Today’s guest is Alison Heller. Alison was a finalist in our search for a humorist columnist. We loved her submission and are pleased to share it with you today. Alison’s first novel, THE LOVE WARS, was published just this month by Penguin (NAL). Her second novel, as of yet untitled, is scheduled for 2014.
I loved The Love Wars! Heller writes with the perfect balance of razor-sharp wit, intelligence, and empathy. This book had me hooked from its earliest pages — a briskly paced and thoroughly entertaining debut.
–Meg Donohue, Author of How to Eat a Cupcake
Alison says, “I guess that for me, writing is where the sublime (those wonderful, if rare, moments of flow) meets the ridiculous (just about everything else). One day I had a few hours and ran out of the house, so excited to sit down and write, but finding space was next to impossible. I went to about three places with no luck—no seats, larges loud groups, etc. etc. I realized that over the years I’d been on an extended vagabond’s journey, like some traveling laptop minstrel, and thus this post was born.”
Follow Alison on Twitter @lalisonheller or visit her Facebook page. Enjoy!
The Quest: One Writer’s Search for The Coffee Shop Office
It happens. First once. Then, again and again until I can’t ignore it.
Tiny voices. Mommy! My door creaks open. We find you! We play computer! They read aloud the names of half-formed characters. Who that?
I don’t know, I say, it’s only a draft, but they persist. When I return from fetching the water they demand, I have forgotten what I’m writing.
I have heard others—namely Bob, of the How To Publish Panel—refer to a place. My coffee shop office, he said with his gentle chuckle, where I am from nine until eleven five days a week. Like clock work.
My home is warm, yes, with steady wifi. It is what I know. But I must assemble provisions for a quest. I must find this coffee shop office.
Day One, Early
I start my quest near my house, the temple of a woman with flowing green hair, parted in the middle. She wears a crown and offers protein plates.
It’s crowded when I arrive but against the odds, I find a seat, outlet adjacent. At the table beside me, a woman in a long skirt holds her phone to her ear. Her voice is loud; her hand is at her forehead. I don’t know, she screams, I don’t know why the contracts didn’t go through. I press in my earbuds. Write. Reread what I have typed: I do not know why the contracts didn’t go through. The phrase is compelling but does not work in my scene.
Her phone rings again. I see she says. I see i see i see i see. Not at all. I see.
It goes on like this. When her phone rings for the fifth time, I know I must move on.
A new establishment, one warm and cozy, filled with the aroma of baking bread and strong coffee. There is only one outlet but I have vanquished my competitors; it is mine. Mine alone! I type. 300 words. 500. Can it be this easy? Have I found the coffee shop office?
I have not. There is no bathroom, the counter man shrugs, maybe across the street.
I scan the room: seats, coffee, drinks, bathroom.
I tap my foot. There is music here. Loud music. Loud enough that I feel like . . . dancing. But the others—they sit, they type, they remain somehow unmoved by the desperate query: won’t you take me to Funkytown? Over and over the voice asks. I would like to help it. But I am unsure. How close is Funkytown? And does it have bathrooms?
I have returned to the home of the protein plate. A light streams through the window.
At the next table, where the long-skirted woman sat before, a family settles. They are from another land, speaking in hard syllables of another land. The mid-sized one, blond, spills a hot beverage over the table. A taller, tired one — his mother? — yells. I cannot understand but at the same time I do: she wants napkins. Napkins! I jump in response. Returning, I trip over my plug, which lies, powerless, near the pooling water on the floor.
I will not let them see me cry.
Later that night
I toss, I turn with memories: the spotty wifi; the draining batteries; the full bladder. I do not have what it takes.
A flash of light, an image, holographic, of Bob hovers by the window.
Bob? I whisper.
He nods, cookie crumbs from the Panel refreshments trembling in his beard.
Where? Where do I find it? Where is the coffee shop office?
It is every place and no place, he says. It is here and there and there. It’s a state of mind: the openness to observe, the itch to record, the fire to create, the yearning to perfect, the addiction to revise.
That’s nice, I say, but where? Where can I do that?
Anywhere, he grins, anywhere you damn can.
And I know I will start again tomorrow.