Risk and reward

CE-avatar Cara. Andrea here,

Labor Day, that annual September rite of passage, is a signal to many of us that hey, the lazy days of summer are over and it’s time to buckle down to serious work again. But what with looming deadlines and some unexpected travel opportunities, I didn’t have a lot of time for lollygagging these past few months.

Research September 1 was the due date for Sweet Revenge, my first historical mystery (due out sometime next year with NAL . . . but more on that in a later blog. Suffice it to say it’s set in the Regency, and chocolate plays an important role in the plot.) As this was my first foray into a new genre, I fretted more than usual over the typical writer worries one goes through as a story progresses—is the plot too convoluted? . . . is the pacing too slow? . . . is the heroine too dark?

The manuscript also required a lot more research than usual, and in a subject that is not remotely in my comfort zone. Indeed, I owe a great deal of thanks to a dear lawyer friend who spent a number of hours patiently—very patiently—explaining John Law, the basics of economic theory and  the concept of debt-equity swaps. Lest your eyes start glazing over at this moment, I assure you that the book will not be as boring as you might fear. At least, I hope not.

In any case, the manuscript is Done and  Delivered. Which brings me roundabout to the real topic of my ramblings. Which is Reward.

But allow me to digress a moment longer . . .

Course In golf, there is a basic concept in designing a course that is called Risk-Reward. In other words, an architect usually provides two ways to play a hole: you can be safe and take a path with fewer hazards, but are unlikely to reap the reward of  making a birdie or eagle (those are Good Things for you non-golfers) Or, you can try a risky shot, like hitting over water, or a deep ravine. If you miss, you’ll really muck up your score, but if you hit it right, you usually get rewarded.

Now, keeping with the golf metaphor, I figure that I took a risk by trying something new, so  deserve a reward. So, despite another deadline coming up in November for my next romance book, I decided to allow myself a few small indulgences last week, which  I  break into the following categories:

Practical Rewards

Drawers My drawers were getting to the really scary stages of shove-and-shut, so I decided to treat myself to straightening up the clutter. I cleaned out all my summer things, took them to the attic, and brought down fall stuff. Sweaters, flannel shirts, turtlenecks, corduroys, jeans are now all neatly folded, with arms and legs not twitching to escape when I close the drawer. The closet is weeded out, and I can actually get a hanger off the bar without knocking its neighbor to the floor. And shoes are standing in parade row precision. Okay, it won’t last for long, but it did give me a warm and fuzzy feeling of accomplishment.)

Sweat Rewards

Golf1 It was a perfect day last Wednesday, cool, crisp, not a cloud in the day. At 2 pm, when during the course of a normal writing day I usually put another loop of duct tape around my legs to keep me in my chair, I played hooky and went to walk 9 holes of golf. It was glorious, even though the seagulls kept giving me the evil eye, as if to say, “why are you out here right now, and not at
Seagull work?” Exercise is important, and sunshine has Vitamin D, so in reality, it shouldn’t really count as a reward, but merely part of a writer’s training regime. (I do a lot of plotting as I walk.)

Which is why, when all was said and done, I still needed to give myself . . .

The Ultimate Reward   

Brownies The new book features a chocolate recipe at the beginning of each chapter (yes, more research, but in that field I consider myself an expert!) So after looking them all over, I picked one to make. Here it is . . .

Chocolate-Coffee Brownies

2 sticks (1/2 lb) unsalted butter
5 oz unsweetened chocolate
2 tablespoons instant-espresso powder
2 cups sugar
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
5 large eggs
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon salt

1.  Preheat oven to 350°F with rack in middle. Butter and flour a 13- by 9-inch baking pan.
2.  Melt butter and chocolate with espresso powder in a 3-quart heavy saucepan over low heat, whisking until smooth. Remove from heat and cool to lukewarm. Whisk in sugar and vanilla. Whisk in eggs 1 at a time until mixture is glossy and smooth.
3.  Whisk together flour, cinnamon, and salt, then whisk into chocolate mixture.
4.  Spread batter in pan and bake until a wooden pick inserted in center comes out with crumbs adhering, 25 to 30 minutes. Cool completely before cutting.
After taking it out of the oven, I let it cool to lukewarm, then cut a large square. Once again, it was the middle of the afternoon, sunlight dancing through the trees. Throwing guilt to the wind, I curled up on the couch with a book. Oh, bliss . . . .

So, how about you? Do you reward yourself for achieving a goal, or doing an onerous task? And what’s your favorite treat? Sweets? Shopping? Museums? (And BTW, if you have a fabulous chocolate recipe, please send it to me at cara@caraelliott.com. I’m collecting them for Book 2 of the series . . . if yours is included, your name will be mentioned in the acknowledgments!)