It’s such a relief to be able to say that the cover for my book is finally (finally!) done. Seriously, had I known it would have been this hard…oh, who am I kidding, I still would have done it! There’s something so exhilarating and frightening about being responsible for cover art. Not just elements of that art, but top to bottom, every last detail. So if people hate the cover, well, it’s my own damn fault. But if people like it (and I do. I really do!) then I can feel confident that I never had to compromise.
No doubt the cover will ruffle a few feathers and might turn a few people off. So I’m going to use this space to explain the concept behind it, and the process by which we arrived at a final product.
First off, thanks to the two people without whom this cover wouldn’t have been possible. Jeffrey Bucari, the photographer/layout designer (www.jeffreybucari.com) and Jason Covert, the artist of the painting (www.jasoncovert.com), both of whom put in countless hours and had to put up with me, someone who is both indecisive and extremely fussy at the same time. I had a LOT of ideas along the way, and it took quite a while until we reached this final one.
I first started discussing the project with Jeff back in August. The primary concept for the cover was to somehow play off two things: 1) The title story, in which the protagonist is a painter of controversial gay artwork and 2)The fact that the stories all featured gay men traveling, in transit, or in flux. I wanted the cover image to grab people’s attention, but not in a stereotypically “gay” way. I kept going back to the idea of a gallery shot, one which wrapped around the spine of the book, thereby drawing the viewer’s eyes to the back as well.
My first idea was to have little kids – five or six years old – sitting on a bench or on the floor, looking up at a painting that was clearly too suggestive for their eyes. The painting wouldn’t have been obscene, but rather something that adults would recognize as inappropriate but the children themselves would have no idea what it was.I scrapped that idea once I realized it would give the wrong message–my book has nothing to do with kids.
Still I stuck with the idea of a gallery shot and an image hanging on the wall. Since finding a gallery that would allow me to shoot was a must, I start asking my friends in the art world (and well, everybody I knew) if they could help me find a space on the cheap. My uberfabulous dear friend Christina Phelps (www.translitmag.com) did me one better: a space that would let us shoot for free. And not just any gallery, but a major West Chelsea gallery! I owe so much gratitude to Steven Sergiovanni over at Mixed Greens (www.mixedgreens.com) for not just letting us shoot there, but also for being so incredibly relaxed about the whole process. I couldn’t have asked for an easier experience, or frankly, a more beautiful gallery. You should check it out: 531 West 26th Street, New York, NY.
The next idea for the artwork was to somehow incorporate sex toys, either to form the letters of the title of the book or to perhaps place them on a hotel room bed, along with other indicators of travel. Around this time I was having some communication issues with my previous artist, and lucky for me Jason came to my rescue. Jason was always relaxed and professional and patient with me. Thank goodness, because I was so indecisive for quite a while.
Jason’s first attempt at the artwork was certainly interesting, but not quite what I had in mind:
I kept picturing the hotel room as being more chic and modern, and for the color palette to be less earthy, and more sleek. To reinforce this I sent him pictures of hotel rooms I liked, and suddenly drawing inspiration from fauvism (don’t ask me how), decided that I wanted the hotel room to be done in these super-saturated, artificial colors, which I thought would contrast well against the minimalist white walls and floors of the gallery.
Jason’s next attempt really opened things up a lot. He wisely understood that the title couldn’t remain inside the suitcase. In fact, the suitcase wasn’t necessary as a unifying element at all. We put some sex toys on the bed and then among the many gallery shots, narrowed it down to two possibilities:
We were definitely getting somewhere! But after speaking to some friends, I realized that the sex toys were too small (they wouldn’t be visible in an Amazon thumbnail) and were not getting a message across. Two of these friends (TJ and Michael) convinced me that I should focus on the painting above the hotel room bed as my medium for suggesting the gay themes of the collection. This also jibed well with the idea of a “margin of tolerance.” Here was this gay-themed painting hanging on a hotel room wall. What was it doing there? It seemed like an invasion on an otherwise ordinary space. To highlight this, I wanted the colors of the hotel room and the painting to be very different.
In the meantime, Jeff had to do a LOT of Photoshop work. Not only did the entire space need cleaning up, many of the elements needed to be moved around. More than that, I didn’t think either of the two possible shots were exactly right. I wanted the front of one and the back of the other, because I had this idea in my head that the blurbs would be not only on the back wall but also on the side wall. So this is how it looked, cleaned up:
Speaking of blurbs, I’ll take this time to thank my fellow author friends who put in the time to read my collection and craft a few words for me: Michael Montlack, Anna North, Catherine Texier, Justin Torres and Alex Yates, y’all are a bunch of superstars, and I am humbled by your kind words.
We still had to decide on the painting hanging above the bed. What would it be? Again, TJ helped by letting me bounce ideas off of him. I decided that the image should somehow capture the moment in a Hollywood movie where the camera cuts away from gay sex. It had to be explicit, but not obscene. I wanted it to irk people, force them to think about what the cover is trying to say. I think Jason did an amazing job: the look on the man’s face reads beatific, not sexual to me. One of yearning, not of lust.
My last problem had to do with the impact of the painting on the wall. Would it be lost in the overall image of the cover? For the solution to this, I thank some of my writer friends in Key West for suggesting that the painting be in color and the hotel room be in gray-scale. This way, the painting would pop.
Last but certainly not least, I had to choose the fonts for the title and for my name. I can’t tell you how much this stressed me out. Fonts are extremely important. After sifting through several hundred, I think I found two that not only work well together but just jump off the page.
If you read this far, bless you! I hope I didn’t bore you, and I look forward (with more than a little anxiety) to hearing people’s reactions…