Barb Caffrey's Blog

Writing the Elfyverse . . . and beyond

Archive for the ‘SF/romance’ Category

Will Be on Dellani Oakes’ BlogTalkRadio Show This Monday (November 14)

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As the title says, I’ll be on writer Dellani Oakes’ BlogTalkRadio show this upcoming Monday, November 14, 2022, between 3 and 5 Central Standard Time.

You might be wondering what I’m going to talk about. I figured I’d discuss writing the two Elfyverse short stories that have been sold to the Fantastic Schools anthologies; one is in Fantastic Schools 3, while the other is in Fantastic Schools Hols. Both feature Bruno the Elfy (my main character from the two Elfy novels), but before he knew he was an Adept. (Actually, the second story features him both before and after he found out, because of my own sense of whimsy.)

I plan to read from the second story, mind you. It’s called “Jon and Leftwich have a Holiday Adventure.” I do hope you’ll join me and the others, because I think you’ll enjoy yourselves if you do.

At any rate, talking about that isn’t long enough for a blog, so I figured I’d discuss a few other things.

While I still love writing Elfyverse stories, and plan to get out a collection of Elfyverse stories soon (it may not be the end of the year as I was hoping, as I’m battling significant flu issues right now), I wonder sometimes if I’ll ever hit my market squarely. I know it’s there. The folks who loved Robert Asprin’s comic novels or love Jody Lynn Nye’s funny stories or Esther Friesner’s work should enjoy what I’m doing. (If I were truly lucky, I might even tap into some of the folks who clamored for Douglas Adams’ work, but I doubt I’m that lucky. Plus, I’m not British, and lack that sort of edge to my humor. Still, my daydreams sometimes work that way…and if it keeps me writing, why not?)

The state of the Elfyverse is better than it was, mind you. I do have those two stories in the FS anthos, I’m working on two other new ones (for the upcoming collection), and I have restarted the long-delayed novel KEISHA’S VOW and have figured out at least in part what had been stopping me cold.

Thing is, I must get over this flu. (It’s not Covid. Tested negative.)

I rarely have fevers. So when I have them, I don’t really know what to do. When I get a few good hours, I need to use that to finish up the edits in progress, which of course is sensible. But it’s knocked me out of a band I was hoping to play in (I may still be able to play in another one soon, but I must get better fast), it’s delayed my writing more than it was already (and that’s been considerable), and because I have to push all the time, it seems to stop my creativity cold.

Music lives in me. But when I’m ill, the notes escape before I can write them down. (Playing is not an option today. Maybe it will be soon.) And my stories live in me, too. But it’s hard to write down music or words when I can’t concentrate worth a hill of beans.

The stories I have in progress are various. One’s about an Amazon who’d settled down and was teaching young warriors (men and women) how to fight…but while she was away, her whole family (including her beloved husband) was killed. She goes to his family to let them know, and before she can tell them, finds out that most of them are dead also. Only her sister-in-law is alive, and she’s like a mental vegetable. So what’s gone wrong there?

I have an inkling, but I also think somehow I lost my way. Still, this remains one of several stories that are vexing me.

The second is a good friend’s favorite story. It’s called “All the News That’s Fit,” and is about the US post-apocalypse of some sort. There’s now a bunch of divided states rather than a United States, and while one part of it still calls itself the US, it’s now centered around St. Louis, Missouri. (The South split off by itself. Texas, I think, is alone. The West Coast is now The Republic of the West.)

But the reason my good friend loves it is due to the romance between a newsreader (technology has backslid, to a degree, so the Army shepherds newsreaders around to various hamlets to tell ’em whatever the official story is) and an Army NCO. Newsreaders go into doing this to save their families, mostly…to get good medical care now is even more expensive than it is now in the US, and if you aren’t affiliated with some sort of public service, you can’t get it. But if you do an important job like newsreading, you can get your family the treatment they need…and that’s important for my heroine, Chloris, whose sister has cancer.

The guy in the tale is Sergeant James Carter. I didn’t consciously name him for the former POTUS, if you’re wondering; instead, I named him because I knew a very good, female Sergeant Carter years ago. She was competent, tough as nails, and yet very kind to me as I tried to work my way through becoming a military wife. She was a Reservist, and as I said, I truly appreciated her.

My Sergeant Carter is close to retirement age. He’s in his late thirties. He’s been through a lot. And because of his training, skills, and service, by the time he meets Chloris, he’s pretty much off women and off the idea of getting married someday. (That newsreaders rarely marry doesn’t help, because the duty is grueling, and newsreaders have to be hypnotized after a while to remember what to say and how to say it. As I said, it’s a messed-up world they live in.) But there’s just something about her that appeals to him, and the better he knows her — away from her job, and he’s thrown together with her due to his own — the better he likes her.

Then her sister goes missing…and all Hell breaks loose.

The third one is a YA story featuring a young version of Commander Ryann Creston, who features briefly in my story “To Survive the Maelstrom.” Here, she’s been taken captive at 14 along with a whole bunch of would-be cadets — stolen on the way to the military academy — and is put to work by a cult at some sort of out-of-the-way space station. She finds one person who’s willing to help — the doctor, who’d also been shanghaied years earlier — but in the meantime, she’s forced to endure many indignities…including the gropings of a young man named Derrick. There’s no actual sex here, and there’s more the threat of violence than anything…still, Ryann’s in a bad spot and needs to get the Hell out of there.

Now, why am I stalled? It’s very simple. I can’t figure out where the Hell the ships would dock on this station. It’s an old one, so it might actually have to use some sort of manual locks or shuttles or something to deal with how to get on and off. Ryann can’t move about the station unless there’s a power outage, because she’s watched nearly every minute of every day. (This station is old, so it does have some power outages, thank goodness.) And if Ryann can’t figure out where to go, how can she lead everyone else off that station and get back to the Academy where she belongs?

Those aren’t all the stories I have in progress, but those are the three that vex me the most. Somehow, I have to get them done…and while in some ways “All the News” is closer to it than the others, the best ending I’ve found relies on a cliffhanger and I don’t want to do that to readers (hoping they find me in the first place, I don’t want them then to throw down their e-readers in disgust).

So, that’s what’s going on.

What’s going on with you? (The comments, as always, are open.)

Written by Barb Caffrey

November 11, 2022 at 6:04 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!

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

Two New Guest Appearances Highlighting my new #LGBT-friendly Novel, CHANGING FACES…

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Folks, I’m very happy to let you know about my two newest guest appearances on the Web, as I continue to promote my newest novel, CHANGING FACES. (Still just ninety-nine cents as an e-book, or ninety-nine pence for UK readers; grab it while it’s cheap, eh?)

portrait in garden

First, I have an unusual dual character interview up at N.N. Light’s blog POTL (formerly Princess of the Light). I, the author, interviewed Elaine and Allen (in their original bodies), and asked them a number of questions. Here’s a bit from that interview:

“What is the trait you most deplore in yourself?” Then I look at them both, and ask, “Can Elaine answer this first? Allen, you always jump in…”

Allen mumbles something, and motions with his hand to Elaine.

“Ah, I like it when he goes first,” she says playfully. “It gives me more time to consider my answer.” Then she turned serious. “I am often hasty, and while I try to think things through, sometimes I just don’t. This causes trouble, but I can’t seem to break the habit.”

“I like all your habits,” Allen said, giving her a sidelong look. Then, focusing on me, he added, “I am reserved. This makes it harder for me to open up to people, and it takes a long time for me to make new friends. That’s caused me a lot of trouble in my life, especially as musicians are supposed to be gregarious sorts and I’m just not.”

“Who you are is just fine with me, love,” Elaine put in loyally.

I raised an eyebrow, and told them, “I like you both. So stop all this nonsense and just answer the questions, will you?”

“But it’s so much fun to tease you,” Elaine said.

Allen just laughed.

There are a number of other questions Allen and Elaine answered, including who their favorite person is (Hillary Clinton for Elaine, Nelson Mandela for Allen) and who their least-favorite person is (Donald Trump for both – my Hillary Clinton friends should love that, especially as many of them are LGBT and thus might be interested in a LGBT-friendly romance like CHANGING FACES).

So do, please, go take a look at that interview. I think you’ll most likely enjoy it (even if you politically do not agree with me, Allen, or Elaine).

The second guest appearance up today is over at The Story Behind the Book. It’s my reasoning behind why I wrote CHANGING FACES…as some folks have asked me, “Barb, why did you write something as strange as this, especially as you aren’t LGBT yourself?,” well, now you’ll have an answer.

Here’s a bit from that:

Years ago, and far away, I had an idea for a story. I saw, briefly, in a dream, two lovers—a man and a woman, even—arguing. I didn’t know why they were arguing. But I saw them. Then I saw two otherworldly beings above them. The lovers had suffered a car accident, and the beings did something bizarre, first binding the man’s soul into the woman, then the woman’s soul into the man. I wondered what had happened to cause all this, and set down to write what I’d seen even though I didn’t understand it.

That was the germination for my new novel Changing Faces.

As I wrote, I realized the man, Allen Bridgeway, had been a foster child, adopted late by a childless couple. And the woman, Elaine Foster, had also been a foster child, but she hadn’t been nearly as fortunate as Allen; instead, she’d been raped by five teenage boys while supposedly safe in her final foster home. Due to that awful event, she became an Emancipated Minor, graduated high school early, and went to college at the age of sixteen…where she met Allen and became friends with him.

Note that Allen knew from the start that Elaine was bisexual, and mostly dated women. So while he was attracted to her early, he never made a move…not until years had gone by, and he’d considered Elaine to be his best friend in the world.

The problems started when he asked her to marry him.

So, if you still haven’t bought a copy of CHANGING FACES as an e-book, but want to do so — and of course, it being my blog and all, I do hope you want to do so — here’s all the links I have, so you can go buy one right now:

Barnes & Noble

Amazon:

USA  –   UK  –  CA  –  AUS  –  IN

 

Written by Barb Caffrey

March 13, 2017 at 6:16 pm

Interview Today at The Writer’s Life eMag, plus…

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Folks, I’m happy to let you all know about my latest guest appearance/interview, which is up today at the Writer’s Life eMagazine.

This, of course, is in support of my novel, CHANGING FACES. I’m doing as much as I possibly can to help get the word out about my book, and I would appreciate as much support with sharing across Twitter, Facebook, and other such social media sites as possible as I need all the help I can get. (No fooling, that.)

The Writer’s Life talks more about the writing process than not, so if you’re a fellow writer — no matter at what stage you may happen to be, from beginner to expert — you should enjoy today’s interview.

Here’s a bit from that:

What do you do on those days you don’t feel like writing? Do you force it or take a break?

I don’t do well when I have to force myself to write. I don’t know why this is, but what tends to happen is that I’ll get maybe a little writing, maybe just barely enough to get me to a good part of the manuscript/story in question…and then I block. Hard.

So I’ve learned that if at all possible – if I’m not on a hard and fast deadline – it’s best to take a break for an hour, or maybe even a day.

That seems to help.

Any writing quirks?

There’s one group I tend to listen to, when I need to write something emotionally powerful. That group is Stabbing Westward.

What would you do if people around you didn’t take your writing seriously or see it as a hobby?

Actually, many of the people I know tend to see it that way, because I haven’t made much money with it as of yet. But that doesn’t concern me all that much, because the people who matter to me, as well as those who mattered but have passed on – my late husband and my late best friend among them – definitely understand (or understood) why I do what I do.

And if anyone who doesn’t understand it wants to tell me what to do, it’s not going to harm me any. I’m not about to listen to them, so let them natter on all they want.

There’s lots more there, so please do go take a look at this interview, and share it far and wide.

Now, as to the “plus” part of this post? Well, tomorrow is International Women’s Day, and I plan to write a blog tomorrow that will talk about various women writers who’ve influenced me. (Yes, I will mention CHANGING FACES and the guest appearance of the day. I have to. It’s part of proudly promoting my book. But I want to remind you all that I have more to offer, too…)

The plan right now is, I hope to about four or five other female writers I know, and give links to their books and blogs. I figure that way, I’m helping to pay some of the help I’ve received forward a little.

So, do take a peek at that tomorrow, OK?

Otherwise, I hope to talk more about baseball, maybe a little about politics (as I remain incredibly frustrated by many of the actions of the Trump Administration, but as I am still recovering from that nasty case of the flu, and have some lingering bronchitis to deal with, I have decided to de-emphasize it in many respects until I am completely well), and any current events that may strike my fancy, too.

In other words, business as usual. (Insert big, evil grin here.)

Otherwise, what’s on your mind? What would you like me to talk about next? Give me a yell in the comments, would you?

Written by Barb Caffrey

March 7, 2017 at 8:12 pm

New Guest Blog is Up…”Love in CHANGING FACES”

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Folks, I’m happy to let you know that I have a new guest blog up over at Adriana Kraft’s website today. It’s called “Love in CHANGING FACES,” and has a few more anecdotes about my novel’s protagonists Allen and Elaine, not to mention their unusual love story.

Here’s a bit from that, to whet your interest:

When I first started the story that became my new contemporary LGBT-friendly novel, CHANGING FACES, I had no idea what I was getting into. All I knew was one scene: my couple, Allen and Elaine, were in a crisis. She wanted to leave him. And that would’ve been a fatal mistake. So two aliens—or angels, as I wasn’t quite clear yet what they were—decided to help them…the next thing Allen and Elaine knew, they’d been in a car accident, and Allen had woken up in Elaine’s body in the hospital.

Where was Elaine, you ask? That wasn’t so simple. She was…elsewhere, talking with one of the angels. (Yes, I decided they were angels, after a while.) And it was up to Elaine whether or not they were going to be able to go forward, albeit in different bodies than before.

This scene still exists in the current, final, version of CHANGING FACES. But the reason for that scene is not exactly what I thought it was, many years ago when I first started fiddling around with this story. You see, while Allen is a straight man in love with a beautiful woman, Elaine is gender-fluid, bisexual, and would rather be in a male body even though she will always think of herself as female.

No wonder I was confused, hey?

I also answered another question that I get often, that being, “Why did you write something like this?” My answer, also from the new guest blog, is this: “I really don’t know. Sometimes I think the stories pick me rather than the other way around.”

Does any other writer feel this way?

(I figured I’d ask, ’cause I am honestly confused myself as to why I write one story rather than another one. I never have been able to figure that out.)

Anyway, please do check out the latest guest blog. Adriana Kraft and I know each other through the behest of Marketing for Romance Writers — a quite valuable, though utterly free organization to join — and I appreciate her willingness to extend a guest blog invitation very much.

Now, for a few more thoughts about CHANGING FACES, as I seemingly have an inexhaustible supply of same:

Mind, me writing this particular story is — as a good friend of mine put it, wryly — like being a sportswriter at a D&D convention. It’s not expected, it’s not the audience I usually write for, and perhaps because of that, I don’t seem to have yet found my audience overmuch.

Of course, that does leave lots of room for improvement. And my hope is that someone out there will like what I’m doing, and enjoy it, and maybe learn something from it — though the last is optional, I can’t help but hope that down the line, more people will learn how to see souls rather than bodies.

Why is this important to me? I think it’s because I’ve always felt like I don’t really fit. I’m a big, beautiful woman in a society that worships thin women; I’m a younger-than-average widow, so a whole lot of things have happened to me much earlier than most people; I’m a musician, writer, editor, and have composed music (I need to get back to that, honestly), none of which are usual pursuits for 99.9% of the population.

Maybe it’s because I’ve always felt like a misfit that I want other misfits to find love and be happy. (After all, I did. And it was worth it, too, even though my husband has now been dead for twelve long years.)

What I know is, regardless of your sexual identity or gender expression, you deserve the right to be happy with someone you love. I don’t think it should matter a hill of beans if that person is the same sex as you, the opposite sex as you, or some other variation (intersex? gender-fluid?) thereof. What matters is that you love them. Period. And that you treat them well, and try your best for them, and be honest and trustworthy and loyal and caring, because that’s the only way that you can build a good love-relationship with anyone.

So that’s why I wrote CHANGING FACES. I want people to see others for who they are, not what they look like, and certainly not what they appear to be. Find out who they are. Care about who they are. And always, always be honest…that’s the only way to win at the game of love, even though sometimes being honest is a pain in the caboose.

Written by Barb Caffrey

March 5, 2017 at 9:04 pm

Thoughts on Bujold’s “Gentleman Jole and the Red Queen”

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Folks, yesterday I reviewed Lois McMaster Bujold’s GENTLEMAN JOLE AND THE RED QUEEN over at Shiny Book Review (SBR for short, as always**). I enjoyed Bujold’s newest novel, the latest in her long-running Vorkosigan Saga, and said so over at SBR.

But the longer I pondered Bujold’s excellent book, the more I felt I had to talk about…and some of my thoughts just wouldn’t fit into a well-ordered review no matter how hard I tried. Which is why I decided to come over here instead, to my personal blog, and try to discuss some of the issues Bujold raised.

Because I need to discuss GENTLEMAN JOLE AND THE RED QUEEN in depth, I’m likely to discuss spoilers. If you haven’t read this book yet, but you intend on doing so, you probably should not read this blog until you have. (On the other hand, if you have no intention of reading Bujold, but just want to read my thoughts about a widow well past fifty finding new love again, all unlooked for, here’s your opportunity to do so.)

One, final caveat: As this isn’t the first time Bujold has discussed the ramifications of death in the Vorkosigan Saga — far from it — long-time readers of my blog may notice certain themes I’ve discussed before with regards to Bujold.

Anyway, here are some of my further thoughts about GENTLEMAN JOLE AND THE RED QUEEN:

  • Bujold is bang-on the mark when it comes to depicting a widow, Cordelia Naismith Vorkosigan, who truly loved her husband, and has felt the depths of despair.
  • Again, Bujold is bang-on the mark when it comes to how much widowhood has changed Cordelia. In some senses, Cordelia is much older, mentally, than she was when her beloved husband Aral was alive. This is due to grief, loss, and the frustration of no longer being able to be with her beloved husband. (Even in the far future, death can come suddenly and without warning — and thus it did for Aral.)
  • Bujold continues to get it right while showcasing what a powerful woman does without her powerful husband at her side. Cordelia is too strong a person and too complex, besides, to allow grief to devour her. (But in some ways, it was a near thing.)
  • I enjoyed the mature version of Oliver Jole, a character mostly seen in passing at a much younger age in THE VOR GAME. (At that time, Jole was a Lieutenant attached to Aral Vorkosigan’s staff.) He’s smart, has a similar background to Aral Vorkosigan and indeed knew Aral quite well in more than one sense…and yet, like Cordelia, he’s a man at loose ends. The fact that Jole is fifty and Cordelia is in her mid-seventies doesn’t matter one bit, because the pull between them — once acknowledged — is more than strong enough to deal with the age difference.
  • I even understood why Cordelia, once she felt alive again, wanted to bring more children into the world. (Children, I must note, that are to be fathered by her dead husband Aral’s sperm, and her own long-ago frozen ova.) It’s a subconscious way of declaring that she has more to do…and Cordelia, throughout the Vorkosigan Saga, has always been a maternal figure. (Having only one biological child never did suit Cordelia too well, methinks.)

These were the major things I thought while I read GENTLEMAN JOLE AND THE RED QUEEN at least seven times prior to reviewing the book.

But you might be wondering why I put a LGBT tag on this book, especially if you haven’t gone to read my review yet. (If not, tsk, tsk!)

It’s simple. Oliver Jole is bisexual. He’s not been attracted to too many women in his life as he seems far more drawn to men. But he’s powerfully attracted to Cordelia, and he’s not sure why.

Some reviewers at Amazon and elsewhere have taken Bujold to task for making Jole bisexual instead of a gay man inexplicably attracted to a straight woman. I don’t see it that way, however, because sexuality is on a continuum. Some men are only attracted to women, while some other men are only attracted to men. And the rest are in the middle somewhere, actually attracted to both in a way that’s going to make itself be heard…that is just the way human biology works.

Or to put it another way that’s closer to home: My husband’s brother, Sam, was a proud gay man. But Michael told me that Sam dated two women that Michael was aware of, and Sam showed every indication of being attracted to these women…Michael told me this in a bemused voice, but said he would’ve been happy if Sam had found anyone he liked, regardless of gender identity or sexual preference. Because love matters more than the outward form.

That’s why I have no problem with Oliver Jole being attracted to Cordelia. It’s quite possible that Cordelia herself is so attractive, it doesn’t matter what the outside shape of her form is. But if Jole is attracted to her body as well as her mind, so what? (Either way, it works.)

I also don’t have a problem with Cordelia taking up with Oliver, either. She’s been widowed for three years when she starts a relationship up with Oliver (as I read this section, I thought, Oh, Cordelia. You think it’s bad after three years, don’t you? Try eleven.), so there’s been plenty of time for her to adjust to her new reality.

Ah, but I can hear you now, readers. “But Barb,” you protest. “It took you at least six years to even begin to deal with your husband’s untimely passing. Why is Cordelia different?”

There are a number of reasons why. First, Cordelia got many more years with her husband than I managed to get with mine. Second, Aral Vorkosigan was over eighty years old when he passed away, and my husband Michael was only forty-six. And third, Aral Vorkosigan had done everything he sought out to do…while my husband was still in the process of making a name for himself as a writer and editor, but didn’t get the chance to see most of his work come to fruition.

Plus, every widow and widower’s grief journey is different. Some people grieve for years, then remarry happily. (I’ve known a couple of younger widowers in this position.) Some grieve for a couple of years, then somehow set most of the worst signs of grief aside but don’t date. And some, like me, take years and years to process it all, then figure out a coping mechanism (mine, obviously, is in finishing up my husband’s writing, because I can’t bear to see it incomplete) so they can get on with life whether they ever date again or not.

Grief is a very individual thing, you see. But one thing is very obvious about grief that many reviewers of GENTLEMAN JOLE AND THE RED QUEEN are completely overlooking.

You see, grief changes you. It can’t help but do that. You are in so much pain, and you hurt so deeply, that you can’t be exactly the same after someone you dearly loved passes from this plane of existence.

So the comments on Amazon and elsewhere that go along the lines of, “But, but, Cordelia is a shadow of her former self! And that’s not right!” have it all wrong.

Yes, Cordelia, when she starts out Bujold’s newest novel, may be seen to be lesser than she used to be. Her beloved husband is dead, and she’s been without him for three years. That can’t help but to have marked her…now, all she can do is go on (which, I note, is what Aral would want her to do), and try to do the best she can with the time she has left — which in Bujold’s universe could be another forty years, for all Cordelia knows.

Bujold characterized widowhood correctly, folks. You might not like what being a widow has done to Cordelia — mind, if you asked Cordelia prior to the start of GENTLEMAN JOLE AND THE RED QUEEN, she’d probably tell you she doesn’t like it, either — but Cordelia’s feelings and demeanor are accurate. Much of Cordelia’s fire is now hidden, because the loss of Aral, her husband, is just that profound…and even though she’s quite happy to be with Oliver after a while, Oliver is still not Aral, so not all of Cordelia’s fire comes back.

I understand this, and I hope it’s not just because I, too, am a widow who lost a dearly beloved husband.

Anyway, GENTLEMAN JOLE AND THE RED QUEEN is an unabashed science fiction/romance hybrid. I loved it, and thought it had depth, passion, wit, warmth, style, and great characterization.

But I can see where some people really would rather not see Cordelia so diminished (at least, before Cordelia decides to live again — and that decision, I might add, comes before she realizes Oliver is interested in her, much less they do anything about that interest). Because pain is hard to bear, even in a book…and Bujold is one of the best in the business at conveying that pain, even indirectly as through the excessively analytical Cordelia.

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**– Note: Shiny Book Review is now found at the domain shinybookreviews.com — with an -s after review — as our old domain name was bought by someone else.  If you’re following SBR, please make sure to follow it as shinybookreviews with the -s. We now return you to your regularly scheduled blog, already in progress…

Free Novella Promo Ongoing, and Other Stuff

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Folks, today is my thirteenth wedding anniversary.

On this day in 2002, Michael B. Caffrey and I married, in front of a small group of family and friends. At the time, we didn’t know we could write together, and the Elfyverse wasn’t even on the horizon. (I was, however, writing CHANGING FACES, in earlier draft form.)

It’s because of the deep love I shared with Michael that I’ve continued to keep our writing alive, as best I can. Whether he started it or not, it’s all come down to me…and I keep my promises.

Especially to my husband.

This is why I decided last week, when I knew I’d be able to get the two stories up (“To Survive the Maelstrom,” and “Columba and the Cat,” both novellas), that I’d put our co-written novella “On Westmount Station” up as a free e-book in honor of that love. (It will be free until the end of June 27, 2015. So do go grab it, while you still can get it for nothing.)

Note that I added subplots here. Wrote a good half of it, in fact. But I wouldn’t have done this without what Michael left behind…and I think Michael might just like what I’ve done, even though had he lived, I would never have touched his stuff unless he’d asked.

Now I need to talk about something else…something that has worried me for quite some time. Especially as it was something near and dear to Michael’s heart as well.

You see, as a science fiction and fantasy writer, I’ve watched for months — nay, years — as our community continues to eviscerate each other. Some of this is over the Hugo Awards (who should nominate, and why); some of it is much deeper and far more worrisome.

I have friends in the Sad Puppies community, those who believe the Hugo Awards should be nominated on by all SF&F fans willing to pay the WorldCon membership fee.

And I have friends in the traditional publishing community, those who mostly believe the Hugo Awards have been tainted because the Sad Puppies (and Vox Day’s unrelated group, the Rabid Puppies) decided to get into the mix.

I have continued to stand in the middle of this mess, as I am convinced that Michael would’ve also done the same thing.

That being said, I have more sympathies with the Sad Puppies than not. I think if you have read SF&F stories, and you’ve grounded yourself thoroughly in what’s available (including the newest releases from all the various publishers, including small presses and indies), you have a right to nominate if you want to pay the WorldCon membership.

I also want to point out that neither the Sad Puppies nor even the Rabid Puppies have said anything bad to me at all. They seem to respect my principled stance. And I appreciate that.

Whereas I’ve lost at least one good friend from the traditional publishing community, all because I had the temerity to support my friend Jason Cordova as he’s been nominated for the John W. Campbell Award.

I can’t do anything about that, though I hope down the line my friend will realize I’m the same person I’ve always been.

Look. I, personally, would’ve tried to get Katharine Eliska Kimbriel nominated, if I had my druthers. I think her book SPIRAL PATH is outstanding; by far the best YA book I read in 2014, and by far the best book I read in any genre in 2014. Period.

But she gained no traction, partly because her book was put out by the author’s consortium Book View Café.

I think this is a travesty.

I also would’ve tried to get Emily St. John Mandel’s book STATION ELEVEN on the ballot. It is an excellent post-apocalyptic novel that actually is inspirational in spots, and contains some dark but welcome humor amidst the gloom.

Note that Mandel was an indie author for a time, and only now is breaking through to traditional publishing.

Both of these books deserved to be on the Hugo Award ballot.

There are other authors I support, and support strongly, including Stephanie Osborn and Jason Cordova. (I like his short stories in particular. But MURDER WORLD is also good, though very violent as you’d expect due to it being a Kaiju novel.) My friends at Twilight Times Books, including Chris Nuttall, Dora Machado, Scott Eder, Dina von Lowenkraft, Heather McClaren, and Aaron Lazar are interesting writers who give full value for the money spent on their books.

And that’s just a start of the authors I support. Because I’ve maintained an avid interest in Kate Paulk, Sarah A. Hoyt, Amanda S. Green, Mrs. N.N.P. Light, E. Ayers, Sharon Lee and Steve Miller, Julia London…the list goes on and on.

Why is enjoying all of these disparate authors’ work a bad thing?

Folks, there are some very good books out there being published by both indie and small press authors. (For the purposes of this conversation, Book View Café will be viewed as a small press.) These books should not be overlooked.

“Yay,” my friends in the Sad Puppies are saying.

And just because the Big Five publishing houses seem to be putting out more derivative stuff than ever, that doesn’t mean everything they put out has no value. (Witness Mary Robinette Kowal’s excellent Glamourist history series, which combines Regency Era historicity with excellent fantasy underpinnings along with a very fine and believable romance.)

“Yay,” my friends in the traditional publishing community are saying.

Why can’t we all get along? At least in part?

Because supporting each other, even as we all do slightly different things, is the best way to go.

I don’t blame my friends in the Sad Puppies for being upset. They’ve been vilified. Sometimes unfairly so. And they’re tired of it.

I also don’t blame my friends in the traditional publishing community. Some of them have been vilified. Sometimes unfairly. And they, too, are tired of it.

But a rapprochement does not seem possible between these groups.

Which truly saddens me. And would’ve deeply upset my husband.

I keep hoping that the SF&F community will remember that we do have more in common with each other than not. And that what we’re writing matters, even if it doesn’t seem like it at the time.

Anyway, my anniversary message for you all is a plea that somehow, the SF&F community will start pulling together again.

I believe that’s what my late husband would want. And I know it’s what I want, too.

#MFRWAuthor RT Day is Tomorrow…and Other Stuff

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Folks, tomorrow is Marketing for Romance Writers’ monthly ReTweet event. As I’m a member of MarketingforRomanceWriters.org (which you can find on Twitter as @MFRW_ORG), I’ve signed up to take part in something called a “Thunderclap,” which causes many Tweets and Facebook messages to go out at once as I understand it. (I’ve never taken part in a Thunderclap before, so that’s all I can tell you regarding this particular promotion.)

MFRW Author's Blog

Mind, I always support #MFRWAuthor RT Day — the hashtag works out to “Marketing for Romance Writers Author” and of course “RT” means ReTweet — because I find the Marketing for Romance Writers group to be quite beneficial. They help you to understand marketing, for one (as I’m sure you’d expect, considering their name and all), as they are fellow writers who’ve all walked — or who are now walking — the same path you are. MarketingforRomanceWriters.org tends to help indie or small press authors the most, as we need the most help because we don’t have major publishers behind us. But it’s a group that will help any writer if he or she is willing to acknowledge what they do in return…do check them out (they have both a website and a blog as well as a Yahoo Group), as they are an invaluable resource.

Aside from that, I’ve been editing, doing a spot of writing, and editing some more, as per usual.

I do have some semi-bad news to report as my newest short story was rejected by the Writers of the Future contest. I call this “semi-bad” only because I am happy I wrote the story; while I’d have appreciated it if WOTF had loved it the way I do, it’s OK that they didn’t. (You wouldn’t believe how many thousands of stories they get during each quarter.)

Aside from that, Jason Cordova has been mentioned as a possible choice for the John W. Campbell Award. I know Jason quite well, as I’ve worked with him over at Shiny Book Review for years (yes, I intend to write a review this week; why did you ask?), and I’ve read most of his output. His first novel, CORRUPTOR, came out in 2010, but didn’t sell enough to be considered a first, qualifying pro story — which means he’s still eligible to win the Campbell Award.

“But Barb,” you say. “Aren’t you eligible, too? AN ELFY ON THE LOOSE came out last April, so you should qualify…right?”

Well, therein lies a tale. I sold my first story, a co-written affair with my late husband Michael, to the BEDLAM’S EDGE anthology back in 2004 (edited by Mercedes Lackey and the inestimable Rosemary Edghill). That was definitely a qualifying pro sale under the rules, albeit a qualifying half-sale (as Michael receives credit for the other half, which made perfect sense to me at the time and still does).

My second pro-qualifying sale, I believe, was made last year after I sold a story to STARS OF DARKOVER (edited by Deborah J. Ross and Elisabeth Waters). (I say “I believe” because I can’t remember when SFWA raised their rates for a pro-qualifying story from .05/word to .06/word. Under the new SFWA guidelines, this story would not count.)

And that’s it as far as pro-qualifying sales go. Everything else I’ve written to date, including AN ELFY ON THE LOOSE, leaves me eligible for the Writers of the Future Contest, meaning I’m largely unknown. (Something I’ve said all along, mind.) But because of my one, early half-sale, I believe I am ineligible for the John W. Campbell Award.

Even if I were eligible, I’d be astonished if anyone nominated me.

Why? I’m not known. (Neither is my late husband Michael, despite my efforts to the contrary — and his while he was still here.)

Anyway, Jason’s much better-known than I am. He also has more short stories and novels (some co-written with Eric S. Brown) to his credit than I do, and has more on the way. He definitely deserves to be considered for the Campbell Award as he remains eligible, and I’d love to see him win it.

EDITED TO ADD: My friend Katharine Eliska Kimbriel’s novel SPIRAL PATH is eligible for the World Fantasy Award, the Andre Norton Award, the Nebula, the Hugo Award for Best Novel, and even the Newbery Medal. I reviewed SPIRAL PATH at SBR last September; I’d anxiously awaited it for over a year, and I was not disappointed. So please, do not forget about her and her excellent work…you could not ask for a better writer. (Or a better person, though awards do not measure that, usually.)

Back to my original post, already in progress…

Aside from that, to answer a few questions — Yes, my hand is better. (Thank goodness.) And yes, I’m definitely looking forward to Spring Training. (Go, Brewers, Go!)

If you have any questions for me, go ahead and ask in the comments…I’ll do my best to answer, as always.

Just Reviewed Stephanie Osborn’s “A Case of Spontaneous Combustion” at SBR

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Folks, it’s Romance Saturday. And long-time readers of my blog know what that means . . .

Yes, it’s true. I reviewed another romance again at Shiny Book Review (SBR for short, as always). This time, I reviewed Stephanie Osborn’s A CASE OF SPONTANEOUS COMBUSTION, book 5 in her Displaced Detective series.

A quick after-action report for y’all:

I enjoyed Stephanie’s latest very, very much. I thought the romance was stellar, and I agreed that something like this could very easily happen (though I have to admit that I took all the high-tech devices for metaphors).

Why?

Well, without giving too much of the plot away, a miscommunication between newlyweds Sherlock Holmes and Skye Chadwick-Holmes has caused major trouble in both their personal and professional lives. And while the failure of high-tech devices to work as operated is part of it (though there is an operator behind this failure; further reviewer sayeth not), the biggest problem between them is one that any newlywed couple can have.

“What’s that?” you ask.

Simple: it’s the problem of expectations.

While Sherlock Holmes is a fictional example (in both Arthur Conan Doyle’s version and Stephanie Osborn’s), the fact of the matter is that most newlyweds don’t see one another as real, live human beings with real, live failings. Someone like Sherlock or Skye has fewer failings than the average person, but both of them still have failings.

Instead, most newlyweds wear rose-colored glasses and want to believe their spouses are the absolute best person who ever walked the face of the Earth (save, perhaps, for Jesus Christ Himself, or Gautama Buddha, or maybe Confucius).

This is both a strength and a weakness, and it can be exploited by someone malicious, as Sherlock and Skye found . . . but if you can get past this, and see your partner as a human being with flaws and challenges, just like every other human being, it deepens and broadens your love considerably.

Look. My husband Michael was the most wonderful person I have ever met, bar none. But he was still a human being. He had flaws. (Not many, but he had a few.)

Did we have a newlywed blow-up? Not one as bad as Skye’s and Sherlock’s, no. But we did have a couple of misunderstandings, mostly because we were learning how to live with one another, and sometimes even with the best of intentions, you’re not going to be able to communicate with one another.

(Yes. Even two writers cannot always communicate with each other. Go figure.)

We worked around that. We found what worked for us. And that’s why our marriage worked.

In short, we met each other as real, live human beings with real, live failings. So we entered into our marriage with a more realistic expectation — granted, it wasn’t a first marriage for either one of us, so that possibly made a difference as well. (I’d say “probably,” but who knows? Not me.)

That doesn’t mean you don’t think the other person is wonderful. Believe you me, I did — and I still do.

But it means you see him as human and mortal. Not as a demigod. And that allows you to meet him on a field of equality, where you both have something to bring to the table.

Anyway, that’s why I enjoyed A CASE OF SPONTANEOUS COMBUSTION so much as a romance. (I already discussed the mystery and hard SF elements in-depth in my review, but figured the actual romantic elements warranted a wee bit more discussion.)

You will, too, if you love honest romance with heart between two intelligent, passionate, hard-working individuals; if you love Sherlock Holmes stories (as brought to the modern-day); if you love hard SF along with your romantic mysteries; or if you love just-plain-good writing.