Friday, August 19, 2011

That About Covers It

Summer’s winding down, but Marissa and I are swamped with deadlines and family demands. We’ve written so much about nineteenth century vacation spots this summer that we’ve decided to take a little vacation ourselves! This will be the last post until after Labor Day. Expect to see Marissa back at her desk on September 6. And September is birthday month at Nineteenteen, so expect some fun surprises as well.

For now, I’d like to talk about covers. Covers? Yes, really, book covers. We’ve talked before about where a young lady in nineteenth century London would have gone to purchase a book and what that book would have looked like. If you bought the new title page and folios for Jane Austen’s latest (written then “by a Lady”), you’d take them to a bookbinder and have them set up with covers and spine. Then, of course, your choice was various colors of calf’s skin and other types of leather. Take, for example, the picture of this first edition, with tan covers, black leather insets on the spine, and gilded lettering.

I am fortunate to own one book, in two volumes, that dates from 1809: John Harriott’s Struggles Through Life. Though the cover has seen better days (hey, they’re over a 100!), you can see that it was once a nice brown leather with red insets on the spine.

Now, of course, our books have more options. Marissa’s hardbacks have wonderful paper covers of paintings of her twin heroines. Paperbacks have even more leeway, with the possibilities of step backs (a picture inside the cover as well as on the front), embossing, and cutouts. That means, however, that cover artists have to be employed to bring the essence of the novel to life on the cover.

Rarely is an author able to sit down with the artist and talk about the novel. At best (and Love Inspired in among the best, in my experience), you can provide examples: pictures of settings, perhaps even swatches of fabrics for gowns. Alas, authors are often word creatures; no matter our best intentions, what we describe often doesn’t translate well to the visual medium of a cover. (That’s part of the joy of reading—the story is transformed in each reader’s mind.) But sometimes, it all comes together.

You know I was pretty thrilled with the cover of my June release, The Irresistible Earl. I’m even more delighted with the one for November’s release, An Honorable Gentleman. In my fact sheet that goes to the artists, I said my hero looked a bit like Brandon Routh, and I suggested it might be nice to have him gazing out over his new estate in the Lake District. You saw some of its beauty in last week’s post. Here’s the result:

I think they captured it pretty well. A friend even went so far to say it was a pretty “hot” cover for an inspirational romance. :)

This month, however, I had a unique opportunity. I decided I wanted a new cover for my oldest book, The Unflappable Miss Fairchild, which is available as an e-book reprint through Belgrave House’s Regency Reads line. I convinced my publisher to let me take it to a new e-book cover designer, Iconic Shadows. One of the main photographers is an avid reader and a fan of my books, so I knew she “got” me and my stories. She interviewed me about my hero and heroine, settings of the book, the tone and feel, what I wanted the cover to achieve, and other aspects. Then she did a photo shoot. Here’s the result:

The heroine is spot on, the background perfect. I love the fresh, upbeat feel of it.

I must say, though, that I’m curious about how others will take these covers. After all, I know the story inside them; a reader picking them up (or perusing online) won’t have that knowledge. What do you think, about either cover? Would they encourage you to make a purchase? What do you like or dislike about them? What kinds of covers cause you to pick up an author you’ve never heard of before?

I’ll be about the next two weeks and will try to respond to any comments. Until September—happy reading!

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

The Ennui is Killing Me! (Nineteenteen archives)

This entry first ran in November 2009...and it still makes me smile. Enjoy!!

The Mirror of Literature, Amusement, and Instruction, a popular weekly magazine published in London between 1822 and 1847, ran the following short piece in its November 26, 1825 issue which got me giggling--I hope it will do the same to you!

The Journal of an Indolent Lady

"I know a young lady who has very pretty pretensions to idleness, but who has no objection to dancing the livelong night, and who would work at a ball-dress fifteen hours at a stretch, rather than not go to the assembly. Of this young lady’s life, the following specimen...may afford some idea, and it proves her to be a real amateur:

Rose at ten. Regretted not being able to lie an hour longer. Lamented the necessity of cleanliness. Dressing a great bore. Dogs in this respect happier than men. Watch-boxes still better.

Breakfasted till eleven. Sauntered for half an hour, and played with the cat. She scratched both my hands.

Half past eleven. Sunk in an arm-chair, with a novel, read the same page three times over, and fell asleep. Got up to walk to another chair, and was told I’d a hole in my stocking. I wonder why the maid does not mend them.

Twelve. Played half a lesson on the piano. What can Rossini mean by writing such difficult music?

One o’clock. Took up a needle and thread, and looked out of the window at the cattle feeding for three quarters of an hour. Cows lead happy lives. I wonder why man does not ruminate.

At two. Luncheon.

Three. Forced to walk out. I hate exercise. Was told my petticoat is longer than my gown; but what does that matter?

Half-past four. Very tired and hungry. Played again with the cat. Made Fidelle, the French poodle, fetch a stick three times out of the water. Fidelle tore my glove to pieces. I wish my brother had been by to take it from him.

Five. Played at scratch-cradle [cat's cradle], and then three games of Trou-madame [an early table game that was a cross between bar billiards and pinball] till dressing time. Can’t think why mamma does not allow me a maid to dress me. Scolded for throwing my hair papers about the room. What has the housemaid to do but gather them up? It’s monstrous tiresome to be scolded.

Six. Dinner. After coffee sat still doing nothing till bed time. Thought half-past ten would never come. Went to bed very tired. Doing nothing is extremely troublesome, and I hate it exceedingly.—But then what can one do?"


Friday, August 12, 2011

Hermits Weren't the Only Ones in the Woods

Contrived rustic landscapes were only one way nineteenth century young ladies and gentlemen discovered nature. The period saw a rise in the appreciation of natural beauty for beauty’s sake. Where once the pockets of wilderness around England had been seen by the fashionable as backward hamlets in their otherwise civilized isle, now they saw the lofty peaks, verdant valleys, and thundering freshets worthy to visit, to view, and to capture in word and drawing. And one of the most popular areas to appreciate nature, then and now, was the Lake District.

The Lake District boasts a collection of rocky mountains, deep clear lakes, and crystal streams found nowhere else in England. It had already achieved some popularity with the more outdoorsy types who enjoyed walking along the paths and shores. However, when the romantic poet William Wordsworth authored a Guide through the District of the Lakes (anonymously in 1810 and under his own name in 1820), even those usually content with indoor pursuits took notice.

Wordsworth had been born and went to school in the Lake District, and his time away from it only made him appreciate it further. He wrote some of his most famous poems while at Dove Cottage in Grasmere with his sister Dorothy and spent much of his married life in a house in Rydal. His love of the area glowed in his guide. Take this from early in the piece:
“When the sun is setting in summer far to the north-west, it is seen by the spectator on the shores or breast of Winandermere, resting among the summits of the loftiest mountains, some of which may be half or wholly hidden by clouds, or by the blaze of light which the orb diffuses around it; and the surface of the lake will reflect correspondent colors through every variety of beauty, and through all degrees of splendor.”

Kind of makes you want to go there, doesn’t it? His words certainly had that affect on the gentry and aristocracy of nineteenth century England, many of whom built summer homes along the lakes and streams.

Growing up as I did near the mountains and seas of the Pacific Northwest, I feel a particular affinity for the Lake District. My November releases as well as the first two books of the 2012 trilogy are set there. Stay tuned next week when I hope to be able to give you a sneak peak of my new cover. You can see whether you think the amazing artists at Love Inspired were, well, inspired by nature as much as Wordsworth and I were.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Lawn Ornaments, Garden Furniture, and Hermits

As our 19th century young lady tourists meandered about the country, guidebooks in hand as they visited scenic vistas and stately homes surrounded by artfully planned “natural” landscapes, they might pause to admire a grotto here, a ruined temple there, an obelisk raised on an artificial hill…or they might stop to check out the resident hermit.

Yes, really.

Just as the wealthy landowners of the 18th century rebuilt their houses into magnificent country seats, so they hired landscape gardeners to design what was really an outdoor set of “rooms”. All those fake ruins and follies and grottoes and medieval herb gardens and Chinese bridges and sylvan groves and statue gardens were the outdoor equivalent of the libraries, music rooms, dining rooms, drawing rooms, and salons indoors—spaces made to impress, to inspire admiration. The outdoor features, beside being “picturesque”, also carried picturesque meanings: a ruined temple symbolized man’s creations overtaken by the forces of nature, for example. And if a ruined temple or nymph’s grotto was “interesting”, how much more so would be if it contained a resident?

But since authentic nymphs were not always easy to find, some wealthy landowners built hermitages—picturesque (of course) dwellings which would be occupied by hermits. And just as ruins had a meaning, so too did hermitages--they symbolized the idea of man's return to nature.

Hermitages ranged from the very rustic--a single room, perhaps made out of wattle and thatch woven into the roots of an overturned tree--to the rather grand--a temple or miniature cathedral (the image above is of the hermitage at Frogmore, from an 1823 issue of Ackermann's Repository). The hermits themselves differed as well. Some were men (sorry, no female hermits--just think of the scandal!) genuinely interested in living a secluded, humble life dedicated to work and prayer…while others were cheerful types willing to appear suitably ragged and “natural” in order to entertain his lordship’s guests out for a stroll in the grounds.

Some landowners had very specific ideas on how their hermits should behave, demanding their potential hermits sign contracts stating that they weren't to speak, or to cut their hair or toenails. Others were more relaxed and invited their resident hermits to mingle with guests as a form of rustic entertainment.

So what do you think? Is there a spare garden shed in your yard? Why not be 19th century and install a hermit in it?

Friday, August 5, 2011

Hobby Horse Hijinks

A young gentleman of my family calls himself a skater. Oh, he doesn’t strap wheels to his feet; he stands on a board and glides along streets, leaping curbs, grinding down stair rails, and twisting around trash cans in mid-air. I think he and his friends would have had a good laugh at how nineteenth century young men got around town for a short time. I give you the hobby horse!

Looks a bit like a bicycle, doesn’t it? But there are no pedals. The hobby horse, invented in Germany in 1817, was made of iron and wood with a padded seat and sometimes a rest for your chest. The idea was that you straddled the horse and pushed with your heels on either side in a walking motion, setting it to rolling. Then you sat back or laid back and let it roll for a time before pushing it again. The running machine, as the baron called it, could reach speeds up to nine miles an hour on a good road. The baron envisioned them for military as well as civilian use.

A coach builder named Denis Johnson is credited with bringing the fad to England, where it was soon a hit. Johnson refined the design and marketed it to the elite. London dandies embraced the concept to such as extent that some people began to call the device the Dandy Horse. Johnson custom-built each one to the size and shape of its owner and painted it in whatever colored the owner fancied. He even made a version for the ladies, who apparently stood on a lower step and pushed off with one foot only, much like a scooter, then sat sidesaddle to roll. You could even rent them by the day or the hour to get around London. Prints and pamphlets advised on the proper way to ride the vehicles. Mr. Johnson went so far as to open a Pedestrian Hobbyhorse Riding School on the Strand, charging a shilling a lesson.

Like any young gentleman handed a new toy, the nineteenth century youth were excited to see how far they could take the things. All over Europe, towns held races. Legend has it that a hobbyhorse beat a coach and four from London to Brighton. Hyde Park became overcrowded with packs of the things whizzing along.

Unfortunately, they became such a menace in London that the magistrates had to ban them. By 1840, they had become a quaint memory.

I know a few shopkeepers who wouldn’t mind skateboards meeting the same fate.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

What I Did on My Summer Vacation, Part 4: Fonthill Abbey

As Regina mentioned in Part 3, a popular vacation pastime for 18th and early 19th century people was the visiting of the large country estates of the rich and famous. Though it seems odd to us today, back then it was considered perfectly permissible. A lot of those houses are still open for viewing today…but today we’re going to visit a popular stately home that alas no longer exists, yet was quite famous in its day for its sheer…well, over-the-top-ness.

The Beckford family of Wiltshire was a fabulously wealthy one, thanks to its extensive plantation holdings in the West Indies which gave it a preeminent place in the sugar import market. Young William, heir of the family, got nothing but the best growing up—piano lessons from the young Mozart, for example—so when he came of age in 1781, he threw himself a party that cost ₤40,000. Um, wow.

However, scandals within a very few years drove him from England and his popular place in society. Despite his vast wealth, his life was not a happy one. He lost his young wife in childbirth while in exile on the continent, and spent the next several years traveling, writing (among his works was a well-known Gothic novel, Vathek) and collecting art. In 1796, much to everyone’s surprise, he decided to return to England and build himself a new house to house his art collection…in the form of a Gothic cathedral. He had the former Beckford home, Fonthill Splendens, torn down, and hired the brilliant but troubled architect James Wyatt to build it for him.

What emerged was one of the largest private homes in England. Fonthill Abbey featured 50 foot high windows, three-hundred foot corridors, staircases of enormous height and width…and a 50 foot table in the dining room, which seemed odd as no one would visit or even speak to Beckford (remember that scandalous past?) Yet alongside this excess, most of the bedrooms were small, stark, and bare, and over a dozen of them didn’t even have windows. Up to five hundred men were at work on the enormous house at any given time, and due to Wyatt’s frequent absences (he was notoriously unreliable, and often disappeared for months at a time on alcoholic sprees), Beckford himself did much of the directing of the building and landscaping of his monstrous home.

The process did not run smoothly. The main tower, planned to be three hundred feet tall, collapsed twice before finally staying put. The house was finally completed in 1813…which year also saw Wyatt’s death in a carriage accident.

Beckford lived alone in the gloomy splendor of his house for the next ten years, only entertaining once when Lord Nelson and Emma Hamilton spent Christmas with him. Unfortunately, the outrageous cost of his building (not only the Abbey itself but a twelve foot high wall extending for twelve miles around his lands) combined with a drop in the price of sugar and the loss of some of his Jamaican plantations led to his needing to sell his white elephant abbey…which he did in 1823, amazingly enough, for the tidy sum of ₤300,000.

The new owner of Fonthill Abbey, gunpowder magnate John Farquhar, rarely visited his new acquisition, but happened to be there at Christmas 1825 when, for the third and final time, the 300-foot tower of the Abbey collapsed, demolishing about a third of the house with it. Farquhar himself died the following year, having neglected to write a will, and none of the relations arguing over his fortune was interested in taking on Fonthill. It was torn down, and only the gatehouse and a small portion of the once enormous house remain.

And Beckford? He took his money and moved to Bath, erecting a shorter (only 120 feet tall) and much more solidly built tower in which to house some of his art treasures. Though Fonthill is long gone, you can still visit his Lansdown Tower today…just as inquiring young ladies might once have done.