Your Favorite Coffee Shop

If you follow my blog you know I love to visit coffee shops and write about them. I combine tips for writing with all things caffeine and now I am excited to feature some of your favorite coffee shops. I’m going to show them off and hear about what makes you keep coming back for that second grande mocha. Do you prefer lattes with that beautiful artwork? More of a one shot cappuccino person or you prefer the a classic medium roast? Tell me all about this place. What makes it special? I want to know about the vibe and I want to share the coffee love.

What I need from you: name and website of coffee house. What makes this place different from the others (because, let’s face it, there are many coffee shops to choose from)? Favorite drink/food item (let’s not ignore those shelves filled with beautiful baked goods). Does the barista know your order by heart or have you recently discovered the cafe? Do they offer something extra like live music, poetry readings, book clubs…? Anything more you want to share is a bonus.

Jump over to my contact page and fill out the message with the information. Posts will be kept up for one week. If you have photos from your coffee house you want to share I’ll post those too! Send any questions you might have.


The Hook

The hook is on my mind as I enter Dublin Roasters in Frederick, and no, I’m not talking about the arm of a pirate. I’m referring to the bomb dropped right on time at the end of Chapter 3 in a romance novel. This weapon of word choice is meant to grab the reader’s attention and hit them where it counts—swallowing up their attention. I’ve been there, unable to put a book down and there’s no better rush from a reader’s perspective. I want to feel like I need to turn the page.

This isn’t an easy thing to do. This is the sacred hook.

The more I write, the less importance I place on this catch-all as a necessary means to capturing the reader’s attention. I find the author’s writing style is equally as important to me. Quick, witty banter goes a long way or eloquent paragraphs that make me savor the simplicity and beauty of words are just as powerful. My writing style evolves as the themes of my stories change, I focus less on finding the perfect placement of a problem for my characters and focus expanding their struggles throughout the book. I have major points that need to happen in order to move the story along, but I don’t let a formula dominate the natural progression of tension. I want the hook to be continual and rise steadily throughout the pages.

Coffee connoisseurs are no different than readers. We’re a picky lot. Maybe the term snob is thrown around. I think we’re misunderstood. It comes with the territory of enjoying something to the point of knowing what I like and don’t like (in both cafes and books). The bookstagrammers I follow share a mutual love of caffeine in our mugs. We take photos of our coffee and our books, spreading a sense of our style through a single photo, just like the opening sentence of a book. I know, even before the end of the first page, if I will like this story. If I will like this café. Both have something in common.

By the time I order my single shot espresso, I’m intrigued. A coffee house is tricky. The atmosphere must appeal to a wide range of customers while remaining intimate. My eyes take in the interior. The decor is warehouse-style, decorated in strings of white lights on the ceiling and comfy chairs and tables on the ground. There’s art on the walls and coffee to buy on shelves. A sense of responsibility is present in the fair trade signs and photos of staff trips to coffee farms in Columbia. I see a chess board, which gets points. Coffee and games go together, but what’s important is the concept of this place, much like the way a writer controls the flow of the story. What’s going to make me stay? Is it the big reveal in a book or the promise of a place I want to return and share with friends?

Elements of a coffee drink and writing a book are not that far apart. They’re universal. Each begins with an idea. There’s conflict along the way. Dialogue, communication, and training in each craft are required. Readers need a reason to keep reading. A presence of authenticity is necessary. How the author or business owner spins either one is what makes it unique.

Writer’s today don’t have the luxury of ‘building’ the story. The formula of which readers grew accustom to doesn’t work. It’s dated and overdone. A readers wants to be kidnapped by the plot immediately. There’s low tolerance for an author dragging the story at their heels and it can go against a writer’s desire to let the story take it’s time. I struggle with this as my fingers hit the keyboard. How to remain true to the timing of events in the plot while moving along quick enough as to not lose the reader’s interest. There’s thousands of romance novels out there and a bulk of them are offered for free. It’s tough to know how to proceed. Give in to the market or cultivate something else. There’s plenty of places to get coffee. Neither is no longer a novelty.

I’m comfy in this big leather chair and tempted to put my feet up on the table (which I would never do). I consider the key elements in designing and giving the hook a sustainable lifeline.

I begin with Pacing. Instead of dumping the major problems in the first three chapters, try spreading them out. Give away what’s useful. Tease the reader and hint at more problems to come. Add a couple of twists along the way. Keep the reader hostage by making them think they know what’s coming and give them something unpredictable. Reduce the level of information and let the inner struggles and fears of a character shine. Use descriptions without distracting from the story. Those are some that come to mind.

I haven’t left Dublin Roasters in case you’re wondering. I’m at the end of my drink and I’m not ready to go. The best compliment to an author is that you’ve decided to come back for more and the same is true for this place. I’m hooked.

Dublin Roasters. 1780 N Market St, Frederick, MD 21701

Love Your Backstory

Every cup of coffee has a backstory. From seeds to grinder, there’s a physical tie, a beginning, and ultimately, an ending. Hands work to plant and the rest is a natural growth. There are people behind the scenes, each step of the way, transforming the bean to cup of coffee. Who are these workers? Men and women that I will never meet, but if I met them in a book, I would get to know their details and their story, and by the last page, I would know them.

The past. The present. The in-between. There’s a delicate tug-of-war that takes place for me as a writer. How to move the story forward without the backstory thrust upon the reader in unnecessary places. I have to deal with it, all writers do, particularly in romance where two characters can’t love completely unless they’ve dealt with complications from their past.

Characters and Cafes aren’t so different. I spend a little time with each, sometimes sitting in a coffee shop writing and sipping, or taking out my Kindle with my head slightly bowed and my hand around a to-go cup while I read. Either way, my goal is to focus on what makes each unique. Writer Emily is concerned with the here and now of a heroine’s journey. And coffee drinking is very much in the moment. Diving into her past feels counterproductive to keeping the story in the present. It goes against the rules of writing, to minimize the what was, the what came before I crack open the book and started with Chapter One, unless there’s a prologue inserted, which I have mixed feelings about.

I didn’t know anything about Caffé Nero. There’s one near my apartment in Earl’s Court, right on my way to the Tube. Initially, I brushed off the idea of going in there. Then I saw their logo scattered around the city and instead of resisting the idea of trying out a chain, I went inside–got to know it for myself. Each one is a little different, each one with a sophisticated and comfortable interior, and they all bear the same blue sign with black letters.

The reader requires a gauge, a compass, to understand fully why it’s difficult for the heroine to make the right choice, quit her job, stop drinking, report a crime, say no to the jerk. The writer decides how to show these specific events and there are triggers to accomplish this that can be sprinkled in throughout the story as opposed dominating the pages. Sights, smells, and scenery are all usable strategies. A heroine will remember how the hero’s breath felt warm on her lips. It reminds her of when they first met for an Espresso on a blind date. Now, maybe it all falls apart after that, but, good or bad, it stirs something within her. Smell is a powerful connection to memories.

The same is true for a latte. The same ingredients wherever I go, steamed milk, espresso, and topped in frothy goodness and if you’re lucky, a fancy leaf or heart. The smell of caffeine and milk blended together is mouth-watering to us coffee consumers. As a reader, I get it, as soon as caffeine is inserted as a description. Find what connects you to your memories and use it.

The decisions the heroine makes come from somewhere. Locations and ancestry matters (Caffé Nero’s past includes Italian roots). Everything the heroine needs to become compelling character can be pulled from family and relationship dynamics. Her upbringing, for example. Maybe she comes from a family who owns a big chain of coffee stores or maybe she watched her mother begging for cash to buy herself a cup.

There’s a consistency I come to expect as with characters, just like every Caffé Nero location. I love the stacked cups and saucers, and the baked goods (hello, croissants). A shared experience writers, readers, and coffee lovers seek and I’m reminded about the idea of origins for both coffee and a heroine.

Caffé Nero is over twenty years old with mega experience from planters to tasters to master roasters (that’s right, it’s someone’s job to taste coffee). The founders envisioned a place for people to come together with a high-quality product. They succeeded. It started with an idea, a goal, much like characters. They’re motivated to accomplish, to forget, to feel love and to let go, to forgive…start new and walk inside the café they’ve ignored for the past year. There’s a rawness to a heroine whose dialogue and thoughts slowly begins to change as the past becomes less important. This is where dialogue, encounters, and actions must be appropriate to the plot and move the story forward. Don’t waste page space that isn’t relevant to the heroine. Don’t create a trauma or event that has nothing to do with her current problem, those should be clear early on, and wane towards the end.

The placement of a character’s backstory, just like stepping into a coffee shop, can’t be forced. It must be right. If placed too early, I risk losing the reader’s interest (only because this has happened to me as a reader). If put in too late, the information may be irrelevant or feels like a filler. The where, when, the how. Café Nero told me what I needed to know in that moment. Cozy, clean, and with a touch of class with the bookshelves full of books, floor lamp, long table with benches for large groups to gather around or private tables with wing-backed chairs. I don’t need the entire history and all the details, the décor speaks for itself, as does the product.

Sometimes just a little bit of details is enough. And love the backstory, it is, after all, what gives the heroine a strong voice.