Ladies and gentleman, time to unveil…

Mike Staton

This post is by Mike Staton.

My fellow Writing Wranglers & Warriors are getting the public’s first look at the cover of my Civil War novel, Blessed Shadows Dark & Deep. It’s a sexy one, isn’t it?

If you paid a visit to my Facebook Author’s Page sometime during the last few days, you got a look at how artist Richard Stroud worked through three preliminary versions of the artwork to come up with this good-to-go one.

When I got my first peek at an early version of the artwork, I wasn’t sure I wanted such a suggestive cover for the Civil War novel.

Blessed Shadows cover-final

Here’s the cover for my Civil War novel. As you can see, I went the romantic route with some trepidation.

The book’s a hybrid work – serious historical fiction with some intense lovemaking scenes. Let’s be honest… the cover depiction of blond-haired Franny Neale in a near topless state is appropriate for the novel’s most important love scene.

Even so, I did wonder if I should have asked Richard to perhaps do a ballroom scene of my Confederate soldier Bill Stamford dancing with Franny. I expect the cover showing Franny luring Bill onto the bed for a tipping the velvet moment will draw the interest of women readers. I do fear that some male readers who like historical Civil War novels will shy away, thinking the book isn’t a serious, historically accurate look at the war and the 1860s.

I wrote it to be historically accurate – rural life in Bill’s hometown of Kenansville, North Carolina, the rigors of camp life and forced marches, and the black-powder chaos of battle. My reviewers were impressed with my authentic depiction of the Civil War era in North Carolina and Virginia. I put hours and hours of research into the various settings before I actually wrote the tale.

romance and the civil war

I could have discussed going this route with my artist, Richard Stroud, but decided to stay with the more racy version.

I began thinking about writing a Civil War novel many years ago. Back in the 1970s, I’d been a re-enactor in a Confederate outfit based out of Lancaster, Ohio. In more recent years, as I wrote my fantasy genre trilogy, I came to recognize that I needed to improve and refine love scenes. I decided that doing a Civil War novel with a heavy dose of romance would allow me to improve my lovemaking scenes. I wanted them to be not only romantic, but sensual as well.

The cover scene hints at some flirtatious games before the main event in the cottage’s bedroom. Remember, it’s a time of war and death. Bill and Franny’s sexually charged encounter begins at a Fredericksburg New Year’s ball. The couple dance waltzes and polkas. Then Bill ushers her into a greenhouse where they discover other couples sneaking passionate kisses. Soon, Bill and Franny are doing the same. She entices Bill to accompany her across a courtyard to a vacant overseer cottage. In the upstairs bedroom, they begin time-honored foreplay games – just like what’s depicted on the cover. I made the removal of Franny’s copious Victorian underthings part of my spicy buildup. I make Bill work to reach the Promised Land.

sex during the civil war

When I put a foreplay scene on an online workshop for review, a reviewer told me no self-respecting Victorian girl would risk public humiliation by getting caught petting with a boy. My view? He’s going off to war and maybe death. It’s worth the risk to give him something special.

The detailed outline for book 2 is done. It came to 123 pages – 49 chapters. You didn’t read this paragraph’s first two sentences wrong. The outline mostly includes dialogue and some preliminary description to set mood for the settings. Action scenes take place in Kenansville; on a train bound for Virginia; Richmond’s Capitol Square; a blockade runner; a theatre in London, England; Oakdale Cemetery in Wilmington, North Carolina, and downtown Richmond at the close of the war.

As I researched and wrote the outline, I did have one in-my-mind debate about allowing an action scene to become a tad trashy. In Blessed Shadows Dark & Deep, Bill’s torn between two women – Becky, his first love and hometown sweetheart, and Franny, the Fredericksburg belle who teaches him the finer points of what to do between the sheets. In the first novel, I kept the two girls apart. In the second novel, they’re going to meet. My dilemma? Should their encounter devolve into a catfight?

Civil War catfight

While doing the outline for my Civil War novel sequel, I debated including a catfight. I kept it tame… just a bit of shoving.

Catfights are fun to write. In my fantasy series, one of my main characters, Stealth the thief, had a knife fight with a female enemy that saw both of them badly wounded. While I did mull a hair-pulling, eye-gouging donnybrook, I decided against it. They almost fight, but stop short after a shove or two and a pesky tree branch that disrupts potential fun for any readers who enjoy ribald tales.

I’ve come up with a working title for the second novel in the Civil War series. I’ve decided on Deepening Homefront Shadows. It continues the theme begun with Blessed Shadows Dark & Deep. The initial draft of the first four chapters is done. I’m keeping them short, since the only action is the unexpected death of a loved one. Those early chapters explore the complications that occur after the shocking death. And for fans of love scenes, the first one happens in Chapter Five. I intend to start writing that chapter in a day or two. I can’t wait. I’d better do some googling and refresh my memory on the finer points of Victorian ladies undergarments.

# # #

I’m an author with three fantasy novels to my credit – The Emperor’s Mistress, Thief’s Coin and Assassins’ Lair. The books make up a trilogy titled Larenia’s Shadow. A fourth novel, this one a historical romance set during the Civil War, is scheduled for publication in October. It’s called Blessed Shadows Dark and Deep. I’ve begun writing my second Civil War novel – Deepening Homefront Shadows. All my novels can be purchased via the website of my publisher, Wings ePress, as well as the websites of Amazon and Barnes and Noble.

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11 Responses to Ladies and gentleman, time to unveil…

  1. Doris says:

    Oh Mike, welcome to ‘romance’. I laugh, for that’s what I write, but in real life….Anyway, I do like the cover and wish you well. It will be on my TBR list. Doris

    Like

    • Mike Staton says:

      My Wings ePress editor — who read and edited the novel — about had a heart attack when she got a copy of the cover from the art director. She immediately emailed me with her concerns, saying the cover doesn’t reflect the sweet nature of Franny and Bill. So I spoke to the artist and we’re going to revisit the cover. She pointed out that while novel has sensual love scenes, the work overall is serious historical fiction. The artist, Richard Stroud, is working on another cover at the moment, but he said he’ll get to work on my ‘second’ cover in a week or so. I will be eagerly waiting to see what version 2 will look like. He talked about a montage.

      Like

  2. Book covers can be tricky. I was lumck to have ideas for all four of my books, covers. I’m glag you got yours figured out.

    Like

    • Mike Staton says:

      Turns out it won’t be my final cover. My Wings ePress editor, who has read the manuscript and passed on edits, told me she has concerns about the cover. In her opinion, she didn’t think the man and woman on the cover reflected the Franny and Bill she came to know in the book. She recommended I get back with the artist and rethink the cover. I respect her opinion and got with the artist. He’s going to do a new cover.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Wranglers says:

    Glad you are rethinking the cover. I asked a few men in my life if they would pick up the first book, they said no. I would not either. They said maybe on the second picture type, I said yes I would on the second. I’m curious to see the third. Congrats on all the things you have been working so hard on coming together. Cher’ley

    Liked by 1 person

    • Mike Staton says:

      I am seeing more and more that the cover shown here would have cut down possible sales. A serious student of history who likes to read Civil War novels wouldn’t touch it with a 10 foot pole. I’m considering buying ad space in a newspaper or two as well as a specialized magazine like Civil War Times. I think maybe that sexy cover would have perhaps been rejected. The new cover Richard comes up with will be much better. He did a wonderful job on my fantasy covers. I spent part of yesterday afternoon looking at dozens of Civil War novel covers. My brain’s cooked.

      Like

  4. Barb says:

    I never thought you’d write a romance. I wrote a few but deleted them, never to be seen again. Good for you!

    Like

    • Mike Staton says:

      Upon reflection, it’s historical fiction with a strong dose of romance. The first cover was too strongly toward the sexual encounters… they were a small, but vital part of the book. There were battles, convalescing on the homefront, life in winter camp. When my editor saw the cover, she emailed me told me the cover was a mistake and to rethink it with my artist. So that’s what we’re going to do. He should start work on version 2 later this week and I can’t wait to see it. He says he’s considering a montage for the cover. I looked at dozens and dozens of Civil War novel covers, and threw out some ideas to him in an email yesterday.

      Like

  5. Nancy Jardine says:

    The Cover as is at top of post says historical romance to me. For readers of hist rom they want the romance central and the historical setting as the backdrop but with no heavy historical details and limited characters.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Mike Staton says:

      I agree. To be more accurate, it’s a historical novel with a heavy romantic subplot and even a bit of fantasy with the halo thing. That’s why my editor who has read the novel about had a heart attack when she saw the cover. She didn’t think it reflected the plot. I’ve been mulling buying some ad space in newspapers and a Civil War magazine or two, and that cover would probably hurt my efforts to get Civil War hobbyists to consider buying a book. It needs a cover that’s a civil war cover with the lovers as one of its elements. I’m waiting to see what the artist comes up with for cover 2.

      Like

  6. S. J. Brown says:

    Love the cover, Sounds like you are making real progress. Best of luck with them both.

    Like

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