Monday, January 7, 2019

Book cover: This Particular Happiness

Creating the book cover for the next Forest Avenue Press title, Jackie Shannon Hollis' This Particular Happiness, came with a very particular challenge. From the publisher description:

As a farm girl in eastern Oregon, feeding bottles to bummer lambs and babysitting her little sister, Jackie Shannon Hollis expected to become a mother someday. After a series of failed relationships, she met Bill, the man she wanted to spend her life with. But he was a man who never wanted children. Saying I do meant saying I don’t to a rite of passage her body had prepared her for since puberty.

A memoir about not having children... I've made lots of book covers that focus on the central something in the book. But, how do you create imagery about the lack of something?

What I did first was procrastinate. A lot. And that's fitting, right? That's me performing the lack of something, i.e., working.

OK, I wasn't procrastinating so much as beating my brains out, trying to come up with a way to put this theme visually on the page. I kept thinking about this scene in the 1938 film Marie Antoinette with Norma Shearer where, to taunt Marie Antoinette for not yet having given the Dauphin Louis-Auguste an heir, Madame du Barry sends her a tiny empty cradle for an anniversary present.

There you go. A book cover showing an empty cradle.


In the end, the inspiration for the concept came from publisher Laura Stanfill, who sent me an email asking if I might create a promo piece for the book that included an image of Jackie with some words of identity arranged around it:


That list got me thinking. I emailed back:

There's something that feels very dynamic to me about your list of things she is, with the word "mother" crossed out. It makes me wonder if that's the seed for the cover, itself. Like if those words were over a photograph, maybe not even as thought bubbles but as, like, overlapping words in some way.

Then Laura to me:

Or another concept like that—a flower (she gardens), and the petals could include the words, and that is very much about womanhood and growing into your own beauty. Ooh, I kind of like that. What other vessels could hold happiness? Hold the title?

Me to Laura:

Would it be too on the nose if we explored the flower thing and the mother petal were falling off?

Me to Laura:

Because I can see something really stylized where the words aren’t just in the petals but form the petals. And maybe the title words form a pot or something.

And then I was off and running.

I made SO many versions of this concept. Versions with the flowerpot, without the flowerpot, with various stems and vines, minute changes in the flower and its petals and the words that made up the petals. Often something would be visually appealing to me but wouldn't quite convey enough of what I was trying to say.

An early work-in-progress version of the flowerpot idea, as I was trying my darndest to fit the words into the shape of the pot. Definitely too jaunty. There's joy but there's also a lot of heartbreak in this book.

Experimenting with blurred flower backgrounds with the white lines overlaid. I wasn't worried, yet, about trying to find a font that would go well with the flower lettering - just looking at the shape of space on the page.

Laura and Jackie really wanted "professional" incorporated into our list of words, and I just couldn't squish it into a petal because of the length of the word. Here I tried making it a leaf. Something to frame Jackie's name with. I knew I'd need another new word for the other side, but for starters I just flipped "professional" backward. The layout was pretty but it distracted from the falling "mother."

Adding the "professional" leaf on the stem of the flower didn't work because it, too, distracted from the falling "mother."

In fact, plenty distracted from the falling "mother," including the blurred background. Cover work can be a delicate balance. Sometimes a design element that is a plus in one way (like the moodiness of the background of the sample below) can be a minus in another (too busy against the detail of the flower).

There were versions with swirly vines all around. At this point the lettering for the title was starting to get there, although those Rs look as though they found their way into grandma's liquor cabinet..

I worked and worked to get that flowerpot thing to work. No matter how much I simplified, it was always just too complicated for comfort.

I finally got it through my head that in order for the concept to work, the whole thing needed to be simple and "mother" needed lots of space around it.

"Mother" had to be the star of the show, and all the bells and whistles I was adding were taking away from what we were trying to communicate to the potential reader.

Another change that happened at this point was the rounding-off of the flower petals because it was suggested to Laura and Jackie that pointy petals might looks like a marijuana leaf, and that's a very different particular happiness.

I was pretty happy with this sample, because the layout was really pretty to me. But Laura pointed out that the swirly... let's just call it greenery was still too distracting. And she was losing sight of the fact that the petal was falling from the flower because of the place where I connected the stem.

Come on, what was my problem? Why did I keep complicating things?

So I knuckled down, simplified the greenery, moved the stem, and we finally, finally had our cover. 

And a lovely blurb from Cheryl Strayed to boot!

This Particular Happiness comes out October 1st of 2019. More information can be found on the Forest Avenue Press website here.

And in the meantime, here's a little taste of the book:

But my body also called out for other possibilities that I didn’t pursue: to run a marathon, to climb the face of a cliff, to go beyond my limits. My longings always called out for more, more, more than what I had. 

And I kept opening the same wound over and over thinking a child would be the salve. I wanted Mom’s approval. I wanted the approval of the women in the mothering club. I didn’t like to be left out. I didn’t want to be pitied. Or judged. 

Maybe this thing I called wanting a child was a distraction from a bigger need: to understand why I was here, why I alive. My need to justify myself. 

Would a child justify me? 

Would it make me happy? 

Wasn’t I already happy?

1 comment:

  1. Great work. Fun - and a little anxiety-making! - to see the struggle to get there. : )