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Historical Romance Writers Dishing the Dirt on Research

29 July 2013

Creating A Cover

I thought today I'd talk a little about creating a cover. I got a lot of questions about what I did to create the cover for my upcoming indie novella, RIPE FOR ANYTHING, while I was at RWA. The short answer is "find the right people". The long answer is, well, long.

I knew that if I was going to self publish, I couldn't skimp on the cover. I had to be able to create something that would fit seamlessly with my New York covers.The image to the right is the result, and I think I managed to do what I set out to do.

Now, the nitty-gritty on HOW I did that, so others can too:

Costumes

I'll admit I have an advantage here, being a historical re-enactor and a long-time costumer. I made a couple of "costume blanks" out of cheap cotton broadcloth. I made a dozen different trims up that could be swapped out quickly and easily so the basic gowns can be used over and over for many covers to come.

Costume bits hanging in my dining room
Costume bits
If you don't sew, or don't want to sew, you can look into renting or buying what you need. There are plenty of costume shops out there as well as on-line stores that sell very basic historical costumes for re-enactors for almost any period you can imagine. Yes, this will be an investment, but if you choose wisely, you'll be setting yourself up for long-term success. And if you buy them, then you'll always have them for future shoots (assuming that you're planning on writing in the same historical subgenre for many books to come).

Photographer

Jenn shooting
This is trickier, but there are more and more professional photographers out there who are doing stock for book covers. I've met several at romance conferences, and the one I really hit it off with was Jenn LeBlanc of Illustrated Romance. She writes historical romance as well, and she really understood my goal. So I met up with her at a shoot, costumes in hand, and we were off to the races.

Jenn booked the models and I was able to see the shots on the laptop screen as she shot. This meant it only took a few snaps before I knew we had what I wanted and Jenn was free to move on to shooting stock for herself (there's a LOT of fabulous stock on her site, shot with my Georgian, Regency, and Victorian costumes).

"The Shot" 

Once the shoot is over, you have to study the stock and really LOOK at the details of each image. A limp, dead hand can ruin a great shot (though you might be able to hide it behind text!). Jenn also showed me what can be done in Photoshop in a few quick seconds to alter an image. She gave a model an eyebrow quirk that just MADE another author's cover shot. The model went from blandly smirking to hot and cocky. We played around with cropping the shots as well. I'm not good at looking at a stock image and seeing the potential of cropping. Or I wasn't. I'm much better at it now thanks to Jenn!

From Stock to Cover

I took advice from all the indie authors I know and complied a list of cover artists to check out. There were three in the final running, and after spending waaaaay too long looking at their portfolios, I emailed Carrie at Seductive Musings Designs. I sent her a rough mockup and she understood immediately what I wanted.

We went through eight different alterations before settling on the final design (Carrie talked me out of the duller lavender I'd had in mind and she added the fantastic background). Once the design was approved, she started working on the font. I'm honestly blown away by the job she did there. I think it's a near perfect match for the hand lettering on my New York covers.

[Edited to add: I think LEGIBILITY is very important. Especially legibility in thumbnail. This has been emphasized to me by Bella Andre, Courtney Milan, and Carolyn Jewel, who all know what they're talking about. The thin, fancy fonts that work great on a printed book often disappear entirely on a thumbnail, and it's the thumbnail that most people will see when browsing.]

So there you have it, my formula for indie historical covers. Which I readily admit is what happens when a control freak runs away to the self publishing circus.



15 July 2013

Spies, Working Mothers, & the Art of the Quick Change

photo: Raphael Coffey



In their work as spies, my characters Malcolm and Suzanne often make quick changes to their appearance to suit a new role. I’m used to writing such scenes for them. I’m less used to thinking about it in terms of myself. Until last Thursday. Our modern life does not, of course, require as many wardrobe changes as that of Regency aristocrats changing two or three times a day for morning rides, afternoon calls, and balls or nights at the theatre. But modern life does entail changes as one moves from role to role. Thursday was the opening night of the Merola Opera Program’s wonderful production of Britten’s The Rape of Lucretia. After spending the afternoon stuffing inserts into programs, I had a quick dinner with my daughter Mélanie and a couple of colleagues and then hurried back to the theatre to meet one of Mel’s wonderful babysitters. While quickly going over details with the babysitter, I pulled a hair of feels from the toy bag and exchanged them for the flats I was wearing, took off the cardigan I’d been wearing all day over my black cocktail dress (good color to withstand the dust of the theatre and sticky toddler hands), unwound the long linen scarf I had wrapped around my neck and thew it over my shoulders as a shawl.


It was only when I was hurrying  up the street to a pre-performance reception (combing my hair as I walked)  that I realized I had just made the sort of quick change Suzanne often makes (such as in Imperial Scandal when she transforms herself into a shopgirl to go into Le Paon d’Or). It was also just the sort of scene I might put in a book to dramatize a working mom balancing her multiple roles.
As  a multi-tasker, I’ve always been grateful for multi-tasking clothes. As a working mom, I’m more grateful for them than ever. Day-into-evening dresses (nothing like black to stand up to the dust of a theatre and the smears left by toddler hands), earrings one can sleep in, a bag that works as purse, diaper bag, and computer bag, scarves that double as shawls, a light weight trenchcoat the works over everything, cardigans that can be easily stowed in a diaper bag (and can cover a multitude of wardrobe disasters, such as today when my industriously nursing daughter popped the top three buttons off my sundress half an hour into our Peet's writing time). I have a pair of black satin heels that basically live in the car or the toy bag.



Of course, as Lynne pointed out when I blogged about this topic on my own website Suzanne has "a multitude of petticoats, plenty of crumply silk, and a corset to deal with. No easy task to change her appearance." Which is quite true. Suzanne’s quick changes have a lot to do with outer layers. In the scene I referred to in Imperial Scandal, her companion Blanca brings her a bonnet and shawl and other times she puts on a mantilla or cloak. Similar in a way to what I did  Thursday with the cardigan and scarf/shawl. Suzanne, as Karin pointed out, has Blanca to help with her elaborate wardrobe. Though clothes that need a maid's--or a husband's or lover's--assistance to get in and out of can be problematic for a spy. I had to consult with Isobel to work out that Suzanne could wear a front-lacing corset she can manage herself when necessary, and she has many of her gown specially made by her modiste to ease of dressing and movement. And helping each other dress and undress does provide her and Malcolm with some excellent opportunities to share their investigative discoveries.

Do clothes help you balance different parts of your life? Which pieces are particularly good multitaskers?  Writers, do you think about clothes to define different roles your characters play?




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08 July 2013

Book Highlight: The New Bath Guide, 1799

I love finding strange little books on Google Books. Today I thought I’d point out THE NEW BATH GUIDE; Or, Useful Pocket companion: For All Persons residing at or resorting to this Ancient City. The guide talks about the four (!) baths, tells of their temperatures, their prices, their accommodations, and assures the reader that the water for drinking is diverted BEFORE the flow reaches the baths.

Also described are the Assembly Rooms, with their weekly schedule of events (Monday, Dress Ball; Tues, Card Assembly; Wed, Concert; Thurs, Fancy Ball), and what the subscription costs were (one guinea for the Dress ball, which didn’t cover tea (additional 6d.), and gave notice that the balls closed promptly at 11PM, even if the hour rang in the middle of a dance (what a great scene that would make!). Also, it has minor fashion notes (aka dress codes!). No Gentlemen in boots or half-boots to be admitted on any night!

It covers the local hospitals, the churches (which are warm and which are not), the local schools, the rules for the local chairmen (including fares, which is always information I love to have; and interesting to see that they worked like taxis, with rates for distance and rates for “detaining” them if you wanted a return trip as well). Also worth noting that you paid extra for hills (Bath has several rather steep ones which are named in the guide so there can be no dispute). There is also a table of distances which could prove useful if you’ve never been and are trying make yourself a mental map.

Then the guide goes into the sights, such as Farley Castle, Bow-Wood, and the city of Wells. It has principal coaching roads, distances, and directions for travelers (again, information on fares!). And a list of boarding houses and inns.

All in all, it’s filled with exactly the kind of minutia that I like have in my head when I’m world-building.

Sometimes I even order a print copy (on the left of the preview screen is a blue drop down “Get this book in print”; If you choose “On Demand Books” you will get a list places with Espresso printing/binding machines and prices; the quality of the paper does vary; I like Village Books in Bellingham WA best so far).

05 July 2013

Smoke River Scandal

My new book, Smoke River Bride, is just now on the shelves.
 This is the story of a half-Chinese mail-order bride who travels to the small ranching community of Smoke River, Oregon, only to find that the townspeople shun her . . . and how she fights back.

The inspiration for the book came from a photograph of a young Chinese girl taken by Arnold Genthe, which I found in the book San Francisco's Old Chinatown.   The struggles of the Chinese in the nineteenth century touched me, and I felt drawn to the difficulties a young woman of a totally foreign culture might have experienced in a small Western American town. 

As a nation we have not always shown tolerance toward those who are "different" from us; I hope we are becoming more enlightened.

01 July 2013

Ice Cream!

Hi all! It is with great regret that I announce that this is my last regular Hoydens post. I've just been overwhelmed with commitments lately. I've had a wonderful time talking to all of you for the past two years and I've learned so much--thanks for everything! I'll miss you.

In other news, I recently bought a Cuisinart ice cream maker and I LOVE it. I have been making ice cream non-stop. I've never made custard before and it's definitely taking me a while to get the hang of it, but I haven't produced anything actually BAD yet, so. I thought in honor of the season I'd post some period ice cream recipes from Hannah Glasse's The Complete Confectioner. The book was first published 1760, but I'm using the version edited and expanded by Maria Wilson in 1800, similar to how Joy of Cooking has gone through many editions. Hannah Glasse's name became so synonymous with cookbooks that this 1845 joke political letter to the Times used her name (trigger warning: fatphobia):

via Wikimedia Commons.

[transcription: NORFOLK SAUCE. TO THE EDITOR OF THE TIMES. Sir--As I cannot doubt your sympathy with your poor countrymen, in the event of a scarcity, I beg to send you my receipt for dressing a very simple dish:--NORFOLK CURRY. Take a duke, no matter how foolish, but the fatter the better, stew him down with "peppers, and a variety of things of that description," and serve him up as the principal dish at an agricultural meeting--any fool can cut him up. This is a very warm dish to the stomach, if "not palatable at first," wash it down with a glass or two of milk punch. Yours truly, HANNAH GLASSE. Beefsteak Club, Dec. 12.]

First, here's how they made ice cream:

The Method of Icing all Sorts of liquid Compositions 

When your composition is put in the sabotiere, take some natural ice and put it in a mortar, when it is reduced to a powder, strew over it two or three handfuls of salt; then take your pails, put some pounded ice in the bottom, and place your sabotiere in those pails, which you fill up after with ice to bury the sabotiere in. You must take care in the beginning to open your sabotiere in order not to let the sides freeze first, and on the contrary detach, with a pewter spoon, all the flakes which stick to the sides, in order to make it congeal equally all over in the pot; then work them well, for they are much more mellow by being well worked; and their delicacy depends entirely upon it. Do not wait till they are thoroughly iced to begin to work them, because they would become too hard, and it is not possible to dissolve what is congealed in lumps or pieces: when you see they are well congealed let them rest, taking care for this time there should be some which stick to the sides of the icing-pot; this will prevent them from melting and make them keep longer in a right degree of icing.

If your composition does not congeal so quickly as you wish through the melting of your pounded ice, you may change that ice in the same manner as you put it before; for as there is always a hole at the bottom of those pails, you may let the water of your melted ice run off, by taking out the stopper without disturbing the sabotiere; then fill your pails up again as you did before, continuing rolling your sabotiere till you see the composition is congealed to the point you wish.


You could then scoop your soft ice cream into moulds and freeze it hard for serving.

You can see an engraving of an 18th-century sabotiere at the lefthand side of this page; mouseover to see a photo of the same thing (according to the site, sabotiere is a corruption of sorbetiere, which makes more sense). And here are a series of photos of a professional reenactor using one along with some period molds--according to the site, it takes between half an hour and an hour and forty-five minutes of hand-spinning the sabotiere to make ice cream, depending on the room's temperature! I'd love to see what the inside looks like but can't find a picture, although I did find one for sale from the mid-19th century that said it had a ceramic lining. (It is interesting to see that the cookbook quoted on that page, Borella's 1770 The Court and Country Confectioner, uses almost word-for-word some of the same instructions above. Without more research I can't tell who copied from whom, but I am always amazed by how different Georgian and Regency intellectual property laws were from our own.)

Look at this recipe for apricot sorbet using apricot kernels ("clarified sugar" in this book means simple syrup made with water into which an egg white has been beaten to a froth; the egg white traps the impurities and then floats to the top, making a skin which is easy to skim off):

To make Apricot Ice 

Take very ripe apricots, cut them very small in a sieve, which place over a pan, squeeze them well with a spoon through that sieve, and after it is done, add some clarified sugar to it; take afterwards about twenty almonds from the stones of those apricots, pound them very fine in a mortar, moistening them with a little clear water; when they are well pounded mix them with your apricots; if you see your mixture is too thick, squeeze in the juice of three or four lemons and a little water, till you see it is neither too clear nor too thick, then put it in the sabotiere, and proceed as before directed.


The very first flavor in the book for a cream ice (as opposed to a plain sorbet-style ice, of which there are many) is pistachio! Yum.

To make Pistachio Nut Cream Ices

Take any quantity of cream in a pan, put in another four yolks of eggs for every pint of cream you are to employ; pound your pistachio nuts very fine in a mortar, and put them in the pan where you dropped your yolks of eggs; mix the whole together, add some pounded loaf sugar to it, keep stirring it continually, then add your cream by little and little, stirring and turning it till the whole is mixed properly together; then set your pan over the fire, and stirring it with a wooden spoon till you see composition is near boiling, when take it off immediately; for from the moment you set your composition over the fire till that it offers to boil, it has a sufficient time to incorporate well and thicken sufficiently, without need of boiling; and should you let it boil, you would risk the turning your cream into whey, on account of the yolks of eggs, which would do too much. Take great care likewise your cream is fresh and sweet, for, otherwise, as soon as it is warm it will turn into curds and whey; therefore take care to stir it continually, from the time you set it on the fire till you take it off; after which pour it into a sieve and pass it into a pan, then put it in the sabotiere to make it congeal after the usual manner.


I was surprised to see:

To make Coffee Cream Ices 

Take about a pint of coffee made with water and rather strong, when settled, draw it clear and add half a pound of sugar; set it on the fire and let it boil till your sugar is at a very high degree; take it off from the fire and let it cool, after which make your cream, as before directed, with the yolks of eggs, and put your coffee in, then proceed as usual.


I really thought coffee desserts were a modern thing, but no! Among all the usual fruit (strawberry, currants, pineapples, apricots, etc.) there are also recipes for Tea Cream Ices, Brown Bread Cream Ices, and Royal Cream Ices (which are made with coriander, cinnamon, and orange or lemon peel).

And now some of my favorite recipes I've experimented with so far in my own ice cream maker:

Peach-and-Toasted-Pecan Ice Cream, recipe from Southern Living. This stuff is incredible...when I tasted the peach initially I thought the vanilla was too strong but when I added the nuts, the flavor was perfect.

Reese's Peanut Butter Cup Ice Cream. This stuff is amazing, but a LITTLE too much like eating peanut butter--next time I'm slightly decreasing the peanut butter and increasing the milk.

Fresh Strawberry Ice Cream. Easily the best I've made so far (I also got great results pureeing most of the berries, and none of those weird chunks of strawberry-ice-cube). In my opinion this recipe tastes like Haagen-Dazs. But be warned: the listed one-quart yield is WRONG. This stuff overflowed my 1.5qt ice cream maker once I added the strawberries. So make it in a two-thirds batch.

Any recommendations for your own favorite recipes?

Au revoir!

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