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
Allen and Elaine are graduate students in Nebraska, and love each other very much. Their life should be idyllic, but Elaine’s past includes rape, neglect, and abuse from those who should’ve loved her—but didn’t, because from childhood, Elaine identified as transgender.
When Elaine tells Allen right before Christmas, he doesn’t know what to do. He loves Elaine, loves her soul, has heard about transgender people before, but didn’t think Elaine was one of them—she looks and acts like anyone else. Now, she wants to become a man and is going to leave.
He prays for divine intervention, and says he’ll do anything, just please don’t separate him from Elaine…and gets it.
Now, he’s in Elaine’s body. And she’s in his. They’ll get a second chance at love.
Why? Because once you find your soulmate, the universe will do almost anything to keep you together—even change your faces.
Tell us a bit about your latest book, and what inspired you to write it.
My latest book is called Changing Faces, and it’s about two lovers—one a heterosexual male, Allen Bridgeway, the other a bisexual and transgender female, Elaine Foster. What inspired me to write it was a dream I had of the two of them getting into a car accident after a huge argument; she is a feminist and scholar, but feels wrong in her body. And Allen, a clarinetist and teaching assistant at Willa Cather University, had no clue this was even going on, you see…so when she told him, he’s confused and frightened and even scared. She says she needs to think, away from him, so despite a nasty winter storm (they live and work in Nebraska), he decides to drive her to a hotel. Thus, the car accident…but it doesn’t end there.
You see, Allen prays while driving that he and Elaine not be separated. He loves her, you see. Loves her desperately, loves her for who she is, and while he doesn’t understand what she’s just told him, he does know one thing: no matter what, he wants to be with her.
And two individuals—aliens, maybe angels, depending on your point of view—hear him, and grant his request.
Now, this would not seem to be fair to Elaine, would it? But these two individuals I mentioned do not exist in our linear time as we know it. They know that Elaine, too, asked for another chance on her deathbed, years hence…they know that her leaving Allen is so wrong, it cannot be allowed to happen.
So the more powerful of the two individuals does something unprecedented, and takes both Elaine and Allen’s souls out of their bodies and binds Elaine’s soul into Allen’s body, while putting Allen’s soul into Elaine’s instead. Allen’s body is the worst off, so she will be in a coma, speaking to the other alien/angel, while Elaine’s body—now with Allen as its resident, as odd as he finds that as a heterosexual male—wakes up in the hospital with a concussion. Worst of all, Allen can’t tell anyone he’s there, as the elder alien/angel felt if Allen did that, Allen would end up in a mental hospital…what a messy situation, hey?
So, how do these two lovers figure out how they can keep going, even if they’re in the wrong bodies for the rest of their lives? (You have to read the book to find out, but I think if you give it time, you may just enjoy the experience.)
Anyway, that’s why I wrote CHANGING FACES—because love, itself, is far more powerful than most people believe it to be, and can transcend any obstacle if you give it time. (Even this one.)
From the moment you conceived the idea for the story, to the published book, how long did it take?
Well over twelve years from start to finish, actually. Part of why it took me so long was my late husband’s sudden death in 2004…it took me a while to be able to reconnect with this story, as it’s a powerful romance in its own right. I wanted to believe in the power of love, still, but with my beloved husband dead too soon, it was very difficult to keep going.
Ultimately, my grief died down enough that I was able to resume working on the story.
Then came the revisions. I went through two of them to bring this book up to the current day. (Note: I was very happy with the Supreme Court of the United States once they agreed that LGBT couples were like anyone else, and could and should be allowed to legally marry in the same way as straight couples. I was very happy to revise CF for that reason.)
The only good thing about the length of time it took me to write CF is this: People in the Western World are far more likely to understand it now than they would’ve been in 2004 or 2005. Transgender issues are discussed much more than they used to be. And gender fluidity—which is a big part of Elaine’s makeup—is at least in the conversation now, whereas eleven or twelve years ago, it was not discussed.
This is important, because people are people. LGBT people are like anyone else in that they want love, happiness, meaning, and to be understood. Maybe now, because it’s discussed more in popular society because of Chaz Bono, Caitlyn Jenner, and Ruby Rose, Allen and Elaine’s story will seem less outré and more human, and thus much more relatable and understandable to all.
Do you write non-stop until you have a first draft, or do you edit as you move along?
I edit as I move along. What my process tends to be is this: I write a chapter. I go back and flesh the chapter out, editing as need be—but lightly, in order to not stop my muse from speaking. Then I go on to the next chapter, do the same thing…once I have four or five chapters, I start editing more heavily, as the story is now in my mind enough that a deeper edit should not interfere with it.
I don’t know if this is similar to other writers who are also editors, or not. But it’s my process, and it tends to work for me.
Note that I still do listen to other editors, because I know as an editor myself I cannot see my story the way others do. It is vital for me, or any other writer, to listen to their editors and make what fixes they can in order to best benefit the story itself.
When it comes to writing, are you an early bird, or a night owl?
No question about it: I am a night owl. But every once in a great while, the story speaks to me so strongly that I get up early and start writing. (Mind, on a day like that, I try to also write in the evening as I normally would…it’s like a gift, when I get a day like that.)
Why am I a night owl? Mostly, it’s because my mind works best then. And I try to do what author John M. Ford said in his excellent THE FINAL REFLECTION (one of the best Star Trek books around): “…find the time you’re best at and live there. That’s the payoff strategy.” (Admiral Kethas epetai-Khemara says that, and it’s the absolute truth.)
Have you ever suffered from writer’s block? What seems to work for unleashing your creativity?
Yes, I have. Mostly it comes on when I’m very stressed about a story, am also physically exhausted and/or ill, and have no more energy to deal with anything.
Providing I’m not actually ill, which requires more than a few days of rest, a long sleep usually does some good. But if I’m still blocked after that, the best thing I can do is to re-read the story in progress. Think about it. Write down some prose notes, if I have them, or descriptions, or anything at all that might allow the story to continue.
Usually in a day or so, I am able to write as usual. (And there is much rejoicing around Chez Caffrey, let me tell you.)
What is(are) your favorite book/author(s)? Why?
I’ve already mentioned one of my favorite books and authors above—the late John M. Ford was a wonderful writer, and I enjoyed what he wrote very much. But there are others…it’s hard to list just a few, but here goes.
First, Lois McMaster Bujold is one of the best writers working today. She combines humor, scientific expertise, world building, romance, characterization, heart, and much more in a package that is incredibly appealing. She’s considered one of science fiction and fantasy’s modern masters by many, and for good reason.
Second, the work of Katharine Eliska Kimbriel is phenomenal. She has written three hard SF books in her Chronicles of Nuala series, and three alternate history/fantasy books in her Night Calls series. They are all excellent books with great writing, wonderful characterization, world building to spare, humor that arises from the characterization…just can’t say enough about her books. (And that she isn’t as well-known as LMB just vexes me. Writing of this quality should be celebrated far and wide, methinks.)
Third, I’m fond of Linnea Sinclair. She combines romance and SF in a way I find very appealing.
Fourth, my early mentor, Rosemary Edghill, writes exceptionally well in a wide variety of genres, from detective stories to Regency romance to urban fantasy (and beyond). The way she uses language is wonderful, and I always learn from her work, whenever I pick it up. (It’s like meeting an old friend.)
“But Barb,” I hear you protest. “What about the male authors?”
Oh, I have a number of favorites there, too. Robert A. Heinlein, Stephen R. Donaldson, David Weber, Dave Freer, Eric Flint…and don’t discount my friends Chris Nuttall or Jason Cordova, either. (Chris is so prolific, he’s put out at least ten books a year in various genres for five years running. Chris has gotten so good, he just might end up with one of those major awards like the Hugo or Nebula one of these years. And Jason can write anything…just give him time, and he’ll figure out a way to write it and sell a ton of books. That’s just how he is.)
Do you have a website/blog where readers may learn more about you and your work?
But of course…it’s http://elfyverse.wordpress.com (otherwise known as Barb Caffrey’s Blog), and I’d love to have you stop by!