September 20, 2008 § 6 Comments
Leslie F. Miller author of the upcoming Let Me Eat Cake: A Celebration of Flour, Sugar, Butter, Eggs, Vanilla, Baking Powder, and a Pinch of Salt writes about writing her essay “Three Bites” in Brevity 28
What do you do? If you’re a plumber or a life insurance salesman or a retail sales clerk, sometimes folks will ask where you work and if you like it, depending on whether they care to get to know you or are just making small talk. If you answer that you’re a writer, though, you seem to be scrutinized. “A writer, eh? Well, what have you written?”
It’s not glamorous enough to write newsletters and ad copy. “Oh, that kind of writer.” And just watch their noses turn up, as if accosted by a foul odor, when you tell them you’re a poet. And if you write essays for literary magazines, forget about it. Brevity? You might as well be speaking dog. A writer can sometimes gain respect claiming to have written for local papers and glossies, but even then, people want to know the subject, whether they’ve read something you’ve written. Are writers more fascinating? Or do we have more to prove?
Until last year, that was my experience. Now I’ve written a book! So when people ask, I say, “I just finished a book about cake for Simon & Schuster that will be out April 14th. It’s already on Amazon.com!” With sound effects, you’d hear a bowling ball striking all ten pins with ferocity, the pins falling loudly and slowly.
Now, in their eyes, I’m even better than a writer. I’m a writer who bakes cake. I’m not going to challenge anyone’s political leanings, nor will I bore them with historical meanderings. I will simply make their mouths water. And in the months that follow, those people will send me emails asking me to recommend a bakery or if I have a recipe for something. I can. I do. And they will often ask me to bake—for their husband’s birthday, their parents’ anniversary. A literary acquaintance who knows me as a poet invited me to be a featured reader in her series. The theme is: writers whose day jobs conflict with their writing lives. When she asked me, later, if I would bake a cake for the final reading of the series, I realized she must think that I’m a baker. But I’m a writer. That is my day job.
All of the people I have told about the cake book—every one of them—must be under the impression that a nonfiction book about cake is a recipe book. What else could it possibly be? And when I turn down their offer of money to bake their fortieth birthday cakes because I kind of suck at baking for other people (my cakes taste good, but they are ugly), I see an awakening. “Well, if it’s not about baking cake,” they say slowly, thinking, thinking. “Then what is it about?”
My book, Let Me Eat Cake: A Celebration of Flour, Sugar, Butter, Eggs, Vanilla, Baking Powder, and a Pinch of Salt, is about eating cake.
Slowly, their lips turn upward, as if a whole new and delightful world has opened up to them. The best reaction of all came from an exchange in Desmond’s, an Irish pub on Park Avenue in Manhattan.
“About cake?” a London native with a cockney accent asked me, his head tilted like a dog who recognized “dinner.”
Yes. C-A-K-E cake.
“About making it?”
No, about eating it.
There was a brief pause while this new fact underwent rumination. “Well, all right then!” he said, even more pleased, and he bought me a Smithwick’s. (I like beer just a tad better than cake.)
My book began with a long essay. Its potential grew and took on many disparate layers, but eventually, with filling and frosting, it held together.
My Brevity essay is a couple of small slices, reshaped and whipped into a petit four, a taste of what’s to come.