Ed. Note: In our spring/summer series – “The Tough Times, and How I Wrote Through Them” – one of this site’s regular contributors will write about a complication they’ve faced in writing and/or publishing, a complication you’re likely to experience someday, and they’ll disclose how they got past it (alcohol may be part of the answer but, no, it’s not the whole answer).
You plotted it in that nice cafe over tea and cake. It’s the best idea ever. No one has even attempted to write something so brave, so original. You are legendary. You need more of that cake! You’ve nailed the sweet spot between dark humour and thrilling chills. You’ve got a bad guy to rival Lecter and a hero more heroic than any Tom Cruise character.
Then you start to write it.
The words are flying. You’re a writing machine! This is the one that’s going to rock the best seller lists. The awards lists. The list of all lists. You have to keep stopping to pat yourself on the back, because it’s all just too damn good.
It’s going sooooo good.
SO GOOD YOU CAN SMELL IT!
Then you hit that sludgy middle bit. That chunk of banana in the centre of the cake that refuses to cook, no matter how long you keep it in the oven. Just five more minutes should do it. Just keep going. It’ll all be fine.
BUT GODDAMMIT THE DAMN BANANA IS STILL RAW IN THE MIDDLE! And now the edges are starting to burn.
You take it out of the oven. Let it rest a bit. But it’s no good. You’ve ruined it. This is the worst banana cake in the world. This banana cake is winning no awards. It’s completely inedible.
So what can you do? What do you do when the banana cake falls flat in front of your eyes? After all that prep…sifting the flour, cracking the eggs, whipping the butter. Mashing the bananas. You did all that, but the thing still resembles a blackened lump – and guess what? The banana cake judges need it now and it’s not done and it’ll never be done and OMG it’s a disaster!
You’ll never bake another banana cake again! No one will ever want your banana cake. You might as well give up baking all together because you’re nothing but a useless banana cake baking FRAUD! Bin it. BIN IT!
What’s that smell?
It smells…like cake. That mouthwatering sweetness. The sunny scent of beautiful banana is still in there.
So you slice off the burnt edges. Reveal the spongy yellow goodness hidden inside. You pull off a piece and pop it in your mouth. And it’s good! It’s still good! It’s just hidden in there. Cloaked in that crispy wall of burnt crap that you’ve no choice but to remove, no matter how much you thought you wanted to keep it.
So you take off all those edges and the cake inside is soft and golden. You stick a fork in the middle, and guess what? It’s done. That middle bit cooked while you were distracted with the burnt stuff.
OK, so the cake is smaller than you thought, but there’s good stuff in there.
You need to sit back and relax a bit. Savour that cake. Think about what you can do to rebuild it into something you can be proud of.
You know what? You can make more cake mix! You can bake it a bit slower this time. Turn the oven down a bit. Don’t try to rush it. And when it’s done, you can add it to the rest, and you can smooth it all together with some frosting.
No one will ever know that you came close to tossing the whole thing in the trash.
S.J.I. (Susi) Holliday grew up in Scotland and now lives in London. A life-long fan of crime and horror, her short stories have been published in various places, and she was shortlisted for the inaugural CWA Margery Allingham prize with her short story Home from Home, which will be published in Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine this spring. She has three crime novels published so far, a mix of police procedural and psychological thriller, set in the fictional Scottish town of Banktoun. They are: Black Wood (2015), Willow Walk (2016) and The Damselfly (2017) – all featuring the much-loved character, Sergeant Davie Gray. Her next novel, a Christmas serial killer thriller, The Deaths of December, will be published by Hodder in November 2017. Susi also works as a pharmaceutical statistician, and you will find her at crime fiction events in the UK and abroad. You can find out more at her website: www.sjiholliday.com and on Facebook and Twitter @SJIHolliday.
To learn more about The Damselfly, click on the cover below:
Previously in The Tough Times (And How I Wrote Through Them):
Dirty Little Secrets, by Jennifer Hillier
Parting Ways – DDWID (Don’t Do What I Did), by Gwen Florio
The Tough Times, by Tom Sweterlitsch
Writing Through Rejection, by Elizabeth Heiter
Writing Against Deadlines, by Rob Brunet
Facing Your Personal “issues” and “Issues,” by Shannon Kirk
Shutting Down Places Like Eliot Ness, by J.J. Hensley
On Time Management, by Mark Pryor