Okay, so, earlier this week, I hit some stuff in Book Two of Invictus that badly needed to be set up properly in Book One. So I went back to Book One and found an appropriate place and dropped the setup in there.
And went back the next day and re-read that part and groaned, because MY GOD WHAT A COMPLETE INFODUMP. Six paragraphs! Six! Of straight infodumping, tucked into the middle of an important conversation. Ugh!
So I spent an entire morning integrating that information actually into the conversation, the way I should have done in the first place. But while I did that, I also realized I should really change the whole political situation under discussion. This is now a better setup, but naturally after that, I had to go back and forth through BOTH books, making sure this aspect of the political situation is the same all the way through. Or I hope I changed that bit everywhere; this is the kind of thing that introduces continuity errors.
This isn’t the super important political situation between the Ubezhishche and the Elysians, but it is a factor that determines the shape of that political situation AND a factor that is crucial in the endgame of the plot, so it does need to be correct all the way through.
So I finished that part and started moving forward again and what did I find at the top of chapter 16? You guessed it: [Take out summary, put in conversation]. SO I DID, but OMG can I just get through the plot climax? Because the relationship arc is fine! That’s been fine for a long time! If I can just smooth out the plot arc, I’ll be done except for very minimal tweaking. Aargh, revision is so annoying.
Well, I’m through that part now, so maybe I am indeed ready to move faster and more smoothly through the remaining four chapters. The last two are short relationship chapters that I’m sure (pretty sure) are in good shape. Almost there!
This bit about having to sort out the political situation to get the endgame to work gets at something interesting that I think Mary Catelli mentioned in the comments some time ago: setup vs foreshadowing. Are those two different things? Maybe? Or maybe they’re two different aspects of the same thing.
For setup, you need to drop brief (brief!) comments about the broader world into the early and middle part of the story. I don’t think it’s enough to have one offhand mention of something in the early part of the story if that thing is going to be crucial later. I think you need to remind the reader about the thing, whatever it is. An element of worldbuilding, a type of magic, the broader political landscape, an aspect of technology. Whatever it is, it can’t come out of nowhere in the endgame, and that means you need to mention it early, where hopefully it is interesting enough to stick in the reader’s mind but does not looks QUITE so fraught as a gun on the mantelpiece. Then, in a long novel, you need to mention it again later, at least once or maybe twice, so that the reader is reminded about this thing. Again, preferably the reader will think this is an interesting aspect of the world, but will not think OH HO, I SEE THE ENDGAME COMING. Or, if the reader does think, Oh ho, I bet that’s important, at the very least they should not see exactly how or why it’s important, especially not if it’s the single most important thing that’s coming up at the end.
Since INVICTUS is a duology, I think the setup is even more important. I’m trying to remember that I need to remind the reader in the second book about stuff that got mentioned in the first book, but carefully. I need to do it briefly and subtly enough that the reader doesn’t think, OH HO. Ideally, reminders should be barely noticed, but just enough to recall to mind something that was mentioned in the first book, but might not have stuck in the memory. This is all part of setup.
Foreshadowing … what exactly is foreshadowing besides setup?
I think one way to frame a possible difference is that foreshadowing is about action and decisions, while setup is about worldbuilding. They’re interdependent, though, because elements of worldbuilding are often crucial for the action and decisions that takes place in the climax. Foreshadowing is setting up the action so that when the protagonist or antagonist or anybody important does something important at the end, makes some kind of important decision, that clicks into place with a little of course feeling, even though the reader didn’t see that exact action or decision coming.
Not sure there’s really an important distinction between foreshadowing and setup, but to the extent there is, that might be part of it.
ANYWAY, lots of that kind of thing with INVICTUS.
I have also been doing other things, including continuing proofreading both the the World Companion and TASMAKAT. That’s a lot less annoying because in this particular case, I’m not super bored with either story. That’s a highly variable reaction. I don’t get bored with Tuyo-world novels nearly as easily as with other novels, so I’m a little bored with this, but not a lot bored. Last night I finished making the final tiny little tweaks to TASMAKAT based on MY final read-through. Tonight I will skim through Linda S.’s comments and fix anything she caught that I missed — just opening the file and glancing at it, I see she caught something right at the beginning that I think I didn’t get myself.
Ages ago, I destroyed the paperback file in order to be absolutely sure I didn’t accidentally upload it. (That happened once. Never again.) I have made lots of mostly very minor changes and corrections in the master file, which I have on three different flashdrives and two harddrives because I’m paranoid. Later, recently, I created a hardcover file in order to make sure the pages could be made to fit (barely, with small print). I’ve been fixing all typos in both the master file and the hardcover file, which is of course tedious. After correcting everything Linda found, I’ll re-create the paperback file, which will be a whole different order of magnitude of tedium, but I’m much more efficient about that than I used to be, so it probably won’t take more than an hour or so. I should do all that this afternoon and possibly tomorrow.
I will have days and days to spare before the final version must be uploaded! Which is July 11th. You have to have the final files uploaded four days in advance of the preorder release date. I cannot believe how fast this is coming up. For a book with a looooong lead time, wow, I will once again be loading final files just a couple weeks before the release date. Of course I was doing a lot of other things during the past months.
I don’t know whether the World Companion will be released just before or somewhat after TASMAKAT. It depends on the maps at this point. Either they’ll be ready in time to release the Companion before July 15th or they won’t. We’ll see. The book, by the way, is now up to 115,000 words. This always seems to happen, so I’m not exactly surprised. Though I’m still (STILL!) moving sections around, I’m getting pretty well set to decide they’re in a decent order. I made a paper copy for my mother to proofread and so that I can look at the order of the sections again in a different format.
I’m proofreading the actual story, “Returning Hokino’s Knife.” Early comments have been quite positive and I’m feeling good about this novella. I’m finding a lot to tweak, but very small tweaks. It’s going to come out at just about 38,000 words, or about 120 pages or something like that. It’s a good length, but by no means takes over the World Companion, so I think that’s about right.
Meanwhile, I am pursuing an unusual task that needs to be finished prior to release of the World Companion: I’m testing the handful of recipes that are included. These are mostly recipes I have made before, often many times. However, I don’t really follow recipes as such, so I feel I had better make them again, this time following the recipes carefully, just to make sure everything is at least edible and ideally tasty. Hanneke, who proofread (various versions of) the World Companion mentions a problem where cinnamon can be bitter if boiled in liquid or cooked too long in liquid or something, which I have never noticed at all, and I just made one of the recipes this past weekend and did not notice that happening at all. I’m usually sensitive to bitter flavors — Red Delicious apples are distinctly bitter to me, for example. I think the recipe is fine, but I took a sample to my mother, who is a supertaster for some compounds. She didn’t detect bitterness either. I think it’s fine.
BUT, and this is the actual point, wow, do I have a great pastry recipe in the World Companion.
I made these pastries a couple weeks ago and they were so good that I immediately made them again this past week, and you know what, I think I may just make something based on this recipe every week for the rest of my life. Since this recipe is just outstanding, I’m going to share it with you all here, minus a little bit of commentary that relates the recipe to the books and plus a little bit of other commentary.
Now, as we enter this recipe, I want to say that (a) this may look complicated or difficult, but (b) it is NOT COMPLICATED OR DIFFICULT AT ALL. Yes, there are multiple steps spread out over multiple days. But all the steps are easy, and when you get to the part where you put the pastries together and bake them, that is so quick and easy that I have literally made these pastries for breakfast every day for four days running and then I take two pastries to my mother and stroll back to my house and eat mine, with about five minutes of work per morning not counting rising or baking time. They would definitely be special enough for an Occasion, but they’re easy enough to make four times a week on weekday mornings, is what I am trying to indicate here.
I got this recipe from a book by Julia Child called Baking with Julia. Many of the recipes in this book ARE complicated or difficult, and unfortunately, in my opinion (Sorry, Julia!) they are often written in a way that makes them hard to follow. That is, directions that ought to be in a bulleted list are instead buried in paragraphs. Also, half the recipe is way back there in “making dough for Danish pastries” and the rest of the recipe is over here in “making Danish pastry,” and really? Who designed this book, anyway?
So, let me start off by giving you a flowchart that will set you up to spend no more than fifteen minutes per day.
Day 1: Make the pastry dough – 5 minutes or so. Chill overnight.
Day 2: Roll out (laminate) the pastry dough – 15 minutes or less. (I set a timer to check and I think, even if you’re not used to rolling out dough, it should still take you less than 15 minutes to do this.) Chill overnight.
Day 3: Make the apricot filling – 5 minutes. Make the almond filling – 5 minutes. Make the pastry cream – 5 minutes.
Day 4 through Day 7: Make four pastries each morning – 5 minutes, plus 25 minutes rising time, plus 10 minutes baking time.
Or of course you could make all 16 pastries at once, but the (only) downside to this recipe is that these pastries are dramatically better fresh. They are best warm, excellent at room temperature, but after 12 hours I would probably feed them to the dogs and make fresh ones. Granted, I am a food snob in some ways and also I have a lot of dogs, but still, these pastries are a lot better fresh than they are left over.
Anyway, presuming that the above does not look too offputting, here is how you make these pastries:
Make the pastry dough
- ¼ C warm water
- 2½ tsp active dry yeast
- 1/2 C milk, room temp
- 1 egg, room temp
- 1/4 C sugar
- 1 tsp salt
- 2 1/2 C flour
- 2 sticks cold unsalted butter, cut in 1/4 inch slices
Put the water in a bowl, sprinkle with the yeast, and let set for a minute. Add milk, egg, sugar, and salt and whisk to combine. You know how you can bring an egg to room temp in a hurry? Microwave the milk until it is very warm but not actually boiling, crack the egg into the milk, and wait five minutes. You can do this while letting the yeast set with the water. Then pour the milk and egg into the bowl with the yeast, add the sugar and salt, and whisk.
Put the flour in a food processor and drop in the butter pieces. Pulse ten or fifteen times. You don’t want the butter to disappear. You want fairly biggish pebbles of butter. But it doesn’t really matter, honestly. Small bits, bigger bits, it’s going to work fine either way, and I’m not sure this is adequately stressed in recipes of this kind. Julia Child is very stern about the size of the butter pieces, but I swear, it does not matter how big they are. This pastry will be absolutely fantastic whether the butter bits are rather smallish or quite largish at this stage.
Pour the flour mixture into the bowl with the yeast mixture and fold in rather gently. You don’t want to be so vigorous the butter actually gets all the way mixed in. You want the butter in bits because this leads to a flaky pastry. Just stir gently until the flour mixture is fairly uniformly moistened. Don’t fret – however you do it, it will work fine.
Cover and chill the dough overnight or for a couple of days, until you are ready to continue.
Laminate the pastry dough
This pastry dough is pretty easy to work with; not particularly likely to stick, just basically a cooperative, simple dough. I do dust the work surface with flour again before each lamination.
So, turn out the chilled dough onto a lightly floured surface, pat into a rough square, roll out to a square about 16 inches to a side. Or so. There’s no need to be obsessive about this either. Julia Child says a French rolling pin is best. Well, whatever. I used my marble rolling pin, but you could use a wine bottle if you wanted. I’ve rolled out pastry dough with a wine bottle before. It honestly does not matter what you use. Dust both sides with flour periodically if necessary to keep it from sticking, but this is not a difficult dough.
Fold your squarish dough in thirds like you’re folding up a business letter to put it in an envelope. This will produce a narrow rectangle.
Roll this rectangle into a long, thin rectangle, like 24-inch by 10-inch or so. Fold in thirds again, this time forming a square.
Roll out to a 20-inch square (or so). Fold in thirds to form another narrow rectangle.
Roll out into another long, thin rectangle. Fold in thirds once more to form a square. You’re done! Wrap the flat square of dough in plastic wrap and chill again. You can hold the dough at this stage for days. What I suggest is, you’ve got this flat square of dough. Cut it in quarters right now and wrap each piece separately. You can use one piece at a time every day to make four pastries each day.
Rolling out a quarter of the dough at a time also takes less space and is easier, so you may choose to roll it out a quarter at a time even if you are going to make all sixteen pastries at once.
But before you can finish the pastries, you need to make the fillings, so after you put the laminated dough in the fridge to chill, make the fillings. Although! You could ALSO skip the filling and make sixteen croissants with this dough and that also would be great! If you’re not into sweets, then you might want to try that.
I tend to be generous with the filling and run out, particularly because my mother likes a lot of apricot filling in her pastries, so this makes a lot. If you have some left over, I expect you can find something to do with it, even if that’s just swirling it into vanilla ice cream, which would be very good, by the way. Anyway, if you don’t want filling left over, make half this recipe.
- 2 C dried apricots – generous cups, so pack them in there.
- 2 C granulated sugar
- 2 C water
- 4 Tbsp lemon juice, preferably fresh squeezed, but bottled is fine
- 1 tsp almond extract
Pour the water and sugar over the apricots in a microwavable bowl. Microwave ten minutes, stirring now and then. Pour this mixture into a food processor and puree. Add the lemon juice and almond extract. Cool and then chill to store. Stores at least a week in the refrigerator, probably longer.
- 1 C blanched almonds, raw or toasted
- 1/2 C powdered sugar
- 2 Tbsp unsalted butter, at room temperature
- 1/2 tsp almond extract
- 1 egg whites, beaten
Are the almonds already toasted? No? Toast them. The way you toast nuts is to preheat the oven to 350 F, spread the almonds or any other nuts on a baking sheet, bake three minutes, shake and stir the almonds or other nuts around on the baking sheet, bake another minute, stir, maybe one more minute and stir again. Time will depend on how big the pieces are, so slivered blanched almonds don’t take as long as walnut halves. When the nuts are a little golden and smell fragrant, they’re done. Pour them out on a plate to cool because if you leave them on the baking sheet, they may burn. Or in this recipe, just pour them into the food processor and let them cool there.
Toasting the almonds is by far the longest step involved in making the almond filling.
Place almonds, sugar, and butter in food processor and puree. Add the almond extract and beaten egg white and process again. There you go. Doesn’t matter whether you process this mixture all the way smooth or not. Any texture is fine. Stores at least a week in the refrigerator, probably longer.
- 1 C cream
- 1 1/2 Tbsp cornstarch
- 1/4 C sugar
- 1 egg yolk
- 1 tsp vanilla
When I think of making pastry cream on the stovetop, I could cry. This method is so much simpler and quicker. I can’t believe I never saw this recipe before in Baking with Julia. It’s worth buying the book just to get this recipe, or it would be except I’m providing it here. By the way, did you know that no recipe is copyrightable? The ingredients list is never copyrightable unless something about the list is weird. Only the words that are used to present the recipe, the directions and how you chat with the reader and all that sort of thing, are copyrighted. I think it’s nice to credit the author from whom you got the recipe, but there is no copyright issue involved and I just thought I would share that tidbit with you in case you ever want to present a recipe in public. You can, but you need to use different words in the description, and I expect that is why all food bloggers have such personal, chatty styles.
Combine the egg yolk and vanilla. Whisk together in a small bowl.
Combine the cream, cornstarch and sugar. Whisk together.
Microwave 1 minute. Whisk. Microwave 1 minute. Whisk. Microwave 1 more minute. Whisk.
Add a spoonful of the hot cream mixture to the egg yolk mixture and whisk. Add the egg yolk mixture back to the larger part of the cream mixture and whisk. Microwave 30 seconds. There you go, you are done. Cool and then chill to store.
Finish the pastries
This is the fun part! Not that the earlier parts are disagreeable, but this is when you get to actually eat pastries.
Option A: Roll out the dough to a 20-inch square. Trim the edges so you have a straight-edged square. Collect the trimmings and pat into a disk because you can chill it again, roll it out again, and make another set of pastries. They won’t be as flaky, but you know what, they’ll still be good. Cut your neatened square into nine to sixteen squares depending on how much you just trimmed off the edges.
Option B: Roll out one-quarter of the dough to about a 10-inch square, don’t bother trimming, cut in quarters with a pizza roller or knife, and make four pastries.
Beat an egg white and have that handy in a little bowl.
Top each square with a tablespoon of apricot filling. Add a tablespoon of almond filling OR the pastry cream on top of the apricot filling.
Paint two opposite corners of the square with the beaten egg white—you can just use your fingertip—and fold those corners over the middle with the points overlapping. Press fairly firmly to seal and get a little filling to show at each end.
If you are making just four pastries, the rough edges will not show if you fold up the pastries the right way. Paint the nice triangular corner with egg white, fold in the opposite corner, fold over the triangular corner, and pinch firmly to seal. The rougher edges are now hidden by the straighter edges, which is yet another bonus to doing four at a time.
Either way, place the finished pastries on parchment-lined baking sheets, cover with kitchen towels, and let rest at warm room temperature for 25 minutes. If it’s cold, then turn on your oven for two minutes, turn it off, and let the pastries rise in your now-warm oven. The pastry isn’t supposed to double, but it should look a little puffy. If you can’t tell whether it’s puffy, that’s fine, they always turn out great.
After 25 minutes, take the pastries out of the oven and preheat the oven to 400 F. The pastries will finish rising while the oven preheats. Bake the pastries for 8-10 minutes, until lightly golden. When I make these, I spin my baking sheets around after 8 minutes because my oven is hotter at the front than at the back, then bake the pastries another 3 minutes for a total of 11 minutes. Every oven has its quirks, so adjust as necessary.
Cool the pastries on racks and serve warm. Or cool to room temperature, cover tightly with plastic wrap, and serve later that day. Very much best the day they’re made, preferably served within a few hours.
These are REALLY REALLY good. I hope I have emphasized that enough. They are easy and they are excellent and you should all try making them, except Craig, who can count on having me make them next time he visits and therefore may prefer that option.
Okay, I’m now going back to the revision of INVICTUS and the very final proofing of TASMAKAT.