The Challenge of Book Covers

When I was writing A Cry From The Deep, I never gave any thought to a book cover. That’s not unreasonable given that I had to write the novel first. Mine took longer than most because I chose to write about subjects that I didn’t know much about. Also, since I had fully expected to go the traditional route of finding an agent for it, and then a publisher, I figured the publisher would come up with a cover when the time came. I never thought I’d have to figure one out for myself.

So, after realizing I was better off self-publishing, I began to seriously look at what constituted a winning book cover. I looked at bestsellers—mostly romances, since mine is a romantic mystery. I also watched A TED presentation of designing book covers. And I recalled what I’d learned from one episode of the TV series A Work of Art, where artists had to design a cover appealing to readers. It couldn’t be too busy; it had to give some sense of what the book was about; and it had to be eye-catching. You’d think after all that study, choosing a cover would be easy, but it wasn’t.

As my protagonist, Catherine Fitzgerald, is an underwater photographer who is bothered by a spirit underwater, I knew I wanted water on my cover.

From 123f.com

From 123f.com

I gave my short synopsis to Jun Ares, a book cover designer, whose work I’d admired. He had designed some wonderful covers for my friends, author Martin Crosbie and author, Karen Dodd.

Ares came back with two images, both of which I liked. A great start, I thought.

I showed them to my family and friends and found that each cover had its supporters; in fact, the likes were evenly divided between the two.

That was fine, but their comments concerned me.Some said, the woman on the shore looked like a Harlequin novel, not that there’s anything wrong with that, but my book wasn’t that type.

From istockphotos.com

From istockphotos.com

And the other image, of a contorted woman underwater, suggested a murder had taken place – wrong again.

When my filmmaker grandson suggested finding an image that would fit my story better, I did a search and found one I love on a photo site.

It’s perfect, as the spirit in my story has red hair, and is beckoning, much as she does in my novel.  I bought the photo and sent it to Ares, who had the brilliant idea of adding the Claddagh wedding ring which figures largely in my story. So, I’m a happy camper. Whether it appeals to readers or not, it’s too early to tell, as A Cry From The Deep won’t be available until fall. I’ll show you the one I’ve chosen the next time I post.

Even though it’s been said (by  author, George Eliot, in 1860), “don’t judge a book by its cover,” most of us do, as a cover gives some hint about what’s inside.

As an author, have you been happy with your cover(s)? If not, are you thinking of getting a different one? Some authors have printed two different versions, just to ensure a wider readership. And as a reader, how much does a book cover influence your book buying decision? I’d love your thoughts, so please leave a comment.

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The Power of Memory

I remember when I was counseling others, one of the things that came up was the power of memory. Whatever happens to us, our body doesn’t forget. The joys, the sorrows—they’re all tucked away only to emerge at the most surprising times. To recall what once was can help us make sense of our lives.

My Baba, Lukia Mazurec

My Baba, Lukia Mazurec

Memory marks the writing of my baba’s story, given to me through the lips of my mother. She was the storyteller in the family, repeating what her mother had remembered, what her family had endured in Russia during the first world war and afterwards under Polish occupation. As I write my family’s saga, I hear their voices, or at least my memory of them. And though I wasn’t there, the power of memory, my grandmother’s and mother’s, affects me and I end up crying or laughing at my computer. I’m also left with a greater understanding of my family’s personal sacrifices, ones that have served to enhance my life.

So it was with great interest, that I went to the Vancouver Art Gallery to hear a curator speak of how Martin Honert, a German artist, uses memory in his sculptures. The curator mentioned that Honert  is the product not only of his family but of his country. His parents were the ones who questioned the generation before on what had happened during the dark days of Germany, when the National Socialist Party had committed many crimes against humanity, chiefly, the Holocaust. His parents were the ones who wondered about the silence, the denials, and their countrymen’s attempts to reframe what had happened.

But Honert is one generation

Sculpture by Martin Honert

Sculpture by Martin Honert

removed from his parents and his art, though it doesn’t speak directly to those questions, conveys a settling or a return to childhood wonders. Perhaps he speaks for his generation, a need to move on, to distance oneself from what was. Or perhaps it’s me, the viewer, that is putting this kind of meaning into his work.

Of his pieces, I was particularly struck by the young boy sitting at a table. It was executed realistically and colored in muted shades of maroon and grey and beige. He shaded the boy’s face, one side dark, and one side light. For me, it represented the light and dark of the country, and perhaps of all our souls.

Maus Book cover, as shown on Wikipedia.org

Maus Book cover, as shown on Wikipedia.org

Another artist, whose work I recently saw at the Vancouver Art Gallery, was Art Spiegelman. He worked with his father’s memories of what he’d experienced as a Holocaust survivor. Art Spiegelman used his comic genius in his graphic novel, Maus, to document his father’s struggles and agony during that horrific time. This novel won him a Pulitzer prize. It also connected him to his father, a man he had not understood until he’d listened and digested his father’s painful memories.

I’m almost finished writing my grandmother’s story, but I know it won’t be the end of my family’s memories. I hope to pass them on through this memoir, to enlighten generations to come, to help them remember what once was.

For another take on memory, check out Marylin Warner’s blog. As a tribute to her mother, who’s lost much of her memory through dementia, Marylin posts stories from the past and comments on how this loss has affected her mother and those around her.

How do you use memory in your work? Do you feel it’s power? Does it seep in when you least expect it? I’d love to hear your comments.

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The Art in Good Writing

Painters' Lodge, Campbell River

Painters’ Lodge, Campbell River

Who’d have thought I’d learn what it takes to write well at a Painters’ Weekend?  It’s one attended by many of the best artists in British Columbia. They come annually to Painters Lodge in Campbell River to demonstrate their technique, show slide presentations and participate in panel discussions.

What I learned about good writing came out of a panel discussion on what constitutes good art. What the artists had to say, applies to writing as well.

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Pat Martin Bates in front of one of her creations.

Grande dame artist, Pat Martin Bates, 86 years old, said, “There is a grain of truth in all art.

Writers know that when their writing contains kernels of truth, readers connect, as it speaks to them in a way they understand.

Pat Martin Bates also said, “It’s about putting your inner voice on canvas. Painters paint to communicate. Their “love comes through the paint.” The artist’s “hands make the voice of their heart visible.”

What this artist said about art, could be said about writing. Good writers communicate. They show their love through their words—whether it’s love of their characters, or love in their story, or love of their craft.

Good writers make the voice of their hearts visible. When we, as readers, feel the pain a character goes through when they lose someone they love, or feel the sexual excitement of a character’s first kiss, or laugh at some blunder he or she’s committed, we relate to the humanity of the work. If only for a moment, we feel understood, or we get to understand something we hadn’t before. That is the genius of good writing. It makes our lives richer.

Another artist, Peter Shostak, defined good art as “Individual expression you can get away with and get paid for.” Isn’t that true of what writers hope for as well? Readers are willing to pay if the writing is good.

Robert Amos, an art writer and painter, said, “Art is the grace that descends on any activity.”  So true. When I read a good book, and a sentence sings to me, or I connect with a character, it’s heaven sent.

A View of Discovery Passage from Painters Lodge

A View of Discovery Passage from Painters Lodge

This weekend underlined the art in good writing. It also inspired me to paint and write more. It’s only through doing, that we get better. I hope you are similarly inspired to create, if not through writing, then through your art, or through your garden, or through cooking for your family or loved one, or however you creatively express yourself. We all have that right brain. To find the creator in oneself is an unparalleled joy, one that requires nurturing and attention.

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Escape Artist

The book launch for Escape, an anthology, published by a new group, Peregrin Publishing. took place at the Maritime Heritage Centre in Campbell River, on Nov. 10. We had a great crowd. There was music, a slide presentation of the printing process and readings.

I’m one of 28 writers who’ve contributed to this anthology. My story, No Time For Tears, is actually a chapter from my work in progress, my grandmother’s story. My novel or memoir ( I haven’t decided yet) starts with my mother’s birth in Czarist Russia in 1915, and ends in 1929, when she came to Canada with what was left of her family.The excerpt in Escape is about the time my grandmother and her children had to flee the invading Germans.

Along with the book launch, writers, who also happen to be artists, have hung their works  in the Tidemark Theatre lobby in Campbell River. The following art pieces are the ones I painted for the exhibit.

The Deep, Acrylic 36 x36

 

A New Dawn, Acrylic, 18 x 18

 

Following Monet, Acrylic, 20 x 24

 

Sunburst, Acrylic, 24 x 36

Now, back to writing more of Baba’s story and revisions on my other novel. Please leave any comments below.

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What Is It About The Troubled Artist?

Mark Rothko

A few days ago, I went to see the play, RED, written by John Logan. A winner of six Tony awards in 2010, RED tells the story of Mark Rothko, abstract expressionist painter and contemporary of Jackson Pollock, during the time he got a commission to do a group of murals for the Four Season restaurant in New York. The play’s appeal comes from the way the playwright portrayed the troubled artist. Mark Rothko’s genius is highlighted, but so is his massive ego and his insecurity. All are revealed over the course of a two year relationship with a young artist, who serves as his apprentice in this story.

As a writer, I don’t profess to have Rothko’s genius, but I do have his insecurities, and perhaps enough ego to continue to battle the obstacles in my way. Every artist—whether they are actors, dancers, singers, painters, sculptors or writers—fights this battle to get noticed. For any  artist, there isn’t an exact science to follow, even though there are techniques that need to be mastered in each discipline.  Once those are learned, the artist can fly, soar with the best.  But the expression of the artist’s soul is so individual that it can’t escape judgement. What appeals to one body does not appeal to another. How many times have we read of books that have been rejected and then later applauded? How many art works have been condemned for their poor composition or use of colour and then later valued for their innovative approach? One only has to read about the Impressionists and how they had to battle the critics in the salons of Paris to understand the creative dilemma.

How does the artist know then when they are wasting their time pursuing their art? The question and the answer is as old as time.  It’s up to the artist to decide when enough is enough. Some keep spinning their wheels, some adapt, and others move on. In Mark Rothko’s case, he chose suicide. He couldn’t stomach the kind of response he got later on in his life. He couldn’t accept the changing public opinion. He had his own, and that didn’t jive with what he heard and what he read about his art. He also did not accept the artists who followed him and had their own style.  He had forgotten that he had once broken the rules and had dared to go where others hadn’t. At one point in the play—when Rothko complains about the diners (in the Four Seasons Restaurant) who focus on their dinners instead of admiring his art—the apprentice says to the troubled artist, “It’s just a painting.”  This young artist could just as easily say to writers who sweat over their material, “it’s just a book.”

For more on this play, playwright John Logan offers his thoughts on Mark Rothko and his play RED.

But where would we be without artists who toil to help us understand our world? Where would we without the artists who touch our souls and our hearts with their take on the world as they see it?  It’s sad that Rothko chose to end it the way he did, but who knows what’s in one man’s heart.  Art, like nature, thrives on balance.  For art to matter, the artist has to give, but not so much that he loses himself.

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