Barb Caffrey's Blog

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Mourning Ursula LeGuin

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Earlier this week, well-known science fiction and fantasy author Ursula K. LeGuin died at age 88. While this was a very long and well-honored life, most of the SF&F community is in some degree of mourning due to how influential LeGuin was on the entire field of SF&F.

Most people who have read any SF&F at all are aware of her best works, which include the Earthsea Trilogy, THE LATHE OF HEAVEN, THE DISPOSSESSED, and the gender-bending THE LEFT HAND OF DARKNESS, that deals with a planet where traditional gender roles do not apply and people can become male or female as the situation arises due to a type of estrus. But LeGuin also wrote poetry, short stories (in and out of SF&F), and any number of other things…and in some ways, she was primed from birth to become a writer.

Now, why do I say that? Well, her mother was a writer. Her father was an anthropologist. And she came from a well-read, well-educated household, with three siblings; all of them were expected from a very early age to reason and explain their reasoning to their intelligent parents, along with reading widely and being able to research nearly any subject.

All of these things — reading widely, being able to research, and being able to reason and better yet, explain your own reasoning — are important to writing. If you don’t read widely, you’re only rarely going to be able to produce anything of worth; if you can’t research new things, you can’t possibly explain them; if you can’t explain your reasoning, you can’t tell a story, because the story would ramble, meander, and perhaps wander off on tangents as it would not be properly set up in the first place.

LeGuin could and did all of those things. But her style, even from the first, was unusual. She wrote in a way that was both moving but also passive; she let the words speak precisely because of how they were stated, and let the reader interpolate a lot as to how people felt about whatever was going on in whatever story.

For example, in my favorite of all her works, THE LATHE OF HEAVEN, George Orr has a gift: He can dream true, and thus change his world through his dreams. But he doesn’t know what to do with it, and is afraid of it, so he refuses to use it.

Enter a corrupt psychiatrist, William Haber, who believes he can control Orr’s gifts. (Orr has no choice to see the man, either, as Orr was abusing drugs to keep himself from dreaming true and thus altering the world.) And over time, Orr loses nearly everything — his world, his girlfriend, even his psyche — until he realizes he must stand up to Haber once and for all.

The problem is, by this time, Haber has figured out how Orr’s managing to do what Orr’s done. And Haber’s version of a utopia is far worse than anything Orr has dreamed up, all unwittingly…so almost all of the pulse is internal, dealing with how Orr feels (which I like quite a bit), rather than external, though there is some of the latter (in particular, what will this horrible guy Haber do with the power Orr refuses to use?)

THE LATHE OF HEAVEN is the most deeply romantic novel LeGuin ever wrote. The romance between Orr and Heather Lelache (later Andrews, as in different worlds she married, or didn’t, thus changing her last name) is halting but real. Orr is enriched by his love for her, and she is given an unusual type of dignity along with the ability to realize that being soft does not make you weak by her love for him. And thus, they become better, wiser, kinder people…that is, until Haber interferes with the relationship. (Which for those who have read this, and are going, “Barb, you are misstating this,” is exactly what Haber does. Haber doesn’t like Heather at all. And he’s just as happy once Heather’s out of the picture, because Haber realizes instinctively that Heather is the main reason Orr will oppose him, due to Orr’s innate passivity.)

See, what I think LeGuin was saying is that we all deserve to find love. Whether we’re more passive than not, whether we’ve made mistakes (as both Orr and Heather have definitely done more than a little of that), whether we’ve done everything right all the time is immaterial. What matters is that we do our best, and stand up for what’s right, even when it’s difficult — and even when the best solution seems to be passive, rather than active, everything will find a way to work itself out over time if you just keep making your best effort.

That’s why I enjoyed THE LATHE OF HEAVEN so very, very much. I could see myself in Heather, for sure. I even saw a little of myself in George Orr, even though I’ve never been considered a passive sort of person…still, having gifts that you don’t always feel comfortable in using is a theme most people recognize instinctively, as we all have talents we’re sometimes afraid to use for various reasons. (Granted, not everyone wants to admit this. But it is the verimost truth.)

So if LeGuin had only written that one, very fine novel, I’d have remembered her and have mourned her craftsmanship and humanity, both of which shone through as a writer.

But as I said, she wrote many other things. And in nearly everything she ever wrote, I found value and worth…which is all you can ask of any writer, really.

And for those who want entertainment and just that in their stories, well, LeGuin could do that, too. Witness the Earthsea trilogy, TEHANU — the fourth book of Earthsea, and THE OTHER WIND, the fifth book. These are all ripping good reads, with heart and pluck and adventures, and kids of all ages enjoy them to this day.

(To clarify, TEHANU is about an older woman as she finds love, all unlooked for, with the former Archmage, Ged from the first three books. But there’s still a great deal of stuff there that younger kids will like, and the romance is certainly not a graphic one.)

So, here’s to you, Ursula LeGuin. I’m glad you lived. I’m glad you left behind excellent novels and stories and essays and poetry. And I hope your family — which includes, effectively, the vast majority of the SF&F community — will find comfort in your memory.

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Welcome, 2018! New Year’s Resolutions, Anyone? (A Collaboration with a Purpose Post)

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Folks, this is the first Collaboration with a Purpose post of 2018. And thus, our group of bloggers decided what would be better than New Year’s resolutions?

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My view of resolutions, mind, is probably not like many of the other bloggers. I figure, you need to first change your attitude, and only then make a resolution to keep that change active. (This is directly opposite how most people approach this.)

Why do I take that tactic? Well, I’ve seen too many people crash and burn when they make a grandiose resolution (or two). Here’s a few resolutions I’ve seen others make that definitely have not worked out:

  • Vowing to take more cold baths (I mean, who does this?)
  • Exercising more (Too broad; what counts as exercise?)
  • Eating less (Too broad; you can eat less, say, of veggies and more chocolate cake, and you’re still technically keeping this resolution)
  • Taking up veganism (Nice idea, in theory, but very difficult in practice. Besides, it’s incredibly expensive for most people to do properly, and money is in short supply ’round here.)
  • Becoming a vegetarian after being a lifelong meat eater (Again, nice idea. Hard to do. Easier than veganism depending on what type of vegetarian you want to become, providing it’s not vegan.)

Now, what resolutions do I think are possible, after the requisite change in attitude? Here we go:

  • Trying to see the other person’s point of view once in a while, even if it’s difficult and seemingly makes no sense. (The mental exercise is good for you. Kind of like taking brisk medicine you really don’t want, granted…but still, good for you.)
  • Eating one serving more of fruit or veggies a day. (Starting small is the best way for your change in attitude to work.)
  • Finding an hour a day to spend either writing, meditating, or some combination of the two. (This is a good idea and again, it’s starting reasonably small. In my life, usually my paying job of editing takes over, or taking care of my family may take over, or perhaps my health will act up. But trying for one single hour is sensible, even though of course I want much more than that over time.)
  • Spending ten minutes a day doing some sort of physical activity (probably walking; maybe if I’m lucky, swimming)

See? The last four resolutions are doable. They require a slight shift in attitude, and to try just a little bit harder. And aren’t flat-out impossible, which is what tends to stop too many people from keeping any of their New Year’s Resolutions in the first place.

Now, I know that some people swear by cold baths. (Seriously.) And yes, some swear by veganism. (Yeah. Really.) And some swear by both at the same time — which sounds a bit odd, but whatever floats their respective boats.

But that isn’t me. I believe in incremental change. I know I can make the effort if it’s small. And small things add up over time to big results, if we only believe those results are possible….and maybe that, ultimately, is what New Year’s resolutions are all about — reminding us that change is indeed possible, if we’re only willing to work for it.

Now, take a look at my fellow bloggers’ views on the subject! Here are links to their blogs…more specific links will be added later, once their posts are up:

 

And do let me know what you think of this post…especially as we of the Collaboration are looking for more topics to discuss of an inspirational (or at least interesting) nature in 2018.

 

Dare to Risk (Even When it Hurts)

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Folks, it’s been a while since I’ve written a post like this, but here goes:

The most important thing in life is this: You need to remember to dare to risk. Even when it hurts. And even when it doesn’t seem like the risk is worth the reward…do it anyway.

Why am I writing this?

Well, as a writer, every time I sit down to do something with a story, I’m risking the chance of failure.

But as a person, every time I open myself up and am vulnerable to someone, I’m risking the chance of being completely and totally misunderstood. Or unappreciated. Or just…nothing.

I know that. I am not a fool. And I choose to dare that risk, at least in part because it’s the only way, sometimes, to learn something…even if it’s something I’d rather not.

And there are other reasons to dare that risk, too.

Daring to risk is possibly the most important thing I can do, or any writer can do, or any creative person of any possible permutation can do, because it is the only way to express what needs to be expressed. And feeling the pain, sometimes, of risks that don’t work out is necessary, because none of us get through this life unscathed.

I’ve written before about the apocryphal Buddha story–the “search all around the world, daughter, and see if you can find anyone who does not suffer, then report back to me.” Buddha knew, in that story, that every single person had faced suffering of some sort or another, and that it was impossible to live a human life without it.

Now, being married to a Buddhist, I know that suffering is not to be avoided. It’s part of life, as obnoxious as it is to us, and yet thrusting it away causes bigger problems.

Why am I saying all this?

Simply this: I believe, very strongly in fact, that sometimes we have to be prepared to take our lumps. Daring to risk does not mean you’ll always succeed…and it certainly doesn’t mean at all that you will ever succeed, for that matter. But the risk is worth it for its own reward, that of knowing you did everything you possibly could, and then some, to make your dreams come true.

That sometimes there’s nothing you can do? Well, feeling that pain allows you to better inform the stories you write, and make them feel real.

(At least, so I’m telling myself right now. There has to be a reason for it, and that one is as good as any.)

Anyway, don’t let the bad days stop you from daring to risk it all for art, for love, for friendship, or for anything else you feel is worthwhile.

Because the moment you stop risking, that’s the moment you stop living. (Got it?)

———

By the way, folks…later today, I’ll be writing about two books I think you should keep an eye out for, Jason Cordova’s DEVASTATOR (out next week) and Kayelle Allen’s BRINGER OF CHAOS: FORGED IN FIRE. Both are second books in two very good series; both feature believable science and speculation, some darkness, some light, some romance, and are generally cracking good reads. So if you haven’t read Jason’s CORRUPTOR yet or Kayelle’s BRINGER OF CHAOS: THE ORIGINS OF PIETAS either, you really are missing out…can’t wait to tell you more about these two interesting stories. (No, I’m not always doom and gloom, or reminding you to take risks. But yes, do take that risk.)

Written by Barb Caffrey

January 5, 2018 at 1:14 am

Reflections on 2017: A Collaboration with a Purpose post

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Folks, I am happy to write another blog for Collaboration with a Purpose, this time on the need for personal reflections. As I continue to struggle with a respiratory issue (though I am getting a wee bit better), I’m happy to discuss something that I hope won’t be too controversial…though in this day and age, where people seem to take offense at the drop of a hint, who knows?

So, here’s my take on 2017…ready?

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First, let’s talk about the good parts of 2017.

  • I’ve made some new friends, particularly among the bloggers who’ve taken part in the Collaboration with a Purpose group, and that’s a wonderful thing.
  • CHANGING FACES was completed, at long last, and was published in February as an e-book.
  • I realized, not without a lot of effort that I might not have had to put in were I not so hard-headed at times, that the heart can expand to fit wherever it’s needed. There’s always room for another friend, for example…the only trick, if there is one, is to let yourself feel and not censure yourself. (Not that all of your feelings will make sense; nope, that’s too easy. But knowing I can feel deeply again is a very, very good thing.)
  • I edited at least fourteen books, most in the SF&F genre.
  • My story “To Exist within Memory” was published by the Twilight Times e-zine in October, along with a reprint of my poem “Break the Dark Lens.”
  • I played my first musical solo on alto saxophone in over ten years in July, the Isaac Albeniz Tango (with band accompaniment from the Racine Concert Band, of course).

The bad?

  • United States politics was completely frustrating, incredibly vexing, sometimes stupefying, and always, always maddening. I just did not understand much of what the government did, nor why they did it, and wondered just how these people thought they should get paid for doing nothing. (Or in some cases, worse than nothing.)
  • Roy Moore. (See my recent blog on the subject.)
  • I suffered from self-doubt, especially after CHANGING FACES didn’t make much of a dent in the marketplace. I wondered, often, if anyone would ever read what I was writing aside from the occasional blog post, and if not, what my life purpose actually was?

So, it was kind of a mixed bag.

Mostly, though, I’m glad the year is almost over. The good parts of the year outweighed the bad, but 2017 is a year I’ll be happy to put in the rear-view mirror.

Now, go take a look at these other posts from my Collaboration with a Purpose buddies, as they’re all different, all interesting, and all memorable:

Written by Barb Caffrey

December 5, 2017 at 6:58 pm

Post-Turkey Day Thoughts

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Folks, I know I haven’t blogged in a bit. Due to Thanksgiving, and the family festivities (or at least attempted festivities — more on that in a bit), and also due to me dealing with some sort of respiratory issue, I just haven’t had the wherewithal to blog.

But I do now. (Barely.) So I figured I’d give you a few post-Thanksgiving (Turkey) Day thoughts, in no particular order:

  1. Following up with my previous blog, I remain disgusted with Roy Moore and firmly hope that the voters of Alabama will look into the (numerous) allegations against him. If they are true in any way (most particularly the ones regarding Moore’s trysts with women younger than eighteen when he was in his thirties, making him a possible pedophile), I hope he will not attain the United States Senate.
  2. It was good to see my brother and his insanely cute dog, Braunie. (One of these days, I need to take a picture of the two of them. They get along well and make me smile.)
  3. Note the difference between Senator Al Franken (D-MN) and Roy Moore (the Republican Senatorial candidate) regarding various allegations of sexual misconduct. Franken may have placed his hand on a butt. He also put his hand close to a breast of a sleeping woman, LeeAnn Tweeden. (I can’t really tell if he put it on there or not, but either way, it wasn’t appropriate as she couldn’t consent, being asleep.) And he has apologized for these things, saying he has much making up to do and that he’s going to be more cognizant of his behavior moving forward. Yet Moore firmly denies every allegation, even when it’s been corroborated by mall security and a number of other disinterested parties that Moore, in his thirties, was apparently well-known for being a hound-dog when it came to young women and girls. Even though Moore has apparently said the first time he noticed his wife, she was in her late teens (under eighteen), too…
  4. So which is the problem child here, hm? The guy who says, “I did wrong but I will do better” with some relatively minor issues? (Not good, and it shouldn’t have happened, granted.) Or the guy who says, “I did nothing wrong, it’s a Democratic frame-job, and all these women who are coming out of the woodwork now don’t matter whatsoever,” and gets Evangelical Christians to pray for him, not the women allegedly hurt by him?
  5. Note that if anything remotely close to Moore’s alleged behavior comes out against Franken, I will call for Franken’s removal from the Senate immediately. (Does this even need to be said? I am against pedophilia, folks! How awful is it that in 2017, we have to actually state this?)

Anyway, I am happy that I was able to see some of my family. (I was too ill to see most, but I did see some and that’s good.) Though I couldn’t really celebrate, eating some good food (though I stuck to the softer stuff due to my sore throat) was warmly welcomed.

And aside from that, do consider reading some good stuff to distract yourself from the holiday bustle (which tends to make those of us who’ve lost loved ones feel more miserable at this time of year than any other, save for anniversaries of course). May I suggest authors Christopher Nuttall, Kayelle Allen, Zen DiPietro, Jason Cordova, Katharine Eliska Kimbriel, Rosemary Edghill, Patricia C. Wrede, and Lois McMaster Bujold? **Edited to add: How could I forget my friends Loren K. Jones and Christine Amsden? Read their stuff, too…and if I’ve forgotten anyone else, let me know. (Chris Smith, too. And if I keep going, I’ll never stop, so…)

(Or, if you are interested in my writing, please do take a look…you may find something you like there, too.)

Oh, and if you’re looking for an inspirational thoughts book to whet your interest, take a look at N.N. Light’s latest…it’s available on Amazon and Barnes and Noble, and I’m sure you’ll love it.

So, that’s it…my post-Thanksgiving Day thoughts. (Now, can I interest you in some leftover turkey? Cranberry sauce? Mashed potatoes? Pecan pie? Please?)

Written by Barb Caffrey

November 26, 2017 at 7:20 pm

Diversity: Not Just for Breakfast Anymore…(A Collaboration with a Purpose Post)

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Well, it’s time for another Collaboration with a Purpose post, and this month’s theme is diversity. We can talk about anything — cultural, in particular — that highlights the importance of diversity.

Take a look at this nifty picture, created by fellow blogger Sadaf Sidiqqi:

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As to why I’m doing this? Well, culture is very important. I think we take it for granted in the United States, because we’re more diverse overall than most places in certain respects. (For example, in Racine, Wisconsin, where I live, we can get all sorts of different types of food, such as Thai, Japanese, Indian, and of course Italian and Mexican, though all of those are filtered through an American lens.)

But that diversity, in some ways, is under attack. Rather than celebrating all the unique and interesting people we have in this country, and also around the world, we’ve seen a resurgence of what I can only call tribalism — that is, “My tribe” (i.e., America) “is better than yours.”

Note: I don’t like tribalism. I think it’s self-limiting and self-defeating. I think we were put here to become better, wiser, and kinder people…and we can’t do that if we huddle in our own tribes, being afraid of anyone who’s not “us.” Moving on…

Still, I believe in diversity. I believe there must be a reason for all the different cultures in this world, and I think they’re there so we can learn, and grow, and improve ourselves. Even if it’s sometimes a laboriously slow process, it’s worthwhile.

And before you say it, while there definitely are some cultures I do not appreciate at all (ISIS, anyone?), we should have experts who try to understand why they do what they do, in order to protect the rest of us. Again, moving on…

Diversity, overall, is a good thing. Whether you were originally from Poland, Finland,  Ireland, Malaysia, Egypt, or any points more exotic, you are worthy and interesting and valuable. You are worth getting to know from your own perspective as best we can manage it, we who aren’t from Poland, Finland, et. al., and that’s one reason why I think we must begin to embrace diversity rather than shun it.

See, diversity brings understanding, but it also brings richness and a better life. And that richness has to be part of what the Higher Power wanted us to learn while we’re here on this Earth. (Otherwise, why are we here at all?)

Now, go and see what the other folks are writing about today, all right? I’m sure there must be some really interesting takes on diversity out there this time…(as there always are).

The other collaborators this time around are listed below, along with some of their best prior quotes from the previous Collaboration with a Purpose posts (as compiled by blogger Nicolle K.):

  • Addison D’Marko (“If you want to achieve complete happiness one of the things you are going to have to do is care less. By this I mean stop putting so much thought into the things that do not matter.”)
  • Camilla Motte @ Moms on the Go (“We want to be help to the helpless. We all need love and support and I pray this community will be that for you.”)
  • Jothish Joseph @ TheJothishJosephBlog (“Anybody can write “Extra” before “ordinary” but only people of courage dare to earn it…”)
  • Ipuna Black (“None of us are perfect or come from perfect backgrounds, but this doesn’t mean we can’t aim for a positive and fulfilling life. The life we all deserve.”)
  • Jane Love @ Harmonious Joy (“People who have a genuine say and a true voice of their own… not just an echo of some celebrity they think they love.”)
  • Mylene C. Orillo (“Where I’m at right now is a testament that ‘Dreams really do come true.’”)
  • Sonyo Estavillo @ ‘Lil Pick Me Up (“I am here to champion anyone from the successful and confident folks, to those that are clinically depressed.”)
  • And Nicolle K @ Stories of a Highly Sensitive Introvert! (“Success, for me, is when I spend my days feeling happy, peaceful, fulfilled and without fear of lack.”)

So, there you have it!

And do leave a comment, please…I always appreciate hearing from my fellow bloggers and friends. (What else would you like me to talk about, for example? I’m always interested in new blog subjects.)

Written by Barb Caffrey

November 5, 2017 at 8:00 am

Just in Time For Halloween, New Poems and Stories at the TTB e-zine!

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OK, sometimes I just have to rhyme…

Folks, do you want some new and absolutely free reading material? Especially from me? (As you’re here at my blog, I’m going to assume the answer is an enthusiastic “yes.”)

Well, look no further. I have a story, “To Exist within Memory,” and a poem, “Break the Dark Lens,” up at the Halloween 2017 edition of the Twilight Times e-zine. (I abbreviated it above as TTB e-zine because it’s part of Twilight Times Books.) In addition, there’s also a chapter reveal for my most recent novel, the LGBT-friendly CHANGING FACES, and there’s an author interview by Mayra Calvani as well — so if you have ever wanted to know more about me or my writing, here you go.

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Mind, if you like what you have read with regards to CHANGING FACES, you can go to Amazon or Barnes and Noble and pick up an e-book copy for just ninety-nine cents…and I do hope you’ll consider doing just that.

So go check out the TTB e-zine. Read some free stuff. Then go pick up your copy of CHANGING FACES today, and get to getting…who said every treat on Halloween has to be full of calories, hey?

Written by Barb Caffrey

October 31, 2017 at 8:33 pm