Posts Tagged ‘Shades of Milk and Honey’

Wearing a Regency dress

Before Wiscon I was waffling about whether or not I should take my new Regency garments. I really wanted to but I was also facing this thing in my brain which said that Serious Authors® don’t dress up as characters from their books.

But the dress was so pretty! And there were parties! So I decided that since I’m also a fan, if I could find someone to wear the other dress then I’d feel comfortable dressing in period clothes for the parties.

Mrs. Thomas kindly agreed to wear the blue dress and off we went.  The photo is provided by Greer Gilman who took it while wearing her Tiptree tiara.  As an aside, may I say that she looked absolutely fetching in the tiara.

The blue dress is slightly later than the white one and still somewhat in progress.  I found it on Etsy for $60 and my modiste is adding the detailing to make it appropriate for 1814, when Shades of Milk and Honey is set. The white dress is closer to an 1808 dress but is such a versatile style that adding accessories can push it earlier or later.  For the launch party, I’ll add a spencer to it.

Three discoveries from that evening.

One: People loved the dresses and even the staff identified them as being from Jane Austen’s era. We became walking billboards for Shades of Milk and Honey. I handed out cards about the book, but next time I must carry a reticule with me.

Two: When wearing the dresses our posture and bearing changed significantly from our daily wear.  It felt wrong to slouch, for instance.  I have on short stays which stop at the bottom of my ribs so I’m capable of slumping in my seat, but it didn’t feel right. Mrs. Thomas reports the same sensation even with modern undergarments.  The cut of the dresses themselves leads one to want to sit up straight.

It is also surprisingly comfortable.  I had been told that when the short stays are correctly worn that they pull the shoulders back and down for the proper Regency silhouette.  By the end of the evening, the only thing that was sore was, in fact, my shoulders, from being held so firmly in place. At the same time, I did not feel that my movement was particularly restricted. I’m sure I wouldn’t have been able to work a puppet, but nothing in he normal range of movements seemed restrictive.

Three: We both carried fans which became natural extensions of our hands in conversation.  Independently we both found ourselves gesturing with the fans and using the open and close of them as a form of expression.  However, we were not versed in the language of the fan so one must hope that we did not send inadvertent signals.

Shades of Milk and Honey’s first review

Here’s an excerpt of the first official review of Shades of Milk and Honey from Joe Sherry of Adventures in Reading.

No matter whether one comes into Shades of Milk and Honey as an unabashed fan of Jane Austen or, like me, avoids the stuff like the plague, Mary Robinette Kowal has delivered a debut novel to satisfy any and everyone. Shades of Milk and Honey is silky smooth and beautifully written. Kowal uses, on occasional, the style, spelling, and formality of Austen-era fiction, but does so in a modern manner to ease the reader through the novel. It works and works to the point that not only can I recommend Shades of Milk and Honey to readers who would never otherwise pick up this book, but I can also state that after finishing Shades of Milk and Honey readers will be ready for Glamour in Glass now and won’t want to wait for next year.

A suggestion on how to judge your book cover

I have a serious disadvantage as an author. Back in college, I was an art major and still do the occasional book design gig. Why is this a disadvantage? Because that part of my brain doesn’t get to play with the cover of my book but it thinks it knows what it is doing.

It’s wrong.

Look, every person who thinks they can design is going to have ideas of how to do something. The thing is, that though I’ve done book design, I’m too close to my novel to be able to do anything intelligent with it. When I needed a logo for my puppetry company, I hired someone else to design it for me.

The cover isn’t about how I see Shades of Milk and Honey, it’s about how we want other people to see it so that they’ll pick it up.

So, let me talk about the way I interact with a cover.  I have three possible brains that I can use here. The designer brain, the author brain, and the reader brain. Of those, the only one that’s appropriate for me to use when looking is the reader brain.

Why?  Because my designer brain is too darn close to the story to be able to back away and see the big picture and the market. I didn’t ever doodle any images or even try to imagine what the cover would look like so that my designer brain wouldn’t think it got a say. There are people who design books full time and are very good.

My author brain? That would have been caught up with trying to find people who looked like the main character, which doesn’t matter. The cover’s job is to get you to pick it up.  It also needs to give you a sense of what the story inside will be like so that you don’t feel lied to when you start reading, but first and foremost it needs to get you to pick the book up.

The only question I need to ask my reader brain is, “Would I pick this book up?”  The answer is, yes. Yes, I would.   It promises that if I buy it, I’ll be reading Jane Austen, with magic.

Now, if the answer had been “no, I wouldn’t pick this up” or “no, this feels like a completely different novel” then I could use the other two brains to phrase my communication with my editor but otherwise, they don’t really serve a useful function.

As it happens, both my designer brain and my author brain are also very happy with the cover. I think that Terry Rohrbach, the designer of the Shades of Milk and Honey cover, did a beautiful job here.

Successfully shot the trailer

I am fatigued.  

We did this today.

There’s my beloved, manning the camera in his role as director. I limited my input to art direction and occasionally movement coach.

Interesting factoid… the table that the vase and flowers is sitting on is not a real table, although the vase and flowers are real.

It’s a music stand.

Well, a music stand with some strategically placed cut paper to change the silhouette into something more appropriate for the Regency.

What actually turned out to be a bonus was that we could change the height of the table depending on what we were filming at the time.  Also, I was able to raise the “feet” of the table above the bottom edge of the shadow screen so it was visible.

Because the light beam widens as it travels from the projector to the screen, even if you are only an inch away from the screen there’s a little well of shadow, that clips the bottom off of images. In this case it was pronounced because we also had a roll of paper on the ground as part of the screen.

Being able to tape the “feet” to the stand  gave me the ability to get over that dark area.

There’s still a load of work to do on the Shades of Milk and Honey trailer, but it’s all in Rob’s camp now. Me? I’m going to bed.

One of the shadow masks

This is badly keyed because I’m shooting the camera at an angle to the wall, but this is one of the shadowmasks we’ll be using when we film the Shades of Milk and Honey trailer tomorrow.

Once I survive that, I’ll show you how they are made. For now, though, I need to make sure that all the props are in the box and ready to go to the space tomorrow.


The random spotting on her face, by the way, is the concrete wall. The actual screen will be a roll of white photographer’s paper.

Making shadow scenery for the Shades of Milk and Honey book trailer

There’s this thing people do called a book trailer which may or may not be helpful in selling books.  I’m a visual person, and both Rob and I work in film and television so I figured, why not.  There are a lot of elements that go into the making of the Shades of Milk and Honey, but I thought I’d show you just this quick series of things for one of the shots.

We’re doing the entire trailer using various forms of shadows puppetry as a nod to the popularity of silhouettes during the Regency.  Interestingly, at this point in England silhouettes were called Shades.  So you could say that the trailer is shades of Shades of Milk and Honey.

Step one. I put masking on the overhead projector to approximate the 4:3 ratio of a standard tv screen. This is just paper and masking tape.

Rob and I have already spent time doing pre-production on this coming up with images and a shot list. One of them calls for a piano. Am I going to make a fullsize shadow piano? No, I am not.

What I did here was print out a picture of a fortepiano from 1805 onto cardstock and cut it out with an Exacto knife. Next, I taped scraps of paper to approximate where I wanted the door and baseboard to be.

I returned to the computer to grab a Regency door, table and vase. Laid them out where I wanted them and printed again. Then it was just a matter of trimming them and taping them to the original piano.

I’m working approximately 1″ to 1′ for this.

My basement wall with a stool.

Wait, it’ll get interesting again in a second.

Here is the fortepiano projected onto the basement wall. The lit area is 9 feet wide. When we shoot the trailer I’ll be aiming this at a shadow screen and we’ll film from the other side. This is good enough for testing shadows.

The stool will cast its own shadow. Why do I need a stool?

I need the stool for an actor to sit on. The actors will actually be wearing a style of shadow mask developed by Larry Reed, but for the purposes of testing height and placement of elements, Rob doesn’t need a mask.

We wound up moving the baseboard line a couple of times to find a spot where it didn’t interfere with the action of the hands on the “keyboard.”

Shades of Milk and Honey will be a MacMillan audio book

Want to know something that makes me very happy?

There’s going to be an audio book of Shades of Milk and Honey from MacMillan Audio.

Want to know something that makes me giggle with delight?

I’ll be the narrator for the audio book.

It’s set for simultaneous release with the hardcover of Shades of Milk and Honey on August 3rd. I’ll be recording it in June here in Portland and we’ll be offering sneak previews, bloopers, and some behind the scenes video of the recording sessions.

Choosing the dress and materials

After much discussion with V.B., my modiste, we decided that I would order this dress in a cream sprigged muslin. It is period correct and shows a high attention to detail and craftsmanship. Plus, Historika is making my chemise and petticoat so it made sense to have her do them all.

Sadly, Historika emailed me to let me know that, despite it’s popularity in the Regency, she couldn’t find sprigged muslin of any sort, much less cream.  What she could find was a lovely French cream muslin and a white Swiss lawn.

I’m going to stop for a moment and talk about fabrics.  When the Regency talks about muslin what they mean is a lighter-weight fabric than our quilting muslins.  This was softer and had more flow and drape like a voile or a batiste or even a lawn.

Lawn, which was very popular is like… think of a very fine vintage handkerchief or a christening gown.  It’s extremely fine cotton that is quite sheer.  A Swiss lawn is one that has, basically, embroidered dots on it and was fairly popular.

Historika offered to either put some tambour embroidery on the sleeves and bodice of the cream French muslin or to dye the Swiss lawn.   In the end I decided to go with the plain white Swiss lawn, because white was the most “correct” choice and I really wanted the texture on the fabric. It will also be more flexible if I want to add accessories.

There are other fabrics out there, which are close analogies to the right material but Historika lives in a small seaside town in the UK and her options were limited.  I went to our local fabric store (for other reasons), which is HUGE and has a very knowledgeable wholesale department.  While there, I posed the sprigged linen conundrum.  They found several things which could pass for sprigged muslin in the “fancy cotton” category.  Voilles, batistes and even something labeled as an eyelet had a fine enough weave and pattern to pass.  The Robert Kaufman fabrics, in particular had several good matches.

I’m very happy with the Swiss lawn approach, but in case this comes up for someone else, I thought it might be helpful.

Fabric and dress decided, I then went back to V.B. who is creating either a spencer or a sleeveless pelisse for the dress. We are still waffling a bit.  The reason that I’m having two different people work on the ensemble is that a spencer needs to be fitted and is quite tailored.  The dress I’m having made uses drawstrings and while it will be made to my measurements doesn’t need to be as quite exact in fit.

I’ll post next about the spencer or pelisse.

Do you have a space where we can record the trailer?

I’m looking for a space in which to record  the trailer for Shades of Milk and Honey. Ideally it would be 40 feet long, a minimum of12 feet wide, able to get completely dark, and available on May 20th.

Why those parameters? The trailer is using shadow puppetry to take advantage of the period’s fascination with silhouettes.  Interestingly, at this point in England silhouettes were called “Shades.” So you could say that the trailer will be Shades of Shades of Milk and Honey.

Or not.

In any case we’ll be using the style of shadow puppetry called shadow masks pioneered by Larry Reed of Shadowlight Theater out of San Fransisco. And for that we need a space that we can get dark, that’s got enough depth for the light, the screen and the camera. And, preferably, is inexpensive or free. We’d like to shoot on May 20th for four or five horus.

Do you have a space like that in or near Portland? Do you know someone who does? Let me know.

The cover for Shades of Milk and Honey

Allow me to present the cover for my debut novel, Shades of Milk and Honey. This thing of beauty was designed by Terry Rohrbach at Base Art Co.

Book designers often go unrecognized, with attention focused on original art and yet they are the ones that control so much of the look and feel of the book. I think Mr. Rohrbach nailed the elevator pitch of the novel, which is “Jane Austen with magic,” and provided an arresting cover that will stand out in the fantasy section.

I can’t wait to have a copy in my hot little hands.

Assembling a Regency ensemble: the undergarments

I’m having a dress made. Not just any dress, I am having a gown that would be correct for the 1810s, which is when Shades of Milk and Honey is set, so that at the launch party in August I can be appropriately attired.

To that end, I took myself to my modiste’s on Tuesday to discuss our plans for my ensemble.  After looking at several options, we have settled upon a simple cream sprigged muslin gown with a spencer jacket.  The gown will be flexible enough that it can be worn with several different looks should the need arise.

Meanwhile, I have ordered the undergarments necessary to create the line that is desirable under the gown.  While one would not normally discuss such things in mixed company, I feel that it is of sufficient interest that I shall eschew the normal proprieties.

To begin, there will be a chemise which is worn next to the skin. Mine will be like this, but sleeveless. I have selected a white lawn fabric and the seamstress will embroider my initials upon one corner. I feel so very indulgent.

After the chemise comes the short stays. Now we did consider going with the modern equivalent, which is a demi-cup underwire bra with very short straps, but one of the reasons I want to do this is that in Glamour in Glass there are several scenes in which a ladies maid is helping her mistress dress and undress.  While I can, in fact, read about this and have a perfectly fine understanding for writing the scenes I know from past experience that actually experiencing something will point out details that I wouldn’t have considered on my own. Which means that I’m having short stays made.

The short stays is considered a transitional garment in that it is midway between a corset and a bra. The one on the left is a short stay from the Kyoto Institute’s collection. One of the things about the Regency look is that the bosom is pushed up very high as you can see in the corset on the right.  It makes all the difference in the line of the dress.

After the short stays comes a bodiced petticoat. Now I’m showing you the back of this garment because the construction of the bodice is interesting. What we know of as “princess seams” did not exist in the Regency. You can see how the seams on the bodice are straighter and run higher on the back than a princess seam would. To give the freedom of movement that a modern dress has, the armseye comes around much farther to the back.

Will this particular detail show to anyone but me? No. I could have gone with a different garment that would serve the same function but I find the changes, not just in fashion but in sewing technology, to be utterly fascinating.

You will, I’m afraid, have to wait to see pictures of the dress in progress. We are meeting again on Tuesday to look at fabrics.

As a resource note:

Shades of Milk and Honey ARC giveaway on Library Thing

This might seem like a silly thing to be pleased about, but I’m now a LibraryThing author, which just means that I have an author page and get a shiny yellow badge next to my personal account.

So, to celebrate, I’m giving away an ARC of Shades of Milk and Honey on LibraryThing. Basically, you sign in, click the request button and at the end of the month LibraryThing draws a name and I mail it to the person who requested it.

Sure, you could wait until the novel comes out in August, but this is a chance to win an Uncorrected Proof. That’s right, you can enter for a chance to see my mistakes! Um… wait, that doesn’t…

Novel! Free!

And the author photo is….

Thanks to the help of loads of people, and after much consideration we got the selection narrowed down to two author photos. I finally decided that I’ll use both. How so?  Simple, in Shades of Milk and Honey itself, people already know that I’m a writer so I decided to use one of the puppetry photos as a way to help me stand out in a sea of other authors.

And the winner of the survey drawing is…  Harold Gross! I’ll be sending him a signed copy of Shades of Milk and Honey the moment I have a finished book in my hands.

The other photo, which we’ll use as the press photo when sending out packets to bookstores, newspapers and the like is one of the ones with typewriters.

This was actually marginally more popular than the puppetry one, and it does a great job of saying “I’m a writer! I write historic stuff!” It’s just, I figured, if you have the novel in your hand that should be obvious.

By the way, the typewriter is an Oliver and no, I do not actually compose on typewriters. I use a computer because I can’t go fast enough on a manual.

Since I decided to use two photos, I’m going to give away a second book.  I’m sending the second one to Patty Bigelow!

Thank you all for your help!

On, since I know people were curious, 221 folks participated plus some other people that I consulted on the side.  Here’s how the results broke down. My favorite? Brown jacket looking up a camera…

I have ARCs of Shades of Milk and Honey

Lo! It is a real book!  I got four ARCs of Shades of Milk and Honey in the mail today.  FOUR. It is the first time I’ve held it in book form and it makes me all giggly like a starlet on Iron Chef, eating squid.  Um… that’s a good thing, honest.

Clearly, this isn’t the cover art but LOOK! It’s shaped like a book. I have seen the cover and it is very pretty but I don’t have a copy of the final art yet so you just have to be patient awhile longer.

I can show you what the first page of the interior looks like though, so you can see the lovely interior design.

Tee hee!

The Shades of Milk and Honey style sheet

One of the things that I had heard other novelists talk about, but never seen, was the style sheet for their novels. The copyeditor for a given novel generates a style sheet to as a tool for the typesetter and proofreader to make sure that the novel is consistent. It includes a definition of house style, allowances for where the style deviates and spellings of character and place names.

My copy editor is Deanna Hoak and she has given me permission to post the stylesheet for Shades of Milk and Honey. If you are curious, feel free to download the pdf.

One of the things that fascinates me is that there are a few names and places in there that I have no memory of writing.  Like, what is the Spider’s Collonade Colonnade*? I also changed a character’s name mid-novel, which Deanna caught for me.

And this is only a tiny part of why a good copyeditor is worth her weight in gold. Or more, since Deana is slim…

*Deanna emailed me to let me know I’d just misspelled Colonnade here. See! A good copy editor see everything.
Edited to add: Deanna has two great posts about copy editing and style sheets. The Importance of Style Sheets and A Funny Note on Style Sheets