Rachel Neumeier

Fantasy and Young Adult Fantasy Author

And Cake! / Blog

Firecracker Apple Cake

Okay, as promised! This cake is for those who like desserts that bite back, but I promise you it is FABULOUS.

The recipe is from Bon Appetit, the Dec. 2007 issue, and Bon Appetit notes that they got it from the Firefly Grill in Nashville. The actual recipe also includes spiced pecans to scatter on the top of the cake, which I have never made.


1 1/2 C all-purpose flour
2 tsp cinnamon (I use 1 tsp because cinnamon is not my favorite)
3/4 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp nutmeg
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp ginger (I use a heaping 1/2 tsp because ginger IS my favorite
1/4 tsp cayenne
3/4 C veg. oil (I think this seems like a lot and I subtracted 2 Tbsp last time I made the cake and will try using just 1/2 C next time.
3/4 C packed brown sugar
1/4 C sour cream (I used Greek yogurt)
2 large eggs
1 Tbsp vanilla
1 3/4 C cubed apple (the recipe specifies 1/3″ cubes, I just zip the apples in a food processor and call it good. This is about 1 large or 2 small apples).


2/3 C packed brown sugar
6 Tbsp light cream
5 Tbsp unsalted butter
4 large egg yolks
1/2 generous tsp cayenne

Make the glaze:

Put all ingredients in a small saucepan and stir constantly over medium heat four about four minutes, until the mixture coats the back of a spoon. If you make this ahead, you will need to warm it to pourable consistency before you use it.

Make the cake:

Grease and four a Bundt pan. Combine all the dry ingredients and set aside. Whisk together the oil, brown sugar, sour cream, eggs, and vanilla. Add dry ingredients and fold together to blend. Fold in apple. Pour into prepared pan. Bake at 375 degrees for about 40 minutes, until a toothpick near the center comes out clean. Cool in pan 10 minutes and turn out onto plate. Glaze warm cake with half the warm glaze. Pass the rest of the glaze with the cake as you serve it.

The recipe suggests vanilla ice cream, but I never use it because I love the glaze and don’t think the cake needs anything else. In fact, I can eat the glaze out of a jar with a spoon. Mmmmm.

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Here’s an interesting test —

From the INTERN.

Okay, from the INTERN’s archives, which I’m reading partly because there’s some cool stuff in there but mostly because the INTERN is currently not posting new content.

So today I found this:

“Lately, INTERN has been conducting a similar test on manuscripts and library books. Here’s how it works:

-Open novel to a random page
-Read a couple paragraphs, or at most, a couple pages
-Can you tell what the conflict is, or what the character is yearning for? Can you explain, in just a few words, what these paragraphs are doing and why?

It can be as concrete as “she is trying to catch the rattlesnake” or as abstract as “he is struggling to understand his son’s anger”.

Some examples from INTERN’s handy pile ‘o’ library books:

In a random paragraph from “Small Island” by Andrea Levy: “character is having moral qualms over what to do with an expensive brooch she finds on the ground.”

In a random paragraph from “East of Eden” by Steinbeck: “character is deciding to punish two boys, even while having doubts about their guilt.”

In a random paragraph from “Lullabies for Little Criminals” by Heather O’Neill: “character realizes that she’s been so wrapped up in her own struggles that she hasn’t noticed her father’s life falling apart.”

In a random paragraph from “The End of the Affair” by Graham Greene: “character is frustrated at his own inability to confront a friend.”

These are not carefully selected examples. These little conflict summaries are literally pulled from single paragraphs on randomly opened pages. Stab these books with a toothpick all you want—that sucker is gonna come out clean. At seemingly every moment in these books (except maybe in passages describing the scenery), there is some kind of tension or revelation going on.

If you stab your own manuscript with that toothpick and need to read an entire chapter before being able to identify some kind of internal or external conflict, you might have a problem. If you can’t identify what’s going in any particular spot in less than twenty words, chances are the conflict or tension is too vague (or there isn’t any). [Note: obviously, all books are different, and a surrealistic alinear epic space opera needs a different barometer than a linear coming-of-age novel. But still.]

Lack ‘o’ identifiable conflict (especially in the first few chapters) is a major problem with first drafts. If you can’t identify any conflict until Chapter 3, the book either needs to start at Chapter 3 or the first two chapters need to pony up. “

I pulled out a big piece of this post because the link is going to take you to all of 2009’s archived posts and you’ll have to scroll down pretty far to find this entry.

But how about that? Doesn’t that sound kind of fun to try? Plus don’t you think it would help teach you how to learn to summarize conflict in one sentence? [Which is helpful for writing queries and pitches, see.]

I just write ’em by feel, you know, but maybe I’ll try this out on my WIP just to see. Hopefully I can then nod smugly and say, “See? I knew I was doing a good job.” And if not, heck, maybe it’s time to revise a little more analytically than usual.

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This time, I mean finished with the copy-edited ms, except I want to go through it once more tonight and look at certain specific things. It’ll only take me one evening unless I forgot to note page numbers. I would certainly prefer not to look at every page. I will DEFINITELY not be reading every word.

What this particular copy-edited ms has demonstrated for me is:

1) My hindbrain does not get the difference between “that” and “which”, even though I thought I had it trained properly by now.

2) And apparently I have a deep conviction that the word “half” should be connected to whatever follows it by a hyphen.

Apparently my eye just reads right over these items, even when I think I am paying attention. Kind of embarrassing! On the other hand, I found and fixed at least half a dozen typos the copy editor missed, so Go, me!

I think I had better start using the FIND command to check “half” as part of polishing a new manuscript. Unfortunately, I can’t think of a way to search only for those instances of “which” that lack a comma in front of them.

Okay! In other news! The most popular desserts last night were:

1) The apple cake, even though I warned people up front about the cayenne. Everybody tried a small piece and nearly everybody loved it. I will post the recipe sometime this week.

2) The cheesecake. The rosewater didn’t come through as strongly as I’d hoped; I should have used a full Tbsp instead of two tsp. But it was popular anyway because hey, cheesecake.

3) The peach pie, which unexpectedly appeared in my kitchen — Mom was baking, too — so I didn’t make the brownies.

The least popular? The chocolate chip toffee cookies. Isn’t that interesting? The only dessert with chocolate AND the most familiar dessert AND the one with the smallest portions, and everybody dissed it. The rest of the cookies are now in the freezer and I will gradually eat them all myself, which is not a sacrifice.

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Copy editing . . . still in progress

I love copy editors!

I am told that my writing is very “clean”, but nevertheless there is a pretty good handful of typos.

I think the job of a copy editor is not the same for, say, journalists as for novelists. What a copy editor does for a novel is:

a) look for and correct typos, such as teh instead of the.

b) look for missing or incorrect grammar, such as periods missing from the ends of sentences.

c) look for repeated words, such as “devastated” used twice in three sentences. (I really hate repeated words — well, most of the time — and they can be hard to spot, so I love having another set of eyes looking for them.)

d) Fix actual grammatical errors, such as (for me) changing which to that. (Honestly, I thought I had the back of my brain properly trained for this one, but evidently I still miss it sometimes. Unless gremlins go through my manuscript and introduce errors. Which sometimes seems plausible.)

e) standardize the style to fit the house style — that is, I prefer “Thaddeus’ jacket” to “Thaddeus’s jacket”, but Orbit’s house style dictates the later. I don’t have to worry about this when writing, because the copy editor fixes it.

e) look for inconsistent spelling in the made-up words in the book. Like I spelled a character’s name “Nerenne” 58 times and “Necenne” twice and the copy editor marked every single instance of the name to confirm the correct spelling.

f) look for inconsistent descriptions and stuff. Anybody’s eye color change halfway through? The copy editor will (hopefully!) catch this.

g) mark every single dash and every single bit of italics for the typesetter, even though this stuff is already in place in the manuscript.

What the copy editor does not do:

Mess with the writing. Every single time the copy editor suggests a change to the prose, the change is flagged for author approval. (Usually they are good suggestions.) I think this isn’t necessarily the case for newspaper editorials — I think sometimes copy editors smooth out clunky writing there — and I have no idea whether its the same for nonfiction.

Check for factual accuracy (as far as I know; maybe they’re supposed to but it doesn’t come up much with fantasy novels (I read one fantasy novel, though, where the author referred to a “mink” every time she meant an “ermine” and the error drove me just frantic since the two animals are NOT THE SAME — the ermine is less than half the size of the mink, for one thing — so fact checking is not actually irrelevant to fantasy).

Exercise dictatorial power over my grammar. If I want to break a grammatical rule, which I certainly will do to produce a specific “feel” to the sentence, then I stet it back to the original. But the copy editor makes me think twice and three times about all deliberate nonstandard grammar, which is undoubtedly a good thing.

Critique the writing. Although! My favorite copy editor EVER broke this rule to write “Love this!” in the margin at one point in CITY IN THE LAKE, and believe me, I did not complain. If you’re copy editing for me, feel free to insert compliments!

After this, last chance to remove typos comes with the page proofs. There shouldn’t be ANY TYPOS LEFT, but there will be. (Gremlins, remember?) This is the stage where I ask my Mom to read the manuscript after I’ve gone over it. She’s the sort of reader for whom grammatical errors light up in neon. Plus it expands her horizons as a reader, since she never reads any fantasy but mine.

So . . . all done with the copy edited manuscript! Except I made a few notes about things to look at again and that will take an extra day, but I can’t do it tonight. I’m having a potluck at my house and I’m making all the desserts, so not a chance I’ll get to this!

The desserts:

A cheesecake made with raspberries and rosewater.
An apple cake with cayenne both in the cake itself and the caramel glaze.
A lemon pudding cake.
Brownies with walnuts and an apricot glaze (if I have time).
Chocolate chip cookies, for the non-adventurous. Though it’s an odd recipe. But very good.

The apple cake is just to die for if you like a dessert that bites back. I’ll try to remember to post the recipe.

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New cover!

Check this out:

Isn’t this lovely? It should be very close to the actual cover.

HOUSE OF SHADOWS will be coming out next spring. If you get the impression from this cover that it’s got a kind of geisha thing going, you are correct! I had just read Memoirs of a Geisha by Arthur Golden and Geisha by Liza Dalby and that gave me ideas.

The world in HOUSE OF SHADOWS has a scattering of details that might evoke Japan, but only to a minor extent. My keiso are not exactly like historical geisha, either. I thought it would be fun to pick up the idea of geisha as accomplished artists and professional companions, but I went even further that that — I completely separated the geisha role from prostitution and then had fun fitting the “flower world” into the wider world of the novel. I think it turned out rather well — I’m looking forward to seeing what readers think!

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Interruptions are part of a writer’s life

So, good thing I took notes about the changes I want to make to chapter three of my WIP, because last night I got the copy-edited manuscript for HOUSE OF SHADOWS and that gets priority.

Usually the publisher gives you something on the order of two or three weeks to get the copy-edited ms back to them, but I always like to beat deadlines, so I’ll try to turn this around in less than a week. I usually find it takes about four days to go over a copy-edited manuscript, as long as I can work on it every day.

You can just go through and look at all the copy editor’s flags, and since it’s faster, it’s kind of tempting to do it that way if you’re busy with other things, but Orbit in particular is VERY CLEAR about wanting any substantive changes to happen at this stage and not at the page-proof stage (which is the stage at which every page looks like it will in the book) (because changes at the page-proof stage cost money, so you can see why they care about this).

So that means it’s best to actually read through the whole thing with careful attention. You also want to do this in case the copy editor missed something — and let me say here that I heart copy editors. They don’t miss much. I’m so impressed when a copy editor says “Here on p. 314 you say Thus And So, but this seems to conflict with something you said back on page 10.” See how much attention they have to pay to everything in order to do that? I think I have a knack for this kind of thing, but copy editors seem to have a BETTER knack for it.

Also, unless you have gone through this, you just can’t believe how hard it is to catch every single typo and every single instance of a repeated word and so forth. Layer after layer of checking and there can still be a typo or three in the page proofs — or even in the final book, which is SO EMBARRASSING.

So anyway — I’ve sharpened my colored pencils and cleared off my table and everything is ready. Hopefully not more than four days for this little project.

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Oh, The Agony —

Three hours of work last night, to fiddle with three paragraphs of the story.

Okay . . . maybe it was more like two hours and five pages. And yes, I figured out how to handle the chapter better. So it was not actually a waste of time. Hopefully I will finish streamlining this chapter tonight . . . or at least by tomorrow night . . . after which I will have a chapter or two to relax before I hit the next chapter that needs actual work.

Naturally, I figured out how to reorganize this problem chapter after finally shutting down the laptop and going to bed. Why is it that you immediately figure things out after shutting things down for the night? ‘Cause it totally happens ALL THE TIME. I scrawl a quick note so I don’t forget, but I never actually start working again.

I am working, as I said, on streamlining — cutting Erest’s point-of-view chapters and also getting more “in his head” and giving his early chapters a more immediate feel. This is a certain amount of work, but at least I am pretty sure none of my characters have ever been hit by the Character Transformation Bazooka.

I miss INTERN and am reading her archived posts, see. You should read the whole thing! Because it’s funny as well as insightful! But the most directly useful bit was this:

“INTERN has been doing a lot of research into this triumph thing, and has found that really effective triumphs in novels happen only after one or a few of the following have happened in the story:

-a character has had to sacrifice something
-a character has had to make a high-stakes choice or moral decision
-a character has tried several other options and failed
-a character has suffered a hard loss or injury over the course of struggling towards a particular goal
-a character has, indeed, been struggling in some way, not floating along easily.
-a character has been forced to change significantly
-a character has undergone real trials and conflicts pertaining to the goal

If none of these things have happened, but your characters are still smiling weepily and holding each other while Chariots of Fire plays in the background, they’re probably the victims of a T-Bomb.”

This is the kind of post that makes you (a) laugh and be glad you never do this, followed rapidly by (b) worry that maybe you HAVE done this. You have to quickly think of all the moments in your book where Chariots of Fire might plausibly be in the soundtrack and confirm that yes, yes indeed, the characters have earned their moments of triumph.

Which they HAVE. I’m pretty sure.

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Cory Doctorow —

Finds that self-publication is a lot of work.

“I knew I’d have to do some of the stuff my publisher had done, but like everyone doing something complicated for the first time, I dramatically underestimated how much work this would be. It’s not impossible, and it’s not horrible work – it’s challenging, exciting stuff, but it’s incredibly time consuming . . .”


If everything that’s worth doing is worth doing well, then everything is going to take a lot of time. Can I have a clone to do half of it for me?

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Long weekend over —

Lots of watering (OH IF ONLY IT WOULD RAIN), lots of weeding, quite a bit of tedious deadheading of the buddleias because I want them to keep blooming through September, and . . . to my surprise, I actually started my next project. I meant to take a break until today, but just kind of found myself in the mood for . . . manuscript revision! Who knew?

I’m also trying around the edges to come up with a decent title for this WIP, but for the moment I’ll just call it KEEPER, okay? Which I do not like at all as a title, but it’ll work for now as a tag.

What I’m doing with KEEPER is reducing one main character’s (Erest’s) role and also working on streamlining the plot. It’s tricky because I’m taking out big chunks and then having to work back in little tidbits of exposition so the reader will know what’s going on. Sometimes this means taking out all references to Various Plot Elements and making a mental note that those Plot Elements need to be introduced later. I have a pretty good memory for this sort of thing, but obviously at the end I will need to read back through the whole story to make sure everything flows and I didn’t miss anything.

My guess is my enthusiasm for this project will wane shortly. Sigh. At least interspersed with the hard parts I get the easy parts — reading through Oressa’s chapters, which hardly need to change at all.

Hopefully be done by the end of the month, despite dog shows and Archon. Then I’ll have to decide on another project, something brand new. So many choices! A sequel for House of Shadows (coming next spring)? A sequel for The Floating Islands? This extraordinarily cool thing I want to do based on an alternate pseudo-Ottoman Empire?

First step is still to finish this revision, though, so onward with that . . .

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Just occurred to me —

One of the many reasons I loved ALWAYS by Nicola Griffith, besides the really great writing, is because it is primarily a romance, and yet in addition to the romance, actual stuff happens during the book.

Generally I don’t much care for romances, because if there’s nothing going on but Boy Meets Girl Boy Loses Girl Boy Gets Girl . . . well, excuse me, but boring.

In ALWAYS, there’s plenty going on. It’s just all going on around the edges.

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