A Tale of Two Cafés…oh, and of Writing Romance


Finally, a few affordable, healthy, casual eateries have burst onto the scene in my great NJ town. So, I’ve been doing my part: frequenting them, spending money on treats I don’t need, and yes (yay for me!) logging writing somewhere other than my same four walls.

The first new café was, I thought, just what my community needed, especially me. Neat atmosphere, decent music, and free Wi-Fi. Busy enough to feel you are out in the world, quiet enough for writing. An added bonus: it’s spacious enough to prevent neighbors from reading sex scenes over my shoulder. Ideal, right?

Recently, I went at four p.m., excited to order a tea, log an hour of writing, and bring home some fresh, homemade soup for dinner. Although they had advertised Split Pea among other daily specials, they’d run out. The clerk watched as I decided on second best, but I found that pot empty also. I checked a third—only dregs. I ordered a scone and a hot tea, except the self-service bar had no decaf. None. There was only one herbal flavor I liked—alas, the tin was empty. The owner, who had surveyed all of this, looked in the cupboard for stock: only caffeinated. I threw my hands up, but smiled. “How about decaf coffee?” I asked.

“I’ll be really embarrassed if this is empty,” the woman says. “Let me check.” She popped open the top of the carafe, peeked inside, and frowned. Empty!!! Really! I’m not making this up!

Finally, even though I’d been having insomnia issues, I ordered an iced (caffeinated) tea, because of course I had to purchase something if I was going to sit for an hour, in their space, using their Wi-Fi.

After all that, she charged me for the scone AND the tea, which she must have realized I didn’t plan to drink. Bad business, all around.

I’ve come to think of them as “Hopeful but Doomed.” Because here I am, wanting to like them, wanting to support them. However, they disappoint me, nearly every visit.

Luckily, new café number two, which I’ll dub “All I’ve Ever Dreamed of and More,” has me finally and happily abandoning HBD. You know why? They are giving me everything I expect, and more.

You know where I’m going with this, right? Just as restaurants are expected to deliver good service and quality product, catering just so to their patrons, so we as authors must cater to our audience.

Our job is to build in enough conflict to sustain an entire novel. To make sure our backstory is weaved in as tidbits instead of dumped like landfill. To ensure dialogue is realistic, characters are wounded but likeable, and point of view is used to its best effect. The hero can’t smoke or hate children, and the heroine can’t swap outfits—or God forbid, personalities—like I Dream of Genie in the middle of a scene… I bet you can name at least a dozen more in the time it takes to snatch up your red pen.

When I try a book by a new-to-me author and it disappoints? I admit, I don’t give them multiple chances like I did HBD café. Alternately, an author who consistently delivers quality writing, a heartfelt romance, real-life dialogue, seat-of-the-pants suspense, and characters I can’t stop thinking about? There’s my auto buy.

I’m getting ahead of myself, though. For us as-yet-unpubbed authors, before the readers come the agents and editors—the toughest critics of all, who demand nearly absolute perfection.

All of us authors reach a point, where we’re just fried, ready to rip off our aprons and throw in the towel, because numerous food critics have determined our soup is too thin, or our house specialty too unusual.

Emotionally, you are just done. Overtired, bleary-eyed, frustrated, and sick at heart. You desperately want to get out of your chair. You’d love to move on to a new project, or even more tempting, simply walk away. Believe me, I’ve been there, too, but don’t. Don’t rush to hit send, don’t figure somebody will be willing to work with you to improve the story. Sadly, these days, that seems to be rare. Instead, do what you need to do to rejuvenate. Then keep at it, one tough fix after another, until that work is your best. Until you can deliver what you’d expect from an auto buy author.

Because just like me, with such high hopes for HBD café, the agents and editors want to like our books. Really they do. They want to find the next bestseller. They want us to succeed. They want to be the one to launch the next big author.

Give them that chance. Give yourself the best chance, by doing your job right. Give them the basics perfectly; please that picky diner. Pay close attention to the comment cards. Strive to improve your cooking, fine-tune that recipe. Work harder and smarter with each manuscript. Refuse to be Hopeful but Doomed.

As for All I’ve Ever Dreamed of and More Café? Always consistent in meeting my expectations. Wi-Fi that works, in a space full of charm. Real plates and mugs, food that’s every bit as delicious as it sounds, a beverage station that’s fully stocked, and even an owner who pops by to make sure everything is to my satisfaction…

Ahhh, my new auto-buy café, where I intend to write auto-buy books.

Leave a comment


  1. Good blog! I rarely go to a cafe to write but I wouldn’t frequent one that didn’t have what I wanted to eat or drinkl.

  2. Jenna Blue

     /  January 14, 2013

    You can say that again, Roni! Thanks for reading!!!

  3. Too funny about that cafe – they should rename it the Empty Cupboard. Great blog!

  4. Jenna Blue

     /  January 14, 2013

    Oh I wish I would have thought of Empty Cupboard! Good one! Thanks, Marlo!

  5. Emma Kaye

     /  January 14, 2013

    Fun post, Jenna. Don’t you just hate it when you try so hard to like something and you just can’t? Glad you found a better place to write. I’m looking forward to having another auto-buy author, so keep at it!

    Oh, and I finally got around to reading the round robin story. Lots of fun. You all did a great job.

  6. Jenna Blue

     /  January 14, 2013

    Thanks, Emma! Yes, HATE it when I’m so excited about something & trying so hard, but am forced to give up. Will do my best. You, too–keep on trucking! And thanks for reading the round robin. I’m amazed at how everyone puts their own spin on it–really fun. Best,

  7. I am still looking for that great coffee shop! Coreene Callahan always posts about going to hers to write, and I’m so jealous! The closest I get here is B&N…how is that for lame?

    My library, however, has a fireplace, and I keep promising myself that I will go sit by the fire there to write. It also has a beautiful, sunny, somewhat private rotunda that is a great place to write.

    Good point about agents and editors. I might also add that, like cafe diners and food, everyone has their own taste in books. The trick is to find the clientele (e.g. agent/editor) who loves what you are serving!


  8. Jenna Blue

     /  January 14, 2013

    Good point, Jaye! And yes, if I were you, I’d soooo be at that library! A lot cheaper, and fewer calories…your sounds charming. Ours is suffering from budget cuts, and therefore not open when I need it…bummer, huh? Thanks, Jaye!

  9. Excellent post, Jenna. I agree with everything you wrote. We do feel a certain amount of pressure to produce, produce, produce…and sometimes we don’t stop to perfect what we’re putting out. “Writing is rewriting” as someone wiser than me once said.

    (And maybe we’ll have to meet at the “All I’ve Ever Dreamed of And More” cafe one day. )

  10. Jenna Blue

     /  January 14, 2013

    Would love to meet you at “ALL I’VE EVER DREAMED OF AND MORE,” anytime! A good quote. Another good one: “Anything worth reading is hard writing.” which was recently a Goodreads Quote of the Day, but of course I can’t find it now so I don’t know if that’s exact or who said it! But it certainly is true! Thanks, Joanna!

  11. I laughed when you wrote about not wanting to sit too close to someone when you’re writing a sex scene. I’ve only gone to a cafe a couple times and that’s one of the things that bothered me. The tables were too close together and I don’t want to be part of their conversation or have them glance at my laptop and see an inappropriate word.

    As you mentioned, as writers, we need to take the time to ensure our writing is crisp and clean. If we’re struggling with getting it perfect (which happens to all of us), take a break. Or find a beta reader or a critique partner who can provide a new perspective. Here’s to all of us being auto-buy soon!

  12. Jenna Blue

     /  January 15, 2013

    Toasting to that, Maria! I don’t worry too much, but I ideally, I do prefer my back to a wall! And yes, if the convo’s are quiet enough, they don’t bother me, but I always try to remember earphones just in case!

  13. Hi Jenna, great post. Love the comparison to a cafe. I’m pretty picky about where I eat (except the occasional smorgasbord ;0) and where I buy my coffee — meaning it IS disappointing as a reader when a highly anticipated book doesn’t sing the song you want; Just as, as a writer, the pressure to produce quality writing within a certain deadline is stressful. But, PATIENCE is key, on so many levels. Patience to write and revise, revise, revise until your story is so polished, you can see you image on the pages (or at least hear your voice singing). PATIENCE when the rejections come in from contests, agents, editors, and fans. PATIENCE . . . waiting. But you keep writing. Keep producing. Keep your chin up. And when you’re down in the dumps because your coffee tastes bitter, that’s where friends come in!

    Cheers, Michele

  14. Jenna Blue

     /  January 15, 2013

    Michele, you could have written this blog! Exactly! And completely agree: this journey would be incredibly tough without dear friends! I’m incredibly grateful, I claim so many gifted, generous, loud ones! : )


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