All the Bookish News!

A picture of the new print edition of Castle of the Wolf
Today I come to you with all kinds of bookish news: I’m currently knee-deep into the production of new print editions of all of my books. (It kind of hit me when I was preparing  Eagle’s Honor: Ravished, which I have entered into the RITAs, for print that very few of my novels were actually available as paperbacks. So it was definitely beyond time to remedy that situation.) Moreover, a few weeks ago, I also discovered how to create drop caps in MS Word and since then I’ve been on a roll. As you can see from the picture above. 🙂

For the print edition of Castle of the Wolf, my Beauty & the Beast story, in which a young woman inherits a mysterious castle in the Black Forest, I chose a set of initial letters that reminded me of old fairy tale books. I thought that was quite fitting since fairy tales play a very important role in the story.

So this is the good part. However, overall Sandra’s Adventures in Print Publishing didn’t go quite that smoothly. The grumpy dude on the cover? He’s orange. “But, Sandy,” you might say, “he is not orange in that picture above.” Yeah. I know. I applied a number of filters to that picture above because I didn’t want to inflict his glow-in-the-dark color on anyone. So if you’d like to get a nice new edition of Castle, please wait a few days. I’m currently fixing it. (I just hope he doesn’t turn out to look like a zombie this time around.) (That’s what living in a run-down castle does to you: turns you into a zombie!)

But what *did* turn out really nicely is the frontispiece (see? I’m really on a roll here! hehe!): I did include a sketch of the Kastelburg in Waldkirch, upon which the castle in my novel is (partly) based. Here is a picture of the frontispiece in the making:

A sketch of the Kastelburg in Waldkirch Annnnnnd in other bookish news, my grumpy centurion, whom I mentioned in my last post about doing portraits, is going to hit bookshelves this Friday. I so enjoyed telling Caius & Lucius’ story. I fell in love with these two when I first wrote them as secondary characters into Eagle’s Honor: Ravished, which is set ten years after The Centurion’s Choice, and I knew from almost the start that I very much wanted to tell their story as well.

Teaser image for The Centurion's Choice by Sandra SchwabFor me, one of the great joys of writing the Eagle’s Honor series is that has expanded into an exploration of family relations across several generations as well as an exploration of family stories. Family stories formed an important part of my growing up – my paternal grandmother in particular liked telling me stories about the time when my father and his sisters were little, and sometimes also about the time when she was a young woman. And above my parents’ dining table there’s a huge collage of family pictures going back as far as the 1890s. So my own experiences of how people in my family talked about their past and about people from past generations I’ve never met, very much informed the way I have been approaching the stories the Florius family share.

I love imagining what kind of stories members of the Florius family would share about past generations and what kind of things would be passed from one generation to the next. And also imagine what sort of circumstances would interrupt this chain of oral traditions; in how far memories might change over time. For me, it’s a really nice way to link these stories that set apart several decades. (And of course, I hope readers will enjoy these links, too!)

Teaser image for The Centurion's Choice, by Sandra SchwabBut, of course, these family stories just form a tiny part of the background for The Centurion’s Choice, which at its heart is a enemies-to-friends-to-lovers story. With a very grumpy centurion. 🙂 (Watching those grumpy guys fall in love is always such great fun, isn’t it?) So without further ado, here’s the blurb for the novella. I will add buy links on Friday, when the book comes out.

It’s 178 AD, and barbarian tribes once again threaten the borders of the Roman Empire. To make matters worse, Lucius’ promotion in his auxiliary cohort has been denied, and instead the governor has appointed a moody, mean-tempered Roman to become the new centurion of the Septem Gallorum. And, incidentally, to trample all over Lucius’ ambitions.

Tall and burly, Centurion Caius Florius Corvus might be way too good-looking for Lucius’ peace of mind, but the man has also made it abundantly clear that he doesn’t trust Lucius as his second-in-command. Yet as they are swept into war and each has to shoulder his responsibilities, a reluctant respect begins to grow between them, which soon grows into friendship — and, perhaps, more?

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A Regency Christmas in Bound By A Scandalous Secret

Bound by a Scandalous SecretBound By A Scandalous Secret, available in paperback and ebook, begins and ends in the Christmas season. I’ve written about Christmas before in A Twelfth Night Tale (my only Christmas novella, still available in the Governess Brides Bundle), but I had to go back and do the research about Christmas in the Regency all over again.

Many familiar Christmas traditions–decorating Christmas trees, singing Silent Night, waiting for Santa Claus–did not emerge until the later Victorian times, but a Regency Christmas did have other traditions still celebrated today.

Regency families decorated their houses with holly and ivy and evergreens of fir and pine. Mistletoe was hung and the tradition of a gentleman and lady kissing beneath it would have been part of a Regency Christmas. With each kiss the gentleman plucked a berry from the mistletoe. When the berries were gone, so were the kisses. In the book I’m working on now (more on that in later months) the hero and heroine decorate his house. I’m writing those scenes today!

Christmas was mainly a religious holiday during the Regency. Gifts were exchanged, church attended, and guests might be invited to Christmas dinner, like Ross and Dell were invited to Lord Tinmore’s for Christmas dinner in Bound By A Scandalous Night.

cruikshank-christmas-pudding-served-at-dinner-party-life-magazine-imageAt Christmas dinner a goose or turkey would be served. A Regency household would also serve a Christmas pudding that was made on Stir Up Sunday, the Sunday before Advent, and served on Christmas day. The pudding was a porridge of sugar, raisins, currants, prunes, and wine that was “stirred up” and boiled together in a pudding cloth.

Some of the traditions of the Regency holiday season had their origins in ancient winter celebrations. First-Footing customs of New Year’s Day may have originated in ancient Greece. In order to have good fortune all the year, an uninvited stranger–a dark man in some areas of the UK but the hair color could vary by region–should be the first to cross the threshold on New Years Day. He might carry symbolic gifts- salt (or a coin) for wealth; coal for warmth, a match for kindling, and bread for food. The householder might offer him food and drink. In some villages one tall, dark, and handsome fellow was selected to visit all the houses, receiving food and drink at each one. I mentioned this custom in A Twelfth Night Tale.

Twelfth Night, the eve of the Epiphany, was even more of a time for revelry than Christmas day during the Regency. It was a time to drink wassail (ale or wine spiced with roasted apples and sugar) and play games. A bean was buried in a cake and whoever found it was designated the Lord of Misrule who presided over all the Twelfth Night festivities, which might include theatricals or singing, although many of our most popular Christmas Carols were translated from German later in Victorian times. When Twelfth Night was over, the house decorations were removed and the season is over.

Christmas cards were invented by Sir Henry Cole, who, as an Assistant Keeper of what is now the Post Office in the UK, started the Penny Post, the first postal service that ordinary people could afford. He and an artist friend designed a Christmas card that would encourage people to use the Penny Post. Here’s an example of a Victorian Christmas Card.
victorian_christmas_card

It is rather fun to be writing Christmas scenes in this Christmas season. And to have a book out at this time of year where Christmas plays a part. Of course, though my characters are decorating at this very moment. I’ve not done anything yet!

Have you decorated for the holidays yet? Have you sent any Christmas cards?

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An Apology and a Promise

Wow, here it is the beginning of December –is anyone else wondering where November went? Sometimes, as the days fly by, I wonder if time seemed to go by this fast to people who lived during the Regency –or pick any given historical time period. With all our modern time-saving conveniences, how is it that we seem to live at a frenetic pace? (I know this isn’t only me!!) Is it because we try to cram more activity into our days, simply because we can? Has time actually sped up (a theory I read somewhere…)?? What do you think?

The reason I am ruminating on all of this today is because, even though I knew today was my day to blog here, I never did have time this week to choose a topic or prepare a post. So that’s the apology –I’m sorry I don’t have an actual post for today!! I did consider asking among my sister Riskies if anyone wanted to swap dates, but I never even got a chance to send out that appeal. This is the first time I’ve ever just completely missed posting here.

The promise is that in January I should have some real news to share! I’m looking forward to that. In the meantime, I want to wish all of you the most wonderful holidays –whatever you celebrate. It’s the season of light and love, that we should try to hold in our hearts and share with each other all year long. I think our world needs it more than ever!!!

In place of my post, here are two pictures of what has eaten up my extra time this week –things I’ve made for my church bazaar which is tomorrow. I am the coordinator for vendors and have been fielding phone calls and emails from them all week, while measuring and re-measuring the church hall and tweaking the floor lay-out to make sure there’s room for everyone besides all the tables full of church-made items.  We set up today, so we’ll see! In the meantime, sending you love and best wishes. And an early “Happy New Year”!!

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Bound By A Scandalous Secret

Bound by a Scandalous SecretBound By A Scandalous Secret, my latest book and the third book in the Scandalous Summerfields, is released today!

Here’s the back cover blurb:

A most shocking betrothal!
The pleasure-seeking Marquess of Rossdale has little interest in his birthright and even less in finding a bride. So he comes up with the perfect plan to survive the Season unscathed—a fake engagement to a most unsuitable girl!
Outspoken Genna, the youngest of the scandalous Summerfields, has no wish to marry, either. So agreeing to be Ross’s temporary fiancĂ©e will grant her freedom for a little longer. But with every kiss, both Ross and Genna must face up to what they really desire… a true match!
The Scandalous Summerfields–Disgrace is their middle name.

Genna’s story begins in the Christmas season of 1815 and ends at Christmas 1816. The gifts Genna and Ross share on that first Christmas are meaningful, but not valuable.

When I strive to give gifts, I always hope to make them meaningful, but I’m rarely successful, so I was pleased I could make Genna and Ross’s gifts so.

You know, books make great Christmas gifts. Feel free to give a friend or relative Bound By A Scandalous Secret.  Or treat yourself!

In many ways, this book is about giving and expecting nothing in return. That’s pretty much the essence of love, isn’t it?

You can purchase the paperback of Bound By A Scandalous Secret at bookstores and online vendors. Book Depository has the book on discount!

(Prefer the ebook? The ebook will be released December 1)

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St. Brice’s Day

I love finding local events to include in books. They can be fun inciting events, or random bits of action, or just a bit of historical authenticity. It’s the little things like this that add verisimilitude and depth to a book (at least in my opinion). One of my go-to sources for this kind of thing is The English Year by Steve Roud. It’s an absolutely fabulous book that goes through the whole year listing events and celebrations all over England. I’ve used something out of it for every book.

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The Stamford Bull-Run, 18thC

So, if we were dropped into Georgian England this week, what might happen? Well, if it happened in the city of Samford, we might get trampled by bulls. On Nov 13th (or the 14th if the 13th fell on a Sunday as it did this year), the Stamford Bull-Running took place up until the 1839 when it fell afoul of reformers.

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Stamford (photo by SmileyRose – Wikimedia Commons)

According to local tradition, the custom was started in the 12th century by William de Warenne, 5th Earl of Surrey, after he saw two bulls fighting in the meadow. When the butchers tried to part them, the bulls ran into the town. The earl so enjoyed the resulting ruckus (and giving chase) that he decreed it would be an annual event.

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A jug commemorates Ann Blades – a Stamford bull runner in 1792 (photo by Roger from Derby, UK Wikimedia Commons)

The city would block off side streets and board up windows. At 10:35AM the church bells would ring, alerting people to clear the street, and then the bull would be released and the crowd of “bullards” and their dogs would chase it through the main thoroughfare. When they reached the bridge, the bull would be tossed over into the water, and then pursued into the field, slaughtered, roasted and eaten (later the meat was sold off cheaply, rather than cooked and consumed on the meadow).

 
By the late 18th century, bloodsports (and anything that involved riotous celebration by the poor and working class) were falling out of favor. The local paper in 1785 commented:

 
Monday last being our annual bull-running, the same was observed here with the usual celebrity—several men heated with liquor got tossed by the bull, and were most terribly hurt, while some others more sober had little better usage. What a pity it is so barbarous a custom is permitted to be continued, that has no one good purpose to recommend it, but is kept as an orgy of drunkenness and idleness to the manifest injury of many poor families, even tho’ the men escape bodily hurt.”

The bull-run became a major cause for reformers, and was first banned in 1788, but the powers that be were unable to suppress the custom and eventually gave up trying. The cause was again taken up in 1824 by the newly formed Society of the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, and ending it (by turning the tide of local opinion) was their first major success. [ok, so this was an entirely unexpected discovery when I chose this topic, it’s a twofer for anyone wanting to write an authentic reformer hero or heroine!).

So, happy St. Brice’s day! Be glad you weren’t trampled by a bull.

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Author Websites

I’m putting some serious thought into a long-needed upgrade to my rather lamentably home-made website, www.elenagreene.com and I’d love to have some input from readers.

Of course it is important to have a website that is uncluttered and easy to navigate. Although I personally don’t care to surf the web on my phone, but I know a lot of people do, so it’s also looking important to have a site that is mobile-friendly.

As for style, I’ve been looking through a lot of historical romance authors’ websites to get ideas of what might work for mine. One of my favorites is our own Risky Diane’s website at www.dianegaston.com. Here’s a screenshot. I think it’s elegant and has a romantic, historical feel without being too busy or flowery.

dianegastonwebsite

Some other website along these lines include: www.lorettachase.com and www.janmarieanello.com.

I also do happen to enjoy sites that have more imagery, including romantic couples and stately homes. Some examples: www.sarahmaclean.net and www.cynthiawrightauthor.com.

I’ve also noticed that some sites combine simple, elegant graphics with an author portrait. Examples: www.eloisajames.com and www.tessadare.com. I’d probably want to get a new headshot for this type of site, although that might be a good idea anyway.

So I’d love to hear what you think.

How often do you visit author websites?

  • Occasionally (a few times a year) (50%, 7 Votes)
  • Often (at least once a month) (36%, 5 Votes)
  • Rarely (14%, 2 Votes)
  • Never (0%, 0 Votes)

Total Voters: 14

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Where do you most often view author websites?

  • laptop or desktop computer (62%, 8 Votes)
  • tablet (31%, 4 Votes)
  • a mix (8%, 1 Votes)
  • mobile phone (0%, 0 Votes)
  • I don't visit author websites. (0%, 0 Votes)

Total Voters: 13

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What style of historical romance website do you most enjoy?

  • I don't care as long as I can find what I want (46%, 6 Votes)
  • Simple, elegant graphics (38%, 5 Votes)
  • Romantic images of people and scenery (8%, 1 Votes)
  • Other (please explain in comments) (8%, 1 Votes)

Total Voters: 13

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How do you feel about having the author's portrait on the main page?

  • I don't care one way or another. (46%, 6 Votes)
  • I like seeing the author's portrait on the main page. (38%, 5 Votes)
  • It's OK to just have the author portrait on the bio page. (15%, 2 Votes)
  • I'd rather not see the author portrait. (0%, 0 Votes)

Total Voters: 13

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Please feel free to comment on any of your answers and let me know if there’s anything else you think is important.
Thanks!
Elena

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Elections, Regency Style Redux!

I originally wrote this blog Nov 5, 2012, so this is a redux (giving me time to finish the work-in-progress)

Tomorrow is Election Day here in the USA and when you live in a swing state (Virginia) in the suburbs of the nation’s capital (Washington, D.C.), You. Cannot. Escape. This. Fact. Ever. (Diane Note: I would daresay, if you are a citizen of the WORLD this election cycle, You. Cannot. Escape. This. Fact. Ever.)

If I lived in Regency England, though, things would be a lot different. An election would only be for members of the House of Commons. In the early 1800s, the House of Lords consisted of hereditary peers and, of course, the king was not elected. Members of Parliament served until Parliament was dissolved, every five years unless emergency extensions were necessary.

Fairness was a rare commodity in election to the House of Commons. Some “pocket boroughs” were in the pocket of the local magnate or his designee and, therefore, had no real opposition. Other “rotten boroughs” might have small enough numbers of voters that all could be successfully bribed, while areas as densely populated as Manchester had no representative. For example, Old Sarum in Wiltshire had three houses and seven voters. The Reform Act of 1832 dissolved the rotten boroughs and more evenly distributed representation.

Like in the US, there were two main political parties. Generally speaking, the Tories were conservative, wanting to maintain the status quo, while the Whigs advocated electoral, parliamentary, and social reform. After the French Revolution, the Tory party experienced years of largely uncontested power. Before he became Prince Regent, George IV supported Whig sentiments, but when in power, he turned Tory.

The only people who could vote in Regency England were male landowners. Only one man in seven could vote in England; one in 44 in Scotland. Women did not earn full voting rights in the UK until 1928.

So when I cast my vote tomorrow, I’ll be grateful that I have a voice in my government and I’ll appreciate how different it would have been if I had lived in my beloved Regency England.

Go vote!!

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Helping Hands: Life with Servants

house-maid-by-william-pyneDo you ever catch yourself wishing you had a cook and a housekeeper? How about a lady’s maid to do your hair, or a footman you could send to the store? My schedule imploded this week thanks to a big surprise project at work, and once again I caught myself wishing for that kind of extra help.

My family has already pointed out to me that clones wouldn’t do. They would be just like me, and therefore likely to enthusiastically embrace new projects, rather than merely help complete the existing ones, so they would multiply the problem rather than solve it. (sigh)

If you could have whatever servants you wanted, which ones would you choose? Our modern conveniences have made some servant jobs obsolete –scullery maid, for instance. In a large Regency household, the scullery maid washed all the dishes, pots, and pans, not only for the family, but also those used by the other servants, all of whom outranked her. Today the dishwashing machine handles most of that.

I don’t think I need a butler, either, even though in the Regency the butler might reign supreme over all the other servants in a household where there wasn’t a steward over him. The butler managed the wine cellar, looked after the good silver cutlery and plate, and supervised all the male servants in the household under him, especially the footmen who served the family and guests at dinner. He sorted the mail (well, on second thought, that still might be useful to me), and welcomed or turned away the visitors who came to call. (We have few visitors. Could a butler manage my social media?)

The housekeeper was, in many households, moreland_henry_robert_500_the_laundry_maid_ironing_1785of nearly equal rank with the butler, and often was trusted with keeping accounts and other management duties, which might have been shared with him. It was her job to supervise all the female servants under her, which would have included all the different types of maids (chamber maids, house maids, laundry maids) and sometimes, the cook, although male cooks were preferred in the wealthiest households, and in many homes the cook and housekeeper were equals.

A housekeeper and a couple of maids would be very welcome in my house –for paying the bills, keeping track of supplies, tending to my clothes, and getting rid of the unwanted stuff that accumulates around here! Most especially, for CLEANING. Everything! And a cook would be worth her weight in gold in my household.

Footmen. Well, who wouldn’t want a couple of those? In the Regency, footmen seeking positions often included their height as part of their qualifications. It seems that you wanted your footmen to come in matched sets, and the more handsome, the better! Experience, reliability and character were not enough. Footmen were handy because they could accompany you on errands and carry your packages, open doors, or if visiting, they would go to the door and present or leave your card. They could assist you in and out of you high carriage if you actually needed to get out. They waited on table at meals, and might be charged with answering the door if the butler was busy with other tasks. These days? I would love to send my footman to run my errands –think of all the time that would save!!

I admit I don’t have need for a coachman or a groom, thank you, but a gardener would be heavenly! For a place that has no lawn, our property needs an awful lot of pruning, weeding, and other kinds of yard care.

exhausted-servantOf course, having servants meant having enough of the ready to cover the cost. During the Regency, there was a tax to be paid on male servants in addition to their wages, their room and board, and the additional expense of clothing them and providing for incidentals. (A candle to light their room at night? Extravagant!) That was one reason the more modest households often employed only female servants. Females were also paid lower wages, even for similar work. (Hmm, some things take a long time to change.) Servants also had to be paid “board wages” if the employer’s family was not in residence for any length of time.

Even other people’s servants cost you money in the Regency, for tips (called vails) were expected, especially if you were visiting. Do you remember to leave a tip for your chamber maid when you stay at a hotel? Well, the same was expected then when you stayed at someone’s country house, and not only for the maid who tended your room, but any other servant who gave you service, whether it was the butler, the groom, or the host’s valet on loan to help your husband with his attire. (A valet today would probably refuse to work with my husband’s wardrobe!) These costs had to be considered before accepting just any invitation.

Employers not only had to follow the terms of the employment contracts, but they had to observe the strict social pecking order among the servants themselves. Heaven forbid if you asked one servant to perform a task that was the duty of another!

If you’re interested in more information about types of servants, wages paid, and more, the blogpost at: https://countryhousereader.wordpress.com/2013/12/19/the-servant-hierarchy/ has some of that information and a good bibliography at the end of it. Another good article is at: http://rth.org.uk/regency-period/family-life/servants. Authors Donna Hatch and Geri Walton, among others, have done more in-depth articles on this and related topics. Thanks to my crazy week (and lack of servants), this had to be a quick one!!

Having some live-in “help” seems like such a great idea, until you begin to weigh the complications of it. I have a feeling the maids would take one look at my house and run away screaming. (or I would need a bunch of them!!)

pearline-soap-ad-1890-granger-revisedMaybe I’m okay just muddling through on my own, thank you –unless a big enough chunk of cash comes along with the fantasy servants I’m wishing for!

How would you have fared in the Regency world having servants? Which ones would you still wish you could have today?

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Thinking of Portraits & a Cover Reveal

These past few weeks I’ve been thinking a lot about portraits in painting and the art of portraiture. This is perhaps hardly surprising as I needed to think about a cover for my new Roman story and also started a hashtag project on Twitter and Facebook (#FreePortraitFriday), where authors can share a description of their main characters and I’m going to pick one to do a free character portrait.

Those are excellent exercises for me as I don’t just have to think about how to visualize the verbal physical descriptions of a character, but also how to visualize the…eh…character of said character. Like, is that person shy or self-confident? Kind? Arrogant? Mischievous? Those character traits will translate into the pose and expression and are nearly as important as the physical characteristics.

A couple of years ago, there was an exhibition of children’s portraits at the Städel, a famous art museum in Frankfurt, and while I didn’t manage to go and see it, I did manage to snatch up a catalogue of the exhibition. The catalogue doesn’t just provide the reader with a good overview of the history and development of children’s portraits, but also invites the reader to look more closely at the small details. When you look at Joshua Reynold’s portrait of little Frances Crewe from 1775 (“Miss Crewe“), when more realistic portraits of children that emphasized their individual personalities rather than family and heritage, had just become all the rage, you can easily see what a sweet, funny little girl Frances must have been.

Francis Cotes, "The Young Cricketer"
Francis Cotes, “The Young Cricketer” (from Wikipedia)

For his portrait of young Lewis Cage, the artist Francis Cotes chose a pose reminiscent of that of military heroes, hinting at the boy’s self-confidence. However, he immediately subverts this pose and we are reminded that this is a little boy, for in contrast to the men depicted in those military portraits, young Lewis looks far from neat and tidy: his waistcoat is unbuttoned, a corner of his shirt is hanging out of his breeches, which have become unbuttoned at his left knee. All those details add to the vitality of the portrait by hinting at the vitality and physicality of the child: he is dirty, sweaty, and stinky, but immensely proud of his achievements in cricketing.

And all those paintings of little children cuddling with their pets with obvious affection? How cute are those? Joshua Reynolds’ little “Miss Jane Bowles” (1775) exuberantly hugs her (long-suffering?) pet spaniel while smiling mischievously. And when Henry Raeburn painted his step-grandson in 1814 (“Boy and Rabbit“), he depicted little Henry as an affectionate young boy who tenderly cradles his white pet rabbit in his arm.

Posing is something I find rather difficult when I’m working with my digital models (and not the least because digital models don’t automatically pose naturally and, thus, if you don’t do it correctly you end up with a wooden-looking zombie — NOT the kind of look you really want to go for) (unless you’re doing a picture of a zombie, of course). To find the right pose (and the right camera angle) for a character often takes me quite a long time, and I typically need several test runs before I come up with something I’m happy with. As with those real-life portraits, it’s often the small details that add character to cover art.

A portrait of my centurion
A portrait of my centurion

A few days ago I got thinking about what to do with the cover of THE CENTURION’S CHOICE.  Which of my two guys should I put on the cover? Lucius, whom I used on the teaser image? Or Caius, the centurion from the title of the novella? In the end I settled on burly, cranky Caius – and after some puttering around, I ended up with the above picture. (I wasn’t able to find a digital version of a centurion’s armor, so I put Caius in a set of shiny Spartan armor.) But somehow, it just wasn’t quite right. I mean, he’s a good-looking dude, yes, but he looks a bit young-ish, and besides, Caius is described as being built like an ox. And this guy isn’t quite what I would call burly. So…more tinkering ensued!

Luckily, the muscles of digital models can be pumped up on demand and so I did some pumping (gosh, that was too much….), tried to add some muscle definition to his lower arms, and…oh, what about body hair? *Sandy wanders off to investigate digital options of adding body hair, comes back slightly traumatized* Um. No body hair, sorry.

But I did change the camera angle somewhat and turned his hair windswept to make the whole thing look a bit more heroic. And finally, I ended up with – taaaahdaaaaah! – this cover draft. Which I quite like. 🙂 And I hope you do too!

Cover image of The Centurion's Choice by Sandra SchwabTHE CENTURION’S CHOICE will come out in late November / early December and will be my very first m/m story.

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Amanda’s The Queen’s Christmas Summons

Diane here, posting for Amanda whose WordPress is doing wonky things. Here’s Amanda!

christmassummonscover1I’m so happy to be back at the Riskies today! I hope I can still be considered a part-time (or honorary) Risky). I’m also so excited to have the chance to talk a bit about the history behind the book for my new release The Queen’s Christmas Summons. This story has been brewing in my mind for a long time, ever since I was a little girl and my grandmother (who was very proud to be Irish, and have the famous “black Irish” looks of dark hair, olive skin, and bright blue eyes) told me she was descended from a shipwrecked Spanish soldier who landed on Ireland’s coast in a storm and married a Galway woman. This story, while fantastic, is almost certainly a family legend, but it made me wonder—what would really happen if two such people met??? That’s how John (an English spy planted with the Armada) and his love Alys came to be. She saves his life on the Irish shore—and they meet up later at the queen’s own court for Christmas.

I’ll be giving away a signed copy of The Queen’s Christmas Summons to one lucky commenter, chosen at random.

The paperback is available now at bookstores and online venues. The ebook will be released November 1.

                        The Spanish Armada (Grande y Felicisima Armada, “great and most fortunate navy”) was one of the most dramatic episodes of the reign of Elizabeth I, and one of her defining moments. If it had succeeded, the future of England would have been very different indeed, but luckily, weather, Spanish underpreparedness, and the skill of the English navy were on the queen’s side. The mission to overthrow Elizabeth, re-establish Catholicism in England, and stop English interference in the Spanish Low Countries, was thwarted.
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King Philip began preparing his invasion force as early as 1584, with big plans for his fleet to meet up with the Duke of Parma in the Low Countries, ferry his armies to England, and invade. His first choice as commander was the experienced Marquis of Santa Cruz, but when Santa Cruz died Philip ordered the Duke of Medina Sedonia to take command of the fleet. The Duke was an experienced warrior – on land. He had no naval background, and no interest in leading the Armada, as the invasion fleet came to be called. He begged to be dismissed, but Philip ignored the request, as well as many other good pieces of advice about adequate supplies and modernizing his ships.

After many delays, the Armada set sail from Lisbon in April 1588 (in The Queen’s Christmas Summons, it carries my hero, an English spy, along with it!). The fleet numbered over 130 ships, making it by far the greatest naval fleet of its age. According to Spanish records, 30,493 men sailed with the Armada, the vast majority of them soldiers. A closer look, however, reveals that this “Invincible Armada” was not quite so well armed as it might seem.  Many of the Spanish vessels were converted merchant ships, better suited to carrying cargo than engaging in warfare at sea. They were broad and heavy, and could not maneuver quickly under sail.  The English navy, recently modernized under the watch of Drake and Hawkins, was made up of sleek, fast ships, pared down and easy to bring about, which would prove crucial.

A series of signal beacons atop hills along the English and Welsh coasts were manned. When the Spanish ships were at last sighted off The Lizard on July 19, 1588, the beacons were lit, speeding the news throughout the realm. The English ships slipped out of their harbor at Plymouth and, under cover of darkness, managed to get behind the Spanish fleet. When the Spanish finally reached Calais, they were met by a collection of English vessels under the command of Lord Howard.

The English set fireships adrift, using the tide to carry the blazing vessels into the massed Spanish fleet. Although the Spanish were prepared for this tactic and quickly slipped anchor, there were some losses and inevitable confusion. On Monday, July 29, the two fleets met in battle off Gravelines. The English emerged victorious, although the Spanish losses were not great; only three ships were reported sunk, one captured, and four more ran aground. Nevertheless, the Duke of Medina Sedonia determined that the Armada must return to Spain. The English blocked the Channel, so the only route open was north around the tip of Scotland, and down the coast of Ireland. Storms scattered the Spanish ships, resulting in heavy losses.
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By the time the tattered Armada regained Spain, it had lost half its ships and three-quarters of its men, leaving a fascinating trove of maritime archaeological sights along the Irish coast (and myths of dark-eyed children born to Irish women and rescued Spanish sailors! In reality, most of them met fates far more grim and sad). Among this most unlikely of places, John and Alys meet and find love!

Did any of this history of the Armada surprise you? Remember to leave a comment about the Armada or about The Queen’s Christmas Summons for a chance to win a signed copy!

If you’d like to read more about this fascinating time, here are a few sources I liked:

Robert Milne-Tyne, Armada!, 1988

Ken Douglas, The Downfall of the Spanish Armada in Ireland, 2009

Neil Hanson, The Confident Hope of a Miracle: The True History of the Spanish Armada, 2003

Laurence Flanagan, Ireland’s Armada Legacy, 1988

James Hardiman, The History of the Town and Country of Galway, 1820

Colin Martin, Shipwrecks of the Spanish Armada, 2001

Garrett Mattingly, The Armada, 1959

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