Tag Archives: Fiction

Shallow Enough to Walk Through

The narrative of Marissa Reaume’s forthcoming novel incorporates some typographic styling: the main character, an aspiring writer, uses strikethroughs to eliminate events and parts of her life that she doesn’t like. I wanted to work with this same idea on a type-dominant cover.

During my read-through, I found the perpetual grey skies and struggling characters to be pretty bleak, and was having trouble reconciling my interpretation with the colourful chick-lit presentation the publisher requested. So, stubbornly, I failed with my first three attempts, which were deemed too drab and muted. I was asked to try again, to incorporate a photographic image of a woman somehow, and to shoot for something more arresting, urban, and whimsical. So I re-read the MS and focused less on the puddles and more on the lively, energetic scenes: dancing and hot pink toe nails are featured prominently in the plot.

A fun fact: when you paint letters on paper with nail polish, it basically never dries. Seriously, 5 days and counting, and it’s still tacky.


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Open Pit

Open Pit is a political thriller dealing with two clashing cultures and the costs of doing business in the era of globalization. A group of Canadian human-rights activists visiting Central America are taken hostage by a former revolutionary fighter demanding the closure of a newly-minted open-pit gold mine.

The client asked for a cover that hints at international intrigue and adventure without looking too much like a Tom Clancy novel. Matt Taylor’s intimidatingly good illustrations for the latest John Le Carré novels were cited. Ideas tossed around included Salvadorian soldier portraits, Castro-esque figures attired in fatigues, AK-47 memorabilia, and a mock twentieth-century advertisement for South American tourism. The retro poster seemed like a good way to portray the action-packed foreign setting without showing scenes of violence or environmental devastation caused by mining. Because the publisher is located in Alberta, an ecological approach could cause the book to be incorrectly lumped in with diatribes against the oilsands.

I mocked-up a sunny Cuban travel brochure trying to attract visitors (or, in this case, readers) oblivious to the unrest of the region. The image started out at Post-it sketch. Most covers are inaugurated on 3 x 5″ sticky notes, which then end up attached to various pieces of office furniture and sometimes socks. (The plane morphed into a more plot-relevant helicopter and the dynamite just didn’t make the cut.)


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The Miracles of Ordinary Men

This is a spiritually complex novel about a man named Sam growing wings and a woman named Lilah finding meaning in violence and pain.

Sam periodically sheds feathers, which crumple and turn into black dust as they fall to the ground. I combined feather and dust imagery on the cover to show this disintegration, but also to imply creation (like a phoenix rising from the ashes) so that the cover references the transformation of both characters, not just Sam. (The ash in this case is graphite powder shaved onto my scanner bed.)

My other draft focuses on only one of the story lines. Sam is forced to rip holes in all his shirts to accommodate the wings, which is exactly what I’ve done in order to show, in a simplified way, how his metamorphosis has produced “a great gaping hole where his life used to be.”


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The Crimes of Hector Tomás

This is an epic novel — both the physical size of it, and its ability to induce traumatic nightmares — about disappearance and deception, family and nation. Exiled by his parents to the isolated countryside, Hector is accused of terrorism — a crime of which he is innocent, yet ruthlessly punished. As he tries desperately to extricate himself from the violence perpetrated by a brutal political regime, he realizes that freedom can only come at a terrible price. It’s one of those books you have to take breaks from in order to regain some sense of calm and morality.

My first comp anchors the title on two levels potentially: as a tally of crimes committed by Hector Tomás, or as scratches in a cell wall where someone is being held and tortured.

The second, which you will see on shelves this September, hides eerie scenes behind letters, obscuring a medley of images relating to violence, male and female figures, and trains.


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The Shore Girl

The Shore Girl follows Rebee from her toddler to her teen years as she grapples with her mother’s fears and addictions, and her own desire for a normal life. Through a series of narrators — family, friends, teachers, strangers, and Rebee herself — her family’s dark past, and the core of her mother’s despair, are slowly revealed.

Rebee and her mother usually escape their problems at night, ricocheting around rural Alberta in a busted white van.

Another concept I presented was derived from the preliminary title “The Shore Girl Clippings” which refers to the nail trimmings that Rebee saves in a jar and carries around from place to place. She also has a slightly mangled hand from when her mother refused treatment for a broken finger. These character traits were just begging for a collage of some sort.


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Theanna Bischoff‘s new novel pieces together the childhood memories of Darcy Nolan and the moments leading up to and following her nineteen-year-old sister’s suicide. Each section of the book begins with a verse of the rhyme, There was an old lady who swallowed a fly, which influenced the cover imagery.

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Dance, Gladys, Dance

Five Steps to an Ordinary Life:

1. Get a real job.
2. Stop seeing the world as a series of potential paintings.
3. Learn how to talk about the weather.
4. Do the things that normal people do.
5. Figure out what normal people actually do.

The synopsis for the 2012 NeWest Press release: 27-year-old Frieda Zweig is at an impasse. Behind her is a string of failed relationships and half-forgotten ambitions of being a painter; in front of her lies the dreary task of finding a real job and figuring out what “normal” people do with their lives. Then, a classified ad for a ’78 phonograph in the local paper introduces Frieda to Gladys, an elderly woman who long ago gave up on her dreams of being a dancer.

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Hold Me Now

I’ve managed to hijack another striking piece of art for a small Canadian literary press.

Julia Skopnik‘s photo titled “my body questions you and your answers are in me” will grace the cover of an upcoming Freehand Books release by Stephen Gauer. Hold Me Now portrays a father’s grief after his son is beaten to death in Stanley Park,Vancouver, and the overt role that homophobia played in the incident.

Now I just have to figure out how to put type on it.

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Santa Rosa

Santa Rosa: A Californian county, the Portuguese name for Saint Rose, an extinct community in Edmonton, and more recently, a book.

Taking full advantage of that fantastic Fall light, I set out to replicate the sense of otherworldliness and subtle nostalgia in Wendy McGrath’s new novel. The young narrator seeks the answers to these questions as she tries to make sense of the disintegration of her parents’ marriage — a process echoed by the slow disintegration of their neighbourhood.

The excerpt that sent me outside, looking for a chain link fence:
“The picture of the family as they walked the parking lot pavement was overexposed. Taken into the sun. Too bright. Too hot in some spots. The girl could feel the bottoms of her feet begin to warm. She had to squint against the sunlight shining on the chain link fence on either side of the entrance against carnival rides that roiled against the sky against the Ferris wheel an aperture perpetually open on her adventure.”

From Jamie Hall’s review in the Edmonton Journal on 04/17/11:

“And I thought there are many streets and houses and families and kids who have this sense of dreamlike attachment to a time that has passed.” In the book, which McGrath describes a “poetic narrative,” the narrator knows something is wrong but has no insight into what that is and has no way of articulating it. It’s not unlike any child observing the adult world, says McGrath, which to young minds can often be baffling, sad and at times frightening.

Looking for a place to live for just $10 per month?

(Courtesy of the City of Edmonton Archives.)

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And Me Among Them

Ruth grew too fast.

The protagonist in Kristen den Hartog’s new novel is a girl with gigantism. From a bird’s-eye perspective, Ruth recollects her struggles to connect with other children in small-town, post-WWII Canada, and observes the lives of her parents, Elspeth, an English war bride and seamstress, and James, a mailman.

My first concept comes from a particularly compassionate moment in the book, when a boy takes the laces out of all his shoes and ties them together to make an extra long pair for Ruth. Shoelaces appear again in a less sentimental way after a bully ties Ruth’s shoes together to trip her at school. And once more in an excerpt that is so good, it needs to be reproduced here:

They boarded with their arms linked, and their two stories together were like strands made into a knot; you cross them, you tuck one under the other, and cinch them close. So simple, and yet it took me forever to learn how to tie laces. I thought I would never know, and then one day it came to me. I thought, That’s all? Because it had looked so complicated for so long.

Second idea: Ruth’s homemade pants that are lovingly pieced together by her mother, who unstitches and refashions her own dresses to make her daughter’s patchwork clothes longer, bigger, wider each time she grows.

In the selected cover, I was playing with the idea of Ruth existing in an awkward space between her home on the ground with the rest of the world, and the sky. At one point, her father renovates their house, lifting the roof off to raise the ceiling height.

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Dustship Glory

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A rapid, irregular heartbeat rhythm.

And a good way to describe the central relationships in Arrhythmia, which is full of scandalous love affairs, conflicting cultural values, and betrayal.

Near the beginning of my process, Alice’s best writing buddy, Mark, a Kansanian who lives in Denmark, mentioned that if the title is in upper-case, then the R’s will look like Finnish-language gargoyles. Unfortunately, I couldn’t make that work with Hoefler’s Requiem.

Nevertheless, my fabric cardiographies.

I’ve been eagerly awaiting this novel since I finished Alice’s 2009 collection of short stories, Ruins & Relics.

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Butterflies in Bucaramanga

On the scanner bed: one tangled net + a photo of blue sky + the long and unpronounceable name of a municipality in South America.

A suspenseful thriller about a mining executive who is kidnapped by Colombian renegades, caught in a collision between Western corporate imperatives and revolutionary politics. I used a tangled net to link the insect-related title to the idea of captivity. I was originally working with the preliminary title, The Butterfly Effect, but there are already at least a dozen novels, numerous self-help books, and one really bad Ashton Kutcher movie that are already unsuitably referencing chaos theory.

For those of you who are astute, it is indeed a fish net, not a butterfly net. But the story is about capturing human beings, not insects, so it could potentially work.

And, a similar notion for a very different kind of book from Jason Booher. (Both books have the same release date, so no need to play the “who did it first” game.)

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Don’t ask how, but I convinced the amazing Dan Estabrook to let me use one of his pieces on the cover of Myrna Dey’s first novel. Dan is based out of Brooklyn and exhibits in real cities like New York, Chicago and… Atlanta. He uses nineteenth-century photographic techniques to make contemporary art, working with hand-altered calotypes and salt prints. The piece I’ve absconded with is a mounted toned silver print called “Untitled Twins, 1992”.

Extensions tells the story of a woman who is uncovering information about her ancestors, and the impact that these bits of lost history have on her life. She makes the chance discovery of a sepia photograph of her grandmother and twin sister, in the hands of a stranger. So she decides to find out how a picture taken in 1914 in the mining town of Extension, BC ended up at a garage sale in small-town Saskatchewan almost 100 years later.

This artwork resonates perfectly with Myrna’s words, from the scissors right down to the teardrop stains on the green matte board.

I continued the scissor motif from Dan’s image throughout the book on the chapter title pages, losing count after about chapter 30:

I was originally hoping to employ an image by local photographer Eleanor Lazare, from her series My Aunt Molly’s Shoes. She projected old photos of her mother and grandmother on the wall, and then took a photo of herself standing in front of the screen. The construction of the series compliments the concept of the book perfectly by showing three generations of women and — quite literally — a reflection of the past onto the present:

Both artists are using historic photos in a contemporary way. Unfortunately, Eleanor’s images don’t accurately represent the genre. They suggest memoir or non-fiction by fixing the people in photos as characters in the book. The author requested that readers be free to invent their own visions of the characters. (I’m hoping to find a better literary fit for Eleanor’s work because I’m just in love with the series.)

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Drift Child

Cover proposal for an upcoming NeWest Press release that develops around a boating incident. The lifejacket alludes to water without actually showing it. (I feel like ominous coastline imagery is a little stale for aquatic-fiction.) The vest will either come to someone’s rescue or share in their demise: Dramatic + poetic at the same time.

There is friction surrounding whether this cover suites the story and author’s tone of voice. This cover design is a grand departure from Rosella’s first novel along the same theme. No question that it would jump off the shelf, but is it a misleading sell?

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Gerbil Mother

A sardonic look at motherhood and the family dynamic through the eyes of an unborn baby narrating from inside her mother’s womb. The one client stipulation for this cover was “no fetuses on the front, please.”

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Seal Intestine Raincoat

My cover illustration for a cautionary tale with a bleak portrayal of socio-economic collapse resulting from an unsustainable way of life.

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