Doing Wrong to Get it Right: Feisty Characters, Dramatic Discoveries, and Outlaw Ice Cream Sandwiches


Ever the dreamer, I’d hoped that cooking up a second novel would be easier than writing my first, because, well, I could simply repeat what worked the first time, avoid the parts that didn’t, and sail smoothly onward to those most wonderful words for any novelist “The End.” Such were my fantasies, although I was also plagued by fears unique to the repeat offender, namely: What if I only have one novel in me?

The answer to that last question remains to be seen, but I’m far enough along on novel number two to have realized that writing novels is less like riding a bike—once you get the hang of it, it’s second nature—and more like a love affair. While the basic elements of a romantic relationship are always you and your beloved, it’s the unique chemistry between you that creates the sizzle. And of course, what really makes the juices flow when we give ourselves over to love affairs and novels alike is another question we can’t get out of our minds.

What’s going to happen next?

After months of planning, outlining, working up character profiles and starting a “discovery,” otherwise known as “first,” draft of my novel, my most important discovery is that even I, the author, have no idea where my story is going to take me next.

As I mentioned in last month’s column, my writer’s Voice has been urging me to take a more freewheeling approach than I did when I wrote my first novel, Amorous Woman. Instead of starting with chapter one and letting the story develop more or less as I intend for my reader to experience it, I’ve found myself jumping around to write particularly dramatic scenes that signal a significant shift in my heroine’s journey.

The difference in my experience of the process is illuminating. The relentless intensity of writing one “key scene”—as Robert J. Ray calls them in The Weekend Novelist: A Dynamic, 52-Week Program to Help You Produce a Novel One Weekend at a Time—then moving right on to another can be emotionally exhausting as well as exhilarating.

Perhaps more significantly, my characters are not only coming to life in a way they never did as I labored over their official profiles, they are talking back to me much sooner than they did the first time around. Instead of waiting a few polite months before giving me trouble, they’re immediately making me blush with their kinky, off-script behavior.

I remember well the first time a character in Amorous Woman, a debonair, middle-aged dentist named Dr. Shinohara, told me, “No go. I’m not doing what you planned for me. I don’t care if it messes up your precious outline, I’ve got to be me and no stinkin’ author is going to keep me from doing it my way.” Now I’ve always had a soft spot for rebels (and Frank Sinatra songs and The Treasure of the Sierra Madre), so I respected Dr. Shinohara for standing up to me. Unfortunately, being true to himself meant not having sex with my heroine, sure suicide for a character in an erotic novel. However, Dr. Shinohara’s principled nature impressed me so much that I let him stay on as flirtatious foreplay for another man’s amorous attentions. If reader response is any indication, the surprise of this departure from the genre’s cliché actually served my story well.

On the other hand, the characters in my new novel have been shameless from the start. I’ve tended to avoid the “I had the greatest sex of my life with someone I met two minutes ago” scenario in my erotic fiction, but these feisty folks have dispensed with any sort of courteous “let’s get to know each other first” interactions at all. Instead they’ve insisted I jump right into bed with them and indulge in libidinous behavior that pushes my own limits of propriety.

“Oh, my, isn’t what you’re doing a little bit…sick?” I ask them plaintively.

“And you call yourself an erotica writer?” They laugh and turn to each other, sweaty bodies pressed perilously close, an unspoken taunt hovering in the air: If you don’t have the guts to join us, then you’ll just have to watch us have fun without you.

Suffice to say, this “discovery draft” is uncovering a great deal about my characters’ erotic predilections that never made it to the relatively civilized character profile sheet. Characters who are bolder, braver, and badder than me and my well-intentioned outline can be a little scary. They also get my heart racing and my fingers flying over the keyboard. This is what you want when you write a novel, yet I still wonder if I’m doing it wrong. Maybe if I’d started on page one of chapter one, my characters would have been better behaved? Besides, what will my readers think of these darker and sometimes disturbing expressions of eros?

Audience response is the other element of unpredictability in the merry and often magical menage of writer-story-reader. Unless you’re Anais Nin, however, writing stories for the eyes and cock of one particular patron, there’s no way you can write to please a specific reader or a committee, even if such an intent made your story better—which the ubiquitous and spirited criticisms of any MFA writing workshop experience suggest is not the case.

In spite of the cacophony in my head—my wily writer’s Voice, my hypercritical editor’s voice, my irreverent characters saying “fuck you” with abandon—my shadowy reader remains mute. My only hope of pleasing readers at all is to please myself first.

I think I understand this most clearly when I roll out of bed after another imaginary threeway with my heroine and her beau of the moment, my cheeks flushed, my veins singing with that intoxicating post-orgasmic cocktail of endorphins and oxytocin. Because watching from the sidelines is definitely not as much fun as rolling around on the bed naked with an eager lover or two. Likewise, if I hold back and fake it, my readers will feel that I’m cheating them of genuine pleasure. If I give myself over to my story, heart, mind and libido, they’ll sense the authenticity and be more willing to yield their imaginations to the sex-crazed creations running wild in my brain.

Perhaps in writing, as in sex, you have to be a little “bad” to be good?

This month, in keeping with the theme of erotica outlaws breaking the rules with delicious consequences, I’m offering a recipe for homemade chocolate chip cookie ice cream sandwiches. Why is this relevant? Well, aren’t ice cream sandwiches something you’re supposed to buy from a store or an ice cream truck or cart? No humble home cook should be allowed to create such an intoxicating threesome of two sweet wafers snuggling close to a cold, voluptuous slab of America’s sexiest dessert. The naughty truth is that I’ve made these ice cream sandwiches a number of times and received a very enthusiastic response from my guests, especially on a hot August day.

And if you do decide to bake outside the lines of propriety, be sure to enjoy your homemade ice cream sandwiches shamelessly!

“Outlaw” Ice Cream Sandwiches

(Makes 12-13 ice cream sandwiches)
adapted from a recipe in the King Arthur Flour catalog

3/4 cup unsalted butter, melted
1 1/4 cups light brown sugar, firmly packed
1/4 cup light corn syrup
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
3/4 teaspoon baking powder
3/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
2 large eggs at room temperature
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 cup oatmeal, processed to powder in a food processor or blender
2 Tablespoons Signature Secrets Culinary Thickener (see note)
1 cup chopped, toasted nuts (optional)
2 cups semisweet chocolate chips

1/2 gallon of ice cream flavor of your choice or go wild and use different flavors

Note: Signature Secrets Culinary Thickener is available from King Arthur Flour and will keep the cookies moist and pliable even when frozen. You can make the cookies without it, but the texture will be crisper.

Preheat the oven to 350F. Lightly grease two cookie sheets or line them with parchment paper.

Beat the butter, sugar, and corn syrup until blended. Mix in the vanilla, baking power, salt, baking soda and eggs. Beat in the flours and thickener, then stir in nuts and chocolate chips. Drop one ice cream scoop-sized or jumbo cookie scoop-sized ball of dough onto a sheet as a test cookie and flatten slightly. Bake for 7-9 minutes or until light brown around the edges. If it’s spread more than you like, stir in another 1/4 cup flour into the rest of the dough before baking. Bake the remainder of the cookies six per sheet.

Cool the cookies on the pan for five minutes, then transfer to a rack to cool completely. If not making sandwiches that day, store cookies in an airtight tin. Soften ice and place a scoop in the middle of one cookie, flatten, then top with another cookie and gently press together. Place finished sandwiches on a cookie sheet and freeze until firm. Wrap in waxed paper or plastic wrap and then a ziplock bag to store.

Donna George Storey
August 2010

“Cooking up a Storey” © 2010 Donna George Storey. All rights reserved. Content may not be copied or used in whole or part without written permission from the author.

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