Category Archives: Coffee

A Dinosaur Selling Lattes

2015-02-06 22.14.14 (4)I used to joke that my goal in life was to be the world’s oldest living barista. But now? It’s not so much of a joke and it’s not quite so funny, because I might be quickly approaching that status.

My job at a global coffee company is the longest I’ve worked anywhere. I’ve been at my present location for three years. Because I usually work morning shifts I know almost every regular customer by name. I know their usual drink if they have one, including every nuance. Extra hot, light whipped cream, or three pumps of syrup.  I know whether they’ll be buying breakfast. Butter? Cream cheese? Siracha sauce? Sandwich cut in half? Got it. I’m just not sure if me knowing all of these details is a good thing or a bad thing.

I may not remember what I walked into another room for or where I put my glasses, but I know John will get three shots of espresso over ice in a tall cup every single time he comes in. That I can remember.

I know this job was never intended for people my age. Well, then the company shouldn’t have spoiled me. If I didn’t need affordable health insurance, if I thought I could go back to sitting behind a desk from 8-5, if I wasn’t staring Social Security eligibility in the face, maybe I’d look for employment elsewhere. I was actually surprised when I was hired. I thought I was too old.

There was a time when the thought of still being in this job for this long nearly sent me spiraling into a dark depression. If I was still here it meant my writing career must have gone nowhere and I hadn’t achieved bestseller status or anywhere close to it. I have seriously considered quitting the barista gig on more than one occasion. I’ve outlasted nearly every store, district and regional manager I’ve ever had and watched coworkers come and go. I guess there’s a reason I remain and sometimes I’m convinced that reason is God.It is said that God has a plan. And when you don’t get what you want, it’s because God has something better in store for you. But at the time, you just can’t see it. You may, indeed, never see it. Or you may, like me, get a glimpse of it. If I’d quit those few times, how could I set myself up as “Barista by Day/Romance Novelist by Night”? Which, frankly, at the moment, seems to be working for me. I’m just sorry it took me so long to put that spin on what I do and use it as a potential marketing angle. But again, God’s inspiration arrives on God’s schedule not mine.

dinosaur-14543I was just interviewed by the local paper for a Sunday feature article. They sent a photographer to take pictures of me with my books at work. Do you know how long I’ve been trying to get any mention in the local papers in the places I’ve lived? A story on a romance novelist? the editors seemed to say, I don’t think so.

They say you need a marketing platform to sell anything, including romance novels. A twist. Something to snag attention. A dinosaur selling lattes? Hey, it works for me.

#marketing #books #dinosaurs #coffee #tobeapartner




Avoiding Writing

ajtillock2013 018I’ll put my alter ego, AJ Tillock’s hat on for now and explain why the second book in the GRINDING REALITY series still isn’t out, three years later:

It’s because:
I’ve been sitting on the partially completed manuscript for most of that time.

Contemporary romance is so much easier to write (and sell to a publisher who does all the editing and the cover art and actually PUBLISHES the book so I don’t have to).

finalGRcoverHardly anyone has read the first book in the series, The Forbidden Bean. (Which makes me think the concept isn’t quite as brilliant as I thought it was. Or it could be due to a complete lack of marketing.)

I find switching from contemporary romance author to screwball fantasy author difficult.
I’m not even sure COOL BEANS makes sense.

CoolBeans_CVR4 like3If readers didn’t read The Forbidden Bean, will they “get it?”

I’m not convinced I know how to write:
a) Screwball fantasy
b) A series
c) A screwball fantasy series

Therefore it has been easy not to write it.

But…I have made a promise to myself and to the two fans who loved The Forbidden Bean to have Cool Beans out by the end of summer 2015. I put it on my web site. I have a fantastic cover!!! Therefore I MUST FINISH IT. Plus, writing (and selling the books) in this series is the only possibility I’ll ever have of making significant money off my career as a coffee store barista. Cuz the last twelve years of paychecks just ain’t doin’ it.

Basic premise: Coffee store assistant manager and general oddball Tee Rutledge accidentally swallows an addictive but forbidden coffee bean which then temporarily turns her into…something else. Like an insect in The Forbidden Bean. (Didn’t you ever want to be a fly on a wall? Here’s your chance.) Or a tree frog in COOL BEANS. She can go almost anywhere, overhear things she’d rather not know, become an unwilling superhero.

Oh, God. No wonder editors and agents won’t touch it.

But I’ll write it anyway. Then I’ll publish it. In three years, I will write another blog explaining why I haven’t finished Book Three in the series: KILLER BEANS.

You might also discover posts of difficult chapters this summer as I try to work through my discomfort and ask for help with my drinking—er–writing problem.

#writing #fantasy #series #publishing

The Guilt Trip 2013 (Part 1)

It’s Wednesday.  I’ve been here since Monday.  I’m surrounded by things I don’t want to do.  I have a headache.  For the second day in a row the coffee I’ve made is horrible (even though it’s Starbucks coffee).  It’s pouring down rain, lightning and thundering.

 Yesterday we went to see Mom.  I managed to get us lost on the way, my memory of the backroads from Sarcoxie to Carthage not quite as good as I thought it was.  I think she knew who I was which is an improvement over last year.  Even recalled that my aunt Maxine had told her we were coming. 

 Missouri2013 007

We stayed for an hour, took a walk around the assisted living facility.  She only repeated the same questions a couple of times.  After an hour she seemed to fade, perhaps thinking I was my cousin Louella and asking if I ever hear from Marilyn (Louella’s sister who passed away).  This is how I know it’s time to leave although my mother invites us to stay for lunch. 

We’ve had a big breakfast at the Hungry House at Maxine’s invitation earlier and no appetite so we decline.  Plus, we have things to sort through back at Mom’s house.  Clothes, books, drawers, photos. 

After a year unoccupied there is a layer of dusty grime covering the interior and the air is musty and there are cobwebs in places cobwebs have no business being.  Bill has taken on the task of vacuuming the entire house, most of which is covered in carpeting that should have been replaced years ago.  I can’t stand to walk on it barefoot. 

There’s been so much rain it’s too wet to have the grass mowed.  The house looks like what it is:  sad and neglected.  A wisteria vine has overgrown its boundaries near the driveway.  Tuesday afternoon I attacked it. My dad would have taken care of this.  He’d never have let the yard look this way.  

Once again we cleared the vine that had begun to overgrow the front stoop.  If I thought I could get Dad’s lawnmower out of the shed (which is falling apart) I’d have mowed the grass.  But Bill says the mower’s been sitting there so long the gas is probably no good and the oil probably dried up.  He doesn’t even want to try it.  He’s probably right.  He usually is about these things.

After we visit Mom we stop at Wal-Mart.  I need rubber gloves if I’m to keep digging through drawers and boxes because who knows what lurks there.  I find a pretty hanging plant and a cute garden gnome for my aunt Maxine because she’s always been the gardener in the family.  Her birthday was Sunday.  She’s 93 now and thinks her heart is what’s slowing her down physically.  Says she has little energy, although she’s happy to sit and talk or read or watch TV.  But physical exertion wears her out, even a walk to the mailbox.  

Maxine has always been real in a way my mother never was.  I never could really talk to my mother, but Maxine is like my dad in many ways.  You can talk to her about anything and everything.  She’s been my favorite aunt forever, perhaps because she’s childless.  She always had time and interest in me and my brothers.  She’s eleven years older than my mother but seems years younger.

No idea what this blog is about?  Check out the series of last year’s blogs about a similar trip starting here:

or check out my guest blog post here: 

The Annual Guilt Trip-A Guest Post by Barb Meyers

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Why I Don’t Cook

This morning in an effort to get my diabetic husband to make better food choices I decided to make a blueberry muffin recipe I found on the internet.  This is how it went: 

First of all, a couple of days ago I bought what I thought was a butternut squash which the recipe calls for at the local Wal-Mart grocery store.  I looked at the label on the bin and all I saw was “butternut squash” and the price per pound.  So I picked one up.  When I got home I had to look up how to cook butternut squash because I never have.  This is when I discovered the squash I had was a spaghetti squash and for the first time I noticed there was a big gold label on it that said “Spaghetti Squash.”  Hmmm.  I took off for the nearby Publix to purchase a butternut squash.  Luckily I found one and hope it is big enough to yield one cup cooked and mashed.

In both stores I searched for and didn’t find buckwheat flour.  I don’t even know what buckwheat flour is or how it differs from regular whole wheat flour which is what I bought.

I am fairly certain I have all of the other necessary ingredients on hand.  Prior to consuming coffee  this morning (I should know better) I begin the baking process.  I stab the poor butternut squash skin numerous times with a sharp knife as directed and microwave it.  It looks very much like a sweet potato when it’s done.  Already I’m thinking could I just use sweet potatoes in this recipe?  No seeds to scrape out.  Much less work.

I can’t read the amount needed for the baking powder.  Somehow the numbers are all smushed together.  It’s either 1 1/3, 1 1/2 or 1 1/32 of a teaspoon.  I cross my fingers and go with 1 1/2 teaspoons.  Visions of gigantic, puffed up, exploding muffins fill my head.

I measure and add and mix and fold until I do believe my muffin batter is ready to bake.  Oven preheated.  Check.  Muffin tin sprayed with non-stick spray.  Check.  I slide those babies into the oven feeling quite proud of myself.  I realize after a few minutes I forgot to set the timer, so I guesstimate how much longer is needed.

Fifteen minutes later I pull my muffins out of the oven.  They look okay.  They look done.  I decide I might have a success on my hands.  For once.

I take a couple out of the pan.  Cut into one.  Taste it and congratulate myself.  I have just spent an entire hour creating a dozen muffins that have absolutely no flavor whatsoever.  They are bland beyond belief.  My husband comments he can’t even taste the blueberries.

I suggest to him that perhaps a little orange marmalade on top would give them a bit of flavor.  He thinks this is an excellent idea even though I remind him that defeats the purpose of consuming a muffin created for a diabetic. 

Then I admit that the recipe called for a quarter teaspoon of orange peel but I wasn’t about to purchase an entire orange just to get a quarter teaspoon of peel.  But that gives me a great idea.  The next time I make these, I will just add a little bit of orange marmalade since there is orange peel already in it. 

I review the recipe and realize I forgot something, so make a note to myself to also add that teaspoon of cinnamon the next time. 


If you have read A FOREVER KIND OF GUY now you know where Hayley gets her non-existent cooking skills and why it’s sort of a running gag throughout the book. 

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The Forbidden Bean Origins

Ever wonder how authors come up with ideas? I’ve worked in a chain coffee store for years, and don’t get me wrong, it’s a great job with great benefits, but after five years there I kept thinking, there’s got to be a way to make money from this. Hmm. Wonder if I could write a book incorporating some of my experiences. One day I took the “what ifs” I’d been fooling around with and sat at a table in a local Starbucks (with a caramel macchiato as I recall) and started exploring the possibilities. Transcribed below are the actual notes I wrote that day:
Urban Fantasy 4/8/08
Starbucks – espresso – reaction – gives special magical powers.
Short stories?
Darrell’s check.
She solves problems of customers.
But what gives HER the special powers?
An allergy?
Her body chemistry?
Something she adds to the espresso in the right combination?
Her apron becomes a cape
She finds a bag of beans buried in the back room – that says DO NOT TOUCH or DO NOT USE.
Peaberry blend
The glow? The sparkle?
Maybe she eats a coffee bean and when she does she’s magically transformed into Super Barista.
What problems can she solve? She can help her other barista co-workers as well as customers.
Lots of short stories here.
What are problems?
Maybe she creates connections for people w/problems who can solve them. Or does she solve them herself? Is she the conduit/catalyst?
Job loss
The Economy
No money for college
Natural Disaster
Car Trouble
Gas prices
She finds struggling people and finds a way to help them.
No, she gets severe ESP so she knows things about people she shouldn’t know. John Edward type stuff? Death related. She can see ghosts or angels. Communicates with other worldly beings (make them up?)
She becomes other worldly temporarily. Solves crimes? Brings criminals to justice? Must be a downside for her. After effect is either detrimental to her physically or emotionally. Maybe she disconnects from her “real” life and becomes more and more involved in other world. Why doesn’t she stop? Because she’s addicted. Maybe a weekly or monthly addiction? What happens if she doesn’t get her fix?

This is how the book that became The Forbidden Bean began. It took almost four years, feedback, rejection and criticism from fellow authors, agents and editors before I said, “Screw it!” and published it myself.
I now have pages and pages of notes and ideas for subsequent books in the series I call Grinding Reality. (Tee is assistant manager of a coffee store. Thus the series title.) I am working on the second book in the series which might be entitled Cool Beans. There’s a preview of it at the end of The Forbidden Bean.Looking for something different to read? Here it is.
Grinding Reality Book One: The Forbidden Bean by AJ Tillock
An excerpt and buy links are on my web site:

Addiction to The Forbidden Bean

What if you had an addiction to a substance for which there was no rehab? What if you couldn’t tell anyone about your addiction?

In Tee Rutledge I may have created the ideal fictional addict, but there are many correlations to real life addiction. First of all, she has no idea that swallowing one forbidden coffee bean will addict her to them. She doesn’t even realize she is hooked until some time later. She tries to fight her addiction, but she can’t. The lure of the bean and the transformations they cause while she’s under one’s influence are stronger than her will.

She hides her addiction (sound familiar?) and covers up what happens during her transformations because she’s quite certain no one would believe she’s addicted to coffee beans, of all things, or that after swallowing one she temporarily turns into…something else. A fly on a wall, or a butterfly or a cockroach. The power she gains through her addiction is addictive.

She was warned, however, by the package before she opened it, but she didn’t heed the warning. Like a kid picking up his first cigarette, the caution that it is hazardous to his health goes unheeded. Just one won’t hurt me. Next thing you know he’s hooked and it’s a pack a day.

In spite of all the warnings about drugs and alcohol, all the “preventative” measures we take to inform children in this country about the negative impact of even trying them, we are a nation full of addicts.

I come from a long line of addicts, alcoholics mostly. My father told me the story of experiencing his first beer at age ten when his father took him into a bar and bought him a bowl of beer. This was after they’d driven the wagon from the farm into town. Can you imagine how my father must have felt after that beer? Warm and woozy and spending time with his dad one on one. My dad was the eldest of five children and grew up on a farm in the Midwest during the Depression. Of course he must have associated drinking beer with one of his best, happiest memories. Nearly everyone on his side of the family drank beer. Some of my cousins and some of my siblings are or were alcoholics.

One of my brothers explained addiction to me this way: There is no gray area for him. It’s all or nothing. He’d been through rehab for alcohol and drug addiction. He kept his nicotine addiction because it was the last vice he had left and he wasn’t about to give it up. If he found something he liked (frozen lime fruit bars, for example) he’d consume an entire box. He couldn’t have just one.

Working in a coffee shop, I am surrounded by addicts. I don’t know if it’s the caffeine, the ritual, the cup, the flavor or what exactly the customers are addicted to. Perhaps all of those and more.

If you’ve ever watched Intervention or read accounts of drug addicts, part of the addiction is the ritual, the needle or the pipe, the preparation. It’s almost better than the high. I think this is true of many coffee customers. It’s the ritual of waiting in line, moving closer to the counter, exchanging cash for a cup of fresh brew. It’s fascinating to watch the interactions that occur on a daily basis. Tee, also, is weirdly mesmerized by those forbidden beans with their unidentifiable coating. She develops a ritual of hiding in the storeroom, opening the bag of beans, withdrawing one, examining it, tasting it, rolling it on her tongue, despising her inability to stop consuming them.

In later blogs I’ll try to explain how the Grinding Reality series idea came about. For now, I hope you enjoy reading The Forbidden Bean. In fact, I hope you become addicted to it.

I love hearing from readers.
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#The Forbidden Bean
#Grinding Reality
#AJ Tillock

The Forbidden Bean

THIS IS NOT A ROMANCE NOVEL! I feel I should state that clearly up front because I’ve been writing romance and women’s fiction for so long and that’s where my publishing career started. For the Barbara Meyers romance novel fans, there will be more of those, but this is something so completely different, I decided to write it under a pen name.
After years of working as a barista in a coffee store chain I decided I should be getting more out of the experience than all the free coffee I could consume along with my not very impressive paycheck. (An aside here, the health insurance and other benefits make it all worthwhile.)
I had noticed the urban fantasy section of my publisher’s web site was virtually wide open at the time (2008) and once I figured out what urban fantasy entailed I thought, “I can write that.” The Forbidden Bean isn’t quite right for them, however, and positive comments from other editors aside, no other publisher was willing to take a bite, or a sip as it were.
So, here we go again, as part of my grand indepent publishing experiment, with a ninety-nine cent price tag, The Forbidden Bean, the first book in the Grinding Reality series is now available on and will soon be available in iBookstore and on
Love the cover art? That’s the work of an amazing artist, Lindsey Beach.
Look for more about the creation of the cover and the book in later posts. But for now…I have to go put my apron on and create a few lattes.
Enjoy the power of the bean!
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