Coffee and your Character – Writer Wednesday

I’ve been thinking of coffee shops. And it’s not only because I’m a caffeine addict. Coffee and coffee shops are a part of our everyday lives and, therefore, our characters’ lives. What type of coffee shop and what they order will inform our readers of who they are in ways we won’t need to spell it out.

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I, personally, savor that first sip of morning tea. For a few moments, it’s the perfect temperature and I hold it close to my face, ready for the next sip as the first drips of bitter black tea warm my throat and my body, the caffeine going to work immediately to bring me to full wakefulness in anticipation of a busy day.

A friend described a man in her carpool who stopped every day at Starbucks for a large quadruple espresso latte on their way to work and on their drive back from work. But, she added, he also complained constantly about his budget. This told me a lot about the person in just a few sentences.

Does your character rush into Starbucks and curse the line? Probably orders ahead for pick up, but what if it’s not there? Or is your character the kind that seeks out the independent coffee shop because it may be less busy or just because it’s independent.

There used to be a coffee shop on Ventura Blvd between Hazeltine and Woodman. I don’t pinkremember the name, but I do remember the walls were pink. I liked it for it’s small town charm. Local home made jams lined the shelves behind me while local artists’ paintings adorned their walls. They only had a few wooden tables, a few more outside, and a few bar-type seats at the counter. Instead of the iced black or green tea choices at you-know-where, I opted for their daily choices, which might icled iced peach or raspberry-ginger. They offered an array of vegan or gluten free cookies as well. Who could resist?

I used this coffee shop in my story “Harvey Levin Can’t Die” (originally published in Pilcrow and Dagger Sept 2016). The story really is about change. How society reflects the harveylevincan't dieindividual and how the individual internalizes society. One of the characters worked there, but felt out of place. This also represented her life, she felt out of place and hadn’t really begun to make real decisions about who she was or what she wanted. But, of course, that changed and so did her involvement in the coffee shop and the guests as she becomes more proactive in her life. The reader is left to decide the interaction between her and society and whether the influence is good or bad.

It would have implied something different about my character if she’d worked at a chain coffee shop. The chain itself would have had an influence and been a foil. She wouldn’t have been able to grow and and the readers couldn’t see the change within the coffee shop itself; therefore, the setting was important in that instance.

Each place, each chain, is different. The people who go to the local Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf Company are different than those who go to Pete’s or even Starbucks. As writers, I imagine we’ve all spent time in these places. And our jobs as writers are to observe. Beyond the color scheme and coffee served, there’s a different atmosphere garnered by and at these places, and the people are different or act different.

I rarely see the impatient phone-bearing customers from the Monday morning Starbucks run at Pete’s. Nor do I see the more relaxed culture of the Pete’s “give me the multi-grain scone and flipped macchiato” at Coffee Bean.

1dollarstorysmashwordsI used another independent coffee shop for “$1.00 Stories” (originally published in The Chicago Tribune’s Printers Row Journal April – 2016). A mixture of independent coffee shops, one of which still squeaks by in the recesses of North Hollywood. I wanted a friendly owner and regulars my character would recognize. Not that he cared about them; it was more important for the story that they were familiar with Cris, and they accepted with good-natured-humor his occasional weirdness. I didn’t want to make him completely unlikable. I wanted him to come across as a little more complex, so he went to this coffee shop where he knew the owner and sneered at the community table while the regulars chuckled.

The joy I get from using independent coffee shops (or even invented coffee shops) is that I get to describe them, which will also tell us something about the character. In “Harvey Levin”, the character hated the pink walls. But using a chain also tells us something about the character.

Our characters are going to need caffeine at some point in the story. Giving the reader their choice of coffee shops, even in one line, gives the reader an insight into the person we’re creating.

Now my tea’s cold. But I don’t own a microwave and that never tastes good anyway.

 

Harvey Levin Can’t Die is available on Kindle and at Smashwords.

$1.00 Stories is available at Kindle and at Smashwords.

 

 

What’s New With You?

I’ve been remiss in my posting – which is a social media no-no.  icecreamCan I tell you a secret? I’m really just an introverted writer and I really want to do is:

 

Write!

 

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I had a fantastic time at the Poe Museum reading Eddy. They live streamed it (I didn’t know they were doing that!) and I’ve been invited back, hope to go soon!

 

 

 

 

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In the meantime, I’ll be at AWP.

 

 

 

 

 

But the real news today: my short stories – loving the covers! – are available for .99 cents on smashwords and kindle.

 

So – whenever you need something to do – click the link, read a story, let me know what you think!

Be Joyful!

Eddy Lives

 

Eddy, my new short fiction, is an imaginative fictional account of Edgar Allan Poe’s 1848 near-fatal laudanum overdose is available on Amazon.

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My first reading and signing takes place this Saturday in Santa Clarita at 12:30.

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I’d love to know what you think of the video, the cover, or the audacity I have to write about the legendary author.

Much love and happiness in the new year!

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Eddy – Win a Copy

Eddy, my new novella, will be out next month. I’ve eddycoverfinalbeen invited to read and speak at the Poe Museum’s Birthday celebration upon its release.

However, you can win a free copy before it’s released!

This is a fictional account of an actual event in Edgar Allan Poe’s Life. In 1848, whether accidental or purposeful, Edgar took an overdose of Laudanum, which was an opiate based medicine available on the open market. It was sold in pharmacies as well as pubs!

Poe nearly died as a result. This is a fictional imagining of that experience.

Poe reimagines the life and death of each of the women he loved. The story begins and ends in the Boston rooming house in which Poe found himself in November 1848 right after he’s bought the Laudanum. His overdose rouses images of his mother backstage at the theater in Richmond during her last performance  and continues on to Virginia in their Philadelphia home while she played the piano for their guests. The story doesn’t neglect his other loves.

Debbie the events coordinator from the Poe Museum said she was “blown away” and couldn’t wait to share it with her colleagues.

Eddy won’t be available until January 6th. But you can WIN a advanced copy by entering your email address.  You don’t need to enter more than once, your email address is your entry. A single one will be randomly selected by a generator, and the winner will be notified by email on or about January 5th.

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If you need more to whet your appetite, take a look at my interview with Super News Live on their Dark Mysteries Show about The Mysterious Death of Edgar Allan Poe.

I’m excited about releasing this as Poe’s work and life has been such an inspiration, not only to me but to many. His work will continue to inspire writers, artists, and film makers for many years to come.

 

EnJOY!

Not Writing is Not an Option: Rethinking Writer’s Block

I’ve been under the impression that writer’s block was actually procrastination; however, someone wrote recently “whoever doesn’t believe in writer’s block has never experienced the sheer frustration it can cause.”

This, and the comments that followed, made me reconsider my position on writer’s block.

Experts state that very few people actually experience the psychological issues that cause real writer’s block. That statement, and my observations of procrastination in action, have lead me to believe that most people who say they suffer from writer’s block aren’t actually suffering from deep mental disturbances but of more common problems that plague us all – distractions.

However, the advice this person received caused me to pause:

“Drink heavily.”

“Don’t force yourself to write, it’ll come.”

These seemed the least helpful. While I know there’s a stereotype that follows artists and writers – the best ones suffer, and suffer from addiction in many forms. I doubt very seriously whether getting drunk will help the person. And, if you don’t write at all, how will anything come?

Other advice went something like this:

“Just write.”

To which one person wrote a long response about the ridiculousness of this answer. I, however, disagree. When asked by my students “what if you get stuck on a part?” I answered, I go on to a different part, or I write something else. I usually have more than one project going at the same time. I know some writers don’t do this, and I understand their reasoning. At this point, it works for me.

“Go for a walk, do yoga, meditate.”

This is actually pretty good advice. Studies show going for a walk or exercise in any form can feed creativity. Yoga is meant to calm the energy in the body so one can focus and/or meditate.

Others said, “listen to music” or “write a character study.”

This could help. While writing one novel, I listened to blues and jazz to help me give the character depth and personality.

Finally, someone asked the person who’d posted they had writer’s block and needed a solution: “What’s bothering you?”

Now, that’s a damn good question. Most of my writer’s procrastination comes when some thing is bothering me.

The person’s answer was different than I expected.

“I can’t make the story go where I want it to go.”

OOOOHHHHH!

This is a whole different type of problem. I learned writing in two ways. One method was to write a formulaic story with beginning, middle, and the end in mind. Use an outline and stick to it. And I can do this. But it’s no fun for me. The second way I learned was to just write and see where the story wants to go or needs to go. Most of my writing comes this way. It’s natural, it’s organic, it’s unforced; maybe that’s why it flows.

Think of how much power water has. Human-made streams run over their banks, create their own pathways; in one way or another, they defy the path man made. Think of how much concrete and lead it takes to build a retaining wall to create a dam, and still they must have holes or release valves. How many still end up crumbling, breaking, or overflowing?

That’s what writing should be.

Ideas and words should flow. Let them live. Trust them. Trust yourself.

If they are dammed up, forced into an unreasonable plot or direction, then I can understand that type of writer’s block.

The advice offered for that was: “write the end, and work backward,” and “move on to another scene.”

This should probably work if the plot of the story is strong and the elements are all in place. However, the person maybe be stuck because a needed plot point is absent.

Before any solutions can be offered, the type of “block” the writer is facing must be addressed.  Is it really, “I’m stuck,” or is it “I’m distracted”? If there’s a phone in front of you, and facebook, twitter, or your blog open while you’re writing – that’s probably writer’s distraction. If the writer is stuck at a plot point, at a character arc, I’d suggest to meditate on it, sleep with it, think about it until it works itself out, but I also suggest skip ahead, write another scene, write that scene/character you tell yourself you’ll never use.

See – it’s still writing. NOT WRITING IS NOT AN OPTION. No one ever got better at something by NOT doing it. No one ever finished a project by not doing it. No one ever became successful by stopping what they were doing.

 

 

She was “BLOWN away”!

Eddy is set to be released the first week of January 2018. It will be followed by a book signing in Santa Clarita, then in Richmond, Virginia at the Poe Museum!

Debbie Phillips from the Poe Museum said she “was BLOWN away. I love it, and am excited to share it with my colleagues.”

In 1848, Poe took an overdose of Laudanum. Eddy is the fictional account of what happened under the influence of the opiate based drug.

“Half mad from an overdose of laudanum, Poe re-imagines the death of each woman he loved even as their souls reach out from beyond the grave to save his life.”

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To Celebrate my upcoming publications – I’ll be posting Poe related trivia and never before seen photos of fan art – or more specifically – the art people have made for me knowing I’m a Poe fan!

I’ve got so much love for Poe fans!

Existential Crisis or not?

After the farmer’s market, some mornings, I drive around, usually down Ventura Blvd. It’s been conducive to considering life, writing. 21741308_1794773787218606_5919141729243852808_o

I find that I usually stop somewhere for a coffee and write.
Even though I’m widely published in literary journals and other, my own work doesn’t sell much. I’m probably not that great at marketing; however, it may also be due to the fact that I don’t write genre fiction and few people know what to expect when I say literary fiction.

Obviously, it’s up to me if I want to change what I write. But, this afternoon, sifting through donations of people’s old clothes to go to different centers, places, and people who need them, I thought – I’m here to do more than write the next big romance or homelessaction/adventure story. I’m here to tell stories of real people and real lives, hard lived. ($1.00 Stories was inspired by a true story of a homeless man who wrote stories and felt he earned enough to live on)
The novel I spent the spring writing (and is currently making the rounds to publishers) is about a young man who is a recovering drug addict and a woman who spent her life allowing others to make choices for her.

I’ve allowed my heart and my life to be touched by a great many different people. Hearing and interpreting other’s stories, trying to understand and learning to empathize with individuals makes life worth living. Writing stories that people can connect with because they have a sister, brother, aunt who has experienced something similar is important to me.

My purpose is to tell the stories that are hard to write, hard to hear, and give real life meaning. This might mean I don’t make the homelessbest seller’s list, but it also might mean my work touched someone, taught someone, helped another human being experience empathy for a friend or stranger’s life.

My last few stories “Deception” is about how we lie to ourselves and each other,“The Gold Tooth” deals with a sibling who will never be what we hoped for them.  My poems, “H” and “Hunger”, both of

which will appear in Wild Woman Medicine Circle next month, explore hardships people must endure because of others’ expectations.

This is what I choose to write, I was born to write. It has meaning to me. I hope others finding it meaningful to them.