Thursday, June 18, 2009

And you thought I was a good writer . . .

Before I became known as the wildly successful (just kidding) novelist Joani Ascher, I was the little known Joani Ascher with extremely sub-par writing skills. I know this because my husband, David, a lawyer who can suck the life out of any sentence, told me so. When I said I wanted to write an article, he suggested I take a writing class at The New School in New York City. After I worked out the logistics of the child care situation (this was in the eighties and my children were still young), I signed up for a basic expository writing class.

I somehow got it into my head that I should write like Anna Quindlen, whose weekly columns I had been reading in The New York times. I had written a letter in protest when she had alleged that women who do not have jobs outside the home spent their days nesting. Amazingly, that letter was published, which means it was probably read by more people that one day than have read all my books. I can accept that, even though there was an unfortunate typo. (The letter, by the way, can be found on the NY Times website.) Notwithstanding my disagreement with Ms. Quindlen, I wanted to write like her.

The New School instructor started us off with some simple exercises. The first assignment was to write a provocative slice-of-life story. I wrote about the time David forgot to tell me until 10 pm that he needed to bring a cake for his secretary’s birthday the next day. I love to bake and have a bit of a reputation locally as a good baker. So I got to work immediately, melting the margarine in the microwave, mixing the flour, and generally following my usual recipe. I put the layers in the oven, washed up, and took the cake pans out of the oven to let the layers cool. I was bleary eyed by that time and looking forward to going to bed right away, since I had to get up at six am to frost the cake. The layers seemed oddly mounded to me, but I figured I would worry about it in the morning.

When I awoke and went to nuke the butter for the frosting, I discovered I had left the margarine in the microwave, which might have been the cause of the oddly mounded layers. I consulted David. We both wondered about how the cake would taste, since it was missing a key ingredient. But more worrisome, the layers were shaped like breasts.

I finished my narrative, neatly tying it up with an explanation about how we had trimmed the layers to make them flat, tasted the cut-off pieces, which were surprisingly edible, and frosted the cake just in time for David to take it to work. I submitted the story after giving it a provocative title, thinking that would help meet one of the goals of writing a provocative reflection on life. I titled it “And you thought I was a good baker . . . . .”

To my astonishment, the following week the instructor read my piece to the class. Afterward, she wrote the title on the blackboard. She commented positively on my humorous story, but pointed out that my use of punctuation was incorrect. There are only three dots in an ellipsis.

Who knew?

And that is why I took that course again, then a different one, and would have taken more if David had not needed to use the evening hours for his own nefarious purposes—becoming a school board member. My intended article about learning disabilities, a subject no one seemed to be covering, was never published as every submission was rejected with a rationale generally along the following lines: “If we wanted an article on that subject, we’d hire a professional.” Coincidentally, several magazines soon started publishing articles on that subject. I take full credit.

Though my article did not appear in print, I was hooked on writing and I have never stopped.

Joani Ascher


Elisabeth Rose said...

Great cake story Joani LOL I have one about my son's ill-fated tenth b'day party in a park where amongst many other minor disasters my husband dropped the b'day cake--which we'd forgotten to bring in the first place and he'd raced home to get.

Anyway --my first paid writing effort was a letter to the youth pages of a weekly mag about canned laughter on TV, and how I didn't need hints as to when I was to laugh. It was back in the sixties and they paid $10.

Carol Hutchens said...

Enjoyed details of your writing classes, Joani. I've taken a few.

Loved the cake story!

Carol Hutchens said...

Anyone know WHY I have to sign up again with Google everytime I try to post?

Kathye Quick said...

They say write about what you know - you did. Great story!!

Lynnette Bonner said...

LOL, about the cake. One year I tried to make one of those 'Barbie' cakes for my daughter's 4th birthday. But I had my frosting just a touch too runny and I was rushing to get it done at the last minute before all the guests arrived. The frosting covering the top part of the doll drooped down and when we went to cut the cake later, she really looked more like 'maternity barbie' than anything. :) Thankfully the frosting did stick to her and we didn't have a naked barbie sticking out of the top of her skirt! :)