Sunday, April 24, 2022

In the bathroom with Barbra Streisand

 I've been looking through my old kid diaries trying to find passages about my aunt Kathy to share. But I came across this, which seemed appropriate for Barbra Streisand's 80th birthday. Kathy features a little, but mostly this is my cousin Heather and me and our brush with Streisand.

From my diary, with all spelling and punctuation errors intact. June 7, 1984.


Well, last night was the N.O.W dinner with Barbara Streisand. First, mom & I rode down to Heather's house with our clothes and everything. We got dressed & made our selves beautiful. (I went & got a dress at the mall with mom) at Heather's. A long, blue limosine picked us up and we started for the place. There were 4 seats in the back, 2 facing each other and the other 2 facing each other. We drank virgin Marys from the limo while Mom & Kathy drank champagne. It was raining. People would watch to see if we were anybody famous. We walked in after leaving instructions with our shofer (however the hell you spell it), Rob. The place was packed. I had a ginger ale & we found our seats. Dinner wasn't very great. We had dry chicken breasts with the bones still inside and some rice. Heather & I got served white wine with it. Then Heather & I decided to walk to the bathroom. In the bathroom, Heather was waiting on a stall and out came Barbara Streisand. I brushed her arm slightly as she rushed past & Heather sat on the same toilet.  

Saturday, April 2, 2022

Book Cover: Unrelenting

Whew. This was a hard one.

One of the reasons I love design work is that there’s always a challenge. Fitting the elements together, the colors, the fonts, it’s always a puzzle, and I love the puzzle of it.

The challenge in Unrelenting, a novel due out April 19 from Not a Pipe Publishing, was that I offered to produce a painted illustration as part of the cover design. 

Now, I'll say it's not that I've never stepped back from the computer to create art for a cover before. I had, not too long before, done the cover art for Caitlin Vance’s Paper Garden by hand-painting the faces and tulips for that illustration, and it had turned out nicely. But the style of art that authors Jessi Honard and Marie Parks wanted for Unrelenting was much more finely detailed. In fact, in sending me examples of the type of illustration they like, they referenced my cover for The Untold Gaze, the book I co-produced with my husband who’s an actual fine artist. 

And yeah. Sadly, I’m no Stephen O’Donnell.

But I’m getting ahead of myself. Before I even started working on the painting of the book’s most important characters, Bridget and Dahlia, I created the main element of the cover design, the Grigori symbol.

Briefly, the book is about Bridget, a young woman who, in searching for her missing sister Dahlia, discovers, as the publisher describes it, “a carefully-guarded plot tied to powerful, age-old magic.” The magical dark forces in the story are called the Grigori, and their calling cards are symbols that are found in various places throughout the novel—on walls as graffiti, even on people’s skin. Here's a description from early on in the book:

An intricate array of black strokes covered the worn cinder blocks. The artist had taken care to ensure the geometric pattern was precise, creating an expanding knot of swoops.

And further down:

“It’s cool,” he remarked, stepping forward to get a closer look. “Kinda reminds me of fractal art.”

My early experimenting to create one of these symbols relied heavily on the combination of graffiti and fractal art and the description of the symbol as "an expanding knot of swoops."

But then Jessi sent me an extra explanation that really clarified the idea behind these symbols:

They are a precise written language that is so complex that people train for decades to interpret and create them. Each symbol essentially creates a 'contract' (our magic system is based on signing contracts via these symbols). There are several different types of symbols, but each individual one is unique. Some create new Grigori, some impact physical objects, and others put conditions on people. The different swirls, lines, and shapes within the symbol create these stipulations, show the signature of the signer, and give it its power. 

The thing that struck me the most in this description was the idea that the symbol was a complex written language. That allowed me to think beyond the concept of pattern to something more intricate.

Once we had a symbol we all liked (Jessi, Marie, publisher Benjamin Gorman, and editor Viveca Shearin), I moved on to the sisters. 

The authors sent me stock photos representing how they pictured Bridget and Dahlia looking. I found two that worked well as mirror images of each other, that felt right for the layout I wanted, and I started by sketching them out on paper. Then I moved to acrylic paints. My plan, knowing my art and design skillset, was to start the art as a painting and then bring it into Photoshop to refine it.

Annoyingly, when I had a painting that I was happy with, I found it difficult to reproduce digitally. Subtlety and softness disappeared in the scans I took, and brushstrokes came through chunky and less-than-elegant.

Now, the idea for this painting was that it would float very dimly in the space above and below the title and the Grigori symbol, that the faces would be subtle shadows, against a dark background. But still, I needed to do loads of work to get these two sisters to look as we all wanted them to look.

Here are some closeups as I refined, added details, darkened and deepened the image behind the symbol. (The idea to have the symbol cup the jawlines of the sisters came from publisher Benjamin Gorman, by the way.)

And finally, here are both Bridget and Dahlia and the completed cover sporting a spiffy award badge from the book earning a finalist nod for the Book Pipeline award.

Unrelenting will be out on April 19th. Jessi and Marie were given an exclusive cover reveal on LGBTQReads. You can check that out, along with more info on the book and an excerpt here. The book is available for preorder now. And here's one more exclusive excerpt for you!


Bridget hit play. Again.

A dark alleyway appeared on her phone’s screen, its rough brick walls gleaming as a fine rain fell. A puddle reflected the single light that flickered above a worn metal door. It was the kind of scene that would kick off an old noir film.

In the fourth second of the clip, a woman stepped into the alleyway from the quiet street beyond. Her face remained in shadow, a hood covering her hair. She cast her gaze over her shoulder once before wrenching open the heavy door and stepping through. Dim, hazy light shone from the window, then faded. The video ended.

Dahlia. There was no doubt in Bridget's mind. Yes, the scene was dark and misty. No, the camera never clearly captured her face. But she would recognize that walk, that glance, that posture anywhere.

It was her. It had to be her.

As Bridget watched, she found herself repeating a familiar refrain. It isn’t your fault. The words felt flatter each time. For the rest of her life, she’d never shake the angry, abrupt end to their last call. And all over a guy Bridget knew was bad news. Their fight had carved out a hollow place within her.

At first, the reigning theory was that Dahlia and her boyfriend, Dan, had run off together. But Dahlia wouldn’t do anything so extreme without confiding in her sister, even after a blowout. She refused to give up hope. Even after Dan’s car was found, Bridget knew her sister wasn’t gone. She would’ve known if Dahlia was dead.

And now she had proof. The video’s metadata told her the recording happened two months after Dahlia’s disappearance. It hadn’t arrived in her inbox until a couple of weeks ago, with the file attached. The first time she'd played those ten seconds, alone in her bedroom in North Carolina, it was a moment of vindication. Finally, she had confirmation her sister was still out there. Since then, she must have watched the clip a hundred times, relief giving way to frustration as Ivanova dismissed her.

She returned to her inbox, staring at her messages. She'd planned to send a follow-up to their meeting, but given the way Ivanova treated her, she doubted she’d get a response. The detective had made herself clear. Bridget should have known better than to trust the police.

But she had made herself clear, too. She wasn’t giving up on this lead. She needed to find out what had happened to Dahlia.

With a steadying breath, Bridget returned to the email chain containing the video. It was a long back-and-forth by now, after two weeks of correspondence. The sender, a classmate of Dahlia’s, had provided a spark of hope when everyone else had given up. Maybe he could help.

James, she wrote, I made it to Cleveland. Any chance we could talk in person tomorrow?

Bridget felt a small surge of satisfaction as she hit send and turned off the screen. She refused to keep waiting for news that never came. At least she had a plan. A loose, unformed plan, but it was better than nothing.

As she settled among the blankets, she hoped it would be enough.