Tripio The Novel

How I wrote my novel, and how I can help you write yours

      “I think I wrote Tripio in part to close the loop of “what if”?”  Those are my words from an email to Kevin Knox. I was thanking him for reading Tripio and providing the great blurb I used on the back cover.  The “what if?” refers to the proposition embedded in Tripio that Jay could have stayed at Starbucks, having been granted 268 shares of Starbucks Stock Options, and as of 2018 became a millionaire. A millionaire just by steaming milk. Of course, it is not quite that simple, as you will see when you read Tripio.

    There is so much truth in what I expressed to Kevin Knox in that email. I now find it odd that it had not really occurred to me consciously that that question is surely what helped generate the creation of Tripio.  I was tired of carrying “what if?” with me. Tired of replaying the decision to leave Starbucks. Tired of doing it every time I heard about Starbucks, saw a Starbucks location, cup or commercial.

    The days when I was contemplating leaving Starbucks were conflicting and confusing. My significant other and I wanted to raise a family of more than one, but not in a big city like Chicago. This was 1994 and as hard as it is to believe now there were not Starbucks everywhere. I knew that Starbucks was “blowing up”. I did not think, however, that Starbucks would blow up to the extent that they would have 3,600 locations in China as of today (read fast-they are building one there every 15 hours). About the clearest memory I have is of a 3 week long headache I had as I made the decision to leave.

   What if?  I would have a million dollars, all things being equal, and that would automatically make me happy. Isn’t that what everybody wants?  My life would have been so different. I would have a beach house on the ocean, cars, travel experiences and a secure financial future.


   So why didn’t I stay? Well, you will have to read Tripio to find that out. By saying that I am not merely trying to sell the book. I had to put that question to rest, just as I told Kevin Knox. The “what if?” question is better off in the pages of Tripio than relentlessly occupying my thoughts all these years later.

                                             “May I help who’s next?’

                   “Have a little faith baby, have a little faith.”  Oddball-Kelly’s Heroes

     I made it home Friday around five p.m. after a cold, physically tiring work week. As soon as possible, I took a soothing hot shower, in which I envisioned the work week literally being washed down the drain. Dried off, I opened my email. Good news! I have been accepted to appear on a coffee centered podcast out of Hawaii called, My Favorite Coffee Story. That is when they resumed the podcast after a break. This was, however, just what I needed to hear as the long week had worn me out. I took the news as a reward for the work I had done on Tripio all week, most of it before leaving for my job at 6:15 a.m.

    Yet, the podcast success meant more to me than a pat on my own now cleaned and dried back. I had a moment on Tuesday morning before I went to start that 12 hour day when I almost sent the original version of the podcast query. I had written it. I had revised it quickly one time. I had to get to work. But, if I sent this query now, in the dark and cold predawn hour, hope of its eventual success would get me through the long cold day on the job! I would get a “yes” and be one step closer to making Tripio a financial success!!  I will send it now and be on cloud nine all day at work! Good idea, I thought.

   But in that moment, I caught myself. This was how I used to think. This thinking was a carry over from my stress filled job search days. Days when I felt my family was in a state of financial stress. The job I had then was not cutting it. If I had a job, that is. Those days were hard and I don’t want to recall them here. But, I did send off countless resumes and applications in that mind frame of momentary hope. It was, unfortunately, a hope born of fear and anxiety. 

    Jobs were hard to come by during the “Great Recession”. I will never know for sure if those fear induced applications, resumes and cover letters did not work because I sent them off hastily. Looking back, all I am sure of was that I sent lots of them off just to give me a few moments of mental relief. This Tuesday morning there was enough of that emotional debris left in my head to make me want to click “send “on the Coffee Story podcast query.

   Fortunately there was also a newer, stronger recognition from me that morning.  I knew what I was doing. I was going to send a fear based query, just like the good old days when fear ruled my mind. Well, these days fear is my bitch. I did not click send. I went off to work.  I then spent Wednesday and Thursday mornings reviewing and enhancing the Coffee Story query and sent it Thursday evening. Yesterday, I received tangible positive acknowledgement that I had learned something. “Coffee Story” had like the query and said yes. 

   The decision to wait and go to work on Tuesday without the fear based hope that I’d be on a podcast promoting Tripio by lunchtime was a better one than clicking send on a poorly constructed query letter. It reflected a change in me from one of a fear based mentality to one of confidence and belief. Over the last few years, I have learned to take Oddball’s advice and have a little faith, baby.

                                          May I help who’s next?”

 I spent yesterday doing lots of laundry, food preparation and watching sports on TV. In and around these day to day activities I looked through some old journals (Sketchbooks of the Mind) for topics for posts. Luckily for you I found quite an interesting reference to “my Starbucks story”. 

    The excerpt I found was written in January 2016 but I did not yet note the exact date of every entry as I do now. The rest of this SotM shows me that I was applying the wisdoms and practices I had been reading and researching since getting out of rehab a few years earlier. The dream excerpt is from an entry called “Detecting Dream” and follows:

     “On the bookshelves are books and such and also old Starbucks paraphernalia and maps and facts. The woman, a mother, explains that her daughter is a District Manager in Pittsburgh. I tell her, in turn, my Starbucks story

     I was studying dreams and doing some dream interpretation at that time. Dream interpretation can take some time and can be a tedious process. However, I have also found it to be very rewarding and enlightening. After all, one is tapping into your own subconscious mind as it is free from the burdens of physicality (sorry football broadcasters if I use this word correctly). In fact, the following year I compiled an entire separate dream journal and found it to be a rewarding use of my time.

     But in this case, I did not interpret this dream. I did not follow up on searching for any meaning. I simply recorded it and moved on. Oddly enough the very next dream I had was noted and I recorded an interpretation of it.

     I wish this post could motive a reader with something as simple as “Dreams do come true!” or “Follow your dreams!” Well, it does not. The entries that followed regarding writing projects I was contemplating were on projects that did not come to be. They did not mention starting a novel about my days at Starbucks.

     I might have to sleep on that one….

                                                         “May I help who’s next?”

I could not believe what I had just seen. This was not the topic I was going to write about today. At some point, yes, I was going to let you know how my request for a blurb from Starbucks Founder, CEO and my old boss Howard Schultz, went. A yes, no, or maybe. However, I discovered while I was looking for his contact info that he has beaten me to the punch and written his own book ( some of which covers the early days of Starbucks, much like Tripio. It is due out before mine, but Howard’s book “weaves two parallel narratives,” not three like Tripio. So, my book is better as anyone can plainly see. By all means, buy both and compare. In fact, I think it would be unfair to Howard’s book if you don’t buy mine after you buy his. Unfair because my book is the perfect companion to his. It was meant to be, just like my neighbor coming over yesterday to borrow my hammer, remember?

Meant to be? Howard Schultz and Jerry VanSchaik were meant to have their books come out as companion pieces? Of course: “There are no accidents” (Deepak Chopra)

Photo credit:

I can’t give away the end of Tripio. Why give it away here and now? This blog is nothing more than a series of commercials designed to generate interest in selling Tripio to anyone who wants a copy, or two, or 20. Seriously though, this blog, and I do mean this, hopefully helps someone find their own unique voice on their own unique journey to creating their own unique novel. Which is a long winded way of saying “Pay attention to me and what I am saying here and going to say here on this blog and it will help you become a writer, or at least, a better one.” You might be asking yourself, “Who is this guy?” No one you have heard of. But, I know what worked for me and I hope that some of what I cover will help you.

So, it is agreed that I am not giving the end of Tripio away. Of course, there are really three endings to Tripio, since there are three story lines. I wrote all three of them and the story line I call “the Starbucks growth narrative” is intertwined and alongside the other two plotlines of Tripio. The reason I call our books companion pieces is that, from the description of Howard’s book, it looks like his book touches on subjects like employee stock options and healthcare for nearly all employees. These are also the things I write about in Tripio because I experienced both first hand. It is a barista-in-the-trenches look at what Howard covers in his book, as the man giving the orders. So, to have both perspectives will make each book, when read, a deeper and more meaningful experience.  Plus, I need the money more than Howard.

“May I help who’s next?”

                       Whitman. Twain. Melville. VanSchaik. (I’m the tan one)

        Yes, that is a list of a few of America’s greatest writers. But it means something else to me.

     You see, every summer for the past five years, I’ve managed to take a short mid year holiday at a rental house on the Ohio River. I discovered these rentals when I was hoping to escape the trials and turmoil surrounding my family those five years ago. Since that first visit the mid summer trip to the holiday rental house has become many things.

   It is still that getaway along the banks of the Ohio River. It is confirmation that my family and I are still here, surviving and even thriving for another year. It is the place that confirms I have worked hard all year and earned this time off. It also gives us the place to tell other folks we go “every  year”, which presents to those folks a picture of stability in our lives. It is also simply fun to physically remove oneself from day to day life. Speaking for myself, I have also found spiritual renewal on the banks of the Ohio River. I will, can and must return every year. 

     As we have visited the rental house each year, we have created our own traditions: a visit to the “swimmin’ hole not far away, a trip to Tell City Pretzels, floating on innertubes off the dock.

    A tradition of mine is  always bringing a book to read. Not just any type of book. One that is as American as the Ohio River, corn fields and small towns. So, I started with Huckleberry Finn. Last year it rained so I was able to read a good deal of Moby Dick. I most often buy a copy of the book I have chosen second hand, so I can leave it for the rental’s library- a wicker basket on the floor in the living room.

      This year since tradition and my future place in American Letters demands, I will leave a copy of Tripio in that wicker basket on the floor of the rental on the river.

                                                        May I help who’s next?

      This week was a momentous one on the journey to publish Tripio. The last post covered the final cover acquisition and transfer. That done, a few days later, my tech support dropped by and put Tripio in line to be approved for presale by Amazon. 

    I rose this morning with the expectation of working most all the weekend on Tripio. This time last year I was  actually writing the novel. About the only similarity I see in the years is that the weather is cold, grey and unappealing. It is the kind of weather that uncovers an ugly midwestern day outside. No real motivation to take part that, hence it is a good weekend to stay in and write. No ,wait, I can’t. That was last winter.

       I have already created a full to-do list for this weekend. None of it involves actual writing, however.

      Hey, I am not bitching at all. I voluntarily took on publishing Tripio myself (with the help of dozens of others) and all the work that goes with that. I love having a to-do list and conquering it. That is part of the challenge and fun of it all.

   Yet, I was a double espresso and regular cup of coffee into my to-do list and I wasn’t feeling it. A moment ago, I was standing in my kitchen pouring drip cup number two into my mug, when a line from the Big Lebowski popped into my head… “All the dude ever wanted was his rug back.” That line captured what I was feeling this morning about writing Tripio. All I ever wanted was to write that book.


    I wrote it and miss writing it now. During that creative process I found strength in myself I never knew I had. With assistance from therapy, metaphysics, yoga and a lot more, I was able to unpack and discard things I no longer needed to carry. I also reached out of my vast yet tiny comfort zone, found fears there and kicked their asses. Writing Tripio has helped me in concrete ways as well. At work for example, I am now described as “most improved “and  “content”. That is, I believe, a byproduct of undertaking the challenge of writing Tripio.

   Nobody put a gun to my head and made me attempt to publish and sell Tripio. In fact, I may be undergoing a sort of postpartum separation period now as Tripio heads out to be a mere commodity and transaction. The Dude’s rug was no flying carpet. Yet Tripio took me places and continues to do so. But, for me the comparison holds up because, like the Dude and his rug, Tripio really tied my life together.

                                                “May I help who’s next?”

           I few nights ago I watched “I’m Not in it For My Health” which is a documentary on Levon Helm. I had it around for a while on loan from the library and had  put off watching it because I knew that Levon had died in 2012 and the documentary would likely conclude with Levon’s last days or even his death. The documentary was worth watching and so I won’t give away the exact ending.             

   Earlier today my tech support and I worked together to finalize the specifications for the paperback edition of Tripio. The cover measurements were slightly off and I added some “front matter” to the manuscript. We uploaded both several times. Each time they were rejected, we tried again. On the second try for the cover and the fourth for the manuscript  the “upload successful” notice appeared on my laptop screen. Both were now approved for sale. It was done. I ordered five proof copies so soon I could physically hold Tripio as a book in my own hands. They won’t arrive for a week or so. Barring any notice from Amazon, Tripio will go on sale on April 11th and everything will be different. Except it doesn’t quite feel that way.

     After we got our work done, my tech support (my second oldest son, in real life) and I talked and caught up for an hour. He then went off into his weekend. I spent the next couple hours in the kitchen preparing tonight’s dinner and did a few chores for the coming week : washed the dishes, swept the floor and read a couple texts from two of my other adult children …Some day, everything’s going to be different.

    If you don’t recognize the last line in the paragraph, it appears more famously in the Band’s version of Bob Dylan’s “When I Paint my Masterpiece”. I always liked that song and have favored the ones Levon sang from the Band’s catalogue. I am not labeling Tripio as a masterpiece. Though it would be cowardly not to admit that I have not had daydreams of monetary success and critical acclaim for my book.

   All that being said I am a little too long in the tooth to call this “upload successful, click to send” exercise a confirmation that I have, after nearly two years, finished painting my masterpiece. So I know Levon won’t  mind too much if I don’t feel like celebrating just yet. As I noted earlier the proof copies will arrive in several days. Maybe things will start to be different when finally get to hold “my masterpiece.”

                                         “May I help who’s next?”

  When my sons were much younger they loved dinosaurs, specifically the animated series of movies starring a group of singing dinosaurs called Land before Time. Now they are young men out on their own with jobs, adult responsibility and are making their way in this land. I found singing dinosaurs irresistible too, so I watched the movies with them on VHS.  At this point in my life I had just left a career at Starbuck behind. Why? Read Tripio for more on that. For today’s post I am focussing on the time when most of the country was still living in an era I have long referred to as “The Land before Starbucks”.  

   I have recently discovered Reddit. There is a dinosaur joke in there somewhere. I have been looking over their r/Starbucks page to see what the barista of today is doing, as opposed to the barista of Jay’s day in Tripio. The first thing I noticed is that today’s barista is as good with their camera as they are with the steaming wand.

   Many of those baristas are close to the same age as my sons. So, as I looked over the photo posts I wondered if and what they know of The Land Before Starbucks. What was this place? Does it occur to them that such a place existed?

   In Tripio, Jay’s prehistoric landscape shared much with the snapchatted one in which the modern barista roams. Tripio is three plots and narratives alongside and intertwined with each other. The Starbucks growth narrative is told from a barista’s perspective. Jay starts out as a barista and even when promoted up the chain to store manager, Jay is a barista at heart. After being promoted Jay still takes pride in his performance on the espresso bar at his current store on Diversey in Chicago’s Lakeview neighborhood. He realizes that he must display mastery of the espresso  bar for the customers and store functionality, but mostly to”earn the respect of everyone he works with.”

  Removing the camera phone from the picture, I see more similarities than differences to Jay’s barista days and those reflected on the Reddit posts. It was tough in the trenches for Jay in early 90’s in Chicago and it is tough in the Starbucks trenches today. There is no hiding in a cubicle, breaks are hard to come by when it’s busy and you are always on stage and always being judged by the incredibly fickle and self centered human race. In short, Jay may have been working in the Starbucks Jurassic Era and the Reddit Baristas are in the modern day, but the job of barista is not easy.  And it never was.

    I hope that when this generation of baristas find its way to reading Tripio they will pull a couple twenty second shots for Jay and his fellow dinosaurs. Because, those dinosaurs helped create the Land of Starbucks and thanks to them, today’s barista can now post  proof of its existence on Reddit.

                                      “May I help who’s next”

  I woke up refreshed this morning after a surprisingly good night’s rest. I say surprising because I did not sleep in my own bed but slept on a roll out couch at my mom’s condo. I hear most people do not sleep well out of their routine and I am no exception.

   I am up, clear headed and at the laptop with a cup of coffee at hand. All routine except the coffee was brewed, extracted and produced using a percolator.

    I must say the coffee it made isn’t bad. Then again, I am over two decades removed from Starbucks induced coffee snobbery. I left that behind when changing diapers became more of a priority than cleaning the grinds out of a French Press pot.

   In Tripio, Jay and Kati take a train trip from Chicago to Charleston, IL to meet Kati’s parents. Kati wants to “convert her parents to Cosmodemonic coffee but they still have an old percolator”, meaning that it will be a tough to get these older folks who use a percolator, to like the Full-City roast used by Kati and Jay’s employer. Could you search “Full City Roast” on your phone for me? I’m not sure it that term is used anymore. Thanks.

     Now back to me. My daughter and I drove two hours yesterday to visit my mom. As luck would have it, there was Starbucks about half way there, so we stopped. That was yesterday. However, Tripio takes place in 1992 when there were only Starbucks locations in the Pacific Northwest and Chicago. It was not possible for Jay and Kati to stop at Starbucks once they left Chicago. They had to bring the coffee with them. I know that is hard to believe these days when having a Starbucks on the way to almost anywhere is not just a hope or wish but an expectation, no matter how long or short the trip.

   Early in Tripio, Jay is taking a shorter trip, this time he is leaving his Starbucks after a shift and taking the bus home. He notes that “it was becoming a common occurrence for the other passengers sitting near me to look around to identify the source of the coffee smell”. Jay does not like to wear his uniform on the way home and as such does not volunteer that he is the one who reeks of coffee. Jay usually had had enough of coffee for the day and preferred to spend the bus trip back to his apartment with “a book to read or my current journal

   In the early 90s when I took any trip to anywhere from Chicago I always brought Starbucks, whole bean or ground, as a gift to my host. Weeks before the trip I would begin to accumulate the stash using my free ½ pound of marked out coffee we received each week. I would also collect small amounts of  an expired varietal in advance of the trip and freeze them until I was ready to take off. I would also ask a fellow barista if I could use their mark out for the week. Sometimes the suitcase I traveled with had more bags of coffee than articles of clothing. I fancied myself as the “Johnny Appleseed of good coffee” spreading seeds of wonderful Full City roast Starbucks coffee across the land.

               I wonder if one of the seeds I planted grew the Starbucks my daugher and I stopped at yesterday?

May I help who’s next?                               

    Writing is not easy. It is not as easy as it sounds to sit down and write a good story. The relative difficulty of any writing effort takes a giant step into the Terrordome (apologies to PE) when you think of your creation being read by real living, breathing, thinking people.

    In blog #12 I wrote about the trip I took with my daughter to Chicago. Part of the reason we took the trip was to do research  for Tripio and part of it was simply to have fun. My daughter was going to college in a month so we combined the scouting of Starbucks locations used in Tripio with long strolls around Lakeview and Wrigleyville. One stop was the Town Hall Pub on Halsted,

     She had been there without me about a year ago, getting inside because she looks older than she is, and the same show happened to be playing the night we were there. She wanted to go back and described the premise of the show to me : “An improv comedy team goes on stage and takes turns reading those personal ads that start something like Dear Red line princess, I saw you last Friday morning as you took your seat and our eyes briefly held each other’s…’

                                           [[File:Chicago top down view.png|Chicago top down view]]

    In Tripio, Jay has three life altering scenarios developing during the summer of 1992. These three plots lines interact to create Tripio. A reflecting and reinforcing set of decisions Jay has to make is to choose one of three buses to take to his Starbucks work location. One runs up and down Clark, one up and down Broadway and the other used Halsted. These three thoroughfares are the backdrops for many scenes and setting of Tripio. My daughter and I had already walked past many landmarks used in Tripio : The Duke of Perth, Bento’s and even my old apartment. So it was no surprise that as we sat down for the comedic interpretation of the personal ads, my mind was still on Tripio.

   Welcome to the Terrordome, minus Chuck and Flava. Instead, this Terrordome featured Jay and Kati and anyone with dialogue in Tripio. Chicago is known for its improv comedy and the team on stage did not disappoint. The reading of the personal ads received big laughs from the audience, my daughter and me included. Then about halfway through, for no apparent reason, I imagined that a male  improv team member was reading excerpts from Tripio aloud. And the laughter kept coming! The audience laughed even louder as he improved words, sentences and scenes from Tripio that were not meant to be funny!

    “Store meeting Sunday at 7. Everyone must be here. You will be paid. Mark”, initiated deafening laughter from the audience.

     “I would have a chance to meet him and demonstrate what I know.”-drinks spitting out of the mouths of the audience because it’s so damn funny!

    This went on for a few more skits. I did, however, collect my sanity somewhere along the way and enjoyed the balance of the show. I was helped by the proximity of my daughter and the desire to have a good memory of our trip together before she left for college.    If lightning strikes and Tripio reaches a big enough audience that I have to go out and do readings from it (go ahead and laugh here), it is possible that those readings would occur in Chicago where Tripio takes place. If that dream scenario takes place, I promise to read anywhere in Chicago….except the Town Hall Pub.

May I help who’s next?