October 19th, 2018
The air is saturated with comfort. It feels like home here. It’s early fall, the leaves are changing rapidly, and there’s a crispness in the air that begs me to go apple and pumpkin picking. They’ve turned the air conditioning off and opened the door to let the earthy smell of fallen leaves permeate the atmosphere between the scent of freshly roasted coffee and homemade cinnamon rolls. Standing just inside the door of The Jumping Bean, I push my hands into the pockets of my jeans and take in my surroundings. Brian has added new books to the shelves hanging along the walls and a new coffee themed farmhouse style sign beside the grinders. I briefly smile as I consider how much has changed in this space in the nearly four years it has existed. Brian and his best friend, Greg, opened the café a few years ago after moving away from Brian’s family in Tennessee. They were chasing Brian’s dream when it brought them to Brockport, a small college town in Western New York. Brian then recruited his little brother, Tommy, to also move north to help at the coffeehouse and ultimately get his own business off the ground. Despite Tommy owning and running a company, he still spends a lot of time helping out at the café. It’s easy enough to do since his business is located right next door.
He’s been known to post a sign on the door at Mile 63 Marketing letting his own customers know he can be found in the coffeehouse, usually working to give one of the local college students time off to study or get projects done for a class. Even if they’re employees, Brian, Greg, and Tommy treat them like family. The guys all know these kids aren’t going to stay and work in a coffee shop their entire lives. Education is important to all three of them, so they adjust when someone has a valid reason they can’t be at work.
The Stratford family has single-handedly revived a part of this community that seemed to be lost forever, and part of that revival was investing not just in business but in the people. Their hearts are at the center of everything they do. Today seems to be one of those days when Tommy is covering for someone at the café. The sleeves of his maroon button-down shirt are rolled up his forearms and I notice the discoloration where he must have attempted to brush flour from the fabric. It works for him in that “cute boy next door” kind of way and I smile again as I peruse the chalkboard menu above a row of coffee carafes and espresso machines.
I don’t know why I bother reading the list of specialty drinks, though, since I always order the same thing — a medium roast hot coffee, black. No flavor. No room for cream. “Give me the biggest size you’ve got,” I say stepping closer to the counter and handing Tommy a five-dollar bill. He cashes me out, but I smile and turn with my coffee in hand before he can give me the change. We do this regularly; he knows to put the extra in the college fund tip jar. There’s plenty of seating today. Mid-morning during the week isn’t an extremely busy time at the Bean. I claim a spot at a table near the front window where I people watch and wait for you to arrive.
Laura Mae: Good evening, Miranda! How’s your day been so far?
M. L. Pennock: Crazy busy is the only way to describe it. I was home with my 2-year-old all day and then we had to go to an assembly at the elementary school before swim lessons.
L: Crazy busy is a good way to put that! Lol! That’s so cute! What’s their name?
M: Eleanor is our 2-year-old. Then we have Charlotte, 6, and Josephine, 8. I have a thing for classic names.
L: Oh I love their names! I was just going to ask! So lovely to see you keep the classics. Are they named after anyone in particular? I see Charlotte and instantly thinking Charlottes Web. Haha!
M: When we were picking out names, their first names weren’t chosen for any particular reason, though we found out later they were all family names at one point or another. However, each of their middle names are intentionally after a family member – Dolores, Eloise, and Arlene.It’s a mouthful when there’s a reason to use their full names. lol
L: Haha! I love that! Do you transfer your love for classic names into your novels as well?
M: I think at some point each of the character names I’ve used has been considered an older name, for lack of a better definition. For instance, I adore the name Stella and she was one of my very first characters to come to life. But, I also have a Fisher, and that one just came out of left field but it’s not a Top 100 name that I would have normally looked for when choosing names.
L: Stella is a really pretty name. Are both of those characters in something you’re writing right now?
M: Stella is the main female character in my first book, but she makes appearances throughout the entire series, including the book I’m currently working on. Fisher actually wasn’t created until last year when I was working on To Cherish. He’s not in what I’m writing right now, but he might have a cameo as I move further into the story. There are plans for Fisher to have his own story in the near future, though, and I can’t wait to get to know him better.
L: Oh that’s neat! I like when authors make a book just for one character. You must really like his character! Would you mind telling us what you are working on right now, and how it’s going?
M: The working title is “I’ll Wait For You” and it’s book 5 in the To Have series. This one follows Caryn Williams and Greg Stevens – she’s Stella’s best friend and he’s Brian’s business partner/friend. For everyone who hasn’t read the series, Brian and Stella are a couple. Back to Caryn and Greg, though. Their story really started in the very first book and the plan was to go back to the first time they meet and go from there … but when I started writing from their perspectives in this new manuscript it took a turn I never even saw coming in that their relationship didn’t start as strangers meeting in a coffeehouse. They have a history. As far as how it’s going? The writing is going slow, but the story is developing quickly.
L: That’s awesome, Miranda! 5 books so far, that’s great! You must have some serious experience in self-publishing then. Can you tell me why you decided to self-publish over traditional?
M: Honestly, I was afraid of rejection. I still am, but not as much. lol Now it’s because I like having control over what I’m working on and how long it takes me to get it done. I’ve published two books this year, but the one I published in February took me 15 months to complete because we had another baby in between books 2 and 3. I set my own deadlines, so being sleep deprived with a newborn gave me the freedom to push that back if necessary. I don’t know how that would work with traditional publishing.
L: I understand that. The freedom is the best part. So Miranda, what’s your favorite thing about writing?
M: Character development and world building. Getting to know my characters as though they’re real people is invigorating.
L: Agreed! Are any of the characters you write based on people you know? Or do you create them from your imagination?
M: Ha! They all have a little bit of a lot of people in my life. I don’t think a single character has been 100 percent made up because real life has such an uncanny way of sneaking into what I’m working on.
L: Very true! Haha! Do you have any favorite literary characters at all? And why?
M: Layken and Will from Colleen Hoover’s “Slammed” series. The relationship was real, the characters weren’t two-dimensional, and the story itself was believable. Also, Frankenstein’s monster. Talk about different ends of the spectrum there. lol But there was an emotional response from me that I didn’t think I would have when I read the story in college. It’s such a vulnerable character and I think at the time in my life when I read the book, I understood that vulnerability on a deeper level. It was, and still is, more than a book I had to read for class credit.
L: Interesting! And I’m so glad you said Frankensteins monster! Most people don’t. I see what you mean, though. That’s cool! So when you sit down to finally write, do you have any must-haves? Like need music before you can start?
M: Coffee or tea are a necessity. Caffeine is its own food group around here. I definitely need music on while writing. I have trouble working in silence.
L: Same! Let’s talk about music then! Do you have soundtrack or anything for your books?
M: I have songs in playlists for each of the books, but they aren’t in any particular order and some of the selections don’t even fit the stories by the time I finish writing. LOL It’s a mess. They’re more or less collections of songs that help me get into the mood. For the last couple of weeks I’ve been listening to River by Bishop Briggs on repeat.
L: That works too! Have you ever been inspired by a song, whether it be a whole book or a scene?
M: Absolutely. One actually sparked the twist with Caryn and Greg that literally no one is aware of right now, not even my closest friends.
L: So cool! Do you have any words or phrases that you dislike?
M: Not really. I love words and always liked the challenge of learning new ones as a kid. However, I know a lot of people who can’t stand to read or hear someone say, “Moist.” I understand the dislike for the word, but personally have nothing against it.
L: Good answer! I don’t like the sound of moist, but I still use it in everyday language, cause, well, it’s a word still! Haha!
M: Exactly! I always wonder how people describe cake and soil without using that word.
L: Right?! So what is it you enjoy doing in your spare time when you’re not writing?
M: Baking and cooking. I actually have a sourdough starter I began feeding again a few days ago.
L: A sourdough starter? What… is that? Haha!
M: Sourdough bread is made with a naturally fermented starter, which is flour and water and, sometimes if it needs a kick in the pants, a little yeast. The water mixes with the naturally occurring yeast and it magically comes alive. The sour taste in sourdough comes from the fermentation process. You can use the starter for lots of traditional breads, but I’ve made pancakes and English muffins with it as well. If you’ve ever heard of or made Amish Friendship Bread, it’s sort of the same concept.
L: Oh wow! Learning something new every day! Oh yeah, I have! That’s awesome. It’s been so nice getting to know you Miranda! Would you leave us with some of your best advice about aspiring authors out there?
M: Tell your story. Don’t wait for inspiration to strike, because you’re missing out on so many opportunities to develop yourself for one reason or another. Tell your story any way you can. Write it down on napkins and Post-Its. Add bits and pieces in an app on your phone. Keep a journal. Whatever you do, don’t think your words will never matter. Someone needs to read them. All you need to do is start. Thank you for having me, Laura. I’ve enjoyed our chat! 🙂
L: I love that! Thank you so much, Miranda! I’ve enjoyed talking with you too!
M.L. Pennock is a former journalist turned author. She attended Alfred University, earning a Bachelor of Arts in English and communication studies, before going on to earn a Master of Arts in communications from SUNY College at Brockport. She lives in Central New York with her husband and three daughters.
M.L. Pennock is the author of the To Have series.
Visit her Facebook page or Website for more information about what she’s working on next.
My life was good.
But, like most things that are just “good,” it fell apart. I fell apart.
I had lived to work before, but when my husband left my job became my entire life.
Then I went for coffee and my life changed. Days before finalizing my divorce, my past sat down across from me and it was like life had been breathed back into me. It was only the beginning of a crazy, not at all planned out adventure with him … much like our escapades when we were kids.
Twenty years ago my parents moved our family to Tennessee. My heart stayed behind in Western New York.
On a well-planned whim, my best friend and I packed up and headed north to begin realizing our dream of owning a business — a coffeehouse — in the small college town I spent my childhood exploring.
It took me years before I had the courage to go home, set up shop, and find her, though. I needed to be certain I could give her everything.
That day finally came.
When she walked in, she stole the air from my lungs.
This is our story.
Being charmed into a one-night stand with a flirty groomsman also wasn’t on her list of things to do. But the morning after the wedding, she finds herself hung over and wrapped up in Brian Stratford’s bedsheets.
Several weeks, a positive pregnancy test, and an ultrasound later, Emily finds herself on Brian’s doorstep questioning how her life ended up where it is.
As the new couple processes how to co-parent without loving one another, Emily’s fate takes a turn for the worst.
It isn’t until years later when Brian finds out what happened …
and that Emily left letters behind for the people she loves most.