Clockwork Cookie Blog Tour: Espresso Chocolate Chip Shortbread

My guest today is my friend Beth Cato, not only a writer, but baker extraordinaire!  I will tell you here that I’ve already read her first two novels (the first of which will be coming out next week) and I promise if you give them a try, you’ll be hooked.

Take it away, Beth!

 

 

BethCato-HCV-smHi! I’m Beth Cato. I’m here to share some chocolaty delight and to introduce you to my book.

My debut novel, THE CLOCKWORK DAGGER, comes out September 16th from Harper Voyager. It’s a steampunk novel with airships, espionage, and a world tree that seriously plays favorites. Here’s the back cover summary:

Orphaned as a child, Octavia Leander was doomed to grow up on the streets until Miss Percival saved her and taught her to become a medician. Gifted with incredible powers, the young healer is about to embark on her first mission, visiting suffering cities in the far reaches of the war-scarred realm. But the airship on which she is traveling is plagued by a series of strange and disturbing occurrences, including murder, and Octavia herself is threatened.

Suddenly, she is caught up in a flurry of intrigue: the dashingly attractive steward may be one of the infamous Clockwork Daggers—the Queen’s spies and assassins—and her cabin-mate harbors disturbing secrets. But the danger is only beginning, for Octavia discovers that the deadly conspiracy aboard the airship may reach the crown itself.

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You can also read the full first chapter over at Tor.com. It can be found at Goodreads, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and most any independent bookstore.

Now, on to the shortbread!

I’m an author, but I’m also somewhat infamous for my baking. Every Wednesday over at my site, I post a new recipe in my Bready or Not series.

This shortbread is the ultimate in writers’ fuel, as it features espresso and chocolate together in bite-size cookie form. Drink it with coffee, milk, or tea, or stuff your face in it, Cookie Monster-style, to cope with a day of rejection. It’s delicious no matter how to take it.

Espresso Chocolate Chip Shortbread
Modified from Use Real Butter.

Ingredients:

1 tbsp instant espresso powder
1 tbsp boiling water
8 ounces (2 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature
2/3 cup confectioners’ sugar
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
2 cups all-purpose flour
4 ounces of chocolate, finely chopped OR 3/4 cup store-bought mini chocolate chips

1) Dissolve espresso powder in boiling water. Set aside to cool to tepid.

2) Beat butter and confectioners’ sugar together on medium speed for about 3 minutes, until the mixture is very smooth. Beat in vanilla and espresso, then reduce mixer speed to low and add flour, mixing only until it disappears into the dough. Don’t overwork the dough. Fold in the chocolate with a sturdy spatula.

3) Using the spatula, transfer dough to a gallon-size zip-loc bag. Put bag on a flat surface, leaving the top open, and roll the dough into a 9 x 10 1/2 inch rectangle that’s 1/4 inch thick. As you roll, turn the bag occasionally and lift the plastic from the dough so it doesn’t cause creases. When you get the right size and thickness, seal the bag, pressing out as much air as possible, and refrigerate the dough for at least 2 hours, or for up to 2 days.

4) Preheat the oven to 325°F.

5) Put the plastic bag on a cutting board and slit it open. Turn the firm dough out onto the board (discard the bag) and, using a ruler as a guide and a sharp knife, cut the dough into 1 1/2-inch squares. Transfer the squares to the baking sheets.

6) Bake for 18 to 20 minutes. The shortbread will be very pale. Transfer the cookies to a rack. Cool the cookies to room temperature before serving. Makes about 3 dozen.

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OM NOM NOM!


Beth Cato’s the author of THE CLOCKWORK DAGGER, a steampunk fantasy novel from Harper Voyager. Her short fiction is in InterGalactic Medicine Show, Beneath Ceaseless Skies, and Daily Science Fiction. She’s a Hanford, California native transplanted to the Arizona desert, where she lives with her husband, son, and requisite cat.

Find Beth Cato: Website, FaceBook, and Twitter

The Clockwork Dagger is available for pre-order at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Powell’s

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FenCon Schedule/Best and Worst Heroines

I’ve got FenCon in DFW coming up in a couple of weeks, and I got my preliminary schedule, which looks pretty nice!

I’ll be on the following panels:

Alt.History: Building a Foundation Saturday 11:00 AM

Description: It’s easy to find a trigger event for an alternate history scenario, but not always so easy to follow the ripples through and create a convincing springboard to carry a story forward. Authors discuss how they find those threads that make an alternate history credible.

Panelists: J. Kathleen Cheney, Stoney Compton, Eric Flint, Kevin Ikenberry, Sabine Starr, Shanna Swendson *

Female Protagonists and their evolving role in Literature (M) Saturday 1:00 PM

Description: It’s been a long time since the pulps used women as simple plot devices. Strong female leads make for great books, and we explore some of the best and worst examples of female protagonists in fantasy and science fiction.

Panelists: C. Dean Andersson, Paul Black, Lillian Stewart Carl, Stoney Compton, Selina Rosen, Barbara Ann Wright, J. Kathleen Cheney *

Too Close for Comfort Books Sunday 12:00 PM

Description: Some of our favorite books are naturally soothing to us, the ones we go to again and again for familiarity or an ‘easy read’. Let’s explore this phenomena and talk about what is really going on when we hide in a book.

Panelists: Kimm Antell, Michele Bardsley, J. Kathleen Cheney, Michael Ashleigh Finn, Michelle Muenzler, Rob Rogers *

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Since I’m moderator on the middle one, I’ll need to do some prep on the subject, so…

Who do you think best and worst examples of female protagonists in fantasy and science fiction?

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10 Books Meme

There’s a meme going around FB, which is not the best venue for it, but you’re supposed to list 10 books that have stayed with you and why. They don’t have to be ‘great’ books…just ones that became important to you.

1) The Bible, assorted authors

Read and reread this one many times. Other than the religious aspects (which I take seriously), there are tons of stories in here, stories that are archetypes for our culture’s literature, that show up again and again in many variations. (And some of them are pretty shocking, I must say!) I have been told before that I’ve used biblical allegory in my own writing, although I didn’t do it intentionally. It’s just there in the backdrop of our culture’s mind.

2) Mrs. Frisbee and the Rats of NIMH, by Robert C. O’Brien

2nd grade. I still have my copy. This was the first book I recall LOVING and reading over and over.

3) The Witch of Blackbird Pond, by Elizabth George Speare

Also 2nd grade. My first romance novel. I didn’t realize it until years later, but that’s why I loved this one so much.

4) Watership Down, by Richard Adams

6th Grade. Mrs. Joyce read this to us in class, and I fell in love with it–the worldbuilding, the mythology, the characters. I bought my own copy and carried it around all the way through Jr. High until my choir teacher, Mr. Prestwood, gave me a hardback copy. (He also worked at Waldenbooks…yes, even then, teachers weren’t paid enough.)

5) The Red Pony, by John Steinbeck

High School. This stuck with me more than any other piece of required reading because of the intensity with which I HATED THIS STORY. I disliked a large percentage of the required reading, and was indifferent to other stories, but this one…..BLARGH! It’s eighty pages of a horse dying and a boy feeling guilty over it.

6) The Gate of Ivrel (plus The Well of Shiuan and The Fires of Azeroth), by C. J. Cherryh

College. Wow. Just wow. I developed my life-long love of Science Fantasy while reading this trilogy, and sorta fell in love with Nhi Vanye. I also loved that the POV character was the less-powerful one in the situation.

7) The Pursuit of the Screamer (plus Circle, Crescent, Star and Summerfair), by Ansen Dibell (Nan Dibble)

There were some amazing concepts in this series which really stuck with me. They weren’t original so much as the combinations of the concepts really clicked for me. Unfortunately, hardly anyone has ever read this amazing series. And other than some media tie-in for Beauty and the Beast (which I have not read), this was all the fiction the author published. I love, love, LOVE these books.

8) The Mirror Crack’d, by Agatha Christie

This book introduced me to Miss Marple. I adore Miss Marple, mostly because she’s not a modern kick-ass heroine. She’s an elderly woman who uses her superpower of collation to recognize personality types and make conclusions based on the tiniest bit of data she’s overheard. Seriously, the woman is brilliant. I’m hoping to be her in my old age….

9) Downbelow Station, by C. J. Cherryh

This is not one of my favorite of her books, so why is it here? Because it’s the book that taught me to push through. I read the first 100 pages of this book, got hopelessly tired of all the info coming at me, and put it away up in my closet. A few months later, I pulled it down and decided to muscle through. Well, I hit the interesting stuff on page 104 or so, and read the remaining 600 pages in one sitting. WOW. It was a rollercoaster from there on out.

One thing I learned from it is that complicated plots require a ton of information dropped in. Often that’s a turn-off, but sometimes it’s worth it.

10) These Old Shades, by Georgette Heyer

Different people will all have different opinions on which is the best Heyer book, but this is the first of hers I read, and the one that I’ll always go back to. It’s also one of the first Regency Romances I read (along with French Slippers by Deborah Chester), which formed my love for that period. I actually prefer Heyer to Austen (I know. I’m wrong), and I’ve even read all of Heyer’s mysteries.

So that’s it. If I have to limit it to 10, then that’s what I’ve got.

I’m not going to tag anyone, because I don’t approve of peer pressure, but if you want to do it, feel free to put a link to yours in comments below.

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The Traveling Dragon

Personally, I’d rather stay in my lair. I’m one of those people who like being home. I like being comfortable, and having my stuff around me. Travel is inconvenient, in many ways.

But it’s also a rare chance to expand your horizons, learn how other people live, and gain experience that you can’t read about. When you stand in a place you’ve only seen in pictures before, you smell the air, you grasp the vista’s size and scope. You learn things that people don’t include in the Wikipedia article. You talk to the people, and hear their opinions about things. (Our hostess in Cardiff was from China, and had strong opinions about immigration. Our host in Oxford told us to visit Blenheim, noting that someone who’d grown up in a place like that -would- believe they could defeat the Nazis.)

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That’s why I do it.

But travel gets harder with every year. Not only because of airline cutbacks, but also because I’m just getting older. The meat suit needs more tender care. It’s creaky and whiny.

We learn to compensate. I’ve finally figured out how to keep my feet from swelling on a plane (turns out the culprit is stretching out my legs.) I switched to a lighter piece of luggage this time, only to learn that not having a rolling bag along made things tougher. I brought two pair of shoes this time–of different design, which prevented the blisters I had last time. I tried to think of the the challenges in terms of how a character might endure them (because that’s what writers do.)

We rented a room in another person’s house on this trip–not someone we knew–a house that’s 160 years old. I was reminded how uneven the floors of old houses are. How they creaked at night. We discussed how the maintainance on a house like that is never-ending. How thick the old stone walls were.

We stayed on a boat (a Dutch barge) for part of the trip. It wasn’t like a boat at sea, but still a firm reminder of how slippery the deck gets. Water is a precious commodity on a boat. Ironic, huh? The boat swayed gently at night. Creaking. Because it was moored next to a grassy bank, there were spiders. Nothing like walking toward the head at night and into a spider web. I think that another boat bumped into us late one night, shoving us against the bank. A little scary.
Oxford boat WP_20140821_15_22_22_Pro

We both got sick while there, which added to the constant rain in Oxford made us a little miserable. I need to remember what that’s like. I need to recall what it was like to take a real shower once we got to a hotel, and get warm and dry…

So I’ll try to remember everything, writing down the details. Because that’s what writers do…

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Welcome to England, or Never Be Warm and Dry Again

The last time we were in London (Aug 2005), it was 80-85ish degrees and sunny. We wandered Hyde Park, visited important buildings, museums, and sights. We thought it was wonderful. (Yes, I even thought it might be nice to move to the UK one day.)

This time went a bit differently. London rained on us, Cardiff was chilly, and Oxford? Well, it pretty much looked like this:
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Art by Eva Czarniecka

The artist captures the weather better than I could ever do with a camera.

The frequent rain left us with wet shoes, wet socks, wet pants. Added to that, our clothes wouldn’t dry out when washed due to the cold and humidity. Drip-dry travel clothing hung in our London hotel room for days without drying. We didn’t even bother to try drip-dry while we were in Oxford–we just found a laundrette with dryers. But our clothes were never completely dry. When we dressed in the mornings, it was chilly enough that we could no longer be sure if we were putting on cold garments or damp ones. It was uncomfortable; even with umbrellas and rain ponchos, you just can’t stay dry.

I was finally seeing the misty, rainy England that I read about in books.

Now, I suspect that if I lived in England, I would have ways to deal with the rain. I would have spare shoes and wellies and better umbrellas. I would be able to change clothes and get warm. But as a tourist, I had only two pair of shoes with me and three pair of socks. Three pair of pants, the hems of which were all soaked. When we reported to Heathrow, it was with luggage filled with damp clothing. Ick.

I’m a girl from the desert. I don’t like being cold. I don’t like being wet.

But from a writer’s perspective, it -was- a helpful experience.

Soldiers on the move have to endure this for weeks or months. Travelers have to live with being wet. As a person who lives in a house in Oklahoma, I don’t ever have to put up with continually being soggy, worrying about whether I’ll rub a heel raw, or develop blisters and sores. I just got a tiny taste of that on this trip, and hated it.

So perhaps I learned from it. I would hope so.

(One of the things that was funny about this was that I was reading the “Captain Lacey” mysteries by Ashley Gardner wherein Lacey HATES the weather in England, and I completely sympathised with the man. Ugh!)

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The Writer and the Non-Exclusivity of Ideas

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A writer friend and I have been talking about ideas in fiction. It’s true that there are no new ideas in fiction. Everything has been seen before. Authors are simply reassembling ideas formed out of the soup of our culture’s zeitgeist, trying to achieve some novelty via interesting combinations, and hoping that good execution will please readers.

But we often hear mistaken assumptions about our ideas: You based this character/plot/style on…

Now, I had a critiquer read “The Nature of Demons” and tell me, “You based him on Dr. Watson, didn’t you?” And the answer was YES. I actually read up on Dr. Watson while writing the story, and tried to give my main character the same “I am superior because I am British” air that Watson had. It was intentional.

As writers, we sometimes do this. We mimic a character, a writing style (I tried to do Richard Henry Dana in “A Hand for Each”), or a plot element.

But more often, we’re NOT doing that. We’re writing something that’s original to us.

I’ve even tried my best to assure I didn’t copy something that I knew was current. For example, when I wrote “A Hand for Each”, I had to sit down and watch all the Pirates of the Caribbean movies to make sure I wasn’t coincidentally repeating something that had been in one of those. (That’s called suffering for your art.) This is one reason it pays to be well read in the genre. It helps us to know what’s already been put out there.

And yet…

It’s entirely possible that whatever a writer wrote sounds like something else that’s been seen before–without any relationship existing.

When I used to read reviews*, I was often flabbergasted by the things people told me about my writing. Or sometimes I laughed. I’ll put some examples down here.

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1) More than one reader told me that “A Hand for Each” was an origin story for Davy Jones. It wasn’t. The story is set almost 100 years after the first historical mentions of Davy Jones. But people looked at the main character’s name and assumed that I’d meant to imply that.

In truth, I wrote the story with filler names and only chose names after it was done. The POV character’s name, Jonas Davies, came about because I love Erskine Childers’ The Riddle of the Sands in which Arthur Davies solves a mystery. Jonas came from the fact that I was watching Season 6 of Stargate. I needed a Welsh-sounding name to go with Davies, so I just stole Jonas. And thus my protag became Jonas Davies.

It had nothing to do with Davy Jones.**

2) I’ve been told that my main character in “The Stains of the Past” is a Mary Magdalene character.

Well, I can see that, although I certainly never put that there intentionally. It could have come through my subconscious but it’s such a well-established character archetype that it’s hard not to have a few of those pop up in your fiction.

3) One of my favorites: Having “Whatever Else” described as “sexually subversive.”

I’m still baffled, years later. I don’t even know what that means. I certainly never set out to write a sexually subversive story. I kinda see how the critiquer got there, but it’s really not the point of the story. Go figure.

(This is my story that no one wants to publish. I love it, but it will probably never see the light of day. :( )

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The truth is that readers will see what they want to see.

They’ll see reflections of what’s currently in the mainstream (like the recent post comparing Outlander to Battlestar Galactica–yes, there are similarities, but they’re two separate entities.)

They’ll see archetypes that are well established or plot lines that are common. Seriously, in these post-Campbell days, every plot seems to be the Hero’s Journey, doesn’t it? (Even if the author has never read that book.)

They’ll see things that the author never meant to put there, a result of either the reader’s bias or the author’s.

And sometimes the reader’s just thinking too hard.

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So if you really ‘got’ that subtext in some author’s work…if you caught that one character that’s modeled on another…or if you noted how the plot is just like the plot of book X…

…please keep in mind that you could be right.

Or wrong.

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*I don’t read my reviews anymore, but that’s a story for another day.
**I didn’t even see the connection until it had been through a first reader who said ‘the name is brilliant’. It took me 3 days to figure out what she meant.

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