Monday, February 29, 2016

When a Place is Simply a Place: Thoughts on Proper Names, the Writing Process and Research

I picked up this book from the library the other day. No, I am not considering a new career in corrections. It's for research. I have this great looming question about a character in Swim Season that's been bugging me for ages and I finally had to put it to rest. 

Devon, my heroine's mother, is incarcerated. An Army nurse with two tours of duty in the Middle East, Devon came home with complications from a blast injury, chronic pain, opiate addiction, and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. Desperate, depressed, and in pain, she resorted to stealing drugs from her employer, from her patients who needed them. Once caught, she took a plea deal to three counts of felony falsifying business records in the first degree, and three counts of misdemeanor petit larceny. The felony charges carry a potential sentence of 1⅓ to three years in state prison.
In describing this situation I struggled with how to refer to Devon's whereabouts in the story. Was she in prison? A correctional facility? A drug treatment center for convicted felons? Jail? Every time I referred to her location I used different words. It confused me, and I knew it would confuse my readers, so I questioned the correct terminology. I’m a stickler for details and this was one detail I wanted to get right.
I thought coming up with the right terminology would be simple. I did some internet research and surprisingly couldn't find a satisfying answer. I then referred to my local library and came up with one book that I thought would give a simple description of the New York State prison system, the book in the picture. I checked it out and two minutes after I cracked it open realized it did not hold the answer for me either.
In the meantime, while waiting for the book to come in, I had an epiphany: Since I was having so much difficulty describing where Devon was perhaps Aerin, my heroine, was also struggling. After all, she's just a kid, and the thought of her mother locked away in prison is more than she can bear. Perhaps she can't bring herself to speak the words prison, correctional facility, drug treatment center, jail. Perhaps the best she can do is refer to the place that holds her mother as simply that: the place.
This was not a new idea. Jack Harmon, my hero in Blue Hydrangeas, faced the same quandary. Confronted with placing his beloved wife Sara in an assisted living facility, Jack can’t bring himself to speak those words, and refers to Sara's new home as the place.
This approach relieves me of a troublesome problem. I'm no longer tasked with figuring out the proper terminology of describing where Devon is (correctional facility is the proper term I finally learned) and Aerin's inability to speak the words adds an additional layer of tension to the story and deepens her characterization. She mentions correctional facility once and from then on it's the place, conjuring all kinds of images and emotions.
This is the depth and length of thought and research that goes into my writing. Something that seems so simple and inconsequential becomes a time-consuming, analytical issue. In the end, the solution seems so simple it's hard to believe it took so long to get there.
Funny thing is, it's the best part of writing the story. 
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Saturday, February 20, 2016

Mr. Chance, the Rescue Cat Who Rescued Us

Today is Love Your Pet Day. I can't pass up the opportunity to tell the story of how we rescued our cat, Mr. Chance, in 2007.

My daughter Allison was 12. For years, she'd been begging for a pet, a kitten in particular, preferably a ginger-colored female tabby. She must have caught us at a weak moment because my husband and I finally caved in to her pleas and said yes, you may have a cat, and started hunting for one. 

We visited all the local pet stores, the shelter, and responded to a few classified ads but couldn't fiind exactly what she wanted. The cats were either too old, male, the wrong color, or just didn't connect with her. 

After a couple of weeks of this routine she grew discouraged, and one Saturday night tearfully said, "I'm never going to find my cat." I promised her a trip to the Humane Society in the morning and we put the whole thing to rest for the night.

Allie and her dad were out in the pool when the miracle happened. Two teenage girls, unknown to us, wandered into our yard, one of them holding a tiny, gray-striped, male kitten. 

"We're looking for a home for this kitten," the girl explained. "I brought him home from a friend's, but my parents won't let me keep him. They said not to come home with him again. Will you keep him?"

That little gray furball was irresistible. My husband took him in his hands and held him up to eye level. "Meow!" The kitten squealed. "Here's your cat, Allie," her father said and handed him over. 

"Really?"  she squeaked, eyes wide with wonder as she claimed her pet. 

"He's yours if you want him."

And she did. We did. Even though he wasn't exactly what we were looking for. His unplanned arrival was a sign he was meant for us. We rescued him, but in the end he rescued us because he brings so much joy, love and happiness into our home. We don't know how we ever lived without him. 

His name? He came to us by chance and that's what we call him, Chance, although he prefers to be known by Mr. Chance just to keep everyone in their proper places. 

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Thursday, February 18, 2016

New Release Spotlight: K. Caffee's Fantasy Novella Beslynx Spiritwalker

Beslynx Spiritwalker

 A Companion Novella to the Followers of Torments Saga  

What do you do when a family curse puts you in direct opposition to Pack Law? 

Beslynx is a werecat born to a werewolf pack. She faces that question every day of her life, until her secret is revealed by her younger brother. Now that it has been disclosed, she must find answers quickly to survive in a world fearful of all wereclans. Beslynx Spiritwalker is a companion novella to the Follower of Torments series. Join her as she shares her story prior to Into the Sunlits. Available on Amazon

The author says:

Beslynx was a hard character to introduce into the story.  Like most cats, she refused to be trapped, which made including her in the story a bit of a challenge.  As I progressed into then next book, And Keep This in Mind, I had trouble understanding what motivated her, and why she was so strongly independent.  And, so asked the question “Where did she come from?”  The novella is the answer that emerged after several long nights of discussion with her.


Decca tried to distract me, but nothing would give me peace.  Not even her mincemeat cookies that she saved for a treat when the first snow dusted the ground white.  Though I was three at the time, I felt the lure of my heritage and was doing my immature best to answer it.

Frisk, two years older than I and the most advanced of my playmates, had only just learned that he was a waning fear.  Once we were inside, he vanished to hide in the other room.    Bae, who was from the same litter, had yet to discover his moon phase, even though he often surpassed Frisk with his skills. He found the toys Decca kept for us when we were confined indoors while visiting, and started playing with them.  As for Dru and I, everyone expected us to have the same moon phase, because we were littermates.  Some even expected us to have the same ruling emotion.  Somehow, even at that age, I doubted the second expectation was right.  

While I paced and fretted from the forced inaction, Dru had gone to cower in Decca’s bed under the covers like the frightened toddler I should have been.  Why could I not be outside fighting?

“Bes, you need to calm down, dear.  It is not safe for you out there.  Dreven will not let anyone get to the house.  You will not need to prove yourself the proper warrior just yet.”  Decca crooned to me, after giving up distracting me.  “Come here.  We can watch from the window.”

Oh, she said the magic word ― watch!  I eagerly followed her into the other room.  We passed Bae, who was immersed in a game of cat’s cradle with himself on our way to the window.  The need to know what was going on outside overpowered even the siren’s call of my favorite game, a call I had never been able to ignore before.  This time, though, something else had captured my imagination and ignited my soul.  

At the window, Decca placed a chair so I could climb up to watch.  She arranged it so I could not climb over the back and get out, however.  With a resigned sigh, I obeyed the hint, and knelt on the seat to watch.  

“What does this pup want, all of a sudden?  I can tell her what is happening out there.  She wants to be somewhere that she should not be; where I cannot let her be.” She grumbled under her breath just loud enough for me to hear her displeasure.  She angled herself so she could watch me and keep an eye on what was happening. 

To my eyes, despite the howls and cries from near the valley’s entrance, the afternoon appeared to be unchanged.  There were no rivers of blood, no maimed and dead bodies piling up, or fields of heads rolling past, despite the ongoing shrieks and cries of battle.  That all changed abruptly, when a monstrous form burst through the trees screening Dreven’s house from the others.  The form charging towards the house was not Dreven.

About the Author

Born in Houston, Texas, K. Caffee has a long history of spinning captivating tales for a wide range of interested people.  One of her earliest memories is being lost in a huddle of adults as a kindergartener on her way to a church choir camp. Whatever tale she had been telling was captivating enough the entire group missed a rest stop, and the bus driver proved to be very patient when the 20 or so adults all requested an emergency stop about an hour after the scheduled one. After several years of running various role play campaigns, K. Caffee thought her story telling days were done.  She entered the work force, then school, but the stories were not done with her.  The Followers of Torments saga ambushed her in 2014 with the ultimatum “write.. or don’t sleep.”  As you can tell, despite a valiant effort to focus solely on school, K. Caffee lost the fight.  And, now, despite still carrying an overloaded graduate schedule, she continues to write and more of the pukah who gave her the ultimatum in the first place are lining up at the mental doors demanding to be let in. What free time she can pry out of the hands of her story and her school work she devotes to her two furry, feline owners, human family, and discovering new friends on Facebook, Twitter, or keeping up with documenting the various non-story thoughts she gets on her blog.

Connect with K. Caffee


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Monday, February 15, 2016

A Father's Legacy Infuses His Daughter's Writing

In the 1970's people did not always have cameras at hand, and so my family has very few pictures of my father. Here are a few of the very precious shots we have. Dad in the Army, Dad as a young, single man, my family at my First Communion, and Dad holding his big catch, an 8 1/2 pound bass, the catch of a lifetime. He passed away shortly after.

Today is my father’s birthday. Theodore “Ted” (Bunky) Kasica would be 85 if he were alive. I was 15 when I lost my dad to cardiac arrest. Yes, it was a shock, and it still is even as 39 years have passed since that dreadful day.

One of the greatest gifts my father gave me was the blueprint for what makes a good father. I think of him often when I’m writing because many of my stories involve fathers. His lessons infuse my character development in many ways. 

In Collection, the first in my Daisy Hunter stories, Tom Hunter, father of five and one on the way, is much like my father: a house painter, a dreamer, a lover of books, a gentle man who does not like to make waves. 

In my YA sports novel Swim Season, Gordon Keane has divorced his wife and left his daughter Aerin. Remarried and the stepfather of two girls, he juggles two families, failing to please everyone. Still, he tries.

In Blue Hydrangeas, Jack Harmon, ever the protector and provider, deals with his wife’s Alzheimer’s on his own, stubbornly refusing to accept his son’s help because he’s so “busy” and has his own family.

All of these men are reflections of my dad.

My father became a cabinet maker after failing at his own paint and wallpaper business because he was too easy-going, and often let people delay payment or worked for next to nothing. With four children this was a disaster, and he was forced to take a job working for someone else. He hated it. But with a growing family and a mortgage he had no choice. He made up for his disappointment by going fishing as often as possible, following the Boston Bruins and Red Sox, reading his books, and listening to his classical music.

Dad was a paratrooper in the United States Army, stationed in Germany in the 1950’s. He was a boxer, a skier, a big outdoorsman. My husband, who never had the opportunity to meet him, once said while I was bemoaning his missing out on so much life: “Your father lived more in his short life than some who live double his years.” He was so right. 

Dad was stable and reliable. His work day ended at 4:30 pm and at 4:35 pm his station wagon pulled into the driveway. My brothers and I spilled out of the house, shouting “Daddy’s home!” and searched his pockets to see if he’d brought anything home for us. Most often not, but there were times when he had penny candy for everyone. When he couldn’t produce candy he made up for it by playing games with us, taking us to the local swimming hole for night swimming, or for a ride to the park to feed the ducks.

In the 70’s life was easier and families spent time together. My mother worked nights to supplement their income and Dad was in complete control. His idea of a good time was to go outside. We went fishing and swimming in summer and ice fishing, skating and tobogganing in winter. 

In the house we helped him in his wood workshop where he made furniture and toys. The house always smelled of fresh cut wood. Every time I smell this scent I’m brought back 40+ years to life at 91 Auburn Street and my father’s table saw. 

He could fix anything: his car, the plumbing, the electrical. He rebuilt a bathroom, put in new floors, turned a small room off of our dining room into a teenage girl's dream bedroom. He rebuilt rowboats and took us fishing in them.

He kept a garden and let us help plant, weed, and harvest.

For a man, he had the prettiest cursive handwriting. He used it to write my mother romantic love letters.
Our weekends were for family. We went to the beach, amusement parks, and visited aunts, uncles and cousins on both sides, sharing meals and making memories. 

The most vivid recollection I have of my father is that he was there. My parents were melded together through thick and thin. Only death could tear them apart.  

His legacy is an inspiration for life. I married a man just like him. I create men like him.

If only he knew.