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Adventures in Indie #6: Self-made books

I talked a couple of weeks ago about using Canva to make covers for ‘promotional’ books. And generally to save costs on those books, I also format them myself.

Now, I have to say up front that my method of formatting is not the best. There are a lot of ways to format a book.  Some people use Scrivener, which can put out a book in EPUB format. Personally, I found Scrivener too complicated, so I gave up on it after six months.  I have a friend who uses InDesign, but when I did a trial of that, I found it WAY too complicated also.

So what are some of the options I’ve used?

Way back in 2011, I formatted my books using the guidelines that Smashwords recommended. This led to decent books, although nothing special.

But I wanted something a little better looking for this new generation of books.

So for The Dragon’s Child, I tried out a service called Pronoun. It basically takes your Word file and makes it into an ebook (but not a print book). They give you a choice of layouts (6 at the time that I used it), lay your document into that, and put it out as an epub and mobi. They will even upload it to all the vendors that way.

It’s a free service as well. (Here’s a pretty comprehensive review of the service). So far I’ve been pretty happy with the book they produced for me. However, it’s not available as a print book, something that I may work on this fall (see below.)

Since then, however, I’ve been working with a new program that I like pretty well to produce ebooks -and- print books.

My editor/formatter, Rick Fisher at EQP Books, turned me on to the program that he uses: Serif PagePlus 9.  So far this program has been easy to learn and I’ve been super happy with the books that I’ve produced.  (See Fleurs du Mal and A Time for Every Purpose, available as .pdf files on the bottom of my Free Fiction page.)

Again, I’m just producing my promotional books this way (because I want my editor to review my novels for me!), but that frees me from being tied to Pronoun’s placement restrictions, so I’m uploading them to Amazon and D2D myself.

The best thing for me about PagePlus is that it’s a fairly intuitive interface. Most of the menus have similar structure to Word, so that means that someone who uses Word all the time will find it easier to work with than, say, InDesign (which is an Adobe product). I can create .mobi, .epub, and .pdf files, and even used that .pdf function to create the cover for my print version of The Sparrow in Hiding. Really versatile.

Also, because it’s a legacy product, it’s inexpensive. I paid 24.99, rather than the new subscription services like Adobe. So I’m happy with it so far!

 

Next Week: The Dreaded Newsletter

 

 

Adventures in Indie #5: Formatting and Editing

Back in 2011, I put up some books on Amazon and Smashwords and sold them. I formatted those myself, and while they were adequate, they didn’t look particularly…professional.

For my new forays into self-publishing, I wanted a product that looked better. So I paid someone to do an edit pass and format my books for publication.

There were two reasons for this:

  1. I wanted another person’s perspective on the product before I put it out, someone with formatting and editing experience.
  2. Learning to format these myself is a steep slope, one I wasn’t willing to climb at the time.

After looking through recommendations from my writers’ groups, I went with an editor I’d met before (at a convention), Rick Fisher at EQP Books (e-Quality Press)

Before I selected them, I looked at some books they’d edited, checked their prices, and discussed with Rick what level of edits I was interested in.

(For example, I was not interested in a “Developmental Edit” or “Content Edit”, which is the kind of edit where they suggest changing a plot point or removing a chapter to tighten things. I was more interested in a “Line Edit”, which is where they’re looking for grammar and clarity issues instead.  It helps to know what you’re looking for before choosing an editor.)

Here’s a great article by Rinelle Grey with Tips for Choosing the Right Editor.

Once I knew that I’d found the right editor, a lot of the same rules will apply in working with him as did with my cover artists:

  1. Be Professional.
  2. Be Timely. Don’t expect the editor to have your edits done in four days. They have other authors to edit, and other deadlines outside that. So make sure you’ve allotted plenty of time for the editing step. (I usually try to check in with mine before the manuscript is even done to set up a date. I’ve told him my manuscript for Original will get there early- to mid-March. And if I can’t make that date, then I’ll notify him as soon as I can so he can shuffle projects if needed.)
  3. Have a good idea how much you can pay. Most professional editors will have prices on their websites. Put that together with how many words you’ll have, and that should tell you whether you can afford them or not.
  4. Pay on time…or work out something with them. Don’t stiff your editor.
  5. Make sure you let others know if you’re pleased with the work.

Overall, I found that having a professional editor working with me takes a lot of pressure of my mind when releasing a new book. It takes a weight off my shoulder to know that someone else is doing all the niggling little work that makes me batty!

And so far, I’ve been extremely happy with my choice of editor. I will be using them for the foreseeable future!

Next Week: Publishing Software

 

 

 

 

 

Adventures in Indie #4: PreMade Covers

One way in which a writer can cut costs is to purchase a premade cover. These are bountiful on the internet–all you have to do is type ‘premade book cover’ into your search engine, and you’ll find dozens of sites offering these.

I had been in the habit of perusing these for some time, basically because I like to use the covers as references for what I DO like. If a designer asks me what I’m looking for, I can use those as examples, making it easier for the designer to know what I expect.

I’m sure you’ll hear this…that a large percentage of those online covers are terrible. I do think that’s true. But sometimes when you’re looking at the  dross, you’ll find a sparkly in there, too.

So here’s a few hints that might help:

  1. If you’re looking at a site that aggregates covers from many different artists and you find one you like, look to see whether you can search that artist’s covers separately. It makes sense that if you like one of their covers, you’ll like others.
  2. Remember that you cannot fine-tune these covers. That’s why they’re sold as premade and at a lower cost. So don’t purchase one thinking that you’ll get to change hair color or have the artist change the clothing.
  3. Look for a statement that says they won’t re-sell the cover to someone else. While there’s a good chance that you’ll see the basic cover IMAGE elsewhere, design should be unique.
  4. If you want to know whether a certain image has already appeared on book covers, try plugging the image into an image search engine, like TinEye. Simply right click on the image, copy the image address, and paste it in the search function. When I was looking at covers for Iron Shoes, I did this and found that some images of women with horses have appeared on a gazillion books already. (This won’t work if they’ve altered the image for the cover.)

And here’s what I did:

I published 2 books with premade covers this year (but purchased 3 covers).

I hadn’t planned on publishing this one. But in those random searches, I ran across a cover that caught my eye, and I thought, “Hey, that cover would go well with Whatever Else.”

The main thing I wanted was mood. The cover itself is a bit generic, doesn’t have any quotes from other authors, no tag line. It’s very basic, but it’s good enough.

“Whatever Else” is actually a short story, so I knew I would never price it higher than 99 cents. I couldn’t spend a lot of money on a cover for it.  But this one cost me $40…and that meant 120 sales at 33 cents (royalty) each. I figured that over its lifetime, the short story could sell that many copies….

I bought the cover. I purchased it from the online site, BookCoverDesigner.com, and within a day the cover artist got back to me and made the changes to reflect the proper title and author name. In a case like this, there’s no room for big changes, so don’t expect them. If you want something more or something different, you’ll have to go with a custom design.

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I also purchased this cover from SelfPubBookCovers.com. This one cost twice as much as the one above ($80), but SPBC gives me a few more options.

Because I do the changes myself.

However, because I’m the one who puts in the title and author name, plus tagline, I can fiddle with it pretty endlessly. So this cover will be on my dashboard there forever.

If I decide to change the story’s name, I can. (Which I did, by the way…so it was a good thing that I opted for this rather than the maker above.) I can change the fonts and placement of the words. I can change their color and size.

For the most part, I’ve decided not to do so. I don’t trust that my eye for design is any better than this designer’s (FrinaArt), so I stuck with her decisions.

But here’s where it gets weird…

I also bought this cover. 

No, I don’t have a book to go with it. I have an idea, just one that I haven’t written yet.

But I watched this cover on SPBC for months before deciding the pull the trigger and purchase it. They won’t sell a cover twice, so if someone else bought it first, I would lose it.

And it goes too well with the one above to not take the chance.

Oddly enough, this is NOT by the same designer.

I’m considering this the companion novella to go with Sparrow, but instead of summer 1815 in St. Petersburg, I think this one will be winter 1815 outside Moscow. And the woman on the cover? I’m pretty sure that’s Natalya Vladimirova, one of a long line of powerful healers and protector of a dragon named Long who has slumbered for centuries…

I think it’s worth it, and having purchase this will give me extra impetus to get the story done!

So…..

All in all, I’m happy with the premade covers I’ve purchased and the balance of cost to use.

NEXT WEEK: Canva

 

Adventures in Indie #3: More Cover Choices

I’ve been talking about my indie publishing experience so far, and last week I talked about a cover I had made in 2015. But that takes me into 2016, wherein I published 6 ebooks.  SIX.

Publishing books costs money, and publishing six of them costs…more money.

As an indie publisher, I had to plan for that. I knew that much of 2016 would happen at a loss because I was paying artists for covers and an editor/formatter for their services.

Today I’m going to talk a bit about the other cover designs I had custom made. The covers I purchased ran the gamut from inexpensive to pricey. In each case, I had specific reasons for that choice.  So let me talk briefly about each one:

CUSTOM DESIGN COVERS:

I had previously published the three novellas here separately, but wanted to package them together and create a print edition. So I removed the old versions from sale, did an editing pass, and handed it off to my editing/format guy (EQP Books) while I was arranging for a cover.

For this book, finding stock photos was problematic. My main character has white hair, and that’s actually an important part of the story, so unlike other covers where I changed small things in the story to match the cover, I wanted the cover to match the story instead. And since Iron Shoes had been my most financially successful tale, I decided to go with Holly Heisey on this one.

Their covers are more expensive, but worth it since I was going for something very specific. Holly sent me an extensive questionnaire, and I sent it back to them. They sent me back suggested pictures based on that, and I picked one out and sent it back to them. Then the magic started.

Holly changed clothing color, hair color, and added -magical- touches that did a good job of conveying that this was a fantasy story (but also a romance). They also created a paperback cover for me (which ups the charge for any cover package.) All in all, I got what I wanted for this book.

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After the War was created by Rachel A. Marks. Once again, I wanted to somewhat-match the style of the Golden City novels, since this is a related novella. Rachel worked with me on this one much the same way as the previous cover (The Seer’s Choice) we did together.

Because I was working with her far in advance of the publication (I hadn’t even finished the novella when I contacted her) I was able to work in the opposite direction from the above experience. For example…when I first started the novella, Serafina had short hair. It was easy to change that, though. In addition, since Rachel and I had decided on a model for the cover, I could write that costume into the first scene….

(I did that on the last book with her, too.)

Rachel’s prices were not exorbitant (you can click over to her website to look at her cover designs) and I’ve really liked the work I’ve gotten from her.

 

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Now the cover of Oathbreaker is different, in that I was looking for a different ‘feel’ than any of my previous books.  I have to admit, I may have referred to the CW network at some point during the quest for these covers.

Since I’d been in the habit of surfing photo sites for a while by then, I went to the artist–Kate Marshall–with some pictures already in hand. I had seen Kate’s designs for Rhiannon Held’s work, and thought that would fit this series of novels well, so I actually booked Kate to produce the covers for -all three- novels in this series.

That makes it a lot easier, by the way, if you’re trying for cohesiveness in your covers. 

I gave Kate my pictures and my answers to her questions, and she got back to me with several proposed designs. She gave me a set of covers without people (mood covers, basically), a set with the setting that I suggested behind the characters, and a set with a different backdrop.

As it turned out, the setting that I suggested…did not work. It was way too busy and distracted from the character on the cover and from the title and wording as well.

What did work was the setting backdrop that she picked out. It captured the mood of the stories…and it turned out that it was no problem to tweak the writing to fit it in!.  So I went with what she picked and am far happier with her results. She made changes to the clothing and characters to make them work better with the story.

So the next handful of covers that you’ll see for novels will be from Kate. (She’s penciled me in to do the Dreaming Death sequels, too.)

 

Some final points about engaging a cover designer:

  1. Have some idea what you want before you go to them. It never hurts to look through websites of cover designers to know what kinds of covers will match your books. Provide links for your designer to look at.
  2. Be open-minded about what the designer suggests. Even though I thought I knew what I wanted on the Oathbreaker cover, it turned out that my pick looked awful, and what my designer suggested looked far far better.
  3. Remember that you can change small details in your story. That’s always worked well for me to make the cover match better.
  4.  If the cover isn’t coming out the way you want it to, try to figure out where you’re not communicating properly. When working on the Iron Shoes cover, I told Holly that the character had white hair. What I failed to communicate was that I meant WHITE…like magically white. Holly and I went back and forth several times on hair color until I finally realized I could send them a picture of what I wanted…and they got it right away. So make sure you’re communicating with your cover artist.
  5. Don’t be a jerk. Your cover artist has other commitments. Book your covers with plenty of time in advance to tweak them. It’s like the saying, You rush a miracle man, you get rotten miracles.

 

NEXT WEEK: PRE-MADE Covers and the writers who love them…

 

Oathbreaker Paperback Now Available

Oathbreaker has now come out in paperback, and should be available via other stores (like B&N shortly.) I will be having a Goodreads giveaway as well, starting on the 24th and running through the end of the month (there will be more details in my newsletter on the 30th.)

 

Adventures in Indie #2: Choosing Covers

Now that I’m talking about my indie publishing experience (so far), I have to decide how to divide this up into digestible bits.  And the first area that I’ll talk about is my covers.

One of the frightening things about a traditionally published book is having little or no control over the cover. If you’re not a big name, then you’re going to have to hope that your editor is actually reading your books and has a good eye.  My covers at ACE/ROC were AMAZING!

No thanks to me. It was all my editor at the time: D or J. Both of them did a great job of communicating cover ideas to the art department and got beautiful work done.

But when it came time for me to start publishing my related novellas, I had to wade into the world of cover art with no one to hold my hand. Back in 2011, cover art was pretty simple. Now it’s a multi-million dollar industry with a gazillion practitioners and jarringly different styles available everywhere.

So what did I do?

For my first cover (The Seer’s Choice), I had some simple needs:

  1. I wanted the cover to look similar to (but not copy) my Golden City covers.
  2. I wanted the model on the front to look somewhat like what I pictured for my character.
  3. I wanted the cover clothing to be moderately period-appropriate.

Those aren’t huge demands. But when I went to engage a cover artist, I made sure that she knew those three things up front.

I chose my cover artist (Rachel A. Marks) for The Seer’s Choice because I’d seen her work on another writers’ books where she did #1.  So I knew that 1/3 of my wishes were taken care of.

But for #2 and #3, I had some work yet to do.  She got back with me with a list of questions that would give her information about the series, plus a couple of sites that she preferred for stock imagery so I could look at pictures to give her a visual idea what I wanted.

Luckily for me, I found a model that I liked pretty quickly. Her clothing didn’t match anything in my story, but that was an easy fix–I just wrote it into the final scene. She needed a hair change, and the setting had to be picked out, but once Rachel and I made those decisions, I stepped back and let her do her magic.

This is probably a good thing to remind others looking for cover artists about: the artist has to work within certain limitations. For example, the setting, the model, and her hair came from three different photographs. That means that my artist had to pay for use of 3 pictures.

Could I have made a dozen more changes, found more exact details? Yes. But every little thing costs money. Keep that in mind.

Rachel got back to me with some mockups just to check composition and text.

 

I made a few suggestions for changes.

She got back to me with the next version.

We agreed on some final changes.

And a few days later, I had my various covers. (I had covers for the ebook and for the print version*.)

(Rachel also did some drawing on the cover to pull everything together, plus some lovely effects to make the final cover more…magical.)

I also used this same artist (and process) for After the War, my other novella set in the Golden City world, so you know I’m super happy with her work.

So here are some simple guidelines that I’ll suggest for using a cover artist.

  1. Ask around and see who your friends have used, or alternately, look at other books and pick an artist you like. Usually the artist is listed on the same front page that the copyright and author are listed on.
  2. Be prepared for it to take a while. If an artist is good, they’ll probably have a waiting list. Also, it simply takes time to go through all those steps, communicating back and forth. (And they have lives outside doing your cover. Seriously.)
  3. Pay your cover artist for their work. You expect to be paid for your writing, so they should be paid for their design work. If you can’t afford your cover artist, then you probably should find another way to get a cover.
  4. Remember that it’s NEVER going to be exactly what you have in your mind. The artist has to work with photos that are available.
  5. Don’t forget to credit your cover artist in your work.

Next time, I’ll talk about some other cover art I’ve had done: getting a very specific cover is harder than it looks!

*Print covers have to be pdfs and meet very specific width rules, so adding the print cover often costs quite a bit more.

 

Oathbreaker Now Available!

Oathbreaker, the newest novel in my Dreaming Death world, is now available as an ebook in all formats.

THE HORN: OATHBREAKER (BOOK 1)

Read the First Chapter here!

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Available at: Amazon / Barnes & Noble / Kobo / Apple /

 

From the world of Dreaming Death, we follow Amal, Lady Horn as she and her guards try to preserve one of the great secrets of Larossa: an abandoned Fortress. The Cince Empire want its secrets, and will do anything to get someone inside. The Oathbreakers–those members of each of the Six Families who speak to their Fortresses–all suspect that the Fortress is still alive.

Amal, the chief of the Oathbreakers, is one of only a handful of people aware of the true dangers the abandoned Fortress of Salonen presents. Now they must decide whether to wake the sleeping Fortress so it can defend itself against the Cince…or kill it forever.

Dalyan doesn’t know why he was sent to find the abandoned Fortress, what makes it worth the time his masters invested in training him. When the Horn arrest him for trespassing on the glacier beneath it, he goes with them willingly enough. After all, he didn’t return to his masters on schedule, and now they’re trying to kill him.

But more than that, he feels drawn to the abandoned Fortress, as if he belongs there…

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RESEARCH FOR WRITERS OF HISTORICAL FICTION #10

We’re entering the home stretch of this presentation, and today we’re going to cover an important point:

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The video pictured above provoked one of my worst rabbit hole incidents of all–the Affair of the Sidewalks.

Right before I was supposed to turn in my second novel to my editor, I happened across this video. It’s notable in that it was filmed in 1896–possibly the first Portuguese film ever–and shows women coming out of a factory on St. Catarina Street in Porto after their shift.  It’s only a minute or so long, and has little merit other than it’s ‘first’ status.

However, when I watched it, I saw ONE THING…the women were coming out of the factory onto a SIDEWALK.

I immediately began to wonder how many streets in Porto had sidewalks at the time of my novels…how many of those streets had I mentioned and NOT given them a sidewalk????

I began desperately poring through pictures on the internet and making lists of which ones had sidewalks and which ones didn’t. I did this for a couple of hours before I came to the realization that NO ONE WOULD CARE.

It wasn’t important. It didn’t touch on the plot of my story. I could simply avoid mentioning sidewalks altogether. Because as hard as it was for me to find that information, who else would know?  Seriously? Is there a sidewalk historian who’s going to read my book? That’s about the only person who would even care…

And that illustrates my point. That’s two hours of my life during which I should have been writing, not researching something silly like that.

So…I came up with a rule:

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Yep, if it’s obscure enough that I can’t fine it, then there’s not much chance that any of my readers will know the difference if I get it wrong.  I have to make the call and move on to things that are more important.

It’s harder to do than say. Rabbit Holes abound everywhere, and researching them is, quite honestly, fun. We wouldn’t tackle historical if we didn’t love that.

But we do have to learn to draw the line somewhere. It may not be an hour for you. It might be one day. Or one week. Whatever you’re comfortable with.  But whenever you do find yourself falling down a rabbit hole, try to have a safety line to pull yourself back to reason.  1 hour for me.

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Next Week: What to do When You Make a Mistake

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RRH Confession #11

I ignore the above rule far too often.

 

 

 

How (Not) to Talk to a Writer #11

Write what you know….

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You teach Calculus? Then you should write Hard SF.

I’ve seriously been told this. By a major book company editor.

The truth is, I have no interest in writing an SF novel about Calculus. Nor do I think I would read one. And honestly, if we all wrote what we knew, we would only be writing diaries and journals. All fiction is just that….fiction.

Am I saying we don’t need to know anything before we write? Not at all. We need to put thought into our work. And yes, it truly helps if we learn to do things first hand. (Otherwise all my time learning fencing, horsemanship, shooting, rapelling, sailing, camels, languages, etc…was all wasted.)

But I write about sereia and selkies and seers. Do I know any of these personally? Have I interviewed any of them prior to writing? I’m afraid not.

And that’s a part of what makes writing (and reading, I hope) fun.

So if you want to write about submarines or dirigibles, you don’t have to build one first. Do your research, but don’t let the fact that you’ve never captained a dirigible stop you from writing that…

RESEARCH FOR WRITERS OF HISTORICAL FICTION #9

This turns out to be a very basic section of my presentation. You know what sort of resources you need to pay for. The thing to remember here is that you should spend your money wisely.  So I’ll start off with a couple of suggestions:

  1. If you’re looking at a resource to purchase, check it out first on-line. Read the reviews on Goodreads or Amazon to learn whether other readers felt the book delivered. If you’re on Amazon, try the “Look Inside” function and check out the Index if there’s one there. You could also try getting it through your library first, just to see whether it’s useful. Due your due diligence before you lay out funds….if you waste money on a bad book, that may prevent you from buying the good book.
  2. If the book is from 1923 or prior, consider reading it on-line first. Since it’s out of copyright in the US, there are a lot of places where you can skim through that book (GoogleBooks is a good place to start) and determine whether it’s worth spending your money on. This can save you lots of money and time. (And you may decide just to keep using the online version instead of buying.)

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If you’re looking for some basic resources, most people will start with Histories and Biographies, but let me also suggest the alternatives of Journals (or Diaries) and Novels that come from that time period. While I did read histories, I actually find that Journals and Novels give me a lot more atmosphere. They tell me what people were eating, what street scenes were like, how people felt about this law or that.

I read several novels by José Maria de Eça de Queiroz, which gave me a great feel for the daily life of a young gentleman of Lisbon (including the fact that everyone smoked!), and how the houses would be decorated (the living room in the Pereira de Santos home looks a great deal like Eduardo’s office in Os Maias). I read the journals of a wealthy Russian serf and learned that he regularly ate pirogis for lunch.  Those are the sort of details that a history won’t give you.

In addition, I have purchased several travel guides. My favorite is the Baedeker I purchased for $50 (it was worth EVERY penny), and I talk a lot about using it here. Not only did that book tell me the price of cabs in 1901 Barcelona, the train schedules for crossing Spain, the presence of a hotel omnibus, where the embassies, post offices, and telegraphs offices were, they also told me what a visitor would visit…or NOT visit. (The Sagrada Familia didn’t even make the book in 1901.) I also found, in one of my travel guides for Saratoga Springs, the dinner menu for the hotel in which my character is staying (and thus I made her sit through all the courses with an overbearing man!) It was great!

And MAPS. I love maps. You can, quite frankly, simply download a lot of them online, but if you’re like me and prefer to see the period maps, you purchase them. Where do I purchase my maps? Surprisingly enough, I got most from ETSY. Yes, the vintage sale site also has a ton of period maps, most torn out of altases or guide books like the Baedeker mentioned above. It was a surprise to me to find them there.

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Finally, you can take courses. The RWA in particular is good about offering online courses to its members on a myriad of historical topics. Some are available to non-members as well.  Community colleges often had history classes on various topics, and your research librarian friend might be able to hook you up with different classes of other sorts (like the once-weekly Farsi class they have in Edmond or the Fencing Class down in Oklahoma City). And an organization like the YMCA often offers unusual classes as well (I learned to sail via the YMCA).

So if you’re going to pay for a resource, do your homework before hand. It’s never fun to get a book in the mail only to discover that it doesn’t have what you want at all!

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Next Week: When to Stop Researching and Fudge Your Answer

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RRH Confession #10

I purchased and watched (several times) the movie Saratoga Trunk. It’s not a particularly good movie, despite having Gary Cooper and Ingrid Bergman, but it was filmed in the hotel that I mentioned above…only a few years before the hotel burned to the ground. You can catch a few glimpses of the United States Hotel in this trailer.

How much it actually showed up in Snowfall is another matter…but I researched the snot out of that hotel!