Week #6 Showtime
Or: The Final Hour
We’ve spent the last three months planning and practicing a dinner for four unknown guests and writing a short story that has swelled to way more than flash fiction proportions. Together we had an idea, brainstormed and arranged the sequence of events. We’ve suffered the highs and lows of the creative process. We have three courses; a beginning, a middle and an end. Now it’s showtime.
It’s six-forty-five. The stage and the table are set. Car tires crunch in the driveway. I can see the headlights through fogged-up windows. Warm, inviting, savory smells, sweetened with cinnamon and spice swirl in the steam over the stove. Ice cubes clink as they drop into frosted glasses. I burn my arm as I pull the ginger cake from the oven. And I’m still stirring the pots, watching every detail in case something goes wrong because it still can. If I let my guard down now, overlook one detail, the outcome could be crushing for a perfectionist like me.
I run through my plan again–yes, I’m admitting how many times now. I believe it’s this sort of double-, triple-, and quadruple-checking that makes the difference between a good dinner and a great dinner. The difference between a good story and a great story.
In order for me to be at ease enough to receive guests or to write that query letter and press send, I need diligence in this final phase. For me, editing and proofreading is where the joking around stops. I like to be creative just like the next guy and I love to see what liberties other writers take with sentence structure, punctuation, use of commas and so on. But now I need some discipline, so I refer back to the one source I swear by in the editing process. The Chicago Manual of Style.
It is a simple handbook of simple rules. Ok, not always so simple. Because I tend to be chaotic, I try to follow these guidelines to the best of my ability. It is at the same time a challenge as well as an alleviation. Coherence instead of confusion. Consistency instead of chaos.
Just like one of my favorite simple cake recipes, The New York Cheese Cake. I follow this one (almost) to the tee. Yes I do. I measure (almost) everything. I do! I really do! We’ll make this the day before the big event for two reasons. One, someone may detest Ginger Cake Love (could not imagine why, but…) and, two, this cake could actually make a great accompanying cake for the ginger cake, if one was so inclined to include the king and the queen on one plate. No, wait, three reasons. This cake has to be refrigerated overnight. Actually, to end the event with this sort of powerhouse might just be the thing we need.
This recipe is simultaneously simple and genius. It’s subtle and direct, filling and left wanting. It’s innocence and ecstasy. Any cheese-cake lover will be putty in your hands. I have had many a cheese cake and the simpler the ingredients the better. Please don’t start using gelatin or, like the Germans do, quark–that curd cheese stuff. No need for flour or starches. Stick to the best creamed cheese you can get. (I would recommend Buko, it’s Danish and in my opinion, superior. There are no additives like you’ll find in the Philly brand.) Sour cream, eggs, white sugar, vanilla. And a graham cracker crust. That’s it.
I hear the doorbell. No, I may never be ready. I may never feel that this project is finished no matter how many times I pass through it. But now it’s time. I took care of loose ends so I have enough time to entertain my guests. Now I need to relax and touch every one of them somehow and make an impression.
And with all this in mind, I chisel away at my pitch and read through my query letter. I have independently self-published my novel in electronic form and paperback but I’m still querying agents. I have had some non-replies; have had a number of rejections and one request for a full manuscript followed by a rejection. And my short story, The Women of Tragic Hearts, is right about 5000 words before the final edit. I thought of posting it on my blog, yet another piece posted for free to the we.we.we. But after passing it by my trusted beta reader, I realize it could just be good enough to hold its own in the real world, meaning, I could query a magazine.
I re-read my query letter for the bazillionst time. Close my eyes and press send. Now the waiting begins. I stare out the window. An oak leaf falls from a tree, lands in a puddle and the water ripples away from it like the resonating waves a blog post can create when enough people read it. In the back of my mind, an idea springs to life. The scent on the wind gives the idea its first breath of life. I hear something a good friend told me the day before last. It’s time to open up a doc and see if this idea could sprout legs and become a story. What better way to while away the time between query letters than to write another story or…stomach rumbles…or look in the pantry! How about roasted turkey breast with a fresh herb and olive oil rub, homemade soft pretzel stuffing, candied yams and some sort of fresh greens?