Bold and Strong: Coffee Chat with Author Heather Weidner

Author Heather Weidner

I am so happy to be chatting with Heather Weidner this month. Heather writes the Delanie Fitzgerald mystery series set in Virginia. Her new cozy series with vintage trailers and tiny houses, the Jules Keene Glamping Mysteries, launches in October 2021.

Her short stories appear in the Virginia is for Mysteries series, 50 Shades of Cabernet, and Deadly Southern Charm, and her novellas appear in The Mutt Mysteries.

She is a member of Sisters in Crime – Central Virginia, Sisters in Crime – Chessie, Guppies, International Thriller Writers, and James River Writers.

Originally from Virginia Beach, Heather has been a mystery fan since Scooby-Doo and Nancy Drew. She lives in Central Virginia with her husband and a pair of Jack Russell terriers.

Through the years, she has been a cop’s kid, technical writer, editor, college professor, software tester, and IT manager. Fill your mug with something delicious and join us as we chat about productive writing schedules, character inspiration, and research questions that you probably shouldn’t Google.

Me: When did you first feel like a writer? When did you first refer to yourself as one? 

Heather:I really felt like a writer when the first anthology arrived with my name and picture on it. That’s also probably when I first thought of myself as a published author. I’ve been writing since elementary school; I’ve always enjoyed writing.

Me: What was the first article or essay you published?

Heather: I had technical manuals and articles published for the day gig, but the first big article (with my byline) was a Christmas story published by the Richmond Times-Dispatch. About the same time, I sold some clues to a trivia game, and that had a byline, too.

Me: Describe your writing schedule.

Heather: I am a binge writer. I know that I am more productive if I write every day, but life often gets in the way. I try to do some writing (or revising/book marketing) every day. I decided when the work-from-home mandate went into effect because of the pandemic, I would use my commute time to write. It has been a productive year. I finished two novels, started a third, finished two short stories, and finished a novella. I also get up at five every morning.

Me: What are some items you must have in your work space? 

Heather: My dogs. They are the fuzzy muses. We have two Jack Russell Terriers (Disney and Riley). They help me plot murder, and they listen as I work out dialogue. I also have to have chocolate, Dr. Pepper, and iced coffee.

Me: What do you enjoy about being a member of different writing groups?

Heather:  I love my writing groups. Writing is mostly a solitary effort. My writer friends are so generous with their time, energy, and encouragement. It is so helpful to know that you’re not alone.

Me: You have written many mysteries. What is your inspiration for those? Have you ever faced a real-life mystery? Unusual or unexplainable situation? 

Heather: I’m a CK (Cop’s Kid). I thought everyone talked about murder and mayhem at the dinner table. I didn’t realize that wasn’t the case. My dad is a retired police captain, but he’s still my best resource. There are just some things you don’t want to Google. “Hey, Dad, what does a meth lab smell like? How long would a body stay submerged?” I have loved Scooby-Doo and Nancy Drew since childhood, so I’ve always been on the lookout for mysteries. When I was four, I uncovered reindeer tracks in the snow on our front porch. (Sadly, the culprit was the German Shepherd next door, and not Santa’s crew.) I work in IT (software testing and governance). Software testing is rife with mysteries that have to be solved daily.

Me: I love your character Delanie. Is she based on anyone you know in real life? 

Heather: Most of my characters are based on traits or characteristics from multiple sources. Delanie’s a sassy PI who runs toward danger. She does things that I would never think to do in real-life. I like to imagine her as a grown-up Nancy Drew. (All of my sleuths are redheads because I write what I know.)

Me: What is the best advice about writing you have ever received? 

Heather: Don’t give up. If you want to be a published author, you need to persevere. Writing is work, and you have to put the time in to build your skills and your audience.

Me:  What is the nicest/coolest thing a reader has ever said to you? 

Heather: “I read your book in one night. When does the next one come out?”

Me: What are you currently working on?

Heather: I have a three-book deal for my latest cozy mystery. It’s set in a vintage trailer park near Charlottesville. The resort also has tiny houses. Jules Keene, the owner, turned a traditional campground into an upscale resort for the glamping craze. This launches in October. I’m working on the fourth Delanie mystery and an idea for a new cozy set at the beach. I have a new Mutt Mystery (dog-themed) novella coming out this year, and I’m working on a short story project with a bunch of cool authors called Mystery by the Glass.

Me: What is the best way for readers to connect with you and find your work? 

Heather: My books are available at your favorite book store or retailer. My website is http://heatherweidner.com. Hop over to my website and blog and drop me a message. I’d love to hear from you.

Purchase a Delanie Fitzgerald mystery here 

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

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.

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