How a Failed Ice Cream Shop Turned Me into a Thriller Writer
In 2004, my dream of becoming a published author came true. “The Journal of Mortifying Moments” was well-received and well-distributed. It was “laugh out loud funny” (that’s what Entertainment Weekly called it, not just me). I assumed, as I’m sure many first-time authors do, that I was launching a successful writing career with a steady upwards trajectory. I assumed wrong.
For me, writing has been more like a rollercoaster ride. There have been big book deals with large publishers and tiny book deals with small publishers. There have been good reviews, bad reviews, and no reviews (because nobody cared).
For a few years, I turned my attention to screenwriting. I wrote approximately fourteen billion TV and film scripts. Some were optioned, some were put into development, and finally, one was made into a film.
And then, I was done. I had had a good run – six books and a produced movie. But I was tired of being vulnerable, of pouring my heart and soul into a project only to have it rejected, or disregarded, or attacked. It hurt too much. I wanted back into the (comparatively) sane world of business. But who was going to hire me? I’d been out of the mainstream workforce for twelve years. Employers wanted to hire young, hip, cool people; not work-from-home moms whose wardrobe staples were sweatpants and an oversized cardigan.
I could open my own business! I’d flirted with being an entrepreneur in the past. (Who hasn’t had a great idea that would be a huge success if only they had taken the chance?) A good friend of mine was a chef who’d owned a restaurant for several years. We decided to open an ice cream shop. We would sell home-made, soft-serve ice cream dipped in the customer’s choice of Belgian chocolate then sprinkled with delicious toppings.
My partner had the practical know-how. I had a marketing background. We knew our neighborhood. We knew our market. What could go wrong? Quite a bit, as it turned out.
It started with “the beast”. That’s what we called the refurbished ice cream machine we bought for a significant sum of money. It was finicky – alternately spitting out gloppy, ice cream soup or frosty ice cream chunks that fell into the chocolate upon dipping. It broke down regularly, and the cleaning process was terrifying. Because it was a pressurized machine, it could blow your head off if you didn’t release the air valves properly. (That might be hyperbole, but anyone who’s used an Instant Pot knows that compressed air is scary.) My partner made friends with the beast, tamed it, got it to eat from her hand. I remained frightened, only brave enough to pat its head before it bit me. (Or blew my head off.)
Then, there was the weather. We weren’t idiots: we knew ice cream was seasonal. But we were sure that a long hot summer would set us up for a quiet winter. We hadn’t expected it to rain all of June, a portion of July, and almost half of August. The bank balance we required to get us through the cold months was dwindling. To save wages, my partner and/or I worked every night. By work, I mean we made the ice cream, primed the beast, and then sat in our empty shop, staring at the rain, drinking wine from a coffee mug.
I’d left writing behind because I couldn’t take the criticism. Then I was introduced to Yelp. Now, I could read about how our ice cream wasn’t creamy enough, the toppings fell off and made a mess, the large and the medium were practically the same size!!! At one point, we were cyber bullied by vegan teens who thought the best way to get us to improve our vegan product was to barrage us with one-star reviews on social media. (The beast refused to work with coconut milk.) While most of our customers were wonderful, it only took one cranky one to ruin my night.
And I missed writing. As I sat alone in my shop, staring at the rain, I came up with a dark, twisty, thriller idea that I was excited to explore. It was a new direction for me, a creative challenge. And running the business had made me realize everything I loved about being a writer. The creativity. The flexibility. The relationship with the editor and publishing team (not just the milk delivery guy). The sweatpants! My partner was training for a new career, and we both realized that our passions lay elsewhere. We managed to sell the business before we were financially ruined, and with our friendship still in tact. Our new venture had lasted just a year.
In his famous speech “The Man in The Arena,” Theodore Roosevelt wrote about “daring greatly”.
“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena . . . .”
I’m not equating opening an ice cream shop to being president or a gladiator, but it took a lot of guts to start that business. And it took a lot of guts to shut it down. I know I called it a failure in the title of this article, but I consider it a huge learning experience. I learned about business, about risk, and about myself. I learned that any time one steps into the arena – any arena – those on the sidelines will criticize and judge.
I learned that I will step into the arena anyway.
This guest post was authored by Robyn Harding
ABOUT HER PRETTY FACE:
When Frances Metcalfe’s troubled son is accepted into the elite Forrester Academy, Frances struggles to fit into Forrester’s world. And when a disturbing incident at the school leads the other children and their families to ostracize the Metcalfe’s, she feels more alone than ever before. That all changes when a beautiful and wealthy Forrester mom befriends Frances, but will their bond of friendship be strong enough accept and forgive a murderous past?