Guest Post & Giveaway: The Vespertine by Saundra Mitchell

It struck me that you guys have had to read about me yammering on for a while now, without a Break for Sanity or at least a book giveaway to make it worth your while. So I asked the lovely Saundra Mitchell, whose the Vespertine reminds me of a YA Sarah Waters’s Affinity (tragic, romantic, magical, historical) to come make a post. And she brought unto us a post which shows off all the fancy American historical details with lovely pictures! (The pictures are important to the contest, so I decided not to put anything under a cut – hence for those who don’t want a lovely free book, scroll my pretties scroll! And now without further ado, Ms Mitchell takes the stage…)

One of the things I love best about THE DEMON’S LEXICON series is that you can walk where the characters walk. You can see the characters’ sights. And in Sarah’s case, you can almost fall off the Millennium Bridge exactly where Nick jumps up to wield his sword.

So when Sarah invited me to talk about THE VESPERTINE, I thought it would be fun to talk about the reality I borrowed, to make my universe come to life.

When you’re creating a world where some people are born imbued with elemental gifts, it’s important to make sure everything else is solidly grounded in reality.

Coming from a filmmaking background, I made contact sheets to organize the elements of my Baltimore, 1889. In filmmaking, you have contact sheets for EVERYTHING—pictures of the type of actor you want to play a role, pictures of the kinds of clothes you want the characters to wear, pictures of neighborhoods, pictures of random moody objects that evoke the atmosphere, and on and on.

Of course, the first contact sheet has to be of the cast. I actually have actors in mind for most of the characters in the book, but let me introduce you to the four main characters:

Malese Jow is my Amelia van den Broek, the Dutch-Chinese Mainer who comes to Baltimore to find a husband, and discovers she can see the future in the fires of sunset. Kristen Stewart is my Zora Stewart, Amelia’s cousin and best friend. (The last names are coincidence, I swear it!)

For Nathaniel Witherspoon, the mysterious painter and Fourteenth that captures Amelia’s heart, I had Ed Westwick in mind. To balance Nathaniel, I picked Zac Efron as my mental image of Thomas Rea, doctor’s son and Zora’s sweetheart.

Once I had real faces, I needed to build the real time and places. Fortunately, there are loads of amazing historical resources online. All of the streets and landmarks in THE VESPERTINE, you can find standing in Baltimore today. (Well, not the Old Drury, they demolished it in 1917—but you can go to the corner where it once stood!)

This is Druid Hill Park, where my characters go to practice archery and to socialize. It’s a large garden park in Downtown Baltimore, popular in 1889, as you can see from this photo from the Maryland Historical Society. It’s still popular now, hosting music festivals, the Caribbean Carnival, and housing The Maryland Zoo and The Botanic Gardens of Baltimore.

This is Eutaw Place, where the Stewarts live- featuring the very distinctive Baltimore row house. They’re tall and narrow, and they have white marble steps that lead up to each front door. If you’ve ever seen an episode of THE WIRE, you’ve see Eutaw Place; people still live in these rowhouses, and call this street home. (This photo is also courtesy of the Maryland Historical Society.)

So that’s my cast, and my setting. One of the most fun parts of writing a book set in 1889 was digging into the period clothing. Because my characters are middle class, all of their clothes are a few years behind in fashion, but they’re still absolutely gorgeous.

During the course of the book Amelia and Zora both get brand new ball gowns for their season—and like everything else, they come from a real source, the 1885 Harper’s Bazar. Zora’s gown called for 12 yards of Irish lace; Amelia’s is wildly heavy with beading on the hems.

In my quest to make Amelia and Zora’s world as real as possible, I spent a lot of time immersed in 1889. I read period cookbooks, and learned how the school system worked. I researched what plants and animals are local and native to Baltimore, so nothing would be out of place. I even snuck an actual historical figure into the book—Judge Bonds, an abolitionist and activist.

I can’t tell you how much fun I had creating a world full of magic in the middle of a rich and real historical city. Probably not as much fun as Sarah has on her research jaunts, but I’m a lot clumsier. It’s best for everybody if my research stays safely on the page!


(I added this last picture myself so you could see the picture that covers these fine pages. Isn’t it an amazing cover? I would cheerfully eat a kitten’s head to get one like it.

But how to get the pages into your hands? There is Option A, instantly buy the Vespertine! And also Option B, which is to comment to this post with a picture – or a link to a picture – that makes you think of a book you love. I will choose the winner at random and send them a copy of the Vespertine!)

I hope you enjoyed this lovely post, for it is the last sanity you will get for a while. Next up an account of my writers’ retreat, including actual staking and acted out love scenes, and Monday 7th stay tuned for a chance to win another book: an advance copy of the Demon’s Surrender.

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