Barb Caffrey's Blog

Writing the Elfyverse . . . and beyond

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Language, Editing, and THUNDER AND LIGHTNING

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Folks, my most recently edited book is Chris Nuttall and Leo Champion’s THUNDER AND LIGHTNING, about first contact with aliens gone spectacularly wrong. I was very happy with this book, because I thought it showcased Chris’s gift for political machinations of the interplanetary sort plus Leo’s gift for the nuts and bolts of warfare. Putting them together in one book was a worthwhile challenge for me as an editor, and one I welcomed.

Both of these men did what they did best, and did it superbly. And I was not disappointed.

thunder and lightning cover

But, you must be sitting there asking yourselves, “Barb, what is this about language? Why are you talking about that with regards to editing and THUNDER AND LIGHTNING?”

Some of what I’m going to say is blindingly obvious, but here goes: When you’re writing about soldiers, you cannot take the high road all the time. And you certainly can’t use what I derisively call “sparkly language,” in that you dumb-down what soldiers say during a war.

Chris and Leo’s soldiers start off in a nasty fight in Africa against terrorists they call “the Wreckers.” These Wreckers are abysmal human beings who, like others in the past, have corrupted a holy book — in this case, the Koran — for their own purposes. The soldiers call them “radical Islamicists,” which is not that dissimilar to what is said overseas now in the Middle East or in other war zones.

And there’s a reason they do this. The reason is very simple. They are fighting a war. They cannot afford to see these people as worthy of redemption, for the most part, and they have many reasons not to see them that way either as the behavior of the Wreckers is truly abhorrent. (Hell, they even take female slaves.)

So, when I saw that, as an editor, I left it alone. I’ve heard from my own cousin, who’s served overseas any number of times in the Middle East as a member of the Armed Services, that what’s said about those we’re fighting (ISIS now, Al Qaeda earlier) is far worse than that.

But will some people be offended by this term? Probably.**

My job, though, as an editor, is not to dumb down what anyone says or feels even if I think it’s something someone out there will dislike. My job is to make that soldier sound and feel real. So you can get caught up in the story. And keep going.

If that soldier says some things you don’t like, well…I urge you to read James Clavell’s KING RAT. There’s lots of stuff that’s not said in “sparkly language,” but if it were, you’d never buy into it.

And you shouldn’t.

Anyway, THUNDER AND LIGHTNING isn’t just about soldiers. It’s about an idealistic woman scientist, Samra, who first finds evidence of aliens we later come to know as Oghaldzon (kind of like three-legged deer), and believes that any aliens coming must be peaceful. (She’s wrong, but you can see why she’d believe otherwise.) And what happens when she finds out the Oghaldzon are almost completely incomprehensible to humans, and humans to the Oghaldzon in terms, is scary, difficult to read, and sometimes incredibly sad, in turns.

We see her in lighter days, when she’s just a scientist at work. We see her finding the aliens’ signal (a fleet) in space, the scientific high point of her career.

And then, we see her disastrous fall, and with her fall, the attempted subjugation of Earth.

We also see a cyborg commando soldier, who saves Samra and stays by her side as they try, somehow, to stay alive and hope for better days. (Perhaps the commando is hedging his bets. Or waiting for a better opportunity. But it’s important to know that without him being there, Samra likely wouldn’t have a reason to fight so hard.)

Along the way, we meet numerous others. Some are politicians. Some are just average Joes. Some are Rockrats — that is, asteroid miners, extremely isolationist in outlook and incredibly hard-headed, to boot.

We need every last one of them to come together, in whatever ways they can, or we cannot save our own solar system from the Oghaldzon.

And along the way, the Oghaldzon are found to be, oddly enough, a different type of idealist entirely. But their idealism doesn’t match ours by any standard, and that is part of why we end up in a protracted war.

I don’t want to spoil the outcome of the book. So I will stop there.

Just know that as an editor, I maximized everything I could for the sake of realism, verisimilitude, and dammit all, for the sake of a damned good read. That is my job.

And if you read the book, and you like the book, do tell Leo and Chris that you enjoyed it. (You can come tell me, too. I’d enjoy that, also.) Reviews matter.

(I know that from personal experience. But I digress.)

In other words, when I edit, I try to find the authors’ voices. And I believe I did exactly what I should, to make THUNDER AND LIGHTNING the best it could be, in the hopes that people would feel, think, and enjoy the book and tell others.

Or in shorter form: Sparkly language, get lost.

—–

**Note that I, myself, have a Koran and have read it many times. My late husband admired the Sufi Muslims, and often called himself a “Zen Sufi Pagan.” And Chris Nuttall himself was exposed to all sorts of different religions when he lived in Malaysia, certainly including Islam, and knows, as I do, that people come in all flavors in all religions: that is, followers of the prophet Mohammad are mainly very good people.

Those who’d chain and enslave women, though, are hardly that. And if they’re using Islam as a way to make that palatable to their (mostly male) believers, that is disgusting.

There are bad apples in any bunch. These Wreckers definitely fit the bill for the type of people who’d try to turn religion to their own ends, rather than live in loving kindness and generosity, as I believe Mohammad truly wanted.

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Written by Barb Caffrey

March 19, 2018 at 6:45 am

Two New Guest Appearances Highlighting my new #LGBT-friendly Novel, CHANGING FACES…

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Folks, I’m very happy to let you know about my two newest guest appearances on the Web, as I continue to promote my newest novel, CHANGING FACES. (Still just ninety-nine cents as an e-book, or ninety-nine pence for UK readers; grab it while it’s cheap, eh?)

portrait in garden

First, I have an unusual dual character interview up at N.N. Light’s blog POTL (formerly Princess of the Light). I, the author, interviewed Elaine and Allen (in their original bodies), and asked them a number of questions. Here’s a bit from that interview:

“What is the trait you most deplore in yourself?” Then I look at them both, and ask, “Can Elaine answer this first? Allen, you always jump in…”

Allen mumbles something, and motions with his hand to Elaine.

“Ah, I like it when he goes first,” she says playfully. “It gives me more time to consider my answer.” Then she turned serious. “I am often hasty, and while I try to think things through, sometimes I just don’t. This causes trouble, but I can’t seem to break the habit.”

“I like all your habits,” Allen said, giving her a sidelong look. Then, focusing on me, he added, “I am reserved. This makes it harder for me to open up to people, and it takes a long time for me to make new friends. That’s caused me a lot of trouble in my life, especially as musicians are supposed to be gregarious sorts and I’m just not.”

“Who you are is just fine with me, love,” Elaine put in loyally.

I raised an eyebrow, and told them, “I like you both. So stop all this nonsense and just answer the questions, will you?”

“But it’s so much fun to tease you,” Elaine said.

Allen just laughed.

There are a number of other questions Allen and Elaine answered, including who their favorite person is (Hillary Clinton for Elaine, Nelson Mandela for Allen) and who their least-favorite person is (Donald Trump for both – my Hillary Clinton friends should love that, especially as many of them are LGBT and thus might be interested in a LGBT-friendly romance like CHANGING FACES).

So do, please, go take a look at that interview. I think you’ll most likely enjoy it (even if you politically do not agree with me, Allen, or Elaine).

The second guest appearance up today is over at The Story Behind the Book. It’s my reasoning behind why I wrote CHANGING FACES…as some folks have asked me, “Barb, why did you write something as strange as this, especially as you aren’t LGBT yourself?,” well, now you’ll have an answer.

Here’s a bit from that:

Years ago, and far away, I had an idea for a story. I saw, briefly, in a dream, two lovers—a man and a woman, even—arguing. I didn’t know why they were arguing. But I saw them. Then I saw two otherworldly beings above them. The lovers had suffered a car accident, and the beings did something bizarre, first binding the man’s soul into the woman, then the woman’s soul into the man. I wondered what had happened to cause all this, and set down to write what I’d seen even though I didn’t understand it.

That was the germination for my new novel Changing Faces.

As I wrote, I realized the man, Allen Bridgeway, had been a foster child, adopted late by a childless couple. And the woman, Elaine Foster, had also been a foster child, but she hadn’t been nearly as fortunate as Allen; instead, she’d been raped by five teenage boys while supposedly safe in her final foster home. Due to that awful event, she became an Emancipated Minor, graduated high school early, and went to college at the age of sixteen…where she met Allen and became friends with him.

Note that Allen knew from the start that Elaine was bisexual, and mostly dated women. So while he was attracted to her early, he never made a move…not until years had gone by, and he’d considered Elaine to be his best friend in the world.

The problems started when he asked her to marry him.

So, if you still haven’t bought a copy of CHANGING FACES as an e-book, but want to do so — and of course, it being my blog and all, I do hope you want to do so — here’s all the links I have, so you can go buy one right now:

Barnes & Noble

Amazon:

USA  –   UK  –  CA  –  AUS  –  IN

 

Written by Barb Caffrey

March 13, 2017 at 6:16 pm

New Guest Shot up at Dear Reader, Love Author

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Folks, I have a guest blog up today at Dear Reader, Love Author…a place I’d never stopped by before, but one I enjoyed once I knew about it.

The premise of this particular place is that you write a letter to your readers — or prospective readers — talking about why you hope they’ll love your writing (in this case, in support of CHANGING FACES).

As Firefox (my browser) isn’t playing well with Google this week, I can’t like the post or comment, though it is letting me share it by Google Plus for some reason. (How odd, hey?) But I can at least let you know about it here, and hope you will find it this way (and via Twitter and Facebook, where I’ll also post).

First, here’s the cover photo, again, for CHANGING FACES:

51pgonihral

 

So, here’s a little from the Dear Reader, Love Author post:

Changing Faces is the story of two clarinetists, Allen Bridgeway and his fiancée, Elaine Foster. They love each other very much, but because of trauma in Elaine’s past and the fact that, unbeknownst to Allen, she is both gender-fluid and transgender, she is having a hard time fully committing to him. When she finally tells Allen who and what she is, he’s floored, and doesn’t know what to do…he prays that they find a way to stay together, and some higher beings not bound to our linear time take pity on him and Elaine.

But the way they do it isn’t what Allen expects.

You see, on a very bad wintry night, Allen and Elaine are involved in a car accident. The beings take Allen’s soul and bind it into Elaine’s body, then take Elaine’s soul and put it into Allen’s. Because Allen’s old body is heavily damaged, one of the beings talks with her while she’s comatose in the Place of Dreams and Nightmares—a place humans go every night when they sleep, though most of us don’t remember much about it upon wakening. And Allen wakes up in the hospital, in Elaine’s body, unable to tell anyone he’s Allen, not Elaine.

So, instead of one LGBT person, we now have two LGBT people. Both still in love with each other, in a horrible situation, not knowing if the other will forgive them (Allen worries about Elaine even being in his body, while Elaine worries that no one understands Allen now, and blames herself for putting them in this terrible position).

So, how are Allen and Elaine going to get out of this mess? Will they find a way to make peace with this highly unusual situation? And will they learn how to see each other’s souls rather than their bodies?

Since it’s a romance, I think you can bet heavily that I found a way to do it…but no, I’m not going to tell you how. (Where’s the mystery in that if I did?)

CHANGING FACES is still only ninety-nine cents as an e-book in the US, and ninety-nine pence as an e-book in the UK. I sincerely hope you will give my newest novel a try, as there’s truly nothing else on the market like it at all.

Written by Barb Caffrey

February 21, 2017 at 6:16 pm

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

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

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

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

I’d rather talk about what true love is.

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

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

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

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

First, read the blurb, as that may help:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

You should care, in other words.

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

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

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

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

Guaranteed.

Written by Barb Caffrey

February 10, 2017 at 5:51 am

Out Now in e-book: Changing Faces

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

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

Amazon:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Because that’s how I see it.

Written by Barb Caffrey

February 8, 2017 at 8:09 pm

My novel, “Changing Faces,” Coming Soon in E-Book…

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Folks, it gives me great pleasure to let you know that my novel, CHANGING FACES, will be available soon in e-book. The estimated time of arrival is March 15, 2017. It’s not yet available for pre-order, and the advance reader copy (ARC) is not out as of yet. But we’re getting there.

CHANGING FACES cover

Cover by Tamian Wood

So, if it’s not ready for pre-order, and the ARC isn’t out, you might be wondering why I’m telling you about it. The answer to that is very simple; there’s a four-chapter excerpt up now at Twilight Times Books that may whet your interest, and my hope is that you’ll share it far and wide.

Note that there still may be a few niggling issues here and there due to file conversion. If any errors remain, I hope they do not impact your enjoyment of the four chapters. (The ARC looks great. No problems there. And yes, I will keep you posted as to when the ARC is available.)

Anyway, I do hope you’ll go look at the excerpt, but to get you started, here’s the entire first two chapters, cut and pasted:

CHANGING FACES

by Barb Caffrey

Chapter 1

It was the middle of July in Nebraska. Sweat started dripping down my back even before I’d stepped foot outside my apartment. My hair was already sticking to my neck, and I didn’t know how I was going to play my clarinet. And I had to do that, because my best friend Jolene Harris was marrying her long-time partner Paula Adelson today.

You see, this was a very special wedding. Paula and Jolene had waited for years to get married, and until recently, they couldn’t. But the Supreme Court of the United States made up their mind a short time ago that same-sex couples are like anyone else—if they want to marry, legally, they should be able to do so. Of course I agreed with this. Anyone who ever saw Jolene with Paula and their son, Adam, for longer than two minutes would agree, if they had any sense at all.

Fortunately for me, my boyfriend, Allen, completely understood. He was coming with me—and playing his clarinet, too. (He was going to play Ave Maria at Jolene’s request.) Allen, unlike me, identified as straight, but he’s no bluenose—he’s even walked with me in Lincoln’s Gay Pride parade.

Yes, I knew I needed to tell him…everything. And soon.

But not today, as that might spoil Jolene and Paula’s wedding.

The sun was shining. The birds were chirping. We’d even seen a rare double rainbow last night, after a brief but intense thundershower. Most people probably would’ve thought that today was absolutely perfect for a wedding, if they didn’t mind having to stand outside in 90-plus degree weather.

Allen and I made it to the car, we stored away our clarinets and music stands, and started driving. Considerate as always, he turned the air conditioning on and let me bask in it a few minutes before he spoke.

“I wish it were our wedding,” he said wistfully.

Oh, no, not that again, I couldn’t help but think. I loved Allen—truly, I did—and I wanted no one but him. But…

“I’d rather get married in the winter than the summer,” I told him, trying to keep it light. “It’s way too warm right now for my liking.”

“Are you sure you’re from Florida?” he half-joked back.

“Hey, it’s humid there, but it rarely hits the triple digits.” At his cocked eyebrow, I added, “That’s my story, and I’m sticking to it.”

He laughed, as I’d intended, and the subject was defused. For now.

Somehow, I had to tell him what I really was. But I didn’t have the words just yet.

* * *

Allen:

I snuck a peek at Elaine as we set up our music stands. She looked gorgeous, as usual, though by her standards she was a bit dressed-down for such festivities in a burnt orange blouse, dark slacks and low heels, with an orange flower in her hair for the sake of whimsy. Chestnut brown hair cut short for the summer, bright brown eyes with flecks of gold only I could see, when she was particularly happy, high cheekbones…a beautiful woman, inside and out.

Who cared that she, like me, had been known to look at women from time to time before we met? Not I. (And no, I’ve never had that whole threesome fetish thing going on, thank you. I’ve always refused to share.)

Because it was hot, I’d worn dark slacks, a long-sleeved white dress shirt, and a tie with musical notes on it. (Jolene had told Elaine it was to be a less formal wedding, so what I wore would be more than good enough.) My glasses were starting to slide down my nose—occupational hazard, on a day as hot as this—but I knew the music well. Even if my glasses fell off, I’d be able to play and no one but Elaine should notice.

The caterers were still fussing with the food, and neither Jolene nor Paula was anywhere to be seen. It was an hour and a half until the ceremony, so this wasn’t entirely a surprise. Elaine and I liked to be early, to get ourselves acclimated, whenever we played a gig—not that we’d played a ton of weddings, but we’d certainly played at enough other places that this should not be much of a stretch.

We started with the Telemann Canonic Sonatas, easy enough pieces to play as they hadn’t been designed for the clarinet’s three-octave range. They were fun, though, and suited the day well…after a while, I noticed Adam, Jolene’s son and a burgeoning clarinetist, watching us avidly. His two-toned blond head bobbed to the music, and he seemed to be enjoying himself immensely. But he wasn’t dressed for a wedding; instead, he wore a t-shirt and ratty old jeans with shoes that looked two sizes two big.

When we took a break, I nodded toward him and asked Elaine, “He seems happy, don’t you think?” Of course, I wanted to say, What on Earth is he wearing? But I was far too polite.

“He’s probably glad I didn’t assign him to play these pieces,” she said with an arched eyebrow.

I stifled a laugh. “He’s still a beginner, so he doesn’t need to worry about that yet.”

“Ah, but does he know that?”

After we put our clarinets down, Adam came over and handed us each an ice-cold bottle of water. “You two sound great!”

“Thanks, kiddo.” I resisted the urge to ruffle his hair, taking a sip of water instead. “Are you wearing that to your mothers’ wedding?”

Adam shrugged. “They’re worried about what they’re wearing. I didn’t think they’d care what I wore.”

“Try again,” I said kindly. “I’m sure they’ll have someone taking pictures, as they’ve waited a long time to get married.”

“I don’t see what the big deal is. They’ve been together since I was a baby. Do they really need a piece of paper after all that?”

Before I could say anything, Elaine jumped in. “Yes, having the relationship matters more than the piece of paper. But they want that piece of paper. They’ve dreamed about having that piece of paper. And you, Adam, are going to go in the house and find yourself something to wear that shows you made an effort, or I’ll give you five extra scales next week.”

“And if you don’t find something better than that,” I added, “I’ll have to come in and help you.”

Adam shuddered dramatically. “Okay, okay already.” He went into the house.

The minister had arrived, a cheerful, fortyish woman. The food had all been brought out. The guests were starting to assemble, so Elaine and I played some more duets. The music flowed out of me, and I became so caught up in that that I didn’t care how hot it was. It was just me, Elaine, and the music.

Life was good.

By the time I looked up again, it was fifteen minutes until the ceremony. Jolene, tall and resplendent in a bright blue satiny long dress, was chatting with the minister, but Paula was nowhere to be seen. Then Jolene came over to us, murmuring, “Paula’s nervous. Says she can’t find anything to wear. And we went over this yesterday—I can’t believe this is happening.” She bit her lip, adding, “Maybe she wants to back out.”

“I’m sure it’s not that,” I put in, trying to settle her down. “She loves you to distraction.” My words were absolutely true. I’d never seen a more devoted couple.

Elaine sighed. “Let me guess. She won’t let you see her, because of that old superstition about brides—even though I’m sure you don’t care—”

“Got it in one,” Jolene said, nodding.

“And I can’t go to her,” I put in.

Both women looked at me like I’d grown a second head. “Of course you can’t,” Elaine snapped. Then, her eyes silently apologized…she must’ve realized I’d been joking. “I’ll go.”

“Would you?” The look Jolene gave her would’ve melted an iceberg—that is, if it hadn’t already melted due to the heat.

Elaine touched my hand, and was gone.

I turned back to my clarinet, and started playing the Miklos Rosza Sonatina, ideal for today as it required no accompaniment. Before I immersed myself fully in the music, I prayed that Elaine’s errand would not take too much time.

I didn’t get nearly enough time with Elaine as it was.

* * *

Elaine:

I went down the hall to Paula and Jolene’s bedroom, and knocked.

Paula let me in without saying a word. She wore a bra and a half-slip, but nothing else. The last time I’d been here, the bedroom had been painfully neat but a bit cluttered; now, though, it was as if a tornado had hit the place. Black pants were draped over the wooden headboard along with a shiny silver bolero; a red dress was covered by a bright yellow swath of something in the middle of the carpet—had I ever seen either Jolene or Paula wear yellow? I didn’t think so—while I saw green, brown, white, and checkered blazers, pants and skirts all over the place.

And a lonely light blue dress sat in the middle of the bed, crumpled as if Paula had thrown it.

Before I could say anything, Paula beat me to it. “Feeling femme today, Elaine?”

I blushed. “You two are marrying. It doesn’t matter what I feel like.”

“Then why the flower in your hair?”

Paula was the only person who’d guessed that I wasn’t simply bisexual, though I was certain Jolene knew something was off, too. Paula knew what I was in its entirety—I’m a gender-fluid person, and some days I feel female, others male. But I’ve never felt fully comfortable giving in to my impulses, not the way I was raised.

I realized I was woolgathering. “Who cares why? I’m here to help you. Jolene’s a mess. I think she’s afraid you’re going to call off the wedding.”

“No, never,” Paula said with a faraway smile. “But I have to have something to wear. And the blue dress that I was going to wear must’ve shrunk at the cleaners.”

“Are you sure this isn’t just bridal jitters?”

“Jitter me this,” Paula snarled, and put on the blue dress. Despite Paula’s tiny frame, the dress didn’t fit over her slender hips, much less meet in the middle of her back. “Could anyone wear this?”

“Maybe a dwarf could, but certainly not you.” I shook my head, and sighed. “You didn’t want to try it on yesterday, why again?”

“It’s a tradition in my family that we don’t wear our wedding dresses between the time we try them on and actually are about to get married. My parents are out there, and I figured they’d know—” She looked like she was about ready to cry.

“I understand that you want to be as traditional as possible,” I said gently. “But isn’t it more important that you wear something that you might actually feel good in on a day like today?”

“Point.” Paula smiled ruefully. “I certainly can’t wear this. And everything else, except for one outfit, I’ve already worn…and that isn’t very festive.”

“Show me the outfit,” I told her.

Paula pulled a charcoal grey sleeveless top with a bit of shininess to it out from under the pile of clothes on the floor, and grabbed a grey pair of pants. “I’d intended to wear this to dance with Jolene later. But it’s not good enough to wear now!”

“Put it on, and let’s see.”

After shrugging off her slip, Paula got into the outfit. The top fit well, but wasn’t too snug; considering it was at least ninety-five degrees in the shade, I didn’t see a problem with it. And the grey pair of pants looked comfortable and easy to move around in.

“To my mind,” I said, “this is the right outfit. Wear your best black shoes, and maybe add a black or white scarf? Or do you have a statement necklace, something that will visually draw the eye?”

“Who knew you knew this much about fashion?” Paula teased, as she got out her shoes and a white, fringy scarf. Once the scarf was draped, she added a chunky pearl-and-onyx brooch that went perfectly with the outfit, almost as if it had been designed for the thing.

“Don’t tell anyone,” I advised her. “It might ruin my reputation.”

As we laughed, I took her arm, and escorted her outside to her waiting father.

“Dad, this is Elaine,” Paula told him.

“I saw you playing the clarinet before, didn’t I?” But before I could answer, he added, “Thanks for your help.” He took my place at Paula’s side, and walked her down the flower-strewn path toward Jolene and the minister.

Allen started to play Ave Maria. Before he got four measures in, I saw people dabbing at their eyes.

Of course, Jolene and Paula both looked beautiful, Jolene tall and buxom in blue, Paula petite and dainty in grey and white. So that might’ve been it…but I still think Allen’s playing had a great deal to do with it, too.

I went to Allen, unnoticed in the crowd, and squeezed his shoulder. He put his clarinet down, and grabbed my hand; as I had been about to hold his hand, I had no problem with that at all.

We could barely see Paula’s blonde head back here, due to the crowd, but it didn’t matter. We were ready to play again long before Paula and Jolene shared their first kiss as a married couple, and before the audience had finished applauding, we were playing recessional music—Mendelssohn, I thought—that Allen had arranged for two clarinets.

After a while, everyone had gone toward the refreshment table but us. But before we could go get something, Jolene came up to us and insisted that we get our pictures taken. I hate having my picture taken, as my outer self doesn’t always match my inner self…and even on a day like today, where I felt more feminine than not, I still hated having the flower in my hair memorialized for all time.

Still, Allen’s kiss on the cheek was nice, and my smile at him was genuine. He was truly a good man, the best person I’ve ever known…someday soon, I’d have to tell him the truth about me.

And if he still wanted to marry me then, I’d let him.

* * *

Allen:

Later on, after we’d stored our clarinets away and the food had been cleared out, I took Elaine back out to the yard again. Toward the back, there was a patch of green grass near the fence that I didn’t think anyone had stood on today; an untrammeled bit of grass, if you will. The sky was breathtaking, all bronzy red and pinkish orange, fading into the deep twilight blue I’d only ever seen in a Nebraska summer sky. It was a sky Maxfield Parrish might’ve painted, had he the chance.

“Such beauty,” Elaine breathed.

“What better omen for a wedding,” I added.

For once, Elaine didn’t give me a reproving look. Instead, she looked soft, touchable, feminine in a way I rarely saw…I knew I couldn’t waste this moment.

As Jolene and Paula were saying goodbye to their guests, we were quite alone. Our temporary solitude suited me well.

I went down to one knee on the grass, and said, “Elaine Foster, will you marry me?”

Elaine bit her lip, which wasn’t the response I wanted.

So before she spoke, I tried again. “Look, Elaine. We are meant for one another. I love you to distraction. I want you to become everything you have always wanted—a great writer, a great educator. You’re already a great person, and the only woman I want to be with. Will you please put me out of my misery and say yes?”

At that, Elaine laughed, pulled me up, and kissed me. When I broke away again, I looked down at her shining eyes and said, “So, is that a yes?”

“It’s a yes,” she murmured. “But…”

Before she could say anything more, Adam came barreling out into the yard. “My mothers told me to come and find you.”

As we went inside, I thought, This is the happiest day of my life.

* * *

Elaine:

I loved Allen. So I said yes, when he asked me this time—hoping I’d be able to explain just who and what I really was, after. And it made Allen so happy, for a time, I basked in his reflected happiness, and felt transformed.

If only we could’ve stayed in that moment forever.

Chapter 2

Amorphous Mass/Massimino

The Big Man had told me to call him Michael, because humans had names. He was calling me Massimino for that reason, though I wasn’t truly accustomed to it, because we didn’t want to stand out among the humans. We were proud to be at Jolene and Paula’s wedding, though for a different reason than most. While everyone else had been watching Jolene and Paula take their vows, Michael and I had snuck peeks at Allen and Elaine.

We’d been in human form, of course. Michael told Jolene that Paula had invited us; he told Paula that Jolene had. We were both dressed appropriately, in dark slacks and white shirts; Michael had worn a rainbow tie, while I’d worn my shirt open at the collar so I didn’t feel stifled. He’d called us “the Lights,” as we were both, ultimately, made of light…I’d worn the body of a human teen, androgynous, of course, as Masses have no gender as humans knew it. And Michael delighted in “getting back to his roots,” as he’d called it; he’d worn the adult male body he’d chosen, graying brown hair, bronze skin, and a tall, erect frame, with pride.

Michael had kissed the brides, even, while I’d hung back and listened to the music with Adam, Jolene and Paula’s son. I didn’t have to say much, which was just as well; I didn’t know what to say in order not to stand out, and it was essential that I blended in just now.

No one had guessed that Michael was actually a being of rainbow light, or that I was an Amorphous Mass. Which was as it should be; the humans didn’t need to know about us, or what we did.

When the sky darkened, we’d made a great show of leaving along with everyone else, but we hadn’t. Instead, we became invisible and went back into the yard to watch Allen Bridgeway’s marriage proposal to Elaine Foster. I still wasn’t in my preferred, amorphous form, because that was too hard to control right now. But it was easier for me to be incorporeal than it had been to hold the body of a teen for six straight hours.

After everyone had left, including Paula and Jolene, we drifted outside a few miles to what the humans called a “rest area.” It was a deserted place just off the main roads, something called an “Interstate,” and was a place we could safely talk without bothering anyone.

We materialized in a deserted cornfield just behind the rest area, again in the human forms we’d taken for the wedding earlier, and walked the rest of the way there. This time, we were both in comfortable clothes—blue jeans, short-sleeved t-shirts, and tennis shoes. Michael had added a rainbow bandanna to his outfit, perhaps as a nod to what he really was—or perhaps because he’d just witnessed one of Nebraska’s first-ever same-sex weddings. He looked quite comfortable in his skin, whereas I felt miserable. The dryness stung my eyes, and multiple small insects tried to bite me. But as I wasn’t truly human, I didn’t smell right to them, and they flew away again.

As we ambled along, Michael asked me, “What do you think about what you saw?”

“Paula and Jolene? Or Allen and Elaine?”

Michael snorted. “Allen and Elaine, of course. We’re here for them.”

“They’re in love,” I said, stating the obvious. “They’ll marry in time. Right?”

“Wrong.” Michael’s lips twisted, and his eyes darkened. In them, I could see hints of the rainbow light he held inside him—but the light stood still. It did not dance, as per usual. “If they were able to marry, if Elaine were healthy enough inside to marry, we’d not be here, Mass.”

“Shouldn’t I have a regular name, too?” I asked irreverently.

“I know your designation, so knock it off,” Michael said, unrepentant, before he ruffled my hair. That felt strange.

“Hey!” I couldn’t help it; I chuckled. “Hands off the merchandise.”

“That language update I gave you definitely is coming in handy, I see,” Michael commented.

I wished I could fully show my displeasure, as my normal amorphous form would’ve done. As it was, I only shrugged, shook my head, and frowned, which wasn’t nearly enough.

“What sense did you get of them, as a couple?” Michael asked, persisting.

“Allen didn’t take his eyes off her. And Elaine didn’t take her eyes off him. They look perfect together, and seem deeply in love…I don’t see what the problem is. Unless she truly doesn’t love Allen?”

“She does, or we’d not be here.” Michael frowned, the light behind his eyes darkening to a midnight blue. “But she’s been heavily traumatized in her past. Didn’t you run their life histories?”

“Of course I did. But I thought Allen would get her past all that. She’s been with him for what, seven years?”

“Almost,” Michael corrected. “And yes, Allen loves her very much. He’s stable, knows who he is, and has come to terms with it. But Elaine is more like you. She’s not truly settled in herself, much less with just one gender.”

“So?”

“The humans mostly don’t understand people who have, as they say, gender fluidity in their makeup. They understand someone who wants to be a male who wasn’t born in a male body, for the most part. And they also usually understand someone who wants to be a female who wasn’t born in a female body. It’s not easy for them to become outwardly what they feel inside, but for the most part it’s something civilized people understand. Yet someone who’s more like you isn’t understood…it’s a real problem.”

“And you’re telling me this, why?”

“Elaine needs you,” Michael admitted. “She isn’t healing from her trauma, and won’t let anyone in—not even Allen.”

“I take it I can’t talk with her like this?” I indicated my borrowed human form.

“No, though it’s an idea.” Michael brightened. “There is one place where Allen came to terms with Elaine, but—”

“I sense there’s a problem, even there?”

“Yes, unfortunately.” Michael paused, twisted his lips again, and shook his head. “It’s because of what Allen said there that I decided to intervene here and now.”

“But they haven’t asked for help…have they?”

“Not yet. But they will.”

As there was no one around to notice except a couple of cows and a whole lot of chirping cicadas, we wasted no time fading back into the fabric of the universe.

(Want more free chapters? Go to the excerpt and read chapters 3 and 4 of CHANGING FACES right now!)

Written by Barb Caffrey

January 30, 2017 at 6:31 am

Buy Some Easy, Last-Minute Xmas Gifts Today Via Joan Reeves’ #SlingWords Blog…

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Hey, everyone.

Just ’cause I don’t have much in the way of holiday spirit this year, that doesn’t mean the rest of you don’t. (I hope someone does, somewhere…otherwise the world is a very cold and cruel place. But I digress.) And part of your holiday spirit, if you’re in much of the Western World, is to find the perfect gift for someone.

It may be December 23rd, but you still have time to buy an e-book. That is the point of author Joan Reeves’ blog post today entitled “Easy, Last-Minute Gifts.” My two books of the Elfy duology, AN ELFY ON THE LOOSE and A LITTLE ELFY IN BIG TROUBLE, are part of this promotion, as you see:

AnElfyontheLoose_med#31 An Elfy on the Loose by Barb Caffrey

When young Bruno the Elfy meets Sarah the human girl, they find romance and must save Bruno’s mentor from the clutches of a Dark Elf.

An Elfy on the Loose is 99cents.

Visit Barb Caffrey at Barb Caffrey’s Elfyverse.

 

#32 A Little Elfy in Big Trouble by Barb Caffrey

Bruno and Sarah fall further in love and gather allies to save Northern California from a Dark Elf.

A Little Elfy in Big Trouble is $2.99.

Visit Barb Caffrey at Barb Caffrey’s Elfyverse.

However, don’t despair if you already have them but are in need of a good, quick e-book purchase from a fun author who tells a good story. There are plenty of other great choices to choose from at Joan’s blog today, and I’m sure you can find one of ’em, or more, to whet your interest.

So, please, do take a look at Joan’s blog today. Then buy a book, or two, or three…and I would appreciate it greatly if you’d at least consider buying my two if you don’t already have them. (OK?)