Barb Caffrey's Blog

Writing the Elfyverse . . . and beyond

Posts Tagged ‘stories

Neither Fish Nor Fowl

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I don’t know about you, but I sometimes don’t feel much like anyone else.

In general, this is a good thing. I have no doubts about my individuality or individualism. I know who I am; I am self-aware; I work on being my best self, especially as I know full well what my worst self is (and want no part of it, thank you).

Mind, I don’t want my worst self to dominate. And I’m not the only one who has ever thought of this, as we shall see.

In a classic Star Trek episode, Captain Jim Kirk was split into his two biggest “parts.” One half was good but weak. The other half was evil but strong. The good half waffled and could not make a decision as his compassion was so strong, every decision felt like the wrong answer. The bad half made snap decisions, tried to pretend he was something he wasn’t (that is, the full Jim Kirk, when he was only half), and had no remorse even after making the wrong judgment calls. Obviously, both halves of Jim Kirk were necessary for the full Jim Kirk to be able to be decisive–yet moral–at the same time.

So, the worst self I have, that can be ruthless and even cruel at times, has to be taken into account as part of who I am. Suppressing it isn’t the right answer, either, as too much suppression of part of ourselves has difficult and sometimes unwieldy consequences.

That’s why I often feel like I’m neither fish nor fowl.

Of course, the conception of an author’s blog usually is to explain more about why the person writes what they write than explain the person themselves. My answers are huge, sometimes elliptical, yet they boil down to one thing: This is who I am.

So, when I write a romance like Bruno’s and Sarah’s in the two Elfy books, it’s because I believe that romance is–or at least can be–vital to people’s well-being. When I write a romance like Allen’s and Elaine’s in CHANGING FACES, it’s because I believe love can indeed conquer all, even though there will be unforeseen difficulties, and even if the people in question have lots of work to do on themselves to be good partners.

Even in the short stories I’ve written, there usually is a romantic component. In “Baseball, Werewolves, and Me,” psychic Arletta James is a huge baseball fan, married to a werewolf, and has been brought in to consult for a major league baseball team due to unforeseen events. Her husband Fergus is her perfect foil, smart, dedicated, and not willing to take any crap from anyone. The two of them make an excellent team. (I also have a second story about them in the works, for those who’ve asked.)

The two stories about Marja and Tomas, the first a shapeshifter and the second a telepathic Troll, are also in the same vein. They found romance where it was least expected. They both feel like outcasts. (For that matter, so do all the others I’ve mentioned already, particularly Bruno and Sarah of the Elfy books and Elaine of CHANGING FACES.) But together, they thrive, and they use their talents to their best advantage.

I have other short stories that have no romance, mind. And I have a few others that do have at least the glimmering of a romance. But I think you get my point, which is that life should be shared with those you love.

If you’re fortunate enough to have a romantic partner who understands you, celebrate that every single day.

If you’re not, but you have friends who understand and love you for who you are, celebrate that.

And if you’re the most fortunate of all in that you not only have a living romantic partner to stand beside you but have good, caring and decent friends as well, recognize that you live in a bounty of riches. Do not take that for granted, ever. And do what you can for everyone you know, because life is fleeting.

So, while I continue to feel as if I’m neither fish nor fowl, I recognize that my skills and talents can still be effective.

I do hope this blog will give someone the hope they need, or at least some points to ponder. (Let me know that you’re reading, will you? I’m still smarting over that “comment” from Malwarebytes about how “lightly trafficked blog sites often carry viruses and malware.”)

Written by Barb Caffrey

October 15, 2021 at 4:31 pm

What Makes a Good Story?

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Recently, I wrote about Milwaukee Brewers relief pitcher John Axford, and I said that the way his story ended was not the way his story was supposed to go.

This begs the question: What makes for a good story, anyway?

By contemporary standards, what would’ve made Axford’s story much better would’ve been him coming into the game, striking out the side (or at least getting three outs), getting the save, and having the stadium rain cheers upon his head. (The crowd did cheer him when he came in — I think he may have even received a standing ovation — and cheered him on the way out, too, which is not usual when a pitcher is unable to get out of the inning. This last happened because we Brewers fans knew Axford well from his previous service with us, and knew he was deserving of such approbation due to how well he’d done before.)

In previous eras, though, they had stories such as MADAME BOVARY that sold a ton. Those stories would have characters put through the wringer and they’d never be able to come up for air; instead, even their children would be put through the wringer for no purpose, and would never be able to get ahead.

Why audiences appreciated such stories is beyond me, but that was the fashion at that time. The would-be heroine (or hero) had a tragic flaw (or two, or five), and because of that flaw would taint herself and everyone around her beyond any hope of redemption.

The fashion now tends more to happy endings, but well-deserved happy endings. Characters still get put through the wringer (see Lois McMaster Bujold’s MIRROR DANCE, or Katharine Eliska Kimbriel’s NIGHT CALLS, or any of Robert Jordan’s novels in the Wheel of Time series, among others), but they live to fight another day. They learn from their mistakes, too. And they continue on, having learned much more about themselves in the process.

Of course, the Harry Potter novels also exemplify this sort of story. Harry grows up to be a powerful magician, but he’s put through the wringer and must fight the big, bad, nasty, evil, and disgusting Lord Voldemort (and yes, I meant all those descriptions, as Voldemort is just that bad) in order to become the magician he needs to be. He and his friends Hermione and Ron are put through all sorts of awful things, but they eventually prevail.

My friend Chris Nuttall’s novels about Emily, starting with SCHOOLED IN MAGIC and continuing through to FACE OF THE ENEMY (with CHILD OF DESTINY coming soon), also have a plot that shows Emily being thrown into awful situation after awful situation, but she finds a way to prevail every time through hard work, effort, and a talent to get along with people even if they’ve crossed her (or she’s crossed them). Emily scans as a real person, and we care about her because she faces things most of us face even though we’re not magicians.

What are those things, you ask? Well, she has to learn from her own mistakes. She has to realize that she can’t fix everything and everyone. She has to find out that her snap judgments are not always correct. And she has to reevaluate people and situations, even when she doesn’t want to.

Of course, my own stories about Bruno and Sarah (AN ELFY ON THE LOOSE and A LITTLE ELFY IN BIG TROUBLE) have many of the same lessons. There are things Bruno can do, and does, once he realizes he’s been lied to about nearly everything. Sarah is in much the same boat, except she has different talents — complementary ones, in most cases — and the two of them have to find that they’re stronger together than they could ever be alone. But there are still things they can’t do, and they must make their peace with that (as every adult does), while continuing to work on the things they can.

In other words, they can control what is in their power to control. But they can’t control other people. (It would be wrong to do so, anyway. They have to make their own lives meaningful in whatever way they can, too. And make their own mistakes, as we all do…but I digress.)

Anyway, the stories I love best are those with happy endings. People sometimes start out with situations they don’t deserve (such as my friend Kayelle Allen’s character Izzorah, who went through a childhood illness that damaged his heart and nearly blinded him), but they get into better positions and find the people who can help them — maybe even love them the way they deserve. (Izzorah, for example, finds a treatment for his heart — it’s not a standard one, by any means, but it works in the context of the story — and finds love along the way in SURRENDER LOVE.)

So, to go back to the beginning of this blog, as we love happy endings and we want to see deserving people find good luck and happiness, the true ending we wanted for John Axford was to get the outs, get the cheers, bask in the glow of achieving his dreams once again at the baseball-advanced age of thirty-eight, and stay with the Brewers the rest of the season as they continue to make their run at postseason play.

That Axford was unable to achieve this happy ending was distressing. But all the hard work and effort he put into his return to the big leagues should still be celebrated. And my hope, overall, is that he will still be with the Brewers in one way or another after this season ends.

What makes for a good story? Do you agree or disagree with me, and if so, why? Tell me about it in the comments!

Writers, Choose Your Strategy

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We writers tend to group ourselves into different camps.

Some are seat-of-the-pants writers (also known as “pantsers”). Some are meticulous plotters. Some are half-and-half…and no matter which type of storyteller you are, at some point you realize that your meticulously plotted story has somehow warped itself into an entirely new shape.

It’s for those days I’ve come up with my new saying, which is the title above: Writers, choose your strategy. Learn how to deal with the unexpected. And then take it from there.

Why do I say this?

Well, when your story goes sideways, that can be difficult to deal with. For many writers, writing seems like the one thing we can control in this life; when it, too, shows we can’t, that can be deeply disturbing.

Plus, even when your story is cooperating, there are times in the story where you step away from it and just have to shake your head. The villains are one thing; you expect bad behavior from them. But the moral equivalency, the bad behavior from otherwise good characters, and the rationalization that if they’re otherwise good, this bad behavior can’t be as bad as all that…where does that come from?

Quite simply, it comes from us.

We contain multitudes (hat tip to Walt Whitman). We all have darkness inside us, as well as light. Our characters can’t help but reflect that. And sometimes, the spattering of darkness and light leads us into weird corners…but we have to trust the process, and persevere.

If you’re at a weird place in your story right now, I want you to remember one thing. You may not be able to control what comes out of you, not entirely. But you can choose what to do with it once you have it.

May that bring you comfort, if it’s one of those writing days.

 

Written by Barb Caffrey

August 16, 2019 at 7:24 am

What I’ve Been Up To…

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I figured I’d drop in a quick blog, and let you all know what I’ve been doing the last few weeks.

First, I finished writing something for Deborah J. Ross’s blog — a guest shot — about my experiences in writing after widowhood. That should be up on Monday, she told me; when that goes up, I’ll come back and let you all know. (As you might expect.)

Second, I’ve been puzzling out a story for J.F. Holmes and Cannon Publishing for their upcoming Joint Task Force 13 anthology. This particular anthology blends military SF and elements of urban fantasy. My hero is Army Corporal (and medic) Freddie Garcas; he’s going to be fighting a vampire. I’ve found this uniquely challenging, but already I’ve learned a great deal more from some new friends (and story advisors, folks who served in the Army as I did not; I was just a military wife) to help the story ring true — or at least truer. This story is taking a lot more time to bring together than I’d expected, but I have faith in it, and in the process of writing it…eventually I will get it, and I hope that eventually will be sooner rather than later. (Wink.)

Third, I’ve been editing. (As always.) I finished up a few projects, and am now onto my next one.

Fourth, I’ve been working on trying to improve my overall health and life. This is a very tedious and ongoing process, but I think I’ve made a little progress over the past few weeks. (Slow and halting though it may be, progress is progress. Right?)

Fifth and last, I think I’ve finally figured out something that had been eluding me — and as it will take time to explain, let me just say this: You can’t make someone care about you. You just can’t do it. Even if you want it desperately, you can’t make someone else care when they don’t.

I’ve been fortunate for the most part in that while I’ve had bad love relationships and one truly outstanding love relationship, I’ve mostly not run into the “unrequited love” phenomenon. So, when I have seen it, up close and personally, I didn’t have any idea what to do about it.

Because I hate to give up on people, it’s hard to realize you have to sometimes cut your losses. (As the band Linkin Park says in one of their songs, you don’t have to like everything you do. Sometimes, you’re going to hate it. But you have to do what’s right for yourself anyway. This is a very big paraphrase of one of their songs, mind you…but the truth is the truth, regardless of the paraphrase.) And sometimes, no matter how badly you want someone to see you for you, they’re just not ever going to do it.

I’ve seen this with my friends, I’ve seen this occasionally with my family, and now, I’ve seen it in my own life. I don’t like it at all. It’s not what I would’ve chosen for the first quasi-relationship I had after my husband’s passing…but it is what it is.

It took me one Hell of a long time to process, too. I just couldn’t believe it. This isn’t like me, at all, to have something like this happen…I guess I’ve learned something new about myself, but it’s something I wish I’d not had to learn. (That said, I’m not going backward; I’d just have to learn this again. And it was painful enough the first time, thanks.)

Mind, I do think there’s one — and only one — good thing about this. It has made me much more empathetic to others who’ve run into this. I have felt badly, in fact, for some of my previous comments earlier in my life before I had this consciousness raising.

And, as I’ve said before, it’s all grist for the mill. Maybe it’ll better inform my storytelling at some later date, when this isn’t all so fresh and raw. (One can only hope.)

So, there you have it: that’s what I’ve been up to. Learning, living, writing, editing, working on my health, and trying not to run around screaming.

How about you? (Tell me about it in the comments, please. I’ll feel less like I’m shouting into the void that way.)

Written by Barb Caffrey

June 15, 2019 at 5:56 am

Enter the Wined, Dined and Read Blog Hop!

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Folks, a while back, Aaron Lazar over at the excellent writer’s website Murder By 4 invited me to the Wined, Dined and Read Blog Hop. This particular hop discusses food in the context of our favorite characters…and is possibly the most unusual blog hop I’ve ever taken part in, to boot.

a0bb9-anelfyontheloose_medAre you ready to read more about my tastes in wine and food, much less my main characters from AN ELFY ON THE LOOSE, Bruno and Sarah, and their taste in food? (As they’re too young to drink much wine as of yet?) If so, read on…

If your main character were a glass of wine, which one would he be?

Bruno would definitely be a merlot, as like a merlot, Bruno is much more complex than he seems at first.

Describe your book in one meal:

What Aaron Lazar did here was to mention a meal his characters in BETRAYAL actually had instead. As that seemed to work well for him, I’ll do the same thing and discuss a meal Bruno and Sarah have in AN ELFY ON THE LOOSE (extra word added by me for the sake of clarity):

After a quick survey of the (refrigerator’s) contents, they realized ham, cheese, grapes, apples, and juice were readily available.

“Sarah, we can’t carry all of this at once. We’ll spill it and make a big mess.”

“We’ll be fine, Bruno,” she said reassuringly. “Let’s take it one step at a time.”

Bruno took one step and asked, “Like this?”

She laughed so hard her shoulders shook. After she’d recovered a bit of sobriety, she said, “I suppose if we each took one step, it would take forever.”

“Yeah,” he said. “But at least I made you laugh. I missed you, Sarah.”

“I missed you, too,” she said quietly. “But for now, let’s eat. Then we can catch up.”

“All right,” he agreed, wondering why girls always stated the obvious.

“I have an idea, though,” she said.

“Oh?”

“Why not take a little at a time into my bedroom, as we took the bowls and the crackers before?”

“Ah! That makes a great deal of sense,” Bruno agreed.

“I thought you’d see it my way,” she said dryly. Then, smiling, she picked up two apples plus the grapes and went into her room. Bruno picked up the ham and cheese and followed her.

“See? We’re halfway done,” she said brightly.

“Won’t we need glasses, too?” he asked as he followed her back out into the kitchen.

“You worry too much.” She took the step-stool, went to the appropriate cabinet, ascended to the right level, got the glasses and handed them down to Bruno. “See? No problem.”

Bruno took the glasses into Sarah’s bedroom, holding the door open for Sarah as she carried in the orange juice. “Is that heavy?” he asked.

“No, it’s not too bad,” she said. “Besides, it won’t be as heavy to carry back because we’ll drink a lot of it!”

“Well, that’s one way to look at it.”

“That’s what I thought,” she nodded, satisfied.

Other than Sarah having to run into the kitchen to get a knife to cut the ham and cheese, the breakfast wasn’t too bad.

Or in other words, Bruno and Sarah will eat whatever is readily available, as they’re in a crisis situation. (Clear as mud, no?)

What candy would your book be?

Deep, rich, dark chocolate, preferably with hazelnuts in it. Bruno is partial to it, and he believes the chocolate in the Human Realm (our Earth) is far superior to the chocolate made in the Elfy Realm.

What does your book smell like?

Like springtime, where the birds are chirping, the small animals are coming out of hibernation, and everything seems fresh and new. (But no flowers, please. Bruno is allergic.)

Your book’s snack would be:

Chocolate chip cookies. (Again, Bruno’s partial to them.)

Describe your most memorable meal:

On Christmas Day in 2002, my husband Michael cooked chicken kebabs along with roasted potatoes and — because he knew I liked them — some zucchini and some rutabagas. (The last is my family’s favorite holiday food. Michael didn’t like either one, but he made them just for me.) The kebabs were particularly flavorful, while the potatoes, squash and rutabagas were just the right accompaniment. This, by far, was the best meal I’ve ever eaten.

One food word to describe your writing style:

Appetizing?

What will someone find you eating/drinking when you’re really into a good book?

A diet soda over ice, some tortilla chips and salsa (which probably negates any good I’ve done with the calorie-saving diet soda), and possibly some dark chocolate for dessert.

Sweet or salty?

It depends on my mood. Usually I’d reach for something salty over something sweet…but I might just reach for a sweet something-or-other just to be contrary, too. (I’m like Sarah, that way.)

That concludes my part of the Wined, Dined and Read blog-hop…maybe a few other authors will want to chime in? I’m tagging Jason Cordova, Chris Nuttall, and N.N. Light as authors who might be intrigued enough to give this one a go down the line…but whether they do or not, go check out their sites and do read their books!

Written by Barb Caffrey

March 2, 2015 at 4:25 am