Barb Caffrey is a writer, musician, editor, and composer from the Upper Midwest who holds a BA in Music from the University of Wisconsin-Parkside and a Master’s in Music from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. She’s the author of An Elfy on the Loose and A Little Elfy in Big Trouble (two YA urban fantasy/romances), and her short stories have been featured in many places, most recently in Realms of Darkover. Find her at Barb Caffrey’s Elfyverse: http://elfyverse.wordpress.com
Congratulations on the release of your latest book, Changing Faces. When did you start writing and what got you into contemporary LGBT fantasy/romance?
Thank you so much for the warm welcome.
I started writing when I was quite young—nine, maybe ten years old at the most. At the time, all I wanted to do was tell cool stories that I wasn’t seeing—something about the first female baseball player, say, in the major leagues. (Still waiting for that one, mind, in reality, though the TV show Pitch does a great job imagining it for me.)
When I got into my late teens and early twenties, I realized that romantic fiction was rather interesting. I still preferred it with a leavening of fantasy or science fiction, mind…but seeing two interesting, intelligent, and willful souls find a way to make a life with each other always riveted my attention. I think this partly was because my first marriage didn’t work out, and I wondered how other marriages made it happen…surely there had to be someone, somewhere, who could find a way to be happy with their partner?
As far as Changing Faces goes, it’s my first adult romance. It does have a fantasy element in that angels (or perhaps very advanced aliens who are well-disposed toward humans) are involved…but mostly, it’s about two people: Allen, a heterosexual male in love with Elaine, a bisexual (and, unbeknownst to him, gender fluid) female. It was the story of these two lovers that piqued my attention, and demanded that I find a way to make things right for them…no matter how unusual the solution might be to others.
What is your book about?
Changing Faces, simply put, is about the power of love regardless of outward form. Allen loves Elaine. Loves her desperately, loves her so much that he refuses to be parted from her, even when she tells him she is transgender/gender fluid and feels like she’d be better off in a male body. So he prays that they not be separated, and is answered…but that answer requires him, a heterosexual male, to be put in his beloved Elaine’s body. And she is in his body, in a coma.
You see, Allen can’t tell anyone who he is. And Elaine, well…the only person she can speak to while she’s in that coma is an Amorphous Mass, a type of shapeshifter that doesn’t even have gender as we know it.
So, how can they get through this completely unanticipated turn of events? Can their love survive? And if so, how will it be altered, changed, or deepened?
What was your inspiration for it?
As seems to be the case with me, I saw part of this story in a dream. I saw Allen and Elaine in a car accident, with two aliens/angels above them, changing their faces. And woke up thinking, “Hm. What’s going on there?” So I wrote it.
What type of challenges did you face while writing this book?
Quite a few, actually. First, when I started writing this book over ten years ago, there wasn’t as much known about transgender people in popular culture as there is now. In addition, there was almost nothing about gender fluid people, which is what Elaine actually is…sometimes she feels male, sometimes she feels female, and either way she doesn’t feel particularly comfortable in her body.
Second, because I am not LGBT myself, I wanted to be faithful to the issues LGBT people face. I read a great deal, talked with some friends who are LGBT, and tried to think about Elaine the same way I’d think about a good friend. How can I help her be easier with herself? (As Elaine resolutely likes the female pronoun, even later, after her face is changed, she still goes by “she” in private.) How can I help her accept the love that’s offered, even if it’s not the way she’d ever expected it?
Third, I wanted to make sure that Allen and Elaine were both well-represented. I had Allen’s character down early. But Elaine was far more elusive. She’s prone to making sarcastic cracks, and hides her vulnerability because of problems in her past. And she thinks if she tells Allen who and what she is, he’ll run away…but that’s because she doesn’t trust herself enough to believe that she’s made the right choice in Allen as much as anything else.
Did your book require a lot of research?
Yes, it did. I’m not LGBT, so when I first got this story, I wondered what on Earth my subconscious was trying to tell me. I do think there’s a lot of truth there about love mattering regardless of form, but I also wanted to make absolutely sure that I showed Elaine as a full human being—not a caricature, not a cookie-cutter, not the “disease babe of the week” or any of that. A real, flawed, human being who just wants to be who she is, gender fluidity and all, and enjoy life…and what’s wrong with that?
What do you do when your muse refuses to collaborate?
Sometimes I get frustrated. Sometimes I listen to music. Sometimes I eat too much chocolate (am I supposed to admit to that?)…but mostly, I go back and read what I have already written and think about it. Usually, the next day, the story is back in my head and I’m ready to go again.
Many writers experience a vague anxiety before they sit down to write. Can you relate to this?
Sometimes, yes. If I’m not sure what’s going to come out, I can be anxious. (And yes, there are times I know I have something, but not what. That is vexing.) But if I know at least a little bit of what it is that I have, I’m not as nervous…and that way, I am able to get the words down as I hear them. (Only after I have them can I manipulate them. If that makes any sense at all.)
Do you have a writing schedule? Are you disciplined?
I am disciplined, but no, I don’t have a writing schedule.
How is that possible? It’s more because I have had a great deal of things going on along with writing. Family concerns, work concerns (I edit for a living), and other such things need to be worked around.
Mind, I do try to write five or six days a week for at least a couple of hours a day, but the actual times of day varies somewhat (I prefer nights, but sometimes I surprise myself and wake up with the story ringing so clear, I sit down to write right there and then, before I’ve even had breakfast).
What I’ve found, though, is that I need at least one rest day a week. Or the story doesn’t come out right, and I start to block up.
In addition, if I try to impose the same hours every day on myself, considering the state of chaos everything else (except my editing, of course!) tends to be in, that also will make me block right up.
So, this is the best compromise I can come up with. Write a couple hours a day, whenever my mind feels like it’s in the right gear…and if it’s late, and I haven’t written yet, I sit down and do my best anyway. (Does that help?)
What was your publishing process like?
I’m very fortunate to have an excellent and capable publisher, Lida Quillen of Twilight Times Books. She stuck with me as I went through an extensive late-round revision, and gave me room to tell the story as best I could.
So, in that sense, I haven’t had to worry too much. (It was just getting the story down that was hard, not the actual publishing of it. Lida saw the potential in it and took a flyer, which I appreciated.)
How do you celebrate the completion of a book?
Usually, I go out to dinner. But sometimes I pick up a favorite book I haven’t read in a while, and read for pleasure, as that tends to go by the wayside when I’m working hard on my writing.
Occasionally, I bring the well-loved book to dinner and read there. <grin>
How do you define success?
Living the life I want to live, being creative, being true to myself, and being good to people all are part of my definition of success. Helping others is also a part of it; working hard is a part of it; being honest and faithful and honorable is a part of it, too. And trying to laugh as much as possible surely must be part of it as well…
In other words, I am a nonmaterialist and in many ways I’m also a nonconformist. If I feel I’ve done my best work, then that is success, whether anyone else sees it or not. (And the rest of the world could see a success in me, but if I didn’t see it, it wouldn’t matter that much, sorry to say.)
What do you love most about the writer’s life?
Being able to be creative, shape new stories, and help others with their stories in turn is probably what I love the most. But the second-best thing about it is the camaraderie, support, and friendship I’ve found with fellow authors…without that, I’d have never met my late husband, Michael B. Caffrey. (Without him, there’s no way I’d have written anything close to any of the stories I’ve written. I wouldn’t have believed as much in the power of love as a healer without knowing him and being privileged to be his wife, that’s for sure…)
What is your advice for aspiring authors?
Work hard. Never give up on yourself or your stories. Listen to criticism, learn from it, but don’t let it stop you in your tracks. And always, always believe in yourself, because if you don’t, who will?
George Orwell once wrote: “Writing a book is a horrible, exhausting struggle, like a long bout of some painful illness. One would never undertake such a thing if one were not driven on by some demon whom one can neither resist nor understand.” Thoughts?
I think that is true to some extent. The story grabs hold of me, and it will not let me go until I’ve fully explored it and done my best to shape it and nurture it. Sometimes in the process of getting the story, too, I feel utterly drained, as if I’d just run a marathon and followed it up with a five K sprint…but after a day of rest, I’m right back at it again, because that story just will not let me rest until it is complete.
So, even though I can’t say it as well as George Orwell did, I tend to agree with him. <grin>
What’s on the horizon for you?
I have three different stories in three different milieus going right now. One is in my urban fantasy universe, the Elfyverse, a prequel urban fantasy/romance set in 1954 that deals with dark magic, McCarthyism, and wounded warriors. Another is a contemporary paranormal about a psychic who consults with a major league baseball team, and her husband the werewolf…and the third is a military SF book set in the near future where the US has broken up into about six different countries, and the powers that be try to control their population by hypnosis and fear-mongering. (My heroine there is a newsreader—there being little technology left, newscasters now go from hamlet to hamlet, being hypnotized daily to give the news verbatim at each place until the day is over with, while my hero is an Army sergeant who takes a romantic interest in the newsreader and decides he’s going to make a better life with her, or die trying, even if he has to fight the powers that be to do it.)
Oh, yeah. I also have two stories of my late husband’s to finish, too, one being an alternate history/fantasy, and the other being military SF with empathic animals. (When Michael died years ago, I vowed to finish anything he’d left undone. I keep my promises.) So, five different things are on the fire…par for the course around Chez Caffrey. <grin>
Anything else you’d like to tell my readers?
Thanks for getting to know me a little bit, as I appreciated the opportunity to talk to you and answer your questions here at Blogcritics. And I do hope you will enjoy Changing Faces!