The Curse of the First Pancake … by Shannon Baker

Shannon Baker 2015There’s a piece of writing wisdom that says to hone your craft, you must first write one million words. Back in my early years, I’d read somewhere that it takes, on average, twelve years from beginning writer to published author. If you’re writing every day, those might amount to roughly the same. If that’s the case, I’m a below average writer. I don’t remember when I became serious about writing but I started slowly, articles, essays, short stories, before I launched into novels.

I took a few years off here and there for life crises, and eventually published my first novel in 2010. Although I loved that book—as it lives in my head—I’m afraid it’s a First Pancake affair.

You know about the first pancake. For some reason, it never turns out right. Parts of it burn and others are doughy. That’s the one the dog gets. But after that, they rise up to a golden brown, all fluffy and perfect. I’ve learned not to get impatient and gobble that first one. I’m better off to save belly space for the really good pancakes that follow.

I didn’t apply the same wisdom to my First Pancake book. I worked on that poor story for far too long. I knew the characters from their DNA out, why they acted as they did, nearly every day of their childhood. I understood the issues at stake, the technology, the history. I researched and read, dreamed and created. Tore down, rewrote, revised, regurgitated.

My critique groups saw so many versions they grew to hate it. Oh, they never said so, but I knew their inner groaning when I’d cheerfully announce, “I fixed it!” and handed out pages. I queried agents in the hundreds. And in between rejections, I’d rewrite according to the last skill I learned or the latest critique.

Baker_Tattered Legacy (1)I buried myself in that book, refusing to give it up. By the time I finally got a nano-press to accept it, I couldn’t tell you what I’d translated onto the page and what only survived in my head. It was a goulash of partially rewritten scenes, action changed to meet so many others’ ideas, styles and timelines. When I started writing the book, data was stored on CDs and used in desktop computers. When I published it, thumb drives and cell phones were common.

I probably shouldn’t have turned it out for public consumption but publishing seemed the only way for me to let it go and move on.

I can’t say the next book was perfect, but it did rise and cook evenly all the way through. And to follow this analogy to the ridiculous, every book since then has been full of better quality ingredients that just weren’t available for that first pancake. And now I’m thinking of clever ways to incorporate butter and syrup metaphors, layering pancake on pancake to create a towering stack of literature, but I’ll go ahead and give you all a break.

I’ve got my rights back to that book. And I still believe in the story, even after the disaster execution. Every now and then, I get the notion I should pull it out and with my new skills, rework it. Again. The premise is great. The concept is still valid.

So far, my wiser side has prevailed. (That and my friends and family get a rabid gleam in their eyes when I mention it.) I’ll let the dog enjoy that First Pancake book and happily introduce the third book in the stack called the Nora Abbott Mystery Series, Tattered Legacy.

It’s set in the iconic red rocks of Moab, UT. Working to solve the murder of her best friend, Nora uncovers an unlikely intersection of ancient Hopi legends, a secret polygamist sect and one of the world’s richest men. Will Nora put all the pieces together in time to prevent disaster?

I have a friend who declares his oldest step-child is a Pancake Child. What is a Pancake in your life?

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Shannon Baker is the author of the Nora Abbott mystery series from Midnight Ink. A fast-paced mix of Hopi Indian mysticism, environmental issues, and murder. Shannon is an itinerant writer, which is a nice way of saying she’s confused. She never knows what time zone she’s in, Timbuck-Three, Nebraska, or Denver, or Tucson. Nora Abbott has picked up that location schizophrenia and travels from Flagstaff in Tainted Mountain, to Boulder in Broken Trust and then to Moab in Tattered Legacy. Shannon is proud to have been chosen Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers’ 2014 Writer of the Year. Visit Shannon at her website.

While Tattered Legacy is available from your favorite online or bookstore, if you’d like to support indie bookstores, you’re welcome to contact Who Else Books at Broadway Book Mall.  Ron and Nina are the best! And they might have a signed copy to send.

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6 thoughts on “The Curse of the First Pancake … by Shannon Baker

  1. Oy, Shannon! I needed to be called out on my pancake a long time ago…glad I’m not alone in admitting I have one (*cough* or ten) 😉
    Thanks for sharing!

    • I’m sure there are those savants who don’t need to throw away early attempts, but I’ve never met one. The only way I know to get better is to keep working. Thanks, Tracy.

  2. My first pancake was a glorious mess. Thankfully, half way through the second draft I realized how badly it tasted and the book never saw the light of day. However, I’m grateful for that book and what I learned in the process. Without it I never could have written Gift of the Phoenix, my first published book that’s gone on to win awards and praise from readers. I tend to refer to Gift of the Phoenix as my “first” book, but really, there was another.

    As an editor, I think one of the downsides of the Indie publishing revolution is that too many inexperienced authors are putting their first pancakes out there. They don’t yet have the skill set to recognize it for what it is. But authors who are committed to their craft do overcome that little pitfall, and go on to master the perfectly-cooked pancake. So it all turns out right in the end.

    I like your analogy, can you tell? Pass the syrup!

    • Congratulations on success of Gift of the Phoenix. You made a good point about publishing before it’s cooked all the way. I have an excellent independent editor that has saved me from some big disasters!

  3. Great post, Shannon, and I think Donna is right. Lots of first pancakes are ending up out there. Luckily I wrote my first one way, way back before computers so it’s sitting there, typed on yellowing paper in a box in the basement. Actually I think I have several boxes of those finished and half finished pancakes along with old disks written in word processing programs no longer available. Good luck with Tattered Legacy. I can hardly wait to read it.

    • It’s great you have all your old manuscripts! I have thrown out or lost everything! I have a box of research for each novel, but no printouts and I don’t have any device that will read the few I thought to back up on disks.

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