Paula Martinac is back on the site today to reveal a new cover, this one for Dear Miss Cushman, a New Adult historical romance set in mid-19th century NYC, releasing from Bywater Books on December 7th! Here’s the story:
In 1850s Manhattan, 18-year-old Georgiana Cartwright witnesses the downfall of her father, a renowned actor who disgraces himself performing under the influence. When he deserts the family, Georgie is expected to save the day by marrying well. But she aspires to the stage, hoping to earn an independent living like her idol, the great actress Charlotte Cushman.
Hired as a supporting actress for a prominent theater company, Georgie launches her career with the help of a trio of young friends, including Clementine, a budding scribe determined to make her mark on the literary landscape—and to win Georgie’s heart. Early reviews garner Georgie the promise of a bright future, but then unwanted sexual advances from within the company threaten to derail her career.
Following Cushman’s lead, Georgie regains her footing in “breeches roles,” parts written for men but performed by women. A thrilling gender-bending turn in a Shakespearean role boosts her confidence—until her harasser renews his efforts. Will she be able to vanquish him and find success and love on her own terms?
And here’s the striking cover, designed by TreeHouse Studios!
But wait, there’s more! Here’s an excerpt for your reading pleasure…
New York City, 1852
When the audience began hissing, I knew Othello wasn’t going to end well. Their response jolted me. We weren’t at the Bowery Theatre, where the audience in the pit tossed apples and vegetables onto the stage if a performance didn’t please them. The Prince Theatre was one of New York City’s finest establishments, catering to the upper ten.
Worse, the actor they hissed at was my father.
I was attending my first theatrical performance ever. Incredible, given that my father was a renowned leading actor, but Mama maintained that theater wasn’t a place for young ladies. For my eighteenth birthday, she gave in to my pleading and permitted Uncle James to accompany me to my father’s performance of the Moor, one of his most acclaimed roles. Mama insisted I have a new dress, and my sister Maude oohed and aahed over the sky blue taffeta until I wanted to take it off and give it to her. I myself put little stock in puffy lady things, especially in pastel hues. Plus, the heavy horsehair crinoline the skirt required for shape made beads of sweat trickle down my stomach.
Still, I could abide these discomforts if it meant I got to sit beside my dapper uncle in his lushly adorned box, draped with red and gold silk, and marvel at the glistening gas-jet chandelier that lit the space. Best of all, I got to watch my father tread the boards as I’d imagined him doing, in full costume and makeup for the Moor and sporting his prize sword.
We were barely one act in when Pa dropped a few lines. Then more—even the ones I ran with him that morning “for good measure,” as he’d urged. He’d appeared in Othello dozens of times, but now the role appeared to baffle him. Although the movement made my stays pinch, I leaned forward, mouthing the words, willing them into his memory.
Taunts rose slowly through the cavernous parquet. Pa squinted toward the footlights in bewilderment, but then the leading gentleman and star in him recovered and soldiered on as if he hadn’t missed a cue. The drop came down on Act One, and Uncle James and I both exhaled relieved breaths.
In the second act, Pa missed more lines. The second gentleman playing Cassio attempted to cover the flubs and cue Pa again, but my father fled downstage as if trying to escape. Turning too quickly, he slid first to one knee, then to both, and ended up crouching on all fours staring down at the boards. A shocked “Oh!” rippled through the audience in the parquet seats. Cassio tried to lift my father, improvising a line the Bard never wrote—“Come, on your feet, general!” But the actor couldn’t manage it alone, and my father remained hunched like an animal frozen in fear of slaughter until the drop came down again.
“Is that the end?” a lady in the box next to ours said.
“This isn’t the way it goes,” her gentleman escort complained. “The Moor doesn’t die this soon!”
The audience response crescendoed into boos. Uncle James colored crimson. “We’re leaving,” he announced, spittle collecting at the corners of his lips. He tugged me to my feet. “Now, Georgiana.”
I badly wanted to stay and support Pa after this debacle, but my youth and sex meant I didn’t get a say in the matter. We exited my uncle’s box and the theater to his brougham, waiting in a tidy line of carriages on Broadway.
“Bond Street, Louis,” my uncle directed his driver.
Pa used to be able to handle the drink and still speak his lines beautifully. He bragged about having a hollow leg, that he never felt the impact of whiskey no matter how much he imbibed. In the past year or two, though, his memory had pickled. When I ran through his prompt books with him to refresh his recall, he sometimes dropped whole pages, skipping ahead without realizing what he’d missed.
Mama didn’t speak of Pa’s mounting difficulties around me and Maude. For us, she put on a bright face, but it was hard to miss the growing chasm between them, as wide as an orchestra pit, their overheard exchanges sharp and brittle.
Uncle James confronted Pa openly, without caring who heard. As a theater investor, he was a regular at the Prince, and he warned my father, “He’ll let you go, Will. Worth was hired to whip the company into shape after Bumby drove it into the ground. Your contract will be worthless paper if you continue to perform badly.” He pointed out a clause in the Prince’s official rules, instituted by the new manager, stipulating that any actor “unable from the effects of stimulants to perform” would be docked a week’s salary on first offense and thereafter subject to discharge.
My father’s response had sounded characteristically haughty—that the Prince couldn’t afford to lose William Cartwright, who had drawn crowds to match all the luminaries of the day, like Edwin Forrest and Charlotte Cushman. “That theater would collapse without me. Who would play my roles?”
“Worth’s a fine leading actor himself,” my uncle had noted.
Now, as our carriage clattered toward my home on Bond Street, Uncle James shook his head sadly. “I’m sorry you had to witness that, Georgie.”
My stomach twisted this way and that, and not from our jostling over the cobblestones or the stench of horse dung wafting into the carriage. If Mr. Worth sacked my father, how would he earn a living? He’d never done anything but act. Maybe he would get a place at the Bowery or Barnum’s—lower rungs on the theater ladder, but at least he’d have an income. On the short trip up Broadway, my emotions ricocheted from anxiety to rage. If the head of our family tumbled, we were doomed to go right along with him.
“What will happen to him?” I asked. What I really meant was, what will happen to us?
“I can’t say,” Uncle James replied. “But you’re a smart girl, Georgie. You know the situation isn’t good. All we can do is hope Worth gives him another chance.” He saw me to our front door but declined to come in when Aggie, our cook and housekeeper, answered with a surprised “Mr. Clifford! You’re back so early!” I assumed he wanted to dodge telling my mother, his older sister, why he’d brought me home from my special evening two hours too soon.
That unpleasantness fell to me.
Paula Martinac is the author of seven novels—Dear Miss Cushman (forthcoming, 2021); Testimony (2021); Clio Rising (2019), Gold Medal Winner, Northeast Region, Independent Publishers Book Awards 2020; The Ada Decades (2017), finalist for the Ferro-Grumley Award for LGBTQ Fiction; the Lambda Literary Award-winning Out of Time (1990; 2012 e-book); the Lammy-nominated Home Movies (1993); and Chicken (1997; 2001 reprint). She teaches creative writing at University of North Carolina at Charlotte and at Charlotte Center for the Literary Arts. Sign up for her mailing list at paulamartinac.com.