Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Reflections and Resolutions

Happy New Year!

I'm not really a fan of New Year's resolutions, but I do it anyway.

Change happens the instant you truly want it. The date on the calendar doesn't matter when you make up your mind. In fact, I think it's easier to keep to your resolution when you make it because you want to and not because of an arbitrary reason like the start of a new week, month, or year.

All that being said, I like the ceremony of making a New Year's resolution. It's a good time to stop and evaluate my life, where I am, what I want, and if I'm on track to get what I want. I don't make resolutions to be healthier or to finally ask out that cute guy I've been ogling for weeks, because those are things that I should already be doing everyday—I know that, and every morning I tell myself I'll do those things today. As far as I'm concerned, every new day is a chance to be better and do better than the day before.

Instead, I make resolutions for the whole year. 2012 was my year to try new things and push my boundaries. 2013 was spent working on e-publishing three novels. Okay, well, I got two of them finished and published (I'm still working on Game On), but still! For me, that was a big step forward for taking my writing to the next level. Maybe I didn't get all three done, but I'm still incredibly proud of myself for the major accomplishment. Publishing is a lot of work, and I learned a lot in the process—including a lot about myself.

My resolutions aren't vague; they're concrete. I don't just say that I'm going to read more. I say that I'm going to read two new books a month. I don't just say that I'm going to write more. I say that I'm going to set aside at least one hour every day and make myself write. It's not about losing a bad habit and picking up a good one. It's not about being a "new" me—it's about being a better me. It's less about who I am and more about what I can do in a year's time.

So, what about 2014? I'm going to finish Game On and then see a completely new idea through to completion. I have a few personal goals set for myself as well, but these two stories are the big accomplishments I hope to make in the coming year.

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

The Game On Chronicles: Final Cover Design

After discussing it with my editor (Melanie Ting!), I decided to go in a different direction for this cover and use a different designer. My original idea was the same, and we worked together and got this:


 What do you think? Feel free to let me know in the comments section!

Monday, December 2, 2013

Shots on Net Review

I'm pretty sure I speak for all writers when I say that reviews mean a great deal to us.

I finally got my first review on Amazon for Shots on Net, by user S. E. Scott:

The author really knows her hockey! I learned a lot about procedures for players, dieting for players, and the mindset of the player who wasn't drafted by a team but wants to play hockey more than anything. Kevin is that hockey player. He wants it so much that he has set aside any type of personal relationships to concentrate on his goal, to play in the NHL. He meets Shannon and even though he has this goal, it's nice to have someone to talk to outside of hockey. Both are skittish, especially Kevin. He backs off when he feels he is getting too close to her and even breaks it off when he's losing that concentration. Shannon realizes her plans to move to Boston and when Kevin breaks up with her, she moves on. This is a good read for s [sic] hockey enthusiast, along with a little romance, not a bad combo.

 The biggest compliment someone can give me is that I know my hockey. I couldn't be more pleased!

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Interview with Melanie Ting

Today I'm very happy to plug a fellow writer—and friend—Melanie Ting. She's authored some of my favorite hockey stories, including Fresh Air and How the Cookie Crumbles. Mel's climbing up the Amazon sales charts; if you haven't read her work yet, do yourself a favor and check her out!

Mel took the time to talk to me about her writing and latest novel, her love of hockey, and of course, cats:

What motivates you as a writer? What inspires you?

I would say that real life inspires me. I love hearing the stories behind the athletes. When you read about a hockey player who struggled for years, undrafted and unwanted, before he made it to the NHL, that’s inspiring. Or if he’s just hot, well that’s inspiring in a different way. I also use things that happen to me in real life, as well as real people. In fact, if some of my friends read my novels, they’d probably kill me … slowly. But luckily, nobody I know likes hockey romances. Maybe it makes me a nicer person though, I don’t complain when people do or say ridiculous things, I go home and write them up.

Frankie Taylor, the heroine of How the Cookie Crumbles, leaves Vancouver to get over a broken heart. Have you ever picked up and started new somewhere?

Well, when I went to grad school, it was a pretty big move for me. I quit my job and moved to a new city. When I got there, I didn’t know anyone and I was really lonely. I remember I tried to chat with a wrong number call. But then when I told some of my new classmates that wrong number story, one of them decided she wanted to befriend me since I was so pitiful. And you know how it goes, once you have one friend you find many more. So it all worked out.

Frankie's also a great cook. Is that a trait you share with your character? If so, any helpful advice some of us who are less culinary inclined?

I am actually a good cook, but I don’t enjoy cooking the way that Frankie does. I like cooking for dinner parties, and weekend dinners, but I don’t like the day-in-day-out drudgery of producing meals every night. I’ve read about people who eat out every night, that would be my secret fantasy.

As for cooking advice, I would suggest that you develop a few specialties, perhaps dishes you enjoy eating, and serve those when you entertain or go to potlucks. Like my friend, Daisy, she makes cupcakes (from a mix) and decorates them fabulously. Everyone knows that’s what she’s going to bring to parties and looks forward to it. The other advice I would give is to eyeball a recipe, if it has more than 10 ingredients and 10 steps, forget it. In fact, 5 + 5 = perfect.

Jake Cookson's a great character; he feels so authentic, like someone you could meet on the street. Do you find it difficult to write male characters?

Ha ha, I think you know as well as I that Jake was originally based on a real life character. However, since I don’t personally know any NHL players, I usually take characteristics from people in my own life. I am sadly unimaginative for a writer! I like Jake because he’s funny and and easy-going, but he definitely has his flaws. I prefer a hero with flaws since I like a little realism.

I don’t usually have trouble writing male characters because I don’t think they’re that different from women. However, I have trouble imaging what guys say to each other when they’re alone. Maybe they talk sensitively about their emotions, but more probably they burp and say nothing. I run my male characters/dialogue by the guys in my life, to get their feedback. They like to check my hockey facts, but they hate hearing about the romance part. That’s too bad since I think that most guys could learn a ton about women by reading romances.

We know you're a hockey fan, namely the Canucks and Hawks. How do you feel about your teams this season? Any predictions?

Wait! You forgot the Kings, I cheer for the Kings too. While some hockey fans might think I’m not a true fan, I have to say that supporting my hometown Canucks is a roller-coaster ride of highs and lows. So I started supporting a second team to cheer myself up. And lo and behold, both my second teams have won cups! Why doesn’t my magic work for the Canucks?

I’m too emotionally involved to make predictions or bets, so it’s better if I pass on that. I have my secret hopes though.

Favorite hockey movie?

Slapshot, definitely. It’s crazy how often “Who ooowns the Chiefs?” comes up in regular conversation around here.

Besides writing about hot hockey players, your stories also feature cats. I know you're a cat lover. So, the question that everyone really wants to know the answer to: did you dress your cats up for Halloween?

Funnily enough, on Halloween I was Googling cat costumes and laughing my head off. This one is my fav. But I like my arms un-shredded, so dressing my two cats is out of the question. I usually stick a bow or ribbon on them at Christmas, but that only lasts about 30 seconds. They prefer fur coats. Who wouldn’t, really?

Friday, November 22, 2013

The Game On Chronicles: The Plot Thickens

I know I haven't said much about this new story that I'm working on. I'm afraid to reveal too much in case I change my mind and have to play with the details. But I've told you about Audrey and Nate. You've probably inferred that Nate plays on the Columbus Blue Jackets once I mentioned the setting.

The first few chapters of any of my stories are usually spent introducing the characters. To me, my characters are the most important part of my stories. That's just part of who I am; I love people's stories, so naturally I love imagining up people and giving them stories. When I write, that it what I want to convey: the characters, and their stories.

The plot is important because characters reveals their traits and personality through their reactions to what happens around them or, maybe more truthfully, their actions and deeds.

Once the characters are established, that's when the plot starts to develop.

All that being said, the plot is what dictates how the story itself is categorized. Sure, my characters have romantic interests and relationships, but that does mean I write romance stories? I don't like to think so. In fact, I don't like to get pigeon-holed at all. As I've stated, I like to write character-based stories. People are constantly falling in and out of love as they navigate through life and figure out the best course of action to obtain happiness.

I'm still not sure exactly where I want this story to go. What's in store for Nate and Audrey, individually and/or together? What obstacles will come their way, and can they clear the hurdles? I haven't quite figured that out yet, but the deeper that I delve into their characters and their mettles, the closer I am to finding out.

Sunday, November 17, 2013

The Game On Chronicles: Distractions

I'm usually pretty good at time management. When I have a lot on my plate, I have to buckle down and stay focused, which I can do. If the pressure's on, that helps me stay motivated.

But sometimes, no matter what I seem to want to do, I keep getting pulled away from the task at hand.

My social schedule varies a lot. Sometimes, it feels like I have all the time in the world; yet other times, I'm so busy I'm lucky to get a decent night's sleep.

I'm pretty busy right now. Work is pretty crazy, and I'm stage managing for the local theatre, which takes up 2-3 nights during the week. I captain a trivia team, which is how I spend my Tuesday nights. On top of that, I have Christmas projects to work on, and I'm trying to make new curtains to help block the cold from coming in as winter descends on Pittsburgh. And my apartment desperately needs to be cleaned. Oh, and I can't forget that my typically antisocial cats, for some reason, are following me around like little ducklings and crying for attention.

So when I have time away from all those responsibilities, that's when I sit down in front of my laptop and work on the story I have in my head. Currently, I'm on chapter 16, and I'm 43,000+ words for Game On. Things, for the moment, are going swimmingly.

The problem is all the distractions! Between all the stresses and obligations, it's nice to relax for a few moments. Those few moments then turn into hours. So, what's holding my attention away from my writing?

1.) Dexter
So I'm way behind the times. I finally started to watch the show Dexter, starting from the beginning. I've seen bits and pieces here and there, and of course I know the premise. But I never really sat down and watched it. Stupid Netflix. I just finished season two, and I'm dying to see what's next. Why can't I just divide my attention between the two and write while I watch? Well, I don't have Netflix streaming on my TV and only on my laptop, which prevents me from using Word to type. Damn.

2.) Sporcle
Have you ever heard of Sporcle? My God, it's one of the best sites I've ever come across. You can play all kinds of games for free. You name it, there's a quiz for it. My current favorite is the 1-100 clickable mines. Seems simple enough, but you only have four minutes! My best time is 3:20, although I'm obviously trying to break that. Phew.

3.) Knitting
Okay, so I'm an old lady. But I love to knit, and I just found this pattern for a slouchy hat. I have a scarf that I never finished too, so I seem to be taking turns between the two projects.

4.) Nothing
Good, old-fashioned nothing. Just lying on the couch, listening to the rain, trying to convince myself not to go and grab another piece of leftover Halloween candy. Telling myself that I have so many things to do, but enjoying just being lazy for a little while before Monday rolls around and I have to start another workweek.

5.) Blogging?
Okay, so maybe this isn't a major distraction, but I'm typing here rather than in Word, where it matters. I'd like to promise you that I'll close out of Blogger and get back to work, but I can't guarantee it.

Those mines aren't going to click themselves.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

The Game On Chronicles: Setting and Perspective

When a plot line is universal and the characters are true to human nature, a story can take place anywhere on Earth and it will still ring true to its readers.

One of the reasons that Shakespeare is still relative today is because his characters are timeless. His plays are adapted to take place in current or modern settings, and they still make just as much as sense as they do to Elizabethan audiences.

The place and time of a story doesn't usually affect much about a plot. In fact, I think the plot dictates the setting, and not the other way around. That being said, however, the setting can affect how the story is told.

I'm no Shakespeare, but I understand that much.

As I've mentioned in a previous blog entry, I had originally started writing Game On in 2011. Since picking it back up, I decided to update the story. It's amazing how many things have changed in the past two years that affect the story. Realignment, the lockout, technology, and the presence of social media in everyday life. All these factors have played into the telling of the story.

Where the majority of the plot takes places is also important to how the story gets told. There's always the choice of creating my own world and making up a fictional town and team, or I could base the story around an actual location and real-life team. Having done one of each, I thought I'd go back to using a real franchise. I decided to center the story around an NHL team that's, shall we say, not as popular: the Columbus Blue Jackets. Picking a team that doesn't get a lot of attention gives me a bit more flexibility and leeway than a team that's always in the spotlight. And of course, a not-so-popular team also factors into the plot.

One more factor that affects the story is picking a perspective. First person? Third-person limited? Omniscient observer? Well, after using third person for the last two stories, I decided to mix it up and tell the story from a single first-person perspective: Audrey's.

When the reader only gets to hear one person's side and see through only one character's eyes, then we only get a feel for the other characters through his or her experiences. That makes it more difficult to portray the other characters in a way that is true to them; but that also makes the story a little more interesting. Everything becomes subjective. This is a fun new dynamic to play with as I shape this new world. And I can't wait until it's all said and done, and I get to share it with you!

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

The Game On Chronicles: What's in a Name?

Hands down, one of the most difficult parts of writing for me is picking out character names. It's like naming a child: the kid has to live with this name, and I have to call the kid by this name for the rest of my life. So I don't want to pick a name that I'm going to get sick of.

That's happened before. I've changed some characters' names umpteen times before finally settling on something that satisfies me. And it can't be a name of someone I know, either, because the character can't resemble someone who already exists.

I like to pick first names that are somewhere in the middle between common and unique.
For example, in Play the Man, I picked Jenna, Ryan, and Nick.
In Shots on Net, I picked Shannon/Shay and Kevin.

Last names can be just as difficult. If a character is a hockey player from a particular foreign country, say Russia or Sweden, then it's easy to pick a last name. But American and Canadian names are tougher, because so many last names have foreign bases, or spellings were changed when families immigrated here. But again, I like names that are relatively common. Really, I feel like it gives the characters a realistic feel.

For Game On, the selection process was just as difficult, but I've settled on the following first names for my main characters: Audrey Hunt and Nathan/Nate Fox.

Of course, there are plenty of other names that get picked out: friends and family, other players on the team, coaches and staff, co-workers, etc. But nothing's as difficult as those leading characters' names.

As always, feel free to tell me what you think. Are you excited to meet Audrey and Nate?

Monday, November 11, 2013

The Game On Chronicles: Cover Design

Creative people tend to steer toward other creative people. A few years ago, there were a bunch of us, some relatively fresh out of college and some still taking classes, who hung out about twice a week. Well, you might as well call it coexisting in the same room. See, we used the time to pursue our relative interests, whatever they may be. I, of course, was writing fiction. But there was a person who wrote poetry, another crocheted, sometimes someone was playing the guitar or banjo. There was also a budding graphic designer. We said that I'd write a book and he'd create the cover.

It took three years, but when I made up my mind to e-publish, I turned to Casey to help me with the cover. I tell him what I'm thinking, and he makes it even better. We talk about what I'm looking for or anything I'd like to incorporate into the cover, and he expounds on that. In Play the Man, I wanted Jenna's ring to play some kind of part, and it was Casey's idea to have the men "face off" for it. It was such a genius idea; I wished I had thought of it! And for Shots on Net, I wanted to graduate to a more neutral image. The story, for me, was less about romance and relationships and more about dreams and doing whatever it takes to make them come true. So when I decided to plunge right into Game On, I messaged Casey and we talked on Skype to discuss the third cover.

We've all heard the proverb Don't judge a book by its cover, but let's be honest: we judge. A cover can reveal a lot about the pages' content or link it to a specific writer. At the very least, a good cover can attract a reader to a book or turn someone away. So, what do I want the cover for Game On to look like?

I don't know.

Usually, I have an idea, but I don't this time.

Actually, I just got an idea. And I kind of like it.

I'm off to e-mail Casey!

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

The Game On Chronicles: The Early Chapters

I decided to chronicle my process for working on publishing my third book.

As much as I wanted to take a break after publishing Shots on Net, I was feeling, well, empty. I had been spending so much time writing, editing, deleting, rewriting, etc., that I didn't know what to do with myself when I wasn't writing anymore. Even though I swore I needed a break from writing, I needed to get right back on track with the next story.

I had started a manuscript back in 2011 for a story I called Game On. I remember the premise for it, but I can't tell you where I left off. So I decided to start reading through it, reacquaint myself with the characters and the plot, and then figure out where to go from there. When I left off years ago, the story had twenty-six chapters, which is pretty long for my novels.

As soon as I started to reread it, I got pulled right back into that world. On Monday, I read through and edited the first six chapters. Yesterday, I went through chapters seven through nine. There is a bit of rewriting that needed to be done because the story is over two years old. There have been a lot of changes in the NHL since then! The lockout last season, the realignment.... There are lots of little details that now have to get updated in this old story.

The beginning of a story is always very tricky. I want to make sure I give the reader a good feel for the characters without giving too much away too soon. To me, characters are like real people—and you don't learn everything there is about a person when you first meet them. That only happens over time.

And, of course, there has to be enough action at the beginning to suck the reader in. If the beginning isn't good, then there's no incentive to keep reading.

What do you think makes a good beginning?

Monday, November 4, 2013

In the Top 100!

Thanks to everyone who's purchased a copy of Shots on Net during this first week of publication.

As of today, Shots on Net broke into the Top 100 of sports genre fiction on Amazon. I'm mixed in with the likes of Stephen King and James Patterson, which is pretty awesome if you ask me!

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Shots on Net, Available Now!

It's officially official: Shots on Net is now on sale at Amazon.com!

Shannon Klein is a small town girl with big city dreams. She wants nothing more than to leave her hometown of Whitefield, Connecticut, and move back to Boston, Massachusetts—where there seem to be endless possibilities for her career, social life, and love life.

Kevin Browne is an undrafted defenseman looking to break into professional hockey. He gets a chance to show his stuff with the Whitefield Warriors, the AHL affiliate of the Hartford Gladiators, when they offer him a one-year, try-out contract. His only goal is to secure a future playing for the team so he can be one step closer to the NHL.

Through a series of mishaps and well-timed encounters, Shannon and Kevin meet and quickly become friends—and maybe something more than friends, too. But they have to decide how much of their respective dreams they're willing to compromise in order to be together.

I'm so glad to finally have this eBook available for everyone. I had originally started writing this particular idea back in 2010, so it's been a long time coming! This is my first attempt at a totally new storyline, which has been a scary and daunting task for me. I don't want to disappoint!

Anyway, let me know what you think either by reviewing on Amazon, GoodReads, or leaving me a comment below!


But, honestly, wrapping up this story couldn't have come at a better time. The end of the year is always a really busy time for me, with the holidays coinciding with end of the year and the end of the quarter at work. On top of that, my boss will be traveling to Europe in November, and I'm stage managing a production of the kids' Christmas show at the local theatre. Phew! I've really got my work cut out for me coming up.

Now, all that being said, I'm a writer at heart—and writers have to write! I've got the next story lined up. Actually, it's something that I started writing back in the spring of 2012. I dusted off my flashdrive and was surprised to find that, unfinished, it's already longer than Shots on Net! I don't know if I'll be able to work on it much between now and January, but I'm thinking about chronicling my writing process this time around, so all you lovely readers can see what it takes to go from an idea to the finished product. Plus, that means I'll have to blog at least once a week—so I won't fall off the grid again!

And, in the meantime, have a happy, safe, and scary Halloween!

Monday, October 28, 2013

Shots on Net Chapter One Sneak Preview

“How dare you walk away from me when I’m talking to you! This is my castle, Louis, not yours!”

It would only be a matter of pages before one of them snapped. Elspeth, a fair Anglo-Saxon maiden, was fiercely bantering with Louis, the French earl who had been granted the rights to Elspeth’s plot of land by William the Conqueror after the historic 1066 Norman invasion. Headstrong and feisty, she adamantly refused to back down or to obey orders from a foreign authority. As the lady of the castle, she knew that it was up to her to defend her family’s honor; the land belonged to her uncle, who had been killed during the resistance. Uncle Ælric had been her only family, and she was determined to avenge his death.

Louis, however, was nothing more than amused by the fiery, frustrating redhead and her defiance. As an earl, he was rich and handsome—but, beyond that, he was especially favored by William the Conqueror, so he was not used to having anyone, least of all a maiden, stand up to him. Louis purposely fought and argued with her, delighting in the way she rose to the challenge. Such plucky women could not be found in all of Normandy. The tension between them was palpable and overwhelming as they subtly but surely started to fall for each other; they wouldn’t be able to maintain their distance for much longer.

It was a perfect day to get lost in a good book. Dark, cumulonimbus clouds had rolled in from the west, blocking out the sun and threatening to downpour on an otherwise normal Saturday afternoon. Shannon sat at one of the tables in the busy, bustling café, surrounded by people but lost in the pages before her. Her elbows were perched rudely on the table, her book nestled in her hands. Her eyes flitted back and forth across the lines of prose, soaking up every word as if each one held a special secret, just for her.

She was a regular there on Saturdays, opting for a change of scenery after a long, grueling workweek. Coming to the café was the highlight of her week and the best way for her to unwind and de-stress after forty hours of phone calls and countless rejection letters. She could sit there for hours, only moving to turn the page as she savored the story, chapter by chapter.

All the baristas knew her well. She always ordered a coffee and sipped it until it was tepid—and then she’d get a top off to heat it back up. None of the employees minded though, because she tipped well for the privilege of taking up a table for the majority of the day. On that particular Saturday, her cup sat full and steaming on the table, mostly ignored as Elspeth chased Louis through the dimly lit corridor. He promptly ignored her, bemused by the way she buzzed after him like an insect; as much as Elspeth said she despised the French brute, as she liked to refer to him, she always seemed to be close by.

The café was packed with dedicated college students typing up research papers, working on assignments, and studying for midterms as well as couples stopping by to kill time before or after a screening at the nearby theatre. For the most part, the patrons were a quiet group; they didn’t disturb her as she transported herself to the hallway of the castle, shadowing Elspeth and Louis and eavesdropping on their argument.

“No, it was your castle, but it is mine now. Since I am being nice enough to let you stay here, you should not test my hospitality.”

“Let me stay here? Let me stay here? You are sorely mistaken, sir. This is my land, my family’s land, and I will not just let you take over my home!”

The shop was decorated in rich, deep colors: the walls were a coppery brown, like dead leaves in autumn, with trim in shades of crimson and gold. In the air, delicious combinations of mocha, caramel, vanilla, and steamed milk wafted up from the cups and mugs of the other patrons and mingled with the distinct aroma of freshly ground espresso beans. The storefront was all glass, which was nice for sunny days; that particular afternoon, however, was gloomy and dreary, which lent itself well to create the perfect ambiance for a castle setting. The windowless hallways were difficult to navigate in the dark, but Elspeth knew exactly where Louis was headed. She was right behind him as he stalked toward the grand hall.

Everyone else in the café was equally absorbed in their own individual worlds. They ignored the commonplace activity in the room: customers continuously walked in, placed their orders, and then left, as the baristas barked out commands and effectively manipulated the loud machines behind the counter. That is, until a large group of twenty-somethings walked into the café and disturbed the coffee shop atmosphere. They looked to be about the same age as Shannon but were markedly less mature or considerate.

“I don’t know why you wanted to come here. Coffeehouses are for hipsters.”

“I like it here, they know my order.”

“Well, if I want coffee, I just get it at Neville where it’s free.”

“What is all this? Mocha frappa wha...? What the hell is an Americano? Can’t I just get regular coffee?”

“Oh, look at those cookies. They have sprinkles!”

“They look so yummy. I think I want one of those, too.”

“Really? Did you just say ‘yummy?’”

Every café patron noticed their entrance, passive-aggressively rolling their eyes, turning up the volume on their headphones, and trying to wait it out patiently as the thoughtless customers debated their choices and placed a big, group order. The baristas scurried back and forth as they bagged bakery goods and poured cups of bold blend brew. Shannon, too, was annoyed by the interruption. Elspeth and Louis dissolved into nothing, and the stone walls of the castle crumbled around her as the artificial, fluorescent light of the café broke through. She tried her best to block them out and continue reading—knowing intuitively that the best part was coming up soon and Louis would finally kiss her.

“This is not your land any longer, Elspeth. I have orders from King William.”

“What the fuck is a macchiato?”

“Matt, there are kids in here! Geez.”

“The Duke of Normandy is not my king!”

“Sorry, sorry. What the heck is a macchiato?”

“May I remind you that I am a loyal servant to William the Conqueror, the rightful King of England. It would serve you well to remember that before you so callously denounce him in my presence.”

“Just get a coffee, asshole, like the rest of us.”

“Then run and go tell your ‘king.’ Leave me and my people in peace.”

“But what is it?”

“Peace? What do you know of peace, wench, when you give me none?”

“Are you going to order one?”

“How dare you speak to me in such a manner! I am the lady of the castle, not a chambermaid!”


“Then why do you care?”

“I am the lady of the castle, not a chambermaid!”

“But don’t you wanna know?”

“No! It doesn’t matter because I’m not getting one.”

“I am the lady of the castle, not a chambermaid!”

When Shannon repeatedly read the same line without it registering, she gave up completely. Instead, she slyly peered over her book like a spy engaging in reconnaissance. She observed their annoying behavior with a cocked eyebrow and tried to send telepathic messages for them to leave the café and quit disturbing her. Reading was her favorite hobby, and her weekly camp-outs at the coffee shop were sacred to her. No one who knew her well had ever dared to disturb her, especially when she was as engrossed in a story as she was in this one.

Shannon nicknamed them to keep track of who was who. First and most notably was Big Blond. He was tan with sun-bleached hair and striking features, probably of Scandinavian descent if she had to guess, and he was tall, with broad shoulders and bulging biceps. She usually was not a good guesser when it came to physical characteristics, but he was well over six feet and definitely over two hundred pounds. He was, without a doubt, the most physically intimidating person she had ever laid eyes on. Big Blond looked like a modern Viking and carried himself like the quintessential alpha male of the pack.

Then there was Big Dumb. He was slighter in stature than Big Blond and an inch or two shorter, but that still meant that he was one hell of a big guy. He was the loudest of them all, and every time he opened his mouth, some ridiculous comment spewed forth and echoed off the walls. She entertained visions of sewing his mouth shut with industrial strength thread just to get him to shut up.

There were two girls at the table who seemed to go along with the group for the sake of fitting in, so she quickly dubbed them Thing One and Thing Two; they didn’t deserve names of their own since they didn’t stick out. They didn’t say much, but their presence among the group of interlopers was nevertheless annoying.

Rounding out the group were three more guys, less imposing but bothersome by association: Cute Quiet, The Aloof One, and The Smart One. Cute Quiet hardly said a word at all, except to place his order for black coffee. When he was asked a question, he merely nodded or shook his head in response—truly a man of few words, but still fully engaged in the scene around him. The Aloof One looked out of place and distant, like he didn’t belong in his group of friends. He laughed at all the appropriate times and chimed in occasionally with an “uh huh” or a “yeah, I know, right” when there were lulls in the conversation, but even though he was present for the discussion, he wasn’t really participating in it. Lastly, there was The Smart One, who was at least somewhat aware that the other human beings in the café were aggravated by their loud and obnoxious behavior. He could recognize the glares and pointed stares directed at him and his group of friends, but he could do little to corral or quiet them.

“Where are we going to sit?” Thing One asked. Or maybe it was Thing Two; Shannon lost track.

“There’s a table.” Big Blond took control and headed toward the last empty table in the room—which just so happened to be the one adjacent to Shannon. They settled in and tried to get comfortable, in turn further disturbing their quiet neighbor who just wanted to read in peace. He set his cup down on the table and pulled out a seat for himself and turned it around so he could straddle the backrest in a display of dominance. “Grab some chairs.”

“They’re all taken,” Big Dumb replied, looking around with an expression of disbelief on his face. “Man, this place is busy. Who knew?”

The Smart One commented sarcastically in a low voice, “Yeah, who knew so many people drink coffee?”

Big Blond nodded his head in the direction of Shannon’s table. “Take that one.”

Silently steaming, Shannon watched as The Aloof One tentatively approached her. “Excuse me, miss, but uh... is someone sitting here? Are you expecting someone?” When she shook her head, he then asked, “Is it okay if I take it then?” She swallowed her contempt and merely nodded, despite knowing that being polite meant that they’d linger in the room and continue to disturb her.

There weren’t enough extra chairs for all of them all, so some sat while the rest awkwardly crowded around the small, round table. Their constant chatter prevented Shannon from being able to delve back into her book and discover the outcome of their argument. She needed the monotonous drone of routine café activity to serve as background noise to be able to concentrate on the printed words. The longer they continued to talk, the longer she was kept from the best part of the book. She was so infuriated with the invasion of the anachronistic outsiders that she was ready to gather up her belongings and either head home or to the bookstore lounge, either of which would be more conducive to allowing her to submerge herself back into her book and getting lost in that fantasy world. With one last warning, she pursed her lips and shot them yet another sharp glance as she set her open book on the table. The Smart One noticed and tried to tell his friends to turn down the volume, but before he could, the worst possible thing happened.

Whatever effected the following chain of events went unnoticed; all that mattered was that they happened in a quick succession of disaster. One of them, maybe Big Blond, slapped The Aloof One hard on the shoulder. The force of the hit caused The Aloof One to take two hard steps back—right into her table. Her full coffee cup was jostled and knocked over, its hot contents spilling all over her open book and splashing onto her sweatshirt and pants.

She sat stationary in her seat with an open mouth and wide, disbelieving eyes. At first, the heat of her spilled beverage didn’t register in her mind; she was more worried about her book, which absorbed the liquid like a sponge. A third of the pages were soaked through, and her novel swelled in size, unreadable and irrevocably ruined. “I’m sorry,” he apologized, noting the severity of the situation by the look of anger on her face. His friends snickered behind their hands and loudly whispered smart remarks:

“Smooth move, ex-lax.”

“Way to go, newbie.”

“Fucking hell, dude, can’t take you anywhere.”

The Aloof One wisely ignored them and focused on the disgruntled woman in front of him. She seemed to be the biggest threat to him at that moment. “I’m so, so sorry.”

She hissed as her skin began to burn, and the painful sensation caused her to finally spring into action; she pushed her chair back with a loud, high-pitched, scrapping sound, stood, and grabbed a handful of napkins from a helpful barista. One of the reasons why she liked her corner table so much was because it kept her hidden from plain sight from most of the customers and they all left her, for the most part, undisturbed. The café was such a calming, happy place for her, and now she was embarrassed to be the focus of everyone’s attention. These guys were ruining her experience there, and the unpleasantness was enough to make her not want to show her face around there any time soon.

The other patrons were watching her now, and she knew that they were all waiting for her reaction. The regulars could recognize her, but they knew that she kept to herself, so they weren’t sure what she would do in that particular predicament. They stayed in their seats, not bothering to offer their help as they looked on while trying not to make it so obvious that they were watching and waiting.

Simultaneously fuming and overcome with panic, all she could eke out was, “What are you, an idiot?”

The Aloof One grabbed some napkins as well and began to clean up the mess on the table, despite the fact that it was too late to do anything useful to correct the situation. “It was an accident. I lost my balance. I’m sorry. I can’t believe—” He cut himself off as he cast a pointed glance behind him at his immature friends, who echoed her sentiments and called him an idiot. He was frustrated that he was taking the fall for something that, although was his doing, was not his fault; however, he wasn’t about to do anything foolish, like rat out his friend for pushing him and being the true cause of the commotion. That wouldn’t help him on any front, either with his friends or the angry woman, but he still wanted to atone for undoubtedly ruining her clothes. “I’ll pay for your dry cleaning.”

“Don’t bother,” she snapped quietly, mustering up the angriest look that she possibly could with her reddened face. She was only dressed in a pair of light gray yoga pants and a worn out, white hooded sweatshirt that wouldn’t survive many more cycles in her washing machine and had long been bound for the trash anyway. “But you owe me a new book. I was at the good part,” she added with a mumble, more furious that she would be unable to keep her place in the chapter than upset about her clothes. Elspeth and Louis had been close to their breaking points, and Shannon had been pushed past hers.

“Okay, yeah, definitely.” He threw away the soggy clump of napkins and wiped his wet hands on his jeans. Now that his hands were empty, he thumbed in the direction of the street, glad that making this right would be as easy as a quick trip down a few blocks to the nearest bookstore and as cheap as a paperback. “We can get you one now, there’s a place right down the street.”

“Now? You’re joking, right?” She yanked on her sweatshirt, pointing out the large, brown stain on her white clothing. “I’m not going anywhere like this.” All she wanted to do was leave the café and get away from everyone’s stares and be alone.

“Oh, uh, okay,” The Aloof One shakily replied, now even more frustrated that this was becoming more complicated than it needed to be. He was struggling between diffusing the situation with the angry stranger and not looking like a complete pussy in front of his critical friends. It was already bad enough that they were laughing at him for causing the disturbance in the first place—even though it wasn’t his fault at all. “So, um, I guess I’ll....” His voice faded out with uncertainty over how to now handle the situation.

She picked up her waterlogged book and dropped it in a nearby trashcan, along with all the soggy napkins and her now empty cup. “You’ll meet me there tomorrow,” she ordered, wiping her sticky hands on her pants before slinging her purse over her arm and heading for the door. Desperate to leave, she called out over her shoulder, “Eleven. Don’t be late.”

He replied in the affirmative, his head spinning by all the recent activity. Everything had happened so quickly, in the span of only a minute, and he realized that he knew where he had to be on the following day and when, but he didn’t know her name or what he could have possibly gotten himself into. Since the woman had left, there was an empty chair available next to their table, so he sunk down on it and covered his eyes with his hand.

The remarks began anew. “Way to go, Brownie. Wow. Nice display of coordination there,” the dumb guy laughed.

“It wasn’t my fault!” he grumbled, pointing at the blond guy. “It was his! He knocked me over!”

“Didn’t know you were such a klutz,” the blond guy chuckled. “Sorry for assuming you could stay on your feet.”

He wiped his hands over his face, unable to argue back. He could list excuses and valid reasons for why he had hit into the table and spilled her coffee, but he knew his teammates would make fun of him anyway so he didn’t bother.

“So tell us, Brownie,” said the smart guy, shifting subjects, “are you really gonna show up tomorrow at the bookstore?”

“Well, yeah,” he answered naïvely. “I can’t not go.”

The dumb one snorted loudly. “Sure you can! Why should you bother with it?”

He looked around the shop at the other customers who could have been listening to their conversation. None of them were obviously eavesdropping, but that didn’t mean that they weren’t listening. There were at least two dozen witnesses to the coffee-spilling incident, and he was positive that all of them would back her side. She was one of them, just one random face amongst a crowd, who he wouldn’t have noticed if he hadn’t have disturbed her, and he felt that these patrons would surely rise up against him if he didn’t say he’d make it right. “Because I ruined her book. It’s polite. The right thing to do.”

“It’s an inconvenience.”

Shrugging, he told him, “It’s not like I had cash on me anyways to pay for it now. And I can kill two birds with one stone and pick up something for the road.”

The dumb one rolled his eyes with exasperation. “Oh, newbie. What are we going to do with you? There’s so much for you to learn. No one reads anymore.”

“Maybe we should head out of here,” the smart guy suggested, noticing now that even the baristas were giving them sharp looks and interrupting their conversation. It wasn’t a good idea to chase their loyal, paying customers out of the shop, and they weren’t doing themselves any favors by hanging around. “I know I’ve got things to do.”

“Yeah, sure,” the dumb guy said, stretching an arm across the shoulders of one of the girls and leering at her. “I’ve got things to do, too.”

She giggled and bit her lip, feigning demureness. She stood and so did he, and everyone else followed suit. As they headed for the door, the blond guy pointed at the group’s new troublemaker and let out a loud guffaw. “Dude, Brownie, what did you do? Shit yourself?”

He pivoted his head on his neck and looked down at his backside to find a large, dark stain on the seat of his pants. “Oh, fuck,” he muttered. Glancing down at the chair, he saw that he had unwittingly sat in a puddle of coffee that had flowed off the table and onto the chair. He was already feeling bad enough for the scene he’d caused, and he felt even worse knowing that he’d have to walk down the street like that. Rather than complain, he swallowed his pride once again and decided that, maybe, it was his just desserts to have to head out in public in coffee-covered clothing, too, and to have to wear his mistake so awkwardly. And then, once he was on the sidewalk and in full public view, he sprinted toward the parking lot to avoid as much exposure and embarrassment as possible.