Wednesday, September 12, 2007


Susan's pie, originally uploaded by patryfrancis.

It's that time of year when my friend, Susan Messer and I bake a pie for our muses. Well, actually, it's past time. But after all these years of hanging out with writers, the muse must be used to procrastination...and good intentions...and well, flakiness.

Susan, who baked her gorgeous pie early wrote this about her efforts and her current literary state:

"This is the second blueberry pie I've made this summer, as I'm especially anxious to be in touch with my muse and have her, in turn, cast any literary spells she can. My first novel is currently on submission. I dreamed last week that my agent called me to say she had an offer from Home Depot. "Home Depot?" I responded. "I didn't even know they published books." While it was nice to have an offer, it wasn't exactly what I'd had in mind."

I was particularly excited when Diana Guerrero and the Fawnskin Authors baked their pies even before I realized the season was upon us or noticed that blueberries were suddenly everywhere.

The muse and I have struggled mightily this summer. In the spring, things were looking great! I wrote up a synopsis to a new novel and sent it around to a few friends. All agreed: it was brilliant, complete with rich characters, a dazzling plot, and a couple of intriguing subplots to keep things going. This one was practically going to write itself.

All I planned to do was sit in my summer office and take dictation. I'd even bought myself a new instrument, as the astute Sally Crawford called it here in the comment section. And it really felt like that: something unique and fine, something that if handled with the respect it deserved would produce the music I heard in my head--a simmering tale that would make readers everywhere--or at least one or two of them--see a little corner of the world in more vivid colors.

I wrote 80 pages. It was good, I told my agent. I was humming, I told my husband, my kids, my writing friends. I could hardly wait to show them the brilliant manuscript that grew daily under my clattering fingers.

And then abruptly, I came to a particularly lonely spot in the road, well known to all writers. There's only one sign on that road, but instead of offering direction, that sign is emblazoned with a huge, taunting question mark. I didn't know where I was going. Even more fatal, I had no idea why I'd ever set out on this particular journey.

But not to worry. This happens in the writing life, right? I started again. This time I got to page 103. I was so excited by my progress I couldn't wait to finish. I had to share it with my agent right now. I e-mailed what I optimistically called "the first third of my novel" to her on a Friday, and by Sunday, I was in despair. Not because I hadn't heard from her, but because I already knew what she was going to say. I knew because in my truest heart, I thought the same thing. On Monday, she called and said it.

On Tuesday, darkness descended. I mooned around in my pajamas, shades down, living on chocolate and wine. Even the house plants wilted. I watched dreary afternoon TV, and scanned the paper for waitressing jobs. There weren't even any of those. I wasn't sure how I'd ever written a coherent blog post, or a slightly witty e-mail, never mind an entire novel. Only one thing was clear: I couldn't do it again. I drank more wine, and refused to turn on the lights when night came.

But on Wednesday, I leaped out of bed, filled with irrational enthusiasm, and new certainty. While I'd been mooning, the subconscious mind (rumored to be a close friend of the muse) had been working on the problem. What's more, she was fired up with a new idea. Before I'd even buttered a piece of toast, I was back in my summer office, birds singing, dogs at my feet, ready to play my instrument as it had never been played before. I knew exactly what was wrong with my wimpy character, my flaccid plot, and what's more, I knew how to fix them.

In the coming weeks, I wrote another 126 pages before I saw it wavering in the distance. No, it can't be! I said, trudging on for two more pages. I refused to look. But by then, the sign with the huge question mark in the center was the only clear thing on my horizon. I was on page 128 and I was lost. Utterly and hopelessly lost. Again.

So what do you do when you've written a total of 316 pages (a whole novel!), when you've spent your entire summer sitting on the deck trying to play an instrument that remains resolutely tuneless? What do you do when you're out of ideas, and you seriously don't know if you'll ever write again, when the bills need to be paid, and your waitress shoes are hanging in your garden, bloated with a season's worth of rain and a lifetime of dreams?

Well, if it's August, you make a pie, of course! Not just any pie, but a pie that has it's own history of literary magic. That's right, you make a Literary Blues Pie. (Recipe here)

As you can see from the photo above, my friend and pie-baking cohort, Susan, baked a pie of rare perfection--from the crisp pate brisee to the lovely presentation.

burnt crust

The two pies I made, on the other hand, were as messy and flawed as my life, my summer, my attempt to write a new novel. The oven doesn't work right so the crust burned; and I decided to experiment with the cream layer, only to realize the old adage about not messing with perfection. But since they don't get too many homemade pies around here, my family gobbled up the first pie. And when I shared the second one one night at Veteran's Beach with my friends, Laura and Jake (who brought a good bottle of Pinot Noir to further tempt the muse) they even asked for the recipe.

pie on veteran's beach

(Pie and Pinot Noir at the beach)

Then, I took a week or two off, and called my son, Josh. Josh isn't a writer; nor does he read much fiction, but he's an excellent listener. He asked me how the novel was going, so I told him.

"Sounds like you're over-thinking it, Mom."

A few days later, I began again, this time with Josh's words in mind. Instead of going back to polish my words on a daily basis, I began to write the way I had made my pie. I didn't worry that the temperature might be off, or that my corn starch was lumpy or that I might be a quarter cup short of blueberries. I just worked with what I had, and did my best. I didn't overthink.

So far I've got 30 new pages and no road signs in sight. But I'm such an optimist, I've even installed a meter:

11 / 120


elsie said...

Yikes! I completely forgot about my muse pie ... I guess I know what I'm doing this weekend ... :)

Anonymous said...

Hey, pal -- Good for you...for the keep-going-ness of this. I'm not a writer in the sense that you are, but I'd been hitting those signs for months on my blog. Finally, on my 4-year blogiversary (even though I'd abandoned my original blog years ago), I shuttered my current main blog and moved over to my little-used one. Drastic times call for drastic measures. :) Still don't know if it'll work to get my 'voice' back. If not, I can appease myself by continuing to crank out what I've come to think of as a body of first-draft poems. I seem to have no interest in 2nd, 3rd, 4th, etc. drafts...ha! :) And I think that's because I've fallen in love with the (nearly daily) discipline of the 'just showing up to do it-ness' of it. Here's to your muse...may your blueberry offering curry her favor.

rdl said...

out of the mouth of babes - yr. baby. And an old friend here Knows you can do it and will.
Bake another one and I'll be down.

Crockhead said...

Mmmm, a tasty dish indeed. Your fans have been getting hungry.

Anonymous said...

The pie works its magic again! I'm really thinking I need to try making one - do you think it would work with non-dairy ingredients?

May your path be easy, and the road clear of signs bearing punctuation marks, Patry!

Perfect Virgo said...

After months of relative inactivity I shaved off my beard and wrote a short story. I can only put this sudden reawakening of enthusiasm down to the newly gleaming chin. In "post bristle" mood I regained some control over flapping loose ends and reeled in yards of wayward sentence structure.

I mostly spend too long pondering and planning. This time, casting off all normal Virgo sensibilities, I just drove off without a map and was very surprised where I ended up. Thanks for stopping by Patry and happy baking.

Anonymous said...

What an interesting glimpse into "The process." Good luck, Patry!

Jessie said...

seriously. i need a pie like that. my inner muse is drooling. ;)

robin andrea said...

I've started four comments here, and each time I've deleted it. Too preachy, too silly, too pointless, and then I realized I need to bake a pie. I've been missing your voice, Patry. It's a smart, funny, generous, spirited, thoughtful, and compellingly good voice.

Anonymous said...

So that's what you've been doing? If I'd only known a pie would help...

Can't wait to read the new book and now, knowing more into what goes into that book, will appreciate it much more. Good thoughts coming your way~

JP (mom) said...

A great metaphor ... it's good to hear that a (published!) writer hits these roadblocks. I've written 10 chapters and am a standstill. I need to take your son's advice and your inspiration and get back to process with an open mind. Peace & love, JP/deb

Anonymous said...

Oh, oh...this hit me RIGHT where I live right now. I am in the process of abandoning my own 65K words and starting again...because it's just wrong. The whole thing just went wrong somewhere. *sigh*

Thanks for the inspiration and showing me that I can get started again.

Patry Francis said...

elsie: Hope you post pictures!

marilyn: "Just showing up to do it" That's such a huge part of it. Some people would even call it faith. Always good to hear your voice, my friend.

r: I'm done with pies, but I did make an excellent Bart's chocolate cake for T's birthday. Thanks for your vote of confidence.

amishlaw: I'm afraid this post had more twists and turns than a suspense novel--though none of them very satisfactory--not yet anyway! Thanks for bearing with me.

p.v.: As you know, I was a fan of the beard, but if the muse demands a clean face, you really have little choice. Good to see you here. I can't wait to learn more about this short story of yours.

diana: Thank you. Hopefully, the process isn't like this every time--or for every writer.

robin: If you have a scrap of advice to give, I would love to hear it. Don't worry a bit about being preachy. Thanks so much for your good words. There are days, whole days, when words like that keep me going.

Sue: Oh yes, pie helps! It's practically guaranteed.

deborah: Another thing that helped was doing a reading with three other authors who all described similarly messy processes in their writing. So yes! Begin again with a new mind. I'll be checking in to see how it's going.

Patry Francis said...

mardougrrl: (x-post) It's so frustrating, but it does happen. Recently, I heard Amanda Eyre Ward read, and she told a similar story. As you say so well, sometimes it's just wrong. But the good news is that NO ONE can stop you from starting over--as many times as it takes.

Lisa said...

It's there. I know it. Thank you for sharing all of this. It helps so many of us to know that this is just the way this works. Sending good thoughts your way :)

Anonymous said...

I love the idea of baking a pie to your muse! I'm sure you'll be rewarded -- it looks good to me. :)

Thank you for detailing your struggles -- I'm humbled to read them. You show how real artists and writers do it -- day by day, step by step, no matter what, with all the starts and stops. All part of an overarching process, mysterious and full of faith, that the story will get told.

And I know, Patry, that you will tell your story. (And I'm happy that you're back at blogging, too!)

Becca said...

As I'm about to embark on my second novel, I have to say, you've all made me a little frightened! Perhaps I'd better start the pie baking BEFORE I start the writing :)

Seriously, though, Patry, I appreciate you sharing these difficulties. I know you'll work your way through this - as they say, you have to break some eggs in order to bake, so perhaps you should just look at those first drafts as the necessary "broken eggs" that will lead to a marvelously tasty pie in the end.

floots said...

i wish you well
i struggle with the muse and the blues
the thought of blueberries
(in or out of pies)
takes me back to new hampshire
thank you for your help with the "travel" :)

Sky said...

so glad to see you here again! i have missed you. blueberry pies...yummm.

does it help to consider that the lessons you are learning will be with you always; that another summer will fly by with tremendous speed as you write merrily along perhaps because of something you are learning this summer? it is all a process, isn't it - writing and life, one and the same?

Sustenance Scout said...

Writing and life, one and the same.

I thought of your pie recipe when I realized August was gone and September well upon us, Patry. At least you found time to bake yours (twice!); surely your muse is impressed. Mine will have to go hungry for now, probably until Thanksgiving. Apple and pumpkin pies will have to suffice at that point, though I may sneak in a blueberry tart when no one's looking. :) Thanks for every update, jubilant and not-so-jubilant. Your willingness to take us along on the journey remains one of the many reasons you're so cherished. K.

Waspgoddess said...

i just found my way here by chance and i just feel so inspired by your words and your struggle (does that sound odd i wonder?).

and pie and pinot noir on the beach sounds lovely.

Anonymous said...

Every year, I love to see your pie. It's got the loose, free, everyone's welcome quality that I so admire about you. A pie for the people. It was a lucky day for me when our paths crossed. And I do appreciate your openness in revealing what you've been through this summer. All the best in the next, less-thinking version of the novel.


Anonymous said...

Pie time again! Yum it looks so delicious. Your son sounds pretty wise. I don't have one complete ms yet, but keep trudging on with the knowledge that there may not ever be a book in me.

Lorna said...

I spent years working for the govt as a policy wonk, and encountered the same difficulties. Unfortunately, in govt, no one wants you to start over, so you end up with a really eloquent and well-reasoned rationale for something you're ashamed of. I like your approach so much better.

Anonymous said...

Patry, I am honoured by your mention. :))

And I'm so glad you're singing again.

Greetings from London.

Yours really is a literary blog. I'm just afraid to embrace the literary life too deeply or to make my blog too literary in case the muse takes offence or offense (she's a slow muse and thus far she has only consented to my publishing some poetry).

But I'll confide to you and your literary commentators that she's presently presiding over one nearly finished play, one half finished play and ditto two novels.

Maybe I overfeed her!

That pie looks so toothsome.

Anything and EVERYTHING that gives us the energy to carry on delights the muse I'm sure because she knows that each step counts and each step gets you there.

Patry Francis said...

lisa: Thank you for your good thoughts and faith. It means a lot. p.s. I'd be visiting your blog a lot more, but I can't access it for some mysterious reason.

kg: Thank you! I was really encouraged when 3 authors I met at a reading a couple of weeks ago began talking about their own struggles to find their way to the heart of each novel.

becca: Best of luck with the n ew novel--and please, don't let me scare you! Being scared leads to OVERTHINKING. (Who would have thought THINKING could be fatal to the muse?)

floots: Somehow your "blues" always transform themselves into something elegant and wonderful. Thanks for visiting.

(more later...)

Patry Francis said...

sky: You are a wise woman, and I've missed you, too! One of the main reasons I want to finish this book is so I can get back to Seattle for another book tour. It's in my bones.

K: Your willingness to come along on my journey--and to share your own--is what makes ME cherish the little community that flourishes through our links.

waspgoddess: First, welcome. And second, I think we DO inspire each other with our struggles. If I thought this process was easy for everyone else, then I'd probably still be sitting in the dark, drinking wine while the plants wilted around me.

Susan: A lucky day indeed--and all because of a pie! Here's to many more pies baked, many more novels written, and many more years of friendship. Love to you, too.

easywriter: It doesn't have to be a novel; in fact, many would argue that the world has too many novels. (I don't believe it, of course, but you can make the case.) The point is that if you keep on trudging, you will find what it is you're meant to write. Meanwhile, I'm glad to see you in the blogosphere again. You were missed.

lorna: The wonderful thing is that now you're telling your own eloquent story--one that isn't necessarily well-reasoned (at least, mine isn't) but which is organic and true.

Sally: Something about that comment you left really struck me. In fact, I think of it almost daily when I open my lap top. Congratulations on your amazing productivity. Whatever you're feeding your muse, it must be very nutritious.

Kay Cooke said...

I just know you'll do it - enjoy the journey. What yummy looking pies!!! I'm feeling a little peckish right about now.

Anonymous said...

My friend Kathryn at Mindful life first sent me a link to your blog last year and I've been checking in ever since. And I've seen your name elsewhere (like Gather), and for once am actually posting. Anyway, not that you need to know the rest of that, but I appreciate reading about your struggle and hope that one day I'll evven have an agent to tell me I've screwed up.

And a yummy looking pie!

Anonymous said...

Aah, Patry, you still know how to write a yummy post! And having read your first book and followed this blog for such a long time I know that you will never really run out of words that find their way into our hearts.

What you describe is probably the one reason why I never considered pursuing a creative career (doubt in my abilities aside): I could not stand the pressure of HAVING to be creative. Then again, if every creative soul had let that kind of thinking stand in their way, this would be a much more colorless world. I am very grateful for your unwavering optimism and perseverance because it means that we are in for another treat.

Patry Francis said...

chiefbiscuit: "Enjoy the journey"--I should hang that over my desk! Thank you--

Marta: I always love to hear another voice here! And yes, I do think one of the best things we can do for one another in this lonely profession is to share the struggle. All good wishes to you--

Kerstin: Thanks so much for your faith in me. I can't tell you how many times my long time blog friends have restored my optimism and helped me persevere.

Mary Sheehan Winn said...

Patry, love your honest retelling of the journey. I'm glad to see you back on the blog.

Therese said...

It's the writer's life, isn't it? I've had some pesky question marks to manage lately, myself.

The trick (it's all magic, isn't it?) is, to paraphrase Dory from Finding Nemo, "just keep writing."

All best wishes!

Anonymous said...

The great thing about messily constructed pies is that they are always, in the end, every bit as delicious as their neat and trim brethren, often even more delicious, often because they have little surprises in every bite.

Just sayin'.

I have every confidence that you will pass through this triumphantly. And if not, well, you can always bake another pie.

(BTW, it's me, Sara in Concord, but Blogger is making me log in using my Google account. See? Confusion is everywhere, even in machines. So we find ways to step around it, or if we must, plow straight through it, and move on, right?)

Patry Francis said...

Therese: Dory is brilliant, isn't she? So glad to know I'm not alone in this.

Sara: I would know that voice anywhere--no matter how it was identified. Wish you were closer so we could share messy pies, or trade pies for muffins. Thanks for your confidence--and your zen attitude. Always helps.

Carleen Brice said...

Wow, have you been reading my journal? Cracking through to the middle is always the hardest part for me. And a treat for my muse! What a fantabulous idea!

Patry Francis said...

carleen: It seems that many of our journals record the same struggles...which makes me feel better in some perverse way.

Anonymous said...

Patry: the very title of your blog inspires :))

If at first you don't succeed, try, try, try again . . ..

Here's something I picked up today from The Guardian. I hope it's not true but it has certainly made me think.

'Are publishers ignoring adventurous women writers?' (

Anonymous said...

That Guardian link should be

Anonymous said...

Aargg: the column width won't take all of the URL. Here it is chopped up.

lori said...

good luck Patry! I heard you on a panel at the BKSP conference and for some reason you popped into my mind today.

Like James Beard says, the only blueberry pie worth eating is one you can only eat with a spoon. Like writing and life, sweet and messy.

Patry Francis said...

Lori: Always enjoy hearing from someone who was at Backspace. That was a very special few days for me.

Love the sentiment from James Beard, and totally agree on the sweet and messy. (In any case, it seems to be the only way I know to bake a pie OR write a novel.)

Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Ark Lady said...

Thanks for the link and the lovely post. I really love your blogging.

In the scheme of things, getting the recipe right takes time.

Consider it all practice sessions on the way to the perfect concoction--whether that be a pie or a novel.

Take your time, gather the necesssary ingredients, have fun, and relax because it is then that things will come together.

In the meantime, enjoy the pie even if that doesn't come out as perfect as you'd like!

Ark Lady said...

PS Tinker--I make it with soy cream now...and oat crust due to dietary restrictions and it is still yummy!

Anonymous said...

Thanks, G.G.!
Hope the pie has satisfied the muse and that the writing's flowing well for you now, Patry~

Kate Evans said...

Hey, an offer from Home Depot is better than any I've ever gotten, even in my dreams!

Sky said...

You still baking/eating pies, girl?! Missing you and your wise and inspirational words. We are in the midst of autumnal bathing here in the Pacific NW, and I am rather enjoying the excuse for lazy days and warm fires while staying dry and cozy.

Anonymous said...

For some reason the conclusion gave me chills. The thought of just writing with what you have like making a pie resonates with me. I write and cook and bake like a nutty professor slob. I throw ingredients around like I'm tossing pizza, so I guess I can relate.

I love a good flaky pastime and am heading for Home Depot now. Do you think they sell pies too?

paris parfait said...

Patry, you'll get there, of that I'm certain! You've already done it once - you'll do it again. Over-thinking can be a stumbling block. I'm pleased you're making progress and still making delicious blueberry pies to offer to the muse. :)

Patry Francis said...


Anonymous said...

Nice Article.

Anonymous said...

actually, that's brilliant. Thank you. I'm going to pass that on to a couple of people.

Anonymous said...

Hi, Patry,

I hope you are continuing to put your cooking skills to good use.

If working on something, cook and eat first, then do it.

I am just now cooking a pasta sauce. In England we have an extra hour today.

Feed the muse.

Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Alex S said...

What a fantastic idea to bake your muses pies! and the best part is that you can't actually see what thay have eaten of it because their mouths are so tiny so there is plenty left for you to eat as well. Your journey with the new book sounds like its been quite the challenge, to say the least. I find your commitment and efforts so inspiring and I KNOW you are going to come through and eventually we will be at the bookstore and picking it right up beside Liar's Diary. Its just a matter of time~

iamnasra said...

We are at LIP ( had had chance to come upcloase to floot..Hope you will visit the blog and tell us how floot inspire you..

Anonymous said...

Just dropping by to say hi. Thinking of you and your muse.

I bet your muse is now getting ready for turkey, stuffing, and all the fixings. :)

Anonymous said...

Just stopped by to wish you a happy Thanksgiving, Patry. Wishing you lots of happy writing.

Patry Francis said...

KG AND TINKER! Thanks for thinking of your absent blogger friend. Happy holidays to you, too!