Barb Caffrey's Blog

Writing the Elfyverse . . . and beyond

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#MondayMotivation: Write for You

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Folks, I’m going to take a time-out on my book promotion activities with regards to CHANGING FACES (if you want a copy, just follow the pages backward and you’ll be able to get one) and talk about one of the things that motivates me, it being Monday and all.

So, without further ado…what motivates Barb Caffrey as a writer?

So many things, actually. I want to tell stories with heart, that matter, that feel real, that have empathy, that maybe shed light on the human condition in new ways…of course, all of that sounds quite profound, doesn’t it?

Really, I write for me.

(Picture my big, evil grin here.)

Seriously. I write for me. I’ve done this since I was small, on and off…I wanted to read stories that I didn’t see anywhere, but knew had power and resonance. And the only way to read those stories, under the circumstances, was to find a way to write them myself.

I think a lot of writers are that way, actually. We have a need to read stories that aren’t out there yet. We get a germ of an idea, and we keep going until the idea is finished.

Yeah, it seems to take me longer than some novelists to finish my ideas. (If I had to judge myself against my friend Chris Nuttall, for example, and how fast he can write a novel, I’d quail at ever writing another word.) But I’m not the only one out there who takes a bit of time with a concept to get it right.

For example, I know two writers very well who have had to take long periods of time to finish a novel, albeit for different reasons. In one case, my friend needed to take time out for health concerns, but she had a third novel in her in a series and she wanted to tell it. It took her a number of extra years to do this, but she didn’t let her health concerns defeat her; in the end, her novel was published, to wide acclaim, and now there is hope that she’ll have a fourth book (or at least novelette) in the series available soon.

In the other, my friend tried for years to get his novel to come clear for him, but for whatever reason it didn’t quite feel right. He published several other things, including a couple of acclaimed short stories and several co-written novels along with some other solo works, but he kept coming back to this particular novel because he needed to tell that story and wanted to get it right. And now, that book is out, and he’s got a contract for a couple more in the series, with readers saying, “More, please…” and not understanding he has a day job.

But I digress.

Or am I?

This is Monday Motivation, after all, and me talking about two of my friends and how they’ve persisted in telling the stories they need to tell does matter. They didn’t give up, and they got out books that readers love, that are helping to build their names and careers, and are continuing on with their efforts to write more stories that they absolutely have a burning need to tell.

Good for them.

I know I have tried to do that, too. The Elfy novels took over ten years to find a publisher, but I didn’t give up. CHANGING FACES went through at least five major revisions and a late-round revision and updating I’ve gone into multiple times in the past year before it finally came out earlier this month, over fourteen years after it was started.

See, if you have a story that is inside you, you have to tell it. Or you aren’t being true to yourself.

So write for you. Tell that story. Don’t give up, no matter how long it takes, nor how many revisions you need to go through, nor even whether it seems like it won’t matter ’cause sales aren’t brisk and you aren’t making a dent.

Do it anyway.

Do it for yourself.

Written by Barb Caffrey

February 13, 2017 at 11:21 am

Hope: Just Do It

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It’s Sunday, and I was in need of spiritual sustenance. So I started thinking about hope, and its necessary qualities.

See, when you’re down, it’s hard to believe that anything matters. Life has given you a bunch of lemons, sour ones at that, and your attempts to make lemonade out of them don’t seem to be working…and it’s hard to believe in hope.

But you have to, because that’s when you need hope the most.

There’s a reason that hope was in Pandora’s Box. That one thing can make the difference between success and failure, because it reminds you that it’s all right to fail once in a while, just so long as you get up again.

It’s because of hope that I keep writing.

I realize that hope alone is not enough. But if I believe I have a good story idea, and do my best to flesh it out, I can use that hope and weld it to my will and work ethic to get something done.

I know this works. Because today, finally, after several weeks of illness and frustration, I did what was necessary and finished up my final edits with regards to my novel CHANGING FACES. My publisher has the file now, and aside from proofreading the PDF advance reader copy when it comes out (I’ll keep you posted on that), my work is now complete.

While I was feeling poorly, it was very hard to hope that I would be strong enough to do what was required. But I held on to my hope that I would do it, and I did it.

So that’s why the title above.

You need to believe in hope, because without hope, it’s nearly impossible to believe in yourself.

If you remember only one thing today, believe in this: Hope. Just do it. (For me. Please?)

Written by Barb Caffrey

January 22, 2017 at 5:53 am

Keep Trying, No Matter What

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Folks, the above title — “keep trying, no matter what” — is my personal philosophy.

But sometimes it’s much harder to do that than others. When that happens, I have to realize that I’m human, fallible, mortal, all that…and try again the next day, and the day after that. And the day after that, etc.

What’s caused me to write this blog at this time is very simple. I’ve struggled now for about a month with an illness that started as a cold and flared into something akin to bronchitis. My asthma is acting up, and my energy is much lower than it should be.

I try to be positive, as much as I can, but I’m not into this nonsensical “happy happy joy joy” stuff, either. I am a realist. Right now, being a realist, but also being optimistic, means I have to say, “OK, today I can’t do much. But tomorrow, if I am careful, I can do more…so I will be as careful as I can.”

Of course, this isn’t the only thing I’ve got to deal with. I have a number of physical limitations that I deal with daily that I work around, including bilateral carpal tunnel syndrome, arthritis bad enough in my back and knees that I walk with a cane, and more.

But I get up every day, and I deal with it the best I can. I try to think about what I can do. Not what I can’t. Because thinking about what I can’t do is self-limiting and self-defeating.

And thinking about what I can do is life-affirming. It reminds me that as bad as things can be, as lonely as I am and have been since my husband Michael died, there’s still something I can do that’s creative and fulfilling.

Besides, something in me says about writing, editing, and music, “Yes, you should do it.”

Why? Well, it seems to me that even if the world seems against me, even if no one else seems to care, I have to do what’s inside me or I’m not being my best self.

Why does that matter? Well, as a creative person, I try hard to be my best self. It’s where the words come from, I think…or maybe the music of the words, if my late husband was right. (Michael, as you might recall, believed that I thought music first, and then only translated those musical notes and chords into words. And who am I to say he was wrong, especially as I do compose some music as well?)

I want to be attuned to whatever it is that makes me a creative person. It may not be easy to be creative. (In fact, it’s often as difficult as all get-out.) But I know who I am, and I want to keep doing whatever I can to maximize my talents and abilities the best I can.

So, the journey has been tough. (That I’m still struggling, due to the recent illness, to concentrate well enough to wrap up the last little bits for CHANGING FACES so I can turn it in to my long-suffering publisher and get it placed firmly on the schedule drives me batty, too, I must admit.) It probably will not get much easier, either.

But I will do it. I will get up every day, and keep trying.

No matter what.

See that you do the same.

 

Written by Barb Caffrey

January 18, 2017 at 6:12 pm

#MondayMotivation: Figure Out What You’re Best At…

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Folks, it’s time for a Monday Motivation post. (And as I’m still — somewhat, anyway — on Twitter, I decided to use the hashtag in the title. For my sins, I guess.)

When you were young — or at least, younger, as most of us do not enjoy pointing out that we’re not as young as we used to be — your teachers, mentors, and even your parents used to say, “Figure out what you’re best at, and do it.”

But how do you do that, exactly? Especially if you’re a creative type, when creativity isn’t exactly understood?

Maybe this is where Malcolm Gladwell’s book OUTLIERS holds a few of the clues. (I reviewed this book a while back at Shiny Book Review — yes, I do plan on writing a review or two this year, thanks for asking — and I’ve never forgotten it.) Gladwell insists that to become an expert at your field, you need approximately 10,000 hours of hard work to get there. (And even more time than that to stay there, improve upon your expert abilities, and keep going at that high level after that, no doubt.)

The way I view this has to do with persistence, otherwise known as ramming your head into the wall over and over and over again until the wall falls down. It’s not an elegant solution, but it’s the only way I know to get things done.

So, when you get a story idea, or an idea for a poem, no matter how outrageous it seems, you should write it down as best you can. (If I’m pressed for time or tired or ill or all of the above, as I’ve been lately, I try to write it down in prose note format — that is, whatever I get, I write it down, sans dialogue, sans much in the way of description unless it’s absolutely essential, so the idea is not lost.) Even if you can’t do anything with it today, even if you can’t do anything with it next week either, it’ll still be there, waiting for you, when you can look at it again and develop it.

I know this method works, because I’ve had at least four stories that I’ve developed after writing them down in prose note form…and in two cases, I got halfway into the story, then had to put it aside for six months to a year before returning to it.

(What can I say? I’m like a dog with a bone. I have to finish what I start, no matter how long it takes. No excuses.)

So, to figure out what you’re great at, you need to keep working at your talents as much as you possibly can. Whatever they are, figure them out, keep going, refuse to give up on yourself, and give it your best shot. Don’t listen to anyone who tells you differently, either…because the only person who can tell you when it’s time to stop (if it ever is) is you.

Written by Barb Caffrey

January 16, 2017 at 6:23 am

The Art of the Questioner

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Sometimes, late at night, as I struggle to get words down, I ask myself the following question:

“Why, Barb, are you putting yourself through this?”

I suppose it’s because I feel I must. I enjoy writing, usually, even when it comes slowly and painfully. It keeps me amused, and focused, and allows me to question to my heart’s content.

Lately, I’ve been struggling especially hard because of whatever illness that’s laid me low this time. (I am starting to get a teensy bit better. But I say that while mentally crossing my fingers, as the last time I thought that, I was overly optimistic.) When I can’t concentrate, I can’t tell stories — period, end of discussion.

And when I can’t tell stories, I get completely frustrated, am incredibly hard to live with, and just am a major pain in the caboose.

(Hey, at least I admit it.)

But maybe this is missing the point a little bit. Because my questioning skills — whatever it is that makes me go, “Hm. What would happen if…” and then start writing down whatever comes next — are still there. Waiting for me to get healthy enough so I can use them; waiting for me to realize that even if I can’t write tomorrow, can’t write the day after that, I assuredly will write as soon as I possibly can because that is what’s inside me.

(My late husband taught me that, and he was right. As he usually was, but that’s another story for another day.)

So, maybe along with all the other things that make up my palette of writing skills and abilities, I should admit that the whole idea of questioning — or, as I put it in the title, the art of the questioner — is useful, in and of itself.

Because if you can’t question, you can’t possibly come up with a different scenario. And without different scenarios, you don’t do so well as a writer — especially not as a writer of science fiction and fantasy.

At any rate, the important thing to remember is that if you are having trouble writing today, that doesn’t make you a bad person. (I know that’s blindingly obvious, but it still needed to be said. Bear with me, OK?) Maybe you’re just stressed out. Maybe you’re sick. Maybe you’re exhausted. Maybe you’ve just had it with the world around you, and your body and mind and heart are all shouting, “Enough already!”

But whatever it is, you need to be kind to yourself. Understand that if you can’t write today, you will write tomorrow. And if you still can’t write tomorrow, you will write the day after that.

Because that is how you’re made. And that is what you’re going to do, come Hell or high water or whatever else, because you must do it or you’re not being your best self.

And in the meantime, keep asking questions!

Written by Barb Caffrey

January 10, 2017 at 5:51 am

Jason Cordova’s “Wraithkin” — and Music?

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Folks, it seems to be my week for stories, so let me tell you another one.

Years ago — I’m not sure how many, now — my late husband Michael told me, “Barb, I swear, you think in music, not words.” It was Michael’s contention that every time I wrote something, I was automatically translating it from the music I heard in my head.

I don’t know if that’s true or not, mind. But it was a poetic conceit he enjoyed, and as such, I appreciated it.

For some reason, that came to mind when I recently read an advance reader copy of Jason Cordova’s WRAITHKIN. Something about this book reminds me of a musical suite, and as I’m both a musician and a writer, I thought I’d use that to my advantage to try to explain why I like this book so much.

As I’m having no luck today uploading the cover, here’s the blurb instead:

How far would a man go to protect those he loved? For Gabriel Espinoza, the answer was simple: to the ends of the universe.

When a failed genetic test ruins his life, Gabriel and his fiancée prepare to run to a world where the laws aren’t as strict. There they could remain, in peace, for the remainder of their days, their love unspoiled by the strict regime which controls the Dominion of Man.

But Fate is a cruel, fickle mistress.

Torn from the only woman he had ever loved, Gabriel is prepared to burn the galaxy to get her back.

How far would a man go to protect the empire he was sworn to uphold? For Andrew Espinoza, the answer was a bit more complicated.

Torn between family loyalty and his duty to his country, Andrew must infiltrate a rich and powerful clan to determine if they are plotting against the Dominion of Man, but while undercover he discovers something far darker and more dangerous is lurking in the shadows, and he is the only man who can stop it.

But Fate is a cruel, fickle mistress.

How far will Andrew go to ensure the success of his mission?

One brother must save himself; the other must save the universe. But can either survive long enough to achieve their goal?

Now, here are my musically-related thoughts:

To my mind, WRAITHKIN is like a symphony in four parts. First, we have a slower, quieter, more intense first movement, where all the major themes are laid out. We meet Gabe and Sophie, see their love for one another, see it dashed after Gabe fails a genetic test (technically, he’s supposed to be sterilized right away, but his family is wealthy and powerful and keeps that from happening), and then they attempt to run away.

But Sophie has to pretend to be angry, and leaves her world in feigned grief and despair, meaning she goes out to a lightly defended colony world all but undefended. And when Gabe finds out that world has been attacked, and Sophie is missing, he vows revenge.

Then we have the second movement, which is more about Gabe’s brother, Andrew. Andrew is a spy, pure and simple, or if you’d rather, he’s a chameleon/mole. He has been trained to do what he does, but because of that, he submerges himself in other people’s roles — or, as this is my blog, the music of other people’s thoughts. So while the second movement moves faster, and hints at much, it uses similar themes as the first, but reversed and in retrograde…as befits a symphony, where many things must come together to make a greater whole.

The third movement is about how Gabe meets up with a bunch of guys in his position — they all have failed genetic tests, so are considered expendables, the lowest of the low. But they all want to serve…something. Or at least blow up stuff. So there’s training involved, and a bunch of gadgetry to use, and all the military SF trappings that are required are there for the use…almost as if there’s a template for the third movement.

Still, there are touches of humor. Pathos. Genuine characterization. Friendship, all unlooked for, and camaraderie, too…proving, as if there was any doubt whatsoever, that new music can be reminiscent of older music, but still pack a walloping punch.

Then comes the fourth movement. Andrew and Gabe must somehow complete their joint missions. Will they manage to do this, or won’t they? And what will be the consequences either way?

This fourth movement ties up all the themes of the book nicely, and lays hints for books to come…kind of like how if you’ve heard one symphony by Haydn or Brahms or Mozart, you want to go hear another one if you’re smart. They all have things in common, sure, but they’re all a little different and they all have much to teach you, much for you to appreciate, and much to savor, time after time…

Anyway, I liked Jason’s book quite a bit, in case you couldn’t tell. I think it has a little bit of everything. Slam-bang action. Romance. Family. Friendship. A big canvas, with a dystopian government to be alternately fought and defended…Jason’s writing keeps getting better and better, and this is a story to immerse yourself in fully.

That’s why I compared it to music, and I hope you’ll understand why, once you read it.

(And do go read it, will you? If you like milSF, you will love this book. And even if you don’t, but like big novels full of life and vigor, you will still love this book…)

Written by Barb Caffrey

December 16, 2016 at 1:55 pm

Monday Motivation: Transcending Fear

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Sometimes, the toughest thing to do as a writer is to get out of your own way.

As this is a Monday Motivation post — meaning I’m trying, deliberately, to give some inspiration to some writer somewhere who’s having trouble, and thinks he or she is the only one in the world who’s ever suffered this — I figured I’d talk about one of the biggest problems writers have: transcending fear.

“But Barb,” you say, “why write if it’s so hard to get past your fear of what’s going to come out?”

I’m not sure why I write, entirely, except that I need to do it. (Stories to tell and miles to go…all that.) However, because I want my writing to reflect as much “real life” angst and heartbreak and agony — along with love, compassion, and kindness, natch — I have to be willing to put everything I have, everything I am, onto the page. Without judgment, without second-guessing, without…I don’t know…Editor Voice getting in the way and saying, “You can’t do that.”

So there is some fear involved, with writing, if you do it right. You may not think about it much, at the time, but it’s still there, waiting for the moment to pounce.

Why?

We’re all bundles of ego and nerves, you see, and when you’re creating something new, it’s agonizing. Or exhilirating. Or nerve-racking. Or all of it at once.

And I’m not the only writer in the history of the world to think this, either. (Far from it.) Ralph Keyes thought so much about this idea, he wrote a book called THE COURAGE TO WRITE: How Writers Transcend Fear. In Keyes’ book, he discusses many different reasons as to why writers worry so much about what other people will think of them, their writing, their descriptions, their everything…and why, ultimately, you should listen to your own “inner voice” and throw all of that out, so you can get on with the job of writing.

Ultimately, Keyes’ point is that writers are gamblers by nature. We take risks, and we need to take them, because that is how we’re made. And one of those risks we take, every day we sit down to write, is in how what we write is going to be perceived.

It’s something I know, that fear. I push past it, because I have to do it; maybe it helps that unlike many of my fellow writers, I was trained as a performing musician, and thus have had to deal with my own nerves, and my own fears of failed performance in action, from early life onward.

But you, too, can get past your own fear. You can get out of your own way, and write…you can find a way to silence Editor Voice, at least for long enough to do what you need to do.

So, just for today, don’t be afraid of what comes out when you sit down to write. Give yourself room, and time, and watch the words flow out, no matter what they are.

That way, you get past your fear, and you do what you were born to do.

Written by Barb Caffrey

November 28, 2016 at 6:13 am