Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Guest Blogger - Alice Duncan

Okey-dokey, so I was wracking my smallish-sized brain, trying to think of something to write for this blog in July, and coming up blank (I was practically blogged to death in June, since that’s the month HUNGRY SPIRITS came out). However, something just happened that points out both the magic and the mayhem of publishing: cover art!

PECOS VALLEY REVIVAL is an historical cozy mystery that’s going to be published by Five Star in January of 2011. So today (June 23) I was sent the cover art for review. Mind you, Five Star is one of the few publishers who listen to authors when it comes to cover art. Here’s the cover, and I think it’s gorgeous:

There’s only one thing wrong with it. Wanna take a guess at what it is? Well, then, I’ll tell you. That lovely cactus on the cover is a saguaro, a cactus that only grows on Arizona’s Sonoran Desert! Fortunately for me, Five Star actually pays attention to its authors, so I requested they maybe replace the saguaro with a blooming yucca. Mind you, a blooming yucca might not be the most gorgeous flower in the universe, but it is New Mexico’s state flower, and both the Pecos Valley and PECOS VALLEY REVIVAL are in New Mexico. A yucca. None of your fancy-schmancy poppies or roses or irises for us, by gum. I think our state insect is the scorpion, and I’m pretty sure our state bird is the buzzard. Actually, I know our state bird is the roadrunner, but you hardly ever see them here any longer. In fact, the only time I ever see roadrunners anymore is when I visit California. Go figure.

This little mishap made me think of other cover-art snafus I’ve either experienced or heard about over the years, and I thought I’d share. Carola Dunn, whose Daisy Dalrymple books are set in the 1920s, only in England, once had to have the cover artist change the uniform of a guard at the Tower of London because he was wearing the emblem of Queen Elizabeth II, and up to that point in time, there had been only one Queen Elizabeth. Christina Dodd, who is a wildly successful romance author, was once given a cover that showed the heroine with three arms. I’m not kidding. And I, during what I laughingly call my writing career, was once given the exact same cover art for a book (GABRIEL’S FATE) that I’d been given for A GAMBLER’S MAGIC. I tried and tried to convince my editor that the cover was a duplicate, but by that time Dorchester was no longer interested in me (because they’d decided to dump me—story of my writing life), and it took intervention from my agent to get them to pay attention. My editor at Dorchester apologized and said he thought I was “just being cranky.” Right. Anyhow, they changed the cover to one of those generic western-romance covers that’s probably been seen on a hundred other books—but at least it wasn’t a duplicate of one of my own covers.

Hmm. Now there’s an idea: give an author the same cover for all of his/her books. That way, the public will always know if their favorite (or not-so-favorite) author has a book coming out. Unless they think it’s an older book from the author. Okay, so that’s a bad idea. Forget I mentioned it.

Anyway, on another book of mine, a romp featuring the soul of a guy named Chester Pease, which accidentally ended up in a jug of corn whiskey and was drunk by a certain individual (the first Harry Potter, as a matter of fact, which points out yet another bout of mayhem in my writing life), the cover gods gave the book a blood-red cover with a goblet of what looks like blood and an overlay of a guy who looks like a zombie. The reviewer for Romantic Times actually called me at home and asked me why the cover was so grim when the book was so funny. I couldn’t tell her, ‘cause I didn’t have a clue.

In the overall scheme of cover art, however, I must say that, while my career has been floating belly-up in the goldfish bowl of publishing for lo, these many years, I’ve been given some really great covers. My all-time favorite so far is the cover for HUNGRY SPIRITS. I had a good deal to do with that cover, by the way (I’d pat myself on the back, but I can’t reach). In the book, poor Daisy Gumm Majesty (our heroine) has to teach a cooking class (Daisy; who can burn water), and I used as reference a book called 65 DELICIOUS DISHES, published by the Fleischmann Yeast Company in 1919 (I had to get their permission to use the title of the book, but that’s yet another story). Here’s the cover of the Fleischmann book:

And here’s the cover Five Star’s cover artist came up with:

As far as I’m concerned, what the cover artist did for this book was pure magic!

For the next Daisy book, I’ve sent Five Star another picture, a Norman Rockwell painting that appeared on a Saturday Evening Post cover in the 1920s. I hope someone will create another HUNGRY-SPIRITS-like cover for that one. It is, by the way, GENTEEL SPIRITS, which will be published in July 2011. GENTEEL SPIRITS has Daisy acting as spiritual advisor to an egotistical actress, and this is the picture I sent to the cover gods at Five Star. I hope they can do something with it that turns out as well as the HUNGRY SPIRITS cover did:

For some reason known only to God, seeing the covers of my books for the first time is the very most exciting part of the entire publishing biz. Which, given the state of my career, is probably a really good thing.


  1. Hi, Alice,

    Getting the cover art of a new novel is definitely a thrill. I read a blog by another writer recently who said he believed tha covers sell books. Like chicken soup, it can't hurt.

  2. My favorites of your covers are High Spirits and Strong Spirits because of the colors and the way they evoke the period. All of your Daisy Gumm covers are good.

    It's hard to believe they gave you the exact same cover for two books--and thought you were cranky! Amazing.

    I had heard about the Dodd three arm cover, but not the Carola Dunn one. I've seen a number of covers that show a hero or heroine looking totally different than they are described in the book, which is annoying (I imagine it's much worse for the author!)

  3. You are lucky to have a say with your cover art! That's great! This is a wonderful post and makes me really envious although I must say that the cover of my 4th book I absolutely love!!

  4. Some of those cover snafus are really amazing. Thanks for all the smiles.

  5. Hi, Jacquie. You're so right. At least I guess you were. My books never seem to sell anyway, so I don't know from personal experience :)

    I love those covers, too, Cynthya. In fact, I think they're my favorites overall. Unfortunately, the same cover artist couldn't be used for all the books since they are being published by different publishers. Story of my life.

    I absolutely agree with you, Hannah! This is almost a first for me (having a publisher that listens). Actually, Dell gave me a cover for WILD DREAM because I suggested a single male (Charley Wilde) on the cover. Only I wanted him to be holding a B-flat cornet, and they have him holding a hat and with a gun. Sigh. You can't buck tradition, I guess, except that for Dell, that was the first cover they ever did with a single man one the cover -- at least I didn't have to endure the traditional clinch cover on a historical romance!

    Thanks, Sheila. I wished I could have recalled more snafu stories I've heard about, but my brain has sprung leaks recently :)

  6. I had that three-armed cover for Christina Dodd and didn't keep it, which means it's probably valuable today. LOL My first book cover was weird. The heroine's blouse gapped at the bottons as if she were too chubby for the blouse. Maybe she was supposed to be gasping with lust or something. My worst cover was THE MOST UNSUITABLE HUSBAND for Kensington. They jettisoned the cover I was supposed to have (marketing was mad because I wouldn't change my name) and gave me a white cover which didn't give even a clue as to genre or time period. Killed my sales, naturally, even though the book won awards and had terrific reviews. Fortunately, all my covers for The Wild Rose Press have been fabulous. They actually listen and the artists try to match the cover to the book. Amazing concept, huh? Thanks for another good post, Alice.

  7. Oh, yeah, Caroline. I know all about being slapped around by publishers. You probably had a million-dollar book there with the Dodd one! One of the funniest covers I ever got was for my very first book, ONE BRIGHT MORNING, Italian edition. The American cover was very lovely and not at all cheesy. For the Italian cover, the heroine had grown about three bra sizes, and the hero had a bare chest. The wind was blowing them all to heck and back to judge by their hair, and they were in a clinch somewhere on a desert in a place that looked *very* uncomfortable. Publishing is so . . . I can't think of a polite word for it :)


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