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Bold and Strong: Coffee Chat with Author Kris Spisak

Kris Spisak

While I do provide some grammar instruction in my English 10 courses, Kris Spisak wrote the book on it. Literally. Her first book, Get a Grip on Your Grammar, was published in 2017, and it is a handy and clever reference book for those who want more information or would like to double-check commonly confused words and phrases. It’s excellent, and I often use it for grammar icebreakers in my classes. 

Earlier this year, Kris published The Novel Editing Workbook (Feb. 2020), and this month, she is releasing her newest project. It’s such an exciting time for her, and I’m so happy to have Kris here for my November Coffee Chat. Fill up your mug, and join us as we talk about unusual jobs, grammar pet peeves, and claiming the title “writer” once and for all. 

Me: I may have assumed you were a coffee drinker. Are you?  If so, how do you take it?

Kris: I absolutely am. Coffee is my #5amwritersclub fuel. A natural vanilla creamer is my usual go-to.

Me: What is a job that you’ve had in the past that people might not know about? Any interesting stories from it you can share?

Kris: I’ve had way too many strange jobs, but it helps in the writer’s life, I suppose. I was a “security guard” in college. I worked the front desk of the kinesiology department building, ensuring no one unauthorized went into the labs where dissections took place—and, you know, making sure cadaver parts never left the building. That’s a bit strange when I look back on it, but it was a great place to catch up on my homework!

Me: Oh, wow! That was an interesting job!  In your newest book, you mention that many people are afraid to claim the title “writer.” When did you first consider yourself a writer? Was there a defining moment when you realized this is what you were meant to do?

Kris: Why is it that so many people are afraid to call themselves a “writer”? If you write, you simply are one. No publication credits are required.

My ownership of the “writer” title came through my membership and participation with James River Writers, an amazing writing community that has bolstered my personal and professional life for the past fifteen plus years. I remember sitting in the audience at one of their events years ago and hearing someone make this point. Prior to that evening, I had said that I “liked to write” or that “I wanted to be a writer,” but something in the air that night shifted my perspective. I stopped “wanting to be a writer” and simply owned the fact that I was one. And I haven’t looked back since.

Me:  What are some writing routines, quirks, or habits you have? What are some items you must have in your writing space?

Kris: As I mentioned in your first question, I try my best to make it to the #5amwritersclub on Twitter as frequently as I can. It used to be daily, and I’m working on getting back into that routine, though everything that is strange about 2020 has disrupted that regularity for me. Sneaking my writing time in first thing in the morning, when my house is quiet and my coffee is in hand, always improves the rest of my day. Plus, starting early in the morning when my coffee hasn’t yet kicked in lets me play a bit in my not-quite-awake, not-quite-dreaming state, where my creativity often flourishes.

What do I need in my writing space? Coffee just keeps coming up here, doesn’t it? And perhaps my cats. My family calls them my “gargoyles” since they’ve been known to perch on opposite sides of my desk while I work.

Me: What is your biggest grammatical pet peeve? Care to comment on “irregardless?”

Kris: “Irregardess” is simply not a word. I don’t care that they’ve added it to the dictionary. They’ve also added “literally” to the dictionary, meaning “figuratively,” as in the opposite of “literally.” There’s casual use, sure, but we all have our lines. “Irregardless” is absolutely past that line for me.

That being said, I’m not sure I have grammatical pet peeves, per se, anymore. There are so many details that writers and speakers just simply don’t seem to understand. An editor’s work is never done! But I’m of the school that we all need to support each other where we can. If people ask me for help, oh, I’m all in. But I’m never going to call out or correct someone’s mistake. That’s unnecessary.

Me:  What is your favorite word?

Kris: My favorite word is “posh,” but not for the reason you might think. The meaning of “posh” is fine and all—and who wouldn’t want to own that one?—however, for me, it’s my favorite because it’s the first word I remember learning the etymology story for. I remember the story hitting me, feeling startled yet wanting to learn more. When history meets language meets sociology, I’m fascinated every single time. I might have been around ten years old. I never would have guessed that my life would be shaped upon such language stories, but here we are—and I love my work so much.

Me: What are some of the pitfalls of knowing the rules of proper grammar?

Kris: Wait, there are pitfalls? Just kidding. Well, you could argue that I pay attention to language far more than I need to. For example, in this question, you used the word “pitfalls,” which has its origin connected with literally falling into a pit. I’m suddenly happy that I live in a world where I don’t truly have to be concerned with “pit falls” of that nature, only the simpler kind that might be referenced in a question like this.

Knowing how to actually use a semicolon feels like a super-power sometimes, but knowing doesn’t mean we should criticize or judge others. That’s the biggest pitfall I see in the grammar conscious. We all need to try harder (at so many things!) but the world would be better without the grammatical anger that’s out there. I try to avoid that at all costs.

Me:  What was the inspiration for your new book?

Kris: When my last book, The Novel Editing Workbook, came out, we had the idea about the next one in line. The original plan was going to be “The Memoir Editing Workbook.” Everything I focus on is about empowering our words and our storytelling, and this seemed to be the best next step. Yet as I created writing prompts in the spring of 2020, urging writers (whether they claimed the “writer” title or not) to write down their stories, because we were living through history, I was shocked by the response. People had so many tales that began pouring out of them—stories of 2020 but also stories of hard times in years past, both their own and their family’s.

Thus, my next project shifted, and The Family Story Workbook was conceived in its new form, designed for anyone who’s ever wanted to write their life story, anyone who’s wanted to connect with their family members in a new and profound way, or anyone who’s wanted to capture their family stories before they’re lost.

So many people want to write these stories, yet they never do. The Family Story Workbook is the tool to preserve these histories.

Me:  What is a family story you have that you want to make sure is never forgotten?

Kris: I think I’ve been trying to write one of my family stories since elementary school but never really found the right way to tell it. I’ve played with it in poetry, in short stories, in first-person narrative nonfiction, and in novel form. Hopefully, I’ll have updates on my most recent attempts at it soon, where I’ve pulled my family’s Ukrainian World War II stories into fiction. Stories of bravery, heroics, and survival can take so many forms. These are the family stories that impacted me young and still ring out so powerfully for me. Some stories are too meaningful not to share, but more on that soon

For readers interested in English language news and trivia, my monthly newsletter is packed, including the most recent updates on my writing tips blog and language-focused podcast, “Words You Should Know.” You can sign up and learn more about my books (Get a Grip on Your Grammar, The Novel Editing Workbook, and now The Family Story Workbook) at Kris-Spisak.com. The Family Story Workbook will be released November 12, 2020, and is available for preorder here.

***Purchase your copy of I Love You More Than Coffee

Bold and Strong: Coffee Chat with Coffee Roaster Larry Hancock

Larry Hancock, founder of Legacy Roasting

Last year, I had the pleasure of meeting Larry Hancock, founder of Legacy Roasting in Hopewell, VA. My children and I visited his store on Library Street that is housed in a 1920s historic brick building. We learned a little about the roasting process, held raw coffee beans, and purchased several bags of coffee to take home. I was an instant fan of both coffee (The Wonder City Blend is my favorite) and owner. 

For my first coffee chat of the year, I am thrilled to be talking with Larry about entrepreneurship, parenting, and building community. Larry has a lot brewing in 2021 – both personally and professionally – and he’s ready to spill the beans!

Me: So, you own a coffee roasting company, but are you a regular coffee drinker? What are some of your favorite beverages? 

Larry: I’m more of a social coffee drinker as opposed to a functional one. Instead of needing a cup of coffee every morning (to get through the day), I’m more likely to drink coffee when I’m hanging out with others or when I’m doing coffee drop-offs. Ultimately, I love how coffee brings people together, whether I’m meeting friends or supporting the local shops we work with. I judge a product by tasting attributes. Coffee is a subjective beverage, however, so the presentation by the barista also plays a part. My go-to beverage is a cortado when I can stop and drink coffee, a pour-over when I have plenty of time to sit and relax, and a mocha when I’m on the go. 

Me: How did you start your business? What were the early days like when you first opened?

Larry: Legacy Roasting Company was started in February 2014 in my parents’ garage. My dad found that a Chevy windshield wiper motor turned at the right RPM to turn a metal drum over the grill flame. We primarily sold to friends and family and at the farmers market. It was a great way to test the brand and meet folks in our community. 

Me: What are some of your professional goals?

Larry: My goal is to continue a community-minded business model. A company called Zingermans in Ann Arbor, Michigan influenced how I view business. Basically what I learned about making an impact in your community is: 1. Listen to the needs of your community and 2. Build opportunities for it. Legacy Roasting hopes to move to a job development model where people can come in and start as an internship to learn job skills and then from there they could stay employed at Legacy Roasting, or we could help them start their own business. Going into 2021, I would like to build a real estate side to the business to allow more affordable housing to the tri cities area. 

Me: What is the most stressful part about parenting? What are you enjoying about raising children?

Larry: Since living as an entrepreneur includes wearing all the different hats, the most stressful part is always making sure I can be the best dad possible. I want my kids to know I love them. I’m fortunate to have a loving wife and family who support me, so it does make it easier. I just always want to make sure I understand my “why” in everything I do. What I enjoy most about parenting is it has deepened my wife’s and my relationship. We’ve learned to communicate better. I also enjoy how my daughter has taught me to find wonder in what seems like the simple things in life. Now that we have one daughter and identical twin girls on the way, I’m really regretting our current house choice – we only have one shower! All jokes aside, I think the biggest thing I didn’t realize is by having a kid, your “why” in life changes dramatically. My need for personal time has shifted to  “I want to make sure my kid is loved and cherished, and I would do anything for her to know she is loved”. 

Me: What would you like your “Legacy” to be?

Larry: “Freely you have received; freely give.” – Matthew 10:8. I would want my legacy not to be about what I created, but be measured by the positive impact that can be felt in a community (fewer individuals who are homeless, more jobs, less crime, etc.). Time is our most valuable asset, and how we spend it counts. We should be willing to freely give it in the areas that matter most. 

Me: How can customers learn more about Legacy?

Larry: Customers can order online, or follow our journey by going to legacyroasting.com. We offer local delivery, shipping across the US, and coffee subscription programs. 

***Purchase your copy of I Love You More Than Coffee.

Order Now for Christmas!

With more than seventy 5-star reviews on Amazon, I Love You More Than Coffee is the perfect gift this season. Pair it with a decorative mug or a favorite bagged coffee for a cozy, thoughtful gift.

Plus, it’s currently on sale at Amazon for only $13.18, and it will ship in time for Christmas if ordered soon!

Happy Holidays!

Bold and Strong: Coffee Chat with Bookshop Manager Melanie Ferguson

Melanie Ferguson – bbgb shop manager and buyer

by Melissa Face

I have been rooting for independent bookstores since I first saw Meg Ryan star in You’ve Got Mail. Anyone who has seen the film knows that F-O-X may as well have spelled an obscenity. In recent months, however, COVID has been the real threat to independent stores; so, it made sense for me to celebrate one of Richmond’s local treasures during the month of December. 

Please grab your favorite beverage; make yourself comfortable, and join Melanie Ferguson – shop manager and buyer of bbgb books – and me, as we chat about her background, the job of a bookstore manager, and the vital role that an independent bookstore plays within a community. And please, consider bbgb books and other independently owned stores for your shopping needs this holiday season!

Me: Tell me about your coffee habit. Are you a daily coffee drinker?

Melanie: Oh yes! We like to say that bbgb is fueled by Sugar & Twine. I usually go for their oat milk latte, but I’m not really the type to turn down any coffee.

Me: Tell me a little about your beginnings as a bookshop manager and buyer.

Melanie: I actually majored in entrepreneurship and family business as an undergrad, with hopes of owning a bookshop one day, but of course no path is quite that straightforward. I had a few odd jobs following graduation and then took a part-time job in a school library while working on my Masters in Library and Information Sciences. The school held a book fair with bbgb each year, which is how I met the shop owner, Jill. I called her after the fair and asked if she needed any help. A few weeks later, I was working school book fairs for them and was hooked. I finished my degree and am now the shop manager and buyer. It’s such a special shop with a tightly curated collection which makes it especially fun to buy for. 

Me: Describe a time in childhood when you were completely enchanted with a book.

Melanie: Just one?! My childhood was shaped by the books I read and characters that inspired me. Daisy-Head Mayzie was one that had a big impact on me. I memorized the entire thing before I learned how to read (I’m sure my mom still has nightmares about reading it so many times). Eloise was another favorite, I was (and still am) drawn to books with quirky protagonists that know exactly who they are. Once I was able to read on my own, I read just about anything I could get my hands on. 

Me: What is the process like when a new book you’ve ordered arrives at the store? What do you have to do?

Melanie: New books release on Tuesday, so Mondays are like Christmas morning in the shop. We make it a point to read just about every book before we order it, so by the time a book arrives, we already know we love it and can’t wait to start hand-selling it. As the buyer, most of my work happens before the books get to the shop. But I do the merchandising in the shop too, so it’s always fun to find the perfect spot for a new book on the shelves. 

Me: How do you go about making recommendations for readers?

Melanie: I always start by asking what books the reader has enjoyed recently. That usually gives me a good sense of what types of books they like and what their reading ability is. A lot of times when they name a book they’ve loved it sparks an idea for me, and I will start booktalking. Once I’m telling them about books, I can really fine-tune suggestions based on their reactions to certain titles.

Me: What are you most looking forward to about resuming normal business operations?

Melanie: Hand-selling, hands down! I’m sure it’s no surprise that we love to talk about books here. It’s been odd not having any kids in the shop; that’s when I get to hear all about what books kids have been enjoying and also tell them about my favorites. We just recently opened by appointment, so we are really enjoying sharing the wonderful stories that came in while everyone was staying home.

Me: How is an independent bookstore an important part of the community?

Melanie: I’ve always found something magical about independent bookstores, each one has its own unique personality and gives bookselling a special twist. Indies, no matter where they are, have the wonderful opportunity to truly know their readers and community. One of the most important things to us at the shop is giving back to our own community. We donate as many books as we possibly can to kids and educators. Currently, we are donating books to the Lit Limo to help get new books into the hands of Richmond Public School kids who are learning from home and don’t have the same access to their school libraries. We know that books have the power to help us empathize, grow, and bring us together. As an independent bookstore, we love being able to find those gems and share them with our community. 

This holiday season, shop bbgb books online, or schedule a private, in-shop appointment. Learn more here.

***Order your copy of I Love You More Than Coffee.

Shop Local, Shop Legacy Roasting Company

Publishing my debut collection, I Love You More Than Coffee, during a pandemic has definitely presented a few challenges. Like most authors, I have had to cancel many in-person events, which makes spreading the word about a new book very difficult.

Despite a few setbacks, this journey has still been a dream come true, and a large part of that is due to the local support I have received. Recently, I partnered with Legacy Roasting Company, a coffee roaster in Hopewell, VA. We are currently offering a holiday gift bundle that includes a copy of my book and a half pound bag of I Love You More Than Coffee special coffee blend.

This bundle retails for $23.99 but is currently on sale for $19.95! Shop early. Shop small. Shop Legacy.

https://www.legacyroasting.com/product-page/i-love-you-more-than-coffee-gift-bundle

Whether you are a new or seasoned parent, you will find common ground in Melissa Face’s heartfelt, humorous, and authentic stories of her life with two young children. If you love coffee a lot and your kids (a little) more, this book is for you. Fill your mug and settle in with I Love You More Than Coffee.

Visits with Pop

Delaney, Pop, and Evan

By Melissa Face

My children spot their grandparents’ vehicle from an upstairs window. They drop their iPads and tablets and run to the front door where they press their smiling faces against the glass. My mom gets out of the car with her bag of treats and walks toward the front porch.

“Where is Pop?” Delaney asks Evan.

“Maybe he’s getting something out of the trunk,” Evan replies.

“I don’t see him,” she says.

My mom rings the doorbell and the kids open the door and ask, together, “Where’s Pop?”

“He’s playing golf,” she tells them. “It’s just me today.”

“Aw, man! I had some things I needed to show him,” Evan says.

If my mom is offended by the overt snub, it doesn’t show. When Pop is around, he is the star, the rest of us just extras. My children compete for his attention and work to impress him with the most recent trick they’ve learned: a cartwheel, a cannonball in the pool, or a knock-knock joke.

“Pop! Come watch me ride my bike!”

“Do you want to play outside with me?”

“Pop! Let’s go to my room and look at stuff!”

They hold his hand, sit in his lap, and wrap their arms around his neck. When each visit comes to an end, they cling to him and beg him to stay.

“Just a few more minutes, Pop,” Delaney says. “I need to show you one more thing in my room.”

He agrees and climbs the stairs to my daughter’s room where she shows him her belongings with the detailed explanation of a museum curator. He examines the tiny bottles of glittery nail polish and cat figurines with awe and pretends to be seeing them all for the first time.

“On your way out, can you just look at something on my bike?” Evan asks.

“I reckon I can,” Pop laughs.

“See this attachment? Now when I pedal my bike, it sounds like an engine! Listen, Pop!”

Evan speeds across the yard and shows Pop his tricks. He stands, then lets go of his hands, as he escorts Pop to his car. 

***

“Please. Take me with you,” Evan begs. “I won’t talk or even make a sound. I’ll just sit in the corner.”

“Not this time,” I tell him. “I want to see Pop by myself.”

I don’t do it often, but sometimes I need to visit my dad alone. We eat take-out and chat about the pandemic, world issues, and a personal situation that is bothering me. I don’t need him to fix this particular problem, only listen. He does, and I feel better immediately.

There were times when I did need my dad to fix things, though. He once climbed under my bed to console me when I was a child, and he waited patiently through teenage sobbing to tell me that no boy was worth my tears. He made small repairs to my car each time I came home on college breaks and checked the air in my tires before I left again. He helped me move into my first apartment and stayed a few days to assemble, straighten, and adjust my new furniture. 

Even as an adult, a visit to my house usually includes my dad tightening a wiggly door handle, repairing an appliance, or fixing a grandchild’s toy. When it comes to household items and my spirits, my dad simply makes everything better.

In this stage of our relationship, I value my dad as both parent and friend. I am grateful for his humor, wisdom, and calm demeanor, a part of my life that has remained constant when few things have. I am glad he and my children are close, and I understand, better than anyone, when they complain that visits with him never last long enough.

***Previously published in Prairie Times, Nov. 2020.