Originally, the cover of my coming-of-age novel Tributary was a gorgeous expansive shot of the
Bear River in northern Utah--the setting of the novel shining in all its glory.
The distributor said no, the cover needs to
tell a story and indicate time period and character.
So my beloved partner Jeff (aka cover designer extraordinaire) and I set out to do just that.
I jumped online and after many hours found and
fell in love with a great period dress on ETSY. Turns out Vera Vague, queen of online vintage chic, was both the seller of the dress and the model inside it, and she was thrilled to have her person and her dress on a novel about a young Mormon woman who escapes polygamy.
Vera and I emailed joyously back and forth, and here is the resulting cover.
The Shoot: After securing Clair’s tomboy outerwear at local thrift and antique stores (large overalls
and a calico shirt and battered hat), my two sisters and brother-in-law and I tromped through the wilds with a period Remington rifle, taking 170 shots of me gazing out over grand vistas, some with rifle and some without. We also shot my sister's mid-length locks from behind, as I have short hair. Then Jeff worked his magic in Photoshop to produce this cover--Clair in her element.
We inserted a shot of my grandmother, who is Clair, into the Bear River scene. Jeff even Photoshopped in the
Port Wine Stain mark on Clair's left cheek.
Too sweet. No story.
Then Jeff found the image of this gorgeous old barn in grass, which does indicate place and circumstance, but alas, this too was too sweet. Too quiet. And most readers want to imagine the heroine's face, not have
her plastered on the book's cover. Good-bye, Grandma. And good-bye to Jeff's favorite cover design.
Jeff and I ground our teeth, and trekked onward into the historical cover fog!
We dallied with the one and only period photograph
I found of a woman actually working.
Not Clair. Not right.
Then we went back to the dark dress in profile, adding
the flower cards instead of the puzzling red Indian Paintbrush. Clair made and sold these cards, in my novel, so they had meaning. But alas, while searching for other historical covers
to inspire us, I found that we had created the perfect
romance novel cover . . .
“That may be what you see," I said, "but it doesn’t exist.”
“We’ll shoot it ourselves. I have two Indian blankets. We’ll use an I Phone, make it blurry, you know, a Blair Witch Project without the scary bits. Your cover needs grit.” I called Jeff late that night. “Ain’t this a nutty idea of Lisa's?” He said, “It is fabulous. Go for it. The I Phone 4 takes high resolution photos. You’ll be tiny on the actual cover, so we only need outlines. We can add the snow, if it doesn’t snow tomorrow!”
So I gathered up my battered enthusiasm and off we went this past Sunday tromping through Colorado wilderness in eight degree weather. With Jeff’s daughter in pigtail braids, Lisa Jones with two I Phones, and only thrift store shawls and blankets to keep us warm. You may be saying to yourself about now, does this woman ever learn her lesson? Bonding with friends and family on a photo shoot trumps the need for results, the need for a cover. Really, how much more blessed could I be?
Which sends me out the door, crying in private,
it is so gloomy and has nothing of Clair’s spirit
or the spirit of the novel in it at all. It looks like
a non-fiction downer.
Then late last night, after dinner and a few laughs, with that little unquenchable spark of "I know you are out there somewhere" pushing me to try yet again, I typed “19th century pioneer women’s shoulders” into Google because that is exactly
what I needed to see.
And I found it. I found Clair.
Yes, the publisher loved the new cover image. No we haven’t secured rights to use it. We may not even get permission, and will have to stage yet another photo shoot to recreate the look ourselves! With three days to go. Impossible?!
The moral of this Cover Story: If anyone ever asks you to design a historical novel’s cover, say no. Unless you value the journey more than the destination. This was our journey. You’ll have to wait for a later blog to see the destination, that is the final cover of Tributary. Let’s hope it’s a good ‘un.
Or I'm going for a brown paper bag.
(Feel free to vote on your favorite cover!)
(And feel free to hire Jeff for your cover design needs, unless your book is historical fiction!)