WRITER CITY: Cake Princess bakes up tale of sweet revenge

Mar’ce Merrell, known around town as the “Cake Princess,” is mother of five, a writing instructor and author of two kids’ books. Her new novel for young adults, Wicked Sweet, is in stores May 22.

Q: OK, you’re in bakeshop with Steven Spielberg and his cupcakes will be ready in 30 seconds. Explain Wicked Sweet to Steve before his cupcakes come out.

A: Wicked Sweet is the story of sweet revenge. Two girls (Chantal and Jillian) are the victim of two guys, and their “man challenge” is to then date them and drop them before the summer is over … Chantal teaches herself to bake, an unlikely way for her voice to be heard. Four characters tell the story. They create a layered cake with intense flavour and a delicious finish.

Q: Explain the genesis of the book.

A: It was a dark day in my writing life. I’d received a rejection for a novel I’d spent a year writing and I was moaning about how lousy I felt. This editor, like several before, noted that it was well-written. I was tired of being told I knew how to write, I wanted to be told I was being published! My teenage daughter said something like, “Mom, maybe you should write something a little lighter. Maybe write about something that makes you happy.” I love to bake. It’s one of the first things that I found I was good at, so I started there. It was a place that dragged up many bad memories so I always struggled to find the lightness, but the cakes helped. Knowing that in 45 minutes I can create something that brings such joy to the taster – well that’s a lot of power when I felt that sense of helplessness, both as a young person growing up and as an adult.

Q: So there are similarities between baking a great cake and writing a great book?

A: Yes! Baking a great cake requires gathering the right ingredients, measuring carefully, and refining your techniques. Great writing is about all that. And the taste of a great cake and a great book are connected: you need to have something about the flavour that is unexpected. A layer of flavour that tickles your tongue that you try to figure out.

Q: How did you go about getting signed by a major US publisher (Feiwel and Friends)?

A: I created my own Master’s Degree in publishing a Young Adult novel with a major US publisher – and I went to school every day. I attended conferences and listened to what people wanted and, more importantly, didn’t want. I read blogs about publishing in this genre. I read great novels written by great writers in this genre. I found some fabulous writing mentors who helped me see the big picture and the little details along the way. I listened and I revised it many times. Finally, I submitted it to an agent and she asked for a rewrite so I cancelled anything else I was doing for six months and rewrote it completely. She took it on and it sold in a month.

Q: How did you get the title of Cake Princess?

A: Chantal, my main character, is a cake princess. She is a girl who is discounted as being too smart, too hyper-focused on uncool things, too “out there.” When she discovers the freedom, the casualness, the passion of someone like Nigella Lawson (noted food writer), she knows she wants more of that. Nigella is a woman with all the smarts and a fantastic vocabulary and she’s so generous with passion and compassion. She is just so likeable! That was what Chantal wanted and so, with Nigella Lawson as her virtual fairy godmother, Chantal becomes a princess of cake. I have my own transformation story, too, and so I identify with the Cake Princess.