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Cooking Up A Storey
by Donna George Storey
The Path to Publication
Cookies, Sex, Secrets
Write Like a Rock Star
The Perils of Publication
Eternal Inspiration
Creating Pure Pleasure
Making Magic with Words


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by William Gaius
Marketing Self-Published Books
The Art & Science of Pseudonyms


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What the Heck are Bits?
HTML 101: Web Basics
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App-y Together: Mobile Madness
The Scary Future


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by Ashley Lister
Old Love Letters
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Cooking up a Storey

by Donna George Storey

The Perils of Publication:
The Writer's Pursuit of Validation, Veneration, and Venetians

 

Cooking up a Storey by Donna George StoreyThe theme of this year’s Cooking Up a Storey is sharing my secret recipes for writing and cookies, and I’m happy to pass along all that I’ve learned so far in my dabblings in each of these fine arts.  Of course, no words of wisdom can substitute for the deep-rooted knowledge that comes from personal experience.  When I look back at myself as a novice writer and baker, I probably wouldn’t have been able to appreciate, or even fully understand, my battle-scarred insights about writing, publishing, and crafting cookies.  I’d simply have wanted to dive in and try it my own way.

Still, even as a beginner, I did find inspiration and consolation from the advice of more experienced writers.  I wasn’t sure if I’d ever be published or face the luxurious dilemma of a contract negotiation with a publisher, but the fact that other writers had faced challenges and rejections made me feel less alone.  While every writer’s path will be different in the details, the questions we ask as writers are common to us all.

Of course an exhaustive list would take up many columns, so I’ll skip right to the question at the core of the writer’s identity:  what is a “real” writer and who decides when you achieve this venerable status?  In an earlier column, I answered this question with the democratic assertion that a real writer is simply someone willing to put in the time to shape a raw first draft into a story where every image, scene and word has purpose and emotional power.  I still believe this, but let’s be honest.  The majority of people believe that only publication marks the difference between a real writer and a wannabe. 

Yet once you’ve published one story or even a bestselling novel, another question immediately arises:  what next?  Is there a magic number of publications to secure your place as a real writer?  One?  Twenty?  A few hundred?  Some would argue income is a key factor—can you support yourself on your writing and how quickly does your agent return your calls, as in, are you supporting her, too?  Another measure is critical acclaim, gushing reviews in the ever-dwindling book review sections of newspapers or the award of an major literary prize.  Sself-publishing didn’t used to count, but what about now?  Some selfpublished authors have thousands of fans and make more money than writers who succeeded by the traditional measure, with an agent and a boilerplate contract from the Big Five.

Even writers who’ve achieved the status of legends are not always secure.  I’ll never forget an essay by John Updike, wherein he complained that his sexy novels were no longer dominating the racks in airport book stores as they once did in the 1960s and 1970s.  Hardly a situation deserving of our deepest sympathy, and yet I’m sure Updike’s sense of loss at his faded glory was no less authentic than the twist in the gut I get from a rejection letter.  For any writer, famous or humble, there will never be enough books, acclaim and reader adoration to fill that insatiable hole of self-doubt. 

Add to that another troubling fact about seeking validation in the publishing world—success does not always go hand in hand with quality.  Apparently at some point in my childhood, I got the idea that editors choose the highest quality of writing at their disposal and thus the published oeuvre represents the finest written work of our culture.  I must still believe this deep in my heart, because I keep getting disappointed by contemporary fiction.  If “publishable” doesn’t mean “smart, thought-provoking, fresh and just plain good,” then does that standard have any value at all, for me at least?  But let’s say you aren’t beguiled by that foolish fantasy of Great Literature, you only care about what sells.  Even that is maddeningly unpredictable, in spite of extensive market research and identifiable formulas for what the book-buying public craves.

Finally, although few writers of fiction attain the level of fame that results in mobs of fans, celebrity is the highest form of validation our culture bestows.  Unfortunately, a glance at the magazines and tabloids at the check-out stand reveals the hazards of that prize.  Extravagant success appears to be toxic to one’s work, one’s personal life and most assuredly of all, one’s sense of perspective.  As the image or “brand” of the celebrity becomes more profitable, their genuine self seems to disappear into a sinkhole of obligations and expectations.  Besides, do you really want the world caring deeply about how much you weigh?

Don’t worry, I’m not going to suggest that you prove your superior worth as an artist by rising above the need for any external validation whatsoever.  I wish I could do that myself, but I know better.  What I do propose, however, is to take a good hard look at your own version of the myths of what it means to be a “real” writer.  Be honest, no one’s watching.  Here in my hippie part of the world, it would be considered terribly crass to admit that supporting yourself with your writing is an abiding goal.   But for me that is a dividing line between writing as a sideline and a real career.  (My income places me squarely in the “sideline” category.)  Only by taking a good hard look at the dreams and assumptions we’ve cherished, probably since childhood, can we deconstruct our long-held fantasies of The Writer and come to a more empowered perspective.  I certainly like to think I’m a cynical sophisticate when it comes to the business side of writing.  On an intellectual level, I firmly believe all the pageantry of publishing—agents, editors, critics, prizes--validates nothing but itself.  Yet every time I hear of a great publishing “success” story (oh, say E.L. James, for example), I feel the emotional tug of ancient, magical beliefs about the power of the writer’s voice to define our culture.  It’s as if female sexual curiosity and a desire to push the limits sensually didn’t exist before Fifty Shades of Grey.

Knowledge brings freedom, so every now and then, when I’m feeling unsure, I make a cup of tea, sit on the deck to enjoy the sunset, and take a good long look at all the images that arise when I think of a Real Writer Who’s Made It Big.  How rich is she?  (Very).  How many bookshelves are adorned by her tomes?   (Countless).  How many hard-nosed critics have been softened by her luminous prose?  How many of her novels have been adapted to the screen?  (A key statistic because HBO and movie adaptations are what really count these days).

Interestingly enough, I soon find myself tiring of these naive beliefs and begin to focus on what this blessed creature will think as she lies on her deathbed and considers her brilliant career.  Surely the only thing any real writer would care about is that at least some of her stories had made her readers lives richer, deeper, and sweeter if only for a few moments.  That perhaps a character, a scene or an image lingered in their minds and inspired them to say, “ah, that’s true, that’s good.”  Suddenly I realize that it is within my power to try to write a story that will touch even one reader in that way right now

So I get up, go to my computer, and get to work.

Although this exercise doesn’t cure my doubts forever, it works every time.  The craving for external validation will always be there, but the more we are aware of our own misguided expectations and assumptions, the easier it will be to get back to the writing and actually be a real writer.

Writing involves complex negotiations between our rich inner lives and the cold, cruel marketplace, but when we prevail, the rewards are sweet.  It’s fitting then that I share my most complicated cookie recipe with you this month.  They’re called Venetians, also known as “rainbow cookies.”  I first tasted these cookies when an old friend from middle school sent me a box of homemade Christmas cookies over twenty years ago.  I was enchanted by the miniature squares, layers of thin almond cake filled with apricot jam and glazed with chocolate.  Later I saw similar cookies in Italian bakeries, but the commercial version was never as tender and flavorful as my friend’s recipe.  Now Venetians are a staple of my winter solstice cookie boxes, and my family has chosen them as one of the top three varieties of cookie that I must never stop baking.  Make that never ever.

Like writing, baking these cookies requires time, patience, skill, and nerve (plus you have to invest in three 13-by-9-inch baking pans which struck me as the height of indulgence), but oh do these elegant little gems delight young and old alike.  In the spirit of sharing secrets, I’ve provided very detailed baking and assembling instructions based on years of missteps. Venetians are not for the faint-of-heart baker, but if you dare to take this artistic challenge, your courage will be richly rewarded.


Venetians
(makes about 50 bite-size cookies)

1 can (8 ounces) almond paste*                 10 drops green food coloring
1 1/2 cups (3 sticks) butter, softened        8 drops red food coloring
1 cup granulated sugar                               1 jar (12 oz.) apricot preserves**
4 eggs, separated                                         4-ounce semisweet
1 teaspoon almond extract                         chocolate bar, chopped fine
2 cups sifted all-purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon salt

Venetians CookiesMeasure waxed paper to line the bottom of three 13x9x2 inch pans.  Butter the pan, then put in the waxed paper.  Grease again, making sure to butter about one-half inch up the sides.  Separate eggs while cold and allow to sit at room temperature for about half an hour.

Whirl the almond paste in food processor with a few tablespoons of the sugar (or if you don’t have a food processor, break it up into small pieces with a fork).  Cream the butter in a mixing bowl, slowly add the rest of the sugar and beat until fluffy.  Add the egg yolks and almond extract.  Beat with electric mixer until light and fluffy, about 5 minutes.  Stir in the flour and salt.

Beat egg whites in a separate bowl with electric mixer until stiff peaks form.  With a wooden spoon, stir into the almond mixture using a turning motion similar to folding.

If you have a kitchen scale, weigh the batter (subtracting the weight of the bowl), divide by three and remove a third of batter into two other bowls.  Otherwise, measure out 1 1/2 cups batter and spread it evenly in one of the prepared pans.  I distribute the batter with a tablespoon then smooth it with an offset spatula.  Rap the pan on the table a few times, as air pockets can be a problem.  Remove another 1 1/2 cups batter to a separate bowl and add the green food coloring; spread evenly in the second prepared pan.  Add red food coloring to the remaining batter and spread in the last pan.

Bake the green layer first in a preheated 350 degree oven for about 13-14 minutes or just until edges are golden brown and the cake springs back when touched lightly with a finger.  Rotate the pan after 7 minutes.  Do not overcook.  Cakes will be about 1/4 inch thick.  Next bake the yellow and pink layers together, switch and rotate pans after 7 minutes.  Bake the yellow layer 1 minute longer than the pink as it tends to be softer.

After removing pans from the oven, allow each layer to cool for five minutes.  Run a knife or spatula around the edges and turn over onto parchment.  Turn the green layer over directly onto jelly roll pan lined with parchment paper.  For yellow and pink layers, place some parchment over the bottom of the empty baking pan so that it covers the sides and you can grip it while you lower it over the baked layer without the parchment folding under.  Turn the pan over so that it rests on the bottom of the empty pan.  Tap the bottom of the pan lightly and raise it slowly to release the layer.  Repeat with next pan.  This makes it easier to slide the layers onto each other.  Remove wax paper from bottoms, if necessary.  Cool thoroughly.

Heat the apricot preserves gently; strain through a wire sieve into a glass measuring cup.  Spread 1/2 of the warm preserves over green layer to the edges.  Trim the parchment to the edge of the layers with scissors and run a sharp knife under the yellow layer to loosen it from parchment and then turn the yellow layer over on top of the green; spread with remaining apricot preserves.  Loosen the pink layer with the flat of the knife and slide it, right side up, onto the yellow layer.

Cover the stacked layers with lightly buttered waxed paper, then cover with foil, pinching it over the edges to cover completely.  Weigh down the layers with a large wooden cutting board topped with a heavy saucepan lid.  Place in the refrigerator overnight.

The next day, take the layers out of the refrigerator for at least 30 minutes to an hour to bring to room temperature (otherwise the chocolate will harden too quickly and become brittle).  Melt chopped chocolate over hot water in a bowl or double boiler.  Spread melted chocolate to the edges of the cake with an offset spatula, covering about 1/5 of the cake at a time.  Let dry 30 minutes, but no longer as it will be more difficult to cut.  Trim about ¼” of the edges of the cake with a long, sharp knife.  (The edges are great to snack on).  Cut into 1 inch squares.  As the knife nears the end of the cake, gently use your fingers to keep the layers in place or they will slide.

These cookies will keep in a single layer in an airtight container for about a week.

*Love ‘n’ Bake is my favorite almond paste and notably superior in quality
**Bonne Maman apricot preserves are a good consistency for this recipe

Donna George Storey
July 2012


Contact Donna at Donna George Storey or at Sex Food And Writing
Donna is Cooking up a Storey in ERWA 2012 Archive

______
"Cooking up a Storey" © 2012 Donna George Storey. All rights reserved. Content may not be copied or used in whole or part without written

About the Author:† Donna George Storey taught English in Japan and Japanese in the United States and has finally found the work of her dreams writing erotica. If you're really nice, she'll bake you a batch of her Venetian cookies, with layers of marzipan, jam and chocolate, that take a ridiculous amount of time to make and are (almost) better than sex. Her work has been published in dozens of journals and anthologies including Clean Sheets, Fishnet, Best American Erotica, Best Women's Erotica and Mammoth Book of Best New Erotica.
Her first novel, Amorous Woman-a semi-autobiographical tale of an American woman's love affair with Japan, Japanese food and lots of sexy men and women along the way-was published by Neon/Orion. It's currently available at Amazon and Amazon UK, and from her web site, DonnaGeorgeStorey.com.
For more of her musings on sensual pleasure and creativity stop by her blog:  Sex, Food and Writing. You can also take a quick trip to Japan with Donna's provocative Amorous Woman book trailer at: www.youtube.com



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