Barb Caffrey's Blog

Writing the Elfyverse . . . and beyond

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Reflections on Funerals — and Lives Well-Lived

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Folks, this last week was not an easy one around Chez Caffrey.

Why? Well, my aunt Laurice passed away suddenly last week, and this week was her funeral. I saw many of my relatives for the first time in years, talked with my cousins and others, and paid my respects to my aunt’s memory.

My aunt was a very good woman, you see. She lived her faith, and believed strongly in the goodness of others. She was a kind person, she cared, and I remember her fondly for many reasons — but most particularly because she went to many of my concerts, sitting proudly besides my parents (and sometimes my grandmother as well).

My aunt didn’t have to do that. But she loved music, and she loved family. Going to concerts for one of her nieces — or later, two of ’em, as my sister and I played in many groups together over the years — was not a hardship for her.

Remembering that helps to temper the grief I feel. And knowing that my cousins have it far, far worse than I do — as do their own kids, no doubt — doesn’t help much.

Grief shared is supposed to be grief halved. And maybe it is. But when you first lose someone special, you can’t feel that your grief has been halved, because the grief is so overpowering, even half of it feels like more than you can bear.

Still, we all are born into this life knowing we’re here for a short time. It’s what we do while we’re here that matters; those actions will live on in others, and help to keep our spirit and memories alive.

If you think about it, a person’s spirit and the memories you shared with that person is vitally important. Because it’s those things that determine how you think about them, how often you think about them, and what you do when you think about them…

My aunt was a special woman. She cared about others. I’m glad that I remember that, and will do my best to honor her memory in the best way I possibly can…by caring about others, and thinking about her while I do it. (I think she’d like that.)

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Written by Barb Caffrey

March 24, 2017 at 7:30 pm

Sunday Reflection…about CHANGING FACES?

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Folks, over the last month or so, I’ve told you a lot about my new novel, CHANGING FACES. I’ve told you some of what I was about when I wrote it, and about my process in writing it, and about all sorts of other stuff…but as it’s Sunday, I thought I’d tell you the real reason I kept going.

After my husband Michael died in 2004, I was absolutely devastated. (I think everyone who regularly reads my blog knows this.) For a while, I didn’t recognize myself, at all…I was in so much pain, I could not create, could not write, could not play music, and saw no purpose to my life at all.

In the middle of 2005, one of my good friends asked me to come to Kansas City for a convention, ConQuesT. I had another friend offer to pay for my expenses while I was there; she and her family put me up in her house. It was the first time I’d tried to go that far away since Michael died, and because I was worried about the length of the drive, I took the Amtrak train from Chicago.

Little did I know that doing that would change my life. But it did.

I went to the convention, stayed with my friends, talked with my other friend (who was also at the convention), met some writers, all that. I felt a little better, being around people who were more like me; they didn’t see me as inherently flawed, inherently broken, or inherently irredeemable, just because my beloved husband was dead.

But that was not what changed things. (I’m getting to that, trust me.)

On the way back to Chicago, I met a minister and his wife. His name was Reverend Evans, and was an older black gentleman. He told me about his life, and his work, but mostly listened to me as I told him about everything going on — my frustration, pain, anger, rage, all that. And about how I couldn’t write, but had two novels in progress — ELFY, and CHANGING FACES. And that I wondered if there was any reason, any reason at all, I was still alive.

Rev. Evans could’ve easily thrown platitudes my way. But he didn’t.

Instead, he said that God is love, and that I knew that, because I’d seen it. Reflected in the eyes of my husband, for one; and in every word I wrote, and had ever written, for another.

This all made sense to me.

And he talked a great deal about CHANGING FACES. He said he thought I was still here to finish it. Because the world needed to know that we all need love. Regardless of race, creed, sexuality, gender preference, love is what matters.

And finding love, reflecting that love, is what’s most important.

But believing in yourself, and your talents, is also important.

Why?

Because that’s how we best enhance the Godhead.

See, our creativity comes from the Higher Power, and as such, when we are creative, we are reflecting that love and faith…and it gives back to the universe, which gives back to us.

I view talking to Reverend Evans as one of the most pivotal moments of my life. He reminded me that I still had things to do. And that even though Michael had been embraced by God/dess, and was no longer here for me to embrace, I could still be a testament to that love, so long as I kept trying.

And I’d like to think that in getting ELFY published (albeit in two parts, as AN ELFY ON THE LOOSE and A LITTLE ELFY IN BIG TROUBLE) along with CHANGING FACES, I have done some of what I was put here to do.

*****

There are two guest blogs I’d also like to point you to, before I go. The first is new today, and is up at Kayelle Allen’s blog…it’s about writing bisexual characters. (Or at least a bisexual character.)

Here’s a bit from that:

Now, as to why (Elaine) still couldn’t accept herself as gender-fluid easily? Well, as a society, we’re only beginning to learn about people who don’t always feel male or female. Sometimes they feel one way, sometimes another, maybe a third time they have a mix of both traits. Gender preference is not the same thing as sexuality; not by a mile.

So, Elaine has dated women and men. She sees the worth of a person and is not automatically attracted only to one sex. In a way, Elaine isn’t attracted by anyone, sexually. She’s only attracted mentally and emotionally, and then, much later, sex comes into the picture. But that’s not that strange, considering she’s a scholarly sort. She can see into a person, and evaluate who that person is, in a way most people don’t. She doesn’t even think to do this because how she views people is part of who she is.

Ultimately, love is love. Who you love is far more important than what gender your love happens to be. Seeing a person’s soul, seeing a person’s heart, seeing a person’s worth, is far more important than whether that person is straight, gay, bisexual, or Martian.

Obviously, I believe this. (So did Reverend Evans. So did my late husband, Michael.)

And the second is an interview with Mayra Calvani; here’s a bit from that about my favorite authors (hint, hint — I mention Katharine Kimbriel, Jason Cordova, and Chris Nuttall here, so do tell your friends):

First, Lois McMaster Bujold is one of the best writers working today. She combines humor, scientific expertise, world building, romance, characterization, heart, and much more in a package that is incredibly appealing. She’s considered one of science fiction and fantasy’s modern masters by many, and for good reason.

Second, the work of Katharine Eliska Kimbriel is phenomenal. She has written three hard SF books in her Chronicles of Nuala series, and three alternate history/fantasy books in her Night Calls series. They are all excellent books with great writing, wonderful characterization, world building to spare, humor that arises from the characterization…just can’t say enough about her books. (And that she isn’t as well-known as LMB just vexes me. Writing of this quality should be celebrated far and wide, methinks.)

Third, I’m fond of Linnea Sinclair. She combines romance and SF in a way I find very appealing.

Fourth, my early mentor, Rosemary Edghill, writes exceptionally well in a wide variety of genres, from detective stories to Regency romance to urban fantasy (and beyond). The way she uses language is wonderful, and I always learn from her work, whenever I pick it up. (It’s like meeting an old friend.)

“But Barb,” I hear you protest. “What about the male authors?”

Oh, I have a number of favorites there, too. Robert A. Heinlein, Stephen R. Donaldson, David Weber, Dave Freer, Eric Flint…and don’t discount my friends Chris Nuttall or Jason Cordova, either. (Chris is so prolific, he’s put out at least ten books a year in various genres for five years running. Chris has gotten so good, he just might end up with one of those major awards like the Hugo or Nebula one of these years. And Jason can write anything…just give him time, and he’ll figure out a way to write it and sell a ton of books. That’s just how he is.)

So, there you have it.

Have a good Sunday, folks.

Written by Barb Caffrey

March 19, 2017 at 4:17 pm

Romance, “Changing Faces,” and Valentine’s Day

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Folks, as most of you know, Valentine’s Day rapidly approaches. V-Day is one of those times that men mostly hate, some women (such as myself) mostly hate as well, and most people in relationships can also dread because the social significance of the day is murky, at best.

See, we’re told over and over again to get our loved ones things. Lots and lots of things, whether it’s jewelry, Pajamagrams, teddy bears, or, if you have enough money to do so, a new car…all of those things are going to be hawked to you, or anyone in a relationship, as needed and necessary for V-Day.

The meaning of what love is, much less what Valentine’s Day should be about — the celebration of love, and those who dare to keep loving despite the longest of odds — seems to get more lost by the day.

I’d rather talk about what true love is.

True love is caring. Sacrifice for your partner, if needed (and sometimes, it will be needed, in one form or another). Compassion. Paying attention to what matters to you, and trying to alleviate the worst of what brings you down…that is what love is about.

Love is unselfish, too. It’s all about the other person, caring more for them than you do about your own self, and about making that other person happy.

Yeah, you should get something out of it. You should be happier, wiser, kinder, a better person, and certainly if your lover is not asexual, you should have a happy romantic life ahead of you for as long as you two are together on the face of this Earth…what you get, if you are smart, is a better and more meaningful life, all because you dared to care about someone else more than yourself, and threw out what society assumes is “normal” behavior.

So, how does my new novel, CHANGING FACES, come into this conversation? (Other than the fact that it’s a love story, that is?)

First, read the blurb, as that may help:

Allen and Elaine are graduate students in Nebraska, and love each other very much. Their life should be idyllic, but Elaine’s past includes rape, neglect, and abuse from those who should’ve loved her—but didn’t, because from childhood, Elaine identified as transgender.

When Elaine tells Allen right before Christmas, he doesn’t know what to do. He loves Elaine, loves her soul, has heard about transgender people before, but didn’t think Elaine was one of them—she looks and acts like anyone else. Now, she wants to become a man and is going to leave.

He prays for divine intervention, and says he’ll do anything, just please don’t separate him from Elaine…and gets it.

Now, he’s in Elaine’s body. And she’s in his. They’ll get a second chance at love.

Why? Because once you find your soulmate, the universe will do almost anything to keep you together—even change your faces.

You see, Allen loves Elaine more than he loves himself. He’s confused by her, because she’s trans, because she has gender-fluidity in her makeup, all that…but he loves her. Passionately. And he’ll do anything to stay with her…even become trans himself (albeit through the auspices of two meddling angels), if that is what it takes.

Why does Allen do this? Well, when you’re in love, you care more about the other person than you care about yourself. You want that other person to feel better, and be her best self…you want, in essence, to help that other person become whatever that person needs to be in order to feel good about herself, because doing anything less weakens your love and regard for your partner.

Note that you should never, never, never become less than you are, with someone you love. (I have to point this out, because I know it’s something I wish had been explained to me before I married young. Instead, I had to find out the hard way, and it took years before I found my late husband and realized what true love really was about. But I digress.)

Instead, you should become more yourself. More creative, if that’s what you are. Kinder. More compassionate. More aware of the world and what’s around you. More willing to fight suffering, even if all you can do is give someone a handkerchief when she’s crying and wish you could do more…

You should care, in other words.

No matter how hard it is, no matter how difficult it seems, so long as you and your partner both care, and try, and communicate, and are willing to keep caring and trying and communicating, you have a shot.

(But see what I said before about the limitations of love, especially if you’re with someone who doesn’t care about you…that is the type of person who is only about materialism or what you can do for him/her, and should be avoided at all costs.)

Anyway, I think anyone — straight, gay, lesbian, transgender, gender-fluid, or Martian — should enjoy CHANGING FACES if you enjoy romance at all. It has a fantasy element (how not, me being me?), is quirky (again, me being me, you have to expect that), and it has music and musicians and all sorts of good stuff…but the main thing to remember is, it’s about love. Communication. Compassion. Self-sacrifice. Honesty. And hard work.

Because without compassion, self-sacrifice, honesty, communication, and hard work, love isn’t worth very much. But with them? It’s priceless.

Guaranteed.

Written by Barb Caffrey

February 10, 2017 at 5:51 am

Out Now in e-book: Changing Faces

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Folks, it’s been a long time coming, as most of you know, but my third novel, CHANGING FACES, is now out as an e-book and is available at Amazon. (Further links will be added as they become live; there will be a Barnes and Noble link later, and possibly one at AllRomance/OmniLit as well.) And best of all, the book is priced at only ninety-nine cents for the first week or so!

So, without further ado, here’s the links:

Amazon:

And in case you want a few sample chapters, here’s a link to that:

http://www.twilighttimesbooks.com/ChangingFaces_ch1.html

Now, because it’s important, I want to say a few things.

First, I’m glad that I have good friends in the writing and editing community and appreciate the support I’ve received during the last tumultuous year or so.

Second, I hope that CHANGING FACES, a book about a couple in love that looks “normal,” but actually isn’t as the feminine half of the couple, Elaine, is gender-fluid and identifies as transgender, will help spread some light and understanding about #LGBT individuals.

See, people are people. They want love, affection, understanding, all that. The gender and sexuality really doesn’t make that much difference, when it comes to these universal truths.

But it’s hard, sometimes, to make things work in a romance, even if you both are what society understands. We make mistakes, we people, and it’s hard to communicate even when you desperately love someone and want only what’s best for him or her.

Allen and Elaine’s story of love, frustration, misunderstandings, major changes, and ultimately more love and better understanding, was deeply personal to me. I hope it will matter to you as well, and that you will see it as a transcendent love story that matters to every living human soul.

Because that’s how I see it.

Written by Barb Caffrey

February 8, 2017 at 8:09 pm

Try a Little Kindness

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Folks, I want to tell you a story that means a great deal to me.

Years ago, when I was in high school and attending religious education, there was an exercise our teacher wanted us to do. We were given slips of paper with people’s names on it, and had to write something kind about the person we’d drawn. We were not to identify ourselves, and we had to use our own, personal knowledge to give them a heartfelt letter that would give this other person strength and peace and hope.

Needless to say, as a burgeoning writer, I felt this a nearly impossible task.

I don’t remember much about what I said about the person I drew. I barely knew him, but tried to give some sort of comfort…that much I’m sure of. I tried to show him that I had seen who he was, and what he was about, and that I admired it. (Because that much was the truth, and I could say that without giving any offense or feeling too squicky inside myself.)

What I do remember is the message I received, from a wholly different person in the class. She drew me as all the colors of the rainbow. (Maybe this is what led, eventually, to the formation of Michael the Rainbow Man in CHANGING FACES, but I digress.) She showed me as artwork, and then mentioned five or six things she really liked about me that were all true — but weren’t at all how I felt about myself at the time.

Why? Well, my parents were in the process of divorcing. (This was about a year before they actually split up, if I remember right.) I was unsettled, at best, and trying to hold to an even keel when I felt nothing but chaos all around me.

I’ve never been good at projecting things I don’t feel. But what I have been good at is trying to remember that we’re all people, and we all deserve kindness and respect. That is what this young woman in my class saw, and that’s what she drew on the paper with the pastel rainbows.

That work of kindness has stayed with me to this day. The young lady who drew this didn’t have to do any of that. She could’ve written something facile, something about me as a musician (because I was already known for it), or something about my poetry (as I’d won some sort of minor award for that), or about me being a Brewers fan…she could’ve picked a number of things, but she didn’t do that.

Instead, she did her best to represent me in the way she saw me. She was kindness itself when I needed that. And she reminded me that I can’t see myself the way others do; it’s impossible.

There are a couple of different inferences to be drawn, here.

First, we have to treat others with kindness, dignity, and respect. It’s imperative. Whether you believe in the Golden Rule, the Rule of Three, or are an atheist, we are all human and we all deserve to be treated the way we, ourselves, want to be treated. (This is harder with some people than others, and sometimes we’re going to fail. But keep trying.)

Second, if we treat others with kindness, that will be remembered. It will help the other person in ways you can’t possibly imagine. And that ripple effect does more to resist the vagaries of time, space, and indignities more than anything else can possibly do.

In other words, I hear a lot about “resistance” these days because of the Trump Administration, and that’s fine — I, personally, believe that everything that any presidential administration does should be sifted with great care, and in this particular case, I believe more care should be applied than most with the sifting. But if you don’t treat others with kindness, respect, and dignity, you are doing the work of people who want to tear you down for them…and that just won’t do.

So, please…remember to be kind. Always. Try your best. Treat your friends with care. Help others as you can.

And don’t do the work of your enemies for them. (Please?)

Written by Barb Caffrey

February 4, 2017 at 11:51 pm

Turning Bad Circumstances into Good Ones

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It’s Friday the 13th, so I thought I’d talk about how to turn bad circumstances into good ones. (Or, at least, into better ones?)

“Why, Barb, did you pick Friday the 13th for this blog?” you ask, wearily.

Well, the answer is simple. On Friday the 13th, everyone worries more about accidents, superstitions, odd events…and what’s odder than turning a bad circumstance into a good one?

Yeah, I realize that’s not how most people think of it. Instead, we think about the negative stuff going on all around us. And it’s very easy to find…we all have stuff in our lives that could be, shall we say, improved.

And it’s hard to think about improving things, when everything seems against you.

I’ve had my back to the wall at least ten times in my life. It’s not pleasant. Every time, I’ve thought whatever was going on would break me. I’ve been through deaths of loved ones (including my beloved husband Michael), divorces before I even found Michael at all, at least five major moves, job losses, and economic hardship, and I haven’t enjoyed any of it.

(If I did, though, wouldn’t you wonder what I was about? I would, in your place. But I digress.)

What you have to do when you’re at a breaking point is to keep going. Remember that you didn’t ask for this to happen. You are just doing the best you can. Maybe you’ve made mistakes, but we all have…the trick is not to give up on yourself and not to give up on your talents, no matter what is stacked against you.

And as bad as dealing with horrific events (like deaths of loved ones in particular) can be, there actually is one positive side to it that I’ve found.

Ready?

I realized  that going through all the negative experiences in my life has actually sensitized me to other people’s suffering. And along the way, I found that being able to help someone else, even if it’s only a little bit, did two great things: It helped the other person realize they were not alone, and it also made me feel better as a human being to reach out and help someone who truly needed it.

Maybe that’s why we have things like “Do unto others as they do unto you” (the Golden Rule). It’s not just that we want to be treated well; it’s that we need to treat others well for our own well-being, and to become our best selves.

Anyway, the point of this blog is, sometimes life just stinks. There are things you have to do sometimes that you never wanted to — that you never even conceived of, when you started out as a young adult — but you have no choice.

When you’re at one of those places, step back, and try to realize that you are not alone. You can come back from whatever it is that you’re facing with time, courage, fortitude, will, and effort. Best of all, you will be able to better understand yourself and others when you do…and I don’t know of any other way to turn a bad circumstance into a good one than that.

Musings on September and Mortality, Part 2

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Folks, last year I wrote this post about September and mortality. My husband Michael died in September of 2004, and I miss him even worse during September than all of the other months put together — though that seems almost impossible, considering how much I miss him all the time.

Anyway, that blog is still a good read, but I wanted to update it a little. Maybe talk more about what I loved about my husband — how he lived, and what he enjoyed doing, and what he thought life was about — as those memories are among the best I have. And for some reason, I realized I’d never put them together quite in this way…thus, this blog.

So, here’s a few of the many wonderful things I remember about my husband, in no particular order:

Michael believed that if you were going to do something, do it with all your heart and soul. He committed to things, in his own quiet, wry way, but did so in such a fashion that you had to know him very well to realize just how passionate he was about the things that mattered to him.

He was self-deprecating to a fault, loved puns, loved how words went together, and helped many writers codify their thoughts.

Michael believed in a Higher Power — he called it “Goddess,” but said if someone else wanted to call it “God,” “Deity,” or “Hey, You, Big Guy in the Sky,” it didn’t matter to him. He wasn’t sure what the Goddess was doing all the time, but he firmly believed that living the best life he could had led him to me…and me to him, in turn.

Michael believed in blessings, and in miracles. (He thought our marriage was both.)

Michael pretended he didn’t care much about professional sports, but he actually did. He loved baseball, football, and could tolerate basketball (mostly because he admired both the athleticism and erudition of Kareem Abdul-Jabbar). He’d been into running, as a kid, and if he hadn’t developed arthritis in both knees early in adulthood, he’d probably have continued to run until the end of his life. (As it was, he enjoyed brisk walks, using his wooden shillelagh on days he felt he needed additional support.)

Michael loved music. All forms of music. His favorite group was Kitaro, which plays a type of Classical fusion music infused with Japanese and Asian themes. He also enjoyed Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, Cher, musical theatre, and Barbra Streisand.

Being married to an instrumental musician who couldn’t sing a lick was new to him, mind. But he loved to hear me play. I played my five-piece suite for alto saxophone (alone), Creation, for him, and also the Paul Creston Sonata and some of the Ibert Concertino di Camera…but he probably liked the Alexander Glazunov Concerto the best.

Of course, Michael also heard me play the clarinet many times, too. There, I think he probably liked the Mozart Concerto the best, along with Saint-Saens and Poulenc and a number of other pieces. Mozart was his favorite, though, because of the clear and distinct melodic line.

And Michael adored writing. He spent much time on his stories, getting the universes  right, thinking about all the different permutations of this, that, and the other…he could be astonishingly meticulous on one hand, and then say, “What the Hell?” on the other and laugh.

Michael did love to laugh. Nearly everything could be funny, and, given time, he’d find a way to make even the worst situation seem much less bleak.

So, even though it’s September, and even though this is a very difficult and frustrating month for me in many senses (especially as CHANGING FACES is still not done, and that vexes me no end), I am doing my best to remember my husband Michael as he was. He was a living, breathing, thinking man who inspired me, encouraged me, and gave me a tremendous amount of love and support.

When I can see him, smiling, or maybe leaning over my shoulder saying, “Did you mean to say that? OK…,” I feel better. Because so long as I continue to live, at least part of him lives on…it might not be the part he expected, or I did, either, but it’s still here. I remember him, and remember his goodness and his worth and his humanity and the allness of him.

In short, Michael’s life mattered. And I will never, ever forget it.

Written by Barb Caffrey

September 12, 2016 at 1:04 pm