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.

shutterstock_548493256

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.)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Manhattan’s High Line

 

HY cover

Transformation, rebirth, a visionary rebuilding, weaving the old with the new — words that come to mind on viewing the High Line park on the west side of mid-Manhattan. What was once a rusty, weedy, abandoned railroad segment of a freight train line, is now a verdant, blooming public park with spectacular views of the city, and ever-changing artwork.

The elevated park, which opened in 2009, runs 1.45 miles between 14th Street in the Meatpacking District (another transformed neighborhood) and 34th Street.

HY 2

Above the noise and traffic and bustle of the streets below, the High Line provides a calm respite, an opportunity to walk through the city without all the stop and go of the traffic lights. Running through the park is a relaxing walkway with remnants of the rail tracks still visible in the landscaped swaths of flowers, grasses, and trees.

There are various places to gather with friends, and seating that overlooks the Hudson River and the streets of Manhattan.

The park provides great viewing points from which to see the architecture of the West Side, new and old New York sitting comfortably side by side. To the north stands the Hudson Yards Project — a cluster of gleaming buildings towering high above the city. Further down, the ultra-modern architecture of Frank Gehry’s IAC Building and the new Whitney Museum stand among the lower brick buildings of a much older Manhattan. And the Empire State Building can be seen from various points.

At end of day, small recessed lighting softens the park, and from one of its many benches you can catch the setting sun glinting off the windows of Manhattan, or watch the sun sink slowly over the Hudson River.

HL20

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Downton Abbey — in Manhattan

bells

Recently, my sister-in-law was planning a visit to New York City and when I asked her if there was anything in particular that she wanted to do, she said she would love to see Downton Abbey: The Exhibition. I hadn’t even heard about it, but it sounded like a good idea so I booked our tickets. Though I had only caught a few episodes of the series, I found that I was really looking forward to seeing the exhibit. And in the late afternoon of a cold winter’s day, we stepped into the world of Downton Abbey.

Edith

I was surprised to find that the exhibit was in the recently closed Lee’s Art store on 57th Street, a place I had frequented over the years. The windows that once displayed painting supplies, glittering frames, and whimsical toys, now held an equally enchanting display: images, items, and gifts relating to Downton Abbey — including an exquisite 1920’s dress in peacock blue and gold.

The New York City street was reflected in the window — scaffolding and yellow cabs, parkas and mounds of snow — and seemed a sort of symbolic contrast to the elegance of another era.

window contrast

We strolled through the exhibit, laughing as we were greeted by holographic videos (?) of Mr. Carson and Mrs. Hughes welcoming us to Downton Abbey, before they had to hurry away. We entered the “downstairs” area and worked our way up.  There was the kitchen with something simmering on the stove, the carton of eggs, the sounds of chopping and pots and pans being moved about. There was Carson’s pantry with the decanter, and there were those famous room bells.

And there was the dining room with the beautifully set table.

dining table

One room had video snippets of different scenes from the series: the explosions and trenches of WWI shifted to tranquil interior scenes of a fire burning brightly in the library.

fireplace video

Another area was dedicated to short film excerpts featuring the acerbic wit of Violet Crawley. And throughout the exhibit were reminders of the period’s codes of conduct and rules of civility.

The clothes were beautiful, and I found myself lingering over the details of trim and beading and lace: the Edwardian opulence of Violet’s clothing, the shimmering elegance of the 1920’s dresses,

and those beautiful necklaces and earrings that complemented the clothing.

On every floor, in every room was the sense of a time gone by and the societal upheavals of yesteryear. One quote posed the idea that perhaps that earlier period was not so unlike our own times, with technology rushing us ahead, creating some disturbing trends, while offering other compensations.

Since I had only caught an occasional episode, I never got to know the characters and plots in the way that many people did.

So, on these snowy January evenings, I’ve started to watch the series from the beginning — paying extra close attention to the buttons and jewelry, the silverware and bells.

 

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

Autumn Orchards

red apples

A trip to the orchard always feels like stepping back in time, especially at this time of year. There is something quaint and old-fashioned about the crates of red, green, and yellow apples, the rows of trees and pumpkin fields under an open sky, the warm colors of autumn’s harvest all around.

Even the things you can buy at an orchard are wholesome and picturesque. Besides bags of apples, there are rows of jams and honey, pumpkins and gourds, and ears of Indian corn in those gorgeous colors that always surprise.

And who can pass up the apple cider, the caramel apples, and the apple cider donuts?

There were several orchards around the small town in Illinois where I grew up. But there was one we went to every fall, making almost weekly trips to buy apples. We’d also buy jars of apple butter, homemade peanut brittle, and containers of popping corn. Once I was visiting home during the Fall Festival and was lucky enough to find beautiful bunches of bittersweet for sale. They were tied in thick clusters, vibrant in color. I bought several bunches and they decorated my NYC apartment for many years.

The old-fashioned, romantic allure of the orchard  found its way into my WWII era Christmastime series. The main character, Lillian, was raised in upstate New York where the seasonal beauty of the orchards and fields influenced her as an artist. She moves to the city, but her sister, Annette, runs an orchard with her husband. Lillian is grateful to have that haven to return to, where she can reconnect with her girlhood and enjoy the pleasures of country living. And her two boys, Tommy and Gabriel, love the freedom of running through the orchard and playing in the cider house. And sometimes, they celebrate Christmas there.

orchard apples on ground

This time of year is all too brief — the harvest season, apples and pumpkins, the colors of fall, sweater weather. Soon the trees will soon lose their leaves, the temperatures will drop, and the orchards will close their doors.

orchard yellow leaved tree

Before that happens, make a trip to an orchard — crunch into a juicy apple, take some cider home with you, treat yourself to a caramel apple. Or just stroll around the earthy charm of the orchard, and savor this beautiful time of year.

orchard path fall

 

Late September — Central Park

1 trees yellow

Yellow. The color of late September. Faded gold, gilded green, amber. In Central Park today, even the air appeared yellow as sunlight filtered through the thinning leaves. Throughout the park, yellow leaves lay scattered beneath the trees, on the roads, sidewalks, and grass. The day was unusually warm and the bright sun brought out the golden hues.

blog header September CP

I strolled through one of my favorite walkways, a short path alongside a fence covered in a tangle of morning glories. The vines still showed pink and purple, with yellowed leaves mixed among the green.

yellow lane

Something caught my attention in the distance, and I had to stop and stare, puzzling out what I was seeing. A patch of air glittered among the yellow trees. I realized it was a shaft of sunlight shining on a spray of water from a sprinkler. Shadows boxed it in so that it looked like a square patch of sparkles hovering in the air.

Straggly clusters of flowers still showed a bit of color, as in the clouds of white that surrounded the elms.

flowers elms

And though most flowers now have woody stems and drooping leaves, there are still vibrant patches of color to be found, soaking up the warmth of late September.

colored flowers

The weather will change soon and cooler temperatures will bring about the more dramatic colors of autumn. Who knows? By next week touches of orange and red might tinge the trees. And September’s soft yellow will shift to the sharper, more vibrant yellow of October.

leaf

 

A Sense of Sky

I’ve lived in New York City for almost thirty years and love it as much now as I did when I first moved here. But one of the things I miss, something from my girlhood, is the sense of sky — the wide-open vistas of the Midwest.

Image (483)

It’s a feeling of proportion you become aware of, driving along the Illinois fields, where the sky seems to take up a good two-thirds of the world. Here in New York I catch glimpses of sunsets or storm clouds between tall buildings, or over the rooftops. Beautiful, but without the sense that the sky dominates.

farmhouse Canva

I grew up with the drama of stormy skies over far-reaching fields, and the endless blue skies of summer with high, puffy white clouds, subtly changing, holding form just long enough for you to find an image before shape shifting again. To stand under such skies is humbling, and at the same time, makes you feel a part of something grand.

Image (477)

That sense of sky has found its way into some of my stories. In Christmastime 1943: A Love Story (Book Four of Six), a secondary plot takes place on a farm in Illinois. At different times throughout the story, Ed, the old farmhand, Kate, the owner of the farm, Ursula, her beautiful daughter, and Friedrich, the German POW, all look to the winter sky and find solace and beauty, or a reflection of their internal state.

“[Ed] gazed out over the fields of corn stubble at the magnificent sunset. Bold streaks of orange and purple spanned the sky….Beautiful and strong – just like the women inside the farmhouse, he thought with a shake of his head.”sunset fields 1943.png

“[Ursula] stood at her window and gazed out over the late afternoon fields. The stubble of the corn fields shone a rosy gold in the setting sun. The sky filled with sweeping bands of deep blue and gray – at the horizon a shimmer of pink pulled at her heart. The sad beauty of the day filled her with longing.”

So I find that though I’ve moved away from Midwestern skies, they are still with me here, in New York City.

1943

 

 

 

The End of April

2 blossoming trees

Do schoolchildren still sing the song “April Showers”? I think every year since I was a girl, some line, if not the whole song, runs through my mind in April. In an involuntary response, part of the melody just pops into my head when someone laments the rain, or when I come across a patch daffodils or violets.

daffodils for blog

A quick online search shows that the song was written in 1921 (in a period of post-war, pre-Depression optimism), and was introduced by Al Jolson in a Broadway musical. As can only be expected, the song’s  relentless optimism inspired parodies: “When April showers, she never closes the curtain…,” and a skit where a bucket of water is thrown on the far too cheerful performer. [https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/April_Showers] (Some versions of the song, as with Judy Garland’s, begin with “When” rather than “Though.”)

April showers lyrics

Such sentimentality lingered on in the optimism of the 1960’s schoolroom, at least in small-town Illinois. On an old upright piano, our music teacher played from a repertoire that ranged from war songs to the flowers of spring, and the over-sized class of baby-boomers belted out tunes about violets, caissons rolling along, and flowers that bloom when the fairies sing.

I love the rain of April and the color it brings. On such days the air itself seems tinged with green, so lush are the leaves and grass.

2 bridge

Green, rainy places have always held the most allure for me. On a trip years ago, I fell in love with Ireland and the Lake District in England — and very much want to go back. And a trip to Bangladesh had me gasping at such luxuriant green everywhere.

I actually moved to Seattle when I was young because I had heard that it was beautiful and hilly and green — and rainy. A soft rain was common enough, but dramatic storms with thunder and lightning, like Midwestern storms, were rare. Still, the soft rains kept Seattle blooming in flowers nearly all year long, and it lived up to its reputation as a beautiful, hilly, green city. (They call it the Emerald City and the last time I was there, they even had a yellow brick road to prove it.)

New York, like the Midwest, has seasons of intense green — April through June, for the most part. So when April showers come my way, I take my umbrella and indulge in the wealth of green.

2 post iris

 

2 tulips Columbus Circle

April Rain – Thursday morning

entrance 3

An early morning rain intensifies the colors in Central Park. The green becomes a vivid emerald. The azalea, a dazzling pink.

azalea

The stones and tree trunks turn rich gray and black, and the lamplight lingers, dotting the park with touches of gold.

Bride lamp rain

The soft patter muffles the din of the city, and the rain on the lake makes the most tranquil of sounds.

lake white tree rain

White blossoms lay scattered on the rain-dark pathways, and fall softly on the textured water of the lake. A quiet beauty suffuses the morning; the air is cool and fragrant.

Only a few feet away the city swirls in traffic, pedestrians rushing to work, horns blaring, stop lights and tail lights reflecting on the wet surfaces.

An old stone wall separates 59th Street from Central Park. On one side, the hustle and bustle of New York City. On the other, the serenity of the park, the beauty of nature.

bush tree rain

And spring is just beginning.

 

 

 

April Rituals

Bridge April

How are personal rituals formed, and what purpose do they serve? I have morning and evening rituals, ways of opening and closing the day. I have seasonal rituals, ways of marking time, of making it specific and memorable – as if putting a frame around a moment, a season, a month, so that it can be more closely looked at.

I think, for the most part, my rituals have been haphazardly formed. Some combination of actions clicked together agreeably at one time, and so I tried to recreate it again and again.

My spring rituals are largely determined by flowers. I search out the first blooms in Central Park – crocuses, daffodils, Forsythia. I plant my window boxes and choose the colorful annuals for the garden. Though I try to start the season in March, the cold of New York usually forces me to wait until April.

Though April is changeable, it can be counted on for a show of color – purple, yellow, pink, white. There’s a quince bush a few houses down that is among the first to flower in the neighborhood. I keep an eye on it, noting the first bits of green, then the dots of color as the buds begin to open. Then after a few sunny, mild days, the melon-colored flowers start to open, and there’s no suppressing the surge of pleasure they bring.

 

At about the same time, the pear trees along the street begin to bloom. My view at this time of year, as I write at the kitchen table, is that of white blossoms against the changing sky. In full bloom the trees are truly magnificent.

pix (530)

I can’t remember exactly how a particular April ritual got started, but several years ago I sought out the music of Thomas Morley’s “April is in My Mistress’ Face.” The time of year must have reminded me of the lyrics, and of the college music class where I first became enamored with the music of Palestrina, Bach, and Morley.green lute

An online search brought up several renditions of Morley’s Renaissance madrigal, many of them with a montage of spring flowers in the background. But the one I liked best showed a young woman looking very demure, and yet sensual and lovely. Instead of the usual four-part polyphonic voices, the melody was carried by a simple lute. http://bit.ly/2oTC1Eq

April is in my Mistress’ face,
And in her eye July hath place;
Within her bosom is September,
But in her heart a cold December.

I tend to ignore the last line. I like to think of his mistress as sweet and lovely in face and heart.

One of my April rituals then, is to fix a cup of tea, gaze out at the blossoming pear trees, and write – or perhaps it’s more honest to say I stare out the window and remember and dream, casting back into the past and forward into the future – trying to link the beauty outside the window and in the music with a sweetness that once was, or that, perhaps, could still be.

Is April, and spring itself, a larger metaphor for life, for youth, for a beautiful past (real or imagined)? Very likely. And so I do my best to hold it, to love it, to be a part of it – even as the white blossoms are being blown from the trees.

Canva blossom 1