Sipping and Tipping: Coffee Shop Etiquette

The writer in the coffee shop has become a cliche, but there are lots of reasons for wanting to work amidst the hustle and bustle of strangers. When I lived in New York City, I generally had an itty bitty living space and several roommates, making an "office" away from home a necessity. Even now that I have a little more room, there are too many distractions at home: chores to do, pets clamoring for attention by sitting on my keyboard, video games inviting me to play them, TV shows to watch, and a comfy bed in the next room to nap in when it all gets to be too much. It helps motivate me when I have to leave my apartment to go somewhere else specifically to write.

There are also obvious benefits to having an inexhaustible supply of coffee nearby when you're working on a deadline and very little sleep. But what about the noise? Yes, coffee shops can get loud, but they can also be a great place for writers to observe other people, hear stories, and get ideas without feeling too creepy about eavesdropping. The "lonely writer" working in solitude is another old cliche, but writing in a coffee shop surrounded by hipsters on identical MacBooks fosters a sense of community, and it can be inspiring too, seeing everyone else plug away at their screenplays and novels. You start to get to know the other regulars, show an interest in each others' projects, and offer encouragement. It almost starts to feel like you have a social life.

Coffee shop writing isn't for everyone, but I think writers should be always be open-minded and try new processes, so if you haven't done it before, give it a try. But first, here are some etiquette and survival tips for writing in coffee shops:

  1. Don't bring a typewriter. Try a laptop or, if you really want to go old school, a notebook and pencil.
  2. Unless you actually love Starbucks coffee (and there's nothing wrong with that), consider going to a local indie shop instead. Honestly, Starbucks is super convenient — there are a lot of them and they have long hours — and I feel less guilty about hoarding a table there for long periods of time, but I also like supporting smaller businesses, and their coffee is often better.
  3. Buy something. Some coffee shops will actually let you bring in (or sneak in) food and snacks from outside, but don't abuse their kindness, especially if you're at an indie coffee shop. Buy a cup of coffee — consider it "rent" for the table. If you're there for more than a couple of hours, get refills periodically or buy some pastries or something; you're probably getting hungry anyway. Don't like coffee? Try tea or chai or cocoa, or just get a soda, especially if it's really crowded and you're taking up space other customers might want.
  4. Tip well. Always good advice, but if you're planning to come back often, don't be cheap.
  5. Share the outlets. Power is a hot commodity at most coffee shops; if you see someone drifting around, staring under tables along the walls, point out the outlets if you already know where they are. If you have room at your table and you're sitting alone, offer to share it. I like to bring a small multi-outlet converter with me, which makes it easier to offer power to more people. Some people bring extension cords or even surge protectors, but make sure you aren't going to trip someone or create a fire hazard. (Just in case, make sure your laptop is fully charged and you have your AC adapter before you leave home.)
  6. Start packing up a few minutes before the place closes, factoring in the time you need to back up your work (don't forget to back up your work!). You don't want to make anyone stay later than they have to.
  7. Bring headphones/earbuds. And use them. If you need to watch a funny video when you should be writing, use headphones so you don't disturb anyone else. Sometimes when it gets too busy or I don't like the music, I listen to Pandora. I've also been using some white noise generators like SimplyRain which generate some soothing sounds that help you focus during the loudest, most inane conversations around you.
  8. Bring friends. Writing dates are the best of both worlds: You're being productive while spending time with friends, and you can provide just the right amount of procrastination for each other while still feeling like you're working. It really comes in handy when you have someone else to ask "What's another word for...?" instead of Googling it or asking the snarky artificial intelligence in your phone.
  9. Write. Demand silence from your friends when you really need to get to work, turn off the Wi-Fi on your computer, and make the time and money count. Write. But getting one more cup of coffee first won't hurt...
(Thanks to Jeff Hirsch for inspiring this blog post via Twitter, and shout out to two of my favorite coffee shops ever: Grounded in NYC, and the Chestnut Hill Coffee Co.!)

What's your favorite place to write? Have you tried working in coffee shops? Share your survival tips with us below.

CHASING BEFORE by Lenore Appelhans Releases Today!

Hello and congrats to Lenore Appelhans! 
CHASING BEFORE, the sequel to THE MEMORY OF AFTER, is out today! 
*throws memory-altered confetti*

I have a bunch of questions to ask Lenore about her book, which I was lucky enough to read in the early stages and LOVED it from the beginning!

Me: I loved the new world you built in Chasing Before. Did you have this all consciously thought out when you wrote The Memory of After? If so, did a lot of it change once you began writing it?

Lenore: The Memory of After was originally conceived as a standalone, so when it came time to figure out what to do with a contracted sequel, I had to go back to the drawing board. I knew I wanted to continue to use elements of both Christian theology and mythology to create Level 3, but the landscape is vastly different than what you find in Level 2.

Me: live in Germany! How does living in another country affect your writing process? 

Lenore: I often describe Germany as my writing cave. When I’m here, I’m a homebody most of the time, butt in chair, writing. I use trips to the US to be social and network. That’s not to say I don’t appreciate the opportunity to be in a myriad of different countries within a few hours. Taking short trips in Europe gives me the chance to refill the creative well with new impressions and experiences. I love it!

Me: Who is your favorite new character we get to meet in the sequel?

Lenore: Great question! I am quite fond of both Libby and Brady, so much so that they get their own POV flashbacks in the eNovella THE BEST THINGS IN DEATH. But, I do enjoy the way Nate brings out a side of Neil we haven’t seen before, and I’m partial to him because I made him old enough that Ian Somerhalder could play him in the film. Ha!

Thanks Lenore! So glad to be able to chat with you!

And here's a little about CHASING BEFORE:

“I’m a ticking time bomb. And one day soon everything is going to explode.”

Felicia and Neil have arrived in Level 3 and are supposed to prepare for their divine vocations.

But during Felicia and Neil's training period, a series of explosions rips through Level 3. Tension is high, and casualties are mounting. A rift forms between the pair, one that grows wider when Felicia receives memories from the Morati. The memories cast doubt on the people she loves the most, but Felicia can't stop her curiosity. She has to know the truth about her life – even if it means putting at risk everything she’s worked for in her death.

Where to get the book:

Shelf Reflection

"Books! Books! All the books I'll need! All the books, all the books
I'll ever want." — "Time Enough at Last", The Twilight Zone
One of my least favorite sentences to hear is "We need to get rid of some books."

I bet that made some of you twitch, too. When my wife said this to me recently, my immediate reaction was denial. What do you mean we have to get rid of books? They're books! Unfortunately, the clear, simple logic of that argument is a bit too simple and oddly unconvincing, and while I may object to the necessity of the task, I'm not actually delusional. Not about this, anyway. As I looked around our apartment, even I had to admit that we have a book problem.

The thing is, I've never considered it a problem. Out of all the vices I could be into, collecting books is the most harmless. They're books. Books are good, worthy things. The more, the better — except when you're getting ready to move, or when you need to make more space in your apartment to, you know, live in. I've gone through a book cull each time I've moved, the most severe of them when we relocated from NYC to Philadelphia. Years of living in the publishing capital of the world tends to fill your shelves to bursting with free books, plus you attend a lot of readings and book launches of fellow writers. I'm also incapable of walking past a table selling used books without stopping (or at least slowing enough to survey the offerings), and there are many such tables lining New York's sidewalks. No matter the cost, no matter the diminishing space, I have never felt guilty about bringing home a new-to-me book, or an old favorite.

When we reached Philly, we had a smaller, but still large book collection. We immediately filled three Billy bookcases and an Expedit room divider from IKEA, with some room to grow. It turns out that only encouraged me; the books soon grew beyond those arbitrary boundaries, ending up in stacks on the floor and windowsill of my office. Many, many stacks. Serving on an award committee tends to fill your apartment quickly with free books, plus I began participating in a lot of panels, readings, and signings — often bringing home more books than I sold. Whatever, they're books.

So yeah, okay. Now I see that we have a problem. But I guess I'm the one with the issue, since I'm the one bringing most of these books in. It's not quite on level of hoarding, and it's hardly indiscriminate, but I definitely have more books than I have time to read, and that's been the case for a while. I'm a collector: I used to have a vast, nigh legendary VHS collection, which was decimated in the same NYC to Philly move, the essentials replaced on the much more compact DVD. I still have a sizable laserdisc collection, likely the next to be winnowed down. I have more than 200 8-bit Nintendo cartridges, painstakingly acquired and curated — which I will never get rid of. But the books are different.

I'm a writer now, but I was always a reader first, and I still am. I love books. They're what made me pursue writing in the first place! My wife loves books, too, but she doesn't seem to need to keep more than a couple shelves' worth of her best favorites around. Why can't I let them go?

It's not so much the possibilities that each book offers, though I like always having many books to choose from. Part of it is the fear that I'll want to reference a book I've read already and it won't be there. Or I'll want to reread a section or a story, and I won't be able to find it. I also want to keep around copies of books I've enjoyed to lend to people. I like being surrounded by books — it's part of my identity, there on display to all: I am a reader.

After pondering the situation a lot in the past week, I've decided that I like owning books. When I was a kid, we couldn't buy new books very often, so most of my reading came from the library. The small collection of books I had — built up from dime sales at the library, trips to the Salvation Army, yard sales, and gifts — was precious to me. I reread those books over and over again, and I still own many of them today. But somewhere along the way, once I could afford to buy books, the act of having them became more important than the act of reading. The more books I owned, the less I valued each one.

Having all those books to choose from at any time was pointless because I rarely picked any of them over some shiny new book I had just purchased, or my latest selections from the library. The books have become limiting, and as I consider each individually, I've discovered that my collection more reflects what I used to want to read instead of what I want to read right now. Still valuable perhaps, but I've been carting around some of these for more than 15 years, unread. Perhaps that ship has long sailed. I have accumulated a lot of short story collections, but I'm mostly reading YA novels these days, and my interest in reading short stories has waned a bit. Time to move on.

We're being much more ruthless on this go round, but I still have trouble discarding books for any number of reasons: That one's out of print. That one was written by a friend. That one is signed. That has a cool cover. That book wasn't that bad. Where do I draw the line? What I've come up with is a system that still varies from case to case, but boils down to keeping only favorites that I plan to reread, unread books I am definitely still interested in reading (and even some of those may be discarded if I can get them from the library), some books written by good friends, books I feel like holding onto for sentimental reasons, and signed/personalized books that I like. That latter category is the trickiest — I am really torn over passing on signed books, but I actually do have a lot of them now, and I want to prize the ones I decide to keep.

Also: Books are meant to be read and shared, and so in some ways, I'm freeing these books from their dusty captivity to hopefully inspire and delight other voracious readers. Another thing that's consoling me through this difficult process is the fact that eBooks are so accessible now. I am not a big fan of them — I still prefer paper, obviously — but I know I can call up an old book quickly if I need to. I have a lot of unread eBooks too, but at least they're only taking up space on cloud storage. I suspect that from now on, most of my new book purchases will be eBooks, unless I already know that book deserves a place on our shelves forever, and I'll continue to rely heavily on the library, which remains the best way to get free books. If I love a book enough to shell out for the hardcover even after I've read it, as I did recently with Jaclyn Moriarty's A Corner of White, then I know it's truly a keeper.

Where do you draw the line? How do you approach a dreaded book purge? Please share your tips for keeping strong and making those hard decisions below!

Corinne Duyvis on Capitalizing on What You Know

Today we welcome Corinne Duyvis, Author of Otherbound.

Capitalize On What You Know

Everybody has their own take on the famous adage of Write What You Know. My version is this: Capitalize On What You Know.

That is, if you have a passion, a quirk, knowledge about a particular topic, why not weave it into your writing?

It may not always work. It may not fit the book, or it may feel shoehorned in. That’s completely fair. In some circles, though, authors are often concerned it’ll feel like authorial intrusion.

“Oh, of course that character is a horse fanatic!” readers might say. “Have you ever read the author’s blog? She works with horses herself. So much for originality.”

Sometimes, I feel “originality” gets glamorized to an odd degree. Yes, it’s admirable to fully immerse yourself in a new topic as research for a book. To write something brand-new and wholly separate from yourself. To spend days or weeks researching something you don’t even care about.

You may need to do that level of research to do your book justice. After all, you don’t want to write about your own interests over and over. But why do some people feel the need to avoid those interests at all costs?

The thing is ... it’s your book. It’s your name on the cover. Why should it need to be completely separate from you, as a person? The goal isn’t to stay as anonymous as possible. The goal isn’t to write something that can’t be traced back to you.

The goal is to write a damn good book.

There’s nothing wrong with putting parts of yourself in your stories. Personally, I love discovering something about the author or their passions via their books!

In my debut Otherbound, I needed to build a secondary world, something I’d never done before. I merrily started weaving in parts of Dutch language and landscapes. I’m Dutch, and have lived in the Netherlands all my life; it’s a setting you rarely encounter in American YA, so I figured I’d capitalize on it.

Similarly, I’m bisexual, and so is one of Otherbound’s protagonists. I have novels featuring artists (like me), with autistic protagonists (hi), novels set in Amsterdam (I live here), novels featuring obsessive cat lovers (moi), novels featuring superhero nerds (what’s up), featuring bilingual characters (hoi) ...

I’ve written about a hundred things I’m not familiar with, but in the end, it’s these little bits of me tucked into a corner of the world, sitting on the shoulder of a character, that may help the book come alive. When you’re passionate about a topic, it bleeds through. These are the aspects we can portray with the utmost confidence, with full authenticity.

And in a genre featuring interdimensional travel, murderous vampires, and exploding planets, those aspects can be essential to grounding the story.

A lifelong Amsterdammer, Corinne Duyvis spends her days writing speculative young adult and middle grade novels. She enjoys brutal martial arts and gets her geek on whenever possible. Otherbound, her YA fantasy debut, released from Amulet Books/ABRAMS in the summer of 2014. It has received starred reviews. Kirkus called it "original and compelling; a stunning debut," while the Bulletin praised its "subtle, nuanced examinations of power dynamics and privilege."

Find Corinne at her Twitter or Tumblr. She is a co-founder of Disability in Kidlit and team member of We Need Diverse Books.

Confessions of a Male YA Author

When my first YA novel, Fair Coin, was published in 2012, and I started participating in author panels, library visits, and book store events, it seemed that I was usually the only guy on the program. This wasn't too surprising — I know that more YA books are written by women than men, so statistically speaking, it made perfect sense. For my first few panels, I even introduced myself as the "Y chromosome," which got some laughs. But I've stopped using that line, because a) I don't want to keep using the same old material, and more importantly, b) I realized it might imply that I thought my inclusion was an act of tokenism, and it wasn't that. (It also probably isn't as funny as I thought it was, and people were just laughing to be polite. "There's only one guy up there, let's take pity on him." So, thanks for that.)

Granted, I'm aware that I do get invited to more YA panels because I'm a male YA author, and hey, it's nice to be welcomed whatever the reason. My author friends are often asked if they know any male authors to invite to participate in programs with them, and I'm happy that they think of me. Perhaps by virtue of my geographic location and the events and conventions that I attend, there generally aren't that many guy YA authors to choose from. Sorry, I'll at least try to be a good one for you!

But we aren't exactly as rare as unicorns. We aren't an endangered species. And we certainly don't need the attention. Well, on an individual basis, many of our books could use a little more love, but on the whole, there are plenty of "men in YA" and we don't need any encouragement and support to write more. And yet, a simple Google search reveals plenty of articles highlighting the lack of male YA authors, and even worse, the lack of male protagonists in YA, suggesting that there should be more of them. Usually this anomaly is linked to data illustrating that fewer boys are reading and what a big problem it is. But of course, you and I know that the issue isn't a lack of books written by and for boys, but more about boys being uncomfortable or uninterested in reading about girls or — gasp! — books written by girls, J.K. Rowling notwithstanding. (Who, by the way, had to take on a pseudonym to trick boys into reading Harry Potter. How ridiculous does that sound now? Turns out that when boys found out the series was written by a woman, it didn't matter.)

Unfortunately, the solution some people have hit upon is to promote more books written by men, in many cases to the exclusion of all else. Most infamously, the first announcements of a “Blockbuster Reads: Meet the Kids’ Authors That Dazzle” panel at BEA's inaugural BookCon in May featured only men: Jeff Kinney, James Patterson, Rick Riordan, and Lemony Snicket. Even some of the panelists expressed that this was not ideal, and in fact, the rest of BookCon's guests were pretty much white, male authors — and a cat. More troubling still is how prevalent this seems in middle grade fiction, as middle grade authors Anne Ursu and Caroline Carlson recently related.

This gender imbalance extends to reading lists and recommendations too. I have heard of several YA reading lists and schools and libraries that somehow consisted only of guy writers. And a glance at recent bestseller lists is even more misleading because despite YA being "dominated" by women, men — mostly men named John Green — are disproportionately dominating bestseller lists and "best of" lists and awards.

It seems to me that if more women are writing YA than men, and your panels and lists are only full of men, then you must be working pretty hard to exclude women — or you aren't working hard enough to diversify your reading. Of course, no one should tell you what you should read, even though you're missing out on most of the good stuff, but if you're informing what children and teens are exposed to, then it actually is your responsibility to read more widely, recommend a broader variety of books, and strive for more gender parity and diversity in your panels and author visits.

See, that's what those program coordinators were doing when they invited me onto those panels. Even if they could only find one man to show up, they actively sought to include them. Finding the right balance can be hard, but that's your job. One of the strengths of YA is how it offers different perspectives and allows teens of diverse backgrounds to see themselves in stories, and that should be true off the page too. Not only can they see themselves as the heroes of their own stories, but they can also be the ones to tell those stories to other readers.

And to any teenage boys out there who might be reluctant to read about girls or books written by women: What are you afraid of? The worst thing that could happen is you'll discover that girls are people too, and not necessarily all that different from you. The best thing you'll learn is how you can act like a decent person, so girls might not mind talking to you. They might even say yes when you ask them out. They might ask you out, and you should be cool with that. Another boy might ask you out, and that could be cool too. Maybe you want to say yes. Look, there are no "boy books" or "girl books," there are only good books and bad books. Seriously, go read some Judy Blume. You'll thank me later.

Kaleidoscope: Diverse YA Science Fiction and Fantasy Stories

Cover by Amanda Rainey
I love reading because fiction offers experiences that would never be possible for me: visiting other worlds with a spaceship or through a magical wardrobe, solving mysteries alongside Sherlock Holmes and the Hardy Boys, saving the world with a group of wisecracking friends.

Although middle grade and young adult (YA) books are enjoyed by readers of all ages, they are especially important and meaningful to their target audiences — typically young people figuring out the world and their place in it. Books offer some of the answers they're looking for, open up new possibilities, and make them feel less alone. Reading also helps us develop empathy for others, by expanding our knowledge beyond our own limited life experiences.

However, lately writers and readers alike have pointed out that there isn't enough diversity in YA fiction (and admittedly in all forms of mainstream and popular media). What does that mean? Simply put, there are few writers of diverse backgrounds (e.g., people of color, QUILTBAG, differently abled), and few stories about diverse characters being published today. Compared to what? Well, as Nisi Shawl and Cynthia Ward point out in their book Writing the Other, the dominant paradigm in today’s society is a person of “unmarked state,” i.e., white, straight, and able-bodied (and in many cases, male). Regardless of the realities of who is consuming media, the bulk of it seems to be created for and marketed to this assumed majority.

Addressing this lack of diversity was the driving force behind campaigns like Diversity in YA and #WeNeedDiverseBooks, which highlight the disparity in representation, promote the diverse authors and books that are out there, and encourage publishers to address the need. This was also the idea behind the crowdfunded anthology Kaleidoscope: Diverse YA Science Fiction and Fantasy Stories, out today from Twelfth Planet Press. Editors Alisa Krasnostein and Julia Rios wrote:
“We’ve always been interested in promoting diversity. Julia is a bisexual woman of color, and Alisa is a Jewish Australian feminist, so in some ways this is a purely selfish drive; we want to see ourselves reflected in the stories we read. But it’s not limited to that; we also want everyone else to have the chance to see themselves, and we want to see stories about people who aren’t like us.”
In Kaleidoscope, they have given voices to twenty authors of very different backgrounds, who present twenty unique experiences for young readers. This remarkable anthology collects fiction from authors like Garth Nix, Karen Healey, Sean Williams, Sofia Samatar, Ken Liu, and more. (Full disclosure: I’m honored to be a part of this anthology with my story “Kiss and Kiss and Kiss and Tell.”)

More than most books, there is something here for everyone. And while diverse characters were a necessity in each story, emphasizing that diversity is not the focus of the stories. The diversity also extends to a whole range of types of stories, all under the speculative fiction umbrella. (Remember, YA is not a genre; it encompasses other genres like fantasy, horror, mystery, contemporary, etc.) I have only read a handful of these so far, as I work my way through the collection, but each one becomes my favorite in the moment that I read it: I loved Tansy Rayner Roberts’ “Cookie Cutter Superhero,” which presents a fresh take on the superhero subgenre while also critiquing its attitude toward women. “The Legend Trap” by Sean Williams is a clever and disturbing exploration of parallel universes and memes, set in his Twinmaker universe(s). "Chupacapra's Song" by Jim C. Hines tugged at the heartstrings of this dog owner. Shveta Thakrar’s “Krishna Blue” is a lovely, dark tale about a “color vampire” — a feast for those who hunger for stories that draw on non-Western influences.

Kaleidoscope provides a smorgasbord of diverse stories, but it's also an appetizer for more to come. Buy it, read it, tell your friends — there’s a lot more where that came from, if we keep asking for it.

Kaleidoscope is available in ebook and print on Aug. 5, 2014 (Oct. 1 in Australia). You can get it from any major online retailer, order the print version from your favorite book store, or order it directly from Twelfth Planet Press.

Who Are You? On Finding Your Writer Identity.

I recently started the Writing For Children and Young Adults Masters Program at Vermont College of Fine Arts, with my first residency completed in July and my first packet due to my advisor in ten days.

Already, I have found it to be a transformative experience.

During my ten days in Vermont, I made more realizations about who I am as a writer than I had in the past ten years of going through the process of becoming a published author.

That’s not to say that I learned more, it just means that I was able to step back from the process and ask questions that got to the core of who I am.

In the workshops, lectures, and conversations with faculty and classmates, one idea kept coming up, over and over: the idea of self-awareness and it being the cornerstone that everything else is built upon. As writers, we run into a lot of prescriptive advice (don’t do this, do this!), and more often than not, it overwhelms us, even stagnates us.

This is because writing is not a one-size-fits-all proposition. What we need most is to explore our writer identity and then arm ourselves with the tools that will help us, as individuals, to develop our craft and to protect what is important to us.

So how does one go about exploring one’s identity as a writer? Ask lots of questions and be open to the answers. Experiment. Understand that it’s not going to happen overnight and that each day brings new challenges and new opportunities. Never stop striving to be better.

Who are you?