HANK: Why is a raven like a writing desk? The famous riddle, of course, that the Mad Hatter asks Alice.
Today another riddle. An easier one.
First, do you know Debra Goldstein? She’s terrific, and hilarious, and retired from the judge’s bench to be an author.
Hey. She’s brave –that was quite the life choice, right? And smart, and terrific.
And her essay gave me the answer to this riddle:
Why is a book like a cake?
THERE WILL BE CAKE
by Debra H. Goldstein
Celebrate! You can bet if I’m celebrating anything, there will be cake.
Birthdays, weddings, anniversaries, nice weather, rain, and TGIF are all good excuses for cake.
Some of my favorite “just for the sake of it” desserts include P.F. Chang’s Great Wall of chocolate (chocolate with raspberry sauce) and Cheesecake Factory’s Linda’s Fudge Cake.
For a quick “invited to dinner at last minute and the hostess requested dessert rather than wine,” my local Publix offers a moist, well-decorated white cake available with a variety of fillings and icings.
If in doubt, I know I can never go wrong bringing an ice cream cake.
Of course, there are the specialty bakers whose products combine flavor with artistic decoration.
The tasting process for my daughter’s wedding cake was quite extensive before a final decision was made. Nothing matches that cake, but other ones also have meant a lot to me – my thirtieth birthday surprise road to life sheet cake, the twin cakes my twins smashed on their first birthday, the one my office staff and I shared the day I left the bench, and the cakes I associate with writing.
When my first book, Maze in Blue, was published, I was the keynote speaker for an evening where funds were raised to reopen the library in my old high school.
In a decision that was a travesty for students, the school system had eliminated all school libraries and art programs to resolve a financial crisis. Community outrage resulted in a wide-spread grass roots campaign to reverse the decision. Volunteers created invitations, flyers, radio and TV spots advertising what time the school band would play, when barbecue would be served, and my talk.
Every media announcement highlighted “And, there will be cake.”
No matter how I tried, I couldn’t figure out the significance of the cake reference. True, a sweet treat is always a nice way to end an evening, but in this case everyone was receiving a copy of my book. How could there be anything sweeter than that?
As I worked on my remarks on writing, I tried to think of a way to tie them to “And, there will be cake.” There were obvious similarities:
1. Cakes are usually made by combining flour, sugar, eggs, butter or oil, a leavening agent and liquid. A written work requires mixing ideas, words, punctuation, grammar, and editing.
2. Bakers often add flavorings, candies, coconut, or nuts to enhance texture and taste. Dialects, local expressions, expanded descriptive settings, and extra adjectives do the same for writings.
3. Cakes can be made in all shapes and sizes. A story can be told in as few words as Hemingway’s “For Sale: baby shoes, never worn.” to the multi-volume, and still expanding, saga of J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series.
4. Rather than make a cake from scratch, one can, as a matter of convenience, use a box mix. Writers often agonize over creating an original work, like the structural twist used in Gone Girl, but they can always rely on the tried and true three act formula.
5. Writers often embellish characters by adding personality quirks or clothing oddities. In a mystery, clues may be hidden or obscured by red herrings. Bakers do the same thing with frosting. Not only can icing cover imperfections, but balloons, flowers, and other decorations offer personalization of the final product.
6. Cake varieties are endless. Sponge, gooey butter, chocolate, layered, and flourless are only a few that exist. Mystery, historical, biography, and literary barely scrape the surface of available writing genres.
I was ready with my comparisons until I saw the cake. At that moment, I understood why they had advertised “And, there will be cake.” Although I viewed the signing as an evening with a mission, the community was celebrating coming together to work for a common goal. They hoped their actions, like the words of a good book, would combine well.
When a prominent wedding cake maker offered to provide the evening’s dessert, it was accepted because her presence added to the credibility of their efforts.
Although it meant a lot to me that with all the things she could have put on the cake, she chose to commemorate my book, what was more important was the unifying impact her cake had on the volunteers. Because everyone knew the quality of her work and the value of what she was giving, “And, there will be cake,” spoke volumes.
Recently, my second book, Should Have Played Poker: a Carrie Martin and the Mah Jongg Players Mystery was released. I take joy from the positive reviews it has received, but a box of cookies sent to me for the book’s launch and a cake my friends made for a special Mah jongg game playing/signing party captured my ongoing celebration.
The written word is meant to be celebrated. Whether the book being read or displayed is mine or one written by someone else, the words the author strings together create a reason for cake.
What do you think? Is there a cake or book you particularly enjoyed? For a chance to win a randomly awarded copy of Should Have Played Poker, leave a comment!
HANK: We need cake today! I am having cataract surgery…so I am celebrating Debra’s wonderful attitude. I am celebrating my coming ability to see—crossing fingers. And darling Debra’s continued success!
(And does this mean a cupcake is like a short story?)
(And the answer to why is a raven like a writing desk? I have one idea…although I guess Lewis Carroll meant there to be no answer.)
Judge Debra H. Goldstein is the author of Should Have Played Poker: a Carrie Martin and the Mah Jongg Players Mystery (Five Star Publishing - April 2016) and the 2012 IPPY Award winning Maze in Blue, a mystery set on the University of Michigan’s campus. She also writes short stories and non-fiction. Debra serves on the national Sisters in Crime, Guppy Chapter and Alabama Writers Conclave boards and is a MWA member. She lives in Birmingham, Alabama with her husband, Joel, whose blood runs crimson.