Last week, Brain Mill Press had a photoshoot for the cover of Noelle Adams’s book, Late Fall, which opens for fine first edition preorder on February 14.

A photoshoot is very glamorous, of course — it’s infused with glamour, or so we thought, until we invited my kid to come along, and then we learned a photoshoot is infused with symbolism.

Late Fall is a romance — a tender, heart-authentic, sexy-times romance about a woman, Ellie, who is seventy-two, and the season she fell in love after moving to an assisted-living apartment complex. Noelle Adams wrote it, so you can guess that it’s very good, romantic, but you may not guess that its voice is arresting, austere, terribly, terribly, incisive about women and what we reveal and don’t reveal, what we choose. This is not a widow’s story, and it’s not even really a spinster’s story. It’s a story that reminds us that getting older is no guarantee of wisdom or experience or reflection on risk, at least not in regards to everything.

It’s a story about how we’re always ourselves. That the girl we were is always the girl we are.

In the story, Ellie tells us that when she was a little girl, her greatest ambition was to reach the top of a tree on her family’s property, and the day she finally tried, she hurt herself in the most humiliating way. Except she didn’t tell anyone — it was a private hurt of her body and of her spirit, and she held it close and never let anyone look at it. Right then, as a little girl, she began to nurture decisions she would make her whole life about falling. Including falling in love.

I picked up my kid a little early from school so they could see the photoshoot, and we explained the concept for the shoot in the car on the way to the location, and this is what my eight-year-old wrote about it for an essay at school:

“the first stop is to pick up a ladder.” I asked “why?” Ruth said, “so Grandma B can get up the tree!”

If you don’t know why my Grandma B was going to be in a tree, my mom was doing a photoshoot for a book called Late Fall. She had to hire a photographer, an art director, and a hair and makeup person. The book featured a woman named Ellie who fell in love when she was Grandma B’s age. Grandma B looks like Ellie, which is a coincidence, which is why she was the model for Ellie. Ellie was going to be in a tree to be symbolic of risk she didn’t want to happen, like love (Ellie fell off a tree as a kid). Except in the book, Ellie did risk love and so this is the reason why mom and Ruth thought the cover should be Grandma B in a tree.

So there was a ladder, and also insurance waivers, and indeed, a photographer, art director, and hair / makeup. As well as the luck of someone in our own circle who fit the part for the model, and a tree. The tree was the hardest to find – one still full of fall leaves with a low, sturdy branch that could be accessed with a stepladder and made our model comfortable.

There was also the perspective of this child, who when the photographer was directing to think of love, of something she loved, my kid piped in to say that she should think of her husband, in order to think of great love, and was perplexed when the model reported that she could, but after forty years of marriage this was complicated, and chose instead to think of bottle-feeding baby sheep as she had done and loved when she was a child.

Love is like that – complicating itself after forty years, or becoming more pure and sweet as recalled from childhood, depending on how it was first received and then nurtured over time, how it feels as it grows, how many decisions we’ve had to make about it along the way. Love is love, however it has come to us and however it has grown, but thinking of it may be sweet or complex — living it, likewise.



Afterward, the photographer, Jan Rios, talked with everyone at the shoot about her love, which was photography, and where she wanted it to take her in the next part of her life, how strong she felt women were, and how much she loved shoots like ours, where all the players were women. The day was beautiful – clear and sunny and a little cold, and the proofs she showed us from her camera’s viewer were beautiful.

My kid was very interested in the symbolism of the tree, and of someone they knew playing the part of a different woman who had a love story, even as the person they knew had a love story of their own.

My kid talking about it was another reminder of why we read romance, which is to feel those things we know, things we’ve complicated, in pure ways. To feel about our own romantic lives the way we imagined we would feel about them as young children and young adults, and the ways we sometimes feel about our love lives as grown adults in small, heart-thumping moments.

Sometimes we want to feel what it is to be up in a tree, the sun and weather clear, love on our minds and read simply on our faces. Reading a romance novel we play this part of love, and even as we return to the ground we better recall the feeling. These are books engaged with feeling, generous and purified.

Adams’s book is fearless in its symbolism because she knows we signify what is dearest to us – our fears and our hopes and our love – with grounded memories and symbols along the way. Ellie recalls her tree and her first, hurtful fall when she struggles with falling again, all kinds of falling, late her in life. Ellie is asked to keep considering if her life is precarious or if it is thrilling, again and again, because what she decided first, long ago, wasn’t the decision she really wanted to make.

Writing this story, publishing it, staging its images for market, are as human experiences as reading. A designer will receive the images from the shoot, from a shoot with women and a child who all contributed ideas and imagination, and apply her own imagination.

None of it is glamorous, but it’s all something better. A complication of some original love named and nurtured long ago.

*All of the images in this post are behind-the-scenes snapshots taken by BMP staff, and not original photographs by Jan Rios.

About Mary Ann Rivers

About Mary Ann

Mary Ann Rivers has been wearing a groove in her library card since she was old enough for story time. She’s been writing almost as long—her first publication credit was in Highlights magazine.  She started writing and reading romance in the fifth grade once she stumbled on the rainbow of romance novel book spines in the library’s fiction stacks.

She was an English and music major and went on to earn her MFA in creative writing, publishing poetry in journals, and leading creative writing workshops for at-risk youth. With Ruthie Knox, she is the co-founder of Brain Mill Press.

Mary Ann’s Latest Release

Mary Ann Rivers’s Burnside Series returns with My Only Sunshine, a heart-rending and satisfying romantic novella featuring a musician who appeared as a minor character in Laugh.

John Lake owes his label an album—and has for months. Alone in his farmhouse studio outside of Lakefield, Ohio, he hears the music, but he won’t write it down. All the songs remind him of her.

Fifteen years ago, Mallory Evans was a fairy-haired warrior-poet. John couldn’t figure out why no one in high school noticed. He noticed, and he came to her window every evening before darkness came and the private violence of her home life threatened. Then, inevitably, one terrifying night broke the sweet spell between them.

John hasn’t seen Mallory since, but he’s looked for her—in his audiences, in his dreams. Now he decides that if he can’t find the inspiration to finish an album, he can at least find Mallory and finish what has always been between them.

Rivers’s stories have been hailed by New York Times bestselling author Grace Burrowes as “superbly written” and listed among Library Journal’s best ebooks of the year. With My Only Sunshine, Rivers gives readers another glimpse into the rich contemporary world of Lakefield, Ohio, and the Burnsides.

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