Hi, everyone. I’m Barb Caffrey. Author, musician, scholar, editor, baseball fan…and talking about myself is hard.
You see, as a writer, I’m used to writing about other people. Not much about me…and when I have written about me, I usually talk about my late husband Michael B. Caffrey (1958-2004) a great deal (as he was instrumental in my life, no pun intended). Or I talk about things that matter to me, rather than about what makes me tick.
Granted, the things that matter to me do explain, at least in part, who and what I am as a person. But that’s not enough, not for a blog introduction like this one.
Maybe if I told you how I started writing it might help?
When I was around nine or ten years old, my elementary school teacher gave everyone in my class an assignment. We were to find a subject we were passionate about, and write a fiction story about it. So, me being me, I decided to write about being the first female ballgirl at Milwaukee County Stadium – as we hadn’t yet had one, that was a perfect fictional story. But after sixty-seven single-spaced hand-written pages, I still had no earthly idea how to end the story. So I turned it in, was given an A…and promptly turned to poetry for several years.
Now, why did I do that? Some of it was because I’d discovered Sylvia Plath, Walt Whitman, William Shakespeare, and other poets who made me feel something. I wanted to see if I could make my words match the music I made with my saxophone and clarinet, and for a while, poetry consumed me.
Then I moved away from that, and into science fiction and fantasy writing. I wrote a story based off the Star Trek mythos – a lower-deck story, long before Star Trek: The Next Generation was on the horizon, much less had come up with a story anything close to the one I had. And I received a note with my rejection, saying to write something else – but as I was new to publishing, I didn’t know that was actually a good thing (that the harried, time-ridden editor had put anything onto a piece of paper means he or she saw some value in what I’d written, you see).
So for another ten years, I didn’t do a whole lot as a writer besides some desultory poetry, some indifferent lyrics (set to music I wrote), and of course my various collegiate research papers.
Then I started writing again, this time as a nonfiction columnist for the University of Wisconsin-Parkside Ranger News. (My column was called “One Liberal’s Opinion.”) I was now an adult student, working full-time and with an additional part-time job or two…but I found time to write.
This time, I did not look back.
So I wrote for my graduate collegiate newspaper as well, the Daily Nebraskan. I wrote more poetry. And I started, haltingly, writing a bodyswitch story I called CHANGING FACES; it quickly morphed into a transgender romance, with aliens who may as well be angels…I’d anticipated the market about fourteen years too early. (Quite literally, as the story will be coming out later this year…but I digress.)
Something good happened while I was writing this first draft. I met my husband Michael, who was already an accomplished writer and editor. He loved what he saw of CHANGING FACES, and he was encouraging. I was making all sorts of mistakes in fiction – you name it, I probably made it. But he gave me excellent feedback (not all of it was positive, but all of it was constructive), and I learned.
I also fell in love with him, which changed me as a writer. It gave me depth, and resonance, and made me believe love was possible. (After two failed marriages behind me, I’d kind of lost sight of all that.) And because Michael and I laughed often, I wanted to make other people laugh, too…so I wrote a huge cross-genre book called ELFY. (And I do mean cross-genre: it’s young adult comic fantasy/mystery/romance with alternate universes and Shakespearean allusions. Say that five times fast.)
And we sold a story to the BEDLAM’S EDGE anthology, our first-ever published story. Life was looking good in the halcyon days of 2004…
Then my husband Michael died.
He had four heart attacks in one day, and was gone.
It was not expected. It was very sudden.
And it was absolutely devastating.
Michael left behind two unfinished novels and three or four additional unfinished short stories. All of them were good. All of them would’ve been published if he had lived; I am convinced of this.
But when he died, the only way I could sell those stories was to finish them myself. And at first, I did not have the skill-set.
Yes, I’d improved a great deal as a writer, thanks to hard work and a whole lot of help from my husband and our then-mentor Rosemary Edghill. And I was already editing other people’s work, and had found an unexpected talent for that…but my own style was very far from Michael’s.
You see, Michael wrote in long, rolling periods. (Something like William Faulkner, maybe?) I wrote in shorter, choppier sentences.
And worse, I was a comic fantasy/romance writer. Michael wrote both fantasy and military science fiction.
Now, I liked military science fiction. Don’t get me wrong. But I didn’t think I could write it on my own just yet. So most of Michael’s stories languished.
It took me at least five years to pull myself back together after Michael’s sudden death. But I did continue to write as I was able, and I did not let ELFY die out.
Something inside me wouldn’t let me do that. (I still don’t know what this was.) And whenever I got discouraged, my friends told me I had to keep sending it out. I was getting discouraged, and quite frankly I wondered what the point to it all was, but I did keep ELFY out there.
Eventually, in 2012, Lida Quillen of Twilight Times Books said she wanted ELFY. And in April of 2014, the first half of ELFY was published as AN ELFY ON THE LOOSE…
But that was not the end of the story.
You see, the end of my story is not yet written. But I can tell you this much: I finish what I start. That’s why the second half of ELFY, A LITTLE ELFY IN BIG TROUBLE, will be out later this year; why CHANGING FACES will be also be out later this year (both via Twilight Times Books); it’s why I have found a way to finish up my late husband’s military science fiction; it’s why I continue to write, edit, play music, review books…and whatever else I feel like doing.
And I am loyal, to my friends, to my family, and to everyone who’s helped me along the way.
While I’m still an introvert who’d rather hide behind her saxophone than talk in front of a crowd, I hope I’m an introvert with a good story to tell. (Even if it’s not exactly the one I’d hoped to tell, because that one started off with “Michael and Barb lived happily ever after,” and while I suppose that could still happen in eternity – I truly hope so – it obviously can no longer happen here.)
I want to be someone who makes others believe that they, too, can do it. And if I can make someone laugh along the way who’s having a bad day, so much the better.
Michael on Amazon: