Recently I decided it was time to try out Amazon’s print-on-demand service, Create Space. It’s an appealing concept: One reader, one book. No inventory, no waste. I’d put it off too long: Only used copies of book # 1 (The Light Bearer) were available in the online bookstores, and since I’d rewritten the book for the e-book edition, that hoary old ’94 trade paperback edition was starting to feel like a first draft. I’d actually found myself asking people not to buy it, begging them to read the e-book instead.
Create Space has an easy-to-use online form to fill out, and since I got expert help with the text conversion and layout, it was not at all the hair-raising experience I expected it to be. Well, with one exception: It turned out that, at a hefty 810 pages, book # one was pushing Create Space’s drop-dead-and-please-go-away page limit; I scraped by with about three pages to spare. How had the publisher managed so effortlessly to slim this book down to a mere 788, using a font that looked tantalizingly larger than the eye-pinching one I was coming up with, all the while managing comfortable, roomy margins? It was a puzzle I never solved. It’s not all that easy to slap together a book. I have new respect for real publishers.
As for the book itself, I’d already dealt with the gremlins in the text that had been haunting me for years, and had even added an afterword just in case anyone wanted to know who really lived in this ancient Roman saga and who I’d made up. All I had to do was come up with some cover art.
It was a heady feeling, having control of both the inside and the outside. After days of ruminating on cover art I remembered I had an artist friend whose work I’d admired for years. I didn’t think of her at first because she does landscapes, mostly, and I also needed a woman on a horse — a first-century barbarian woman, to be exact. But my instincts told me I would love whatever she came up with. The first time I ever saw one of her paintings I’d started mentally counting pennies to see if I could afford to buy it, even though back then I was one of those people who thought original art was something only rich New Yorkers indulged in. It turned out the pennies didn’t stretch, and I mourned a little, afterward. I can’t describe these landscapes adequately. They glow with what I can only think of as mystical realism. The ones I loved best were her forest scenes — often, oak trees bathed in mist, dappled with playful color, usually with a strong light source, so that you feel you’re being socked back into space. They are a playground for the eyes. Her name is Jane Kiskaddon; you can view her recent work here.
In the meantime I’d met her and I asked her to do my cover, even though I worried that horses weren’t her thing and I didn’t know if she’d want to attempt a barbarian woman in first-century garb. Luckily for me she was game to try. She decided right away that working from a photograph wasn’t going to be good enough and hired an equestrian friend to model for her. On horseback, of course.
Many modeling sessions ensued. The painting grew. I was ravenous with curiosity. I was
envisioning oaks that might have tried out for a part in Lord of the Rings, mysterious light
sources that beckon you into another world, and my character proudly astride a horse of any color (I didn’t specify), the whole soaked in mystical realism.
The day came when Jane brought the painting over to my apartment, almost finished. She arrived with paints and sat on my floor, huge canvas before her, because there was a spot that still wasn’t right. After a struggle I managed to yank it out of her hands.
I was entranced. This painting has presence; it’s five feet high and four feet wide, and,
particularly at night, I swear it comes alive with an eerie luminescence. There may even be a family of elves living in there. It’s now ensconced over my writing desk, dominating my tiny apartment, hovering there like a window into an ancient forest.
She did a fabulous horse, and added some atmospheric details of her own that I couldn’t have imagined. Later, she said only the spear my warrior woman was holding had presented a challenge — to get the angle of the woman’s arm right, she had her equestrian friend pose with a Swiffer Sweeper. Whatever works, I say.
So now I was ready for the final step — uploading my cover to Create Space’s site, so they could do their own magic and make it into a real book. I ordered my sample copy. Then came the raw thrill of tearing open the package and holding the finished product in my hand. Jane’s painting fulfilled all my fantasies of the perfect cover. And now that I’ve kindled my first book and created some space for it, I can finally let it go.
But sometimes with freedom comes too many choices. Should my cover be glossy or matte? The system lets you choose. Both looked good, so I’m thinking I’ll switch it back and forth daily, just because I can.
©2014, Donna Gillespie