Barb Caffrey's Blog

Writing the Elfyverse . . . and beyond

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Word Counts: Don’t Believe the Hype

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Folks, lately every time I’ve turned around, I’ve seen writers bragging about how many words they’ve written in a day. And while telling people once in a while is just fine–or telling ’em every day when your readership knows full well you have a book due for turn-in Really Soon Now (TM)–some of these counts seem, well, excessive.

I tend to believe the following maxim, which I’ve already stated above: Don’t believe the hype.

Yes, some writers can and do write thousands of words a day when they’re on a roll. And there are a few who can do this for week after week, month after month, maybe even year after year until there’s some sort of major crisis in their life where they can’t. (Because we’re all human, and we all face various difficulties and crises, I can’t help but say that.)

But  here’s the thing. If someone is pushing how many words she’s written, and does so constantly, you have to ask why. (Unless it’s the issue of your book is due in, and readers are clamoring to know what the hold-up is, of course.)

Is it to reinforce their own self-image of a hard-working writer?

Is it to let their publisher and/or readership know they’re working as hard and fast as they can?

Or is it just to brag, because no one can say you’re wrong because writing is an individual activity?

Look. I know there are writers–many of them, in fact–who write faster than I do. But it’s not a competition. Or, rather, it’s a competition only with myself, as to what I can do creatively despite the obstacles in my path.

Someone else may have different things going on. He or she may have a supportive spouse. (Or not.) He or she may not have any bill problems. (At least, for now.) He or she may be in robust health, and has never missed a day at work, whether it’s at the keyboard or at a day job…

And none of that, not any of it, applies to me as a writer.

I can only do what I can do. My best is my best. And while I’m glad to see my friends happy and fulfilled with their word counts when they’re on a roll, I usually can tell by other means that they’re on a roll other than the “4800 words completed today” cryptic little posts on their Facebook or Twitter or Instagram pages.

They may well be telling the truth. But they may have other reasons to say what they’re saying, too–see above reasons for a starting point.

And again: None of it applies to me, so I don’t have to believe the hype.

The most important thing to take away from this blog is this: Do what you can do. Not what anyone else can do, or worse, what anyone else is saying they’re doing (without any proof at all, most of the time).

Anything else is time-wasting persiflage, at best.

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Written by Barb Caffrey

January 22, 2019 at 6:49 pm

Very Small Steps, Continued…

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I figured it was time for another small bloglet, letting you all know how I’m doing.

The last few weeks have been a trial, to put it mildly. I still can’t edit for more than a few minutes at a time, and I can’t write much at all. (Note how infrequent my blogs have become, for example. And no fiction — none — since mid-December.) I have ideas galore, for both words and music, but my energy level is so low that when I try to write them down, they fly away into the ether.

One of my best friends told me that if these ideas are good ones, they will return when I am feeling better. I sincerely hope she’s right.

Yesterday, I fought off a nasty migraine that took out the entire day. Every plan I’d made went out the window as soon as that showed up — which is what migraines do, granted. And I mostly suffered, hurting but unable to sleep, and wondering when I’d be able to return to what I like to call “baseline functional.”

I remind myself daily — and sometimes more often than just once — that I am not this illness. I am not defined by it, and it does not have to make me feel useless, or valueless, or stuck.

We all face illnesses, either our own or that of our loved ones, and we all have to deal with this from time to time. I am reminding myself of that, too.

Mostly, though, it’s taking a series of very small steps, one after the other, to try to shake this illness off and return to what I need to be doing: writing, editing, playing music, composing music, maybe writing a few poems here and there…and helping others.

I will keep taking these small steps, even though on days like yesterday, it feels like ten of the small steps got wiped out, and I’m starting from way behind.

Still. I will continue to do the best I can, and I will find a way to get better. That’s all that I know how to do, and it’s all I can do right now.

Thanks for bearing with me during these struggles.

Written by Barb Caffrey

January 11, 2019 at 12:05 pm

Posted in Informational Stuff, Writing

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Sick at the Holidays…

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Folks, I have meant to write a blog or at least drop in a little bit of something for the past week-plus. But I have been quite ill.

I’ve been to the doctor twice and a third visit is in the offing. All I know is, I have had two ear infections (one in both ears, or a double ear infection), a bad sinus infection, an upper respiratory infection, and all of this happened more or less at the same time. As I have asthma, too, and other health issues already, none of this has helped me feel productive or like I have a place in the world.

Being ill is hard enough, but being sick at the holidays is even worse. I don’t know why that is, but it seems to add insult to injury somehow…and adds a bunch of stress to an already stressful situation.

I have so much stuff to do. Stuff to write. Stuff to edit. Stuff to read, even…and I can do none of it right now. I can’t even help my family members when they need help, as I usually do. Because I can’t get out to do anything for them right now. And that adds to my feelings of stress, not to mention that “do I have a place in the world?” thing I discussed above.

All I know is, I have to somehow heal up. That means another trip to the doctor, to figure out what happened this time, and how to fix it. Maybe I didn’t respond to the last bit of antibiotics? Maybe I caught something else on top of all the other stuff? Maybe something else is going on and I haven’t a clue what?

This is what’s running through my mind, as I write this.

So, folks: Don’t get this, whatever it is. And if you do somehow get something like it, get your rest as fast as you can, and don’t insist — as I unfortunately did — on trying to do any of your normal activities. As bad as it is to feel useless, it’s even worse to feel useless and sick…so pick the best of your available bad options, and rest/heal as best you can.

Oh, and try to laugh, too. That does help.

Written by Barb Caffrey

December 31, 2018 at 1:46 am

Announcing…”Citadel of Fear”

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Folks, a few months ago, I teased you all about a short story I’d sold. I couldn’t tell you much about it at the time, but I promised to come back and let you know when I could…then time got away from me. Work intervened. Real life (TM) got in the way of me talking about one of my few triumphs in 2018.

But now, I can discuss it, and actually have the time to do so. (What a luxury time can be. But I digress.)

The story “Citadel of Fear” was written for the latest Darkover anthology, itself titled CITADELS OF DARKOVER. The citadel in question could be metaphorical, could be literal; we just had to have our characters overcoming something major, something that could be a citadel of some sort. The editor, Deborah J. Ross, gave us wide latitude in what we chose as a citadel, and that helped me out enormously.

In “Citadel of Fear, my character, Miralys n’ha Camilla, is a Renunciate trail and mountain guide. (Think “Free Amazon,” and you’re not far wrong.) She is loyal to her Renunciate sisters, to her clients, and has built a life for herself doing what she enjoys the most: being in the outdoors, guiding clients up and down the perilous Darkovan mountains in all sorts of weather.

When the story opens, she’s guiding yet another client, a young woman, Jenella. It seems like any other day to her. She’s happy, she’s focused, she’s doing what she loves…

And then an avalanche drops on her. Literally.

How she overcomes her fear and takes up her job again is the focus of the story. Because it’s for the Darkover universe, I was able to use a weak psi-talent (called laran) to help her out a bit. But mostly, Miralys can only overcome her citadel of fear by using her mind, heart, and spirit; if she refuses to give in, she can keep going, and reclaim herself as best she can.

It took me somewhere between six or eight drafts to write this 4500-word story. Miralys was a tough nut to crack. She was incredibly closed at the start of this story (well, once the avalanche dropped on her, at any rate). She was not in a good place. And she didn’t have any idea what she was going to do next, or how she was going to do it.

She takes up the mantle of living again because she has to guide five young women down the mountain, as the price for her extensive healing. (Yes, she’d normally do it anyway, but without having to do it under these circumstances, she’d have balked.) She isn’t well. But she has to help, and so she does her best, until a very bad situation–one somewhat reminiscent of what she’s lived through in certain respects–arises.

Because I want you to read this story, I can’t tell you more than that. But I can say this: if you like stories with heroes or heroines who realistically overcome their fears, you will enjoy “The Citadel of Fear.” Guaranteed.

So, because I’m very proud of writing this story, I’m going to give you the table of contents for CITADELS OF DARKOVER now…and hope that in a few months, when it comes out, you’ll remember to look for it. (Of course, I will be talking about it then, too, but there’s nothing wrong with “priming the pump” now, is there?)

Table of Contents

DANCING LESSONS

By Evey Brett

SACRIFICE

By Steven Harper

BANSHEE CRY

By Marella Sands

THE KATANA MATRIX

By Lillian Csernica

SIEGE

By Diana L. Paxson

SEA-CASTLE

By Leslie Fish

FIRE STORM

By Jane M. H. Bigelow

THE DRAGON HUNTER

By Robin Rowland

FISH NOR FOWL

By Rebecca Fox

DARK AS DAWN

By Robin Wayne Bailey

CITADEL OF FEAR

By Barb Caffrey

THE JUDGMENT OF WIDOWS

By Shariann Lewitt

***

So, there you have it! And I do hope you’ll enjoy the story, and the rest of the anthology, when it comes out next year.

Written by Barb Caffrey

December 18, 2018 at 4:08 am

The Duties of Friendship

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When you want to have good friends in your life, you need to be one yourself.

This seems like a truism, something so obvious that no one could ever possibly mistake it. But I have seen, lately, some folks I care about very much being treated exceptionally poorly by their friends…and it makes me wonder if these so-called friends understand that truism above.

Without naming names, I’ll give you an example.

One of my friends recently had to have emergency surgery. She reached out to her friends, as people do when they’re in a crisis. The problem is, some of her friends just didn’t get it, while one of them — shockingly — decided to “ghost” and just not return any of her messages, text or otherwise.

Now, I got it. And I talked with her every day, sometimes many times a day, as we usually do. Because I know how it is to have a crisis and feel like no one cares.

Apparently, this one person either didn’t know that, didn’t care, or just figured it didn’t matter.

What do you think of that, hm? Is that palatable in 2018? Have we come so low as that, where we can’t even reach out to those who need help and give them any support at a time of crisis?

See, friendship has duties and responsibilities. We don’t like to think that, because it sounds transactional. And being a friend should not be about anything transitory or transactional.

But you owe your friend kindness, respect, comfort when you can give it, a sympathetic ear, caring…honesty? And you owe it to them during the bad times, as well as the good.

You should never, but never, “ghost” out of the picture. That’s just wrong.

I’m sorry. Someone who does this, who “ghosts out” at a time like this, is not worth your time. They are not your friend. They have just shown their ill worth, their lack of understanding, their lack of empathy. And you don’t need them.**

So, what should you do instead?

Even if you are under major stresses yourself, you should at least tell your friend you are rooting for her. (Or him.) And that you care. And that you want to know how the surgery goes.

Anything less is ridiculous.

What other duties do friends have? Tell me about them in the comments!

————

**If someone does this to you, I can only hope that this person, down the line, will have that happen to him as well. (Karma can be a mother.)

**And if you have done something like this, and didn’t realize it, you should make amends. Pronto. (‘Nuff said.)

Written by Barb Caffrey

November 29, 2018 at 10:35 am

Collaboration With a Purpose: Let’s Talk About Men (International Men’s Day)

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Folks, it’s International Men’s Day. And as promised, the bloggers who comprise Collaboration with a Purpose — including yours truly — are going to talk about men. We’ve talked about International Women’s Day before (here’s my post for that) and I, personally, mentioned International Women’s Day a couple of years ago…so it’s high time that International Men’s Day got its fair share, no?

design 2

(Jane Love made the graphic above.)

Men, these days, often feel underappreciated. Too many times, they’ve been told they’re “privileged,” because they’re men. They’re expected to succeed from the get-go, and yet, they grow up with many of the same fears, struggles, and problems as women — what will I do? How will I become my best self? How can I find love and happiness? And so forth.

When men try to find ways to express themselves, they often aren’t understood. Compounding things for them, there are two big stereotypes that cause trouble; first, men are often expected to be the “strong, silent type,” and so showing emotions can be very difficult. Second, men are often supposed to be the breadwinners, even now, in most situations…to a much larger extent than most women, the garden variety guy out there worries about how he’ll take care of not just himself financially, but his family, too.

There are some folks out there now who seem to undervalue the fact that men struggle as much as women do with finding their place in the world. I don’t understand this. We’re all human beings. We have many of the same motivations, fears, desires, etc., and we all need to come to grips with who we are and what we’re going to do in this world.

But men, somehow, are just supposed to know what this is.

My late husband Michael assuredly felt like this. He told me, on multiple occasions, that when he tried to better himself educationally, his needs were not understood by his parents. He graduated high school a few years early, worked in a comic books store, signed up for the Navy as soon as he decently could (his mother had to co-sign, as he was still under eighteen)…and then, he had some sort of accident while running in Naval training that broke both knees.

He was eighteen years old. The only thing he’d wanted to do was now closed to him. So what was he going to do?

He went back home after his knees healed. He started work as a typist for the Naval Base in Oakland as a civilian, probably because it was the closest he could get to his old dreams. And over time, he became a contracts administrator, because he found he was very good at both problem solving and small differences in contracts…and these two things added up to a job he could do that was useful.

Then, his world was rocked again when the Naval Base closed. He could’ve followed his job to a different base somewhere else, but he didn’t want to do that. He was married — not to me, as he hadn’t met me yet — and his then-wife had found work and he wanted to stay where he was. He loved San Francisco, you see…the place he’d spent much of his young life, and most of his adult life also.

So he stayed. And wrote fiction. And edited, sometimes, for friends. And worked on his art — he sketched, and his drawings had real life to them (unfortunately, I don’t have any of them with me, as they were lost during our move somehow). He also did a type of macrame with ropes, and sewed, and cooked…basically, Michael was creative as Hell, and any way he could create, he was going to do it.

Then he met me. In 2001.

He had been unemployed except for temp jobs and working for friends for over two years. He’d been on some dates, as his previous marriage had broken up (they remained friends until the end of his life, mind; one of the true amicable divorces I know about), and none of ’em had panned out. The women he’d met wanted men who made money. Or had a home, as in San Francisco, that denoted wealth. Or at least had a car, as that, too, denoted more than the average amount of wealth, as on-street parking is rarer than hen’s teeth, and on-street parking where you didn’t have to pay anything at all for it is even more difficult to find than that.

He was in his early forties. Distinguished-looking. He didn’t see himself as handsome. He was only middling tall. He used a walking stick (not a cane; call it a shillelagh instead), because of the old double-knee break and the finding of chondromalacia afterward (a type of arthritis; that’s what put him out of the Navy, when they found that). He felt like no woman would ever care about him.

But he met me. And found out he was wrong.

I think, for once in his life, Michael was glad to be proven wrong. (Michael loved being right more than anyone I’ve ever known.) I didn’t care about him not having work at the time, because I knew how hard-working he was, and the more I found out about him, the more intrigued I was. I didn’t care about him not having any money, because I didn’t have any myself. And I did care about him being creative, because I was creative, too…and had been vastly misunderstood, too.

Anyway, I put that in there to try to illustrate why Michael felt there would be no one out there for him.

I wonder, sometimes, if other men feel like this. They aren’t wealthy. They don’t have big houses. They don’t have fancy cars. They don’t have Rolexes, or any status symbol possessions. And our consumer-driven culture makes them think that no one will care, no one at all, unless they have these things…

But being a man is about much more than making money. It’s about caring for others, nurturing them, helping them. It’s about finding out who you are and maximizing your talents. It’s about sacrifice, sometimes. It’s about making choices, and rolling with the punches, and finding your own way through the thicket of what is supposed to be “masculine” behavior. It’s about finding yourself, and working on yourself, and doing whatever you can to do good in this world.

My husband succeeded, as a man.

And I will celebrate that success, all the days of my life.

*****

Anyway, here are the other bloggers this month celebrating International Men’s Day with me; go read their blogs, too, and let them know what you think!

Ipuna Black — International Men’s Day: A Father

Jane Love — A Real Man, Part 1

Mylene Orillo — A Tribute to All the Men in My Life

Sadaf Siddiqi (will be posting later due to family illness)

Written by Barb Caffrey

November 19, 2018 at 9:50 am

More Musing About Editing

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Most of my life, I’ve worked hard at being a reliable, steady person.

(My family might laugh at this, but it’s the truth.)

A big part of that is embodied by the phrase “finish what you start.” And I try to do that with everything I do, even if it takes me longer as a writer to finish things than I’d like…even if my overall writing process has changed drastically since my late husband died, and I’ve never quite regained my fluidity or facility since.

It’s easier with editing, mind. For whatever reason, my mind goes into a mode there where I can see the story, manipulate the story (or at least ask the author to manipulate it for me), fix what needs fixing, suggest what needs suggesting, and try to do the best job I possibly can for my editorial clients.

Working hard is important. Even if I’m the only one who knows how hard I’m working, I still want to work hard, do everything possible, and make a positive difference in someone’s life. Even if it’s “just” in helping them realize their own artistic vision a little better, with a bit more clarity and sharpness…because these things are important, too.

A good friend, years ago, told me that when I started editing, I’d see manuscripts — even my own — differently. It’s a hard thing to turn off, Editorial Vision (or as I call it, “Editor Voice”), and that can get in the way of my own writing.

Mind, I do appreciate Editor Voice. I can do many things with it that others can’t. Including, of all things, being able to look at a manuscript as if I’ve never seen it before, even if I’ve seen it several times in the past. This ability seems unusual; the other good friends of mine who are editors don’t report having this type of track, though they have other things that work just fine for them.

(I also see, at the same time, what I’ve done, what I want to do, and what the author hopes me to do if I haven’t already figured out a way to do that, which makes it a way of looking at a story in two ways: with great knowledge, and with almost no knowledge. I call it a “dual-level ability.”)

I take what I do seriously. (Maybe too seriously, at times. Though I also try to be humorous when I can…or at least laugh, as life is too short to live it without laughter. Really.) I give everything I’ve got, and then some, toward helping others find their unique voices, and give them (in the buzzword of the moment) “agency.”

I’m glad to do whatever I can to help my clients, most of whom become good friends in the process, tell the best stories they need to tell, in the clearest and most distinct manner they can possibly tell their stories.

And otherwise, when I write? I try to tell myself I don’t have to do everything today. If I get down at least some of what I need, I can add to it tomorrow. Refine it. Maybe reimagine it, if need be…work with what I have, and make it as strong and resilient a story as I can make it. And tell the stories I need to tell, too, so I can say with good grace to clients that I know exactly how they feel, as I, too, have been there. (Been there, done that, bought the T-shirt, etc.)

That’s what I’m thinking about, now, as I continue my journey forward.

Oh, one more thing…next week, I’m going to tell you about the newest anthology I’ve placed a story in. So don’t go anywhere…I’ll have a table of contents, even, to pass around. (Yes, I am a working writer. Thank God/dess.)

What’s going on with y’all? (Tell me in the comments.)