Barb Caffrey's Blog

Writing the Elfyverse . . . and beyond

Posts Tagged ‘writing

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Written by Barb Caffrey

January 16, 2017 at 6:23 am

On Reading, Writing, and Blogging

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Folks, as you know, I’m celebrating the International Authors’ Day Blog Hop, started by writer/blogger Debdatta Desgupta Sahay of b00k and celebrated by a wide variety of writers and bloggers worldwide (including yours truly). But because time was short when I joined the blog-hop initially, I didn’t talk about something Ms. Sahay and many other bloggers in this particular hop have…and that’s about why they love books.

Now, it’s time to change that.

So, why do I love books so much? Is it because they offer different ways of thinking than my own? Is it because of the stories they provide? Or is it simply that I love to see the different ways writers put words together?

Maybe it’s all of that. Or maybe it’s all of that plus more

Early in my life, I realized that I loved to read. Maybe this is because my grandmother read to me often as a youngster, as did my parents…I remember that by age four or so, I could read books that most kids didn’t pick up until third or fourth grade. By the time I was eight, I was reading Nancy Drew and Trixie Belden mysteries; by age ten, I’d graduated to Sherlock Holmes and baseball biographies (including of Jackie Robinson, Hank Aaron, and Willie Mays, among others). By age twelve or so, I was reading about the civil rights struggles, and various histories…by age fourteen, I was reading Robert A. Heinlein’s TIME ENOUGH FOR LOVE and had read through all of the Andre Norton books I could find, including her Witch World books, the three books set on Warlock, the Time Traders saga, and more.

And with every book I read, the more things I learned. I tried not to stop myself from reading anything I felt I needed to, which sometimes got me into a bit of a pickle (when I was in my early teens, and a boy I liked saw me reading OUR BODIES, OUR SELVES, I remember flushing bright red). But mostly, it taught me that every book, every genre, every author has something to say — and that every book, in its own way, is precious.

Now, there are books that, once read, I have never picked up again. (LORD OF THE FLIES was one of those. Ugh!) I’m human, and I have things I’m partial to…which, considering I grew up to be a science fiction, fantasy, and romance writer, tends to be a little more eclectic than most.

Still. I urge people to broaden their horizons. We writers need to read all sorts of things in order to formulate our stories. And sometimes, we write characters who are nothing whatsoever like us — yet we must do so with conviction, or the reader will tune out. How do we do that unless we’re willing to listen to others who don’t sound like us? Or at least read books that challenge our assumptions, and make us think about the choices we make, and why we make them?

But even if you’re not a writer, I still urge you to read outside your comfort zone. (Writer/blogger Susan Toy has a great set of memes generated from a recent insightful blog post of hers; the memes were created by Chris Graham, of TSRA PROMO GRAPHICS & VISUALS — otherwise known as Chris the Story-Reading Ape.** Chris runs a great blog, and offers many services to indie authors free of charge; if you haven’t been to his blog yet, you really should hightail it over there.)

In fact, here is a great visual put together by Chris G. on behalf of Susan Toy, using her words:


As the author of some very different-than-usual books (including AN ELFY ON THE LOOSE and A LITTLE ELFY IN BIG TROUBLE), I have to hope that more people will start doing just that. And soon.

Anyway, I love reading. I also love to write, especially when the words are flowing and the story’s making sense…and as a blogger, I’ve enjoyed getting a chance to meet people from all over the world.

That is the main reason why I signed up for the International Authors’ Day blog-hop, and it’s why I hope you’ll continue to enjoy reading my blog if it’s the first time you’ve ever stopped by.

Happy Sunday, folks! Keep hopping along…and remember, if you haven’t done so yet, you can get my military SF story “To Survive the Maelstrom” for free as an e-book from Amazon for another day or so, give or take a few.


**I hate to admit this, but half the time, I write “Chris the Story-Telling Ape,” even though Chris Graham uses TSRA — or “The Story-Reading Ape” — as part of his own company name! Fortunately for me, Chris does not seem to mind this…one of these days, Chris, I’ll get it right. (Starting today, I hope.)

Catching Up…

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Folks, I realized I haven’t been here to let you know what’s going on for a few days…so I figured I should try to catch up.

What’s going on with me? Mostly, I’m spending my time editing, with a side order of writing…and the Racine Concert Band free summer concert season is about to start, so a little of that, too. (I play alto sax in the band.)

I’m also trying to work my way through a few problems, and it’s like gnawing on a particularly dense bone. It’s hard for me to know what to say, what I can say, what I should say…as I’ve said before, not all of the story is my own, and I don’t want to infringe upon anyone else’s privacy.

That said, my living situation remains in flux. I don’t know from day to day what’s going to happen — how this is any different than any other time, I can’t really tell you. (If you want to be philosophical, none of us knows from day to day what’s going to happen.) Except to say that I’d prefer a bit more stability in my life, that is…I think that would be highly conducive to creativity, at least in the short-term. (Then again, maybe I wouldn’t know what to do with all that serenity if I had it. Though I did well enough with my late husband, who exuded serenity, at least in my estimation…my hope is that I still would know, even after all this time.)

There have been many things that have caught my attention over the past week, including the death of college basketball coach Pat Summitt (one of the true icons in the field, and a pioneer in women’s history, someone who helped put women’s college basketball firmly on the map and gave it the same status as men’s basketball), a horrific bombing in Turkey, Donald Trump bloviating in Scotland about things he knows nothing about (in this case, the British vote to leave the European Union), and a nagging at the back of my mind that I really should write something about the Milwaukee Brewers of 2016.

So, don’t think I have lost interest in the world, or in blogging. It’s more that my focus is sharply directed elsewhere for a time. And because of that, I don’t have much to say…except that I’m glad you’re here, reading my blog, and paying attention to what I’m trying to do.

Have an enjoyable holiday weekend, folks.

Written by Barb Caffrey

June 30, 2016 at 4:02 am

Writing: When Done Well, it Only Seems Effortless…

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Folks, haven’t you ever wondered just how much work goes into your favorite books?

I’ve been pondering this lately, and here’s my best answer: a whole lot of effort goes into what later seems to be effortless prose…in other words, a writer works hard for what seems effortless, in the end.

We writers often castigate ourselves because our writing isn’t coming easily enough, or quickly enough, or (fill-in-the-blank) enough. Yet, later on, when you re-read your efforts, you barely remember, “Oh, didn’t I have the flu then?” or “My goodness, how did I write that while under so much stress?”

Of course, some writers use their writing as a way to GAFIAte — that is, get away from it all. To those writers, anything they do with their stories is like a mini-vacation; it’s still work, mind you, but it’s work done with a will and a smile on their faces.

For the rest of us (including yours truly), that type of writing — the GAFIAting I just discussed — is elusive, at best. Most of the time, writing takes planning; hard work; effort. It still gives you, the writer, a feeling of satisfaction in the end…but it doesn’t feel like a mini-vacation at all.


Instead, it feels like the hard work that it is. Worthwhile work, granted. Work we’ve chosen to do in this life…work that we see, so we must do it, and tell the stories we have inside to their best advantage, in the hope that someone else will find some worth in it, or maybe get a chuckle out of it and get through their day a little better, or perhaps even come back to your words time after time and find renewed meaning and purpose if we’ve done our jobs particularly well.

Those who aren’t writers may not understand how much work and effort there is in what you do. (I can’t speak for them, so I don’t know.) But one thing is clear: those of us who are writers know full well how much goes into our stories. How much of ourselves, and our drive, and our will, and our care, and everything that we are — our souls, maybe, for all I know — are reflected in our books, if we’ve done them just right.

So. For today, writers, try to do this one thing — just write. Don’t expect it to be effortless, ’cause that is beyond absurd. But do expect it to be from your heart, from your spirit, from your soul, even if you’re fighting with verb tenses and spelling and your story doesn’t seem to make much sense.

Because down the line, what you’re doing will be worth it. Trust me.

Written by Barb Caffrey

June 6, 2016 at 1:53 am

Now Available in E-Book: Loren K. Jones’s “Inadvertent Adventures”

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Folks, it’s been a while since I was able to announce something fun for one of my friends, but I’m happy to do so tonight.

As some of you might know, Loren K. Jones has been a friend of mine for many years now; he knew my husband Michael well, though by long-distance, and Michael edited for Loren. (I have also edited books and stories for Loren since Michael’s passing.)

Now, Loren’s first novel for Twilight Times Books, INADVERTENT ADVENTURES — a funny military SF adventure — is now available for purchase at Amazon. And for a week or so as an introductory deal, it’ll be available for only ninety-nine cents. (Yes, I grabbed a copy right away. I have no shame.) It will also be available via OmniLit and Barnes and Noble within a day or so.

Loren’s a fine writer, and I’m glad to let you all know his latest novel is available…especially as many of his other works are currently out of print. (Don’t worry; I asked him about this recently, and he told me he’s working on bringing them back. And if INADVERTENT ADVENTURES does as well as I’m hoping, maybe that’ll be sooner rather than later.)

This is a big deal for Loren, and I’m very happy to support him and his efforts.

So, please do take a gander at Loren’s novel — hey, it’s only ninety-nine cents right now, so how could you go wrong? — and then come back and let me know what you think.

Written by Barb Caffrey

February 5, 2016 at 11:12 pm

Sunday Special: New Guest Blog Is Up for Author Gemma Juliana…

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Folks, it’s Sunday. And as it’s the Sunday before Christmas — a holiday nearly everyone in the Western Hemisphere observes, whether in its breach or in its keeping — I have an extra-special treat for you.

EQ2015Anthology Cover.1485x2100Author Gemma Juliana and I got to know each other due to our participation in the Exquisite Christmas anthology. I have two stories there, both featuring shapeshifter (and woman of size) Marja and her lover, Tomas, a telepathic mountain Troll. But Gemma has me beat — she has three stories in the anthology!

(And all of them are great reads, too. You really must go and see.)

Anyway, I enjoyed chatting with Gemma so much via e-mail, she was the very first person I asked for a guest blog. And while her holiday schedule was full, she said I could guest for her — while she’ll guest for me after the New Year. (I can’t wait!)

ALittleElfyinBigTrouble_medMy guest blog for Gemma discusses the differences between writing romance for teens/young adults and more mature adults, and I used my characters Bruno and Sarah as foils for Marja and Tomas. This is not the same blog you have already seen, either; I wrote a few iterations on this topic, and I actually wrote this one for Gemma first.

Anyway, here’s a wee bit from this guest blog:

…about the only thing Marja and Tomas have in common with my young Elfy protagonist Bruno and his mostly human teenage girlfriend, Sarah, is that despite the somewhat exotic subject matter, their romances feel genuine. We can empathize with them, because they have quirks and flaws, just as we all do.

Now, when you’re talking about teenagers and their first forays into romance, there obviously are some differences from writing about two settled adults such as Marja and Tomas. Bruno and Sarah are experiencing everything for the very first time – the first time they hold hands, the first time they kiss, is special. They don’t know what they’re doing, but they know they want to be doing it…and they know they’re going to do it “come the seventeen Hells or water over the levees,” as Bruno would say.

Then I used a few examples, one from A LITTLE ELFY IN BIG TROUBLE, and one from the second of my two stories in Exquisite Christmas, “To Hunt the Hunter.”

So please, do go take a look at this guest blog — then, if you would be so kind, check out the sample chapters of A LITTLE ELFY IN BIG TROUBLE if you haven’t yet read them. They may just intrigue you…or at least make you laugh.

And isn’t having a good laugh important at this time of year?

Whither Writing, or, How to Stop Getting in Your Own Way

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Folks, I keep meaning to write this little bloglet about writing, and time keeps slipping away.

Why? Well, I’m still ensconced in my final edit of A LITTLE ELFY IN BIG TROUBLE. Were my hands a bit better — I’ve been dealing with a flare-up of my carpal tunnel syndrome for the past few months — it would’ve been done by now.

So I thought to myself today, “Why am I judging myself by other people’s standards?”

Writing is an individual pursuit. Anyone who writes knows this. We all have different styles of writing, different ways of writing, and different habits away from writing, all of which adds up to one thing: we are individuals, doing individual pursuits.

Before you say it…I know this is obvious. But sometimes, you must point out the obvious.

Especially when you tend to forget about it, as most of us do.

So here’s my thought: We are all individuals, right? So why do we try to judge our writing progress by anyone else’s standards?

I know, I know. There are some standards that seem irrefutable.

But if I try, say, to judge what I’m doing by what my friends are doing, I’m going to lose.

Then again, if they judge themselves by what I’m doing, they might lose, too. Especially as I don’t know what their standards are; only they do.

Look, folks. You have to judge yourself solely by what you do. And you have to allow yourself to be yourself: an individual voice doing individual things in an individual way.

That’s how you stop getting in your own way, as a writer or in life.

Think about it.

Written by Barb Caffrey

May 9, 2015 at 12:42 pm

Seven Things You May Not Know About My Writing

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A few days ago, author Aaron Lazar tagged me on Facebook with a new type of blog challenge: Name seven things people probably don’t know about your writing, and link back to him.

As Aaron gave his list on Facebook, I can’t link properly to his list. (I can only link to his webpage instead.) But I can write down seven things people may not know about my writing…and here they are.

  1. I’ve been a writer since age ten. My first story was about a girl who wanted to be a ballboy at Milwaukee County Stadium. (There was no such thing as a “ballgirl” in the 1980s.) She was prepubescent and looked like the guys; her parents and the team were in on the deception, and gave her a room all to herself to change in. She was OK until she started a friendship with one of the other ballboys…and then I didn’t know what to do, so I ended the story. (Hey, I was only ten.)
  2. I started writing poetry and science fiction stories when I was a teenager; I started writing fantasy in my twenties.
  3. True story: In my high school creative writing class, the teacher asked everyone to grade themselves. (We had to come up with a grade for ourselves, and defend it.) I was the only person to go in and say, “I deserve an A.” (And I got my A, too.)
  4. My first-ever short fiction was a SF story about characters from the “Star Trek” lower decks. (Yes, this was long before Star Trek: The Next Generation came out, much less the episode with the low-ranking officers.) I got a note back with my rejection, but as I was only 19, I didn’t know that meant I was doing something right. So I put my writing aside for a time.
  5. I started writing nonfiction again around age 27, and worked as an opinion and arts and entertainment reporter for the Parkside Ranger News (the student newspaper of the University of Wisconsin-Parkside).
  6. Later, I was the only non-journalism Master’s candidate to ever write regularly for the Daily Nebraskan. (This is the student newspaper of the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. One of my regular “beats” was to let the arts and entertainment writers know what was available. Usually I wrote the stories myself, but occasionally someone else would be sent out to attend an opera or band performance.)
  7. The ELFY duology was not my first-ever attempt at a full-length fantasy. CHANGING FACES was my first attempt…but I couldn’t figure out how to end the story until I met my late husband Michael. And by that time, I’d started ELFY, so I put CHANGING FACES aside for a while.

Now for a few bonus facts:

  • The first writers I remember reading in the SF&F genre were Poul Anderson (especially the Dominic Flandry series), Andre Norton, and Isaac Asimov.
  • The comedic fantasy and SF writers I’ve enjoyed include Piers Anthony, Robert Asprin, Esther Friesner, Jody Lynn Nye, and Douglas Adams.
  • My late husband Michael helped me come up with the Bilre language (used by the Elfys).

So how’s that for a few interesting factoids?

Now, as for some other writers to tag? How about Jason Cordova, Chris Nuttall, and Mrs. N.N.P. Light?

Written by Barb Caffrey

April 26, 2015 at 10:09 pm

My Writing Adventure Continues (Slowly)

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Just a quick update here, folks, as I’m in the process of trying to get a new story out to the Writers of the Future contest as their quarter ends at 11:59 PM PDT on 3/31/15 and my story is, at best, three-quarters finished.

Once that’s done, I hope to be able to blog about a few subjects near and dear to my heart, including baseball, my opposition to Indiana’s new “Religious Freedom and Restoration Act” which looks to me like anti-LGBT legislation (and thus needs to be either rescinded or amended, stat), and some discussion about words, their meanings, and whether or not some words should ever be off-limits (whether in baseball or in politics) because they’re considered overused, hackneyed, trite, and/or politically sensitive.

But for now, I’m alive, and I’m writing. Recovery is in process, and while it continues to be slow, I’ve been able to gain a little ground in regards to my final edit of A LITTLE ELFY IN BIG TROUBLE and with regards to this proposed story, which I fully intend to send to the WotF contest if I can only finish it…

Anyway, back to work.

Written by Barb Caffrey

March 31, 2015 at 12:36 am

Tagged in the Meet My Character Blog-Hop…and Other Stuff

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Folks, I’ve been tagged by author Erin Moore in the Meet My Character(s) Blog-hop. She’s the author of AWAKENED BY THE MINOTAUR, a contemporary romance about a man forced to shapeshift into the form of a Minotaur that’s set in Greece and uses Greek myth as its basis. Her book looks a little bit like P.C. Cast’s Goddess novels, which means it should be a fun, fast read with some really good grounding in history and mythology and a goodly amount of spice.

And as I’ve read nearly every book P.C. Cast has ever put out — even if I haven’t reviewed most of them — I look forward to diving into her book soon.

Now, observant readers may be aware that I’ve done this particular blog-hop before (here’s the link, if you don’t believe me) — but I talked about Bruno the Elfy, then. This time, I’m going to talk about Sarah, his human love interest — both are teens (or the equivalent, in Bruno’s case, as Elfys mature more slowly than humans), so it’s an age-appropriate, gentle romance — and discuss things from her point of view.

So look for my response to Erin’s tag next Monday, OK? (And thanks again, Erin, for tagging me! I’m always glad to discuss AN ELFY ON THE LOOSE.)

Now, as for the other stuff.

I’ve taken to Twitter in my support of comedienne Joan Rivers, as the eighty-one-year-old dynamo had a heart attack while undergoing a throat procedure in an outpatient clinic in New York nearly a week ago. Since that time, Ms. Rivers has been in a medically-induced coma, but the most recent word is that the doctors have started bringing her out of that.

No one knows how long Ms. Rivers was without oxygen, though. And that’s important — someone can survive a heart attack with immediate treatment (CPR, in this case), but the longer the brain goes without oxygen, the more likely she’s going to be impaired either physically or mentally.

Here, obviously, losing mental faculties has to be the main issue. (No one wants to lose the ability to move around, but actors and comedians can continue to make a living providing their minds are intact and they can speak and be understood.) As Ms. Rivers has made her way in the world due to a razor-sharp intellect, she must have her mind or she can’t work.

More to the point, she won’t be herself if she doesn’t have her mind, whether she ever works again or not. So I hope she does regain her mental faculties, knows who she is and recognizes her family and friends when she wakes up, regardless of whether she ever steps foot on stage again.

Because I don’t know about you, but losing one sharp-witted comedian earlier this year in Robin Williams — a good friend of Ms. Rivers, I might add — was more than enough.

Next, what can I say about my poor favorite baseball team, the Milwaukee Brewers, that isn’t already being said? The words “collapse” and “folding” and “I told you so” are already emerging from the national pundits, as the Brewers have now officially lost their nearly year-long lead in the National League Central due to their 4-2 loss today to the lowly Chicago Cubs.

But I’m more concerned about the fatigue I’ve seen on the faces of too many of the Brewers regulars. Ryan Braun looks like he needs not just one day off, but several — his thumb, and perhaps his back as well, is obviously hurting him. Khris Davis is not running as well as normal, so he looks to be ailing. Aramis Ramirez is still playing good defense, but he can barely run, and probably would be on the disabled list if not for being in the thick of the pennant race . . . the list goes on and on. And that’s not even discussing the relief pitchers who’ve been with Milwaukee since the start of the season, who to a man are exhausted due to their many, many appearances.

Mind, the Brewers traded a few days ago for Jonathan Broxton, late of the Cincinnati Reds, who’s a former closer and perhaps may serve as a fresh arm. But they look tired, they’re not playing well, and the dreaded St. Louis Cardinals look to be pressing their advantage — as they should, mind, because that is their job.

I guess we’ll have to wait and see.

Finally, I’m working on two fiction short stories and finishing up a major edit right now, so I may be scarce for the next several days. (We’ll see.) Don’t be surprised if you don’t see much of me until next week, as that’s what tends to happen when I’m on deadline.

As Maury Povich says, “Until next time, America…” (or should I say world?)