Rachel Neumeier

Fantasy and Young Adult Fantasy Author

And Cake! / Blog

A new (-ish) project . . . and cake!

So, a whole week since I finished revising MOUNTAIN. So naturally I got bored. Even though I was reading some really good books. Maybe there was some guilt in there too, the kind of not-working-just-reading-is-this-allowed kind of guilt that is (I suppose) just an intrinsic component of life. But mainly I was bored.

Plus, I needed to try actually working on my new laptop.

Which only lets me play music one artist at a time rather than selecting (say) all the instrumental and letting me randomize a couple hundred songs in one playlist. Which I hate hate hate not being able to do. I suppose it will be possible to find a different music program. Anyway!

Picked up an old project. Not very old, actually. A year or two? It’s fifty-plus pages of an adult secondary world fantasy based around an Ottoman-ish society. See, I realized that it would be better if I took some of the recent backstory and turned it into story! It’ll start faster! It’ll pull the reader in better! It’ll encourage the reader to immediately become involved with the main character! Who is this really neat character because she . . . well, never mind, that would be a bit of a spoiler.

So, rewriting the beginning of the story. Figure that’ll take the rest of the week or thereabouts, after which, I don’t know. I might continue and write another chapter or two of this book, or I might bang the beginning into shape and then put it aside again and go on to something else. We’ll see.

Oh, but maybe I’ll post the opening scene, though. I don’t think any eventual editor would care, do you?

Now, the cake!

I made this last week for someone who doesn’t eat chocolate (I know, right?) and WHOA did people rave. I got comments ranging from “wonderful!” and “so light” to “best cake I ever ate in my life!” so I thought I would toss the recipe out here and let other people try it if they like. It’s no harder than making any other layer cake, but it is a little different because the butter you would usually use is replaced by cream.

So!

Apricot Almond Cream Cake

3 eggs, room temp (you can submerge them in hot water for ten minutes to bring them to room temp, and it’s worth doing if you want a really light cake.)
1 1/2 C sugar
1 tsp vanilla
1 3/4 C cake flour — the recipe didn’t specify, but it matters.
1 C ground almonds — not all the way ground into flour, but coarsely ground.
2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
1 1/2 C heavy cream, whipped

8 oz cream cheese
1 C sugar
1/8 tsp salt
1/2 tsp almond extract (the recipe says 1 tsp and everybody loved it, but I’d reduce the almond extract if I did it again)
1 1/2 C heavy cream, whipped

10 oz jar apricot preserves, warmed

1/2 C. slivered almonds, toasted (you can toast the almonds while the oven is hot from baking the cake; about four minutes and then shake the baking pan, then about two more minutes and pour the golden almond slivers into a bowl to cool).

Make the cake: beat the eggs, sugar and vanilla until “thick and lemon colored”, which was about 3 minutes, maybe a little less. Combine the dry ingredients. Whip the cream (you know it’ll whip better if you use a chilled glass bowl and chilled beaters, right?) (PLEASE DO NOT USE WHIPPED TOPPING, or if you do, don’t complain to me if people don’t like your cake as much as they loved mine.)

Beat the dry ingredients into the cake batter alternately with the whipped cream; three additions of the flour mixture and two additions of cream.

Pour into two 9-inch cake pans and bake at 350 degrees for 22-28 minutes, until a toothpick comes out with a very few moist crumbs sticking to it. Cool ten minutes and turn the cakes out onto racks. (If you line the cake pans with circles of parchment paper and grease the paper, the cakes will definitely turn out every time.) Go write a book or play with the puppies while the cake layers cool completely.

Make the frosting: soften the cream cheese (I do this in the microwave) and beat in the sugar, salt, and almond flavoring. Whip the cream and beat that in on the lowest speed.

Now, halve the cake layers horizontally. Here’s the easiest way to do that: get eight or so toothpicks and carefully poke them into a cake layer around the equator. Take a long piece of ordinary floss and weave it over one toothpick and under the next all the way around the cake, so that the toothpicks will hold it right around the equator. Garotte the cake with the floss, which will make a beautiful even horizontal cut right through the cake and is kind of fun besides.

Okay, now place one cake layer on the serving platter and frost with a cup or so of frosting. Place another layer on top and spread with apricot preserves. Then cake, then more frosting, then the last layer of cake. Now ignore the top of the cake and frost the sides, but reserve a cup or so of frosting. Get the sides smoothed out pretty well. Then spread apricot preserves over the top, but not necessarily right out to the very edges. If you have a decorating bag with a star tip, pipe a decorative edge around the cake and then on the platter around the bottom of the cake as well. If you don’t, then you can use a doubled-sheet of plastic wrap, poke a hole in the plastic, and pipe using that, but of course without a star tip it won’t be as decorative. Anyway! Once you have edged the top of the cake, sprinkle the toasted slivered almonds all over the apricot preserves on the top.

Chill for a couple of hours or overnight. Bring to room temp before serving. Mmmm! Everybody will love it.

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A huge contrast emerges in recent reading . . .

So, while I was revising my mss. recently, I re-read the Honor Harrington series. You know, David Weber’s nine-book military SF series. (I think it’s more than nine, now, but the original series was nine books.)

And then by chance, when I was done with the first ms. and taking a brief break before starting to work with the second, the books I happened to take off the TBR pile were Tanya Huff’s VALOR’S CHOICE and THE BETTER PART OF VALOR, which are also military SF. (And then instantly ordered the other three in this series.)

Well. Quite a difference.

I should say, I quite liked the Honor Harrington series the first time I read it. I know it’s a popular series. I still sorta kinda like it, but the reason I was reading it WHILE revising was that those books just aren’t compelling enough to distract me from doing my own work. Part of that is because I’d read them before, but a lot of it is that they just, well, aren’t that compelling. How do Tanya Huff’s books compare? Well, thus:

a) Infodumping. Weber’s series has huge, frequent infodumps. The classic kind where the action is totally stopped while the author forces characters to think about or discuss history and technology in GREAT AND EXHAUSTIVE (and exhausting) DETAIL. Huff doesn’t do this. Her background is worked in much more neatly in much smaller bits. Plus there’s just less of it.

b) Points of view. Weber has many, many points of view, including bad-guy points of view. Huff has one main point of view character. Other characters occasionally get very minimal point-of-view sections, but those sections are truly very minimal. That means it’s much easier to get emotionally attached to Huff’s protagonist because you’re not constantly being dragged off into somebody else’s pov.

c) Writing style. Weber’s style is stiff and clunky. (Sorry! It’s true!) Huff’s prose is smoother and unobtrusive.

d) Dialogue. Weber’s dialogue is stiff, predictable, and kind of boring. Huff’s dialogue sounds much more realistic and much snappier and is just more fun.

e) Believability of background and world and situations that happen in the books: Weber’s world really seems quite plausible. Huff’s . . . not so much.

f) Main character: Weber’s is the commander of the ship. Huff’s is a sergeant. A sergeant’s pov is so cool!

I hadn’t previously read many books by Tanya Huff and the ones I read didn’t stand out for me. These sure do! The four Valor stories I’ve read so far are SO GOOD and very exciting. Every one of them is excellent and I totally recommend ’em if you happen to like military SF. I’m really looking forward to the fifth . . . probably I’ll start it tonight even though I *SHOULD* be figuring out how to get this new laptop to do the things I want it to do.

I’m also moving the rest of Tanya Huff’s books to my pick-these-up-sometime list, ’cause if these are this good, then hey, definitely more interested in seeing what else Huff has been doing.

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Recent (Amazing) Reading

Well, okay, THE GIRL OF FIRE AND THORNS is going to take lot of living up to.

I mean, a) I wish I’d written this book, and

b) I’m not sure I’m going to want to read anything else for a while. What could measure up?

THE GIRL OF FIRE AND THORNS, by Rae Carson, is a YA fantasy. I’ve read lots of those lately. How is this one set apart? Well, let me count the ways.

First, the writing! Which is beautiful and just word-perfect all the way through. Also! This story is written in the first-person present-tense, which is a trick to pull off, not that I haven’t seen it done well before, but it’s not easy to REALLY do well. Carson does it perfectly, so that the prose doesn’t call attention itself at all but just disappears into the story. I didn’t even know you could do that with first-person present-tense. Wow.

Second, the setting! Love it! LOVE it! Sort of a pseudo-Mexico-South-America kind of thing. I have absolutely nothing against ordinary Tolkeinesque or medeival European settings, but all these jungles and deserts are wonderfully exotic. And the culture(s)! This great take on Spanish or Mexican culture! Just a fantastic, unusual setting. Also! Have I EVER read another secondary-world fantasy that used religion as well as it is used here? I don’t think so. Carson’s worked in a religion that’s almost-but-not-quite familiar and just an amazing and beautiful component to the worldbuilding, both integral to the plot AND flawlessly integrated into the setting. My favorite bit:

The bad guy: “This, and the stones of my brothers, will deliver your land into our hands. It is God’s will.”

Elisa: I almost stab him right then. … My hands shake with rage, though I’m not sure who it’s directed at. The Via-Reformas kept me in ignorance according to the will of God. Father Nicandro told me about my heritage for the same reason. Cosme and Humberto kidnapped me to bring about His will. Now, even my enemy presumes to know the mind of God. Alentin assured me that everyone has doubts. But it seems to me that I am the only one without a single idea about what God wants from me.

Elisa’s the main character, of course, and what a great character she is! I can’t even tell you! I would LOVE to quote this bit where Elisa realizes why God chose her to bear the Godstone, right on the second to last page of the book, but I can’t because it’s too good and you should read it yourself. Elisa’s a great character to begin with and then she changes and grows as a person and gets even better.

And the pacing! My goodness, you start to slow down and catch your breath and whammo! Something happens to grab you and pull you forward again. But at the same time you don’t want to rush, right? This is a book to take your time with and savor. And the ending is perfect but not at all pat or deus ex. In fact, fair warning, the death of an important secondary character (I can’t believe Carson DID that!) ensures that too pat an ending is impossible.

I will be watching for Rae Carson’s next book. But if it isn’t a sequel to the first, that’s great! Because though there’s plenty of room for a sequel, this book stands perfectly on its own.

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Recent reading

So, finished the (most recent iteration of) THE MOUNTAIN OF KEPT MEMORY revision! That means I have now dropped not one but TWO mss into the shark tank of the publishing world. Wish me luck!

One great thing about finishing that revision is, I now get to take a guilt-free break and read some books!

So for my first pick of the TBR pile — WINTERLING by Sarah Prineas.

Verdict: Charming!

This short little novel reads very much like an old-fashioned fairy tale. It’s quite predictable and the characters do not have great depth, but on the other hand it gives you this warm fuzzy feeling of nostalgia all the way through. I enjoyed it and would have just loved it when I was twelve. Especially the pouka horse.

I liked how Rook couldn’t disobey the Mor . . . no, really! Not even when he really wanted to. I liked how after the Mor ordered him not to answer Fer’s questions, he went through the WHOLE BOOK without EVER answering a question. And I loved the wolves. That toast thing was too funny!

Given how Prineas took The Magic Thief series through some very crucial and unexpected twists, I’ll be really interested to see where she goes with the Winterling story.

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Links

The INTERN doesn’t post all that often, but it’s still worth checking in! This made me laugh. Especially this part:

(that editor whose book you could theoretically be perceived as slighting on Twitter? If you send her an apology, SHE IS GOING TO THINK YOU’RE INSANE.)

The “teacher’s stamp” shown here also made me laugh! Plus, same site, scroll down and you can listen to Kristen Nelson explain what she thinks is the fundamental difference between middle grade and young adult. Which, in case you don’t want to listen to the video, I will explain here:

In YA (says Kristen), the protagonist encounters and has to deal with a real adult situation for the first time. After dealing with this situation, the protagonist has taken an irrevocable step forward into adulthood and can no longer see the world through the eyes of a child.

In MG (I’m sure you can see this coming), the protagonist encounters a serious situation and has to deal with it without adult help, but after the situation has been resolved, the protagonist *is* able to step back into childhood.

Isn’t that interesting? Hadn’t seen that take on the question before.

And finally:

Here is an interesting series of posts about what the publishing industry can or should be learning from Kodak (which just filed for bankruptcy).

And actually that leads to one more post: a survey from Thea at The Book Smugglers, which actually does get at exactly the same questions as Rachelle Gardner’s posts on what publishers are really selling and what people are really buying, so I’ll throw that link in, too.

Happy President’s Day! No school Monday! That means I will definitely be finishing this final revision of THE MOUNTAIN OF KEPT MEMORY (still liking that title, btw!) by Monday. I know Caitlin’s got editors in mind for submission and is just waiting for me to finish it up . . .

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You know what?

“Less” is not a synonym for “fewer”.

Also, “addicting” is not a synonym for “addictive”.

Also! “Literally” is NOT a synonym for “figuratively”.

Even though that last one is the wrongest*, the other two actually bother me more. Sets my teeth RIGHT on edge, let me tell you. And although the less than / fewer thing is super-common and I’m pretty used to it (but still hate it), I swear the addicting / addictive confusion is new. At least, I never used to notice it and now I sure do.

JUST LIKE FINGERNAILS ON A CHALKBOARD.

Oh! And the other one I hate? “All right” is STRICTLY TWO WORDS. There is NO SUCH WORD AS “Alright.” Anybody who says otherwise has simply knuckled under to the forces of barbarism and is contributing to the decay of civilization.

If you are not on good terms with the English language, then you should REALLY listen to your copy editor.

* Do not be snippy about “wrongest”. I’m fine with made-up words that do their job in the context in which they are used. Making up your own words does not mean that it’s okay to confuse “addictive” with “addicting”.

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I am so in the 21st century

Now using Twitter!

I know! But I couldn’t, or at least didn’t want to, until I could both check Twitter and use it from home, which depended on getting a smartphone, which I only did a couple weeks ago. (I am having some trouble bringing myself to use “tweet” as a verb to describe writing anything, though.)

Anyway! I noticed this article.

So amazing that anybody would do this! I mean, authors tweeting nothing but promotional announcements about their latest books to the point where people unfollow them because it gets so annoying. I don’t think of myself as especially self-effacing, but I would be embarrassed to death to do that.

No!

Instead, I will bore people to tears with comments about my dogs, probably. That’s why I immediately followed Deb Coates. I mean, she’s an author (first book juuuust about out now) (it’s WIDE OPEN if you want to go look for it) and a client of the same agent AND she is totally into HER dogs, so I know we can be twitter buddies! If that is a term! If not, I just made up a clearly useful term that ought to exist and now does.

Actually so far I am finding that the biggest problem with twitter is you can check it so fast and easily that it is tempting to do that from your car. While waiting for a red light to change. While you are supposed to be driving because the light actually has changed. I am sure that is annoying to the people behind me and I hereby promise never to do that again. Unless it’s a really long light.

Okay! Writing, dogs, links to recipes, and all kinds of random trivia over on Twitter. YES AND I WILL LET PEOPLE KNOW WHEN MY NEXT BOOK COMES OUT (July, btw) but not the point of annoying anybody, I promise.

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I won! I won!

Fair warning, this is not a book-related post! Today we are talking Food, which after all is very important also!

The chili cookoff at the Cavalier party yesterday? Last year I won Best Overall with an entry in the “traditional” category. This year I won the “white chili” category*, and since we kind of forgot to do a vote for Best Overall, I am free to imagine that mine would have won again.

So, since it is Very Darn Cold and thus excellent chili weather, here are both recipes. You will see that while I went with “best possible traditional chili” last year, this year I went for “very odd and exotic white chili.”

Best Ever Traditional Chili

Actually I did not follow an exact recipe, but I think I can re-create the recipe I used pretty closely. Thus:

2 Tbsp oil
2 large onions, chopped
3 fresh jalapenos or cayenne-type chilies, minced (seeded if you prefer)
1 Tbsp freshly minced garlic
3 Tbsp ground chipotle powder (got mine from Penzey’s) (chipotle powder if HOT so keep that in mind) (the smoked flavor from the chipotle is great and regular chili powder is not a substitute. Not that it would be exactly bad, but totally not the same.)
2 Tbsp ground cumin
1 Tbsp ground oregano
1 Tbsp smoked paprika (also from Penzey’s)
1 tsp salt or more to taste
2 lbs chuck, cut into a fine dice by hand (truly improves texture of chili)
1 lb pork sausage (along with chipotles, this is the very important secret ingredient)
1 35 oz can diced tomatoes, undrained
3 Tbsp tomato paste
2 cans red kidney beans or other red beans, drained and rinsed
Sour cream, cheddar cheese, chopped onion, avocado, or whatever other accompaniments you like.

Saute the onion in the oil for about 5 minutes. Add the minced jalapenos and the garlic and saute 2 more minutes. Stir in the spices and oregano and cook 1 more minute.

Brown the diced chuck in a hot skillet and remove to a bowl. Brown the sausage and drain. Add both the beef and the sausage to the pot with the onions. Add the remaining ingredients except the beans. Add 2 C water. Simmer until the beef is very tender — start to check after 1 1/2 hours. Add more water as necessary. After the beef is tender, add the beans and simmer another ten minutes or so. Serve with accompaniments.

There! Try that one of these frigid nights and let me know what you think.

Then try this one! This recipe is for a much smaller amount, so double or even triple if you want enough for a crowd. In that case, you may need to brown the chicken and onions in batches.

Thai Chicken Chili

12 oz boneless skinless chicken breast, cubed
1 onion, chopped
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 inch piece ginger, minced
3 cayenne-type fresh chilies, minced
1 1/2 tsp ground ginger
2 tsp Aleppo pepper or other mild ground chili pepper
1 tsp salt
1 Tbsp oil
1 Tbsp flour
1 Tbsp peanut butter
1 14-oz can coconut milk (I prefer chaokoh)
1 15-oz can Great Northern beans, drained and rinsed
3 carrots, shredded (I suggest a food processor for chopping the carrots)
1 stalk celery, finely chopped.
1 green onion, finely chopped
2 Tbsp finely julienned fresh basil, if you have some handy.

Jasmine rice, to serve

Combine the chicken, onion, garlic, ginger, minced chilies and seasonings and toss to coat. Saute 6-8 minutes. Stir in flour and stir for one minute. Stir in coconut milk and one can of water. Stir in peanut butter. Bring to a boil and add remaining ingredients. Simmer gently for ten minutes. Serve with rice, if desired.

* Actually, mine was the only entry in the “white chili” category. But it was very good. Hope you enjoy it!

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Saying goodbye in a better way —

My little boy is going off to his new home on Sunday! I am sure he will wrap the whole household around his adorable little paw in nothing flat.

His sister is SO not for sale!

She is a great puppy with tons of pizazz — here’s hoping she sets the show world afire when she hits the puppy classes!

I took these pics with my new phone, but I have to say, not crazy about the photo quality. Kinda think I won’t be throwing my digital camera in the trash any time soon.

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