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.

catwithstarbucks

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.

 

 

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.

Delphinium – with care, blooms twice

Sticking to their word, Delphinium blooms again. The lovely editors at REaDLips have promised to give some of the proceeds of Delphinium’s Summer Issue 2017 (and going into the future) to literacy programs.  I’m beginning to appreciate Delphinium and those at REaDLips more than ever. They are showing themselves to have a heart, to care about our society. I am more than proud to be affiliated with this journal, proud to be published a long side amazing award winning authors as well as my own students. That’s right! Lynn Johnson was a student in my African – American Literature class. Her poem, published in Delphinium, was one she wrote in response to one of our readings and shared in class as part of her creative project.

I hope you’ll give Delphinium a read, and not because I’m published in it (well, not JUST because), the journal features authors and artists of diverse cultures and it will benefit art and literacy programs.

delphin cover3

Enter to win

Ladies and gentlemen,

To celebrate my summer release of as-of-yet-unnamed book of short stories, I’m giving away books for the next few months. Enter to win a copy of West End on GoodReads!

westendposter

Random facts stalkers don’t know…

12342690_1164373420258649_3435683081103125993_n

I grew up in a tough neighborhood. (don’t stereotype me)

I was in a band. (for about 5 minutes)

I was in a few movies. (another 5 minutes)

I wrote my first “novel”at the age of 11. (an angst ridden piece about a girl who is kidnapped because she witnessed a crime)

I was actually kidnapped. (not at 11/that story is waiting for publication)

I always have wanted to own a Munster-like house.

I’ve gotten lost in every major city I’ve ever been (including abroad. Trust me when I say every country/every city has neighborhoods you don’t want to be lost in at dusk)

I keep a lot of random facts as well as insignificant details in my brain. (jokes don’t stick tho)

now the stalkers know – don’t be a stalker….

When your back’s against the wall…

17358809_1593683070661013_1056498107982738675_o

Writing Wishes and Publication Dreams

I’ve been working on a new story – not only working – OBSESSED!  I don’t think I left the house for most of January and part of February until the first draft was done. I’m currently working through it again and again.  I’ve begun to gather my beta readers, and I’m quite excited.

Weekly, I spend time submitting. This is what a working writer does. Writes and submits. Rejections are no fun, and I get plenty of them. I read one statistic that read, “a writer gets an average of 26 rejections for every acceptance.” Not sure how they came up with that… I feel like it’s three times that much; however, things change!

Malcolm Gladwell, estimates it takes 10,000 hours to master any one thing. I feel like I should have reached those hours long ago; but, maybe, it takes some of us a little longer to get it. (That’s the story of my life!)

So – I have to update you.

My poem, “All At Once”, was a finalist in Medusa’s Laugh NanoText Contest. I didn’t win, but it’s still to be published in their anthology and in an e-book version. This should be available soon!

My poem, “I’ve Never Looked So Beautiful” has just been accepted by Mother’s Always Write. Before you start thinking I’m quite full of myself – the poem is about my lovely daughter! This should be available in the next month.

My story, “How to Throw a Psychic a Surprise Party” has been accepted by The Oleander Review. Sometimes, I write something and I think, this is pretty damn good, and I think this story says a lot about our humanity. I’m so happy that it will be published. It will be available mid-April

Finally, ladies and gentlemen, Writer Advice has just notified me that my story, “Memorial Day Death Watch”, has been chosen as a finalist in their Flash Memoir Contest!

We must have a purpose – I’ve always wanted to reach people, tell them they’re not alone. I think I’m just beginning to do that.

Live an Inspired Life!

15977302_1515990751763579_4589722785277939852_n