Cover Kibitz: Searching for Historical Stock Images for Red Blossom in Snow

As I was writing the draft for the next Lotus Palace book this November, I kept on promising my brain that if I finished the draft, I could reveal the cover. So for the first time in forever, I actually finished a novel during NanoWriMo (though I refuse to call it a NanoWriMo novel because….who puts a novel writing month in November, the worst writing month ever?!)

Okay, so on with the cover kibitz. If you’ve every tried to find stock images for Asian heroes, it’s SO difficult. When you’re also looking for heroes in appropriate historical dress, it’s nearly impossible. I don’t have the budget to do photo shoots, so my cover artists typically use stock photos and image manipulation and they do a fabulous job (thank you so much Deranged Doctor Design!)

As a wise person once said:

“Nudity is always historically accurate.”

— Jeannie Lin

I definitely have a file of these, hoping that, in a pinch, a talented cover artist might be able to incorporate this into a historical cover? But the look doesn’t quite work for Li Chen who has been presented as a mild-mannered, by-the-book scholar-gentleman. That’s not to say he can’t look like that under his scholar robes, but you get my drift.

Asian man with bare torso and muscular build.
Fact check: Were six-pack abs a thing in the Tang Dynasty?

The historical pictures I manage to find are sometimes too cosplay or posed (lots of modern day wedding costumes).

Asian man in full suit of armor
Though I think this would totally work in a retelling of “The Slaying of the Tiger General” I’ve been dreaming about.

At one point, I wondered if the popular illustrated cover approach would work for Tang Dynasty romance. What do you think?

For the “Red Blossom” cover, I managed after HOURS of searching to find an image in acceptable (more on this) historical costumes for the Tang Dynasty. The image had a couple in a pose that had some degree of romantic tension (Why must every model be grinning like a Cheshire cat? Give us more brooding intensity!)

About the costumes: The lady is wearing a plain robe. Her hair looks very C-drama and the robe can sort of pass for Tang Dynasty hanfu. It doesn’t have the flash of Wei-wei’s model in The Hidden Moon and The Liar’s Dice, but it will do. (My children said she looked like she was wearing pajamas, and the outfit sort of does looks like the pale zhong yi (middle clothes) that everyone wears in C-dramas.)

Song Yi is a less feisty heroine than Wei-wei, though she’s strong and strategic in a more internalized fashion. She’s even-tempered and rational.

Woman in light-colored/white robe holding an umbrella

In The Hidden Moon and in Red Blossom in Snow, Song Yi is described as wearing darker or more muted colors than the other courtesans. She doesn’t try to draw attention to herself with vibrant colors in the same way that a great beauty like Mingyu (The Jade Temptress) would.

What I’m totally enamored with is the hero’s uniform. It brings quite a bit of drama with it:

Picture of male model in black constable's uniform with sword

Look at the intensity in those eyes:

Close-up of male model's face with intense gaze

And you know what they say in America’s Next Top Model about posing from head to toe? Check out the tension in his hand.

Close up of curled fingers of male model's hand
Totally in the midst of a Pride and Prejudice-style hand flex.

Okay, I’m getting carried away…. but feast your eyes!

Cover: Red Blossom in Snow. Couple facing each other in historical imperial Chinese clothing. Winter backdrop with snow and red flowers.
Cover image: Red Blossom in Snow. Cover art by Deranged Doctor Design.

On Historical accuracy: I get that it’s not 100% accurate. The model is wearing what I would consider closer to a constable’s uniform — so this is what I actually imagine Gao or Wu Kaifeng wearing. Magistrate Li Chen wears a dark green robe to denote his rank.

I was also recently educated on a Twitter thread by @bookgir that the cross-collar hanfu is more of a Han Dynasty look and the Tang Dynasty favored round collars. (I confess, I have spent more time looking into Tang-era women’s clothing than men’s clothing.)

What makes this cover image work for me is this is how Magistrate or Judge Di Renjie is typically depicted in the popular “Detective Dee” movies which started with Andy Lau and has since switched out leads for new installments, a la James Bond. (Detective Dee even has a green uniform in the Blood Vine movie poster). Looking at these posters in more detail does show the “round collar” described in the Twitter thread.

Movie poster: Detective Dee and the Mystery of the Phantom Flame. Man in black robe with sword, on boat in mysterious cave.
Detective Dee and the Phantom Flame (movie poster)
Movie poster: Chinese release. Detective Dee and the Blood Vine. Official in green robe with flaming sword pointed at large fanged snake.
Detective Dee and the Blood Vine (movie poster)

Judge Di or Judge Dee was a real historical figure in the Tang Dynasty who served under the reign of Wu Zetian. He was popularized as a sleuth and investigator by Robert van Gulik who wrote a long-running series of mysteries where Judge Di would travel about and investigate crimes, as magistrates in the Tang Dynasty were expected to do.

The movies opt to refer to Magistrate Di as Detective Dee, leaning into the more investigative and hands-on role magistrates were expected to take when it came to serving justice. As you can see from the movie posters, Detective Dee has been re-branded as an action hero, wielding swords and fighting off paranormal forces.

But it it important to note that Magistrate Li Chen of the Lotus Palace series holds the exact same position as Judge Dee or Detective Dee. They are both magistrates who, in imperial China, are tasked with investigating crimes, gathering evidence, as well as rendering judgement.

The first draft is indeed done. It’s one of my twisty-est, swooniest, C-drama, most “burn for you” novels and I absolutely wanted to feature a couple on the cover to convey that

I just adore the tension, the body language. The longing looks. So many longing looks.

Despite the winter frost, that cover is smoldering. It will continue to inspire me as I finish these revisions.

To Pre-order and Add on Goodreads:

Get caught up on the Lotus Palace series…

The Liar’s Dice

The Hidden Moon

Red Blossom in Snow

The Rebellion Engines Release Day

It’s finally here!

A Steampunk Adventure set in Imperial China

The Rebellion Engines, the latest in the Gunpowder Chronicles, releases today. And I have to say, I LOVE looking at the complete collection:

In order to bring the series together, The Rebellion Engines digs into industrialization, technology and warfare, piracy and the Age of Sail, and the emergence of Shanghai as a modern metropolis. With some martial arts, secret society stuff thrown in.

Reading Order for the Gunpowder Chronicles

For anyone curious, the reading order I’d suggest is this:

  1. Gunpowder Alchemy
  2. Clockwork Samurai
  3. Tales from the Gunpowder Chronicles*
  4. The Rebellion Engines

Short story: “The Warlord and the Nightingale” can be read as standalone at any time

*Tales is a collection of novellas starring many of the secondary characters you meet in the main storyline.

Behind the Scenes Info: The Making of the Rebellion Engines

I really enjoyed writing the Tales from the Gunpowder Chronicles because that collection allowed me to go off and explore other characters and parts of the Gunpowder Chronicles world that I hadn’t done yet in the main storyline. For the final book in the trilogy, I wanted to bring back some of that energy and also those characters into the main plot.

Something really fun that I haven’t done before is split The Rebellion Engines into three parts. It’s all one complete storyline, but the three parts each have distinct settings and flavors. I was inspired by the Wings of Fire series by Tui Sutherland, which I’m reading with my children. Each of the books focuses on one dragon character and usually involves a journey to different parts of the dragon world of Pyrrhia.

I noticed that whenever I hit the end of a Part, I felt accomplished. There was a shift in my brain as I prepared for the next part of the dragon journey. It appealed to my inner list-maker.

So I said — why not? As a result, The Rebellion Engines is divided into three parts:

  • Part I: The Factories
  • Part II: The High Seas
  • Part III: Shanghai

And for a final bit of trivia — the girl with the sword on the cover? Hot Damn Designs was just kicking off their new stock photo business and wanted to include stock photos with Asian models. At the time, it was IMPOSSIBLE to find Asian models. I’m so glad that’s gradually improving.

The photo shoots were in St. Louis and I provided some costumes (though not this dress) and some props. That sword? It’s actually from my collection! So I feel happy to finally be able to use an image from that photo shoot in one of my covers.

A final note: For readers who prefer print, the print edition should be available in a week.

Happy Reading!

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The Rebellion Engines cover image