Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Why oh why do I do these things?

If you’ve hung around Type M for any amount of time, you know that I’m sort of the self-appointed commenter on book covers. There are a number of reasons for this – you could look ’em up – but every so often I post about book covers. Today is one of those days, but it’s also from a very different perspective.

With my new novel entering the design stage, I thought it was important to make my cover design ideas clear to my editor. Being a graphic designer as well as the author, I figure I have some good ammo to putting forth my argument. I do know what makes a good cover image. Couple that with the fact that my previous Dundurn novel had a really excellent cover and the same designer will be doing this one, and my proposal met with cautious acceptance.

The Fallen One’s cover that received a lot of compliments. The designer, Jesse Hooper, really hit it out of the park. Why he used a mask image in the first place wasn’t clear to me until I went searching for it on iStockphoto.com because I needed a larger version of the image for a poster I always produce for book signings. Lo and behold, the main keyword to identify the image was “opera”. When you search on this website with “opera” as the keyword, you get dozens and dozens of masks. I guess the general public thinks all operas have masks as part of the staging. Either that or Verdi’s Un Ballo in Maschera is the most popular opera of all times, something I doubt is the case (although it is a worthy work). So that’s how my novel’s cover came to have a gorgeous mask as its only image.

Two summers ago when I was in Italy doing research on this new novel, Roses for a Diva, I had an idea of also using a mask on its eventual cover. This time, it would really make sense to have one, too, since there is a section of the book that would be set in Venice during Carnevale. Here’s what you might expect to see at the height of Carnevale in Venice.

Lots of ideas were discussed as my wife and I walked around the city visiting a number of shops selling traditional Venetian masks (not the cheap foreign knock-offs). I found the one I really thought would work well for what I had in mind, took this photo of it (we even bought a small eye mask for my wife). We didn’t buy the mask basically because it would have been very difficult to get home without damage.

Historical note: This particular traditional Carnevale mask is called il medico della peste or “the plague doctor”. The long beak had a practical use. It would be filled with preventative herbs and perfumes to protect from disease and the stench of death. Obviously, considering the number killed by plague in the Middle Ages, people wearing this costume were considered harbingers of death. To my mind, coupled with the traditional long black robe and black hat or hood, it looks quite spooky and frightening, perfect for my needs. Could you imagine meeting something like that in a dark alley in the dead of night? If you wish to read more about plague doctors, click on this.

So when Jesse told me last week that he was in on my cover concept, it was time to get hold of that particular mask. Only one stumbling point: I could not find the information of where the shop was, nor could we find the receipt for the mask we did buy. We had no idea where the shop was, either, since we’d visited so many. Yesterday, we spent about six hours each on our computers trying to come up with the answer, all to no avail.

I’d checked all the stock photo websites months ago and had been unable to find an image of this particular mask that would work, so if I wanted to do this, I’d have to do a custom photo to be shot, meaning I had to buy that mask. What to do? My wife, the family linguini, widened her search to Italian sites rather than English. Did she find the shop? Sad to say, no, but she did find another atelier in the Giudeca section of Venice across the water from Piazza San Marco, and they make a very nice (and spooky) version of the mask. We ordered it this morning.

Now comes the next step: shooting the cover image – which has its own set of problems, but at least we’re underway.

Yesterday, though, I was at the depths of despair. Why did I ever take this on? I’m sure Jesse would have found some other sort of image that would have worked. I had this great idea, but then things went wrong – as they often do. Why do I always stick my oar in the water???

The simple answer (as my wife reminded me) is that cover images are crucial in selling a book, especially when its author is not that well known. An arresting image can make all the difference – even if getting it drives the poor author crazy.

I also now know more about plague doctors than I ever wanted to. Guess I can always use that information at dinner parties or something…


Frankie Y. Bailey said...

I'm sure all the effort to find the mask will be worth it when you have the perfect cover. Enjoyed the plague mask image. It reminded me of some research I once did for a passing reference in one of my own books.

Charlotte Hinger said...

I've been thrilled with my covers and they are all designed by Nick Greenwood. He's so responsive to any suggestions the PPP authors make.

Your mask is unusual and tantalizing.

Rick Blechta said...

Thanks for the two comments. Just in searching for the best possible mask for the cover photo I've found out a huge amount of information on this very fascinating topic. Who knows? I might even come up with a book plot! Learning something new is definitely a good thing.