Happy New Year!

In the Christmastime series, Lillian collects Victorian cards and displays them on her mantel for the holidays. Below are a few cards that might have been part of her collection, along with a few Victorian sentiments ushering in the New Year.

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“Ring out the old, ring in the new, Ring, happy bells, across the snow…”
― Alfred Tennyson

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“Only a night from old to new! Only a night, and so much wrought!” ―Helen Hunt Jackson

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“So may the New Year be a happy one to you, happy to many more whose happiness depends on you!” ― Charles Dickens

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HAPPY NEW YEAR!

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The Making of a Book Cover — Christmastime 1939: Prequel to the Christmastime Series

I was lucky to find a great book cover designer, Laura Duffy, for all my books. The Christmastime series, in particular, required several drafts.

Laura patiently added snow, made streetlights glow, erased modern buildings, and cropped and colored and added details until I had the image I wanted.

The cover for Christmastime 1939: Prequel to the Christmastime Series posed the most challenges. Early on, we decided that it would have a few subtle differences. As a prequel, it would not be part of the color sequence of the other books — green, red, blue. And Laura suggested that the “photograph” be vertical rather than horizontal.

I wanted the cover to evoke a sense of happiness and hope, with just a hint of the shadow cast by the war in Europe. After searching and searching for a photograph that would capture the main character’s (Lillian Hapsey) longing to move to Manhattan and start life anew, I found an image that might possibly work — with a little magic from Laura Duffy.

The photo had certain elements I was looking for: snow, a source of light (a lamppost), and it was immediately recognizable as Manhattan, with the Empire State Building in the center of the photo.

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But it needed some work.

First, the lamplights needed to be “turned on.” It took a few attempts to get the right shade of soft gold. Then we looked at several Christmas wreaths, pine boughs, and red ribbons to attach to the lamppost. We decided on the one below. I purchased the photo and Laura added and aged it.

Next, the Empire State Building needed to be more pronounced. The original photo depicted a foggy day (I wanted snow), and the outline of the building was obscured.  So Laura found and superimposed a clearer photo of the Empire State Building and added a light snowfall.

Empire State Bldg superimposed

We were getting closer, but it didn’t yet capture the charm and promise of new beginnings. I imagined a scene at dusk, people hurrying home after work, the Christmas season in the air — and Lillian pausing to look at the view of the Empire State Building and having a visceral feeling of connection — Manhattan embodied everything she wanted.

So Laura turned day into evening, showing lights in the office windows, and patiently adjusting my requests for “less blue, a little grayer, more dusk-like, a little darker, more snow?” — until finally, it clicked — and I entered the world of Christmastime.

The image captures a moment in the story when Lillian becomes a part of the city she so loves. I could see her dressed in 1930’s shoes and coat, her face raised in happiness, knowing that her two little boys would also love the magic of the city. I felt the image now had charm, a sense of excitement, and the feel of Christmas.

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Thank you, Laura!

Check out the variety of Laura’s covers here: https://www.lauraduffydesign.com/ 

Christmastime 1939 is now available (the softcover will be available any day now).

(The final book in the series, Christmastime 1945: A Love Story,  will be published in 2019.)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In Like a Lion, Out Like a Lion

 

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March came in like a lion, roaring and pouncing upon us with several snowstorms. After yesterday’s March Nor’easter #4, the world this morning appeared soft and white, with the fences and tree branches outlined in snow.

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Some of the trees looked like cotton bushes — fluffy white, and light as air. As if you could pluck a bunch of snow, stretch it thin, and spin it into cloth.

 

 

And yet — once spring has officially arrived, and April is close at hand, no one wants to hear about how beautiful the snow is. They’re ready for color and a bit of warmth, for signs of growth in the garden, and the first touch of green on the trees.

snow crocuses

I’ve found a hint of spring in my garden in the small cluster of crocuses and a few green spears of hyacinth leaves — a welcome sight. All it takes is a bit of color to assure us of the promise of spring.

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Valentine’s Day

Valentine blowup

“I love you not only for what you are, but for what I am when I am with you.” – Elizabeth Barrett Browning

 

 

“Each time you happen to me all over again.” – Edith Wharton

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“In case you ever foolishly forget, I am never not thinking of you.” – Virginia Woolf

 

 

“All, everything that I understand, I understand only because I love.”  – Leo Tolstoy

 

 

“To love or have loved, that is enough. Ask nothing further. There is no other pearl to be found in the dark folds of life.” – Victor Hugo

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 “I wish you to know that you have been the last dream of my soul.” – Charles Dickens

 

 

The Garden House — in winter (images from Pinterest)

gardenhouse_kindle_hiThough the story of The Garden House opens in late spring and closes in the fall, I made a Pinterest board called “The Garden House – winter.” The main character, Miranda, lives in Seattle and has a beautiful garden that’s an integral part of her life. I imagine her loving her garden in all seasons, including the rain and occasional snow of winter.

In The Garden House, Miranda’s garden becomes a  metaphor for life, with themes of family, change, memories, home, and the search for meaning. When all else goes wrong, Miranda retreats to her garden, with a cup of tea in hand, and finds solace.

Surrounded by the beauty of her garden, she allows herself to be captivated and inspired by the mysteries of life.

I imagine Miranda enjoying her garden in January, curled up in her window seat and watching the falling snow cover the birdhouses, birdbaths, and terra cotta pots.

I see her strolling through her garden, delighting in the vestiges of summer and fall — frost-covered roses, hydrangeas, and Queen Anne’s Lace.

In every season, Miranda fills her home with cuttings from her garden. I imagine her gathering branches of winter berries and greenery to make bouquets for her dining table and to set among the plants of the greenhouse window in her kitchen.

Perhaps she even brushes off the snow from a deck chair, and sipping a cup of hot chocolate, enjoys the tranquility and quiet of her winter garden.

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Happy New Year!

Happy New Year to all my followers and supporters!

May 2018 bring you closer to your dreams. 

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“There are two mistakes one can make along the road to truth — not going all the way, and not starting.” – Buddha

“A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.” – Lao Tzu

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 “The greatest masterpieces were once only pigments on a palette.” – Henry Hoskins

”The beginnings of all things are small.” – Cicero

“To begin, begin.” ― William Wordsworth

 

It’s A Wonderful Life — a Christmas classic (and an inspiration for indie writers)

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People often ask me what movies or books my Christmastime series is most similar to. For many reasons, the movie It’s A Wonderful Life comes to mind. It’s set during and just after WWII, it’s a story about love and family, the importance of friends and neighbors, and it’s about transformation.

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I happened to catch it on TV the other night, and though I know the movie by heart, I found that I loved it as much as ever.

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The story behind the movie is also “wonderful,” and offers an inspirational example for today’s independent writers. The movie is based on a short story by Philip Van Doren Stern (1900 – 1984), an American author, editor, and Civil War historian.

The story goes that in “February 1938, Stern awoke with the story in mind. Inspired by a dream that was reminiscent of Charles Dickens’ 1843 A Christmas Carol, Stern wrote a 4,000 word short story called The Greatest Gift. He began work on it in 1939 but didn’t finish until 1943.

Dickens

Unable to find a publisher for his story, he printed two hundred copies of the story and distributed them as Christmas cards in 1943. One of the original palm-sized booklets came to the attention of a producer at RKO Pictures who purchased the rights, and then sold them to Frank Capra in 1945.” (Wikipedia)

Frank Capra title

“From this humble beginning, a classic was born. Stern’s story captivated Capra, who said he ‘had been looking for [it] all [his] life.’ Capra’s beloved adaptation, It’s a Wonderful Life, was released in 1946,” (Zoetrope – www.all-story.com) and has become part of the American Christmas tradition.

bell on tree

 

The Christmastime stories — rural and small-town Midwest

The Christmastime books, stories of love and family on the home front during the World War II years, portray an America with one foot firmly in the past and the other poised on the threshold of change. The setting for these stories, for the most part, is New York City. However, a few storylines are set in the rural Midwest.

I was born and raised in small-town Illinois and the beauty of the landscape there — old farm houses set among fields and pastures, trains running to and from the small towns, the  woods and orchards that change with the time of year — has always had a strong pull on me. The seasons are rich and distinctive, and the snowy winter setting perfect for the Christmastime stories.

In the first book of the series, Christmastime 1940, we find that Charles Drooms’ past is deeply rooted in rural Illinois, and there are a few flashbacks to his boyhood and life on the farm that explain many of his decisions later in life.

In a later book, there’s a scene where Lillian works on a series of illustrations depicting the role of women on the farm. With so many men enlisted, women had to step into the workforce and fill jobs that had recently been held by men. Lillian draws on her memories of visiting Kate’s farm in the summer of 1941.

postere farm woman

Beginning in Christmastime 1943, a key storyline takes place on Kate’s farm involving her daughters, Ursula and Jessica, and the German POWs who work on the farm while Kate’s sons are away at war. The scenes depict the connection of living close to the land with the rhythms of the seasons, and the rigor and back-breaking work required by farm life.

The farm scenes help to portray a period when time moved more slowly, and a place where most foods were locally grown and cooking was done from scratch.

A time when the home arts played an important role in day-to-day living,

and small-town life offered simple charm and the opportunity for visiting and shopping.

The tension between the beauty and bleakness of the Midwestern winter landscape also serves to reflect the complexities in Ursula, a young woman often driven by opposing impulses.

And on a larger scale, the small town and farm scenes offer a counterpoint to the New York City scenes. The tranquility and wholesomeness of the countryside serve as a reminder of how much was at stake in the war.

The rural setting also represents the tens of thousands of young men, such as Kate’s four sons, who left their small towns and farms to fight in Europe and the Pacific. For many of them, it was the first time ever leaving home. For them, the very idea of “home,” and everything it symbolized, became a deeply cherished and protected ideal.

pie and chair

(For more images evocative of the world of Christmastime, please visit my Pinterest boards at http://www.pinterest.com/lindamahkovec/)

The Plaza Hotel – book cover

All the book covers in the Christmastime series feature an old-looking photograph set in winter. They to help establish a sense of place and give the impression of peering back in time. The images also portray places that are still in existence in Manhattan, so that the reader can feel it’s possible to step into the world of Christmastime by strolling through New York City, whether literally or imaginatively. Hence, the snowy photographs of a brownstone and several scenes from Central Park.

The covers must also reflect the content and tone of the books. I chose increasingly lonesome images and darker colors as the war years wore on, especially for Christmastime 1942 and Christmastime 1943.

Though 1944 was another terrible year, the Allies were clearly gaining the upper hand, and many people believed that the war in Europe would be over by Christmas. (The mid-December surprise count-offensive by the Germans, resulting in the Battle of the Bulge, quashed that hope, and the war raged on.)

But when December arrived, hope was in the air. For the cover of Christmastime 1944, I wanted an image that was lighter, brighter, and more hopeful. When I came across the image of the Plaza Hotel lit up at night, I thought it would be perfect for the story – especially since the hotel figures into one of the plots.

cover Christmastime 1944

If you’re ever in Manhattan, stop by the Plaza Hotel for lunch or tea. Stroll through the lobby to look at the beautiful bouquets of seasonal flowers, the mosaic floors, and the stained-glass ceiling in the Palm Court.

 

And if you’re in the Christmastime frame of mind, you just might catch a glimpse of a lovely woman in a 1940’s satin and chiffon green dress.

Plaza PP mosaic

The Four Seasons – today in Central Park

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Even though the weather is still cold and spring is officially weeks away, I pulled on my jacket and gloves and headed to Central Park to check on the progress of spring. To see if more flowers had bloomed, if more bushes were beginning to bud. But instead of finding spring, I found all four seasons.

I stood on the little arched bridge over the pond, and from there I clearly saw winter. Against the backdrop of the Plaza Hotel, the pond still lay rimmed with ice.

pond Plaza

The cattails and plants growing alongside appeared dormant, almost frozen. And behind me, came music from Wollman rink. There were the skaters, twirling, jumping, gliding over the ice.

Fall made its presence felt in the bare trees throughout the park, IMG_1429especially in the oaks. Their dry, brown leaves clung to the branches and lay scattered over the ground. They seemed to be tucked around all the clumps of flowers.

Under one such oak, I came across a little coupling of spring and fall, the contrast beautiful. A patch of crocuses nestled against a large black rock and above it, almost protectively, dipped the branch of curled brown oak leaves.IMG_1423

Spring was in the park, though at this time of year it seems to be close to the ground. There were bunches of green-speared daffodil leaves along the paths, and even a few daffodils in bloom.

I found a group of Lenten roses and some snowdrops, though like the daffodils, their blooms hung down, as if against the cold.

The sound of birdsong added to the sense of spring, as tiny birds flitted and chirped among bare branches. The forsythia bushes showed yellow, just waiting for a few warm days before bursting into fuller bloom. And that delicate first green appeared on several bushes.

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The most spring-like thing I came across was a little sunlit patch of bright purple flowers that from a distance I thought were crocuses.

But up close, I found that they were something like miniature irises, almost forming a ground cover.

Summer?  A bit of a stretch to find, but it too was there. summer cartsThe tourists were out, so the crowds alone made it feel like summer. At the Children’s Zoo, a few food carts for ice cream and popcorn were parked, just waiting for milder weather before opening up for business.

And at one of the baseball fields, a group of young men were practicing their fielding. One man stood at home plate, hitting balls out to different positions. The sound of the ball against his metal bat was a real summer sound – a deep rhythmic ping, ping ringing in the air.

But the sky was shifting once again from blue to gray, and the clouds were now growing heavier. Rain was predicted for tomorrow. The temperature seemed to have dropped. Would we have snow? Spring was hiding its head and taking cover once again. I pulled up the hood of my jacket.

I passed the statue of the Falconer as I made my way out of the park. There he was, reaching up to a gray winter sky, undaunted by the cold. I tried to imagine him against the color and mildness of spring, and for the moment, I couldn’t. Falconer

Perhaps I am impatient. It’s just that I know what’s up ahead – Central Park in the spring is magnificent. But there is also something tender to be found in this subtle shifting of the seasons. It’s as if relationships are there among the dried leaves and green shoots, a protective urging forward, alongside a slow goodbye.

So I will slow down and appreciate this understated, changeable time of year. A time when we could have blossoms or snowflakes, and all the seasons are present. A remarkable time of year.