Clothing Your Novel: The Process of Creating Cover Art

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As I always say, clothes make the man. Of course, it goes without saying that the sentiment applies to the fairer sex as well.  -Prince Charming, Happily Never After

Okay, I have a confession: I am one of those old dudes that happens to mourn the demise of the LP, not because I like to hear my music overlaid by the hiss and pop of vinyl, but because I loved to study the cover art while I listened. I think a lot of my current issues might be explained by how long I stared at that prism on the cover of Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon album contemplating the line, “You know there really is no dark side of the moon. Matter of fact, it’s all dark.”

Dark Side

I am also one of those people whose experience of a book can be shaped by its cover, and whose decision to buy a book can depend on its outward appearance. I was originally intrigued to read The Wizard of Earthsea, Elric of Melnibone and even The Lord of the Rings because of the books themselves, rather than from my knowing anything about the stories inside them. There is a beauty and artistry to well-made books that I find distinctly pleasurable. I also have noted that books I find a pleasure to hold become those books that I habitually reread. I read the1965 Houghton-Mifflin red-bound edition of The Lord of the Rings every summer for five or six years, and the feel of the leather cover and the smell of the volume still brings me fond memories.

EarthseaMelnibone LOTR

When Harper-Collins told me that they were going to do a print edition that combined my first two novels, Once Upon a Rhyme and Happily Never After, my thoughts immediately turned to the cover art. The original covers to my novels were designed for the world of thumbnails and ebooks, but for a print version I wanted something more classically fairytale. I was fortunate to run across an artist, E.C.T. Mills, with a lovely classic style and she, even more fortunately, agreed to work with me. I found the process of working with her on the cover art so fascinating I thought I would take you through the evolution of the cover for Pitchfork of Destiny.

To begin with I gave Ms. Mills some text to work from and a proposed set of elements: a dragon, a wolf and, given the title, of course a pitchfork. She came up with three rough sketches:

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Although none of the sketches were precisely what I was looking for, each of them held elements I found intriguing. I liked the dragon’s head from sketch 1, I loved the wolf and overall arrangement of elements from sketch 2, and I laughed-aloud at the sardonic expression on the dragon’s face in sketch 3. I asked the artist to combine those features into a single drawing and we came up with yet another preliminary sketch.

Sketch4

Now I felt we were getting close. I focused on the details. I didn’t like the way the pitchfork was angled at the dragon. I felt the placement of the pointing claw of the dragon was a little awkward, and I wanted to see the dragon’s eye so the viewer could get a better impression of his expression. Ms. Mills took these comments and came up with a final sketch that I thought was perfect.

Sketch5

What remained was to make a final drawing and settle on colors. The artist came up with three color combinations split between green dragons (to harken to the cover for A Fairy-tale Ending), and blue dragons (to better match the description of the dragon in Pitchfork of Destiny).

Color1Color2Color3

In the end we all liked the last combination, a blue dragon and a brown wolf. Then it was a matter of arranging the text elements: title, Harper-Collins logo, and of course my name. I couldn’t be happier with the final result and want to thank Harper-Collins for humoring my quest for better cover-art, and E.C.T. Mills for her excellent work. I hope you enjoy both of my new works A Fairy-tale Ending and Pitchfork of Destiny, both inside and out.

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A Fairy-tale Ending is now available as an ebook, and comes out in print October 13th.

Pitchfork of Destiny is due for release as an ebook on December 8th.

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Mapping the Imagination: Or How I Learned to Love The Compass Rose

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Map Royaume: Harper-Collins 2015

“Writing has nothing to do with meaning. It has to do with landsurveying and cartography, including the mapping of countries yet to come.”

-Gilles Deleuze

In a letter from 1954 to what would now be referred to as a “beta-reader”, J.R.R. Tolkien answered a question about the geography of Middle-Earth as follows:

I wisely started with a map, and made the story fit (generally with meticulous care for distances). The other way about lands one in confusions and impossibilities…

How right he is. Indeed, I feel the same way about reading fantasy books as Tolkien feels about writing them: without a map I’m lost. When I read about Frodo and Sam’s journey through the Shire via Woody End and their harrowing flight through the mists to Bucklebury Ferry, or in the delay the black rider will suffer having to detour up and across the Brandywine Bridge, my fingers inevitably flip back through the pages to find the map. Inch-by-inch across the length of the wonderful fold-out provided in the back of Houghton Mifflin’s 1965 red hardbound edition of The Lord of the Rings I follow Frodo and the Fellowship’s slow journey from the Shire and Rivendell to Moria and Lorien, Fangorn and Isengard, Rohan and Gondor, and of course across Mordor itself to Mount Doom.

Map of Middle Earth: HMCO 1965

Map of Middle Earth: HMCO 1965

But, my experience reading Tolkien is duplicated across dozens of my favorite novels, and the inside cover page, where the map often lies, is inevitably well-thumbed in any fantasy book I’m reading. In Pern I must know where Ruatha Hold is, and how far the dragonriders of the Benden Weyr must fly to protect its people from thread. When I read about Ged’s travels through the hundreds of islands of Earthsea I cannot move through the adventure except by a careful examination of the Bantam volume’s exquisitely stylized wood-cut map. And, I’m not even sure its possible to follow the stories of Rand and his myriad companions, through The Wheel of Time, or Garion through the Belgariad volumes without having the maps of those worlds handy.

Map of Earthsea: Bantam

Map of Earthsea: Bantam

This is, of course, all in preface to my own adventure in publishing. When Harper-Collins told me that they were going to do a print version of Book 1 of the Charming Tales, A Fairy-tale Ending, my first thought, apart from “that’s amazing,” was to put together a map of the world and convince them to insert it into the book. You can imagine my surprise when they magnanimously said, “yes.”

Once my amazement had worn off, I turned my hand to making a map. I thought it would be a simple task, just put each location of interest onto a single page and making the distances, or at least the relative positions of the locations, somewhat reasonable. But, almost as soon as I put pencil to paper I realized that it wasn’t as easy as it sounds. This was partly because I failed to take Tolkien’s advice and wrote the story before drawing the map, and partly because my own mind’s eye map of Royaume was a little hazy when it got down to specifics. How far was Gnarsh’s bridge to the Cooked Goose? How did both Liz and Charming end up at the dwarves’ cottage coming from Castle White and the Beast’s house, respectively? For goodness sake, where the heck was Prosper and how did Will get up to the Dragon’s Tower?

Draft Sketch of Royaume

Draft Sketch of Royaume

My first several attempts were… disasters, locations that took characters weeks to travel somehow ended up next to each other and places in the West ended up in the East and vice-versa. However, eventually I ended up with a sketch, which, even if a little clumsy, at least had all the right bits and pieces in all the right places. From there it was necessary to find an artist capable to transforming my scrawl into something book-worthy. In this I was lucky to run across the website of Maxime Plasse, a real cartographer and artist. He was able to breathe life into places like Castle White and the Scoundrel’s Bridge, and to give a feel for that make-believe place of my dreams: Royaume.

As the release of the print version of A Fairy-tale Ending comes nearer and nearer (October 13 being the official date), I wanted to give my readers a glimpse of what is to come. Here then is my map. I hope that it gives you as much pleasure to look at as it has given me to make. I hope you find your fingers flipping back and forth between text and map to track the travels of Liz and Will and Charming and Rapunzel as they plot their own courses through their new fairytale world.

Map Royaume: Harper-Collins 2015

Map Royaume: Harper-Collins 2015