Monday, November 9, 2009

What I love About Coffee Get-Togethers

My guest Over Coffee is debut author, Marilyn Brant. Winner of the 2007 Golden Heart Award for Best Novel with Strong Romantic Elements.

  • Marilyn tags herself as an introvert, a Mom with an unhealthy attachment to Carbs, requires excellent cookies, likes dangerous things like chocolate martinis, neighborhood relationship intrigues and '80s Music. Best of all, she won my heart, when she told me she loves chatting over coffee with friends.
Thank you, Sia, for inviting me here! It’s a pleasure to be a guest on Over Coffee today. :-)

It’s particularly exciting to get to take part in a coffee-talk gathering online because, in real life, this is one of my very favorite things to do. I have a few friends I love to meet for coffee. Some I’m able to get together with frequently, others only once in a while, but in all cases I usually leave our morning coffee dates feeling buoyant and primed to tackle my infinite writing projects at home.

What makes it even more special is that I’m a true introvert. Unlike my VERY extraverted mother (!!), I’m not typically energized by social gatherings. (And, oh, I have stories I could tell about the endless stream of social events I was dragged to as a kid…wanna hear about wild double weddings, anyone?) Parties and conferences and things like that take a lot of concentration for me, largely because I can’t stop my writer self from collecting details and feeling a bit pummeled by observations. This was true before I ever actually became a novelist, by the way. Once I started writing, I was relieved to finally have a place to put all of those observations I’d been accumulating for years and tucking into my mental anthology of human behaviors--LOL!

So, what I love about the coffee get-togethers with my friends is that I actually feel like an extravert for those precious few hours. Because we know each other well, we dispense with small talk rather quickly. We’re then able to delve right into some very meaty conversations and get to the heart of a deep philosophical and/or emotional discussion after little more than half a cup of hazelnut mocha and a few bites of a chocolate-chip cookie. (We go to a shop with EXCELLENT cookies. I consider this a requirement.) And I’ve come to rely on these meetings as a helpful—perhaps even essential—part of my writing process.

  • Here’s why: I write women’s fiction. I’m passionately interested in women’s stories and our shared experiences. When my friends are telling me about their in-laws, their children, their wacky adult siblings…or they’re recollecting tales of old boyfriends or the qualities they love best in their husbands…I’m listening. I’m checking their stories with my own. Comparing them in the sense of discovering the emotions and reactions we have in common. They know this and, because they’re absolutely awesome, they enthusiastically help me make those connections.

Recently, one friend said, “So, okay, you’re a writer. Have you ever read any novels about a woman who’d lied to her entire family about having to go out of town at the end of November just so she wouldn’t have to suffer through another Thanksgiving dinner of being asked why she was still single?”

I said, “Got a call from your mother yesterday, huh?”

“Oh, my, God, yes!” she shot back. “I love her, but if she asks me about dating one more time—argh!!”

And so it begins, the fun and frequently funny back and forth banter between friends. The commiserations we share when we've had a crazy work week, an eye-rolling sibling moment or a feverish child. The innate understanding that each of us will pull together whatever knowledge, resources or background we can to help each other gain perspective on whatever might be perplexing one of us. It’s become such a powerful form of preventive medicine in my life that I look forward to it for my own mental health and, also, as a way to keep the pulse of my characters strong and true.

More than once, I’ve been the one to open our coffee conversation with something like:

  • “Okay, I’ve got this one character. She’s 43. Divorced. Ambivalent about relationships. But then she meets a younger guy and, strangely, they hit it off. What are her hopes? Her fears?”

And a friend will say, “She’ll worry about needing a boob job.”

“Or a tummy tuck,” another friend will chime in.

“But mostly she’ll be concerned about her teenage son and his reaction to the new relationship…”

And, with that, they’ll set me on the road to making sure I create a character who feels real to them. One who’s almost as multifaceted and three-dimensional as they are. I’m so grateful to them for that. Not only do their insights improve my writing, but they enrich my life and my understanding of the people in it. I’d give up my computer before I’d give up my coffee dates!

  • What about all of you? When you get together with your friends—over coffee, dinner, dessert or drinks—what do you tend to talk about? Work-related stuff? Kids and spouses? Sports, hobbies or pop culture?

  • Have these discussions ever made you think about your writing, job, or your family any differently? Looking forward to hearing your thoughts! :-)

Marilyn Brant has been a classroom teacher, a library staff member, a freelance writer and a national book reviewer. She lives in the Chicago suburbs with her husband and son, surrounded by towers of books that often threaten to topple over and crush her. A proud member of the Jane Austen Society of North America, Marilyn’s debut novel featuring "Jane" won the Romance Writers of America’s prestigious Golden Heart® Award. When not working on her next book, she enjoys traveling, listening to music and finding new desserts to taste test.
Readers can visit her website at

In Marilyn Brant’s smart, wildly inventive debut, one woman in search of herself receives advice from the ultimate expert in matters of the heart…

It begins one day in sophomore English class, just as Ellie Barnett’s teacher is assigning Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice. From nowhere comes a quiet “tsk” of displeasure. The target: Sam Blaine, the cute bad boy who’s teasing Ellie mercilessly, just as he has since kindergarten. Entirely unbidden, as Jane might say, the author’s ghost has taken up residence in Ellie’s mind, and seems determined to stay there.

Jane’s wise and witty advice guides Ellie through the hell of adolescence and beyond, serving as the voice she trusts, usually far more than her own. Years and boyfriends come and go—sometimes a little too quickly, sometimes not nearly fast enough. But Jane’s counsel is constant, and on the subject of Sam, quite insistent. Stay away, Jane demands. He is your Mr. Wickham.
Still, everyone has something to learn about love—perhaps even Jane herself. And lately, the voice in Ellie’s head is being drowned out by another, urging her to look beyond everything she thought she knew and seek out her very own, very unexpected, happy ending...
"Marilyn Brant's debut novel is proof that Jane Austen never goes out of style. This is a warm, witty and charmingly original story of a modern woman coming of age and finding her own happy ending--with a little help from the ultimate authority--Jane Austen herself."~Susan Wiggs


~Sia McKye~ said...

Marilyn, welcome to Over Coffee. I happen to have your favorite coffee, hazelnut mocha, and I have it on good authority, I make excellent cookies and scones.

Your description of Over Coffee adventures sounds like some of mind which is why I named my Blog, OVER COFFEE. I do admit, I wish I was closer than 6 hours, I'd love to sit in on one of your coffee chats, lol!

Marilyn Brant said...

Sia, thanks SO much for having me as a guest here, and I wish you were closer, too! I'd love a chance for a real, in-person chat with you!! (But I'll settle for a virtual cup of hazelnut mocha and some of your delicious cookies and scones--yum. ;-)

Nancy J. Parra said...

Hi Marilyn, Hi Sia,

Sia, I saw your post on Facebook and had to click. I luv Marilyn!! This is a really great post. I was in a group of writers who met every Tuesday for eight years-then I moved...sigh. But I'm slowly building new groups of great friends thanks to RWA- yay Chicago North! I think these "coffee" groups-although we tend to drink something stronger- have helped me through life. Thanks to Facebook and blogging even if I move again I'll still have great "coffee" friends like Sia online cheering me on and sending virtual hugs when things go bad. That means I'm blessed. :)

~Sia McKye~ said...

Ah, Nancy, you're so sweet! And have a wonderful Grandmother to boot.

Building connections are hard sometimes. Finding a place and a group you fit with makes it hard. Glad you've found yours. :-)

I think I'm blessed too. I've got a great community of cyber writing friends and my own beloved wombats.

Other Lisa said...

Hmmm...I have a really hard time finding people to talk about writing with and more to the point, I have a hard time discussing my writing with people. It's that "private" thing I do, you know? Heh! I guess it still embarrasses me on some level.

Tonya Kappes said...

Marilyn congrats on you debut! How exciting.
When I get together with friends we just talk about whatever comes in our head. It's funny b/c many times things we have talked about catches a character in my head and turns the situation into a part of her life. Sooo YES! Every conversation I have, I am always listening for a story.

Judi Fennell said...

*waves hi to my fellow GCC girlfriend!

You have your coffee group, I've got my Survivor group - every Thursday night. SOOOOOOO important!

Marilyn Brant said...

Nancy! You are as warm and as easy to talk to in person as you are online--you'll have friends wherever you go :). I'm so glad you're local to me, though!

Other Lisa~I know exactly what you mean... Having a small group of friends and writers that I can talk to about my writing is a fairly recent development in my life--really, only the past 5-6 years. Before that, when I was teaching and in a different social environment, I not only didn't feel comfortable discussing my writing, I didn't want to talk about anything I felt very passionately about. Some of those people proved to be very supportive of my "creative side" later, but I was right in feeling that many wouldn't. I think our instincts tell us whether we can/cannot open up to someone, and I believe we have to trust in that.

Tonya~thanks for the congrats! I love the way you phrased it--that things you talked about with friends "catches a character" in your head! I does feel like that, doesn't it? A situation we're discussing reaches out and grabs a character we're discussing so they can explore it further for us :).

Hi, Judi!! LOVE that you call it your "Survivor" group. I'm guessing you watch the show as well as chat??

Sia, I have to ask--that guy in the left sidebar, right under your "followers"--um, how do I meet him?! ;-)

Elle J Rossi said...

Good morning, Sia! The coffee is piping hot as always!


I so want to come to one of your coffee get-togethers. Last year, a few of my friends got together once a month for coffee and um...Mimosas. We'd take turns hosting and always had the best time. We discussed anything and everything! This year it seems that we allowed life and business to get in the way. Thanks to you, I've decided to start them up again!

Have a great Monday,

Kat Sheridan said...

Good morning Marilyn, and congrats on the debut! Sounds fun! And let's see--carbs, cookies, coffee, chocolate martinis and an introvert--sounds exactly like me (well, I prefer caramel macchiato martinis, but close enough!)

I rarely get together with friends, except in cyberspace, but when we do, much hilarity ensues. I've been surprised and delighted and lucky to have the interest and support of non-writing friends. I had one just the other day begging me to kill her off in one of my stories, helping me invent just the perfect gruesome end for her! Funnier was having her sisters enthusiastically helping me with ideas! Writing may be a solitary activity, but really, we do it better with folks with whom we can share it!

Helen Ginger said...

Your section about skipping Thanksgiving is exactly the reason why I try never to ask my daughter who she's dating. Don't want her to not call or come home!

When I get together with writer friends we seem to talk about everything except writing.

Straight From Hel

~Sia McKye~ said...

Marilyn, did I miss a spot on my kilted sexy dude? Gosh, I'll have to give him a closer examination and get back to you. Such a tough job, but somebody's gotta do it. Yum.

I'm sure I'll be finished with him, about a month...

Marilyn Brant said...

Elle~I'd love to have you join our coffee gatherings and, ohhh! What a great idea you had with the mimosas... I'll be suggesting that to my friends ;). Glad you'll be starting up your get-togethers again!

Kat~LOL about your friend's deadly end (fictional, thank goodness!) and even funnier is the enthusiastic "help" of her sisters! I wouldn't be surprised if my brother didn't have a few delightful ways to do away with me (between the pages of a book), too!

Helen, nice to see you here! (I think we've crossed paths on a few blogs before. :) Wise of you not to pressure your daughter... I'm sure she's looking forward to spending time with a mom who's that thoughtful and supportive of her!!

Sia~I'll be back in a month then--hee! (And before and after--just so I can stare at him. ;)

Anonymous said...

Hi Sia -
Hi Marilyn

I am lucky to have always had great close friend to talk to. In high school had a wonderful friend who I could talk to - on one particular night we drank rootbeer and doritoes and discusses everything under the sun - didn't get much sleep !

I now have two close friend who I get together with every couple of months to talk to and see what is going on. Then once a year we get a hotel eat good food and really catch up on what is going on. The both live very close but it is on these get aways we discuss almost eveything. Very little is a taboo subject.

Have a great week

Conda Douglas said...

Marilyn, wonderful family stories. And Sia, hazelnut mocha coffee and scones? Okay, now I'm hungry.

~Sia McKye~ said...

That's the point of the coffee bar, Conda! You get coffee and something to nibble on and read and then comment, see? Perfectly logical, lolol!

~Sia McKye~ said...


What a grand idea. I sorta do that with friends and conferences. My sisters and I have talked about doing that, but so far scheduling hasn't meshed.

~Sia McKye~ said...


Writing is also private to me. I find it hard to share my writing with others, my fiction, anyway. As you know I have a few I can share it with. Now, articles? Pfft, no problem. Probably because I've been writing things like that for years.

Marilyn, I'll have another drool worthy kilt up there soon, lol!

VA said...

I must confess that lately I have been eavesdropping on conversations at the college pub, and wow! Some the things are just to good not to write down. So yes. Definitely.

Sheila Deeth said...

I think I need more coffee friends.

Marilyn Brant said...

Erika~aww! I remember that rootbeer and Dorito night very, very fondly :). I love your idea of getting together with your friends at a hotel and just having that time to talk. Sounds like such a fabulous way to spend a weekend!

Conda~thank you! And, you know, Sia and I are very happy to share our coffee and treats with you ;).

VA~I *love* that you eavesdrop at the pub! LOL! I do stuff like that *all* the time. At pubs...bookstores...restaurants, etc. Sometimes, when I'm at a coffee shop with friends and I know we've been discussing something juicy, we stop abruptly and look around--certain that people are listening in :).

Sheila~It's wonderful to get together with coffee friends in person, but I've been unable to sometimes (esp. when I've just moved somewhere) and, so, have had "coffee dates" on the phone. Those can be really nice, too!

BTW, I didn't mention this in my post above but, since this is OVER COFFEE (!!), I'll tell you all about it... My second book is called Fridays at Nine and it revolves around a coffee shop. It's a story about three 40-something suburban moms who meet weekly for a Friday morning coffee date. They discuss all kinds of things, like their husbands and children, etc.--but, when one of the women gets an email from her college ex-boyfriend (a guy she hasn't seen in 18 years), she asks her friends about their marriages and, specifically, if they ever wondered about being with another guy instead of their husbands... Much drama follows!! (And, yes, my real coffee friends were *very* helpful in coming up with plot and discussion ideas for this book. ;)

~Sia McKye~ said...

Ah! So that explains the 43 year old woman above, lol! With some slight variations, of course.

I have a character, in my new wip built up very similarly, through chit-chat with two friends. Funny how it can all come together like that.

Marilyn, I love the premise of your new story, very timely. So much of that does happen in real life. The I wonder if...sort of thing.

When will this new book be released? Need a reviewer?

Anonymous said...

I loved this post. Marilyn has some great friends, doesn't she?

Magdalena Scott

Marilyn Brant said...

Sia~LOL! Yes, I drew a few plotlines from some very real conversations, as I'm sure you did for yours. ;-) I am indebted to my friends for their insights!! The book comes out on October 1, 2010 and, if you're at all interested, I'd be thrilled and honored to have you review it! (I won't have ARCs until the summer, but I'll reserve one for you then, just in case! :)

Magdalena~I'm so glad you enjoyed the post!! Thank you for stopping by and taking time to comment! (And I'll tell my friends you said they're great. ;)

~Sia McKye~ said...

Mags, I think her friends are cool too. Maybe the next writing conference in the Chicago area comes up, I get to meet not only Marilyn, but some of her friends.

~Sia McKye~ said...

Marilyn, I'll take the ARC. I'll send you a private email with my address for your files.

And keep me posted on the upcoming conferences.

Marilyn Brant said...

Oh, Sia, thank you!!

As for conferences, my local chapter, Chicago-North RWA, has one coming up! Our Spring Fling conference on April 23-24, 2010 at the Hyatt in Deerfield (a suburb north of Chicago). Cherry Adair and Julia Quinn are going to be there, as well as a bunch of agents and editors. The website is, and I think it's been recently updated with more info, if you're curious... (If you decide to go, please tell me! I'd love to meet you in person. :-)

Barb said...

Marilyn is me in my former life: I'm a grandmother now and novice writer with 2 Christian fiction novels whose heroine sounds like Marilyn: a journalism major, nosy, persistent in scooping her story, and adores coffee-even at the age of ten. Oh, how I'd love to discuss stories with you.

Marilyn Brant said...

Barbara, I love that you have a heroine who's nosy, persistent and a coffee-lover! BTW, my son is only a 5th grader now, but I'm really hoping I'll get to be a grandmother someday, too!! Very best wishes to you as well :).

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