Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Guest Post: Heather Hepler on Writing, Food and Cookies for Weeping

By Heather Hepler

Anyone who has read my novels will already know that I have a "thing" for food.

Two of my novels even have food in the titles. I hesitate to call myself a "foodie," but I probably fit the definition.

I love food. I like to make it, eat it, and look at it. I like to read about it and think about it. Grocery stores fascinate me. I can spend hours exploring their aisles.

So, it’s really no surprise that all of my books contain references to food. My characters bake cookies and brew coffee and discuss the merits of mango lassies. One of my characters is obsessed with candy. Another character thinks he’s the next big thing to hit the world of competitive eating.

I can wax poetic about a perfect pyramid of red apples or the smell of fresh-baked bread. I have a recipe for making the perfect chocolate chip cookies, and I can make the best pecan brittle anyone has ever tasted. I can do these things because I know a secret. And I’m going to share it with you.

All you need is a recipe, a little creativity, and the willingness to make mistakes. And trust me; I have made some big mistakes. The amazing thing is that this formula of mine is the same one I use when I write.

The recipe for writing is less complicated than the recipe for making puff pastry. You need some standard ingredients: a setting and some characters are enough to start. That’s your base; your standard cookie recipe.

After you put that together, the fun begins. You get to know your characters. You see what they like, what they don’t like. You see if they have problems getting along with one another. (For instance, cookies made with wasabi and toffee might be a bit problematic, but they would be interesting.)

This is where there is some disagreement. There are bakers and writers who like a plan. They like to know exactly where they are going; how to get there; and what to expect at the end. There are others who are more comfortable with using a recipe as a general guide. They aren’t really sure where they’re headed. They don’t really know what they’ll have at the end.

I tend to fall into the second group. I like to be surprised when I open the oven door. Sometimes it’s a good surprise, like when I decided to add spicy mustard to my gingerbread recipe. Other times, things don’t go exactly as I would have liked. (Salmon mousse anyone?)

Beyond that is a willingness to fail. Whether you plan to change the world of chocolate chip cookies or write a stunning novel, you need to be willing to make some mistakes along the way. You might need to go back to your base (your setting and characters) or rethink some of your ingredients (your plot twists).

And while I can’t give you a specific recipe for the next “Great American Novel,” I can give you a great one for chocolate chip cookies that might just make you weep with joy.

Cookies for Weeping

1 ½ cups whole wheat flour (Graham flour is best if you can find it.)

1 t baking soda

Pinch salt

2 sticks butter, softened (use real butter)

1 ½ cups dark brown sugar

1 egg

1 t vanilla

1 ½ cups rolled oats

1 cup dried cherries

6 oz chocolate chips

1 cup toffee pieces


1. Combine flour, baking soda and salt. Set aside.

2. Cream butter and sugar. To this, add the egg and the vanilla. Mix again.

3. Add dry ingredients and oats, Mix gently.

4. Add cherries, toffee, and chocolate chips. Mix until just combined.

5. Chill dough.

6. Drop by tablespoonfuls onto lined baking sheet.

7. Bake 350 10-12 minutes

8. Eat. Bring a tissue. These might inspire some tears.

Cynsational Notes

Heather Hepler grew up in North Texas. She has lived in Reno, on the coast of Maine, in interior of Alaska, and near Death Valley, but she currently lives in Tyler, Texas; where she is still getting used to heat, the East Texas accent, and the astounding obsession that women in Tyler have with big hair.

She works as a reviewer for various publications, including Kirkus Reviews. She is the co-author of Scrambled Eggs at Midnight (Dutton, 2006), Dream Factory (Dutton, 2007), and Jars of Glass (Dutton, 2008). Her first solo novel, The Cupcake Queen, was published in September 2009. Her writing has also appeared in the Southwest Review and the Cincinnati Review.

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