A year ago, I was asked to write a blog post for Hobby Reads, and I instantly thought, “Oh, I’ll make macarons!” This incredible chewy confection from France relates to my novel Betrayed, and I thought it’d be fun to give them a shot.
Until I googled a recipe and learned how hard they are to make.
Listen to this introduction to the recipe: “I am a baker’s apprentice and after much trial and error, we finally perfected the technique.” If professional bakers and their eager apprentices were trying and failing, what chance did I have?
I’m easily intimidated in the kitchen, and even after the recipe was “perfected,” these treats take two hours and thirty minutes to make—only twenty minutes of which is baking time.
I knew I was out of my element, but I gamely bought the ingredients. I have almond slivers still in my pantry, just waiting to be pulverized in my food processor because…I never made them.
That’s right. I lost my nerve and procrastinated. For a year.
And now Betrayed is being supplanted by its sequel Avenged, which releases in February.
I knew what I had to do. I firmly closed the pantry door and went out to a bakery to BUY macarons. Ha!
In Sacramento, California, there’s a wonderful European bakery called Ettore’s, established by an orphaned Swiss pastry chef who emigrated to the U.S. in the 1970s with only $350 and the inability to speak English. What a backstory, huh? I love this place and my Historical Novels Society group meets at Ettore’s once a month to talk shop. You’ll be happy to hear business is booming, and Ettore married and has three sons.
So, I tried the chocolate macarons. Macarons are known for being created in all kinds of colors and flavors, a feast for the eye… a little neon-colored hamburger, I sometimes think irreverently. Ettore’s had several varieties available, but I have always been a chocolate lover.
My first bite was intense. Such rich flavor, such a light and chewy texture…these are cloudlike confections! I absolutely loved it with a good bracing cup of coffee to bring me back down to earth. 😉
Spurred by my great success in consuming macarons, I next tried the Trader Joe’s version. These are frozen, and you must sit them on the counter for half an hour to reach roomish temperature. I didn’t have high hopes for them based on this arctic reality, but I have to say…they were pretty darn good.
Trader Joe’s: A
And now circling around to my book and why this is relevant, in Betrayed my main character Miles sits with his friend Phoebe’s American family in a patisserie (bakery) in the village of Versailles, outside the grounds of the fantastical chateau that was the home of Louis the Fourteenth, Louis the Fifteenth, and…well, for a time…. Louis the Sixteenth and his wife Marie Antoinette. They pause and have a treat before returning to the palace for the famous fireworks: they indulge in chocolate ice cream and a plate of macarons. Terrible stuff goes down at the fireworks, so this sweet little pause for their sweet tooths is the last moment of ease they have for a while.
I experienced terror at the thought of making macarons, and my novel talks about the Reign of Terror, another name for the French Revolution and the time period when nobles were executed at the guillotine and the monarchy was upended. My modern-day characters time-travel to see a few glimpses of that horrifying, brutal era. I hope you will enjoy reading Betrayed and baking….er….purchasing macarons!
“But looking at those circular confections held together with sweet ganache . . . I crave them. I wish I could experience them on my tongue, melting away, just one more time.”
—Miles in Betrayed
What was your inspiration for starting the Arnaud Legacy trilogy?
I had a nightmare. The scene where Phoebe comes across the little stone cottage in the woods and climbs up to its roof? That was straight from the dream. When I woke up, I wrote it down and began building other scenes and characters around it until it became a first draft.
Did you always want to be an author?
Yes, pretty much. When I was in fourth grade, I was put into a special creative writing program, which was the first time I started thinking of myself as a writer. It was a long journey to publication for me, so maybe I should’ve aimed for an MBA instead of an MFA (ha!), but to be honest I feel grateful that I’ve always known what my passion is.
Who are some authors that influence your work?
Great question. I’ve been influenced by some of the masters of the horror genre: Stephen King and Shirley Jackson. Also Henry James for his magnificent The Turn of the Screw. I loved the John Bellairs series that began with The House with a Clock in Its Walls. Lois Duncan and Zilpha Keatley Snyder: I grew up in a time when Y.A. fiction was just beginning to take off, and I remember standing in front of the shelves in that section of the library and being so happy.
Tell us more about Phoebe Irving, the main character in Haunted. Will she continue to feature in the next books as well?
Yes, I’m excited that Phoebe will continue to be a vital part of the remaining books of the trilogy, although she will no longer narrate. Book 2 will be told by Miles, and Book 3 by Eleanor. I have a special fondness for Phoebe because she reminds me of myself in some ways: feeling shunted to the side (I was the youngest of four daughters, so I know we all have to share “face time” with our parents), feeling unsure of herself. But Phoebe is a very strong swimmer, whereas I think I spent about five years as a “tadpole” (the lowest level in my municipal pool’s swimming lesson hierarchy).
How would you personally classify Haunted? Do you consider it a young adult Gothic mystery/thriller? A YA paranormal/fantasy? Something in between?
That’s an interesting question! Young adult author Michelle Gagnon called it a “neo-Gothic thriller” in her blurb and I’ve kind of adopted that. I know that it’s categorized under “New Teen Fantasy and Adventure” at Barnes & Noble, which is not where I expected to find it (in fact, I didn’t even bother to look there, and the bookstore employee very kindly guided me straight to it after I asked). I think paranormal fits, as does mystery. This business of categorizing books is pretty tricky. You want people browsing in the bookstore to come across it, so it’s important to be shelved where people’s interests lie.
Which are some of your favorite authors at the moment?
In the Y.A. world, I’ve been enjoying Danielle Paige (whose latest in the Dorothy saga releases March 31), Michelle Gagnon, and Alison McMahan. Danielle writes a revised, darker version of the Wizard of Oz story, which totally captivated me—and many others; her first novel in this series was a New York Times bestseller. Michelle writes incredibly-plotted hacking, conspiracy, abduction books—I know her in real life, and she’s so super nice. It’s hard to believe she can think from, for instance, the point of view of a serial killer. Yet she does it, and chillingly so. Alison writes historical fiction, and The Saffron Crocus is a wonderful book set in medieval Venice about a girl who wants to sing although that world is reserved for castrati boys. Throw in some murder and intrigue, and you’re off on a fantastic voyage.
What are some hobbies that keep you occupied when you are not writing?
I read voraciously (does that go without saying?) I love Zumba class and walks in nature. I don’t watch much TV but I’m hooked on Downton Abbey and Boardwalk Empire.
Do you have any advice for aspiring writers? Something that they can take away and use in their own writing process?
Yes! Anyone can come up with an awesome plot, but people who can keep chugging at page 200 when others run out of steam…those people are the real deal. So find time to write. Carve out a particular time, whether it’s 20 minutes a day, or a particular Tuesday when you have two hours to spend with your book—whatever works for your schedule. Just make sure it’s frequent and that you stick to it.