UF student turned author gains inspiration from area coffee shops


Published: Wednesday, January 23, 2013 at 4:59 p.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, January 23, 2013 at 4:59 p.m.

Nikolas Wong and his aunt May Leung are close. They share a sense of humor despite their 33-year age difference.

They joke about everything — even Leung’s cancer, which she has lived with for six years.

So when Wong decided to write a book on coffee shop observations, he dedicated his work to Leung, his mother’s sister.

“The Coffee House,” a self-published collection of short stories on Wong’s musings of coffee shop patrons, is available on Amazon.com for $10. A portion of the proceeds from the book’s sales will go to the American Cancer Society.

Wong is a 21-year-old criminology junior at the University of Florida. This is his first published book, the culmination of a love for writing that first won him recognition in 2001, when as a third-grader he won a young authors award for Miami-Dade County.

“The Coffee House” focuses on things he has seen in Gainesville and conversations he has had with friends in coffee shops around Miami.

“We’re able to laugh at so many things, so many topics. I find that so inspiring,” he said. That penchant for seeking the humor in life reminds him of his aunt, who lived a block away when he was growing up, he said.

In 2007, Leung went to a gastroenterologist because she wasn’t feeling well. She was diagnosed with colon cancer and rushed into emergency surgery.

“I was eating right, doing my Pilates, playing tennis twice a week,” said Leung, 54, who lives in Corinth, Miss. “I was in pretty good shape.”

Leung said she has tried to stay positive even though the diagnosis was grim. She has undergone four major surgeries, and she’s currently receiving chemotherapy treatment.

She said she has been known to joke about her condition.

“It’s not funny, but at the same time, you have to joke about it,” she said. “There’s just so much crying you can do.”

Her outlook left a mark on her nephew.

“He’s the only one (who) will laugh along with me as my sisters go, ‘Why are you laughing at that?’ ” Leung said. “It’s terrible.”

Wong said he started going to the Archer Road Starbucks to collect his thoughts and observe people when he transferred last fall to UF.

He said he wanted his book to re-create the mood of a coffee shop. Listening to soothing music and using imagery helped him, he said.

“Most of the time when I’m writing, I imagine myself playing the piano,” he said. “By doing that, I am able to capture that same mood in my words.”

“The Coffee House” starts off on a bitter note and ends sweetly, Wong said. The last story in the book is based on an encounter he had at Karma Cream on West University Avenue with a girl he’d like to get to know.

Wong said he would like to see the book sold in coffee shops one day and hopes it spreads the same positivity his aunt exudes.

“I can guarantee you there’s not another book like it,” he said. “It’s not about the money. I do it for love.”

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