How a Starbucks latte inspired my YA novel – Leora Krygier

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By Leora Krygier

It started with Starbucks – with a latte, or was it an iced tea? No matter, because it wasn’t what I was drinking, it was where I was. You know, Starbucks, that ubiquitous coffee chain on every two blocks of every major city, inside supermarkets and Target stores and at the bottom of freeway off-ramps.♥

It wasn’t the latte. It was the mermaid, lit up and floating above me, so calm, so Zen, so green. There she was – her mermaid tail wrapping her up in her own blanket, smiling down on her legions of java junkies and it made me first think about Starbuck, not the coffee place, but the character in the Herman Melville classic, Moby Dick.

Remember Moby Dick?

Maybe you actually plowed through it and all of its whale minutia in high school, or maybe you didn’t? Maybe you used Spark Notes or like many of us, just watched the old movie with Gregory Peck, but you know the story, I’m sure. Moby Dick – the story of a whale that wouldn’t bend to the will of obsessed Captain Ahab and heroic first mate Starbuck, who stood up to his captain.

So, I went home and dug out my old high school paperback copy of the book, and gave it a second chance to wow me. It took a long while and the wow was more like a very slow whisper in my ear. And while I was reading, the book fell apart and I had to tape up the spine.

But I kept coming back to the book and Starbucks, each time choosing a different location, hoping to find more inspiration, which didn’t quite manifest itself until one, triple-digit Los Angeles summer day. As I left one of those dull, inside-a-supermarket Starbucks, a tall guy with a Greenpeace T-shirt was standing outside, completely undaunted by the crushing San Fernando Valley heat. We talked a little about the heat wave, the environment, and then about whales, and I knew it. I had to write a novel that told a story about coincidence and fate, love and loss, Moby Dick and whales. All that. Whew.

It took a lot of lattes, and in full disclosure, also a steady stream of blueberry muffins and a couple of years until the story of Maddie and Aiden was distilled into the right brew. I became almost as obsessed as Captain Ahab himself, researching about endangered species, climate change and whale hunting in the frigid Southern Ocean. I learned a lot.

I also discovered that my character, Maddie, insisted on being a little bit like me – finding stories in the photographs I took each time I visited a Starbucks, and everywhere else, and in the little found objects that people left behind.

Now that my novel Keep Her is done, I still go to Starbucks. I order lattes, sometimes iced tea, and try very hard not to order blueberry muffins. And when I look up to the lit-up mermaid, she’s the same, smiling, and green, but often, in a certain light, I’m absolutely sure she’s winking at me.

Leora Krygier is the author of When She Sleeps (Toby Press), a New York Public Library Selection for Best Books for the Teen Age, She is also a former Los Angeles Superior Court judge and the author of Juvenile Court: A Judge’s Guide for Young Adults and their Parents (Scarecrow Press). She lives in Los Angeles with her husband. When she’s not writing, she loves to go to the beach, walk the Santa Monica Mountain trails, and snap lots and lots of photographs. Her new novel Keep Her is out now.

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