Wednesday, March 27, 2013

A Novel Creation: A Good Cup of Coffee

Shirley's Cuppa Joe as I see it

The character in my book, Sonja, enjoys gourmet coffee creations. She would love to turn her Victorian style coffee shop into a modern West Coast coffeehouse. She dreams of purchasing a state of the art espresso machine. She even takes an off season job at a well established coffee shop in a ski area to better learn the business.

Well, I can open a can of Folgers with the best of them, but do I really know how to make a caramel macchiato? No. Cappuccino? Uh-uh. Anything that requires measuring, tamping, steaming, or flavoring? Absolutely not.

Organic Life Coffeehouse and Bakery
But I do know a good cup of coffee when I drink it. And…I know how to do research. I started with the internet. I was able to learn quite a bit about coffee beans, coffee grinders, and espresso machines. But how does it all come together as a business? For that I decided I needed to visit a coffeehouse. The internet was good for that, too. While it would be wonderful to visit a coffeehouse in Wisconsin where my story takes place, I am currently living in Florida. A quick search on the internet and I found “Organic Life Coffeehouse and Bakery”, a Christian coffeehouse located just minutes from my home. Organic Life is owned and run by Shadia and Peter Davidson, a young couple with a great story of faith and obedience. Of course, I enjoy my coffee so I had to make several trips to the coffeehouse in the name of research. You can visit them at their website:

I was excited to find the coffeehouse and blessed to have Shadia sit down with me to talk about Sonja’s business in Fish Creek, Wisconsin. Shadia offered me more than great insight into the coffee business. She shared an enthusiasm for the books and music that encourage people along the path of life. 

Of course neither of us was as excited as Sonja when she learned she had an espresso machine. Read this excerpt to see what how she acquired it.

“Well, I have to admit, I kinda like some of those fancy coffees,” Joe told them. “Once, I took Shirley to Chicago and we tried some of those espressos and cappuccinos and such. I tried to get her to add it to the shop, but she wasn’t one for change. Maybe you’ll get more use outta that machine.”

            Was Joe suggesting he had purchased an espresso machine? What happened to it, Sonja wondered. “What machine?” she asked tentatively.

            “That espresso machine. Top of the line. But she wouldn’t have anything to do with it. Just got stored in the attic,” Joe informed them.

            Sonja thought about the storage area under the sloping rooftop. She had only opened a couple of boxes. They had Christmas ornaments and personal effects in them. Though she fully intended to clean out the area at some point, she had never felt motivated to do so. Now she wondered if indeed, under everything else, there might be an espresso machine.

            “When did you get the espresso machine?” Sonja asked cautiously. She hated to get her hopes up.

            “Well, let me see,” Joe mused as he scratched his head. “Guess we went to Chicago the March before Shirley got sick. I ordered it so we could use it that season, but she wasn’t inclined to try. Said she would read up on it and practice with it that winter, but then she got sick. I just packed it up and put it in storage. Thing’s brand new, you know.”

            By the time they left, Sonja had a hard time keeping her excitement in check. She and her dad made a plan to spend their first hours at the shop taking everything out of the storage area. Sonja was glad her father was with her. He would help her with the heavy things. Who knew what else was in the boxes under the roof?

            They stopped in Sturgeon Bay for an early dinner then made their way up the highway to Fish Creek and Sonja’s home. Dusk was setting in by the time they arrived. Sonja knew the prudent thing to do was to settle in and wait to go through the closet in the morning. Daniel agreed that was the smart thing to do but seeing the look in his daughter’s eyes, he suggested they just pull a few things out into the large open area and at least see if there was an espresso maker in the closet as Joe indicated. Sonja was thrilled.

            The first few boxes Daniel carried into the upper room of the coffee shop for Sonja to inspect were exactly what she had expected to find. Christmas decorations and lights, a wooden reindeer for the lawn, and boxes of clothes. The next box was filled with photo albums, newspaper clippings, and an assortment of school pictures and report cards. Sonja wondered if answers to the mystery of Judy and Joey were hidden in the contents of that box. Finally, Daniel let out an honest to goodness “yippee” from within the depths of the storage area.

            “I found it Sonja! You are the proud owner of a deluxe espresso machine,” he told his daughter as he emerged triumphantly from the closet, dragging a large box behind him. “There’s another box from the same company in there. Maybe another part or something. I’ll get it. There are more boxes and a few pieces of furniture back here. Do you want them out, too?”

            “Not yet, Dad,” Sonja replied. She sat on the floor amid the boxes and opened the one with her precious espresso machine. Joe was right. It was brand new. She took out the manual and began studying the specifics of her trophy. It wasn’t the fanciest or biggest or maybe even the best machine by today’s standards, but it would be perfect for Shirley’s.

Now to the bottom line. How many words have I written for my second novel so far?  Well, like Sonja, I am pretty excited about the progress I am making. I have 50,016 words. That is including some of the editing and revisions I have already completed. Just keep writing.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Drafting Your First Novel: Q & A

If you are a regular visitor to my blog you will notice I did not title this one Word Count Wednesday. I promise I will give the word count at the end as usual, but I wanted to take this opportunity to answer some of the questions I have received about writing a novel. In particular, I have fielded questions from friends, acquaintances, and readers of my blog. Many are interested in writing a novel or short story themselves. Hey, we all have a story to tell, right?

My purpose in creating the blog was to a) learn how to blog, b) share the journey with others interested in the process of writing, and c) to hold myself accountable to the commitment I had made to write every day.

Well, I am learning a bit and the blog does serve to hold me accountable.
I hope my musings have helped some who are interested in the writing process.

Now though, I feel compelled to address three very specific questions for those of you who really want to write but can’t seem to get started. Or finished.
I hope you find this helpful.

Q:        Where do you get an idea and then how do you know it will be good enough to sustain a whole book?

A:         I get my ideas from life. Not always my own, but certainly the “what if that happened to me” kind of question triggers my imagination. As for sustainability, I sort of play with the idea like a movie taking shape in my mind. If I can imagine a strong beginning event to open the story, a strong event or turning point for the middle of my story, and a strong event to end my story, then I think it is worth sketching out on paper.

Q:        When do you find time to write?

A:         I learned a long time ago that we always make time for the things we want to do. That’s not to say we don’t lead busy lives. We do. When I was a graduate student, I gave myself “office hours.” I had a husband, three active daughters, and a full time job teaching. I am not superwoman. I had to allot myself designated time to work on my thesis. Before I did that, I was always carrying a canvas bag with me everywhere, just hoping to get in some reading or writing. I carried it to my daughters’ swim meets, dance lessons, and music lessons. But once I gave myself a designated hour after the children were in bed (and only for five days a week), I suddenly became more productive as well as more involved in the family activities. Now my children are grown. I find myself writing in the evening. The point is this: Designate a time and place to write. And remember this: It doesn’t have to be every day. For many years, I spent an hour or so every Sunday writing out what I had learned about myself through the Sunday morning sermon at our church. In the words of the great philosopher, Nike, Just Do It.

Q:        You keep talking about a word count. Are there really set word counts for novels and stuff?

A:         Yes. And no. When I was a professor at Cincinnati Christian University I would often give a research paper assignment to my students. I would inevitably get questions like “How long does this have to be, Dr. Waters?” My pat answer was always, “Until it is finished.” I did have certain guidelines, though, and I would tell them that unless they were superbly compact writers, they could probably expect their papers to be at least five to seven pages. It would take that many pages to adequately address the topic. In the world of writing, there are guidelines as well. A well-developed novel is typically around 80,000 words in length. Of course there are exceptions and a well-written book could be shorter. Or longer. Since I am also interested in writing children’s books, I have researched that market as well. Every publisher and resource I have found is consistently clear: Picture books (even if the word count is 500 words) are designed to be thirty-two pages.

And with that bit of information, I will leave you with my latest word count.
At present I am at 46,050 words.

However, on Sunday afternoon, I printed off the first ninety-eight pages to take with me on a short trip to Orlando, Florida. Now that I have real paper in my hands, I know I will be whipping out the pencil. I have a lot of editing and rearranging to do. Who knows what the word count will be by this time next week? I may be in for a real surprise.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Writing and Trash?

I prefer not to read trash so I certainly am not inclined to write it. That’s not what this blog is about.  This is about writing. Someone recently asked me how I keep up the writing. Do I ever just “not feel like writing?” Sure.

I was trying to think of a good metaphor to explain my writing schedule. I could compare it to exercise. You just do it on a regular basis, inspired or not.

In fact, I have often treated my writing as an exercise. For example, I looked at the topics Chicken Soup for the Soul was going to publish and wrote a story for the next three titles. I sent them in and the result? I had a story published in Chicken Soup for the Soul: The Power of Positive in October 2012. It’s called “The Roller Coaster” if you’re interested. Not a bad exercise.

I often write out short devotionals taken from my daily Bible reading. These provide not only an exercise in writing for me, but help me make sense of what I am reading. (By the way, don’t read Proverbs during a Presidential election year. It will drive you crazy. Actually Proverbs through Lamentations should be avoided during the election season, even if Isaiah offers a glimpse of hope eternal. Just saying.)

 Maybe, for me, a better comparison is cooking dinner. Every day as a wife, I plan and cook dinner. Take that back. Every day I feel responsible to plan and cook dinner. I love to cook. I like figuring out heart healthy meals for my husband that are delicious. Some recipes are great. Tom will eat and say, “Make that again!” Other times, we will try something new and after dinner decide to trash the idea for future meals.

I am not always inspired to cook, but we are always inspired to eat. And the more I cook, the better I cook. My writing is like that. I write. I sit down, turn the computer on and write. When I worked on my Master’s thesis, one of my advisors told me to write five pages every day. She said even if I read it later and trashed every bit of it, I would be better off than if I waited for the perfect words to come. She was right.

Now I write every day. Just engaging in the process gets my creative juices flowing. I know I will make cuts, but I also know I will be able to salvage bits and pieces even on those days I felt totally uninspired to write.

You may remember in my blog about understanding the backstory, I said that Jack Cavanaugh had suggested I remove the first chapter in my book, Breathing on Her Own, and weave the backstory into the rest of the book. I wound up “trashing” the first two chapters.

I can hear you now. You can’t throw away those beautiful words you put on paper. I understand. I don’t literally trash them either. I cut and paste them into a separate file called "discarded text." I still have all of that information. I may need it in the future. Or not. But what I know is this: If I want to be a professional writer, I cannot think of every sentence I forge as sacred.

Now to the question I have promised to address on Word Count Wednesday. Where am I today? 43,157 words written, but I am starting to think about several places where I need to make some cuts. As for my characters? They have no idea I'm about the pull the rug out from under them. Write and revise, write and's a curious cycle.

Thursday, March 7, 2013

From Sonja's Recipe File: Brownies with Ice Cream

This is the best ever brownie recipe for a light fluffy brownie. Ideal cake style brownies to split while they are still warm, fill with ice cream, and top with chocolate syrup. My aunt shared the recipe with my mother who shared it with me. My whole family likes these so it made sense I would share them with the main character of my book, Sonja.  Who knows? Maybe she will serve them one evening at Shirley’s Cuppa Joe.    

Brownies with Ice Cream

Preheat oven: 350 degrees;   Grease/Spray a 9x13 cake pan

In a large bowl mix:
2 C. sugar
1 ¾ C. flour
1 C. shortening
4 eggs
½ C. milk (sometimes I add a little more because I think it makes them fluffier)
½ teaspoon vanilla
¼ teaspoon salt
6 Tablespoons cocoa

Mix well and pour into the greased pan. Bake for 30 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.

Cool slightly before slicing and filling with vanilla ice cream. Top with chocolate syrup and enjoy!                                      

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Word Count Wednesday: Local Color OR What is a Fish Boil?

I appreciate books that give me a glimpse of the uniqueness of a place or time. I read John Grisham’s Pelican Brief and feel like I am in Louisiana. I read Lawana Blackwell’s chronicles about life in 19th century England and I catch a glimpse of a time and place long gone. (Though I do tend to crave a cup of tea.)

Since I chose Door County, Wisconsin as the setting for my novel, I wanted to bring a piece of the Door County culture into the book. In the story, Sonja (my main character for those of you new to the blog) has fallen for a young man. She met him in Colorado and now he has come to Fish Creek where Sonja lives and works. She takes him to a fish boil. So what is a fish boil? Well, read this excerpt and see what you think about this Door County tradition.

“A fish boil isn’t just dinner,” Sonja explained to Damon. “It’s an experience. That’s why we have to get there early.”

The restaurant was a little less than a mile away so they walked down Main Street acting like tourists, stopping to take in the colorful displays of local vendors. The two arrived at Grady’s log building about a half hour early. Patrons of the restaurant were invited out to the backyard of the structure where they stood around with their drinks in hand to witness the boiling of the fish. As two men piled wood on the fire, the host told his guests what they could expect. Sonja and Damon watched with fascination as the water in the cast iron kettle above the wood fire began to boil.

The head cook lowered a basket of red potatoes into the salted water and then lowered a second basket filled with chunks of whitefish freshly pulled from the waters of Lake Michigan. After a few minutes, oils from the fish rose to the top. Guests were warned to stand back as the cook’s helper tossed kerosene on the wood fire. The flames shot up and suddenly the water boiled over causing everyone in the crowd to cheer. The head cook removed a piece of fish, deemed it perfect and everyone moved back inside to be served their plate of fish and potatoes.

Sonja and Damon sat down to their salad while they waited for their plate of fish. Sonja explained it would be drenched in melted butter but was the best fish you could ever want.

“I’ll trust you on that,” Damon conceded. “You were certainly right about this being an experience.”

“All of Door County is an experience,” Sonja teased.

“The Chamber of Commerce should hire you,” Damon teased back.
Dinner proved to be as delicious as Sonja had promised. Afterward, the couple strolled back to Shirley’s arm-in-arm. Damon stopped at a small shop and purchased two ice cream cones. The evening was perfect.

A small blue Honda was parked on the street in front of Shirley’s Cuppa Joe. Sonja recognized it immediately.

“Rose!” she gasped. It was only on seeing the young librarian’s car that she remembered the plans she and her friend had made for the evening. She raced ahead to find Rose sitting on the porch.
 * * * * *
Now to the nitty-gritty. What is my word count? (Insert a Drum roll, please) 40,102 words.

Considering the typical novel is around 80,000 words, I am about halfway there!  However, I should tell you that as I begin to edit and revise, my word count will be all over the place.

I think that's what next week's post will be about.

Paring down to the words that really count. Are you in?