Tuesday, April 23, 2013


There must be a rule somewhere in the universe that certain body parts should not be rendered in cake and icing unless they belong to oh, let’s say … Gerard Butler or Richard Armitage or Hugh Jackman or perhaps, this guy?

Some days I truly believe my cake decorators deserve an Oscar. And the award for explaining why she cannot make a cake in the shape of a woman’s “cootchy” without falling in the floor laughing or running to dial 911 goes to ….  Fortunately Walmart has a number of very strict rules about what we can and cannot write or depict on a cake. And I have some rules of my own as well. Doesn’t stop the crazy requests. Or the filthy ones. Or the simply strange ones. 

Then there are the customers who walk up to the counter with a picture, or pages printed from the internet. Sighting one on approach is guaranteed to cause a stampede of my staff into my freezer the likes of which has not been seen since Noah stood on the deck of the ark and yelled “All aboard!”

“I’ve already looked in your book, but I want my cake to be something unique. Can you make me a cake like this?”

“Oh! And can you make it for $125.00 like your sign says?”

Next there are the customers at the other end of the spectrum. The ones who have no clue what they want, or they know what they want but they can’t explain it, or they don’t know what it is supposed to look like, but they’ll know it when they see it.

“Just make it pretty.”
(Sorry, we only do ugly cakes here.)

“I need you to make a cake for a man. Just make it look like it is for a man.”
(What does that mean? Put a beer can and a football on it?)

“She’s thirteen. What do you usually do for a thirteen year old girl?”
(Tell her to stay in school and not to do drugs?)

Readers are a lot like bakery customers. Some of them know exactly what they want when they open a book. They will buy books by the same author over and over again because that author always delivers and they know they are guaranteed a great read. They might buy a book by someone they haven’t read before on the recommendation of a friend or after reading a review, but they still have those expectations of a great read. And if it is they have a new “auto-buy” author. And if it isn’t …. Well they probably won’t be trying that author again.

These are the customers who look in the cake design book and pick the same sorts of designs over and over again. They’re easy to work for so long as you remember they want exactly what you advertised and if they don’t get it things could get ugly.

(You knew I was going to get my man, Richard, in here somehow!)

Sometimes a reader has a vague idea of what they want. They want a romantic comedy, or a vampire romance, or a historical romance. They buy the book based on the cover blurb or the cover or some intangible thing that speaks to them. Even if their expectations are vague they still have them. If the book fulfills those expectations, even the ones they weren’t quite certain they had, then you had better believe they will be buying that author’s books again.

These are the customers who didn’t know what they wanted when they came in, but if they look at the cake and don’t see it they go nuts. And if they look at the cake and squeal and say “I knew you understood what a wanted. It’s perfect!” then you have basically snatched perfection out of the black hole that is another person’s mind. Now all you have to do is do it again next time.

Some readers have no earthly idea what it is they want. They are searching for something that speaks to them in a voice they never knew they wanted or needed to hear. These are the tough ones, the ones who demand you stretch their imaginations, their psyches and even their hearts in ways they’ve never experienced. Tough? You bet your sweet chocolate eating, mocha chugging butt that’s spread so wide from sitting in a chair the only way you’re getting in those jeans is with a can of Crisco and a shoe horn.

These are the customers who don’t squeal. They don’t get ugly. They look you in the eye and quietly say “Thank you.” And they go out and tell their friends and family and neighbors where they got the cake. And all you’ve got to do is do the same thing the next time. And do it better, so they’ll come back again and again and again.

What kind of writer are you? What sort of things do you think about when you begin to write? Are you catering to the picky customer who has a set idea of what they want and God help you if you deviate? Are you writing for the person who has a vague sort of idea of what they want and then you give it your unique little twist? Or are you writing for the person who has no idea what they want? Do you write with no thought to the tried and true patterns, to the vague notions editors and publishers have about what people want to read? Do you write for the one person who gets to the last page, closes the book, looks you in the eye and says “Thank you.”   


Gwyn said...

I write for me. I'm an obey-the-rules kind of gal in many ways, but when it comes to my writing, it's my way or no way. The stories are mine. To alter them to someone else's expectations is to betray them. Not going to happen. (Oh, and thanks for the discription of my chair, chocolate, and latte-loving butt. Still can't decide whether to laugh or cry.) ;-)

Cari Hislop said...

I LOVE "thank you!" readers, but like Gwyn I really write for myself. As a pantser I have to write the story to find out what happens. I have a number of unfinished stories that have been tormenting me for years while I focused on finishing my latest book. One in particular starts with a giant knot. How on earth do they end up together? No idea! I'm hoping they'll work it out and get back to me.

I've been taking a holiday from writing and gorging on other people's stories. Most of the books have left me disappointed, but I'm glad I read them. I've been reminded what I like and don't like as a reader and hopefully that will make me a better writer. I don't like forced stories. I can feel when characters are being forced to act against their will...it's not pretty! Who wants that cake? I want to eat cake and be happy...not fill my mouth and break into "Don't cry for me Argentina...the truth is I never loved you...you are so ugly...I can not eat you...you think you're ca-ake, but you're a meeess".

Ah Richard Armitage...what a voice! He could be as ugly as sin and he'd still be hero material with that voice. Your post gives new meaning to, "Don't make a cake of yourself!"

Ella Quinn - Romance Novelist said...

Great post, Louisa. I love the pictures.

I write where my characters lead me. I edit for my agent and MIL. If they like it, the book is ready to go. For example, in one book my heroine suffered a rape years ago and hasn't gotten over it. It was pretty dark for me. My MIL wanted her to have more backbone and my agent wanted the book to be funnier. The two requests went hand in hand. In order to make the book have more humor, I had to give her more backbone.

Samantha Grace said...

Great blog, Louisa!

I'm definitely the author who writes for me. My stories are stories I want to read, but I'm always thrilled when others fall in love with my characters as much as I have. I think writing to please others can be a pitfall, because there's no way to please everyone. That has become more evident with each book I release. What one person loves about a story another person hates. I'm just happy if readers feel something. It's the "meh" responses I don't want. But then again, not everyone likes cake. I'm always suspicious of those people. ;D

Diana Layne said...

wow, who knew all that about cakes-fascinating! As for writing, yep, pretty much for me and hope there's readers out there who like what I do. :)

Chris Bailey said...

Those are the most imaginative cakes I've ever seen!
I'm writing for me, but looking forward to the experience of writing for someone who might say, "Thank you!"

Marie said...

I love thought-provoking humor! Just what I needed this morning. I write for myself with a peak at the market every now and then to make sure I'm not driving off a cliff. I so enjoyed your blog. I never realized people expected cakes in such a wide variety of uh, shapes:)

Lexi said...

Crisco and a shoe horn: totally stealing that, Louisa, for Mullet Woman! I try to write the kind of books I like to read. But, like children, every book is different and they don't always grow up to be what you expected. Great post, as always, and you and I are on the same page when it comes to Mr. Skarsgard. Sigh.

Louisa Cornell said...

I really admire your conviction and your willingness to go to the mat for your stories, Gwyn! So many writers don't do that. They cave to the opinions of critique partners or contest judges or editors or agents. A book that sounds like it was written by committee is hard to duplicate if it ends up being good at all!

Hey, that description fits me to a tee, sweetie, so at least we are in it together.

Louisa Cornell said...

LOL !! Cari, I LOVE your cake song! Too funny!

And I understand completely how even reading a bad book can inspire us as writers. Reading is always a great way to 'refill the well.'

Ah! Yes! Richard, how do I love him, let me count the ways. I have the CD's of him reading Georgette Heyer. I often listen to them as I go to sleep at night. Lovely lullaby. Only he could make a dwarf sexy!

Louisa Cornell said...

Thanks, Ella!

You are so fortunate in your editor and MIL team. I know for a fact their suggestions in your hands took a great book and made it awesome. Can't wait for it to come out!

Louisa Cornell said...

I'm suspicious of anyone who doesn't like cake too!

And you are SO right. Writing to please a certain group of people is guaranteed to lead you into a sinkhole eventually.

Your enjoyment of your stories shows in your writing!

Anyone who hasn't read Samantha's books is missing a treat! Start with Miss Hillary Schools a Scoundrel. You will NOT be disappointed!

Louisa Cornell said...

Thanks, Diana! And there are definitely people out there who enjoy what you write! Folks you have got to read Diana's The Good Daughter. What a great book!

Louisa Cornell said...

Chris, keep writing those books you want to read and that "Thank you" will be coming quicker than you think!

Louisa Cornell said...

LOL, yes, Marie, people do have some really strange requests when it comes to cakes! I think writing for yourself and keeping an eye on the market is a very smart way to go!

Louisa Cornell said...

LOL! Steal away, Lexi! I am always willing to help out Frodo's Other Mama!

And yes, Alexander is just so.... SIGH!

I agree! Sometimes we think we are writing one kind of book and somewhere in the process it becomes something totally unexpected! I love it when that happens!

Nancy S. Goodman said...

I write for myself and where it leads me. My stories involve abuse, homosexuality and other emotional issues. Just because it's historical and set in the Regency doesn't mean these issues weren't there.
But now I want a cupcake with a lot of frosting......

Louisa Cornell said...

Nancy,there really is nothing new under the sun. People in Regency England dealt with some of the very same issues people deal with today. And I like the idea of letting your stories lead you!

Wish I could send you one of those stiletto cupcakes. They are DELISH! The sole and heel are made of cookies!

Suzanne Johnson said...

LOL, Louisa--I've been trying to find a chance to get here all day and it was worth it. You've made me laugh so hard. I once hired a cake artist to do a cake of a building on campus (this was when I worked in Houston) and he brought his portfolio by and...I've never seen so many, um, "anatomical" cakes in my life! Be glad you don't have to do those.

I'm reminded of this serial book I'm writing that's being released four chapters per week, with each chapter ending on a cliffhanger. The most common reviewer complaint..."I hate that it ends on cliffhangers!" And I want to say, "Then why did you buy a serial novel, woman?"

Louisa Cornell said...

Glad you made it, Suzanne! Yes, there is a surprising amount of money to be made in anatomically correct cakes!

Ah, yes! The customer who orders something only to say it is too much of what they ordered. (I want to read romantic suspense, but can you make it not scary?)

We had a woman order a cake iced completely in hot pink icing. She didn't want it airbrushed. She wanted the icing to be hot pink. She came to pick up the cake and announced "I didn't think it was going to be so pink." DOH !!

Ali Hubbard said...

I try to write where the story is going. I have a feeling my readers will be the ones who laugh at super-Baptist, elderly Aunt Lucille's booby cake!

Cari Hislop said...

I forgot to mention, I LOVE that dragon cake (the last photo)! It's just as well I hadn't seen that before I got married or I would have HAD to have one. Considering how few guests were at my wedding I'd still be eating it fifteen years later. The only thing I really wanted for my wedding was a crown of white roses. I bought the flowers and made it myself only it was too big...so instead of a crown it was more like a tire of roses resting on my head. Needless to say I have not started my own floral headgear range.

I can't get over that Push Olivia Push cake. I suspect Olivia was a teen and the parents were hoping to persuade Olivia's friends to use birth control (which may have been included in the party favors).