The Lady of Bolton Hill: The Cover Story

Elizabeth Camden The Lady of Bolton Hill, Writing Life 2 Comments

After years of madly scribbling away in the privacy of my office, I can’t tell you how thrilling it is to finally know that actual people are reading and enjoying my book.  A huge majority of the comments note the lovely cover.  I agree!   

At the very beginning of the design process, my editor asked me to write up some notes about what the characters look like and the setting of the book.  Unlike many inspirational romance novels that are set on the prairie, The Lady of Bolton Hill takes place in Baltimore during the gilded age, so it was important to communicate the setting so people knew what they were getting.  Hence, the skyline through the window.  In my design notes, I spoke a lot of the heroine, Clara, as a very refined and gentle woman.  This quality really comes through on the cover. 

Aside from those initial notes, the cover illustration is an aspect of the book I have almost zero control over, so I was sweating bullets over what it would look like.  In my head I have a vision of the tone, setting, and atmosphere of the book, and it is a huge leap of faith to turn all that over to someone else.   I was very lucky to be paired up with such a gifted artist, Jennifer Parker, for my first cover.   

It was late at night when I got the email with the cover image attached, and my computer was unusually sluggish.  I remember the wave of nervous anxiety as I waited for that image to load.  I think I was clenching my teeth so hard I almost gave myself lockjaw. Anyway, what a huge relief to be greeted with something so lovely!  

I never realized how much work goes into the design process.  The cover illustrator actually came up with several mock-ups of the cover before settling on the lady in the blue dress.  Here are the rough drafts of alternate cover ideas:

Once they decided on a lady standing before a window, they hired a model, a photographer, and went to work.  Here are the two, almost identical versions of the cover that made it to the final round:

They ultimately decided on the version on the left.  After that, they began working on the artwork, text, spine, and layout of the back cover.  All in all, I was immensely pleased and humbled to have such a great team of people working on my cover. 


Elizabeth Camden The Book World, The Lady of Bolton Hill Leave a Comment

Bibliomania is a recognized psychological condition characterized by the obsessive need to possess books.  For those of you who read The Lady of Bolton Hill, you know the novel’s villian suffers from bibliomania.  I’ve always believed that a really good villian ought to have an admirable trait (a hobby, love for a person, desire to succeed) that has been magnified to such a degree that it turns him or her bad.  This makes them infinately more fascinating than the run-of-the-mill villians who are motiviated only by greed. In The Lady of Bolton Hill, Professor Van Bracken has an obsessive love for antiquarian books.  He will do anything in order to acquire enough money to pursue his love of books, including building a mansion in the Vermont wilderness which he keeps at a constant 60 degrees, the optimal temperature for book preservation.  The setting is chilling both physically and spiritually.  The Professor’s bibliomania also leads to a string of crimes and  kidnappings to amass the fortune necessary to acquire the world’s rarest volumes.  

For anyone interested more in real life bibliomaniacs, I recommend Nicholas Basbane’s fabulous book A Gentle Madness: Bibliophiles, Bibliomanes, and the Eternal Passion for Books.  I drew heavily on this book for insight into the condition.   Basbanes sheds light on the subject by providing dozens of cases of real-life bibliomaniacs, such as the homocidal Don Vincente, a Spanish monk whose monestary was mysteriously robbed of all its valuable books in the early 1830’s.  Shortly after the unsolved robbery, Don Vincente left the order and opened a rare book store in Barcelona.  Over the coming years, Don Vincente committed at least eight known murders of men who possessed fine book collections, most of which ended up in the former monk’s shop.  Don Vincente was ultimately caught and executed for his crimes in 1836. 

Basbane’s book recounts dozens of such stories, and it is a fiendishly good read for people who enjoy the world of rare book collecting.  

Here a a couple of other unhealthy book obbsessions:

  • Bibliophagy (book eating)
  • Bibliokleptomania (book stealing)
  • Bibliotaphy (the hoarding and hiding of books, usually through burying them)
  • Bibliomancy (using books, usually the Bible, for divination by flipping to a random page and pointing to a passage)



Ten Years!

Elizabeth Camden All about Me!, Ramblings about Romance 2 Comments

This week, Bill and I have are celebrating our ten year anniversary. I can say without a doubt, it has been the best ten years of my life (and I make him say the same thing to me!) 

It doesn’t seem like ten years.  It seemed like only last year we were moving in to our house and figuring out who would get to use the shower first in the mornings.  Now I can’t imagine a life without him in it.   

I got married relatively late in life, and I think this was an odd sort of blessing.  After all those years of flying solo, I have become deeply, profoundly appreciative of having a partner in life. 

 We don’t really have any special plans.  I have been warning Bill for a couple of years that I might want to get a nice ring or something (you can see from the picture that I wear a plain wedding band, and I have a grand total of four pairs of earrings to my name, so jewelry has never been a big thing for me).  We went and looked at rings, but well…..meh.  I think what I am enjoying about hitting the ten year mark is simply the ability to SAY that I have been married for ten years.  It seems like such a nice, solid number.  It expresses the sense of strength and solidity that I feel being Bill’s wife.  I can’t wait for the next ten years…

Chancellor Green Library at Princeton

Elizabeth Camden Splendid Libraries Leave a Comment

Here is one of the older libraries at Princeton:

What a fabulous building, designed in the high Victorian gothic style. This library was built in 1871 in order to address the small, crampt, and inconveniet library they had been using until then. In 1868 the President of Princeton complained that their library was only open once a week….for a single hour!

That would have been a cushy library to work at!

The Myth of Friends with Benefits

Elizabeth Camden Ramblings about Romance 3 Comments

At the risk of sounding old-fashioned, I wish we could banish the distasteful term “friends with benefits” from our vocabulary.  Does anyone with a functioning brain cell really believe such a concept (in which two friends agree to casual, commitment-free sex with no expectations of a romantic relationship) really exists? 

Since I work on a college campus, I hear girls toss this term around as though it is a sign of hip sophistication.  It isn’t.  If two people are claiming to be “friends with benefits,” I guarantee you that one of them, almost always the girl, is settling because that is all she thinks she can get.  I simply don’t believe young women have sexual urges so strong they are happy to turn off all emotional inclinations in exchange for a quickie.  If you meet a girl who swears it is true, I’ll show you someone who is fooling herself.

It was only a matter of time until this concept started creeping in to taint romantic comedies.  Now there is a major motion picture with Justin Timberlake that features this premise.  There has been a real erosion of respect for the beauty of physical intimacy, and with the growing popularity of terms like friends with benefits, I see this bizarre concept becoming more and more mainstream.  The whole “hook-up” culture is setting expectations so high and creating such pressure for young women who don’t want to participate in it. 

Getting off my soapbox now.  Still, I can’t wait for this fad to be over. 

Who Makes Illuminated Manuscripts Anymore?

Elizabeth Camden Videos Worth Watching, What Inspires You? Leave a Comment

Sometimes you come across a person who has such a remarkably unusual passion it simply must be commented on.

James Pepper has spent the last nineteen years creating an illuminated manuscript of the Bible, page by page, exactly as the monks would have done it in medieval days. He used no computers or other forms of modern technology to speed the work, and he writes with ink in dip pens, which leaves no room for errors. I suppose the very process of using such primitive tools must require an immense amount of concentration as each letter is carefully placed on the page. Mr. Pepper has researched the history of illuminated manuscripts and has used a different type of historically accurate calligraphy for most of the chapters. His illustrations are unique as well. They are beautiful, leaning more toward the fresh exuberance of expression rather than artistic skill….but lovely nevertheless.

Impressed by the beauty and majesty of old manuscripts, he wanted to create one to inspire himself and others. He views his labor as a statement of faith, a spiritual labor that brings him closer to the Lord, and considers the creation of the hand-written manuscript to be one of continuous prayer.

Please, take five minutes from your busy day to appreciate the labor of someone who lives a truly unique, inspiring life.

The Story of My Parents

Elizabeth Camden Musings on Life 3 Comments

I thought I’d take a brief diversion today from to talk about my Mom & Dad, because they had quite a love story.  Sometimes truth is stranger than fiction!  Their story involved the Korean War, one big misunderstanding, and a couple hundred love letters.   

Right after my Dad completed his degree in Chemical Engineering, he was faced with the grim choice faced by millions of American men in 1950.  The Korean War was in full swing and his odds of being called up were strong.  If he volunteered, he would get a slot in Officer’s Candidate School, but waiting for his draft number to be called carried no such guarantee.  Dad volunteered and became an army officer in 1952.  Just before being shipped off he was sent for antiaircraft training at Fort Bliss in El Paso, Texas.  

There he met my Mom, who was a journalism major at the University of Texas, El Paso.  They met on a Saturday night at a crowded sorority party and were immediately taken with each other.   My Dad didn’t waste any time and asked her to attend church with him the next morning.  Their first official date was at St. Patrick’s Cathedral, and was quickly followed by seven more dates.    

Things went pretty fast, and as my Dad’s departure date was drawing near, he told my Mom he was falling in love with her.  My Mom replied that maybe he was just a nice guy a long way from home who was looking for a little fun before shipping off for war.  As she later explained, she was looking for a little reassurance, but still lacking fluency in the arcane language called “Female Subtext” my Dad just kind of shrugged and replied that maybe she was right.

And that was the end of that.  My Dad went to Korea and figured he would never see her again.  He settled into building anti-aircraft towers, but couldn’t stop thinking about that girl he had eight fantastic dates with until the Big Chill descended.   Six months passed with no communication, but he kept thinking and thinking about her.  Finally, he broke down and sent her a Christmas card in December of 1952. 

My Mom replied, saying she was surprised, but glad to hear from him.  That tentative Christmas card kicked-off a marathon letter writing campaign.  They cleared the air about the misunderstanding they had before my Dad left, and began to open up and discuss things they did not have a chance to cover in those whirlwind couple of weeks. Over the course of about a year, they exchanged hundreds of letters, and by the time my Dad was back in the states, he was ready to pop the question. 

But it wasn’t that easy.  My Dad returned to his family home in New Jersey and Mom was still in El Paso.  In the days before mapquest and interstate highways, that sort of road trip took some doing.  He borrowed his brother’s car and drove each day until he was too tired to keep going.  Then he found the nearest graveyard where he could sack out in the back seat of the car.  He figured no one wanted to be in a graveyard overnight, so it was the safest and cheapest place to sack out.   

My parents were still really strangers, but had fallen in love through the course of those letters.  Their reunion when my Dad finally made it to El Paso was equal measures awkward, thrilling, and affirming.  They became engaged and married on June 19, 1954.

A few weeks ago my parents celebrated their 57th year of marriage.  Last Christmas they had those hundreds of love letters re-printed and bound for each of their seven children, so I had a chance to read what was going through their minds during that year apart.  For someone who always regarded my parents as sober, traditional people, it was a strange sensation to roll the clock back and see two giddy kids with stars in their eyes, but it is one of the best gifts I have ever received.


Books as an Escape Route

Elizabeth Camden What Inspires You? Leave a Comment

During the day I work as a librarian at a college, which I must confess, is a really terrific place to be.  In my profession, working at a college library is often considered the top of the heap in terms of desirability.  Somewhat lower on my list of preferences would be military libraries, then government libraries, corporate libraries, then a public or K-12 library.  But the absolute lowest of the low in terms of desirability is the Prison Library.

And yet, this article blew my mind, and almost made me want to turn in my resignation papers as soon as I could find a prison library that was hiring.    

Avi Steinberg wrote a fascinating memoir about his two years working in a prison library.  He was very frank about the inmates who use it as a means to pass notes to one another or check out mindless pulp. And yet, who knows when one of those pulp novels might help an inmate to take a different perspective on their life?  Books can have a powerful, transformative effect on people, and it is likely that the typical home environment of these inmates was not bursting with a wide selection of reading material.  In a world where Facebook and text messaging is the extent of pleasure reading for a huge swath of our population, it makes perfect sense that the typical inmate may not have had steady exposure to good books, but in a prison, what else is there to do?  Avi writes of people who came to the library every day in order to delve back into the world of the printed word they had discovered, one without walls and dead ends.  He writes of a young mother who had never even been inside a library until she was incarcerated, and was unaware she could apply for a free library card as soon as she was released.

As I read the article, I kept thinking of the phrase, whatsoever you do for the least of my brothers, that you do unto me.  Who is more marginal in society than an incarcerated inmate?  What am I doing at a plush college working with students who are on the launching pad to a glittering future?  I can’t say that I am brave enough to walk away from my very cozy position, but the next time I see an advertisement for a prison librarian in one of my trade journals, I will certainly give the position a much greater deal of consideration. 

Photo courtesy of Greg Klee and The Boston Globe

The Rose of Winslow Street

Elizabeth Camden The Rose of Winslow Street 5 Comments

It seems odd to begin promoting a new book when The Lady of Bolton Hill is still fresh off the press, but such are the vagaries of publishing!  I am thrilled to present the new cover and blurb for The Rose of Winslow Street.  Look for it in January 2012.

A short description:

The last thing Libby Sawyer and her father expected upon returning from their summer home was to find strangers inhabiting their house in town. Widower Michael Dobrescu brought his family from Romania to the village of Colden, Massachusetts with a singular purpose: to claim the house that had been willed to him long ago. Since neither party has any intention of giving up their claim, a fierce legal battle ensues between the two families.

When important documents go missing from the house, Libby suspects Michael is the culprit. Determined to discover the truth behind the stolen papers, Libby investigates, only to find more layers of mystery unfolding around Michael and his family.  Despite their fierce rivalry, Libby finds herself developing feelings for this man with the fascinating past.

Libby must weigh the risks of choosing between loyalty to her family and a man she is coming to love.  As a decision about the house looms in the courts, Libby fears giving her heart to a man whose intentions and affections are less than certain.