What do you think of this blog? Have you seen Matrix Resurrections, or are you going to see it? Tell me about it in the comments!

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