As many of you know MY NOVELS are set in Civil War and post-Civil War America. I thought it would be fun each week to focus on a different year of music from 1860-1900. Maybe my characters were listening to these songs back in the day. ENJOY.
CHARACTER: Morphine addict Lieutenant John Weldon
INSPIRATION: Katherine McCullough needed a husband in the military. I was listening to a lot of Americana music and crushing on a young Robbie Robertson from The Band while collecting Civil War era prosthetic limbs and morphine kits. Having just recovered from a life threatening blood clot and feeling wistful about the painkillers I was given in the hospital, I suddenly understood the draw of self-medicating.
A heroin addict friend told me a story about having to kill a bunch of puppies as a child living on a reservation.
JOHN WELDON WAS BORN:
“Doctor Dudley, you in?”
A sudden panic in the pit of Dudley’s stomach caused him to hesitate before opening the door to let Weldon in. They stood together uncomfortably in the center of the room.
Weldon scanned the room, searching for a place to rest his eyes. “Dudley…I have a problem, a concern really…”
Weldon rolled up his sleeve.
“Lieutenant Weldon, what happened here?”
“Well, it’s a burn, I think…” Weldon said.
“You THINK it’s a burn? You would know if it was. You would remember it, I’m sure. This is no burn.”
“Well,” Weldon stuttered, “I d-don’t know…”
“Lieutenant Weldon, this is badly inflamed. What have you been doing to yourself?”
Weldon scratched the sore skin behind his ear.
“Weldon, are you listening?” Dudley asked, thinking of Katherine and how she would feel if her husband died of blood poisoning.
“Yes, I’m listening…it’s not a burn. No, it’s not a burn at all…I’ve never told anyone…I don’t know why I’m telling you…”
Dudley looked Weldon in the eye. “Lieutenant Weldon, how long have you been doing this to yourself?”
“On and off…I hoped you might know a cure…I trust you won’t tell my wife…my career, my family….” Weldon drifted a moment, but came back. “I want to stop…I tried…”
“Well, good luck,” Dudley said dismissively trying to collect his thoughts while sifting aimlessly through stray papers.
“What? Is that all you have to say?” Weldon asked, the hopelessness in his voice reminding Dudley of his vocational duties.
Dudley reluctantly looked at the sore again and roughly let go of the arm. “There’s been missing stores of morphine. I assume you’ve been stealing them.”
“NO! I haven’t… a laundress gets…I haven’t taken anything from you, Dudley!”
“For Mrs. Weldon’s sake, I won’t seek charges against you. I can’t believe you fooled me. I even felt some sympathy for you when you left.”
“I’ve come to you for help. I’d never steal from you,” Weldon said in a surprisingly indignant tone. “I figured you might have experience with other veterans.”
Dudley sighed. “Weldon, I can put a little carbolic acid on your arm. It might help prevent further inflammation.” When his voice shook Dudley wondered at his inability to stay neutral and professional. “I’m so disappointed for you…for Katherine…there’s no cure for what you have. I’ve heard of people like you who’ve freed themselves from it, but I’ve never met them. Most just got sent home to be taken care of by their families.” Dudley was cold in relating the facts. He had been taught how at school. “This is your life, lieutenant. Get used to it. Most don’t live long—their teeth go bad, they lose their hair…and you’re already using it through a syringe and probably not diluting it that much…am I right?”
Weldon shook all over. He searched the doctor for some little hope or sympathy even, but didn’t expect it.
“Weldon, your wife should be prepared. Mrs. Weldon should be told so she can plan for the future. Soon enough you’ll be too much a mess to care for yourself. You both should leave here before that happens.”
“I—I can’t leave the army! What would I do? There’s NO cure at all then?”
“No, lieutenant.” Dudley looked for his carbolic acid, sprayed it onto the swollen, sore skin and wrapped a bandage around it. “I’ve never seen someone stop the habit once they use the needles.”
“I’ve tried to tell Katherine.”
“Well, trying and doing are two different things, lieutenant. Listen, you wouldn’t want to embarrass your wife. Mrs. Weldon isn’t looking well. I see she’ll have another child, and you’re no help to her anymore. Katherine should be with someone stronger,” Dudley said, regretting his spitefulness.
Weldon nodded. He pulled his sleeve down and walked out into the bright twilight.
ENTER THE GOODREADS GIVEAWAY! (The winner gets the much prettier new cover)
One of the joys of independent publishing is finding a cover designer who “gets” your work. Samantha Hennessy at SAMANTHA HENNESSY DESIGN is the IT GIRL for me. Her cover for my latest novel THE DEW THAT GOES EARLY AWAY is a lush, velvety dream (I’ve had people at book fairs gush over it).
A designer who listens to your vague ideas and improves upon them to create works of art is a rare find. By the third novel I really had no idea what I wanted. I gave Sam the title (and maybe a brief synopsis of the manuscript) and before long the cover arrived in my inbox. I didn’t make a single change to it (it helped that she’d designed my other two books and had a great feel for the series).
Enjoy part one of this interview with the very talented SAMANTHA HENNESSY:
Tell us about your book cover design process. What inspires you?
With the cover designs for THE TENAFLY ROAD SERIES, I borrowed inspiration from Adrienne’s blog header and created designs where past meets present. I wanted the covers to feel modern while still keeping with the spirit of historical fiction.
With WEARY OF RUNNING, the first cover I worked on, I started with the torn and old photograph of the cadets. At first I considered cleanly cropping the edges but realized those rough edges I had first thought of as a nuisance could be used as a charming design element! The torn edges added texture and brought in a little of the bright teal color to break up the sepia tones of the front cover. It also acted as a transitional element to connect the spine and the front cover through color.
Design work is problem solving. As a designer I make incongruous bits and pieces or ideas fit together, often times by reconsidering those bit and pieces that at first seemed a problem.
With the second cover I designed, THE HOUSE ON TENAFLY ROAD, I started out with a scan of a photograph of the actual house on Tenafly Road. The scan’s quality wasn’t great, so I knew I would have to modify it in some way to make it workable. After playing around for a bit with the photo, I finally settled on a halftone filter for the scan.
Halftone is a printing process originally used in newspapers – think of the little dots you see that make up comic strips or newsprint letters. It’s a rudimentary way to print, and applying the halftone filter maintained the photo’s vintage sensibilities, while the bright magenta and contrasting pastel yellow color added a bit of freshness that the original scan needed. Color relationships are what I focus on the most in my designs, and I love trying to figure out how I can use color to create mood, interest and movement.
THE DEW THAT GOES EARLY AWAY cover is special to me because I used my own photograph for the art. The photo was inspired by Alexa Meade’s work. Her paintings are unusual because Meade paints right on top of a real person, sitting at a real table, and applies exaggerated shadows and highlights straight onto these unique “canvases.” It’s very meta. And everyone knows that anything can be art as long as its meta!
One of her paintings – or to be exact – a photograph of a person she painted on top of, was a woman half-submerged in opaque, white liquid. The photo was captured just as the woman’s painted face met the water and started to run.
I was brainstorming ideas for cover art for the third novel in my apartment, looking at a bouquet of flowers in a vase. I knew the title of the third novel (The Dew That Goes Early Away) and that it was a story about lost innocence. That conjured in my mind images of dew drops on flowers and the transience of nature and life.
Alexa Meade popped into my head. I quickly filled a plastic bin with water, added a cup of milk, dropped in some daubs of red and blue paint, swirled everything around, and floated the now beheaded flowers on top. My favorite part of the photograph is the white flower on the top right corner of the cover that has a couple red-paint dew drops on its petals.
What is your favorite part of book cover design? Your least favorite part?
I mentioned that the third book was special to me because I used my own art, but my least favorite part of cover design is choosing the right art. Looking at those flowers and trying to figure out what to do with them – for a couple of moments there – felt torturous. Choosing the right art is stressful, but once I settle on it manipulating things like fonts and layout feels meditative in comparison. I’ve spent what might be considered an obsessive amount of time getting the kerning just right (kerning is the spacing between letters). I’m fascinated by typography and experimenting with different fonts to best represent the personality of the design.
You work independently. Have you ever considered working in traditional publishing or do you prefer the indie world? What would be your dream set-up artistically?
I do enjoy working on projects independently but definitely want the direction that an agency provides. While studying art in college, I always found that the projects I became most invested in and enjoyed the most where the projects I was forced to do, that initially seemed completely incompatible with my artistic style and voice. The assignments I started off dreading were the ones I often had such fondness for in the end.
Having complete artistic control without the intervention of mentors and colleagues can feel narcissistic if I’m not self-evaluating my work properly. And that’s a hard thing to do! Sometimes when I look back on old projects I wish I had someone there at the time to tell me that the work wasn’t fully “there” yet. I love having that dialogue between artists. Hearing criticism in the moment can make me feel defensive, red-faced, and like my identity as an artist is just a huge sham! But then I get over my pride, and I’m a better artist for it.
Do you listen to music while working? Does it influence your designs?
I don’t listen to music much while working but I do listen to podcasts. Music can be distracting for me because stopping to skip a song or to choose a new artist breaks my concentration. Podcasts on the other hand, especially long-form narratives, are so immersive and wonderful in their storytelling. Audio as a medium, I think, is superior to visual media in a lot of different ways. That might sound strange coming from a visual artist! I just really respect the art. In another world where I was a talented writer, that would be my dream job. Audio allows the listener to build their own visuals and fill in the story using memories and personal experiences. It’s magical. Two shows I will recommend are 99% Invisible and Criminal. The former is a show about design, but it’s not just for designers. Give it a chance. The latter is a riveting true-crime-esque podcast that I love even more for the illustrations made for each episode by Julienne Alexander. Visuals complimenting audio is up there in my list of things I love.
Do you come from a creative family?
My grandmother is a STAINED GLASS ARTIST and owns a studio in Jersey City. She’s done stain glass work for a number of churches and synagogues around the area, and she restores glass as well. My childhood home is decorated with her stained glass projects and I grew up admiring her work.
YOU CAN FIND MORE OF SAMANTHA’S WORK AT SAMANTHA HENNESSY DESIGN
The computer is over there. The dogs are over here. It’s raining. Need I say more?
Under the Lilacs book illustration. I’d never heard the term domestic genre stories but I LOVE it. These are the great stories of the late 19th century that spoke to the trials and travails of ordinary life and often with beautiful illustrations. I assume they’re the works that some people deem “of no literary merit” […]
Can we all agree that men polish up quite nicely in uniform? Why else would we have cop groupies? My father had a charming charisma, but the uniform brought the groupies. Anyway, men look good in uniform–especially late 19th century military uniform–I happened to notice this at all the Civil war re-enactments–when the weekend was over and some of the men came into camp dressed in modern jeans and dorky t-shirts commemorating a Gettysburg anniversary and white sneakers.
So here’s the sort of book/eye-candy I feast upon when I’m too damned tired to figure out what’s happening in Saratoga 1888 and in finance in my latest rough draft. If you like cute guys, or like uniforms or like military history or like illustration–okay, you know what I like.
I’d probably have to steal the trousers with the yellow stripe down the side. I don’t want to be a soldier but the tailoring of the clothes–to die for. Many women felt the same way and so even though women loved their skirts the fashion world, then as now, always threw out a few military-style garments for the ladies–no camo please.
We like the bad-boys with the good hearts hidden beneath the uniform–though when Richard Gere started sobbing like a baby in An Officer and a Gentleman I got kinda repulsed–but then I’m no Richard fan so . . .
Okay, don’t be disturbed by the man’s weird stare and ugly hat. While On the Border with Crook is about the Indian fighter General Crook it’s more about the erudite and humorous John Gregory Bourke— the dashing military man and entertaining writer. Invariably the military men of the late 19th century had such enthusiasm, intellectual curiosity and good humor under sometimes very harsh conditions you’d have to admire them–but Bourke and Crook were unique in their sincere respect for the Indian.
My heart beats a little quicker for this extremely fun and informative gem, The Look of the Old West
Lieutenant John Weldon in The House on Tenafly Road took his family to a western military outpost after the Civil War and this book helped make that possible. Scholarly research is a great thing but Foster Harris (whose writing style is so familiar you feel like you know him personally) brings the post-Civil War period alive with its mix of old and new, Confederate and Yankee, weapons and women.
I love the idea that this book was written in 1955 and that Foster-Harris interviewed Civil War veterans and old cowboys. I imagine the wistful look the old men got in their eyes after such a fast paced and changing bunch of years.
I loved this book so much I made William Weldon in my upcoming novel travel back west as a young man to do what young men did in the Wild West. Stay tuned.
Hey, would you like a old western shirt? Check this out: http://vintrowear.wordpress.com/2011/05/30/get-your-old-west-on-real-cowboys-and-the-shirts-they-wore/
When you write about post-Civil War America it’s impossible not to bump up against war wounds. John Weldon in The House on Tenafly Road is addicted to morphine, given his first dose in a Civil War hospital by well-meaning doctors trying to keep him comfortable before his eventual death–which never happens. He escapes in his […]
I’m traveling over to England today to talk about one of my favorite subjects–women– on Helen Hollick’s blog Let us Talk of Many Things; of Books and Queens and Pirates, of History and Kings . . .
Helen has written a ton of historical fiction and pirate-based adventure fantasy novels. She’s been traditionally and independently published. Her blog has a lot of great information about publishing, queens, pirates, history and kings! Come over the pond for a visit!