Saturday, September 20, 2014

Guest Post: How to Bake a Man by Jessica Barksdale Inclan

Learning More All the Time—College in Our Fifties

In my new novel, How to Bake a Man, the main character Becca Muchmore drops out of business school to pursue her dream of starting her own bakery. Her mother is very upset about her decision because she feels that education and a college degree is the cornerstone for a successful career.  Becca, on the other hand, feels that listening to lectures that don’t relate to her life at all is just a waste of time. Luckily, her business takes off thanks to a group of friends that support her and thanks to a lot of learning by doing, helped by the magic of falling in love.

Many young people today question the value of a college degree and coast through college without really taking advantage of what it has to offer. At nineteen, I headed off to a four-year college. I thought I was savvy and smart and pretty cool, so I didn't sign up to live in the dormitory. Yes, the dormitory, the squat white building on the eastern edge of campus, located next to the cornfield.

Why would I have lived in the dorm? I was experienced! I'd moved out of my mother's house after high school, living with my boyfriend and an assortment of roommates. I had my own pots, pans, and towels. I had a brass tea kettle! Besides, I needed peace and quiet to do my work, as I was intent of finally doing well at something.

Mostly, though, I was alone and often very hungry. Once a friend came over to see me making odd pizzas out of flour tortillas and ketchup. It was a sad time.

Eventually, college did lead to my long career of teaching and writing, but I can honestly tell you that after graduating with my master’s degree in English literature, I had no clue how to proceed or what to do. In a lot of ways, I felt like Becca.

But now at the age of 52, I'm in a low-residency MFA program, and for ten days of the year, I live in the dorms (No cornfield this time). I have my own little room with terrible bed and mattress. Closet, wooden desk, wooden chair. A shared bathroom. And food! No terrible pizzas now.  Soon I'm headed back for my third and final residency, and I'm very excited to be back in the dorm, reliving the college life I never had.

But with or without dorms, I love college. I love the idea of it, though I think the experience is squandered on the young who are so often trying to speed through to the next thing. Especially when I was getting my master’s degree in English, I was speeding through. I had one child, another on the way, and I needed to get the heck out and get a job and try to earn some money. I had a hump of student loans to pay off. A professor or two mentioned my intensity and desire to get out (meaning, I think, that my essays seemed a bit rushed), but there was stuff to do. Spare me your tisking please, and just grade my paper.

At this stage of the game, there aren't that many next things left. Less stuff to worry about. The children have grown up and are off on their own. I have the teaching job I wanted, and I’ve paid off my student loans. This time, I can actually afford college. So I savor even the terrible pink powdered soap in the dorm bathroom.

Really, though, I'm the college student I probably wasn't before for either degree. I go to every single lecture, workshop, class, and reading. From eight-thirty in the morning to late in the evening after the nightly reading, I'm paying attention. I'm taking notes, I'm pulling it all in because there aren't many more times when I'll be able to do this. College now seems like a gift, a huge present and surprise, a daily opening up of possibilities of thought and idea.

And back to the dorm. At night on the terrible mattress, I imagine I'm at the best camp I've ever been to, full of smart people, all of us doing exactly what we love best. At my age, I never thought such fun was possible.


When Becca Muchmore drops out of grad school, all she has left to fall back on is her baking. Ignoring her mother's usual barrage of disapproval and disappointment, she decides to start a small business hand-delivering her wares. A friend introduces her to an office of hungry lawyers, who agree to give her a try. Her lizard-booted neighbor Sal is happy to help out when he can, and almost before she knows it, Becca's Best is up and running.

Before she can settle into a routine, things get complicated. The office ogress could easily be Becca's sister and has absolutely no patience with cookies or other frivolities. Even worse, her boyfriend is the man of Becca's dreams--kind, funny, successful, and brain-meltingly gorgeous. As the dark undercurrents threaten to pull her down, Becca swiftly finds herself neck-deep in office politics, clandestine romance, and flour. Saving her business (and finding true love) is going to take everything she's got, and more.

Packed with charm, sparkling humor, and a genuinely unforgettable cast, this delicious tale of a woman struggling to find her path might just be Jessica Barksdale Inclán's finest novel to date.

Purchase here.


Jessica Barksdale Inclán is the author of the new novel, How to Bake a Man (Ghostwood Books/October 2014) as well as twelve critically acclaimed books, including the best-selling Her DaGuughter's Eyes (YALSA Award Nominee), The Matter of Grace, andWhen You Believe. Her work had been translated into Spanish, Portuguese, Dutch, and Czech. Her short stories, poems, and essays have appeared in or are forthcoming in Compose, Salt Hill Journal, The Coachella Review, Carve Magazine, Storyacious, Mason's Road, and So to Speak. She is the recipient of Californian Arts Council Fellowship in Literature and a professor of English at Diablo Valley College in Pleasant Hill, California and teaches online novel writing for UCLA Extension. For more info, visit

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