The Evolution of a Cover

Those of you who follow me on Twitter have probably already seen at least one version of the cover for my forthcoming Edwardian-set urban fantasy (you can read the first scene of the book here). I’ve been positively giddy about the art for this book ever since Nathalia Suellen agreed to do the work for a price that was within my price range.

Nathalia’s work came to my attention a few months ago when Harper Collins “cribbed” the art she had previously sold to LK Rigel for a book titled Spiderwork to use on an Alex Flinn book; they’ve since changed the cover, but the story can be read at Dear Author. As I was perusing Nathalia’s portfolio, I didn’t really expect to find anything that would be appropriate for my books because she specializes in artwork of a fairly “fantastical” variety and most of my stories are pretty solidly grounded in the real world. But then I came across this image:

Immediately, I thought of INCARNATE, an urban fantasy set in 1902 London that I’d written about 15,000 words of. This picture immediately made me think of the book’s heroine, Elodie. I loved her jaunty pose and the eerie city in the fog. The dress and top hat seemed perfect for the period as well as for the character. I loved it so much, I actually mocked up a cover based on it, just because I had to SEE it with my name and book title on it.

I contacted Nathalia almost immediately and was crushed to discover that the artwork in question had been done on commission and was not available for sale. My heart broke, because I was sure that was the end of it. But then Nathalia offered to do the cover from scratch for me, and I jumped at the offer. Even though the book was well short of complete (and still is), I couldn’t let the chance slip by, especially since I’m convinced Nathalia is so talented, her work is going to be out of my price range before much longer. (When the major publishers get a gander at the cover she’s done for me, I think they’re going to be beating down her door!)

The basic parameters of the cover were set by the original piece I’d been interested in. The female model would have a black dress and a top hat. The color palette would be primarily black and sepia. I turned the project over to Nathalia and waited with great impatience to see what she would come up with.

The first draft came in mid-October:

I was floored, but there were a few minor problems. First and foremost was the fact that the heroine of INCARNATE has dark hair and the cover model here is blonde. I also thought it would be nice to have something in the background that gave a sense of setting, so I suggested a recognizably London city-scape would be good. Finally, Beverley Kendall felt that the model’s face is perhaps a trifle too pale, and when I thought about it, I agreed. I sent Nathalia my list of changes and waited.

When the next version came and I opened the file, my heart literally skipped a beat.

I was stunned. Just floored. If the first version was wonderful, this was beyond my wildest dreams. It perfectly captured the mood I wanted for the book. There were just a few MINOR issues, mainly that I wanted my name to be bigger and I realized that in addition to the tagline, I needed something on the cover to indicate the book is the first in a series. I figured this would just be a matter of changing type sizes and moving some stuff around, and that the next version would look almost identical to this one.

Um, wrong. Because Nathalia upped her game AGAIN:

Can I say WOW? Just holy ZOMG WOW!

Now, of course, I’m feeling a lot of pressure to make sure the book I’m writing lives up to this amazing cover. As I mentioned up-thread, I’ve written the first 15,000 words (about 20% of the story), but I still have to complete The Lesson Plan, which is already more than a month behind schedule due to my new second career as my children’s chauffer. I’d love to be able to say I know exactly when the book will drop, but the truth is, I don’t want to over-promise and under-deliver, so I’m going to guess it’ll be no later than fall of 2012, with my fingers crossed for summer.

Wish me luck!

14 Days, 14 Sentences

I looked at the calendar this morning and, to my shock, realized it’s just 14 days until the release of Grace Under Fire. I’ve had a year to ramp up to this, but somehow, impending releases always manage to take me by surprise.

Anyway, in honor of the two-week pre-release milestone, I hereby bring you 14 sentences of historical, menage-y goodness. Enjoy!

“If it please your lady, I am Mr. Atticus Stilwell, and this,” he continued, standing and gesturing in Sir Blue Eyes’ direction, “is Viscount Colin Fitzgerald.”

Momentarily dumbfounded by this abrupt shift in the tension pervading the small room, Grace could only nod and marvel that, somehow, she had correctly intuited which of them held the title and which did not.

“Colin wishes to ask for your hand in marriage.”

“What?” Her gaze snapped abruptly from Mr. Stilwell to Lord Fitzgerald, and she swayed dizzily when the gentleman nodded his dark head in confirmation. She was so taken aback by this turn of events, she blurted out the first words that came to her mind. “So, I am not about to be ravished, then?”

Mr. Stilwell laughed, a hearty, rolling sound like water at full boil. “Now, now, I never said that.” Grasping her upper arm, he guided her onto the settee, sitting so close beside her that the warmth of his body radiated through the layers of her dress and petticoat right to her skin.

Lord Fitzgerald crossed the floor in two long strides and seated himself on the other side of her. He, too, was hot as a loaf of bread fresh from the oven. “Atticus is right,” he murmured, placing his hand on her thigh. “If you wish to be ravished, we can certainly oblige you.”

Announcing…(wait for it)…a Sale!

You know the old saying: “Good things come to those who wait.” I think a writer must have dreamed that one up, because it often seems to me no one waits more than writers. Every writer I know is in a perpetual state of waiting, whether it’s waiting for an agent to make an offer of representation, waiting for editors to make offers for publications, waiting for the book to come out, waiting for the sales numbers to come in, and then doing all of it (hopefully less the agent step) all over again. Who knew waiting could be so exhausting?

It’s mildly ironic then that, after what felt like eons of waiting, my latest sale call came a mere ten days after submission. When I picked up the phone and my lovely agent, Kevan Lyon, announced herself, the last thing I was expecting to hear was that the short story we’d submitted to Harlequin Spice Briefs less than two weeks before had received an offer for publication. (Oddly, it also didn’t occur to me that she was calling to tell me we’d had an offer on a proposal we’ve had out for much longer from one of the two houses we hadn’t yet heard from.)

And so, I’m thrilled to announce that Grace Under Fire, will be released in April 2011. Another story, Taking Liberties. will follow.

Here’s the blurb for Grace Under Fire followed by a brief excerpt from the opening pages.

Lady Grace Hannington is the most inaptly named debutante in all of London. Cursed with two left feet, hands that are nothing but thumbs, and a stutter, she’s certain to spend the next five years on the wall and the rest of her life on the shelf. Or so she believes, until her clumsiness pitches her literally into the arms of Lord Colin Fitzgerald and his best friend, Atticus Stilwell.

Colin and Atticus have been inseparable since a shared boyhood tragedy brought them together more than twenty years ago. Though it raises eyebrows, they share everything…including women. This particular quirk has made it all but impossible for Colin, whose title and lands will revert to the crown if he doesn’t have a legitimate heir, to find a respectable lady who’s willing to be his wife.

When a stroke of good fortune—and little intervention from a well-placed foot—gives the two men a golden opportunity to show the lovely and lonely Lady Grace she’s not quite so gauche as she believes, they play it (and her) for all they’re worth. But once she’s discovered her true talents lie not on the dance floor but in the bedroom, Grace must decide whether a scandalous marriage that’s sure to ruin her reputation is what she really wants.

Excerpt:

It was a truth universally acknowledged that Lady Grace Hannington was the most inaptly named young lady in all of England, if not all Christendom. Within two months of her debut, she had ruined at least a dozen gowns—none her own—and half as many cravats by spilling tea, wine, or some sort of sauce upon them, trod heavily upon many a gentleman’s slippered toe, and broken the nose of one unfortunate chap with a misplaced elbow during a reel. That list of missteps did not encompass the full measure of the lady’s sheer gracelessness, however, for she was forever nursing some sort of self-inflicted injury, ranging from a sprained wrist and a stubbed toe to this evening’s glorious and ill-concealed black eye.

Atticus Stilwell wondered from his vantage on the opposite side of the crowded ballroom how she had come by that shiner. Not that it mattered. With or without the swollen, bluish-purple tinge beneath her eye, she was by far the loveliest woman in the room. Oh, perhaps not in the classic sense of a delicate English rose, but then, she stood a head taller than any other lady in the room—and fully half the men—and her hair was an entirely too flamboyant shade of red for traditional beauty.

In fact, everything about her was lush and flamboyant, from the blazing color of her unruly curls to the ripe red of her too-wide lips to the plump mounds of her generous tits. Though he could only guess at what lay beneath the loose folds of her high-waisted gown, he imagined a slender waist curving into broad but perfectly proportioned hips and from there into shapely legs that would go on forever. Though she was consigned by her ungainliness on the dance floor—and nearly everywhere else—to the role of a perpetual wallflower at Society events, Atticus saw the woman she could blossom into if only she were freed from the expectations of fashion and propriety.

A woman who was more than enough for not one man, but two.