I have cast-of-character strips on my book web pages, bloodroomthenovel.com and thebaddeath.com. They give potential readers a chance to read bios of major characters. Also, the individual images give me visual aids to use in marketing my books. For instance, I’ll post an individual character on Instagram with a provocative tagline and the web addy. Adobe offers a monthly subscription for Photoshop for less than $20/month, but you could probably find a good price on eBay or somewhere if you want to own it outright.
At left, you’ll see the image I purchased at istockphoto.com has a dark background. Derek Murphy of Creativeindie Covers used this graphic to produce the cover for The Bad Death. At the time, I didn’t have a large file of Derek’s work. I used a jpeg of the cover in progress, pictured right. To change the model’s brown eyes to my heroine’s gold, I used Photoshop’s marquee tool to select the gold eyes from Derek’s small file and copied them into my large file, resizing them to fit my stock image.
Since I also bought the blue watery background from istockphoto, I had that large Photoshop image to work with. I opened that image in Photoshop and copied into my working file. Copying into my working file automatically put the background on its own layer. On Anika’s layer, I used Photoshop’s pen tool to draw a path around her. See that thin light outline? That’s the path.
With the path selected, I clicked on Image in Photoshop’s top menu. From the Image dropdown menu, I chose “Apply Image”. At that point a palette popped up allowing me to select the layer containing the background.
Martin Turner won an autographed print copy of The Bad Death. When I host a Goodreads Giveaway, I note with interest the distance of the entrants from my home on the Redneck Riviera. Today, I’m almost ridiculously psyched to send my novel to the quaintly named area of Bexhill on Sea in England.
If you’re not Martin Turner, don’t despair. You can buy an autographed e-book of The Bad Death (and my other books, too) from Authorgraph, for no more $ than you’d pay Amazon for the non-autographed copy. You’re welcome 😉
Ballet figures largely in my novels. Bloodroom, a twisted romance set in today’s Charleston, stars a vampire named Julian who’s obsessed with a ballerina. The Bad Death, a vampire novel set in 18th century South Carolina, stars a slave named Anika who’s possessed by the spirit of a modern ballerina. In The Bad Death, Julian is nonplussed (to say the least) when his field hand starts dancing like a prima ballerina and displaying some diva ‘tude. Taking a writerly grand jeté through time required a ballet history lesson.
Under possession by the modern ballerina’s spirit, Anika’s movements look exaggerated to Julian’s 18th century eyes. Today’s “flexerina” had more in common with that century’s acrobatic grotteschi in the lower brow commedia dell’arte, as described in Jennifer Homans’ comprehensive Apollo’s Angels. Compare 18th century prima ballerina La Carmago’s arabesque to the modern version, right.
Anika had to dance demi-pointe (on the balls of her feet) because in The Bad Death’s setting of 1788, pointe shoes weren’t invented yet. Ballerinas wouldn’t dance en pointe until Marie Taglioni perfected the art of dancing on the metatarsals of her toes (like the “neck”, not quite the tip, of the toe). She was aided by extra stitching that stiffened the forward soles of her tight, soft satin slippers. Compare the old style of slippers with today’s pointe shoes, below.
I borrowed the left-side image from a student’s terrific wiki-history of Marie Taglioni’s impact. And see a signed pair of Miss Taglioni’s actual slippers in an image that I was too cheap to pay for here.
Ballet Evolved is a wonderful series of ballet history lessons in dance, featuring ballerinas from London’s Royal Opera House. In this one, Ballet Mistress Ursula Hargeli leads four ballerinas in demonstrating innovations in dance through the centuries. In baroque costume, Ms. Hargeli demonstrates that era’s style of plié, pirouette, and port de bras. It’s amusing to see the ballerinas, each at the top of her game in modern ballet, attempt these deceptively simple steps from the distant past.
Oh, the complicated nature of female friendships. One’s a murderess. One’s using black magic to get pregnant. One’s the product of her big brother’s OCD. They’re besties as long as no one tries to best the others. Each has a unique relationship to Anika, the plat-eye slaying heroine of The Bad Death. Here’s a short bio on each.
Charlotte Mouret – As close to perfect as Julian could make her, Charlotte was educated in a schedule that never left time for idle (or independent) thought and married off at seventeen to the family’s financial manager. Though Julian assures her their field hand is an idiot savant, Charlotte suspects there’s something unnatural in Anika’s sudden talents.
Jane Eliza Farmington – Cherished daughter of a retired slaver. Society beauty. Poisoner. All magic that turns a profit is good magic, and Jane Eliza’s murders are just business. As a witch doctor’s delivery girl, Anika must avoid becoming a toy in Jane Eliza’s deadly games.
Eugénie Mouret – Julian’s sister-in-law knows full well the power of magic. She’ll pay any price for the charms that guarantee a pregnancy. Anika promised her a son destined for power. But if the magic works, who — or what — will live in Eugénie’s womb?
Passion rules the heart and terror rules the night…
South Carolina, 1788. The African beauty emerging from his family crypt is a stranger to Julian Mouret, the refined owner of Lion’s Court plantation. A dancer and a mystery, she spins a strange, dark, and impossible tale of peril and flight. Though he fears she must surely be mad, the handsome slave owner is soon himself a slave, lost to the seductions of this enchantress called Anika and determined to lead her North to safety…
Congratulations to Aubrey Laine, the winner of a $25 Amazon gift card. To enter the raffle, Aubrey and other readers commented on which of two book descriptions for The Bad Death they found most compelling. I thought it would be fun to compile their input and share.
You can read the descriptions on my last blog entry. Option A was written by a professional book blurb writer I contracted with through The Serious Reader. I wrote Option B. Results: Option A won by one vote. I was really surprised to see the description I wrote fare so well. Hey, I can write a novel. But ad copy throws me like a wild horse.
Readers commented that Option A was “sultry and scary” and “matter-of-fact …let’s the reader know what he/she is in for”. Others commented that Option B gave more insight into what the story is about, “drew me in”, and “I would pick up the book if I read something like that!” Opposing viewpoints reminded me that one person’s trash is another’s treasure. For instance, while Option B snared some commenters, another said it was “poorly written”. On a related note, when I get too scared of bad novel reviews, I remind myself how long the spectrum of opinion is. My novel, Bloodroom, has gotten 2 star reviews, but it’s also gotten 5 star reviews. We humans are a diverse bunch!
Which description will I use? Both! Not at the same time, of course. Successful self-published authors change descriptions on books from time to time to see how each affects sales. That’s what I’ll do.
Thanks, all who gave their opinions. It’s been a great help!
I’m trying to decide which book description to use with my historical vampire novel, The Bad Death. Help me out. Vote by leaving a comment on this blog and note it on the Rafflecopter form below to be entered in a raffle to win a $25 Amazon gift card. You can cast more entries by tweeting or posting about the contest on Facebook. The contest is international and runs from Monday, July 29 12:01 AM to Monday, August 5 midnight EST.
The Bad Death is a violent adventure with a kick-ass heroine and a steamy romantic subplot. So, if you were browsing and you picked up a copy, which of these would prompt you to buy the book?
Passion rules the heart and terror rules the night…
South Carolina, 1788. The beautiful black woman emerging from his family crypt is a stranger to Julian Mouret, the refined owner of Lion’s Court plantation. A dancer and a mystery, she spins a strange, dark, and impossible tale of peril and flight. Though he fears she must surely be mad, the handsome slave owner is soon himself a slave, lost to the seductions of this enchantress called Anika and determined to lead her North to safety.
But there can be no safe haven for Julian or the exquisite Gullah girl who has bewitched him, not while monsters roam the night. A series of horrifying mutilation murders screams of the presence of “plat-eyes”—shape-shifting blood-sucking supernatural creatures feeding at will on the plantation workers—and only Anika can end the rampage. But to face the vampire horde she will have to master the darkness within. And the price of victory in the battle ahead may well be the eternal soul of the man she is coming to love.
Can she defeat supernatural horror in a world overrun by human evil?
It is 1788 in South Carolina’s Lowcountry. Planters have fled the feverish climate, leaving vast estates in the care of Gullah slaves. Julian Mouret is the one planter who didn’t leave, but how could he foresee the mortal consequence of a stranger’s embrace?
An African beauty emerges from the family crypt and shatters Julian’s isolation with a kiss. How she came to be in the crypt – and the unseen creatures that emerged with her – are mysteries that transcend time.
Anika has the strength and spirit to sustain her through a lifetime of slavery on Mouret plantations, but magic is about to overturn the laws of man and nature.
As a rising tide of brutal killings overwhelm the Lowcountry, Anika suspects shapeshifting creatures of legend known as plat-eyes. She, alone, holds the key to stopping their bloody rampage. But Julian Mouret, a man of science who scorns superstition, will block her at the risk of her life and his soul.
Instructions to enter the raffle: First, leave a comment. Then, use the form to mark that you left a comment (this enters your name in the raffle). To increase your odds of winning, use the form to tweet and post about the raffle (you can even tweet and post each day to super-increase your chances of winning). The winner is chosen randomly by Rafflecopter. Thanks for playing!
I based Herbadale Farmington, the retired slaver, on Captain Theodore Canot. The book is his memoir of trading in Africa. It is a weirdly exuberant book. Canot didn’t have any sense that what he was doing was wrong. Absent that shame, the book reads like a travelogue of Africa and a series of adventures. He relates the customs and personalities of tribes without a missionary’s condescension. Tribal chiefs selling their war hostages as slaves considered Canot a business colleague and treated him as an honored guest.
Africanisms in the Gullah Dialect by Lorenzo Dow Turner
Gullah is a term referring to descendents of West African slaves who’ve lived for generations in coastal South Carolina and some of coastal North Carolina and Georgia. Isolated for centuries, they retained their unique culture which includes a language. In the early 20th century, Lorenzo Dow Turner interviewed Gullahs and studied the language. He traced words and speech patterns back to several African languages. His book enabled me to incorporate the Gullah language and snippets of African languages into dialogue in The Bad Death.
Apollo’s Angels: A History of Balletby Jennifer Homans
This comprehensive and entertaining trip through time helped me contrast Anika’s modern ballet (as performed by her possessing spirit) and the ballet as it was recognized by the other characters in The Bad Death trilogy.
Elizabeth Allston Pringle was a remarkable woman. A native of Charleston from one of South Carolina’s leading families, she came of age during the Civil War. In the early 20th century she decided to plant rice as a cash crop, something that hadn’t been done profitably since the South lost the War. Her relatives thought she was nuts to try it, not the least of which because she was a woman. She not only did that, but she kept a journal of her experience. The journal was serialized in a northern newspaper and later became this book. Ms. Pringle wrote lyrically of the beauty of the South Carolina Lowcountry. She writes in detail of rice growing cycles and she tells of her daily interchange with the Gullah people who worked for her. This book was a great help in setting The Bad Death’s environment and plotlines.
Black Aprilby Julia Peterkin
Black April is a novel entirely peopled by Gullahs. Julia Peterkin was the wife of a white landowner when she wrote it in the 20s. She captures the Gullah language and culture beautifully. The characters speak Gullah and are so real. The story’s unannounced character is the landscape itself. The novel’s atmosphere is so rich it practically drips on your head. You can smell it and taste it. I wound up using Black April as research for the atmosphere in The Bad Death.
Blue Roots helped me realistically understand Gullah root medicine and magic.
Charleston Houses and GardensPhotos by N. Jane Iseley, Text by Evangeline Davis
This was great research for the grand houses and interiors in The Bad Death.
Charleston Receiptscollected by The Junior League of Charleston
These recipes go back to the 19th century (called receipts back then) and are unique to the region. This cookbook set Eugénie’s dinner party table with pine bark stew, partridge pie, and rice wine.
Chronicles of Chicora Wood by Elizabeth Allston Pringle
Elizabeth Allston Pringle, writer of A Woman Rice Planter, wrote Chronicles of Chicora Wood as a memoir of her childhood and homage to her mother. Chronicles gave me ideas for fleshing out Miss Elisabeth, Julian’s mother.
Cooking the Gullah Way, Morning, Noon, and Nightby Sallie Ann Robinson
Ms. Robinson’s cookbook includes folk remedies and stories of her days growing up on Daufuskie Island (one of the sea islands Gullahs have called home for centuries). Her cookbook gave Marcus and Anika crabmeat-stuffed flounder and Julian roasted oysters. It gave the nurse Risa mullein to make a compress for Chloe’s sore muscles. This book also taught me the method for corning fish used by Anika’s friends and neighbors.
Down by the Riverside, A South Carolina Slave Communityby Charles Joyner
Joyner wrote a comprehensive account of the way Lowcountry rice plantations worked, right down to the daily allotment of food given to field hands. It was invaluable research for being able to give The Bad Death’s environment an authentic feel.
Historic Charlestonphotos by Peter Vitalé and Steven Mays, written by Shirley Abbott
Hoppin’ John’s Lowcountry Cookingby John Martin Taylor
The Lowcountry is coastal South Carolina, where the rice plantations made folks rich for centuries. Well, not only did the land produce rice, it was so full of fish and fowl that the Lowcountry became known for unique cuisine. John Taylor’s cookbook set Julian’s table with benne crackers, okra soup, and hoppin’ John.
This book recounts the complex and contradictory world of the plantation mistress. Legally powerless, she often managed all aspects of plantation business during her husband’s absence. She acknowledged that white men slept with slave women, while somehow remaining blind to the practice if it occurred in her own home. She worked very hard, but all colluded in the illusion that she was dainty and sheltered. I found The Plantation Mistress instrumental in writing the white women characters in The Bad Death trilogy.
The Swamp Fox, Francis Marionby Noel Gerson
Francis Marion was a rich plantation owner in the Lowcountry who became a Revolutionary War hero. His strength was his ability to track and skulk through the vast grassy, swampy landscape in order to spy on and jump British soldiers. Gerson’s book is a novelization of his life. I always thought Julian would have had similar experiences in the war and probably knew Francis Marion. I wrote The Bad Death with that back story in mind.
Thomas Jefferson, an Intimate Historyby Fawn M. Brodie
This bio was controversial at the time because of Ms. Brodie’s treatment of Sally Hemings as a legitimate figure in Jefferson’s life (a slave long rumored to have been his mistress). The book humanized Jefferson by discussing the challenges and conflicts of his personal life. I based a lot of Julian’s character on Jefferson’s strengths and supposed shortcomings.
My historical vampire trilogy, starting with The Bad Death, has many Gullah characters (including the heroine) and is set in the Gullah environment. So, what is Gullah? The twin question to that is, who is Gullah? I have been reading as research for The Bad Death for so long that I can explain off-the-cuff. But I include links in this post so you can go straight to the source to learn more.
It isn’t known for sure where the word ‘Gullah’ came from, but many people think the word is derived from ‘Gola’ as in ‘Angola’ (in West Africa) or ‘Gola Jack’ (a legendary Gullah from Angola). Gullah is the term for Americans of West African descent who live in coastal South Carolina and Georgia, and some of coastal North Carolina and Florida. In the strictest terms, Gullah refers to people actually on the waterline or on the sea islands, while Geechee refers to those who live farther inland.
The original Gullahs were slaves specifically chosen by rice plantation owners because they already grew rice in West Africa. Their expertise helped make South Carolina’s Lowcountry the wealthiest region in Colonial and antebellum America. To give you some idea how ubiquitious Gullah rice was, Asian royalty ate “Carolina Gold”. King George ate Carolina Gold. Down by the River: A South Carolina Slave Community by Charles Joyner was an oft-visited reference for me. Here’s an interview with Charles Joyner. After the Civil War, Lincoln deeded the sea islands to the freed Gullah slaves. Over time, developers bought them up and turned them into resorts (Hilton Head’s the most obvious example). But for hundreds of years there were no bridges between the mainland and the sea islands. That is one big reason Gullah culture, language, and cuisine remained distinct.
The language is a mix of African languages with English. Forget understanding Gullah if you hear it in its entirety. You’re best just treating it like music and listening to its rhythm, which sounds Carribean. When writing The Bad Death, my biggest challenge using Gullah in dialogue was keeping it readable. I decided to take a handful of words and leave the rest of the dialogue English. For instance, my Gullah characters say unnah (you) and dayclean (dawn). My best reference was Lorenzo Dow Turner’s book Africanisms in the Gullah Dialect. Most of us speak a little Gullah now and then and don’t know it. Ever sing Kumbaya? That’s Gullah for ‘Come by Here’. Ever eat a goober? That’s the Gullah word for peanut. This youtube clip is a little blurry but explains Gullah’s influence on English.
The most common receptical/carrier on rice plantations was a basket woven by Gullah slaves. For instance, winnowing rice to separate it from the chaff was done using a fanning basket. In The Bad Death, Anika kills vampires with stakes stored in a specially made basket she wears on her back. They wove the baskets from indiginous plants, most notably sweetgrass. Today, Gullah sweetgrass baskets are a recognized art form. They’re very strong and have beautiful patterns. You can buy a sweetgrass basket in Charleston in such places as the intersection of Meeting and Broad streets, in stores like Gullah Gourmet (example pictured here), or along the seven-mile stretch of US highway 17 known as the Sweetgrass Basket Makers’ Highway.
Gullah food is a reflection on the abundance of fish, game, and plants found in what is known today as the Gullah Geechee Corridor. To make The Bad Death authentic, I wrote the characters cooking and eating Lowcountry and Gullah food such as crab-stuffed flounder, hoppin’ John, and benne wafers. They washed it down with rice wine, scuppernong wine, etc (it’s a wine lover’s paradise there). I referenced cookbooks such as Sallie Ann Robinson’s, Cooking the Gullah Way.
Gullah folklore has some great monsters, which drive the plot in The Bad Death trilogy. An excerpt explains the Gullah’s hag: “A hag was as human as anyone, but she had the ability to slip out of her skin and into yours while you slept. She did this to devil you with nightmares. She left when you woke, donning her skin like a discarded dress to go about her daily business.” A plat-eye is a shapeshifting creature that in its human form has one eye in the middle of its forehead. Here’s a cool plat-eye story via The Moonlit Road. A droll is the uneasy spirit of a child that died an unnatural death. The most famous droll is the Shrieking Droll of Brookgreen Gardens. I added vampire qualities to the plat-eyes and drolls in my books.
In the second book in my trilogy, House of the Apparently Dead (to be published summer 2014), Anika fights plat-eyes in Charleston. Though I exercise a little anachronism to set black businesses and neighborhoods there circa 1789, I found Alphonso Brown’s A Gullah Guide to Charleston an extremely useful reference.
Gullah is a thriving community today. There’s a Gullah festival. There’s a Gullah tour. Gullah’s a recognized nation with a flag and a queen. I’m even drinking Gullah tea right now. It’s all pretty great!