Barb Caffrey's Blog

Writing the Elfyverse . . . and beyond

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Holiday Blahs

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In a few days, most of the major end-of-the-year celebrations — religious and otherwise — will take place, before we head into 2023. I know this, but so far, I’m not feeling any excitement or encouragement regarding the holidays.

Maybe someone out there feels much the way that I do but doesn’t want to say anything because happy/happy joy/joy is expected from us at this time of year. If so, this blog’s for you…

Anyway, I don’t know what I expected out of 2022, but I didn’t find it. Quite a bit happened this year, but most of it wasn’t remotely what I wanted. (Ending my relationship — my long, long relationship — with the Racine Concert Band was one of those unexpected and unwelcome things.)

There were some positives, mind you. I sold two stories to anthologies, one of which is available now in FANTASTIC SCHOOLS HOLS. (I still can’t tell you about the other one but will once it’s allowed.) I made significant progress on a few longer stories, including the story that I hope will come out sometime early in the near year (this being “All the News That’s Fit…”), and edited at least twenty-five books, stories, and other literary-related things. I also continued to compose (by longhand, on music staff paper) and came up with some good melodies (the rest can wait until I have more time to flesh them out).

Plus, I continued to strengthen my friendships, and did what I could to help my family as I was able.

These are not negligible things, no matter how much they may feel like it right now.

Maybe it’s just the weather that’s got me down today. It’s cold, it’s been windy on and off, and it’s just a generally unprepossessing day. But I have errands to run, and stories to write (later, after I’m warm again), and visits to make…lots of things to do, and not enough time in which to do them, as per usual.

So, today, the view from Chez Caffrey is mixed. But tomorrow, who knows? Maybe it’ll be a whole lot better. (We can always hope for better. Nothing wrong with hope, as it helps get you through some very long nights.)

Written by Barb Caffrey

December 19, 2022 at 2:25 pm

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The Transformative Power of Empathy

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A few years ago, I wrote a few blogs about what I called “transformative powers.” The first one was about writing. The second was about music. And while I am unsure right now what I’d intended the third blog to be, originally, I now know what the third power is: It’s empathy.

Now, you’re probably asking yourselves, “Why? Why empathy? How does it transform anything?”

Well, when we understand someone else’s actions, that helps us to communicate with them — even when we don’t agree, at all, as to what they may have done. You must have empathy to try to understand, and you also have to risk the fact that you may find out some things you never wanted to know…but all of that is because of how empathy can transform your life for the better.

“But, Barb,” you protest. “If I’m finding out stuff I don’t want to know, how does that help?”

We have to be willing to risk all to gain all. We must believe that we can understand someone else, if we try. Otherwise, communication would be an impossibility, and harmonious relations — however you might like to define them — would be a myth. Society would definitely have not come into being, either, without someone having empathy at some point in the process.

Empathy can transform an enemy into an ally. It can also remake the world, slowly, one person at a time. That has value, even if you can’t always see it.

Personally, I think empathy transforms your life in two ways. One, it allows you to see, for a brief instant, into the mind’s eye of another person. Two, it points out that “here but for the grace of God/dess go I.”

See, we’ve all made mistakes. Some of us survive those mistakes and in the process realize we can help others not make the same mistakes we’ve made. Wanting to help others who we may not know very well in order to help them avoid some of the pitfalls that have messed up our own lives is what empathy’s all about.

If that’s not transformative, I don’t know what is.

Written by Barb Caffrey

December 5, 2022 at 3:28 am

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Working, Working…

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Folks, I thought I’d drop in a quick bloglet to let you all know I’m hanging in there.

Mostly, I’ve been editing a few different high-priority projects. (I’m also writing some music, and trying to figure out what comes next in my novel-in-progress Keisha’s Vow with whatever mental bandwidth I have left after editing and dealing with family concerns all day.) One is a nonfiction book. The other two are both anthologies; one is a multiple-author anthology, while the other is a single-author anthology.

Against the backdrop of work, work, and more work (and happy to have it, let me tell you), I’m preparing for the eighteenth anniversary of Michael’s death later this month, AKA “the saddest of sad anniversaries.” I always become more contemplative around this time of year; in addition, I wonder more as to how I’ve managed to live all this time without the love of my life standing beside me in a way everyone can understand.

(I have to put it that way, because I don’t believe Michael’s love went anywhere. I still feel his spirit, even now, almost eighteen years later. Because I knew him so well, and knew how much he loved me, I am able to continue on, though it is very difficult. But I digress.)

I’ve thought long and hard about many things, lately. Mostly, I’ve contemplated mortality, though it’s more along the lines of, “Is there still enough time for me to finish everything I’ve got in train?” (This comprises all editing projects, all musical compositions in progress, and of course all my writing projects.)

I don’t know the answer to that. Not to any of it. But I’ll keep trying, anyway, and hope that by putting one foot in front of the other — and by doing everything I possibly can every day — I’ll make progress.

Now, enough about me…what’s going on in your life? (Tell me about it in the comments, if you feel so kind. I get tired of shouting into the void, as the void never shouts back.)

Written by Barb Caffrey

September 8, 2022 at 3:22 am

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A Quick Writing Bloglet

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Folks, I just wanted to let you know I’ve sent out a 5500-word story to an anthology.

For the past three or four weeks, I’d been working on this. I knew the main characters right away–one man, one woman–and their respective situations. They have to make an alliance marriage to save both of their families from extinction, but they don’t know each other (the man knows of the woman, and knows she’s a female fighter/merc type), and the beginning of it all felt like setup to me.

I don’t know about you, but setting up a story for me is like pulling teeth. I want to get to the action. Or the romance. Or the suspense. Or drama.

In this case, just as the marriage vows are sealed, bandits are spotted heading for them. The man immediately defers to the woman (which she didn’t expect), as she has much more experience than he as he’s a scholarly type.

I don’t want to give the rest away, so I won’t (bad me), but I hope the anthology editor is going to love it.

I’m also working on restarting (yet again) KEISHA’S VOW and finishing up three edits (one nonfiction).

What’s going on in your lives?

Written by Barb Caffrey

August 29, 2022 at 4:49 pm

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Hard vs Soft Rejection (and why the difference matters)

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Jason goes into the differences between soft rejections (meaning, fix what’s wrong and send it again) and hard rejections. This is well-said and possibly the most succinct-yet-folksy way of describing the differences between the two. Listen to him. (And don’t give up.)

Jason Córdova

Getting a rejection letter is hard. Quite frankly, it’s one of the worst feelings a writer will go through in their career. That feeling of utter failure, the emotional kick to the stomach that your baby just isn’t good enough. The anguish and despair upon reading “Dear [[insert name here]], we regret to inform you…” Rejection letters are inevitable in this business and we, as authors, are expected to take that rejection letter and move on.

But… but what if… the rejection letter isn’t quite what it seems? In fact, what if the rejection letter is an invitation to resubmit said novel? The only problem is, nowhere in the letter does it say this. Wait, what? Where is the manual for this publishing business, and why is it wonkier than dating in high school? Why is the principal a werewolf? Who let a zombie teach history?!


Sorry. I digress.

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Written by Barb Caffrey

August 28, 2022 at 6:22 pm

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A Requiem for Willkomm’s Mobil

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Folks, one of my favorite places to go in Racine has closed as of June 30, 2022. That place was Willkomm’s Mobil station, which had a drive-thru, a pet wash, and a car wash. The drive-thru was extremely convenient, and I often got lottery tickets and small amounts of food, milk, or other items.

Now, why did this wonderful place close?

Partly, the expansion of Kwik-Trip’s gas stations in the Racine area is to blame. Kwik-Trip serves food, and though it doesn’t have a drive-thru or a pet wash, it has a car wash. Kwik-Trip stations, besides the food, are much comparable to any other gas station.

But partly, I fear, is because the owner of Willkomm’s Mobil felt he could do better with a Rocket Wash (where you get your car washed in two minutes or less via various automated processes).

We already have another Rocket Wash in Racine, and it’s also operated by the same owner. (We used to have another Willkomm’s Mobil station in that place, but he closed that and kept the Rocket Wash instead.) I don’t know if this area can sustain two Rocket Wash stores.

Anyway, I wrote to the owner about six weeks before the station closed. I told him that the clerks were very friendly, that I enjoyed going to Willkomm’s Mobil, that it was among my favorite places, and that I truly hoped he would not close the store.

While the automated form says the owner will respond to all comments, he didn’t respond to mine. (I wonder why. /sarcasm intended)

My feeling was that if Willkomm’s Mobil’s owner was willing to actually promote the drive-thru aspect, as it was the only drive-thru of its type in all of SE Wisconsin to the best of my knowledge (and assuredly the only one in Racine County), he would not have needed to close the store.

And if he’d been willing to do some minimal things like adding hot dogs or microwaved meals that were hot and fresh for people who walked into the store to get as an impulse buy, he also would not have needed to close the store.

Anyway, I drive by my favorite place, now shuttered forever. It angers me. It was one of the few places that helped me, as I could save my energy, talk with friendly people through the drive-thru, and get gas without having to worry about anything. If I was having a poor day with regards to energy, I didn’t have to get out of the car, and that in and of itself was a major blessing.

I hope everyone who worked at Willkomm’s Mobil station has found a better job. (Some were going to stay with the company in other capacities. Some weren’t.)

I wish I could write references for every single one of them, as I felt they all were kind-hearted as well as being good cashiers and overall knowledgeable people.

Thus, this post.

I wish I could write a requiem for Willkomm’s Mobil in music. As of yet, I can’t.

This blog will have to stand, at least for the moment, as the incomplete requiem for one of my favorite places, ever, to exist in Racine County.

Written by Barb Caffrey

July 7, 2022 at 2:30 pm

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Story Complete and Off to Anthology

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Folks, I promised I’d come back and let you know how my plan for writing this past week worked out.

I wish you could see the broad smile on my face, because for once I was able to write a story in about ten days. I had an idea for a few weeks before that, and did write down some prose notes; however, the story only existed in my head until I wrote everything down.

The story, as it stands now, is just under 4800 words. It’s off to the anthology’s editor now, and I’ll know what she thinks within a matter of days. She told me she was looking forward to it (as I gave her updates every time I wrote another 1K words, then when I finished it up), so I hope I haven’t disappointed her.

What this proves to me is, if I have enough time and thought and health, I can still write at a decent clip. (I took two days off, but otherwise wrote 1K or wrote/revised 1K every day last week.) Five days a week at 1K is 5000 words; 5000 words times 52 weeks is 260,000 words, which is roughly two novels and/or one novel, a novella or two, a couple of novelettes, and some short stories.

Now, why haven’t I been writing as much as this up until now?

Bluntly, I have had too many demands on my time. I’ve got ill family members to keep an eye on. I’ve also built a decent career as a freelance editor.

However, I’ve been looking for a way to write more for the past year. Now, I think I’ve found it; I have to do it when I either am just getting ready for the day, or before I edit late at night. Providing I have that block of time, I can edit and do whatever else is needful without wiping out all of my energy.

Now, will this work with the upcoming concert season with the Racine Concert Band? I sincerely hope so. But as always, it’s a work in progress…

Anyway, that’s all I know. Just figured I’d give y’all an update.

What’s going on with you and your writing? Or with your other creative pursuits? Let me know in the comments!

Written by Barb Caffrey

June 28, 2022 at 4:36 am

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Thinking Hard, Still…an Update

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Folks, I am still pondering, processing, or otherwise have much of my thinking ability engaged elsewhere. I think it still is because of the dual tragedies of the shooting in Buffalo at the supermarket by a white supremacist, and the bizarre awfulness that went into the Uvalde, TX, school shooting and its aftermath. (I will never understand what the Uvalde police thought they were doing there. Never.)

That said, I have a bit of an update.

I have written twenty-three bars of music, and I added 800 words to “Keisha’s Vow.” (I am now up to approximately 50K words, which is half of a standard novel for me, or maybe 2/3 of a short novel.) So I am being at least slightly creative, which makes me feel a bit better.

The other thought I had this week was this: We can’t live in fear all our lives. (Hey, I didn’t say it was an original thought, as many have had this thought before.)

None of us know the future.

This is perhaps our saving grace, as well as a source of immense frustration. We don’t know how our actions will change the future; we don’t know if they’ll change anything at all. (Who said “most lives are full of quiet desperation?” Henry David Thoreau, though I’m paraphrasing it.)

Still, we live. We all have to find our own purpose or reason for living. (As Lois McMaster Bujold’s character Cordelia Naismith Vorkosigan says, “Find your own meaning, because the universe surely isn’t going to supply it.” Best paraphrase from LMB’s book BARRAYAR.)

I also know that nearly everyone at any time has thought their time was the worst era to live in. The Regency Era had the French Revolution. The dawn of the USA had the US Revolution (needed and necessary to become independent). Then in the 1860s we had the Civil War (or the unCivil War, if you’d rather). In all cases, young men were dying (and a few young women, as there have always been some women fighters and nurses). In all cases, families were forever transformed.

So, this time to live — where we’ve seen wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and the Ukraine, where the 1970s had “stagflation” and drivers who could only fill up on alternate days depending on the last digit of their car’s license plate, and the 1980s had “greed is good,” and the 1990s had rampant unemployment, and the 2000s had the Great Recession and even more unemployment — maybe is nothing new, compared to previous eras.

Maybe every time to live is equally dangerous.

What I do know is, we have more education now than the Regency Era had. We have more information available now to the vast majority of people than at any time prior to the advent of the personal computer. We have instantaneous communication, which is good; we have lots and lots of folks who seem to enjoy being rude and obnoxious on the internet, which isn’t.

So, there’s no excuse for ignorance anymore. Maybe there never was.

Still. There’s a type of person who’d rather remain ignorant, who’d rather believe that his garbage doesn’t stink, who’d rather believe he (or she) is unique, precious, and everyone else is lower than dirt and deserves nothing at all.

I work against that type of person. And I hope you do, too.

Anyway, I’ll keep doing what I can to create. (You do the same, eh?)

Written by Barb Caffrey

June 16, 2022 at 8:15 pm

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Thinking Hard…

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Folks, the events of recent days — especially all of the various awful things such as the two people wounded while attending a funeral in Racine, WI, last week, and of course the distressing events of Uvalde, TX — have brought my creativity to a screeching halt.

I am thinking very hard right now, but unfortunately it doesn’t translate into creativity.

There are so many difficulties in this world right now, with the never-ending pandemic, the seemingly everyday violence of mass shootings, the war in Ukraine, the fact that we Americans can’t seem to talk to one another anymore, and that it seems impossible to build a life that’s better than our parents’ lives before ours.

As I’ve said before, I don’t have the answers. I just have questions.

My best guess as to when I’ll be able to write, or compose music, or do much creative work besides editing, is that it’ll probably still be a few more days to a few more weeks.

The last time I felt this stupid-stunned over everything was after the storming by the FBI of the Branch Davidian compound just outside of Waco, TX, back in 1993. 75 people died, including little kids. The FBI wanted to arrest the leader of the compound, David Koresh, but were unable to get to him. After 51 days, the FBI threw tear gas into the compound, which somehow started several fires.

Only nine people — nine — lived through that.

Once I got my creativity back, I wrote a piece I called “Lament.” To date, it’s the only one of my compositions that has been performed, albeit in practice, by anyone except for myself. (I write many things as solos for the clarinet or saxophone, so I can at least hear my own compositions played. I have written other larger-scale works, but not many.) It echoed exactly how I felt at the time, and it had a spooky eeriness I liked.

I don’t know what’ll emerge from me and my well of creativity once I finish thinking so hard. But I do know that eventually I will again create, and I hope on that day that someone, somewhere, will hear my music and think to themselves, “Wow. How did she sum up what I was feeling in music rather than words?”

(Maybe that’s too hubristic. If so, I’m sorry.)

My late husband Michael once said that it didn’t surprise him that when I was very, very upset, I composed music first, and only after that could I write in words. His view was that music was my first, best language, and that everything I wrote in words was translated from the music I heard first.

As I felt that rather poetic, even though he denied it and said it was just common sense, I never forgot it.

I do hope he was right.

Written by Barb Caffrey

June 7, 2022 at 5:51 am

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Read SF Giants Manager’s Important Words — Do It Today #MustRead

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Tonight, I read an exceptionally well-written article about gun violence from former Milwaukee Brewers player and current San Francisco Giants manager Gabe Kapler. He explored this topic through the issue of a moment of silence on the field before every major league baseball game, and points out that’s not enough.

Here is the article:

And a relevant quote:

When I was the same age as the children in Uvalde, my father taught me to stand for the pledge of allegiance when I believed my country was representing its people well or to protest and stay seated when it wasn’t. I don’t believe it is representing us well right now.

This particular time, an 18 year old walked into a store, bought multiple assault rifles and hundreds of rounds of ammunition, walked into a school with an armed resource officer and its own police district and was able to murder children for nearly an hour. Parents begged and pleaded with police officers to do something, police officers who had weapons and who receive nearly 40% of the city’s funding, as their children were being murdered.

We elect our politicians to represent our interests. Immediately following this shooting, we were told we needed locked doors and armed teachers. We were given thoughts and prayers. We were told it could have been worse, and we just need love.

But we weren’t given bravery, and we aren’t free. The police on the scene put a mother in handcuffs as she begged them to go in and save her children. They blocked parents trying to organize to charge in to stop the shooter, including a father who learned his daughter was murdered while he argued with the cops. We aren’t free when politicians decide that the lobbyist and gun industries are more important than our children’s freedom to go to school without needing bulletproof backpacks and active shooter drills.


When I see something as well-written as this, whether I agree with it or not — and here, I obviously do agree with it! — I try to pass the words along.

I realize there are people who regularly read my blog who will not appreciate this post. But I urge you to read Gabe Kapler’s words anyway, in the same way I read George Will’s writing or Max Boot’s, because while I don’t often agree with either Will or Boot, I appreciate how they use language to make their points.

One, final word: Gabe Kapler articulated all of this better than anyone I’ve yet seen. Read his important words.

Read them NOW.

Written by Barb Caffrey

May 27, 2022 at 7:14 pm

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