Let's Talk: Cupcakes by Susan Tepper

Let’s Talk: Cupcakes by Susan Tepper

My husband seems to enjoy watching the Cupcake Wars on TV. He also enjoys all the “games,” which I tend not to enjoy. He is a man of varied interests, though; regarding the kitchen, he often asks where the silverware drawer is located. I asked him the other day why a man who barely boils water and watches sports would watch a cupcake show.

His answer? “I like the competitive aspect.”

Huh?

Cupcakes are now competitive. When my mom taught me to bake cupcakes, we mixed the ingredients in a bowl, then poured the stirred mixture into those cute, pastel-colored, fluted paper cupcake thingies that sat in each slot of the baking pan.

It was all pretty cut and dried. We waited 30 to 35 minutes, then removed them from the oven to cool. When they reached room temperature, we iced them. Simple. Delicious. Cupcakes.

"Coconut Cupcakes" photo via Flickr user Phil King

“Coconut Cupcakes” photo via Flickr user Phil King

So why have cupcakes moved into the competitive arena? Is this necessary? Can’t we just love the little cupcake for what it is? And when we get one on the plate, it belongs exclusively to us! That should be enough. Right?

I liken the cupcake situation to writing. Writing today has become a competitive sport. Writers “think about what the audience will want to read.” I have heard this from more than one writer. Agents and editors push this notion, which in turn was foisted on them by the publishers.

I dunno. I thought writing was supposed to be something altogether different?

I thought when you sat down to write a story or poem, that it was a private time between author and muse. That whatever flowed from the author to the page was material somehow inspired by that author’s particular unconscious, or a tiny event that stuck hard to the writer’s mind, and kept coming back like a persistent fly. You swat, it comes back. You swat again, back it comes. Finally you kill it with a rolled up newspaper.

I thought when writer and page did their unique dance, it was a way of killing the fly.

Against my better judgment, I sat down to watch the warring cupcakes show on TV. I expected to see beautiful, simple, delicious cupcakes. What I saw were cupcakes so over the top, they could have come from another planet: Planet of the Cupcakes. Where all the bakers run around crazily with every conceivable object as a possible source of cupcake ingredient.

Rather than creating delicate cupcakes with toppings that swirl in just the right proportion of topping to cake, where a few small garnishes might dress them up, there were cupcakes so overloaded with crap they seemed about to topple – or even explode! Cupcakes made of seaweed, and other oddities. Frankly, the whole thing put me off.

It’s time to get back to basics. In baking, and in writing.

Raymond Carver, in his book Fires, cautions the writer against the use of trickery and gimmicks. That particular essay is also titled “Fires,” and is one of the most honest and useful examples of how to proceed in any art form.

I happen to still love cupcakes. Moist, yellow cake topped with white icing and coconut is my all-time favorite.

I’m still also terribly fond of Raymond Carver.

When things in this business seem over-the-top, I sit down with Ray in my hands and all becomes clear. If it’s a really good day, I have a simple cupcake nearby, too, on a plate.

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susan (2)Susan Tepper is the author of four published books of fiction and a chapbook of poetry. Her current title, The Merrill Diaries, (Pure Slush Books, 2013) is a novel in stories. Tepper has been nominated 9 times for the Pushcart, and one time for a Pulitzer Prize in fiction. She is also a named-finalist in story/South Million Writers Award for 2014. FIZZ, her reading series at KGB Bar in NYC, has been sporadically ongoing for six or seven years now. Tepper writes the author/books Interview series UNCOV/rd at Flash Fiction Chronicles. You can find her online at susantepper.com.