The Cure-All: Cream Cheese Brownies — About writing and rejection

A big rejection came via e-mail this morning.                                     047

Last April, I pitched my first manuscript, The Year After (re-named from Shadows at Moose Run), to several agents and editors at the Pikes Peak Writers Conference. It was the second year I was pitching the novel, and I felt better prepared for the scene. I had spent the previous year revising the manuscript, composing two synopses (a long and short version), writing query letters, and refining my logline and pitch. All of that work, in addition to my obsession with detail, seemed to pay off. I had two requests for a “partial” (this means that the editor/agent wants to see fifty pages of the manuscript and a synopsis), and one request for a “full” (the editor/agent wants to see the complete manuscript).

I was particularly excited about the editor who requested a “full.” I had originally dismissed her house because it publishes primarily in e-book format and limits the number of print copies produced. But I gradually came around to the idea after reviewing the market and observing the success of another local author who publishes exclusively in an e-format. I also liked the editor as a person. We shared a table at the conference banquet and she took a genuine interest in my work. After spending the summer revising the full manuscript (yet again!), I compiled the requested materials and clicked “send.”

Her rejection was short but kind: she receives many promising projects, but not all of them are the “right fit” for her company. A rejection may simply mean that her house recently signed a similar project, or that she has decided to move her product line in a different direction.

In the past year, I have worried that my stories are not edgy enough for the current market. I don’t write about dystopias, post-apocalyptic America, vampires, futuristic societies, or paranormal romance. I also don’t write genre romance. The Year After is an old-fashioned family drama about a woman coming-of-age at thirty—with a good dose of sex and comedy mixed in (think The Family Stone). I write within a genre loosely defined as “women’s fiction,” “commercial women’s fiction,” “upmarket women’s fiction,” and “book club fiction.” Based on the success of authors like Kristin Hannah (Firefly Lane), Karen White (Sea Change), Tatiana de Rosnay (Sarah’s Key), Sue Monk Kidd (The Mermaid Chair), and Kathryn Stockett (The Help), I’d like to think that the genre of general women’s fiction is not set to die out any time soon.

Yet there are a few things I must remember—and they are points I wish I could explain to everyone who asks, “So, are you published yet?”

  1. Writing/publishing is a hard business. Agents and editors receive hundreds of manuscripts a week from aspiring writers. Competition is fierce and publishing houses are subject to the demands of the market.
  2. The process of writing and publishing a book takes time—a long time. I spent five years writing The Year After. It took one publishing house three months to review my submission. Even after a manuscript is accepted, it can take over a year for a book to go to print.
  3. Writing is a life-long vocation. Some writers write for ten years and produce several manuscripts before one is accepted for publication. I tell myself: Just keep writing. There is only one thing to do when you fall off the horse: get back on again.
  4. Self-publishing is always an option—although I’m not there yet.

In the meantime, chocolate is the perfect cure-all for rejections, disappointments, or even just the bad day blahs. The following is the Philosopher’s recipe. Several times a year, he will announce that he is heading “up north.” This means he is taking the interstate a few exits to the natural food market and will arrive home with the tell-tale ingredients: brownie mix, cream cheese, chocolate chips, and butter—lots of butter. Usually the brownies are his way of atoning for the end-of-semester grumpies. When we were dating, he would make brownies when I came to his place for dinner on Wednesday nights. After I adopted a gluten-free diet, he changed the recipe to suit my needs.

You will notice that this recipe uses a box mix.  The Arrowhead Mills products are of high quality and can be found in most grocery stores (try the organic section) and in specialty markets such as Sprouts or Whole Foods. I like to take advantage of commercially available gluten-free flour mixes (other brands include Bob’s Red Mill, Pamela’s, and Glutino), as it takes some skill to find the right combination of gluten-free grains and xantham gum. For those wishing to make brownies from scratch using a gluten-free flour or combination of flours, I would recommend consulting the blog of Shauna Ahern, The Gluten-Free Girl.

Gluten-Free Cream Cheese Brownies

1 box Arrowhead Mills Gluten-Free Brownie Mix     044

1 stick butter

4 oz. cream cheese

2 eggs

1/4 cup milk (try almond milk!)

12 oz. chocolate chips (semi-sweet or bittersweet)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease 8×8 inch pan. Cream butter and cream cheese together in bowl.  Blend in eggs. Stir in brownie mix and milk.  Stir until well blended.  Fold in chocolate chips.  Pour into prepared pan.  Bake 30-40 minutes.

Recommendation: these are very rich, so cut into small squares, eat some, freeze some, and give the rest away as post-Christmas thank-you gifts.

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