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November 20, 2013

Inside the Cover Design Process: Nathan Aldyne Series

We’re incredibly proud of the praise we’ve gotten for our covers, and to be honest, I think we deserve it. At the bookstore, something that used to drive me a little nuts was the number of covers that had clearly been designed without reference to the book at hand. If it had a title like “Midnight Slasher,” the cover would be all jagged, dagger shapes and acid colors. If the title were more along the lines of “Death at Twilight,” there would be a blurry sepia photograph of a wooded path.

That’s not for us. After all, as Julia points out, my mantra tends to be “Why do it simple, when with a small amount of effort you can make it heaps more complicated?” “And better! And better!” I squeak, jumping up and down, but she just gives me the kind of look she produces when her three-year-old daughter demands chocolate pudding for breakfast.

So, you be the judge. Here, for your edification and delight, I present the covers of the Nathan Aldyne “Valentine and Lovelace” quartet, which we will begin publishing shortly. The series is set in Boston’s gay community, in the late 70s and early 80s, and I wanted, with the covers, to highlight both the gay theme and the time period. But crucially, the covers couldn’t be sexy: The books don’t feature any graphic sex at all, and I wanted to make sure we neither overpromised our gay readers nor turned off the straight ones who might well enjoy the series’ nifty plotting and crisp, clever dialogue.

I knew we wanted to use illustrations, rather than photographs, but illustrations of what? What would say “gay” and “1970s” without in any way saying “hot sex inside”? And then I suddenly remembered the bandanas. There was a great fashion, at the time, for gay men to stick bandanas in the back pockets of their jeans, the various colors acting as codes for sexual preferences. That’s it! I thought. We’ll use illustrations of iconic gay imagery of the period. The combo of aviator glasses and a studded leather cap was another such icon, and while the face of an over-the-top drag queen may not have been 70s-specific, it seemed to me to fit the general theme.

The last image was harder to figure out, until the phrase “Christopher Street Clone” floated across my brain. At the time, New York City’s Christopher Street was the symbolic center of the East Coast’s gay community. Christopher Street – and those who aspired to look like they lived there – had a uniform and the key to that uniform, its most memorable element, was the perfect, Tom Selleck-style moustache. I had my fourth and final image.

Read part two: Moustache Wars. And tell us, did we come up with the right imagery?



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