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