Thursday, November 18, 2010

Cover Magic

This is a tough question for me.

First, because I feel like I've won the lottery of cover design for both CITY OF DRAGONS and THE CURSE-MAKER ... the brilliant David Rotstein in both cases! David's the Senior Art Director at SMP, amazingly, incredibly versatile, and can completely convey the feeling and themes of a book in visual terms. He was nominated for three Anthony Awards at Bouchercon 2009, for books which were wildly different in look.

Secondly, I think in film reels rather than static images when I visualize my books. It would be much easier for me to film a ten minute video than to come up with a cover image for CITY OF DRAGONS.

Thirdly, I've got sinusitis, and I can't be held responsible for what the antibiotics make me do ...

However, in an effort to justify the BA in Art History on my wall, I'll talk about art. Let's use CITY OF DRAGONS as an example, though actually both my series are faced with the same overall challenge: how to make the past recognizable but still immediate and contemporary.

I don't think of history--or write historical fiction--as though it were "history" and therefore separate from my contemporary life. I think of it as a living thing, not something closed, dusty and forgotten. So my input on covers is always "Please don't make it look "old" or "vintage". Give a nod to the period, but make it look alive and now."

That's not the only apparent contradiction I face. Take CoD ... a thriller, a noir, a historical, a PI tale, with a bit of epic San Francisco thrown in. Miranda spends time by herself and in a flurry of activity. The city is beautiful, gleaming, vibrant--and at the same time, ugly, corrupt and decayed. Spaces are empty and full, people are both good and bad, and in essence, life itself is a masterpiece of contradictory impressions and actions. So how the hell to get all this in a cover?

We could start with Archibald Motley--one of my favorite painters from the Harlem Renaissance. His "Bronzeville by Night" conveys the urban energy I'd want.

But what about Edward Hopper? "Nighthawks" is quintessential American existential noir, and a superb illustration of alienation in a big city.

Then there's Tamara de Lempicka, a Polish Art Deco artist who conveys motion and action beautifully, her figures as robust and earthy as Michelangelo's.

But what about photography? This was the era of the great photographers--Life Magazine debuted in 1937, and chronicled American life for nearly the rest of the century. There are elements of George Hurrell in CoD--as in this photo of Rita Hayworth--but also Dorothea Lange, who ennobled the plight of Depression era down-and-outs.

And at the same time, we need a contemporary artist, someone who could wed these styles to a distinctly "now" presentation ...

So there you have it. I simply can't come up with one artist who can do all of the above. So, if we were living in Harry Potter's universe, I might want one of those magic moving covers, with all of this art flashing by. Until then, of course, I'm happy--and very lucky-- to leave it in David's hands. :)


Graham Brown said...

Hey Kelli - you did hit the lottery with COD - great book and great cover. I had a mental image of the setting and the story from the minute I saw it - which i like my covers i think they're eye catching - but not quite the same thing.

FYI - very impressed with "all your school learnin about art n' stuff."

Rebecca Cantrell said...

How many degrees DO you have? Writer, actress, art historian, classicist? Rocket designer??

Loved all the covers. Tamara de Lempicka was on my list too, although the Pitre was so perfect he won.

Your covers so far have been amazingly great! I've been over the moon about mine too, so I can't really complain either.

Kelli Stanley said...

Aw, Graham--thank you!! I think your covers really rock--make you want to reach out and grab 'em up, which is what a cover should do.

As for the book learnin', if I don't use my degrees now and then, I feel awful guilty about the student loans! ;)

Thanks, sweets!


Kelli Stanley said...

Three degrees, Becks--BA in Classics, BA in Art History and MA in Classics. The rest, as Indiana Jones might say, is mileage. :)

My problem is I could never make up my mind, so I majored in Drama for two years, film and English off and on, etc. etc.

That's why writing is so perfect--I can put any arcane knowledge or interest to good use. ;)

LOVE your covers (go, zeppelin!!), and still say you should write Pitre!!