Write On! Doing Whatever It Takes to Get an Eye-Catching Cover Even If It Means Getting Your Husband Out of Bed At Oh-Dark-Thirty

The cover for my most recent book, The Clone’s Mother (October 2015), has changed. After attending a seminar on cover design, the expert taught that each genre fiction has its own look, a style that readers look for and must find in that one-point-two seconds they see your cover when browsing books, or it’s sayonara baby, move on to the next selection please. After seeing all of his examples of the suspense/thriller covers coming out of New York, I did my own survey and found he was right. That meant I had to change my cover. To go for a new look.

But the work I’d gone to to make the first cover! It was a little tough to just toss it aside.

The first cover has hands grabbing a test tube like fists on a baseball bat to see who gets to bat first. Hand over fist, clutching, fighting for the win. For The Clone, the hands are grabbing to see who gets the baby nestled in the bottom of the test tube. These hands couldn’t be random. Each needed to mean something. But it didn’t start that way.

One night when I woke up and my mind took over and decided I was done with sleep, I got to thinking about the hands I’d already put into the design. I realized I needed different hands, hands that represented characters from the story. I needed a man’s hand in there, a hand representing a doctor. The only man hand close at hand was Jason’s, and lucky me, it was only a foot away. Before I pulled him into the process, I realized I needed a lab coat to make his hand look like a doctor’s. And a fancy expensive watch. Maybe I could find a lab coat at the thrift store, but they weren’t open. Otherwise, I would have been there!

I got out of bed and tiptoed to the linen closet and started digging. I found an antimacassar that had been my grandmother’s. (That’s one of those cloths you place over furniture to keep them clean by the way. Yeah, I had to look it up. I always called them “those doily things.”) It had the perfect hem for my purposes — one inch, clean, smooth, just like a lab coat. All the tatting was on the other edge. So I got out the iron and ironing board and starched and pressed my antimacassar and baste-stitched it into a tube so Jason could wear it as a sleeve. I set up the green screen in my office and got my camera ready. It was time to get Jason’s hand.

“Are you awake?” I whispered. It took a couple more times for him to answer yes. Once he did, I said, “Do you know where that fake Rolex is your dad got for you in New York?” He thought he might. Or I thought he might have said that. He was still wondering what the heck was going on and if I was really waking him up. I explained I needed his help to take some pictures for my book cover. Like the trooper that he is, he went and found the watch and stumbled into the bright light of my office. We slipped the doctor’s sleeve over that wonderful hand of his and got the fake Rolex onto his wrist. I shot a bunch of angles and moods — Okay, now do an angry hand. Great! Now a competitive hand — he was a natural. It was a successful shoot. Well, at least I thought so when I said It’s a wrap.

Through the morning as I worked in Photoshop I found I didn’t have the exact pose I needed. His wrist wasn’t bent at quite the right angle for the position I was placing his arm on the cover. So I emailed him at work and asked about getting just a couple more shots, if I could just meet him really quick at his lunch break. Like the trooper he is, he said okay.

In the meantime, I was meeting with friends to get quick shots of their hands. They held the drinking glass prop, which put their fists in the correct position to go around the giant test tube. They were troopers too, even when it was freezing outside and their kids were in the car waiting (and doing who knows what else in there) and we were shivering so hard it was tough to keep the camera still or the arms from turning bright red in the cold wind, or between patients in their chiropractic office, or between getting their kids fed and pacifying their husband waiting to leave the house. All troopers.

When I met Jason outside his building, the clouds weren’t exactly right so we had use a spot right in front of the entrance. He asked if we couldn’t go around back. Nope. The light wasn’t right there. I’ll be fast. It will only be a minute. Just put your arm there. Really, it doesn’t matter. No one is watching. We took a few and I got just what I needed. Thanks! I zoomed back to my computer and got to work. And made a cover I loved.

Then I went to that stupid seminar.

The new cover is really cool though. My son Spencer designed it. It looks much more like it’s supposed to. A scary doctor, an evocative ultrasound. On the back there’s a suspenseful night skyline of Chicago, where the story takes place. It’s much better. And that is good. But if I hadn’t done the first one, I wouldn’t have discovered how supportive Jason is of this writing thing I’m doing even at Oh-Dark-Thirty, nor how great my friends are, that I could call them or come over at the drop of a hat and snap photos of their limbs. Or move their ink or grandmother’s heirloom ring around to suit my purposes. It’s always nice to have that kind of info tucked into your back pocket to pull out and remember on the why-in-the-world-am-I-doing-this writing days. Because good people in your life are much more important than writing the next big best thing.

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