Inaugural Recipe Post: Cake Pops

I am a pretty decent cook. But more importantly, I’m a pretty fast cook. His Hawtness once jokingly said that I get only half credit for cooking since I do only the simplest dishes.

And then one day I said to myself, you know, these dishes are pretty simple but they hold up pretty well. I’ll bet there are other readers/writers out there who wouldn’t mind a few of those recipes–more time for reading/writing, right?

Except, well, our inaugural recipe is really simple but it isn’t exactly fast–not to mention it is also highly calorific.  So I held onto it for a long time until I had a book signing recently. And used it to lure folks to my table. I can’t speak to its success as a promotional product for my books, but one teenage boy came around five separate times for the cake pops. Ha!

The original recipe can be found at food blogger Bakerella’s website.

Here’s what you need: 

Ingredients:

  • One box Red Velvet Cake Mix plus the oil, eggs, and whatnot to bake it with
  • One 16oz can cream cheese frosting
  • Chocolate bark/coating
  • White chocolate chips (I used Nestle because it has directions on the back for how to make dipping chocolate)
  • Vegetable shortening to combine with the white chocolate chips during metling (not pictured)
  • Popsicle sticks (not pictured)

Steps:

1. Bake the cake according to directions.  Let it cool completely.

2. Crumble the cake.  (I did mine in my food processor.)

3. Combine the frosting with the cake crumbs.  (I used about 3/4 can of the frosting.)

4. Form the cake crumb frosting mixture into popsicle-size balls. And stick the popsicle sticks into them.  Now put them in the fridge or the freezer for a while so that the cake spheres firm up a bit.

5.  Now melt the chocolate bark/coating according to directions.

6.  And melt white chocolate with some vegetable shortening, according to directions.

7.  And dip!  (And drizzle, if you feel like.  I drizzled with a spoon.  I  have no talent for food decorating, but I don’t think anyone cared.  And in case you are curious, the cake pops are standing on a block of florist’s foam.)

The chocolate bark is rather heavy.  But chocolate morsels, once melted with some vegetable shortening, is really easy to work with.  So this past weekend, for Junior Kidlet’s birthday, we did an at-home chocolate fondue with my teeny tiny crockpot.  Yum.  And impressed the heck out of the kids.  🙂

(And here you thought the shea butter was an isolated instance of crazy.)  😛

But I promise, next recipe will be really, really superduper simple.  And healthy too.

And in other news, HIS AT NIGHT is finally released into the wild today.  Phew.  That means I’m almost done with publicity stuff and can go back to just writing.  What a relief.

RT Convention: A Quick Recap

My RT Convention experience would have been twice as good, but alas, at the last minute, my roommate, the awesome and babelicious Tracy Wolff could not make it.  (It’s a sign of my love for her that I don’t hate her, she who literally writes ten books a year and is a RITA nominee.)  We cussed and consoled ourselves with chocolate cakes.  Tracy, of course, had the far greater cross to bear: not being able to go at the last minute!  But I was crushed all the same: I’ve never been to a conference alone.  RT is something new and alien; I’d counted on Tracy’s familiar presence and her engaging ways with people.

So off I went, all by myself, deeply dubious of my ability to enjoy myself.  And guess what?  I managed to have a pretty decent time, thanks to all the wonderful people I met and re-met along the way.

Stuff I can remember now:

  • I had to open a box of shea butter tins for airport security.  The security lady asked, “Oh, are these wedding favors?”  🙂
  • My fellow Austinites Emily McKay, Robyn DeHart, and Hattie Ratliff were in attendance.  We hooked up for various meals throughout the conference, and came back home together.  Thank you, ladies, for adopting me and raising me so well!
  • I made my first two gift baskets ever.  The baskets were bought from a neighbor’s garage sale at a quarter a piece, I shredded construction paper I already had at home for the filling, cut lengths of Christmas ribbons, and discovered such a thing as pre-sized basket bags at Michael’s.  All the pieces were packed separately in my luggage and assembled in my hotel room.

Aren’t they cute?  I was so insufferable with pride that I recounted the entire process step by step to my Austin friends, who were kind enough to listen to my long how-to soliloquy–and only later let on that they’d been doing gift baskets for years!

  • Went to the Ellora’s Cave Ball the first night and danced, as I hadn’t danced in probably ten years, with Zoe Archer and Carrie Lofty.  Woo, these ladies have moves.  And boy, Carrie can shake those hips something fierce.  Picture here.  I only regret the picture didn’t show my bad-ass shoes.
  • KristieJ in her mullet wig.  If you don’t know the backstory, KristieJ was robbed of her rightful victory in the Great Mullet Showdown, USA vs Canada–those Canadian mullets were so divinely terrible–and had to wear a mullet wig.  But she looked really cute in the mullet!  Hats off to KristieJ for carrying off a mullet with aplomb.
  • The centaur woman at the Fairy Ball.  The other costumes were nice and beautiful, but the mostly naked lady centaur on stilts blew me away.  Of course I forgot to take a picture.  If anyone knows where to find a picture online, please let me know.
  • Actually having time to go to workshops.  I’ve been so overbooked my last few RWA conventions, so it was really nice to get around to a bunch of writer workshops at RT.  The quality is just as good, and the crowd is much less so I could ask whatever questions I wanted.
  • The Carina Press launch party.  A mashed potato buffet!  I had three helpings and now I wish I had even more.  That’s the kind of party I’m throwing next time at home.
  • Hearing the numbers called for the superstar authors at the RT Book Fair.  “Charlaine Harris, 850-875.”  “J.R. Ward, 910-925.”  Oh wow, can you imagine having that long a line of readers waiting for you?  I want.  I want!  (I also met Kathe Robin, senior reviewer of RT, in person at the signing and she was so sweet.)
  • Mr. Romance competition.  I am an avowed hater of mantitty, but the competitors seemed overall a nice group of young men.  My favorite was an actual male writer who was roped into the competition.  He’s written a book on 37 philosophers and their bad choices in love–which saddened him so much that he turned to romance for comfort, or so his intro said.  Smart Bitch Sarah, seated several seats down from me, screamed “MARRY ME!”
  • Julie James and Beth Kery also semi-adopted me during the conference.  When we met last year at RWA D.C., Julie told me that she wrote heroines who are slightly more sexually experienced, but not sluts by any means.  According to her, I replied breezily, “Oh, I write sluts.”  I was, of course, astonished to hear this.  But it does sound like the kind of stuff I might say when I’m in the mood–which is quite often.  🙂

And yes, the tins of shea butter disappeared really fast.

HIS AT NIGHT Trailer

I wavered for a while, on whether to do a book trailer or not. Let’s face it: a book trailer is not the most effective means of promoting a book. (Although, what is?) But in the end, I decided to go for it and I’m really glad I did.

Because HIS AT NIGHT went through such repeated and arduous rewrites after it had been copy edited, I decided to hire an outside copy editor myself, just for quality assurance. Tiffany Yates, a professional freelance copy editor who has worked with many of the New York publishing houses who also happens to be a member of my local RWA chapter, proved a totally awesome choice.

Her queries, suggestions, and story advice were spot on. Which meant, by the time final galleys came, and changes had to be handwritten in the margins, I made if not substantial then at least noticeable changes to the manuscript. It killed me. I find final galleys nerve-wracking as such, to make so many changes–every page almost–oh, Lord have mercy.

In the months after that, I wanted nothing to do with the book. Even when I was at the RT Convention admiring the finished copies, I still couldn’t bear to crack the book open. Beth Kery, whom I met through Julie James, suggested that I was having mini-PTSD flashbacks. And she was right.

But since making the book trailer required consulting the manuscript, last Monday I flipped open HIS AT NIGHT at about a few chapters in. I began with a lot of trepidation, but soon I started enjoying myself. With just the usual breaks to pick up Junior Kidlet and hold him captive until homework is done, I read the book all the way through to the end that same day.

Phew. What a relief. End of mini-PTSD.

And here, without further ado, the book trailer:

Shea Butter–Or, the Extent of My Crazy

Last summer, I went to Central Market, a fabulous Austin institution.  When I was there, I saw tiny little round tins of pure shea butter being sold for $4.95.  We are talking 1/4 ounce tins.  Highway robbery, I thought to myself.

Around that time I learned about this website called From Nature with Love, a wholesaler for quality beauty ingredients.  So at some point in the following months, I decided that instead of giving out bookmarks, I would have a promo product that I would be  interested in receiving.  I would offer the public little tins of pure shea butter–which otherwise cost $4.95–with the cover of my new book on it.

Fast forward to March.  Well, if I was going to have little tins of shea butter to give away at RT, I’d best get started.  I ordered a gallon of organic shea butter, five hundred 1/4 oz slide top tins, and a box of high-gloss labels just the right size to go on top of those little tins.

And I got to work.

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Portuguese Delicious–Squee-worthy! Now Updated with Bookmark

Squee.  This is such a gorgeous cover.  Please click on the image to see all the details.   Full of food, yum, yum, yum.  Spices at the top:  dried red chilies, star anise, vanilla beans, and I think those are nutmegs.  And on the bottom, piles of chocolate and berries.  Ahhh.  Nom nom nom.

I love the warm palette.  I love the scale.  I love the title–which I think means Forbidden Fruit.  I love everything about it.  The only possible detail that can better this cover would be if there were a few madeleines sitting on that scale!

The best cover of my career.

Update:

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Italian Duke! And French and Japanese Too!

I think the title is Hearts in Shadow, but I’m not too sure.  Anyway, here’s the Italian cover of Meredith’s debut book, Duke of Shadows.

Old-school, ain’t it?  🙂  Love all that pink and lavender.

Updated:

And then of course, doing a little reading on the backlog of Meredith’s twitter, I discovered some other foreign covers for Duke.

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Mystery Cover

I love covers, and to my surprise, Spanish book club version of PRIVATE ARRANGEMENTS showed up at my door a few days ago, with a different cover.

The provenance of the image, according to the info at the back of the book, was Shutterstock, a stock image website.  By going to Shutterstock and typing in “proposal”–since that’s what the man looks like he’s doing, though it’s also possible he’s a Regency Jesse James begging forgiveness, judging by the expression on her face–I found the image.  But the only information that came with the image is that it is an illustration circa 1830.  (And it was mislabeled as Victorian.  But to be perfectly fair it’s hard to know what to call those years post-Regency and before Victoria’s ascent to the throne.)

So, art history majors and art lovers, please ride to my rescue once more.  (Last time it was Seton who correctly identified the regular Spanish cover as a Tissot painting.)

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And a word on RITA® nominations, which were announced yesterday. While I’m deeply honored that NOT QUITE A HUSBAND received a nod, I am completely bewildered that Meredith has again been overlooked. Of course I’m partial, but I’m hardly alone in my opinion that Meredith is one of the greatest talents the genre has ever known. And her two 2009 books were two of the finest historical romances to be published that year or any year.  So feel free to commiserate with me.

Chemistry 101–Mini Lesson 5

In this concluding installment, I’m going to play the role of the thought police.

It is inevitable that your H/H think about each other.  And they should.  But remember, do not duplicate real life here and write long scenes where nothing goes on except somebody reliving events that had already taken place.  We know what happened already. Move on to the next set of events.

But what about the non-POV character, you ask?  We need to know what the non-POV character’s reaction was to the kiss/screw/crisis.

It’s okay.  Move on with the story, have the hero and the heroine do what they need to do, and then to have them think what happened or think of each other only when triggered.

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A Blast from the Past

I was cleaning out my utility room last night and discovered a shoulder bag that probably hadn’t been opened in seven years, because inside were the things I brought back from the San Antonio Romance Writers’ 2003 Merritt Conference. The Merritt is a great little conference.  We Austinites drive down in the morning, have fun, and drive back in the evening.  The first time I attended, I was eight-month pregnant, and went in author Kathleen O’Reilly’s maternity suit.   The last time I attended Lisa Kleypas was the luncheon speaker–back when she still lived in Central Texas–and she was drop-dead gorgeous.  I told her she looked like Natalie Portman’s slightly older sister.

I digress.

Among those things I brought back were a little Embassy Suites Hotel notepad with a few lines jotted down.  At first I thought it might be something I was writing.  But no, it was a parody.  In 2002 I’d won the All About Romance Purple Prose Parody contest with a spoof on historical romance clichés.  I must have been trying my hand at a new one, this time a spoof of overused contemporary chestnuts.

Here it is, in all its bromidic glory:

“Oh, Rod,” Innocence whispered, “oh Rod, I can’t believe I’m back in your arms again.  Ever since you blasted out of town in your battered Chevy ten years ago after our high school graduation, I’ve been waiting for you to come back.”

“Yeah.  I heard from Mrs. Anderson at the grocery store how you always go from the class you teach at the nursery school straight home every evening–and stay there.”

“I’ve never gone on a date since.”

“Your Aunt Florie told me that.  And your best friend Betsy let me know how you still cry every time you get your period because you wish you were carrying my baby instead.”

Hee.  I guess you can tell I’m in favor of a woman having a life, especially in the absence of some bastard who just chucked her.  🙂

So…About His at Night II

Now that the page proofs are on back in New York–meaning no more tinkering, ever–I’ve finally posted a full excerpt of His at Night.

(Funny how prescient I was.  Everything that came after what I dared to post earlier changed.)

A quick glance at the excerpt is quite enough to illustrate the difference between this new book and my entire backlist.  All three of my already published books immediately set up the relationship: Private Arrangements plunges into a description of the perfect marriage of the Tremaines; Delicious says in the first line that it is a Cinderella story; and Not Quite a Husband opens on the night Bryony decides to seek an annulment.

By the end of the 2,500-word excerpt of His at Night, the H/H haven’t met yet–and wouldn’t for another 4000 words.  Phew, all that to just set up a meeting.  Yep, no reunited lovers in this story, no past to draw on for instant conflict, no shared history to exploit for poignancy and heartache, just two strangers who’d never clad eyes on each other before.

So that’s one huge difference.  Another is that this book was originally intended to be a comedy.  In fact, when my agent read the proposal–nothing of which has translated to the finished product, by the way–she thought it was a farce.  (After months of bawling my eyes out writing Not Quite a Husband, I was totally ready for teh funneh.)

At one point, I even openly declared that I was writing a Loretta Chase book, Mr. Impossible, to be specific, which I’d thoroughly enjoyed.  Mr. Impossible has a hero who is mistakenly thought by the heroine to be a dumb lummox at the beginning of the book.  His at Night has a hero who is mistakenly thought by the heroine to be a dumb lummox at the beginning of the book, ergo I must be writing Mr. Impossible.

As it turns out, I might have written the anti-Mr. Impossible.  Rupert, the titular Mr. Impossible, is about the most irrepressible, sunny, forthright fellow you can hope to meet in Romancedom.  Vere from His at Night is just the opposite, repressed, secretive, and, gulp, damaged.  I’ve never done a damaged hero before–wounded, yes, but not damaged.  Camden from PA and Leo from NQAH wouldn’t have a single problem if it weren’t for their women.  Even Stuart from Delicious, who’s had a rough childhood, is completely normal. But Vere, Vere is effed up.

So a romp this ain’t.  And although I think it is screamingly funny at times–a dangerous statement as nothing is more subjective than humor–it is also possibly the darkest book I’ve written.  A romantic dramedy, I guess, with a side of suspense.

Let me see.  What else is there in His at Night that I don’t normally do?  I know, a virgin.  Oh boy, this book hits all the possible highlights of a historical romance: a lordship who’s a secret agent, a virgin, a forced marriage, and an evil uncle.  We are only missing a duke–Vere is a marquess instead–and a ball.

And this has been a post in reader expectation management.  Thank you.  🙂