Monday, June 27, 2011

on whoopie pies and elephant rides

So you’re walking down the street one day when you overhear a couple of people gushing about whoopie pies.

“They’re so delicious!” you hear them say. “And so hot in New York right now!”

One of your foodie friends confirms the rumor: whoopie pies are the hot new street food. As a matter of fact, there are food carts popping up all over the place selling whoopie pies for six dollars each, and they’re making a killing.

“Six dollars each?” you think to yourself, incredulous. “For a whoopie pie? Hell, why don’t I make some whoopie pies?”

You go home to your kitchen, pull out some ingredients, and start messing around. Your first few batches are nasty, but you get the hang of it soon enough, and it isn’t long before you have a caseload of whoopie pies ready to sell.

You wheel your case of whoopie pies out to the corner and stand there waiting for your first customers. You’ve only been standing on the corner for ten minutes when a man in a designer suit and sunglasses sidles up to you.

“Whoopie pies, eh? So delicious. And so hot in New York right now. Are you in the market for a business partner?”

A business partner. It seems premature—after all, you only started making whoopie pies a month ago. But the attention is so flattering. And the man seems so convinced that your business can succeed. Why not jump in right away?

You and the man sign a deal, and soon enough he’s standing on the street corner right next to you, helping you sell your pies. He’s good at what he does: he orders you a nice big sign full of flashing lights, which attracts lots of customers to your stand. He writes brilliant copy advertising the tender sweetness of your whoopie pies.

“I’m not making any promises,” says the man, “but I have a feeling you might be able to quit your job soon and make whoopie pies full time.”

A week later, he strides up with the news: he’s snagged a deal with Whole Foods. A huge, unprecedented, four-whoopie-pie deal. For the next four years, you will come up with a new flavor of whoopie pie every year. Your pies will be distributed to 440,000 Whole Foods outlets across America. World whoopie pie rights have sold to Sysco Systems. Soon, everyone on the planet will be devouring your whoopie pies. Isn’t that great?

You’re overwhelmed. Flabbergasted. You can’t believe your luck. A four whoopie pie deal. Nobody gets a four whoopie pie deal. This is amazing.

Your business partner immediately launches a full-scale marketing campaign. From now on, you will be known as the Whoopie Queen. When people see your face, they will think “whoopie pie.” When people hear your name, they will think “whoopie pie.” You will live and breathe whoopie. You and your business partner will both be set for life.

This is amazing. This is amazing, you tell yourself. But also a little uncomfortable. After all, you started making whoopie pies on a whim. Because you heard they were hot. Because you knew they would sell. It seemed like fun, at the time. Just a fun little whoopie pie project on the side. But all of a sudden, making whoopie is your life. Your whole identity. And you didn’t exactly plan on that.

You start thinking about all the other projects you wanted to do before you got caught up in all this whoopie business. You used to enjoy baking bread, and growing vegetables. You sort of wanted to become a soup maker, before all this whoopie stuff started getting big. You used to love the feeling of pulling fresh vegetables out of the earth and transforming them into a nourishing, unusual, completely organic meal. Sure, making these elaborate soups took a long time and you never made a cent, but you loved doing it. Not that you don’t love making whoopie pies. Whoopie pies are fun. It’s just….it’s just…

You talk to your business partner about this whole soup idea. He’s sympathetic; he’s totally behind the idea of you being a vegetable soup maker. For now, though, it’s important for you to focus on making whoopie pies—just while you’re building your audience. After that, you can branch out into soups. You have that four-whoopie pie deal to think about, and you don’t want to spread yourself too thin.

But by the time you’ve fulfilled the terms of your four whoopie-pie deal, your audience is huge and rabid and they want whoopie pies, nothing but whoopie pies. You’d feel bad disappointing them. You’d feel bad disappointing your business partner, who already has plans for another big whoopie pie deal. Besides, it’s not like you have time to experiment with soups anymore: being the Whoopie Queen is a full-time job.

You tell yourself you should be grateful for all your whoopie-making success, but deep down you’re frantic: how did this happen? Where did you veer off-course? Can’t you have your whoopie pie and eat it too?

It reminds you of that time when you were six when you went to the carnival with your cousins. As soon as you saw the elephants, you screamed “Elephants!” and ran to get in line to ride one. As you waited in line, you were so excited you squirmed. You were going to ride an elephant and it was going to be so much fun!

Finally, you got to the front of the line. The elephant man hoisted you up onto the elephant’s back. There you were, riding the elephant! It couldn’t get any better than this! You might as well be famous!

You turned around to wave at your cousins. But while you were getting onto the elephant’s back, they’d all wandered off to get cotton candy. Suddenly, the elephant felt scary-huge. It started lumbering away with you on its back.

“Wait!” you said, panicking, but the elephant man didn’t hear. You twisted around and saw your cousins laughing together, walking off with their cotton candy to find another ride. “Wait!” you shouted again.

“What’s wrong?” said the elephant man. “Didn’t you want to ride the elephant?”

You burst into tears without knowing why. Yes, you wanted to ride the elephant. But you thought your cousins would stay. Now, they’re all having fun without you, and you’re stuck on the elephant, high up and all alone, and who knows what other things you’re missing out on?

The elephant man was exasperated. “Aren’t you the little girl who begged to ride the elephant?”

“Yes,” you said, “Yes—but I didn’t understand!”

“Didn’t understand what?”

You clutched the elephant-saddle and sobbed. You didn’t understand that riding the elephant meant missing out on other things. You didn’t understand it was a choice, and making a choice meant giving up one thing for another. You didn’t understand that one tiny choice could carry you away on its back, while everything else you knew and loved got smaller and smaller in the distance.


Sometimes, you dream of riding an elephant all your life, and when it finally happens it’s a dream come true. But sometimes, you don’t realize you’re climbed on an elephant’s back until you feel it start to move beneath you.

Still, INTERN can’t decide if it’s better to choose your elephants wisely, or if the universe smiles on those who jump blithely onto the elephant’s back—or those who have the courage to jump off if they realize their elephant is moving in the wrong direction.

Where has your writing-elephant taken you lately? Are you conscious of your long-term career direction when you start a new writing project? Or do you chase dreams as they come to you, without worrying about where you’ll end up? Have you ever changed directions? Why? Was it hard?

INTERN wants to know!


  1. When i start a new writing project I think only of perfecting that project. I have not had much published, and don't know if I will ever be able to. But before I think about any of that, I want what I am doing to be the best it can be. When it is done, I will decide how to proceed from there.

    I don't chase dreams. I do what I am able to do, and hope I can find a way to turn it into a life.

  2. Hehe. Fun post, as usual, but I don't think it's as simple as this. (Of course. I'm sure you realize.) Because what's more likely is that by the time you get around to making your whoopie pies, whoopie pies are no longer hot. Everyone wants funnel cake. So you try making funnel cake, but by the time you're good at that, everyone is on to fried twinkies. Now you have two options: you can chase what's hot again, and learn to fry twinkies, or you can look ahead. Being the relatively smart person that you are, you choose the latter. And so, looking ahead, you decide to fry some Oreos, and guess what? People like that! They buy the fried Oreos from your stand, and you still manage to attract a business partner, and he still manages to gets you a deal, but it's a one-time thing. Fried Oreos won't be popular forever, after all. But that's okay, b/c you didn't want to fry Oreos forever anyway. Now you can try those soups and baked goods. And those do okay too. And someday, after years of trying different things, you'll either get tired of cooking and decide to do something "more practical," or you'll look around and find that your stand has grown into a store, small and respectable and diverse. You're no whoopie pie queen, but you're happy and you're living and that's all that matters.

  3. An important question: Were these Maine whoopie pies or Pennsylvania whoopie pies?

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  5. Wow. That gave me chills. The good kind.

    I'm going to have to mull this one over for awhile. I'm still building my elephant-climbing ladder, and I need to make sure I lean it up against the RIGHT elephant. =D

  6. Wow! My novel (pub date Jan '12) is about a woman who lives for the day she'll see her food product on the shelves of Whole Foods. And yes, I realized as I wrote it that the whole thing was an extended metaphor for publication angst.

  7. Wow, not sure how I ended up here as personally nothing to do with publishing but really like your writing style!

    I think the elephant is something that people can experience in any field at any age. As a "relatively" recent college grad, trying to figure out my career is definitely scary sometimes.

  8. Why do I have this suspicion that "whoopie pie" was chosen just so you could use this line: "But all of a sudden, making whoopie is your life."

    It's a good one, anyway. :-)

    Me, I changed my mind when I found out that nowadays one can't just ride the elephant. I'd be stuck feeding the elephant, watering it, washing it, and cleaning up its poop.

  9. Your description of whoopie pies and riding the elephant is such a great analogy that could also be compared to other things in addition to writing. For me, riding the elephant means going to grad school; I always thought it was what I wanted (and in many ways it still is), but I can't help thinking of other things I want to do (like write fiction and sleep without dreaming of footnotes) but don't have as much time for because grad school is so all-consuming.
    Incidentally, I did actually ride an elephant at the circus when I was a kid. I don't really remember what it was like; I just remember being pulled out of the audience by a clown with scary makeup and how to this day I still feel nervous around clowns.

  10. A long time ago I made my first batch of whoopie pies and they just didn't come out the way I wanted.

    I changed the recipe and they got worse!

    I went back to the original recipe and put a lot of work into it. I like it a whole lot more the second time around.

    My whoopie pies are not health food. They are also not haute cuisine. I baked them in the hope that people would enjoy them.

    I will be overjoyed if my whoopie pies take off and I become the Whoopie King. It will be a very long time before I tire of being the Whoopie King.

    Are there other recipes I'd like to try out? Sure. But they can wait.

    Put me on the elephant.

  11. Oh, INTERN, I'm just too mean! If I had a rabid audience, and I wanted to branch out into something else, I just would! I have always and will always write for myself first. If that falls into place with popularity, I just hope people will meander through the many genres of writing with me!


  12. Your post couldn't help but remind me of the actual Whoopie Pie Queen, Maine’s own Amy Bouchard.

    “I have always had a passion for creating and baking, and one thing I truly loved to make was whoopie pies,” Bouchard says. When her brother suggested she sell them, she at first “thought he was crazy,” but with a husband, two kids, and a full-time job at Bath Iron Works, Bouchard was looking for a way to be a stay-at-home mom while still earning an income.

    Sixteen years later, her Wicked Whoopies are taking in more than a million dollars a year.

    Of course, it helps that whoopie pies are huge up here. You just missed the Maine Whoopie Pie Festival, and as Joseph pointed out above, we're presently at war with Pennsylvania over whoopie pie rights. In January our legislature made them the official state treat, and a month later we beat Pennsylvania’s record 250 lb. whoopie pie with one that weighed over half a ton.

    Made, of course, by Amy Bouchard, who definitely got on the right elephant.

  13. All this talk of Whoopie pies is making me hungry...

    That being said, every writing project I embark upon is - in my mind - another step taken on the long and winding road to landing a Whoopie deal. Much like the rungs on the ladder used to climb onto the Elephant.

    To heck with the cotton candy chasing cousins - they have no idea what they're missing anyway.

  14. The whole time I was reading this, I felt you were going to lapse into Dr. Suess' OH THE PLACES YOU WILL GO. Great post! Thanks.

  15. I think there's two sides to this: the side that doesn't have an agent/book deal and the side that does. Neither side thinks the other side knows the first thing about what this is like.

    Instead, I think we should just eat the danged Whoopie Pies and be happy.


  16. I'm from central PA, and I (she said snobbishly) remember a time when no one else knew what the heck a whoopie pie was.
    Seriously. What's up with the whoopie pie craze?
    Until I read the comments I had no idea Maine could lay a claim on whoopie pies.
    I realize this has nothing to do with the moral of your story, but whoopie pies were one of my fav childhood treats, so I'm afraid they trumped philosophy today.

  17. I'm aware of my long-term career path. I just wish it meant riding a cheetah instead of an elephant.

  18. You've just scared the hell out of me!

    I've completed 3 MSs. Two are contemps and 1 is fantasy/dystopian. Two are YA/NA, one is NA/Adult. Two are set in fictitious locales, one in Barbados. Now I wonder if they have enough in common.

    And that's not all. My ideas are all over the place.


  19. I love this post. Love-love-love it.

  20. Lovely post. I think it's okay to get off the elephant. He'll often wait for you to come back again later. If not, then you go make soup.

  21. this was so brilliant. so, so brilliant.

  22. Standalones. That's the ticket. Four whoopie deals are great, but I'd rather be able to change tacks every now and then. I love me some long series, but variety is what I strive for.