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

DABWAHA bribe – Unpublished scene from Jade Temptress sequel


Permission granted via Check out clothing line “Rumentnishang” at their website.

As promised, here is a teaser scene from Wei-wei’s story–if it were to ever see the light of day. This is completely unedited and hot off the presses, so you can see what typically goes into an ugly draft. Please excuse any mistakes. It’s also in first person unlike the rest of the Lotus Palace books because I’m RIGHT in the middle of editing a first person book and I just found it too hard to switch at the drop of a dime.

Come vote for The Jade Temptress for DABWAHA Round 1 from midnight to noon on 3/20! I’m up against Sarah MacLean’s Never Judge a Lady by Her Cover…which, has a pretty cool cover. 🙂

If I make it to Round 2, I’ll type up another scene. This one will feature another potential hero as well as possibly Wei-wei’s first kiss. 😉


This is an unpublished and unedited excerpt from an untitled and unproposed story featuring Wei-wei, a secondary character from the Lotus Palace mystery series.
It occurs after the events of The Lotus Palace and The Jade Temptress.

Tang Dynasty China, 849 A.D.

The moment I entered the second courtyard of our house, I knew there was something amiss. The garden doors of our main study had been propped open and I could see my half-brother inside, seated at his desk. That was nothing strange. Chang-min was the most studious of us, due in part to my iron fist when it came to his lessons.

Standing over Chang-min was my elder brother, which was certainly strange. Huang had always hated the study. When we were younger, he’d half-heartedly flipped through Father’s lessons while I diligently pondered every character. I loved the crisp feel of pages beneath my fingertips, the earthy smell of ground ink stick, and the way the black stroke flowed from my brush onto snow white paper. That was why I had taken over our younger brother’s studies.

Another man in a dark-colored scholar’s robe and headdress stood beside my elder brother. At first I thought it might have been Father. Who else would be hovering over Chang-min’s shoulder as he bent over his writing?

But I knew from the breadth of his shoulders and his strident that he was certainly not father. My father had a quiet, commanding presence that he carried wherever he went, whether it was the Ministry of Defense or our parlor. This stranger was a visitor in our home, yet he took up space in a way that was jarring, intrusive. Space that was usually mine.

“Elder Brother,” I greeted, stepping into the study.

I spared our guest the barest of glances, but long enough that he was aware of it. He straightened to his full height to regard me curiously.

“Wei-wei.” Huang gave me a brief nod. “I’ll be with you shortly.”

His tone was brusque, dismissive. Sounding nothing like himself. I narrowed my eyes at my brother. He may have earned the high degree of jinshi and a minor imperial appointment, but both Huang and I knew what a struggle it was for him. He was neither a scholar nor a bureaucrat at heart. This gravely serious demeanor didn’t fit him.

“I came to check on our brother’s progress,” I said coolly. Huang flicked his hand in a furtive gesture, trying to usher me away, but I ignored it. “He was assigned an essay this morning.”

“Sister, this is Yu Jin-Quan,” my elder brother introduced, resigned. “His family comes from an esteemed line of imperial scholars.”

I squared off against the intruder as if doing battle. “Honored to make your acquaintance.”

“Lady Bai.” He bowed, but barely. “And I yours.”

His tone was flat, his broad jaw fixed. For a moment we stared at each other, neither of us blinking. My younger brother glanced up from his essay, then wisely ducked his head back down to continue writing. My neck ached from staring up at this man who dressed like an academic, but had the brutish quality of a…of an ox.

“Our brother has been reviewing the course of his studies with Master Yu,” Huang began.

I felt my fingertips going cold. “Why would he have any interest in that?”

“I understand Lady Bai has been in charge of her brother’s studies,” Yu Jin-Quan remarked. “A woman with any familiarity with the Classics is certainly….commendable.”

Commendable? With a pause?

“Young Lord Bai has made adequate progress,” he continued. “He will have much more to cover to be prepared for the provincial exams, but this servant believes that the student has a grasp of the basics required.”

Heat rose up the back of my neck. I had more than a passing familiarity with the Classics. These were my books. My study. At five years old, I’d been the one sitting at that desk with Huang beside me. I’d read through all of these shelves in the years since then.

And Chang-min was my pupil. Aiding him in his studies was my one valuable contribution to our family. It was the source of my freedom. But now this Yu Jin-Quan had appeared, from a long line of imperial scholars. Using the words of a servant, but the tone of an equal.

I couldn’t even gather my wits to give him a cold farewell as Huang thanked him for coming. Instead, I remained frozen, staring at the characters flowing from Chang-min’s brush as the two men moved around the desk to go.

“We have some things to discuss,” Huang said quietly to me as he passed.

We did. But I was afraid I already knew the answer. It didn’t matter how much I’d read and studied from our personal library. I could never attend the academies in the city or engage in tea room discussions between candidates and scholars. I didn’t have the experience, or the respect that someone like Yu could offer.

I was trapped in the silk robes of a woman, the prettiest shackles in all the world. And those chains were about to tighten.