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.

1939

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.)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Summer Evenings in the Garden

GH eve 12

Long summer days mean that we can spend more time out of doors. And one of the best places to linger in the summer twilight is in a lovely garden. There’s something about candlelight and dinner in the garden that is absolutely magical.

GH table 1b

Though I can count such dinners I’ve experienced on one hand, they stand out in my mind. Some memories shine more than others, like tiny jewels in an inner treasure chest — clearer, sharper, more durable.

One such memory is of an impromptu dinner I once had with friends in Seattle. A guest was visiting from Switzerland and we decided to have our dinner outside, just beside the flower garden.

We pulled out the kitchen table, draped it in a lace tablecloth, and added details to make the dinner even more special — fresh flowers from the garden, antique water goblets and an Art Deco silverware set that belonged to my grandparents, and a tiny salt and pepper set — green and white enamel owls. One of my roommates, who was attending a culinary arts school, created a sumptuous meal full of summer freshness — I remember a cold blueberry soup with creme fraiche swirled on top and a salad with orange nasturtiums from the garden.

I never made the connection before, but surely that evening found its way into my novel The Garden House, which is set in Seattle. There’s a scene where the main character, Miranda, sets a beautiful table on the garden deck and enjoys a lovely summer evening with her husband and a few friends.

The Italian poet and author Cesare Pavese said, “We do not remember days, we remember moments.” I wouldn’t be at all surprised if those words came to him as he sat in a summer garden at evening.

GH eve book

Amazon Link: http://a.co/hsncwXs

 

 

 

Books and Flowers

flowers and books

The grouping of books with flowers is a poetic one — whether it’s a studied composition, an impromptu arrangement, or simply a flower used as a bookmark. Both books and flowers serve as portals to worlds of beauty, meaning, and pleasure. The pairing is made more poignant by the contrast of one being ephemeral, the other ever-lasting.

“With freedom, books, flowers, and the moon, who could not be happy?” – Oscar Wilde

books and flowers 11

“With a few flowers in my garden, half a dozen pictures and some books, I live without envy.” – Lope de Vega

GH 1e

“Flowers lead to books, which leads to thinking and not thinking, which leads to more flowers and music, music. Then many more flowers and more books.” – Maira Kalman

books and flowers 5

“Here’s to fresh coffee, sunshine, morning walks, blooming flowers, good books and all the other simple but glorious pleasures of life.” – (I’m not sure who said this, but I couldn’t agree more.)

The Night Sky

NYC aerial night

Flying over Manhattan at night is beautiful to behold. Below lays a glittering, golden metropolis — silent, twinkling, sprawling. An utter transformation from its gray and gritty daytime self. At night, the city enters the realm of the magical, the fairytale, the mystical.

In a way, it’s an odd reversal of star-gazing, as if we have created a facsimile of the stars here on earth, to be viewed from above.

stars 3

I have read that there are tours for stargazing that take you to far away places where the night sky still reigns.  It must feel like taking a step back in time, where we can see the sky as we saw it for hundreds of thousands of years — an upper land that played before our eyes, the shapes and patterns of stars and planets shifting and traveling with the seasons. The firmament must have been held as a mix of prayer, ritual, entertainment, wonder, and peace. An infusion of beauty that the human night soul absorbed in quiet, simple, cosmic connection.

stars 2

I had a taste of that connection growing up in small-town Illinois. The night sky was a source of beauty, anytime you wanted to step outside and look up. Which we often did, inspired by the curiosity of our mom. From the prosaic location of the driveway or the sidewalk out back, she would stand beneath the glittering stars and marvel in wonder. We would crane our necks this way and that trying to locate the Big Dipper or Orion’s Belt, and question if some of the brightest stars were actually planets — Venus or Mars.

And years later, visiting my sister’s house out in the country in Oregon, we have stretched out in the deck chairs and gazed at the firmament — growing excited at the shooting stars, feeling that instant connection to a distant past, and to something far far beyond earth worries. It seems almost too wondrous to believe that all you have to do is gaze upwards at night to dip into another world full of mystery and beauty,  inconceivably distant and enormous — yet ever-present, just there for the taking.

blue stars night

 

 

Happy New Year!

Happy New Year to all my followers and supporters!

May 2018 bring you closer to your dreams. 

NY8

“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

 

The autumn leaves are falling like rain…

autumn mist and leaves

There’s a poem I’ve come across over the years that is simple, beautiful, and lyrical. It seems to find expression in different times, in slightly different wording. All the versions are evocative, stirring up rich images and emotions.

The autumn leaves are falling like rain,
Although my neighbors are all barbarians,
And you, you are a thousand miles away,
There are always two cups at my table.   – Tang Dynasty poem

In this version, most likely translated from the original, I imagine a rugged landscape,

rugged autumn

 

 

 

 

 

 

perhaps the Great Wall of China,

GW China autumn

and a cup of tea.

Chinese teacup

A quick search reveals a few remarkable facts about the period the poem was written in: “China’s Tang Dynasty, 618-907, is often considered the Golden Age of Chinese poetry. During this period, poetry was an important part of social life at all levels of society. Scholars were required to master poetry for the civil service exams, but the art was theoretically available to everyone. Tang poetry has had an ongoing influence on world literature.” (Wikipedia)

However, there are other, similar versions of the poem. Perhaps the poem has been been translated in various ways throughout the years, or perhaps different poets were moved by the universality of the poem and reworked it for their time and place.

For example, this later version about an earlier period, is said to describe the far reaches of Britannia under Roman rule:

Here at the frontier 
There are fallen gods 
And my neighbours 
Are all barbarians 
Although you 
Are thousands of miles away 
There will always be on my table 
Your cup.

Different imagery comes to mind: the wall morphs to Hadrian’s Wall, the landscape shifts to bleak highlands. I imagine damp cloaks, stomping horses, tents pitched next to a sputtering campfire.

And more recently, these lines, close to the original, appear in John Fowles’ The Magus:

“Here at the frontier there are falling leaves; although my neighbors are all barbarians, and you, You are a thousand miles away. There are always two cups at my table.”

rainy leaves window

All the versions suggest forced separation – perhaps by war, conquest, travel of some sort – contrasted with the memory of friendship, the comforts of home, civility.  They speak of longing, memory, and the hope for future togetherness. And most of all, they express that it’s the simple things in life that have the greatest pull on us.

 

 

 

 

October

autumn lake

There’s an old green-covered book I open this time of year. The spine is split in some parts, the lettering on the cover is faded. It’s a book of poems by Robert Frost that my mother gave to me in high school. It was already worn back then. I don’t know if she bought it used somewhere around town or if someone made a gift of it to her years before. It wasn’t a formal presentation or given to mark a special occasion. It was like the other things she gave to us – a sort of “here’s something you might enjoy,” or “take a look at this.” Items that would simply appear on our dressers without any note at all – Classic Comics for my brothers, a porcelain bluebird for my sister’s collection, a red maple leaf, an exotic stamp off a letter from her brother who traveled widely. Things that would delight, pique our curiosity, entertain, or answer to inner longings.

The book of poems resonated deeply with me, especially the ones in the beginning of the book from the section “A Boy’s Will.” The autumn poems in particular became the ones that most spoke to me. “October” might have been the first poem I ever memorized, outside of school assignments. I memorized it because I wanted the words inside me, I wanted to walk through an autumn day and have the words at the ready: “O hushed October morning mild, Thy leaves have ripened to the fall, Tomorrow’s wind, if it be wild, Should waste them all.”

CP autumn bridge

These many years later, the words are still there. As I walk through the neighborhood or cut through Central Park, a solitary leaf might float down from a tree on a mild autumn day, and I hear the words: “Release one leaf at break of day, At noon release another leaf.” The birds in the autumn sky might caw and without any prompting my heart recites: “The crows above the forest call; Tomorrow they may form and go.”

CP yellow elms

The simple book of poems remains the touchstone of autumn for me – it embodies the solitary, the nostalgia and memories of other Octobers, and the deep connection of inner yearning with outer seasonal beauty.

book with leaves

(Thank goodness Robert Frost didn’t stop at October. His poem “My November Guest” soon became my favorite.)

yellow leaf on bench

Autumn and Poetry

 

leaves on steps

Autumn and poetry go hand in hand. There is something inherently nostalgic and meditative about this time of year that points the mind to introspection. End-of-year wistfulness mixes with the excitement of going back to school, crisper weather, and the coming holidays.

Some poems set this emotionally rich time of year against the splendor of fall, as in John Keats’s “To Autumn” — “Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness…”

Sept pond w bridge

and Robert Frost’s “The Road Not Taken” — “Two roads diverged in a yellow wood…”

a yellow wood

Other poems capture the elegiac melancholy of autumn, as in Gerard Manley Hopkins’s “Spring and Fall”  to a young child:

goldengrove

MÁRGARÉT, áre you gríeving
Over Goldengrove unleaving?
Leáves, like the things of man, you
With your fresh thoughts care for, can you?
Áh! ás the heart grows older
It will come to such sights colder
By and by, nor spare a sigh
Though worlds of wanwood leafmeal lie;
And yet you wíll weep and know why.
Now no matter, child, the name:
Sórrow’s spríngs áre the same.
Nor mouth had, no nor mind, expressed
What heart heard of, ghost guessed:
It is the blight man was born for,
It is Margaret you mourn for.

stone stairs

On these beautiful fall days, curl up with a good book on a mild September afternoon, or in the evenings that now descend earlier. Find a good poem and let the lines run through your head as you kick through the autumn leaves and take in this season of nostalgia, excitement, and beauty.

colored leaves

Summer — in The Christmastime Series

5 Kate's farm summer trees fence.jpg!d - Copy

Summer. A languid time of year that seems to move more slowly than the other seasons. Perhaps because the days are longer, or perhaps because many people are on vacation and the children are out of school, or perhaps because more time is spent outside, it is a rich time of year that creates indelible memories.

 

Memories of summer occasionally surface for some of the characters in my WWII Christmastime series, where most of the action is set in the cold and snow of December.

 

Though the stories take place on the home front, mostly in New York City, the events of the war shape the characters’ lives, making them fearful, anxious, and dreading the unknown. Adding to the tension are the attacks that take place in December — Pearl Harbor in 1941, and the surprise German counter-offensive in December 1944 that began the Battle of the Bulge.

For these characters, summer memories of a gentler and safer time soften the harsh realities of  war-time living. They remember bike rides along country roads, gathering garden flowers to place on the kitchen table and in bedrooms, afternoon picnics, a moonlit swim.

 

One memory in particular evokes the beauty and longing of late summer. In Christmastime 1941, Charles takes Lillian and her two sons to visit his sister Kate, who lives on a farm in Illinois. Lillian and Kate sit on the farmhouse porch in the late afternoon.

Lillian helped Kate finish the laundry, and then sat with her on the front porch, shucking corn for dinner.

 

A beautiful August day surrounded them in all its fullness and simple charm. A gentle breeze rustled the leaves high in the pin oaks, and fluttered the laundry on the clothes line, causing the white billowing sheets to snap softly now and then. The wide porch surrounded them with views of the corn and soybean fields stretching to the horizon. To the east stood a cluster of tall trees, their leaves a dark, dusty, late-summer green, with some leaves already edged in brown. And before them, Kate’s flowers along the lane – a tall tangle of orange, yellow, white, and blues – tiger lilies and daisies, cornflowers and asters.

 

Lillian lifted her face to catch the afternoon breeze, and caught the scent of honeysuckle that covered the fence along the lane. 

 

The wind alternately muffled and then sharpened the sounds of Tommy and Gabriel playing horseshoes with Kate’s sons: dull thuds as the horseshoes fell on the earth, clinks of metal as they hit their mark or landed on each other, mixed with clapping, laughing, good-natured disputing. Lillian had felt suffused with a sense of well-being, surrounded by an earthy loveliness.

2 clover in sunlight

Afternoon picnics, gardens in bloom, ripe fruits and vegetables, lush trees and fields — summer is the time of year when some of our strongest memories are born.

Beautiful Evening / Beau Soir

 

stream blog header

Sometimes the words of a phrase or sentence jars your center and subtly slips into your core, lodging there. It may be years later, or even decades, that you realize they have become a part of you. Many years ago, I came across a poem that had such an effect on me — “Beau Soir” by Paul Bourget, that Claude Debussy set to music.

Beau Soir

Lorsque au soleil couchant les rivières sont roses,
Et qu’un tiède frisson court sur les champs de blé,
Un conseil d’être heureux semble sortir des choses
Et monter vers le coeur troublé.
Un conseil de goûter le charme d’être au monde
Cependant qu’on est jeune et que le soir est beau
Car nous nous en allons,
Comme s’en va cette onde:
Elle à la mer,
Nous au tombeau.

wheat field sunset

Beautiful Evening

When streams turn pink in the setting sun,

And a slight shudder rushes through the fields of wheat,

A plea for happiness seems to rise from all things

And it climbs up towards the troubled heart.

A plea to relish the charm of life

While there is youth and the evening is fair,

For we pass away as the wave passes: 

The wave to the sea, and we to the grave.

The tender intimacy of the poem, simple yet profound, stirred something deep inside and I sought out such end-of-day streams and fields, and later, ocean sunsets. The poem gave birth to a never-ending desire to seek out and become part of such moments of tranquil beauty.

pink purple ocean

It created a sort of urgency to embrace the loveliness of life — “while there is youth and the evening is fair.”