RWA 2021 Vivian Finalists

The RITAs are no more. If you’re not familiar with the award it was formerly bestowed for excellence in published romance novels and novellas but was retired in 2020 after the Romance Writers of America meltdown. If you missed all the articles about the controversy at the RWA, you can search for prior posts. You can check out the past winners and hall of fame for those who won multiple RITAs at this LINK.

Now it’s the Vivian Award from the Romance Writers of America. “The Vivian recognizes excellence in romance writing and showcases author talent and creativity. We celebrate the power of the romance genre with its central message of hope–because happily ever afters are for everyone.” Vivian Stephens was the founder of Romance Writers of America.

Below are those books nominated for the historical romance category. Winners will be announced July 31, 2021.

Historical Romance – Long (80,000 Words or Longer)

The Clothier’s Daughter by Bronwyn Parry

His Secret Mistress by Cathy Maxwell

Once a Spy by Mary Jo Putney

Ten Things I Hate About the Duke by Loretta Chase

Historical Romance – Mid (50,000 to 80,000 Words)

For This Knight Only by Barbara Bettis

The Footman and I by Valerie Bowman

A Song of Secrets by Robyn Chalmers

A Study in Passion by Louisa Cornell

There is also a Historical Romance Short Category for books 20,000 to 50,000 in length, but there were no finalists.

Here are list of the 2021 Rules here FYI.

What’s Up With Red Brick Media?

Beautiful dresses. Stately homes. Titled aristocrats. Wealthy yearly incomes. Those are usually the things that readers love to fantasize about when they read historical romance.

The best-selling books on the market are not about the miserable lives in the Regency or Victorian era. Readers would rather not think about the squalor 90% of the population in nineteenth-century England experienced. Nevertheless, the authors who lived in those eras – like Dickens and Gaskell – had no qualms about penning reality in their stories because they were important social issues.

Toil Under the Sun is a historical fiction book I wrote loosely based on my ancestors who were from Manchester. It’s somewhat Dickenish in a few chapters for which I make no apology. There are no beautiful dresses, stately homes, or wealthy characters. Instead of dukes in canopy beds, most people slept on hard, lumpy horse-hair mattresses set on a platform or the floor. Those with no home slumped over a rope in a doss house to get some shut-eye or paid a few shillings a night to share a wooden hay-filled box with a lice-ridden individual. 

There was no running water, so people bathed at washhouses if they could afford to pay the price. Public fountains were around town to fill up your buckets for water and carry them home but were a cesspool of germs. I’ll spare you the gory details about where and how people relieved themselves because you’ll die from the stench alone or some related disease. Some parts of Manchester were called hell on earth in those days. (Read More Here)  I was shocked to learn that my third great-grandfather, Henry Holland, lived two blocks away from the slum area in this article during 1851, and he was a journeyman bricklayer that could make a wage.  It broke my heart.

“The lowest, most filthy, most unhealthy and most wicked locality in Manchester is called, singularly enough, ‘Angel-meadow.’ It is full of cellars and inhabited by prostitutes, their bullies, thieves, cadgers, vagrants, tramps and, in the very worst sties of filth and darkness…” (Angus Reach, a London Journalist 1849)

When Elizabeth Gaskell wrote North & South, she lived in Manchester. (I’ve visited her home and you can read about here on my author blog.) Even though she chose Milton as the make-believe town where Mr. Thornton had his cotton mill, the hell as penned by Margaret to her friend was described as, “I’ve seen hell and it’s white.” Perhaps that was true inside, but outside the air filled with smoke from the chimneys of factories, and the brick buildings were blackened with soot.

The idea of children being cared for by nannies and brought up by governesses is a far cry from the reality of young children who worked in factories to help with family finances. Rarely, did a child have the opportunity to learn to read or write. The boys were taught more often than the girls even in the middle class. Quite a few of my ancestors, including my second great-grandfather, merely put an “X” on the marriage bann because he couldn’t scribble his own name.

Nevertheless, out of poverty, one person can rise above and build an empire of wealth for his family and descendants. My second great uncle, Robert Holland, in Manchester came home to find his mother had hung herself using a nail in the wall. In 1862, the newspapers reported the incident. “Suicide of a Female. On Thursday morning, a woman resident in Bamber Street, named Phoebe Holland, was found dead, hanging from a nail in the wall of the house. An inquest was held on the body the same day before J. Taylor, Esq., and a verdict of Self-hanging, whilst in a state of unsound mind, was returned.” Phoebe is my third great-grandmother, and mother to Robert Holland. At the time of her death, she lived with Robert in his household.

A few years later Robert married and somehow managed to drag himself from the slums of Manchester to become a wealthy brickmaking and construction company by 1920. He was also a political success, having run and won, serving many terms as Alderman for the City of Salford (just outside of Manchester). He died a rich man, but his sons squandered their inheritance. (Certainly a story to be told there).

How my second great uncle accomplished the task of making a success of his life in the world described above is beyond my comprehension. The one ability he possessed was to read and write, which certainly worked in his favor. He is undoubtedly what they call a self-made man. In my ancestral research, I have had the pleasure of meeting a few of his descendants and visiting his twelve-bedroom home from 1882 that still stands today.

It is because of him that I use the name of Red Brick Media as my acknowledgment of his accomplishments and success in spite of the poverty to which he was born into.

Admin

Historical Romance Books

SWEET SAVAGE FLAME – Bodice Rippers, Vintage Category, & Old-School Historical Romance from Avon to Zebra

Recommending this great blog, Sweet Savage Flame, filled with reviews of the bodice-ripper greats from the past.  Check it out!  I’ve posted a link on our blog page as well.

SWEET SAVAGE FLAME Bodice Rippers, Vintage Category, & Old-School Historical Romance from Avon to Zebra

Source: SWEET SAVAGE FLAME – Bodice Rippers, Vintage Category, & Old-School Historical Romance from Avon to Zebra

Dakota Johnson to Star in Jane Austen’s ‘Persuasion’ Movie at Netflix – Variety

My goodness! One of my favorite Austen stories. Who is playing Captain Wentworth? I hope Netflix does the new adaptation justice. For me, I think it will be hard for me to look at Dakota in such a tame role after Fifty Shades.  I wonder what, “modern, witty approach to a beloved story means.” Thoughts? Comments?

It’s strange Netflix is doing the series when Searchlight is doing one as well with Sarah Snook in the role.

Dakota Johnson is set to star in Netflix’s retelling of Jane Austen’s novel “Persuasion.”

Source: Dakota Johnson to Star in Jane Austen’s ‘Persuasion’ Movie at Netflix – Variety

Romance Novels are Big Business (Press This! The Washington Post)

In 1972, Avon Books published “The Flame and the Flower,” by Kathleen Woodiwiss — a hefty historical romance that traded chastity for steamy sex scenes. It arrived in the thick of the sexual revolution, and readers loved it: It was an instant bestseller that’s credited with birthing the modern romance genre.Here, a dozen people — authors, editors, agents, cover artists and one mononymous male model — recount how the modern romance industry came together and took off.

Source: Romance novels are big business. Here’s how the genre took off. – The Washington Post

Bridgerton Season 3 and 4 Confirmed (Press This! Tatler)

Will Netflix stay close to the series of books for Season 3 and 4? Assuming they follow in order, then An Offer From a Gentleman and Romancing Mister Bridgerton should be in those seasons. Only time will tell. Will you watch? Of course, this will be years in the making probably through 2025 or later.  Julia Quinn must be extremely excited to be living an author’s dream.  Sending her kudos with a tinge of envy.

Fans of the smash hit have now been treated to yet more exciting news, with confirmation that the show has been commissioned for its third and fourth series.

Source: Bridgerton Season 3 and 4 confirmed plot cast release date | Tatler

Historical Tidbit on Parisian Morality

Rolla by Henri de Gervex (1852-1929) in the Musee Beaux-Arts, BordeauxUninhibited sexual pleasure in the city of love during the 19th century could cause a 21st-century woman’s cheeks to blush.  Prostitution and brothels were at their heyday, and they served a purpose to meet the needs of men both rich and poor. After all, marriage was an institution for producing children; prostitutes and mistresses were for pleasure. The brothel was a place of relaxation for men and accepted as normal practice in society.

How many prostitutes were there during this time period? Brothels or mansions of tolerance, as they were called, housed 15,000 prostitutes in 1883. Between 1871 through 1903, approximately 155,000 women were registered card-carrying ladies of pleasure. Women were required to register at the Bureau of Morals if they wished to work in the profession.  Afterward, they received a huge laundry list of regulated behavior for their conduct indoors and outdoors. During that time period, 725,000 were arrested by the police for suspected prostitution because they failed to register with the Bureau.

Jobs were scarce for women and the survival of the poor difficult. Even married women participated in prostitution. There were roughly 125 Paris brothels in business during the 1870s.  Brothels were considered a cleaner and more regulated system of pleasure, keeping individuals from sexual perversion by giving them an alternative to the women on the streets. Women willing to give satisfaction to the male population were rampant on every corner, and like any other morally questionable practice, it carried consequences.

We tend to romanticize all this into lovemaking in historical romance novels without penalty, except perhaps a baby or two out of wedlock. Unfortunately, all those pleasures carried risks, especially contracting syphilis.  How many had the disease? You might wish to sit down. Fourteen to fifteen percent of deaths were attributed to sexually transmitted diseases. Some reports carry it as high as 17%. One-tenth of the population contracted syphilis. You may think that’s not many, but one-tenth of the population equated to four million people. Syphilis was attributed to 40,000 stillbirths yearly, when gone untreated, progressed into a dastardly end. Half of the cases were contracted between the age of 14 and 21. As one report put it, young people could not wait to dispel their chastity.

Treatment for syphilis was inadequate and understanding by the medical community of the disease somewhat lacking. There were hospitals and clinics set up to specifically treat the disease, but many found it embarrassing to seek treatment. Effective treatment really didn’t arrive until approximately 1910 with the onset of better antibiotics. Earlier, Mercury and Potassium iodide were used.

Nowadays, we’re probably a bit more sophisticated when it comes to sex and STDs. After all, we’ve evolved, right? We can insist on blood tests before we hop in bed with a man or use methods of birth control and protection. I guess social progression does have its trade-offs, but I have a sneaking suspicion with the number of historical romances sold each year women would rather fantasize in another century with handsome aristocrats and take their chances. After all, it’s just fiction and not reality.

Netflix Reveals Four New Cast Members to Join Bridgerton for Season 1 (Press This! SHEmazing!)


Take note!  They are going beyond the boundaries of The Viscount Who Loved Me in the second season of Bridgerton on Netflix by deviating from the books with the introduction of new characters.

The last new cast member to be announced was Merlin star Rupert Young, who is taking on the role of Jack. Jack is the newest member of the ‘Ton with high connections and a bit of a mystery. As Jack is a brand new character created for the TV series, not based off anyone in the books, we don’t know much more about him just yet.

Source: Netflix reveals 4 new cast members to join Bridgerton for season two | SHEmazing!

Blood, Sweat & Tears – What it’s like to write a book.

I write this post from the lens of an independently published author. However, I’m sure it resonates with those who are traditionally published as well. As an avid reader of historical romance, you are on the finished side of creative work. Have you ever considered what it is like to be the creator of that story you hold? Here are some brutally honest thoughts on what it’s like to write a book, and why it consists of a lot of blood, sweat, and tears.

The Blood – The life of a book is in the blood. Authors create characters out of thin air and give them life. They’ve chosen their names, where they live, their personalities, their backgrounds, and the paths they will walk to find love. When an author pours their soul into any creative work, they bleed. A part of them becomes imprinted on the page. Woven into the creation are their thoughts, struggles, and life experiences that are hidden between chapters and in the prose.

Once created, it’s released to the public. Authors tend to bleed when a reviewer writes a snide or hateful review. Whether the work is a Nobel Prize-worthy piece of literature or a run-of-the-mill self-published Kindle creation, authors are very attached to their stories regardless of the love and hate they may receive from readers. As a result, every book produces some drops of blood during and after the creative process. Even popular authors bleed. Here is a good quote:

“There is nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed.”

Ernest Hemingway

The Sweat – It’s the hours writing. It’s the voices in an author’s head demanding to be heard. It’s the plotting. It’s the point of view. It’s the tense. It’s the overused words. It’s the dialogue. It’s the punctuation. It’s those grammar classes we never paid attention to in grade school coming back to bite us. It’s the hours of research, and finally, those damn typos that never seem to go away. Frankly, it’s hard work. You bleed and sweat, and your reward for the hours you took to create a story is a 35 cent royalty from a 99 cent priced book.

After a writer finishes writing and editing, there is plenty of work before release. It’s the formatting, the cover art, the copyright registration, the Library of Congress, the ISBN assignment, and working with distributors. After release, comes the expense and sweat of marketing. On top of that, you sweat worrying what people will think about it and hope you don’t have to bleed too much when the comments start rolling in. Writing a book can be stinky business as this author states:

“Sometimes the ideas just come to me. Other times I have to sweat and almost bleed to make ideas come. It’s a mysterious process, but I hope I never find out exactly how it works.”

J. K. Rowling

The Tears – Tears can arrive for many reasons when writing a book. They could be author tears of self-doubt. Authors are not all confident arrogant individuals. Remember this quote from the Oscars in 2014? No wonder we cry.

The mind of a writer can be a truly terrifying thing. Isolated, neurotic, caffeine-addled, crippled by procrastination, consumed by feelings of panic, self-loathing, and soul-crushing inadequacy. And that’s on a good day.”

Robert De Niro

The tears also arrive because authors are emotionally involved in their characters and story. Sometimes their character’s journey reminds them of their own hurt inside, and they cry while writing. At other moments, it raises empathy for the plight of others having to live the situations we create on paper. Emotional involvement in characters is an inevitable part of being an author. Without it, characters are dry and lifeless. Consider this quote:

“No tears in the writer, no tears in the reader.”

Robert Frost

Then there are tears of release when an author holds the printed book and flips through the pages. They feel a sense of pride and accomplishment in what they have created. Authors also cry when people trash their work, and shed tears of joy when people praise their stories.

Is the blood, sweat, and tears worth it all? Yes.

I first knew I wanted to write in grade school. It’s been ingrained in my brain, imprinted on my soul, and a driving force behind my fingers. It’s foolish for me to think that I’m terrific at my craft because I’m not. I’m an average Jane out in the world of thousands of books released each year. I’m continually learning how to write better. Sometimes I want to quit, but I’m afflicted, as this quote declares:

“I think all writing is a disease. You can’t stop it.”

William Carlos Williams

So the next time you pick up your Kindle or a paperback, remember you are not holding a new historical romance book — you are holding the blood, sweat, and tears of an individual who wrote the story.

In conclusion, I’ll leave you with one of my favorite quotes about writing as explained by Winston Churchill.

“Writing a book is an adventure. To begin with it is a toy then an amusement. Then it becomes a mistress, and then it becomes a master, and then it becomes a tyrant and, in the last stage, just as you are about to be reconciled to your servitude, you kill the monster and fling him to the public.”

How Romance Novelist Beverly Jenkins Brings History To Life On The Page (Press This! Forbes)

Since the publication of her first romance novel, Night Song, in 1994, Beverly Jenkins has become one of the genre’s most prominent authors. The prolific Jenkins has primarily focused on historical romance starring Black characters, including her latest, Wild Rain, set in the Wyoming Territory.

Source: How Romance Novelist Beverly Jenkins Brings History To Life On The Page

Why Reviews Are Important to Authors

Book reviews are important to authors. From accolades to one star they serve a purpose beyond feedback of a story. Reviews are an essential means by which authors can promote their books.  Without them, they are lost in a digital sea of ebooks. With the Amazon market filled with millions of books (think 1.3 million and thousands daily are added), visibility is becoming a huge challenge for many authors. The only way to become visible is to pay for advertising.

Reviews are garnished in a variety of ways. Some use websites such as NetGalley, Hidden Gems, BookSirens, and BookSprout to obtain reviews. These sites allow authors to post free copies of new releases in exchange for an honest review.  Paying for reviews is against Amazon’s terms.

Amazon can also be a pain when it comes to receiving and keeping reviews.  Their policies go far beyond no family members or friends posting reviews. They are now targeting individuals who may interact with authors on Facebook or other social media platforms. On author forums, you’ll read plenty of complaints about disappearing reviews from people they don’t know personally.  A lot of book reviewers as well are getting nasty-grams from Amazon threatening to be blocked. These over-reaching rules go far beyond the purpose for which they were initiated to cut down on fake reviews. In 2015, an in-depth article on Gizmodo delved into what they termed Amazon’s Review Policy is Creepy and Bad for Authors.  It’s a great article about how Amazon big brother is watching your every move.

Beyond this challenge, reviews are integrally connected to marketing. Marketing is a pain. It’s expensive. It’s a time-consuming task. It’s necessary to get visibility in a saturated marketplace when you don’t have a mainstream publisher backing your book.

The biggest obstacle in releasing a new book is the lack of reviews that plague independent authors on Amazon for months on end. Without reviews, they cannot market. Without marketing, they cannot get noticed.  When you hear the best way to thank an author is to write a review, I sincerely hope that you will consider supporting the authors you read in this fashion. A few words and a number of stars help in getting noticed.

You may ask — well why don’t authors pay for advertising? Authors do but are restricted where they can advertise because of a lack of reviews. There are multiple places to market books. Costs can range from $5 a day to as high as $600 a day, depending on the marketing venue. Almost all of these advertisers have requirements that include a minimum number of reviews and minimum star ratings to be accepted. They either post it plainly on their website, or the marketing resource will check all your book ratings on Amazon, iTunes, Nook, Kobo, and Goodreads to see if you qualify.

BookBub is by far the best place to advertise, hands down but competition is fierce for placement from publishing houses and other successful independent authors. Only 20% of those who apply are chosen to run an advertisement.  Depending on the genre and if you advertise in the USA, costs can be astronomical. For a one-day historical romance advertisement, the fee is $584 for a book priced at 99 cents. The fee rises if the price is higher.  Results on BookBub are phenomenal but expensive. No matter where authors advertise, they don’t always receive a return on their investment.

Remember the next time you read a book that the author is hoping for a review.  They realize that not everyone will love their book.  Stars can range from one to five.  They can be kind remarks or cruel remarks.  However, the most critical reviews can be written with kindness.  Your reviews can be a sentence or a multi-paragraphed discourse.  Whatever you write, it brings feedback on the story, helps authors to get noticed, and makes them eligible to obtain advertising from third-party marketers.  They also bring encouragement as well as discouragement.  

I’ve heard it said by many that reviews are for readers and not for authors. As you can see, that’s not always the case.  Reviews are an integral part of being an author.  How do authors handle reviews?  Here’s a great quote from one of my favorite authors who writes historical fiction.

“A bad review – or several— is, of course, one of the unavoidable pitfalls of being published. Some authors cry. Others get drunk. Most get mad. A few take it in stride, or at least, pretend to. After all, it’s our book someone just skewered. In the end, even a bad review is still a review. It means someone cared enough to take the time to say: Hey, this sucks. So, how did I deal with bad reviews? How else? I cry. I get mad. I pretend not to care. Then I pour myself a glass of wine and call a friend to complain.”
C.W. Gortner

Cover Trends

This morning while surfing Amazon to check out two new books that were recommended by BuzzFeed for Spring release (The Duke of Undone and To Love and to Loathe) the page loaded with more recommendations. Each of the covers displayed the new cartoon-type artwork that seems to be a new trend being pushed by traditional publishing companies. These came from St. Martin’s Griffin (Macmillan), Berkley (Penquin), Atria Books (Simon & Shuster), and Kensington Books. (Shame on Kensington, because they used to have some of the most beautiful artwork when it came to covers.)

Is it just me disappointed with this new push? What’s behind the change from the big houses? Is it to save money? Brand themselves apart from independent authors?

What are your thoughts? Chime in on the comments.

Yea?

Nay?

Okay?

Ugh? I think it’s obvious that I’m in the “ugh” category. Give me artwork and wonderfully design covers any day.

‘Bridgerton’ Season 2: Release Date, First Look, and More Details (Press This! IndieWire)

Look at this smug eldest brother right here? As heavily foreshadowed in Season 1, the second season of “Bridgerton” will focus on the love story of Viscount Anthony Bridgerton, played by Jonathan Bailey. In the Instagram post announcing the second season, the omnipresent Lady Whistledown revealed that “Lord Anthony Bridgerton intends to dominate the social season.”

Source: ‘Bridgerton’ Season 2: Release Date, First Look, and More Details | IndieWire

Historical Tidbit: And They Lived Happily Ever After

I, take thee, to be my lawful wedded wife, to have and to hold from this day forward, 
for better for worse, for richer for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish, till death us do part, according to God’s holy ordinance; and thereto I plight thee my troth.

Sounds like a fairytale, doesn’t it?  Historical romance authors, if they follow the rules, end books in similar ways giving a happily-ever-after ending to readers.  Who wants to read about divorce in a romance novel?  However, I’m a diehard researcher that always looks at a situation from every angle, so I took the time to discover the truth about marriage and divorce.

My research regarding divorce laws in France and England reminded me of that phrase we often say, but don’t really adhere to in the 21st century – “until death us do part.”  Let’s move the romance aside for a moment and take a look at the reality of 19th-century marriage and divorce.  I discovered the following in my hours of researching the topic from a moral, religious, and civil law perspective.

Marriages in the Victorian era fell into three categories: (1) those contracted for convenience; (2) those produced by sympathy or love; and (3) those entered into from duty. The aristocracy put great importance on the background and nobility of the families they married into, as well as marrying for money. Though love in marriage might be ideal, it was not a practical reality, and people were told not to expect too much from marriage. If you found an ounce of happiness in your union, rejoice.

So what about unhappy marriages? Divorce was not easily obtained. Extramarital sexual relations were a normal feature of life in troubled relationships. After marriage, adultery was almost inevitable. Adultery, believe it or not, was preferred to divorce, mainly because divorce was difficult and expensive to obtain. Men had sex with their wives for children and bedded their mistresses for love and pleasure. A wife had the duty to obey her husband and produce heirs, and in return for her obedience, the husband owed her protection and security.

Divorce in England and France evolved over the years, coupled with Catholic and Anglican restrictions. A married woman in France needed two causes for divorce – adultery and physical cruelty. Adultery alone was not grounds for divorce for a woman. However, a man could divorce his wife for adultery only.  

To file for divorce in France, a petition had to be brought before the president of the chambers, and there had to be two attempts before the court to reconcile the marriage. If the marriage failed to reconcile, then court proceedings would continue. Upon the divorce, the children would go to the custody of the husband.  After 1886, custody was left at the discretion of the court. The wife had to take back her maiden name and was forbidden to keep her husband’s name. The husband could remarry immediately after the divorce became final, but the wife had to wait ten months after the dissolution before she was allowed to marry again.

In Victorian England, the rules were similar. “The husband could obtain a divorce for adultery, the wife could obtain a divorce for adultery coupled with cruelty or desertion for two or more years, and also for incestuous or bigamous adultery, or rape, or unnatural offenses.” (Quoted from The Encyclopedia Britannica: Volume 3, Google Books)  Divorce could be a lengthy and costly process that only the rich could afford.

Of course, civil laws did not govern church laws.  Catholics could not divorce and remain in good graces with the church, and surely Anglican and other protestant branches held the same views.  Holy matrimony was just that – a holy union not to be broken. The alternative of adultery to divorce was a matter of sin and one’s conscience.  Even though France was predominantly Catholic, the church turned a blind eye to the infidelity of the male Frenchman.

Our modern-day divorces are much easier to obtain.  Though we may utter those words “until death do us part,” they don’t really carry the serious consequences of marriages long ago.  Perhaps that is why readers insist on a happily ever after as a prerequisite to a good historical romance.  The reality of being chained to a marriage without love for the sake of convenience, law, or religious conscience must have been an unhappy existence.  As Jane Austen would say: “Happiness in marriage is entirely a matter of chance.

Jane Austen Takes Pride of Place for Book Sales in Lockdown (Press This! Daily Mail Online)

Sales of the Penguin edition of Miss Austen’s Pride and Prejudice shot up by 22 per cent last year, according to analysts Nielsen BookScan

Source: Jane Austen takes Pride of place for book sales in lockdown as sales of her famous novel soar  | Daily Mail Online

Judging a Book by the Cover

Jon

They say men are stimulated visually. It’s not what they hear whispered in their ears – it’s what they see with their eyes that move them toward sex and romance. For the most part, I do think that men are wired that way. However, when it comes to reading steamy historical romance novels, women are not only moved by the story, but by the covers that give us a glimpse of the hero and heroine in a passionate embrace.

Historically, the genre bombarded readers with bare-chested, muscular males, with shirts falling off their backs, toned physiques, and six-pack abs. The heroines were women with unbuttoned or unlaced dresses in the back, overflowing breasts from low necklines, and lustful scenes of kissing in provocative poses. These scenes set the stage for the forthcoming sexual tension between the characters and build the reader’s anticipation of what is to come between the pages.

The old adage you can’t judge a book by its cover is really only a half-truth because I dare say historical romance covers set the scene, tempts us with what’s inside, and reveals the type of book we’re about to read, or at least it should.  Personally, I’m drawn to the covers either positively or negatively.

Over the years, the amount of steamy covers has diminished somewhat. I believe this is due partially to the strict guidelines set by some platforms such as Facebook where authors routinely advertise their books.  If the cover pose is too provocative, they will refuse to run the advertisement.  Even I have had a cover rejected because a female was on top of the hero who had an unbuttoned shirt!  She was fully clothed.  I ended up changing the cover because I couldn’t advertise the book.

Many covers nowadays have a sole character on the front, either the hero or heroine.  There is definitely a proliferation of women in flowing dresses as the norm.  Men can be either fully dressed or with open shirts.  You will notice a lot of similarities in covers with authors adopting stylistic features such as fonts as part of an author’s branding. Books in a series often carry the same thematic designs.

There are many talented graphic artists that produce fantastic covers in the industry. Large publishing houses can afford the best artists and highly paid models to grace their covers. One artist, in particular, is Jon Paul. You will recognize his work on many covers coming from traditional publishing houses. I have reposted one cover in the blog post created by Jon Paul with his permission.

Many indie authors and traditional publishers are also turning toward stock photography on sites such as Dreamstime, iStockPhoto, Getty Images, Shutterstock, and Adobe.  Some higher-end photography sites such as Fine Art America and Trevillion are used by publishers, but usage rights are extremely expensive. There are also romance cover sites, such as Period Images, which I highly recommend, as well as Romance Novel Covers. The prices are reasonable and licensing terms are fairly straightforward. Frankly, I’ve thought for many years that photographers have a goldmine of opportunity if they would focus more on historical era shots with men and women in the fashions of the time. I’m happy to see an increase in such photographs on the market.

However, just purchasing a photograph isn’t the end of the design process. The real artistry, of course, comes when a picture is chosen, as well as a background, and then it’s turned into a cover story that is unique. There are many graphic artists who design covers for authors.  Some independent authors, if they are savvy enough, do their own covers if they are professional in appearance.  Poor cover art does not sell books.  Authors are wise to learn the rules about license usage rights, model releases, and copyright law when dealing with photography. Better to be safe than sued for damages in a court of law for infringement.

Since Fabio’s earlier days of book cover shots, with his long hair, chiseled face, and body, it seems the standard for romance covers hasn’t changed very much until recently. We now have new models and artists on the scene and the advent of advanced design techniques not available in the past.

Last fall, however, quite a few books released by traditional publishing houses such as Berkley, Kensington, Hachette, and Zebra were bright-colored cartoon-type covers, which are not my favorite. I wondered if this was an attempt to save money during the Covid lock-down months.  They remind me of contemporary books along the line of cozy mysteries rather than steamy romance.  Here are the titles if you want to take a look.  A Rogue of One’s Own by Evie Dunmore, Notorious by Minerva Spencer, Mr. Malcome’s List by Suzanne Allain, A Lady’s Guide to Mischief and Mayhem by Manda Collins, and A Duke, The Lady, and a Baby by Vanessa Riley.  Frankly, I hope this is a short-lived trend because the joy of historical romance covers is the gorgeous works of art that inspire readers.

In any event, a well-designed cover does the trick. It will either entice us to purchase or not. Frankly, I remember the days when I loved to buy novels with beautiful covers and keep them on my bookshelf like works of art. Now, we enjoy them on high definition digital readers. Wherever they meet our eyes, in print or on-screen, the cover should be an enticing introduction to the story we are about to read.

As a reader, do you judge a book by the cover?  Do you pass on books with poorly design covers, even though the story inside might be terrific?  I’m curious to know.

The Dashwood Sisters in Sense & Sensibility

The Dashwood Sisters.  Could there be anything more entertaining than these two women?  They are as different as night and day and both on a pursuit for husbands. Elinor bears everything with quiet decorum and sense. Marianne is outspoken and seeks the thrills of romantic fellowship with no sense at all.

Sense and Sensibility is one of my favorite Austen works. It was her first novel written in 1795 at the age of 19 and was accepted by a publisher and put into print in 1811 (at her own expense, I might add for all you indies out there).  Though I’m not an Austen expert by any means, I’m thankful for the many resources available online about her life and works from people who are.  I have had the good fortune of seeing part of her manuscript for Persuasion at the London Library penned in her own hand with the name of Captain Wentworth on the page.

I’m not quite sure what it is about this story. Perhaps it’s the yearning for love and silent pining inside the hearts of women that draws me so strongly to their characters.  As females, we probably all have a bit of Elinor and Marianne in each of us.

Elinor, who loves the steady, kindhearted, humble man in the form of Edward Ferrars, is the sensible sister of the two.  She bears her love and disappointment with quiet restraint while dealing with her sister’s outward and passionate emotions regarding Willoughby.

Though I’ve never had a sister, the fact that they are so different as night and day is entertaining to me.  Austen does a wonderful job with each of them telling the other about their own exasperation over the other’s personality. Hear how Marianne scolds her sister.

“I do not attempt to deny,” said she, “that I think very highly of him—that I greatly esteem, that I like him.”  Marianne here burst forth with indignation.  “Esteem him! Like him! Cold-hearted Elinor! Oh! worse than cold-hearted! Ashamed of being otherwise. Use those words again, and I will leave the room this moment.”

Then there is Marianne — brokenhearted Marianne whose life nearly ends because she cannot have the man she loves.  Marianne, of course, is undoubtedly the romantic at heart in this story compared to her sister Elinor who keeps everything hidden for the sake of propriety.  Marianne lost all good sense when it came to her infatuation with Willoughby.  Gregarious, passionate, and handsome Willoughby fits perfectly into her idealist qualifications of what a gentleman should be. “Mama, the more I know of the world, the more am I convinced that I shall never see a man whom I can really love. I require so much! He must have all Edward’s virtues, and his person and manners must ornament his goodness with every possible charm.”

Though Marianne is happy for her sister’s budding relationship with Edward, she clearly expresses her thoughts of the deficits of his personality in her eyes. “Oh! mama, how spiritless, how tame was Edward’s manner in reading to us last night! I felt for my sister most severely. Yet she bore it with so much composure, she seemed scarcely to notice it. I could hardly keep my seat. To hear those beautiful lines which have frequently almost driven me wild, pronounced with such impenetrable calmness, such dreadful indifference!” 

For me, Marianne represents all of the girlish and hopeful feelings we possess at 16 years of age regarding love.  Our hearts are filled with romantic notions of being swept off our feet by the most amiable of men, who can recite to us poetry with heartfelt enunciation that brings tears to our eyes. They rescue us when in distress, are attentive, offer flowers, cut locks of our hair to keep with them, and promise to adore us for all eternity.

Elinor, on the other hand, is the more mature young woman who sees the wonder of what love can be but also recognizes the cruel hurt and devastation it can bring to a female’s heart.  She not only sees the terrible effects of a broken heart nearly bringing her dearest sister to death’s door, but she also bears the heartache of love lost to another.

As far as modern adaptations on screen, we have been blessed with two beautiful renditions of Sense and Sensibility in film and television.  The 1995 movie version with Kate Winslet and Emma Thompson is a wonderful condensed version. My favorite, however, probably because it is much longer is the 2008 BBC version starring Hattie Morahan and Charity Wakefield.  The choice of characters for Edward and Colonel Brandon excited me a bit more, as well as the cinematography.

Do you relate to Elinor or Marianne?  Are you the sensible sister or the whimsical sister?  In historical romance, I love to examine characters, and Jane Austen gives us wonderful ones to enjoy.

1995 Movie 2008 BBC TV
Emma Thompson
Hattie Morahan
Kate Winslet
Charity Wakefield

1995 Movie 2008 BBC TV
Hugh Grant
Dan Stevens
Greg Wise
Dominic Connor
Alan Rickman
David Morrissey

Strike a Pose for Covers

Historical romance covers can be beautiful artwork. I’ve seen some that take my breath away. When you look at the older covers from the bodice-ripping days, there are three major poses that come to mind. These are still, for the most part, on our twenty-first-century historical romance book covers. If it’s not the poses of the hero and heroine together, it’s usually the flowing dress of a single female character. Nevertheless, have a bit of a chuckle with me as we look at these rather awkward positions.

The Back Strain

This pose has the male bending the lady backward. You have to admit the older covers usually have the man grabbing one leg at the same time. I can imagine an ensuing backache and sustained neck strain if a shirtless man bent me over backward, while I lifted my naked leg up against his side. You have to chuckle at some of the faces of these ladies who appear to be in pain as they turn away from the overpowering male. To add to the commonality of the pose, the wind is always blowing through the lady’s hair. Do these covers make you go ouch at the thought of the dominant male seducing you as your spine cracks? Has the pose diminished in current historical romance covers? Not really. Backs and necks are still out of line, however, it’s hard to find the consistent leg up these days.

The Behind Approach

Moving on from the back and neck strain pose comes the opposite with the hero seductively approaching the heroine from behind.  Not quite as popular as the frontal seduction, they still make up a large number of covers in the historical romance genre.

As you can see, the windstorm continues with flying female hair in a few of the scenes.  The male domination remains as the shirtless, seductive hero clutches their female prey from behind. The ladies turn their heads backward, getting a good look at their seducer. One cover I discovered looks like a gymnastics movement, as the hero raises her in the air while clutching her hips.

The Reclining Lovers

From the back and neck strain to the grasping male from behind, comes the ultimate place most heroes are hoping to place their heroines — on their back.

After searching through the covers of past and present, this pose seems to be the least used in the variety of physical positions.  Nonetheless, it serves to take the story to a satisfying conclusion, if you get my drift.  I’ve posted a few goodies from the past on my blog page.

As much as I love the genre, you still need a little humor to brighten the read. I guess you could say that these classic covers and current covers is what defines the genre and gives it the heat. Of course, not all historical romance covers are risque, as the more pure Jane Austen-type-Regencies have their fair share of fully dressed characters in upright positions on the book cover. In addition, the heat index of covers has toned down as well, because if it’s too hot, author advertisements on Facebook and other platforms get rejected.

What is your favorite pose? The back strain? The behind embrace, or the laying in the grass with your lover? If I had to choose one, I’d probably take the embrace from behind. I don’t want my neck to crack or ants crawling in my hair, no matter how hot the guy is on top.

After Achieving Her PhD at 88, Ruth Wants a Jane Austen-led Reading Revolution (Press This! The Syndey Morning Hearld)

You are never too old to enjoy Jane Austen. This is a heartwarming article that at any age, Jane’s novels can be relevant and enjoyable.  Have you read one lately?

Mrs Wilson wants teachers to encourage their students to interpret authors such as Austen through the prism of their own experience, rather than focusing solely on the features of the text, or its cultural and political context.

Source: After achieving her PhD at 88, Ruth wants a Jane Austen-led reading revolution

‘Outlander’ Author Diana Gabaldon Reveals Progress on Book 9

Gabaldon released the first Outlander book in 1991. And since then, she’s written seven more novels for the series. Her last installment, Written in My Own Heart’s Blood, was published in 2014. So for nearly seven years, fans have been waiting to see where she takes Claire and Jamie Fraser’s story next.

Source: ‘Outlander’ Author Diana Gabaldon Reveals Progress on Book 9