I think coffeehouses are meant to be in a row home on a historic street. There’s a rustic charm to a brick building with green trim and purple shutters. I go inside, staring at a narrow hallway with an old staircase and hardwood floors. The large, colorful mural of a woman holding up a cup of coffee spans the wall. The colors are bold, the details, vibrant. This is my first trip to Birdie’s Café. It is also my first encounter where coffee and art are blended together. But does it work?
Coffee is black. Art bursts with color. Caffeine can be offensive to the body. Art can be hard on the eyes. Each one has layers, flavors, textures open to interpretation. Both are also bold, subtle, strong and there are more than enough to go around. Sometimes, both are empty as a writer’s heart or an artist’s canvas. And other times, they are surprising and a beautiful rush.
Coffee houses, prints, framed photographs, romance novels, authors—they are no longer an exception, they are everywhere. The craft of expressing creativity is no longer a novelty. These are all industries with businesses owners marketing individuality. How does anyone standout with everyone competing for customers?
It’s all in the voice.
Yes, voice. Writing boils down to a practiced, refined discipline that gives the writer a chance to show a specific point of view. Just like a coffee house. Each one shines a different style. Coffee is coffee until mixed with other ingredients. Some of the flavors at Birdie’s that catch my eye include: Peppermint mocha, Mayan mocha, Con Panna (espresso shot with homemade whipped cream). The ability to take the ordinary and elevate to something unique is the challenge any artist faces.
Some argue that the focus on the voice is overrated. Others tout the importance of unleashing individuality. The answer is different for every writer. Without voice—without creating the art of a story there’s nothing left but a group of writers all tucked into limited plots, dialogue, and wrapped up with a similar cover. Authenticity matters. At least, that’s my opinion.
Where can a writer to begin to find her voice? The simple of act of choosing which view a reader is given. A writer can choose between writing in first person or third.
First person lets the reader see the world through my eyes alone. There’s extreme potential for tunnel vision. I walk inside. There’s an old, but grand staircase to my right. Immediately I wonder where it leads. Laughter and chatter erupt from another room and I turn to see the spacious sitting area with a fireplace, windows, and sketches of people hanging on the wall.
I go to the coffee counter. I look at the menu and my stomach roars at the sight of a breakfast sandwich with egg, bacon, cheese, on a bagel. The list of drinks catches my attention. There’s coffee and espresso, mochas, an entire list titled Snowbirds of cold smoothie coffee drinks. I know I’ll come back to try The Audrey, which, if you’re wondering, is made of four shots espresso, whipped cream, caramel, and mocha drizzle.
I find a seat, sip my vanilla latte, and wait for the sandwich. The sketches of faces on the walls catch my attention. Like art, writing starts out as a sketch, an idea. A voice not backed by the confidence of a seasoned writer. The lines are there. The beginnings of a chapter. Like a pencil drawing, those first lines are faint. Reworking dialogue, paragraphs, sweeping away unnecessary words. Adding shade and layers and texture to a story marks the true beginning of a novel that the artist gradually deepens with experience. I think of how many of my favorite authors started that first manuscript with nothing more than a sketch.
A customer looks over the menu, tempted to try the Red Eye (1 shot espresso in brewed coffee). She smiles at the fact that there’s a Black Eye for the more confident (2 shots espresso in brewed coffee). The day is not halfway done and she needs a jolt, but also something sweeter, and her gaze travels over the list of mochas. Ah. The Caramel Mocha. That’s the one.
She places her order, deciding to skip breakfast, and walks over to the spacious room with tables with checker board designs. This makes her think of that novel she started decades ago, when she had all the time in the world, and no idea how to fill it. Now, there’s no time, she’s between the past and the future, sitting at a table waiting for her order.
Both examples relay a slightly different interpretation to the scene. There’s an unhurried feeling of the coffee shop. There’s a variety of menu selections. We don’t know what the character will do next, but we know she’s content to sit, sip her coffee. There’s no pressure here for her to do anything else. She sees they have a poetry reading next month. When was the last time she let herself just listen to words?
Speaking of words…writing heroes and heroines in a romance novel can be tricky. These characters often fall into the pattern of these descriptors and the voice can sometimes feel forced and ‘done.’
Hero: alpha male, cold, aloof, untouchable, wealthy, perfect in style, taste, and worldly experience.
Heroine: strong-willed, stubborn, beautiful (yet oblivious to her looks), classy, successful, intelligent.
It takes a whole lot of voice to push a character beyond a category. Many stories are not inclusive, the stories of their characters are left out. The job of the writer is to stretch the limits of characters through action and dialogue. Characters don’t have to fit into a box. They are best written in the way the writer imagines them. This means that finding the heart of a character–of a story, might mean taking an innovative risk. The voice a writer begins with isn’t necessarily the one she will end up using.
It’s all about the voice. The art. The coffee brewed with an artistic touch, can help.
Like Birdie’s, you might find you need some creative inspiration. Get your laptop. Spend some time in the laid-back, funky atmosphere. There’s games, poetry readings, music, art shows, great food, and much more. They’ve taken the tired business of a cafe and breathed life into it with color and pride. And for the writer’s…yes, there’s space to spread out with friends or sit solo in front of a window. Order a cup of coffee and refine your art.
Birdie’s Cafe * 233 E Main St, Westminster, MD 21157