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


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Cooking up a Storey

by Donna George Storey

Write Like a Rock Star:
Making Magic on Stage, on the Page, and in the Kitchen

 

Cooking up a Storey by Donna George StoreyAt first glance they look like a plate of plain sugar cookies.  Granted the oval shape is unusual, and they are of a fancier design, two halves sandwiched together with red jam.  But is that reason enough to bypass the brownies, which look like they’re made from a mix, but are all the more reliable for it?  Yet, as you stand at the dessert buffet and ponder your choices, you realize there is something both appealing and intriguing about these small, faintly golden, obviously homemade treats.  So you pick one up and take a bite.

Your eyes widen and you make a small, involuntary sound of surprise.  The cookie seems to melt on your tongue in a burst of browned butter and Tahitian vanilla, spiked with the essence of sun-drenched raspberries.  You take another bite, smaller this time to make the pleasure last, and again there’s the explosion of flavor, the impossibly smooth texture, the concentration of smell, taste and touch on this one extraordinary experience happening in your mouth.  This is a cookie that will linger in your memory, and, if you happen to learn which party guest baked them, you will be eager to compliment her with glowing appreciation. 

Cookies and stories have very different ingredients, but whenever I sit down to write a new story, I nourish the hope that my readers will react in just this way to what I’ve created on the page.  (And, if you read my February installment of “Cooking Up a Storey,” Sharing Sweet Secrets, you’ll know that I gladly give out all my recipes.)  Of course, the magic doesn’t always happen, even with the same recipe, but in this month’s column, I’d like to offer some observations—and reassurance—about the ingredients that help all artists touch and please their audiences.

I came to these freshly baked insights through yet another indirect route:  attending middle school plays and music performances as a proud parent.  When we pay money to see an adult perform, we assume auditions and years of experience and some test of stage-worthiness and feel perfectly justified in bringing a critical eye and ear to the experience.  The audience at a middle school production, however, is almost solely family and friends, who lovingly excuse every mistake and applaud every courageous effort.  It’s a marvelous, uplifting and inclusive atmosphere, and I sometimes wonder what the world would be like if all creative effort was so enthusiastically welcomed. 

However, there is no question that some of the kids on stage have a certain presence that makes them stand out from the others, like a plate of home-crafted cookies mixed in with packaged sweets from Trader Joe’s (which sells very good factory-made cookies, but still).  And the one who captures your attention is not always the prettiest girl or the tallest, strongest boy.  She’s not necessarily the most technically accomplished musician or the kid who recites his lines without a single stumble.  Yet, although inexperienced and amateurs by definition, these young performers exude a vitality, even a radiance, that transcends the need for parental indulgence.  They are, simply, a lot of fun to watch. 

And when I see these kids fill a stage with their magic, I can’t help but think that I’d like the stories I write to have the same effect on my reader.

Of course, some might say that you’re either born with a rich voice, nimble fingers and a charismatic stage presence or you’re not, and there’s nothing you can do to change it.  Yet after watching a lot of these performances and paying close attention to what wows the audience, I’ve come up with a universal quality from which any artist can benefit. 

To me what distinguishes the cute kid playing guitar from the “rock star” is the sense that the performer is throwing her whole self into the endeavor.  There’s no giggling or self-consciousness.  She is passionate and fully present.  She totally believes in what she is doing.  She holds nothing back.  She’s genuinely enjoying herself.  And this, more than technical expertise, is what enchants an audience and allows us to go beyond the daily limitations of our lives and fully connect with the joy and energy of song and play.  I think we are sometimes misled by the media coverage of celebrities to believe that these people are famous because they are richer, more beautiful, and simply more well-known than we are.  But if you think about it, watching a person who was merely superior in every way would more likely elicit envy and despair.  In fact, what these performers offer us, at least when they are on the rise, is the projection of ourselves when we are most fully alive.

I believe erotic stories can do the very same thing.  Readers come to stories to live life more intensely and to escape the social expectations to be “cool” and dignified and consistent and respectable and all those other things we’d like people to think we are, but know inside we are not always.

So, fellow erotica writer, how can we give a rock star performance in our humble, yet popular genre?  First and foremost, believe in what you write.  If you’re cranking out erotica because it brings in a little money, but deep down you think it’s trash, go find another kind of writing you genuinely care about.  There are many other ways to show your full commitment and they all involve genuine caring and belief in your story.  Give your characters your full attention and respect as fellow human beings.  Allow them time to come alive for you in all their complexity.  Give your reader the gift of your best descriptions and your freshest metaphors.  Delve into the mysteries of sex that intrigue you in the deepest, darkest corners of your libidinous imagination.  Hold nothing back.  Write a story that teaches you something new about yourself, a story that makes you blush when you read it.

And then you will, by my definition, be an erotica rock star.

There’s no guarantee every story will touch every reader—erotica readers in particular often have particular buttons they want pushed.  But audiences want to be touched.  In the long run, they will respond to your passion and commitment and love for your art over any attempt to be cool and stylish and above messy emotion.  Best of all, there’s no way to lose, because this approach will nourish and nurture you as an artist and a person as well.

Well, all this talk of rockin’ and passion is making me hungry!  Perhaps it’s time for a cookie break?  Here is the recipe for the cookie I described at the beginning of this column, which takes a bit of commitment to make, but is guaranteed to wow your audience.


Spoon CookiesSpoon Cookies
from Gourmet (December 2005),
a Finnish recipe adapted by Cecilia Barbour
(Makes about 30-32 sandwich cookies)

1 cup (2 sticks) cold unsalted butter, cut into pieces
3/4 cup sugar
2 teaspoons vanilla
2 cups all purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/8 teaspoon salt, slightly rounded
2/3 cup fruit preserves (she prefers a mixture of cherry and strawberry)
A deep-bowled teaspoon (not a measuring spoon, use Grandma’s silver spoon)

To make dough:

--Whisk together flour, baking soda and salt in a small bowl.  Set aside.

--Fill the kitchen sink or a large bowl with about 2 inches of cold water.  Melt butter in a 2-to-3 quart heavy saucepan over moderate heat and cook, stirring occasionally, until butter turns golden with a nutlike fragrance and flecks on the bottom of the pan turn a rich caramel brown, 10 to 12 minutes.  Do not let it burn.  (Butter will initially foam, then dissipate.  A thicker foam will appear and cover the surface just before the butter begins to brown; stir more frequently toward end of cooking.) 

--Place pan in sink to stop cooking, then cool, stirring frequently, until butter starts to look opaque, about 4 minutes.  Remove pan from sink and stir in sugar and vanilla.

--Pour entire bowl of flour mixture into butter mixture and stir until dough forms.  Shape into a ball, wrap with wax paper, and let stand at cool room temperature 1 to 2 hours to allow flavors to develop.  (Do not let sit any longer, especially in a warm room as the dough rises too much).

To form and bake cookies

--Put oven rack in middle position and preheat oven to 325F.  Line two cookie sheets with parchment.

--Press a piece of dough into bowl of teaspoon, flattening top, then slide out and place, flat side down, on an ungreased baking sheet.  (Dough will feel crumbly, but will become cohesive when pressed/make spoonfuls medium full).  Continue forming cookies and arranging on sheet.  Bake until just pale golden, 8 to 15 minutes.  Cool cookies on sheet on rack for 5 minutes then transfer to rack with an offset spatula and cool completely, about 30 minutes.  The cookies will be tender until cool, so handle as little as possible.

To assemble cookies:

--While cookies cool, heat preserves in a small saucepan over low heat until just runny, then pour through a sieve into a small bowl, pressing hard on solids.  Pour back into pan and simmer 5-10 minutes to thicken.  Cool to lukewarm.

--Spread the flat side of a cookie with a thin layer of preserves, about a scant 1/2 teaspoon.  Sandwich with flat side of another cookie.  Continue with remaining cookies and preserves, then let stand until set, about 45 minutes.  Transfer cookies to airtight container and wait 2 days before eating.

--Dough can be made 12 hours before baking and chilled, covered.  Bring to room temperature to soften slightly before forming cookies, about 30 minutes.  Cookies keep in an airtight container at room temperature 2 weeks.

Donna George Storey
April 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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