Barb Caffrey is a writer, editor, and musician who holds two degrees in Music.
She has a particular fondness for the clarinet, lived in Nebraska for the better part of three years, and appreciated the ability to combine both her loves with the writing of Changing Faces.
Her other books are An Elfy on the Loose and A Little Elfy in Big Trouble (otherwise known as the Elfy duology), while her short stories have appeared in a number of places (most recently in Realms of Darkover). She’s also the co-writer of the Joey Maverick series of stories (with late husband Michael B. Caffrey), so the next story you might see from her could be military science fiction—or better yet, military science fiction with romance.
She lives in Wisconsin.
Barb Caffrey’s Elfyverse: https://elfyverse.wordpress.com
Link to book: http://www.twilighttimesbooks.com/ChangingFaces_ch1.html
Amazon (US): https://www.amazon.com/dp/B01N3CQKWJ
Q: Congratulations on the release of your latest book, Changing Faces. To begin with, can you give us a brief summary of what the story is about and what compelled you to write it?
A: Thanks for having me! I appreciate it.
Changing Faces is about the importance of love regardless of form, and takes place in present-day Nebraska. Clarinetists and graduate students Allen Bridgeway and Elaine Foster love each other deeply and passionately, but Elaine is hiding a big secret. From early life, she has identified as transgender, and has a great deal of gender-fluidity in her makeup, besides. Allen only knows that Elaine is bisexual, not this other stuff, and when it comes out, it throws him for a loop. He’s willing to keep trying with her; he just doesn’t understand why Elaine, who is a feminist scholar who will always see herself as female whether she becomes male outwardly or not – she admits this to him, even – wants to become a man. And when things come to head, she decides to leave him rather than talk it out.
You’d think this is it, right? (Well, not if you’ve read many romances of whatever type, but I digress.) But it’s not. There are two angels involved also, who want Allen and Elaine to be happy together. And they only way they see toward doing this is changing Allen and Elaine’s faces…which happens because Allen prays, “I will do anything, absolutely anything, if Elaine doesn’t leave me.” And the angels take Allen at his word.
Now, Allen is in Elaine’s body, unable to tell anyone he’s Allen. And Elaine is in his, in a coma, talking with one of the angels. If she can just wake up, they’ll have a second chance at love…but it’s not going to be easy, and poor Allen in particular is going to get put through the wringer.
Q: What do you think makes a good fantasy-romance? Could you narrow it down to the three most important elements? Is it even possible to narrow it down?
A: I think honesty is important. A story that matters is also important. And a willingness to explore that story wherever it goes is also important.
Ultimately, it’s these three things that make – or break – any book, but most especially a fantasy-romance, in my opinion.
Q: How did you go about plotting your story? Or did you discover it as you worked on the book?
A: The story came to me over fifteen years ago. I knew that Allen and Elaine were in a car accident and that she ended up in his body, talking to an angel about what went wrong and why she needs to be with Allen again, even if they’re both in the wrong bodies.
At the time, I had no idea what gender-fluidity was about, though I did know something about transgender issues because I had a few transgender friends. Elaine insisting she was always female regardless of her outward body threw me, at first, but I kept after it, and after five major revisions (including a late-round revision just last year in 2016), CHANGING FACES is finally ready.
So I guess it’s half and half. I knew right away what the story was on Elaine’s side, but I discovered Allen’s as I wrote it.
Q: Tell us something interesting about your protagonist and how you developed him or her. Did you do any character interviews or sketches prior to the actual writing?
A: There are two protagonists here, but I’ll choose Allen for ease of reference. Allen has always been confident in his body. He’s not handsome, knows it, but is centered, down-to-Earth, and is desperately in love with Elaine. But he did not realize what his prayer was going to do to him; all of a sudden, he wakes up in Elaine’s body – the body of a beautiful woman – and doesn’t know what to do.
As for how I developed Allen? I understood him right away. Here’s a guy who will always be male, but is in a female body and no one else realizes it but him. (As Elaine is still in a coma at this point, and can’t help him.) So it was more a matter of putting Allen in situations where he’d be confronted by his own assumptions as a male, and then see how someone ostensibly female was treated.
I didn’t do any character interviews with Allen, mind. I did do a few, down the line, with Elaine, as she was far more complex than Allen in certain respects and I wanted to do justice to her complexity.
Q: In the same light, how did you create your antagonist or villain? What steps did you take to make him or her realistic?
A: In this case, the villain is Elaine herself (in a way). She’s going to sacrifice everything because she’s so uncomfortable with admitting who she is.
But the reason she’s uncomfortable – and it’s why I said “in a way,” above – is because she was gang-raped at fifteen. So the villains who made her uncomfortable in her own body were those five rapists. And we do see a little of them in this novel, and how she manages to overcome that to form a good love-relationship with the only person who’s ever truly mattered to her, that being Allen.
As for making the villainy realistic? People sabotage themselves all the time, sometimes for what seems like good reasons. That’s what is realistic about what Elaine does.
In addition, I don’t know how anyone would deal with being gang-raped when you already know you’re transgender at the tender age of fifteen. So for Elaine to still be confused years later is not altogether a surprise.
Q: How did you keep your narrative exciting throughout the novel? Could you offer some practical, specific tips?
A: I wish I knew how to give practical, specific tips. The only thing I can tell you is that both Allen and Elaine had to confront a lot of deep, dark things – most of them being in Elaine’s past – to get to be able to have that second chance. And to accept the fact that the second chance would not be easy, would entail them both being in the wrong bodies for the rest of their lives, was also not an easy thing for either one of them.
The only practical tip I’ve ever seen that worked for me, as stated by renowned author Lois McMaster Bujold in various places, is this: “What’s the worst thing I can do this guy? Then do it.”
I think that’s what happened here, at least with regards to Allen. (And Elaine’s journey is far from easy, either, as you’ll see.)
Q: Setting is also quite important and in many cases it becomes like a character itself. What tools of the trade did you use in your writing to bring the setting to life?
A: I lived in Nebraska for three years when I went to graduate school. I felt the heat, I saw the vivid colors of the sunsets and sunrises, I felt the scorching cold, and I knew exactly how to describe it.
It’s hard to explain, otherwise, but I’ll do my best.
If you’ve experienced something, that helps you to describe it. And I experienced Nebraska. I even met some LGBT people in Lincoln, when I lived there; there weren’t many, but there were some, and most of them, at the time (this being the late 1990s/early 2000s) did not want to call attention to themselves. The goal at that point was for civil unions to be accepted in various churches, and there were many disagreements about this.
So, it was important to me to set this story in Nebraska. These are two people who could live anywhere. They have talent in music, they are creative, they are honest, they love each other. But one of them is transgender and gender-fluid, and yet their love is like anyone else’s, and their communication problems are like anyone else’s, too.
It’s important that society as a whole comes to realize that people are people, and regardless of gender expression or sexuality, they are deserving of love and happiness and care. Whatever form that love and happiness takes (providing it’s consensual, preferably monogamous, and with people who are adult so they can make their own choices and take their own risks) ultimately does not matter.
Only the love matters. And that’s why I set this story in Nebraska in the first place, because it showcases just how much times have changed…and yet, remained the same.
Q: Did you know the theme(s) of your novel from the start or is this something you discovered after completing the first draft? Is this theme(s) recurrent in your other work?
A: Oh, I knew the themes right away. Could I describe them right away, though? No, probably not. I just saw that the Allen and Elaine were good people, and that their outsides were not important. What was important were their souls, and how they loved each other, and how they were going to go on despite this radical change in their outward circumstances.
And no, this is not a recurrent theme in my work, at least not in this way. In my two previous novels, AN ELFY ON THE LOOSE and A LITTLE ELFY IN BIG TROUBLE, my main characters Bruno the Elfy and Sarah, his mostly-human girlfriend, are also in love and have a cross-species romance. But they are both straight. So it’s not as hard in some respects for them, though in others it probably isn’t easy because Bruno doesn’t come from this Earth at all.
Q: Where does craft end and art begin? Do you think editing can destroy the initial creative thrust of an author?
A: I think editing helps authors. There are sometimes mismatches between editors and authors, sure. But a good editor helps you clarify your thoughts. I was very fortunate that I had Katharine Eliska Kimbriel on my side as my editor for CHANGING FACES, because she helped me enormously. I also had a good copy-editor, Janne Kafka, who gave some late suggestions that I implemented. Without them, CHANGING FACES wouldn’t be half as good.
As far as craft and art goes? I think we have to put in many hours of thought and effort to do good work. Whether someone sees it as craft or art is up to the eye of the beholder; I won’t make that decision for them. But do I want them to see it as an interesting work of art and craft, both? Yes, I do. (Does that answer your question? It’s a tough one!)
Q: What three things, in your opinion, make a successful novelist?
A: Persistence, hard work, and a willingness to tell your story no matter where it leads.
Q: A famous writer once wrote that being an author is like having to do homework for the rest of your life. Thoughts?
A: In a way, that’s true. Authors do research settings, we do think a great deal about what we’re doing, and we spend an inordinate amount of time on our work.
But I like to think of it as an expression of my own creativity as much as it is “homework,” because thinking of it as homework takes some of the fun out of it. (Picture my big, evil grin here.)
Q: Are there any resources, books, workshops or sites about craft that you’ve found helpful during your writing career?
A: Yes, there are a number of them.
First, the Forward Motion Writers Group online is an incredibly valuable resource. They talk craft, they talk about marketing sometimes, they have writing prompts, and the community of writers there is second to none.
Second, I recommend Anne Lamott’s BIRD BY BIRD and Ralph Keyes’ THE COURAGE TO WRITE as helpful books when you get stalled. Lamont’s book reminded me that other authors also struggle through various revisions, while Keyes’ book told me that we all struggle to be honest and give our best effort as writers. I find them both useful references.
Third, if you want to share your work as a new writer but are worried it’s not that great and need critiques that will help you, I recommend Critters.org along with the Forward Motion community (as notated above). Note that you will get some very strong and pungent critiques there, so you had best have a thick skin…but you will get help if you are willing to work at it and can check your ego at the door.
And finally, I strongly recommend the group Marketing for Romance Writers. Like Forward Motion, like Critters, Marketing for Romance Writers is absolutely free of charge, and there are many wonderful writers there; you do not have to be a romance writer to become a member, either.
Q: Is there anything else you’d like to share with my readers about the craft of writing?
A: Just tell your stories. No one else’s. That’s all you can do. Be honest, tell stories that matter to you, and readers will respond to that.
Keep trying, keep working, do not give up, and continue to believe that what you are doing matters whether anyone else sees it or not. That’s the only way to succeed in this business.
Anything else is just window dressing, in my not-so-humble opinion.