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'10 Authors Insider Tips

Cooking Up A Storey
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Cooking up a Storey

by Donna George Storey

Trying to Get the Feeling:
Barry Manilow, “Successful” Passions,
and “Let-the-Feelings-Flow” Almond Cake


Cooking up a Storey by Donna George Storey You may have noticed, dear Readers, that last month “Cooking Up a Storey” moved to this spiffy new address in Author’s Resources.  There is a good reason for the change of residence.  My goal for 2010 is to focus my writing energy on a new novel, and I thought it might be of interest to ERWA writers to get a peek into my process and progress, just as I dragged you all along on my journey of shameless self-promotion in 2009. As I begin my second novel, I’m finding that I face many of the same challenges I did with the first, so I hope my discussion will prove useful to newcomers as well.  Even though my focus will shift to the writing part of my favorite threesome, I promise there will be plenty of attention to sex and food, too!

Is a second novel easier to write than a first one?  I’ve heard stories supporting both “yes” and “no,” and have yet to settle on my own response at this early planning stage.  The other day, I decided to pull out some of the “how to write a novel” references I’d bought the first time around to see if there were any tips that might prove useful now. I was rather addicted to such books when I first started writing—and indeed many a writer has earned more from a writing guide than his or her own fiction.

The two books I happened to pull from the shelf were Sol Stein’s How to Grow a Novel and Bob Mayer’s The Novel Writer’s Toolkit.  The former is a rather self-congratulatory account of Stein’s career as a writer and editor, although I will admit the checklist in “Some Fundamentals for Emigrants from Nonfiction” was a good refresher on strategies to keep a novel moving at a fast clip.  In particular, his idea of your story’s “engine,” the point at which the reader is so involved s/he can’t put the book down, was instructive.  Stein advises that you hook the reader on page one, keep the action visible and move the story relentlessly.  This may sound like a recipe for an action-adventure novel, but if you think about it, the principle applies to any compelling story that keeps you turning the pages.

Mayer’s book gave much more time to a step-by-step development from conception to publication and promotion.  I found his discussion of the “original idea” of a novel especially helpful. This is basically the same as the one-sentence elevator pitch that you will use in your query letters, but Mayer suggests you present it as a “what if” question.  For example, the original idea of my first novel, Amorous Woman. would be something like “what if an American woman goes to Japan and experiences every erotic pleasure the country has to offer?”

It might seem backwards to be thinking of pitches before you actually write the novel, but this second time around, I can see many benefits of this approach.  It’s keeping me focused on what’s important as I write and will surely make it much easier to draft those query letters.  I’ve set up a file of draft pitches for my next novel, which I add to when inspiration strikes, and I’ve been learning a lot about my own sense of the novel’s “heart.”  Developing a pitch that sounds exciting to me and my friends also gives me more confidence agents, editors and readers will be intrigued as well when the time comes.

Interestingly enough, the most thought-provoking piece of advice was offered by both authors—the importance of feeling as you craft your novel.  Not only is it important that you feel passionate about your project yourself, but you should consider the reader’s feelings as you construct your story.  The role of emotion, whether mine or my audience’s, never occurred to me when I set about writing Amorous Woman.  I was more concerned with devising a workable plot, believable characters, and appealing prose.  Perhaps that is enough of a challenge for a beginner, for whom the future reader is just a hazy dream.  Now that I’ve actually connected with readers of my work, however, I feel a greater responsibility to them.  They’re giving me their precious time, so I owe them a satisfying experience—intellectually, aesthetically and emotionally.  For the less community-minded, remember that when an agent takes on a new novel, she invariably says, “I fell in love with it!”  (Likewise rejections often come as, “This was very well-written, but I just didn’t fall in love with it.”)

Just in case you’re still not convinced, think of the books that made the biggest impact on your life.  How many of them were textbooks?  I know for me, my favorite books that I read over and over are all stories that made both my mind and my heart feel a little larger. 

Of course, making your reader feel deeply to the point of falling in love with your novel is easier said than done.  Emotions are certainly not easy to control in our real lives and often prove equally slippery in fiction.  But there are practical ways to start.  Both authors suggest you outline your novel to organize and tighten the story.  To keep the plot moving briskly, you identify the dramatic conflict in each scene.  To keep the emotional connection strong, you consider the impact each turn of your story will have on the reader’s feelings.  Again this is something I would not have dared to attempt with my first novel, but I think it’s worth trying, even for beginners.

I myself am at the beginning of this journey, but I have a few ideas about how I’ll try to get the feelings. (Now’s the time to break into the chorus of that Barry Manilow song, “Trying to Get the Feeling,” which should not be mistaken for Morris Albert’s uber-saccharine 1970s hit “Feelings,” although it is pretty sappy, too!)

My first step is to slip inside the characters, sit with them for a while, and get a sense of the range of their emotions in any given scene.  For example, my protagonists are arguing about the benefits of polyamory.  He is advocating for the experiment, with perhaps the honorable intention of providing his inexperienced wife with a greater variety of sexual pleasure in a safe, like-minded community.  She’s ambivalent.  She wants to please him and is curious, but also fears what it will do to their relationship.  In this case, I need to feel both his enthusiasm and drive, including more secret motivations for urging her to have sex with other people, and her cocktail of emotions pushing her toward a new adventure and pulling her back to the familiar all at the same time.

This is quite a brew of emotion, but next I have to step back and figure out how I want the reader to feel.  With which partner do I want their sympathies to lie?  Or should they be ambivalent, too?  This will definitely color how I write the scene and dialogue.  Ideally, this will save me a draft or two down the road because I’ll have a clearer map to guide me.  Or I may decide within the context of the developing story to change my mind about all this when I actually write out the scene.  So far, though, this technique has really helped me learn a lot about my characters and the pacing of the narrative.

Now it’s time for a little sex.

When Amorous Woman was released, I interviewed about the difference between writing novels and short stories by ERWA columnist, Ashley Lister. At the time, I proposed that writing a short story is like a steamy get-away with a lover at a country inn.  You can throw yourself into the sensual indulgence, have hot, edgy sex you’d never be brave enough to try at home, then slip back into ordinary life with nothing but a smile at the memory.  A novel, however, requires months, maybe years of dedication.  It’s like a marriage, all the magic of sex with someone you know and trust coupled with the risk of deeply painful disappointment or betrayal.  The result, with luck, is an irresistible baby novel to send out into the world.  In other words, longer fiction—and love—require emotion to keep the engine purring.

Writing a novel is hard work.  Selling and promoting it even harder.  Agents buy novels they love, readers recommend novels they love to their friends.  But it all starts with the feelings the writer has for her work.  So I’m getting myself ready for some hot loving ahead.  I hope you’ll join me!

Whew, well, after all this passion and feeling, I hope you’re feeling hungry.  This month, I share one of my most treasured recipes, guaranteed to make you and your guests feel very good inside.  This recipe for almond tea cake always gets rave reviews from kids and adults alike, so a positive reader response is virtually guaranteed. The dessert is naturally moist thanks to the almond paste, which gives it a marzipan quality. As we erotica writers know, moist is good, so next time you want to treat yourself during a break from your novel-writing, try this simple, elegant and delicious treat.

Almond Cake
         Almond Cake

(8 servings)

3/4 cup (7-8 oz.) almond paste (Love ‘n’ Bake brand is recommended)
3/4 cup sugar
1 stick (4 oz.) butter, softened
3 eggs at room temperature
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 cup flour
1 Tablespoon vanilla (Tahitian preferred)
Confectioner’s sugar as garnish

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Whirl almond paste in a food processor with 1/4 cup sugar until fluffy.  In a mixing bowl, cream butter with the rest of the sugar and beat until fluffy.  Add almond paste and beat until well mixed. Beat in the eggs one at a time.  Add vanilla.  Scrape the bowl, then fold in the baking powder and flour.

Spread the batter in a greased 8” cake pan lined with a round of parchment or buttered waxed paper on the bottom.  Bake for 30-35 minutes until a toothpick inserted in the center of the cake comes out clean.  (My slow oven takes about 42 minutes).  Cool on a rack about five minutes, then run a thin knife around the edge, turn over onto a rack, remove from pan and cool completely.

Dust with powdered sugar to serve.

Donna George Storey
March 2010

If you have comments or questions about this column, please drop by Donna's blog or send an email to

Donna is Cooking up a Storey in ERWA 2010 Archive.

"Cooking up a Storey" © 2010 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,
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:

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