Cori McCarthy’s debut YA novel, The Color of Rain, envisions a dystopic world that’s darker than most. Set on a brutally industrialized future Earth, whose population is being decimated by an Alzheimer’s-like disease, it tracks a young woman’s efforts to save her brother from the illness. Their only hope for survival lies in going off planet—and when the protagonist receives an offer of passage with a shady space captain, she decides that putting herself at his mercy is a risk she’s willing to take. Here’s Cori on her favorite place to write:
If Dunkin Donuts and Starbucks were to have a baby, that baby would be Michigan café chain Biggby Coffee. With the bright orange color scheme of Dunkin and Starbucks’s pseudo-European sizing, I find Biggby to be a little hipster and a lot blue-collar, with room for everyone—including this young adult author.
I would love to say that I write in a grey graveyard or at the old-wood desk I inherited from my mother, but I’ve found that cemeteries are only good for poetry and scheming walks. And my scroll-top desk, with its many nooks and drawers, is a lesson in distraction—especially considering its proximity to my eighteen-month-old. Thus, I find myself at my local coffee shop every morning, like so many writers.
Over the last two years, I have made a sort of a.m. home at Biggby, where I wedge myself in the corner and spread my notebooks and computer over two tables. It’s a terrible spot. It feels like the converging point of every air conditioning vent in the room, but I like a little discomfort as I write. More on that in a bit.
The best part of Biggy is that sporadically, the drip coffee choices include something called Michigan Cherry. I have nicknamed this coffee “the unicorn.” I never know when it will appear—but it’s seemingly always at the moment when fruit-delicious caffeine is a dire necessity.
So, imagine me typing. Shivering. Earbuds engaged, but no music playing. I use them to deter talkative strangers and to dull the chatter. Unless I’m editing, in which case I’m likely to have The Last of the Mohicans soundtrack on repeat. Nothing keeps me trekking like visions of Daniel Day-Lewis beating a path through the forest at breakneck speed.
Perhaps this is the best way to describe how I write: at a sprint. I type blindly—about a thousand words an hour, three to four hours every morning. I write so fast that I have to rewrite my manuscripts from scratch several times before they find their truest plots.
And perhaps this is why I enjoy a little misery in my work. Shivering keeps me tight and focused. Big hats, sunglasses and earbuds wall me into my story’s world while the rest of planet Earth trickles in for coffee, tea and Biggby’s specialty drinks, with their slightly bizarre surname of “Teddy Bear.” For example, “I’ll have a mocha teddy bear, please.”
I wrote my debut YA sci-fi novel, The Color of Rain, this way. Hard focused, with my fingers a little numb. I pressed myself into my arctic corner for a year, where the cold and discomfort of outer space always felt a little easier to imagine…
But this is not to say that Biggby isn’t an inviting place. Quite the opposite.
I moved to Michigan two years ago for my husband’s job. I knew no one and spent that first year by myself, typing Rain alone. But something magical happened since then: I’ve made friends. As I work on my new manuscript, I’m often joined by fellow writers. In fact, the first thing that I do every morning is drag a third table over to my usual two, creating what we affectionately call “mega table.”
It is a rare joy to work this way. Writing is often isolating—a lonely business operating in solitary headspace. But I’ve somehow found the kind of friends who have no problem when I look up from my screen and babble “Should I kill her best friend? I think I have to kill her best friend. I think I want to kill her best friend.”
We get fantastic looks from the surrounding tables.
Plus, it is always fun to take a break to debate the finer points of language. After all, which GRE words really are solid and expressive and which ones were just created for the GRE test? (Cacophony?! Seriously? I think racket will always triumph over a word that feels like a collapsing pile of tin cans. But then, maybe that’s why it’s a good word…hmmm.)
Beneath the plethora of orange Bs, unfortunate satellite radio, and smell of toasting bagels, I’ve found a Midwestern haven for writers. Particularly for this writer—and especially on a Michigan Cherry day.
Find out more about The Color of Rain or connect with Cori: