Rachel Neumeier

Fantasy and Young Adult Fantasy Author

Blog / The Best Cookies In The World

Once more into the breach! Plus, cookies.

Okay, NOW I’m working on revising BLACK DOG. Actually I think it’s going pretty well and won’t take too long, though possibly I’m asking for trouble to sound optimistic.

I’m adding flashbacks and personal memories of the past, but so far very short ones. Though doing this is forcing me to figure out a more detailed past scene, which then has ramifications every single time somebody thinks about the past.

So I see a complete read through would once more be a good idea when I think I’m done. If I can stand it.

Then to be nice to Caitlin, I really should mark the important changes in red so she can see what I’ve done a little more easily.

Still, it’s going okay. So far.

Meanwhile! Watching puppies grow. They’re just about 12 oz today, which means they did just about double their weight in ten days like good little puppies are supposed to. They are quite fat, actually. I need to add another picture to my other website. Tomorrow, if I get to it.

Also! Onward with the promised cookies!

These are something of a pain, but well worth it once a year, if you want to splurge on macadamias:

Chocolate Macadamia Meltaways:

1 C butter (no substitutes)
1/2 C powdered sugar
1 tsp vanilla
2 1/2 C flour
7 oz macadamia, finely chopped.

1 C semisweet cocolate chips
1/2 C. additional coarsely-chopped macadamias

Cream the butter and sugar in the standard fashion; beat in vanilla; gradually add flour; stir in nuts. Dough will be stiff.

Melt chocolate chips and stir in coarsely-chopped nuts. Drop by 1/2 tsp on waxed-paper-lined cookie sheet. Chill 20 minutes.

Now, count the dabs of filling. Divide the dough into that many little balls (each will be about a tsp of dough). Shape a piece of dough around each little dab of filling and roll into a ball between your palms. This is a fiddly little job and you will find it’s hard to roll the cookies quite into balls because the chocolate dabs will be flat on one side. Do the best you can; they’ll be fine.

Bake at 375 degrees for about 12 minutes. Roll in powdered sugar to coat. Serve to gasps of admiration from all your friends and relatives.

There! After that, you deserve a casual easy cookie that isn’t the least bit fiddly. Try this popular little item:

Snow Bites

8 oz cream cheese
1/2 C butter
3/4 C margarine

(the original recipe called for those proportions, but I’ve used all butter and all margarine and the thing that matters is the cream cheese, you can vary the other two)

2 C sugar
2 eggs
1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp vanilla
5 C flour
2 C dried cranberries or mini chocolate chips or whatever floats your boat

Cream the cream cheese, butter, and margarine. Beat in sugar. Beat in egg, salt, and vanilla. Gradually stir in flour. Stir in cranberries or chocolate chips or whatever.

Drop onto parchment-lined baking sheets or else roll into balls and place on cookie sheets, if you want a slightly fancier presentation.

Bake at 350 degres of 12-14 minutes, until slightly golden on bottom but still quite white on top.

There you go, everybody will love these, I promise!

Place cookies

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Blog / The Best Cookies In The World

The most amazing cookie recipe in the world

I make tons of fancy cookies for Christmas, and lots of them are in the running for BEST IN THE WORLD. I thought I’d post my personal picks for top ten and let other people try ’em. The one I think is the VERY BEST, I’ll post tenth. If I know where the original recipe came from, I’ll say so, if not, then I have no idea.

So! Onward, to make your name as a cookie goddess!

Caramel Swirls

1 C butter
4 oz cream cheese
1 C brown sugar
1 egg yolk
1 tsp maple flavoring
2 3/4 C flour

30 caramels
6 oz cream cheese

Cream the butter, cream cheese, and sugar. Beat in egg yolk and maple flavoring. (This is the ONLY recipe I like maple in, so if you’re not a big maple fan, try it anyway.) Stir in the floor. Wrap dough in plastic and chill three hours or longer.

Meanwhile, peel all those caramels. This would be a good job for a compliant child, if you have one handy. Melt the caramels with the remaining cream cheese (I do this in the microwave).

Now, divide the dough in half. Place half on a large sheet of waxed paper and cover with another sheet of waxed paper. Roll out into a sizable rectangle. Um, about 18″ by maybe 10″? Not paper thin, you know, but thin-ish.

Spread half the caramel filling over the rolled-out dough, going all the way to the edges.

Roll up like a jelly-roll, using the waxed paper to help manipulate the roll. Finish by letting the roll sort of spill off the waxed paper onto a sheet of plastic wrap. Wrap up roll of cookie dough and place on cookie sheet in the freezer.

Repeat with the remaining cookie dough and filling.

Freeze until good and firm, at least a couple of hours or for as long as is convenient. A month is fine.

Unwrap and slice into 1/4 inch cookies. Bake on parchment-lined baking sheets at 350 degrees for about 12 to 14 minutes. Serve to universal acclaim.

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Wow, my life is so difficult . . .

You have no idea. First I spend an hour reading ON THE EDGE by Ilona Andrews, while sitting in the puppy room so that Adora won’t get lonely. Then when she is clearly settled, I go in the kitchen and bake cookies. After that, it’s time for all the dogs to go for a walk in our unseasonably warm weather. Then time to sit on the couch and read for a while, so that the other girls don’t think I’ve rejected them.

It’s pretty tough, you bet.

I finished the revision of MOUNTAIN! At least for now. Sent it off to my agent. That’s why I’m taking a couple of days to read for fun. Then it’ll be time to re-read the most recent comments over BLACK DOG and then I can revise that, possibly before Christmas if there’s not too much to do. I mean, I’ve got hours and hours of supervising puppies still to go, so that means hours and hours to work more or less uninterrupted on my laptop, too.

And yes, the puppies are doing fine! They just ticked over nine oz each this morning. Still smaller at six days than some newborns I’ve had, but they look great: plump and quiet and contented. I now am waking up only two or three times a night to rescue a cheeping puppy who accidentally crawled behind mom and got lost, or whatever. They should be less and less trouble and worry for the next few weeks . . . then of course more and more trouble as they hit housetraining age!

I hear the picture on the other site didn’t load? What’s up with that? Anyway, I’ll go try it again . . .

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Puppies!

Yes, we do have puppies. Whew!

The section (Friday) went well; unfortunately there was a long-dead puppy in one horn of the uterus (did you know dogs have a uterus shaped like a “Y”?) (Is this two much information for the average person?), and that compromised the uterine environment so that the other puppy in that horn died, probably only a day or so before the section.

Yes, this is sad, but not nearly as sad as losing a puppy after weeks spent trying to save him, which happened with Adora’s last litter. That was the only living puppy in the litter and I lost him and it was dreadful.

So this is okay, because there were two perfectly fine puppies in the other horn: a beautifully marked blenheim boy and a much-hoped-for ruby girl. So at least all this effort wasn’t for nothing!

The babies got off to a fairly slow start, what with the mom’s milk not really coming in for a couple of days. They weighed just a hair over six oz at birth (small but acceptable for a Cavalier puppy) and gradually lost half an oz each. But I supplemented by tube-feeding small amounts of milk replacer, and although still small, they are both doing well now. Again, whew!

It’s hard and often impossible to load a picture to this website from this slow connection, but for some reason it’s much easier to load pictures to my OTHER website, so if you’re curious, you can go over to

www.anaracavaliers.com

and click on the “Puppy” page, and if the update yesterday worked, then there should be a very nice picture of the new infants.

Adora’s maternal instincts came in fairly fast, given it was a section, which is why I can leave her long enough to type this — though I’ve dashed upstairs to check on her twice so far.

And! Now that she is taking care of the puppies, and the puppies are quiet and contented, I am finally able to get back to the . . . sigh . . . revision of MOUNTAIN. Surely I will have it finished by Friday? (I keep SAYING that!)

After that, the revision of BLACK DOG.

After THAT, since I am still paralyzed with indecision about what to work on . . . I kind of think I will write fifty to a hundred pages of EACH of the FOUR books I have in mind and then see what I want to do from there. Because why make a decision today when I can put it off till next summer, right?

I’m going to start with the one I feel least inclined to work on and go from there. That’ll make sure I actually do start all of ’em.

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Tomorrow is Dec 9th . . .

. . . and you know what that means? Not that Christmas is a mere 15 days away. (Well, that, too, I guess.)

No, the important thing is, it means my beautiful Adora will be having a c-section (because for several good reasons I feel that letting her have her puppies naturally presents a significant risk).

Dora's first Best of Breed win

And that means that posts will be light to nonexistent for about a week, as the only computer connected to the internet is the desktop downstairs in the study, and the puppy room is upstairs, and for that whole week I will not be leaving the puppies unsupervised for more than a few minutes at a time.

Plus, all I have at home is dial-up. I know, right? But that’s the cost — honestly, almost the only real cost — of living out in the middle of nowhere.

On the plus side, since I’ll be stuck in the puppy room 24/7, will I ever have a lot of time to focus on finishing the revision of MOUNTAIN! And then it turns out that my agent had several useful suggestions for yet more revisions to BLACK DOG. Which I am trying to appreciate, but you know, I was hoping she would declare it was perfect as-is.

It really feels sometimes like this has been The Year of Constant Nonstop Revision. I have to remind myself that actually I did write MOUNTAIN this year. Seems like so long ago. I am SO READY to stop revising stuff and write something new!

But as for tomorrow . . . wish me and my Dora luck, please! Live healthy fat thriving RUBY female puppies would be the best Christmas present ever.

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Bloggers who review free books

So, just read this article.

Quick summary: some publishers want to quit sending heaps of free books to bloggers who may or may not review them close to their release dates; some bloggers are offended at being required to keep their reviews timely in order to continue receiving free books.

I’ve seen this sort of article before, and you know what? WHAT A NONISSUE.

a) If publishers don’t want to send out hundreds of free books to bloggers who might or might not review them, well, who can blame them?

b) If bloggers don’t want to be constrained as to when they must review books, then that’s fine, nobody says they have to agree to receive tons of free books with that restriction attached. It’s not like a blogger is likely to run out of books to read if they don’t receive heaps o’ loot from publishers, right?

This stands out from the comments:

“They [bloggers who review books] are a dime a dozen and this will sort out the reviewers who blog for the love of it, from the masses who are in it for the free books.”

There are “masses” of bloggers who are “in it for the free books”? Really?

Because I don’t believe it. I don’t need publishers to send me heaps of free books in order to have my TBR pile increase to the point where the books on the bottom are in danger of fossilizing or turning into oil or whatever happens to paper subjected to great pressure for eons. And I bet most book bloggers have piles like that, too.

And here’s an even weirder comment regarding bloggers’ decision to accept only a few books from publishers and only if they expect to enjoy reading them:

“So there’s another distinction between professional reviewers and many online reviewers. An objective professional reviewer can’t just review books of his or her personal choice . . . If reviews are to be regarded as a service to readers, then the selection should not be confined to one reviewer’s subjective pre-conception about enjoyment.”

What is that? Reviewers aren’t trustworthy if they pick up only books they expect to enjoy? No kidding? For heaven’s sake, does anybody honestly think bloggers review books because they think of reviewing as a JOB requiring them to selflessly slog through books they hate as a public service? Maybe many of them think of it as, I don’t know, a FUN HOBBY which also happens to be a service to people who like the same kinds of books they do?

Or am I missing something?

I buy many, many books because of reviews at The Book Smugglers and other book review blogs. I think book review blogs are very important and will become even more important as self-publishing leads to increasingly huge heaping hordes of ungatekeepered books becoming available.

But I don’t think anybody thinks that bloggers will run out of books to review if the stop getting tons of random free books from publishers.

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And Cake! / Blog

So we are progressing . . . and Cake!

The part that is progressing is, of course, the ongoing revision. That’s sort of the royal “we”, I guess, except my mother is contributing by never calling me. Thanks, Mom! (We kind of use the phone like other people might shout to somebody upstairs. “When you come down, could you bring an extra stack of towels?” Only for us it’s like, “Could you put a bag of flour out to come over here?” (My Mom’s enormous overflow pantry serves as extra supply for me during holiday baking, since she lives right across the street.))

Anyway, the revision! I put together a more-or-less-bulleted list of everybody’s general comments and I think now is the time to start reading through the ms. from the top, nudging it here and there as I go. And frequently re-reading the list, of course. The basic outline has hardly changed at all, but some scenes have moved or been deleted or (rarely) added. I think some motivations have become clearer, and a little more has been revealed about the world, and at this point I sure hope no one would read it and think, But WHY did Gulien / the king / the Kieba do this or that stupid thing?

Plus it now makes perfect sense why the Kieba chose . . . oh, actually, that would be a spoiler. Never mind. But it was a question raised by all three initial readers and now it’s solved.

Also! New title. Still a working title, but I’m much happier with it. The ms. is now named THE MOUNTAIN OF KEPT MEMORY. Thanks to all who made suggestions!

Also! Speaking of my mother, it was her birthday this Saturday, and QUITE happy to take a break from revising, I made a cake! Only I could not find the recipe I wanted, which was for a Bundt cake with a cheesecake filling.

It’s not like I have a shortage of recipes for fancy cakes, but I was DETERMINED to make a Bundt cake with a cheesecake filling. So when I found a recipe for a Bundt cake with a coconut filling, I seized upon it.

Only it started with a cake mix, which I never use. I mean, as far as I can tell, a chocolate cake made from a mix merely LOOKS chocolate. Such a disappointment when it turns out to have no discernable chocolate flavor! Plus I think mix cakes often have a faint but unpleasant almond-ish kind of flavor — I suspect almond flavoring is cheaper than chocolate flavoring.

But! For some reason I actually had a cake mix, acquired for some purpose long forgotten, which was sitting in the back of my pantry waiting for me to do something with it. So I combined several recipes, my memory of the cake I actually wanted to make, and a strong preference for real chocolate flavor and did this:

Cake:
1 German chocolate cake mix (18.25 oz)
1 pkg instant choc pudding mix (1.7 oz) (I like instant chocolate pudding, okay? Even though I know it is not objectively good as such.)
6 Tbsp cocoa powder
4 eggs
3/4 C veg oil
3/4 C water
1/2 tsp coconut extract

Filling:
8 oz cream cheese
1 egg
2 Tbsp sugar
1 C. toasted coconut
1/2 tsp coconut extract
3/4 C mini choc chips

Glaze:
4 oz cream cheese
4 oz semisweet chocolate
1/4 C. powdered sugar

First I combined all the filling ingredients. Then I beat together all the cake ingredients, then beat the batter for five minutes. Then I spooned half the cake batter into a (greased) Bundt pan, spooned the filling on top, added the remaining cake batter on top of that, and baked the cake at 350 degrees for 50 minutes.

The cake turned out of the pan just fine! Always a relief! Then I melted the chocolate with the cream cheese, stirred in the powdered sugar, and glazed the cake with a thin layer of this mixture. (This kind of icing looks greasy and suspiciously like it won’t work, but I’ve used variants of it often and it is actually easy to work with and sets up very nicely, with a shiny finish. It’s excellent for those like me who hate a super-sweet icing. Plus it makes a great filling for sandwich cookies, too, btw.) I used a glaze because I wanted a shiny cake, because I then finished it off by dusting confectioner’s gold dust across the top.

The cake turned out very pretty, nicely chocolate, distinctly coconut flavored, and really very good — it was a little dense, but moist and with a good texture. So I hereby share it with the world! If you happen to have a cake mix sitting around, this is SO MUCH BETTER than just making it according to the directions.

Tonight I get to finish both my share of the cake and (sigh) the revision.

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Check this out —

I’ve got a guest post up at my favorite book review site!

Three lists:

My top five picks for the year;

My top eight list for books that seem to have possibly drifted away in the mists of time but deserve not to be forgotten; and

My top five most-anticipated releases for 2012

December is all guest posts all the time at The Book Smugglers — the only danger of looking in on “Smugglivus” is that it tends to overload your budget with huge numbers of highly-recommended books!

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Do you welcome your coming e-book overlords?

Nathan Bransford shows a trend, here.

My vote? Actually, I am part of the 19% of respondents who chose: “I might buy mostly e-books, if the price and technology is right, and it looks cool.”

I mean, I don’t have an e-reader. Yet. Not philosophically opposed, but hey, I have a LOT of print books right this minute.

Plus, the free/very cheap books that people usually load up their readers with the minute they get them? Not interested because not only am I not suffering from a shortage of reading material, I also don’t know how many of those free books would be books that a) I haven’t already read and also b) I would actually want to read.

But! I have allowed friends to show me their kindles, and yes, they are nice, and yes again, the reading experience looks like it would be fine, and no, I no longer use the term “real” to mean “paper.”

I recently read (somewhere, don’t remember, sorry) that e-books are still really only about 5% of total sales. Then we get articles like this and I wonder if that’s still true?

Except that e-book sales can jump 200% but if you’re starting with rather low absolute numbers, then 200% growth can quite easily still leave you with rather low absolute numbers. So it’s not that easy to really compare sales unless you have numbers or relative percentages that actually compare print vs e-books, which is harder to find.

It’s actually worse than that, because as Mike Shatzkin pointed out here, e-book sales are direct to customers, while print sales are often publisher’s sales to bookstores and subject to returns.

Also . . . I wonder what percentage of all sales are of very cheap used books? There’s a market niche that where it’d be hard for e-format to encroach on paper. Surely I can’t be the only one who frequently “tries out” a new author by buying a used book? I’ve been burned too often buying a hyped hardcover new and then finding out it’s not for me. If I love the author, I then switch to buying books new, but how many readers buy used books only? I bet there is or will be a big overlap there with people who load up their readers with only free / very cheap e-books. I wonder how those sales are going to affect the market over time.

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When do you need an editor?

Is the question posed here, at Alan Rinzler’s blog The Book Deal. Now, Rinzler is an editor, and he says there are three stages at which a writer consults him about editing:

a) Before really starting the book.

This, not to put too find a point on it, strikes me as a bit strange. Not that I don’t get why someone might want to think about the issues raised, like first or third person and how to incorporate the backstory and how to end the book. But, honestly, an editor? Why not just try writing scenes in first and third and see what you like? Just incorporate the backstory, there’s no point talking about how to do it, just do it. And, you know, when you get to the ending, stop.

I know I’m making things sound easier or at least more straightforward than they are. But, honestly, I think you learn about this kind of thing by reading and seeing how great writers do it, and then by actually doing it yourself, not by talking about it. Even with a professional.

b) While the book is in process.

While this doesn’t exactly seem nuts, I have to say, you could not pay me enough to let somebody look at a manuscript in progress. (Well, I mean, you could, but it would take a pretty substantial payment.) I’m very uncomfortable having people read bits and pieces while the book is still being written. Plus, it’s going to change and change again and acquire bits and lose bits and . . . no. Just no.

This is one reason I would never join a crit group, especially one where members are expected to submit a chapter at a time for critiques. No way!

c) After the book is finished.

There you go! This is when feedback actually becomes important!

Rinzler says:

“In a full developmental edit, I go through the entire manuscript several times, offering specific page-by-page recommendations, alterations in the plot, concept, character development and visual descriptions, small and large structural shifts, fine tuning the pacing and literary style. I insert tracked changes that indicate deletions within the sentence, or entire paragraphs, sections or chapters. I suggest new language for polish and clarity.”

Whoa. Reading something like this makes me feel great about the comments I get back from my (very much appreciated) first readers! And later from my editors! My agent comments about pacing, my brother about logical problems with the story, everyone about character issues . . . but I am grateful that nobody EVER seems to feel the need to mess with my sentences, paragraphs, or general style. Or descriptive scenes (other than to cut some description). Or overall plot. Or basic characterization.

I’m glad to come across this post right now, while I’m revising. Makes me feel like it’s not such a big job after all!

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