A Novel Is Like a Layer Cake

A novel is similar to a layer cake; it is not mouth-watering until the frosting. The core of a novel is the cake and here True East can be thought of as a retelling of Joseph Conrad’s great novella Heart of Darkness. But it takes time to write a novel and with that time the storyline swells as the frosting is applied between the layers of cake. The river in my story is the Amazon, not the Congo, yet I was surprised to find Brazil’s past similar to that of Africa and America regarding slavery. Thus the tension between Katy and Jorge, which was meant to be purely sexual, becomes a clash of their respective countries over their histories. Andrew’s occupation as a photographer opens a segue to Edward Curtis, whose pictorial documentation of the Native American takes a tragic angle in True East. All these sub-plots and details add frosting to the cake, making the novel tastier to devour.

Some layers, however, were found purely by accident. In my story I needed to get Katy out of Rio and into the Amazon and nothing that Father Avila flies gets her to Manaus on a single tank of petro. Picking up a magazine one day, I happen to find an article on Fordlandia, which just happens to be the correct distance from Rio for refueling. Investigating Fordlandia, I discover that Henry Ford’s failure to grow rubber trees in the jungle is the perfect metaphor for America’s arrogance. American Exceptionalism is a reoccurring theme in True East and Ford’s belief that he knows more than the scientists is the perfect folly for those who listen just to their gut. The faded photograph on the dining room wall of a decaying Fordlandia, connects Ford’s fiasco with the American oil companies who would exploit the Amazon for its oil. Finding Fordlandia might have been lucky, but in the time it takes to write the novel finding metaphors and details that fit becomes the frosting that gives a novel its flavor.

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Here might be a good time to bring this up, something discussed at many of the book clubs I have attended. There is no correct reading of my books. My view might be right for me, but you could read from an entirely different perspective. Numerous times I found connections I was originally unaware of. If you fail to see that True East retells the story of Adam and Eve from a woman’s viewpoint—all is not lost. Every reader brings to the table their own experiences, philosophies, and in some cases their religions. It is magical how the cake rises in the oven of creativity using different ingredients. Stories enrich one's world. We are all toddlers prancing off with our storybooks tucked under our arms, heading out on an adventure that we create. It is the miracle of being human—the never ending story that each of us is author to.