February 3, 2015
We’re getting ready to publish The Death Chamber, by Sarah Rayne. Like all of her books, The Death Chamber takes in a number of different time periods and is enormously rich in detail – I’ve compared the experience of reading one of Sarah’s novels to entering a room with elaborately figured carpets on the floor, patterned wallpaper, paintings in intricately carved frames, paneling, needlepoint pillows…just a riot of beautiful, sensuous STUFF that could be messy, a recipe for instant migraine, but thanks to Sarah’s skill is instead a sort of fantastic fever dream that never for an instant loses track of the plot.
In the past we have hired an extraordinary Brazilian artist, Eduardo Recife, to create covers for Sarah’s books, but this time around, Eduardo was not available. Time for Plan B.
Plan B started out with a very talented artist named Lars. We had never worked with Lars before, but both Anthony – our art director – and I liked his portfolio a lot. Unfortunately, the working relationship fell apart quickly, and we wound up paying Lars a “kill fee” (a portion of the contracted price, with the additional proviso that he can now sell the work to someone else). That’s a pretty drastic step: In more than 200 covers we’ve created for F&M books, we have only had to offer a kill fee in one other instance. But we didn’t feel we had a choice. I was depressed and starting to get nervous.
The second part of Plan B – Plan C? – brought in Marty, an artist based in New York with whom Anthony had worked, and very happily, before. Unfortunately, her first offering did not cheer me up. We had said we were looking for a “séance scene,” and what we got was this Beautiful Gypsy Maiden:
To be honest, I hated it. I found it kitschy, overly literal, and better suited for a tacky romance novel. Anthony did a sterling job of explaining my concerns to Marty while concealing my rudeness, and the next version was much better.
It had become clear, though, that part of the problem with Lars – and the problem here – was that there just aren’t many digitized images of period séances. Or, rather, there are plenty of images, but they tend to be awful, with theatrically contorted faces and fake “mediums” pulling lengths of fabric out of their mouths (“ectoplasm,” don’t you know). This image was one of the few workable ones, but it required quite a lot of PhotoShop surgery, to not very good effect. And for me, the séance was not the only issue. I didn’t like the starry sky or the “ghosts,” finding them pointlessly pretty and sloppily “spooky,” respectively. The prisoners below the “author band” looked to me like peculiar legs for the people seated at the table. And the typeface in which the title was rendered struck me as both ugly and too reminiscent of Barnum & Bailey.
This is the point, in difficult cover negotiations, at which Anthony starts suggesting that we offer the artist hazard pay, and I start saying insulting things about the artist’s parentage. But Marty, to her credit, just hunkered down, got rid of half the prisoners, and gave us several different typeface options. Even better, Anthony went hunting on the Interwebs and dug up a new séance-scene, a still from “Dr. Mobius,” a 1922 film by Fritz Lang. At last we had the nice creepy séance of my dreams.
In terms of typefaces, I liked No. 3 ok. No. 2 I found attractive but stylistically at odds with the rest of the cover, and No. 1 made me think of heavy-metal bands. But I still wanted to lose the wifty ghosts and the twinkly sky. Maybe especially the sky. It looked to me like the backdrop for a second-rate production of “Peter Pan.”
It was definitely time for me to stop kvetching and get my hands dirty. One of the central figures in the book is a ladykiller – literally. He’s a serial seducer, in the 1930s, who has a funny little habit of bumping off his girlfriends. He hovers over much of the action in The Death Chamber, and I decided I wanted him hovering over the cover as well. So I needed a face.
Enter Dr. Google. I started out looking for “1930s man,” and I scrolled through dozens and dozens of screens, but nothing was right. Finally – and I wish I could remember how I did this – I stumbled on a sort of back-alley of Flickr, the photo-sharing site, where people had posted family snapshots. And there I found our killer. His hair and moustache are period-perfect, which was important to me, but what I just loved was the sort of sinister sensuality of those heavy-lidded eyes. I could see a lot of lonely widows falling for those eyes. (The site didn’t offer any contact information for the snapshots. If this is a photograph of your grandpa, we mean no disrespect.)
With The Face in place (and the ghosties gone), we were almost there, but the title seemed a little flat to me. Nothing about it was graphically compelling. Tweaking the font
to put the “The” in italics improved things, but we still needed…..a little somepin’ somepin’. COLOR. We needed color. I asked Anthony if we could pick up the red, that wonderful kind of rusty, dried-blood red, that we had in the “author band.” (I had decided that, given The Face, I could live with the twinkly sky.) And with the addition of just a little rouge, we had a terrific cover.
As a reminder, here’s where we started
Some journey, hunh? Marty did an outstanding job. And I hope she doesn’t want to kill me.