Monday, April 15, 2024

Book Cover: Like Every Form of Love

Designing the book cover for the re-release by 7.13 Books of Padma Viswanathan's memoir Like Every Form of Love presented me with an interesting challenge. Which is the kind of design job I really enjoy. Working with 7.13 editor Hasanthika Sirisena, I was given some graphic directions that author Padma liked and then asked to give them a particular twist.

Padma said she loved art nouveau, botanical illustrations, vintage aesthetics, the art of Ludwig Bemelmans. She loved art that strayed outside the lines. For colors she favored mustard, orange, chartreuse, rose.

I should stop and say that when she mentioned art nouveau I got excited. I thought it would be a lot of fun to create an elaborate and ornate nouveau design. But the more we talked about it, the more I thought that wasn't the direction for this design. Art nouveau had a good chance of making the viewer think the book takes place in a very different time period. Instead, I started looking at the very evocative floral textiles she shared.

I should stop, too, and share the original cover of this book. It has been published in Canada by Penguin Random House, and 7.13 Books is handling its American release. Here's the Canadian cover.

You can see the subtitle there: a memoir of friendship and true crime. In that original cover, the shattering of the rose symbolizes the fate of that friendship. Here's the description of the book:

From the Scotiabank Giller Prize finalist, a gripping exploration of class, race, friendship, sexuality, what an author owes her subject and what it means to be a good person—all wrapped up in a riveting Canadian true crime story.

Padma Viswanathan was staying on a houseboat on Vancouver Island when she struck up a friendship with a warm-hearted, working-class queer man named Phillip. Their lives were so different it seemed unlikely to Padma that their relationship would last after she returned to her usual life. But, that week, Phillip told her a story from his childhood that kept them connected for more than twenty years.

Phillip was the son of a severe, abusive man named Harvey, a miner, farmer and communist. After Phillip’s mother left the family, Harvey advertised for a housekeeper-with-benefits. And so Del, the most glamorous and loving of stepmothers, stepped into Phillip's life. Del had hung out with Fidel Castro and Che Guevara in Mexico City before the Cuban revolution; she was also a convicted bank robber who had violated her parole and was suspected in her ex-husband’s murder. Phillip had long since lost track of Del, but when Padma said she’d like to write about her and about his own young life, he eagerly agreed. Quickly, though, Padma’s research uncovered hidden truths about these larger-than-real-life characters. Watching the effects on Phillip as these secrets, evasions and traumas came to light, she increasingly feared that when it came to the book or the friendship, only one of them would get out of this process alive.

In this unforgettable memoir, Padma reflects on the joys and frictions of this strange journey with grace, humour and poetry, including original readings of Hans Christian Andersen fairytales and other stories that beautifully echo her characters’ adventures and her own. Like Every Form of Love is that rare thing: an irresistible literary page-turner that twists and turns, delivering powerful revelations, right to the very end.

I asked Padma what the title phrase, Like Every Form of Love, referred to and whether it occurred in the book, and she had this to say:

"Yes, the line is 'Friendship, like every form of love, points ineluctably to the future.' It is from a book of philosophy, called Friendship, by Alexander Nehamas. Elsewhere, I say, 'In fact, pace Nehamas, friendship is like every form of love, complicated in its own particular ways.'" 

I loved that and noodled on it as I started building a floral textile of my own based on the examples Padma had given me.

Like in the Canadian cover, we wanted something that would take the floral design I was building and give it a twist that could show the shadow side of friendship, the tension that threatens every form of love. I wondered what aspects of the crime portion of the book might be pulled out and referenced on the cover, so I checked in with Padma and Hasie about what those specifics are. Padma had this to say:

"There is a murder by shooting in the story (which remains unsolved), a lot of discussion of confinement (Del was imprisoned for a robbery but it's not clear what kind of freedom she enjoyed on the outside, as a working-class Canadian woman in the 1950s). The 'shadow' is another dark motif, as a metaphor for the writer's shady side, which I also explore."

I played with turning my floral design into a negative and perhaps in that negative realm the leaves of my flowers could be matched with the similar shapes of bullets.

Hasie and Padma didn't like the bullets in there, and the negative/positive color scheme thing, interesting in concept, didn't work well visually. Hasie suggested trying to render the floral design into a mask or a genderless face. Padma advocated for creating the design to suggest an explosion. Hasie liked that idea and told me to go for it. 

The explosion angle was super interesting and quite a challenge. How to take my flat arrangement of flowers and turn them into something dimensional and fluid like an explosion?

I tried...

and tried...

and tried...

Everything looked like it was shattering or dripping. 

Finally after a bunch of tinkering I found something that very much did evoke the idea of an explosion. I worked it into a layout that I was happy with and passed it along to Hasie and Padma for a look.

It felt quite dynamic and did get across what we were hoping for it to get across. But it had a comic-book-y feel that Hasie didn't think was right. Try as I might, I couldn't find a way to turn the floral textile into an explosion without having to invoke the two-dimensional tropes that pushed it over the edge into something cartoony. I wondered about taking it in a new direction and when I checked in with my idea, Padma said:

"From everything you've said here, it seems to me the most straightforward fix is to take the current idea and, as you say, slant it toward either shattering or tearing/fraying. I suspect where it's getting hung, conceptually, at present, is between the idea of a gun (explosion) and a friendship ending (shattering / tearing / fraying). I think the latter idea is more central and organic to the book, so why don't we try that?"

I did play around with the shattering idea, but I was more drawn to tearing/fraying. It would work more (to use Padma's word) organically with the floral fabric design, and when I thought of the tension that threatens every form of love, and particularly friendship, I figured it most often unravels rather than flying apart.

As I worked on the layout for the new direction, I discovered something great. (Discovery is as much a part of the process in designing a book cover as creativity is, at least in my experience.) I liked the idea that part of the fabric would be ripped to the point of nearly tearing away from the larger, frayed whole. My first impulse was to tear the word love in half. When I did that, I found that two words from the subtitle pulled away with the disembodied VE: friendship and crime. I loved that. What a great coupling of words to make sit together all by themselves.

Once I created the layout and Hasie and Padma were happy with it, I had to make it go from looking like a design to looking like frayed fabric.

Step one was to give it a fabric texture. I did this by finding a fabric I liked with no pattern and an easily discernible weave and marrying it to my design in Photoshop. I don't want to bore you by getting technical but the simplified version is that you open the main graphic, then click Place Embedded and place the fabric image within the file. Then in the Layers panel you set the blending mode to Overlay. And make adjustments from there.

Blogger isn't the best place to try to see the detail on this.

Step two was to add frayed threads all around. For this, I went back into Illustrator and drew the threads one by one. Yeah. Time-consuming. Here it is in progress.

I had been thinking of the text floating on top of the fabric, but Padma wondered if I could embroider it. Or, she was thinking about me maybe finding a font that looked embroidery-ish rather than just flat. I did find a font that did that, but I figured if I was going to go the sewn-lettering route, I should go all the way and create it myself.

Step zero: the font.

Step one: I recreated the lettering on top of that font using vector lines in Illustrator. Each line had a gradient applied to it so that it was lighter in the center and darker on the edges to give each "thread" dimension. There were three different colors of threads. I made sure to leave gaps here and there and threads connecting the letters.

Step two: I removed the font and saved this with a transparent background (the green is just for your viewing) and brought it into Photoshop. There, I created three layers of the same lettering with three different levels of brightness. Then I did some erasing until my lettering was dimensional.

Step three: I did some painting and erasing to create a shadow under the edges.

Step four: I added a texture, much like I did with the fabric.

In this blog, the above probably look like incremental changes or even, between some, no change at all. I lose a lot of resolution on the images I post in here. But I dropped the updated lettering into the Illustrator file, popped back to Photoshop to add some wrinkles and shadows to my fabric, and  in the end, when we finally had our cover, author Padma was so pleased she sent me the most lovely note.

It's stunning: eye-catching, original, evocative, luscious. All the little details with the threads pulling out!?!? The textures and wrinkles! It's my favorite kind of metaphor: it has obvious surface appeal and increasing rewards each time you revisit. 

I can't believe how lucky I am.

Which I share not to pat myself on the back, but to mention how beautiful to me those last few words are. " lucky I am." For some reason that comment just stuck with me, how special it is to hear someone say that about something you've made for them. Because it's one thing, a fantastic thing, to be told something you've made is good. It's so much more to be told that it has made someone else feel lucky.

Like Every Form of Love's American edition will be out soon. More information on Padma Viswanathan is here. More information on publisher 7.13 Books is here. Here's a taste.


Phillip was buff, with hollow cheeks and expressive blue eyes: flinty or inquisitive or fonts of loving kindness by turns. There was nothing femmy or camp about him, yet he affected a performative masculinity in public, brusquely calling security guards and checkout clerks “man” and “bud.” In private, he unloosed throaty, symphonic laughs, blasts from a rogue angel’s trumpet. (God, I loved his laugh.) He’d locked that hard body around a tender heart.

His defences dropped quickly; after that trip to the city, he pursued my friendship. My other project in this time, though, was a three-day fast (either confronting or avoiding my then-life’s most urgent subject, my disastrous marriage—I’m still not sure). And as my mother had told me, a food fast is traditionally done with a social fast. She used a Sanskrit word for it, maunam, silence.

Phillip didn’t believe in it, not like the fast conflicted with his beliefs, but like he couldn’t absorb the fact of its existence. He wanted me to come thrifting with him; he wanted me to taste a delicious cookie he’d bought. I caved on all counts. I had only a few days left in Genoa Bay, and was charmed and intrigued. He was so different from my other friends. His courtly manners, opening doors for me and making me walk on the side of the street away from the curb; the way he spoke, in a thick BC lilt, his speech peppered with “fuck” the way others use “like” or “um,” using colourful, unfamiliar idioms I’d repeat to myself and write down later. I heard the stern, brass-knuckled poetry of the dangerous classes in his waxings-on about his main topic, the pursuit of rough sex, “the game, the gay game,” as he put it.

After his haircut in Victoria on our first time out together, he ran a hand along his new fade and mused, “Maybe I’ll find me a long-haired motorcycle dude, with my soldier’s buzz cut.”

He told me he hadn’t been sure how I would “take the whole homosexuality thing, being straight . . .”

“And Indian?” I guessed.

“Well, yeah,” he admitted, “of the culture. But I used to work at a pulp mill, and all the guys there”—Sikhs, I supposed, since they’d been stalwarts in BC’s lumber industry for generations—“they’d be having sex with women, men, everyone. I’d get to know these guys and get to know their dads and go to bed with them.”

Stories: he had a million of ’em.

Monday, March 4, 2024

a moment in the day: forward

It's writing group night and my friends and I are Zooming, ready to read aloud from our pages and critique as we go. Our pages have been sent out through email and each of us in our little bubbles, me at my house, Holly at hers, Shannon at hers, Brian at his, sitting down at our computers, are bringing up each other's pages to read. My pages are left over from last week because last week we ran long. Which means I get to read first tonight. It also means I probably should have resent my same pages out to everyone this morning, but I was lazy and hoped they had them saved from before.

"Everybody got them?" I ask.

"Yes," says Shannon.

"Yes," says Holly.

Robin is in her car, driving home from work, and her Zoom square is just her photograph, silent, as she listens in, on the road.

"No," says Christy, looking through her email for the resend that I didn't send and should have.

"I'll resend it," I say. And I do. But instead of making a new email and re-attaching my pages, I just go to my sent box and find last week's email and do a reply-all forward. See what I mean? Lazy. I know full well that sometimes when you forward an email the attachment doesn't attach, but that's what I do anyway.

I wait a bit and then:

"Everybody got them?" I ask.

"I got the email," Christy says, "but not the attachment."

Which means all she got is an email saying "Yeppity yep." Which is all I'd said in the body of my original email last week because when you're sending pages to each other every week you don't want to have to try to think of something new and coherent to accompany it every time. See what I mean? Lazy.

Now everyone's talking at once. Doug saying he got the attachment, Brian saying that resending the email should pop the original to the top of the inbox, me saying I'll resend, Christy saying that's okay, she'll do a search for the original. I see the top of her head on her Zoom square as she hunts via her tablet, and I'll admit: it starts to feel a little like a race, me against Christy for getting her the pages. 

"OK, OK, I found them!"

"Alright, alright, I found them!"

Christy wins. I should organize my computer files better.

Now Brad, momentarily away from his desk, comes back.

"Everybody got them?" I ask.

Brad's clicking through his inbox: "All I got is 'Yeppity-yep.'"

Zoom chaos as everyone's talking at the same time once again. Brian saying look for last week's email. Brad saying he will. Me saying I'll re-resend them. Christy saying she'll forward them.

And Christy and me, we're in a race again, and now we're racing Brad scrolling for last week. 

"OK, sent."

Christy wins again. 

But Brad says he doesn't see it. 

"I'll resend it," Christy says. And does.

Still Brad doesn't see it.

My inbox is full of my pages.

"I'll resend it," I say, again, again.

Doug says, "You should label it Yakety-yak."

I say, "Don't talk back."

I see the top of Christy's head again, and quick, I navigate to the folder, attach the attachment, resend the send, and finally, finally something comes through to Brad's inbox.

He says, "Yakety-yak."

Brian says, "Don't talk back."

And if we do that, if we all stop talking, we can begin reading. I click back to my pages on my computer screen and ask for the final time, "Everybody have them?"

Brad says, "Now I got all of them."

We laugh. We settle in to read. After all that, this better be good.

Wednesday, February 14, 2024

Book Cover: Swanya

Swanya is Jamie Yourdon's homage to Snow White, and a book he is producing himself in a limited run of only 100 copies. Jamie has an abundant sense of the whimsical and the imaginative, which I came to know when I designed the cover to his 2017 Forest Avenue Press novel Froelich's Ladder (a cover that earned me a PubWest Book Design Award). I love that he's producing an exclusive run of books, and they will even be hand-numbered for the lucky folks who snap them up.

Before he reached out to me to design the cover, he commissioned artist Lettie Jane Rennekamp to create him some original artwork for it. Look at this beauty!

It's somehow both elegant and chaotic, which I love.

Swanya is set in tsarist Russia. "It's worth mentioning," Jamie told me, "that, in adapting Snow White, Disney's dwarfs have been replaced by seven swans — hence the cover art and, to a lesser extent, the title." 

I had a pretty immediate sense of how I saw the artwork being transformed into a book cover. Here's a bit of the email I sent him on Thanksgiving Eve:

My impulse with your artwork is to use a very elegant serif font for this and to either have the text sit in empty space with the artwork in the center (so the text would be against white) or perhaps include an elegant border at the edges of the coverbut something that is quiet: thin lines, quiet color... a light-light version of one of the grays or blues from the artwork against white. 

With Jamie's blessing on these ideas, I started with a serif font I really love called Nicholas Cochin Italic. 

It’s long and lean and different from your average serif italic. Like, just look at the tail on that lowercase y. (The uppercase S up there is my own addition for something a little extra.) I tried some samples with centered text but, to me, the artwork seemed to want a diagonal. I went small on the lettering because I love the white space. For the first samples I put together, I stayed mostly with title case (capitalizing the first letters), but did include one sample in all lower caps. To be honest, I don’t know why I didn’t think to try all-caps with my first run of samples. Maybe it was because I was more obsessed with putting together my border, a task that took a bunch of experimenting.

There are loads of decorative borders out there, ready-made, but I don’t like using things that are ready-made. In my experimenting, I tried some more simple borders and one that was more elaborate. I thought simpler would be better: let the artwork sing mostly on its own. For color, I started with a pale blue, but when something felt lacking, I on impulse tried a gold color, and I was pretty happy with that direction.

And then in putting together the border, I thought about the book's first chapter, in which... well, I won't give away the story, but I'll just say that it's an important one and its title is " which apples become beets."

I thought, what if, in each of the corners of my border, there could be either an apple or a beet? So I made one of each. 

(The beet lost its leaves as soon as I realized they wouldn't fit into the design.)

I tried this for one of the borders I put together for my first set of samples. I added just a wash of red for my apples and my beets—and then I added that same wash of red to the first letters in my words. I liked the touch of color this added to the whole, and the lettering reminded me, in a tiny way, of illuminated manuscripts. Which felt fitting for Jamie's fanciful, old-world fairytale tale.

Gosh, you can hardly see the border details on this blog, can you? I definitely wanted the borders to be subtle and let Lettie Jane's lovely artwork do most of the heavy lifting. Here's a quick close-up:

Jamie liked the direction I was going in and chose the border that was his favorite (one of the non-apple-and-beet borders), saying he liked the gold over the blue. He said he preferred title on the left and author name on the right. He didn’t love the font and asked me to try some more, mentioning that he would like either all-caps or no-caps. "I wanted to jump on the apples/beets idea," he put in. "Maybe if they were bigger and announced themselves more?"

I went back to my drawing board with different fonts and different cases, throwing in a serif font or two.

I wanted to try to make the apples/beets work for Jamie, so I transposed them from one border to another, trying a couple different placements, enlarging them as much as I could without losing the balance in the border. I tried them in blue. I tried them in gold. I tried the wash of red again. After more samples back and forth and more discussion, we finally landed on Jamie's cover.

Now that we've chosen the cover, I'm into the second phase of the project: the interior. I think Jamie's interior will be fun, with opportunities for some flourishes here and there as would be fitting for this story. Swanya will be out later this year. More info on the artist is here. And here's a taste:


Once upon a time, though not so very long ago, all of Russia was ruled by one man, Tsar Aleksei Mikhailovich of the House Romanov. Though he possessed great power and wealth, Tsar Aleksei had a weakness for superstition. The tsar would never shake hands through an open doorway. He would never accept an empty purse. It may seem distasteful for someone so powerful and wealthy to attribute all his failures to bad luck, but understand that Tsar Aleksei’s father, Mikhail Fyodorovich, had died after falling from a horse. While the late tsar had frequently been drunk, it was more generous to blame his death on misfortune than on the predictable outcome of riding high in the saddle.

When Tsar Aleksei reached the same age as his father, who would remain forever ageless, he became obsessed with matters of life and death. He conceived of new and more absurd superstitions, like eating only with his right hand and grooming with a water basin instead of a mirror. Tsar Aleksei was concerned with more than his own well-being; he felt responsible for all of Russia. Should he die without a male heir, custom dictated that one of his brothers, Ivan or Vasyli, would inherit the throne, and neither man was fit to lead the great nation.

Happily, Tsar Aleksei had married the previous year, and his new wife, Maria Miloslavskaya, was pregnant. Tsarina Maria didn’t believe in luck, but she did believe in field spirits, who could be either mischievous or kind. The tsarina had already entreated the field spirits to grant her a son. First, to curry their favor, she’d left a bucket of shiny, red apples at the edge of the royal estate. She’d left a second bucket when she’d confirmed she was pregnant and intended to leave a third bucket when her labor pains began. Meanwhile, Tsar Aleksei slept every night with a brass key beneath his pillow—his contribution, he assured his wife, to their shared endeavor.

Sunday, February 4, 2024

three moments in the day: phone

Saturday in the car, heading to the store, flipping the radio on to see what I can find. I don’t know why it occurs to me, but it occurs to me, and I reach down and touch my hoodie where the inner pocket is, where my phone should be.

Yep. Nope. It’s not there. I left the stupid thing at home.

Great. What if I get an accident on the way to the store? What if I have a flat tire? What if they don’t have any frozen corn, like any, at all, in the store, and I need to ask Stephen if he’d be OK with peas?

For a moment I think I'll turn back, but I’m already so far down the road. I’ll just have to manage without it. I can manage without it. 

Of course, Stephen may want to text me to tell me to add something he's forgotten to the shopping list, so when I get to the parking lot I'll just send him a quick text and let him know I'll be unreachable. 



I’m pulling into the grocery store parking lot, winding my way around to the place where I always park. 

I didn’t have an accident. I didn't have a flat tire.

I drive down the row all the way to my usual spot by the cart corral. Touch my empty hoodie yet again. What if they don't have the frozen corn? What if they don't have the tapioca pudding and I need to ask Stephen if he'd be OK with rice?

I'd better send him a quick text and let him know I'll be unreachable. 



I lead my cart out through the grocery store doors, across the asphalt, toward the car.

They did have the frozen corn, of course they did. They did have the tapioca pudding. 

There was that moment when I was waiting for the sales lady to unlock the chained-up jeans so I could try a few pairs on, and it was taking forever, and she said why don’t you go over to the changing room, I’ll come along as soon as I figured this out, and I went over there and parked my cart and waited, and I thought maybe of pulling out my phone to have something to look at, but yep. Nope.

We’ve become so reliant upon these little computers in our pockets that it's as if we can hardly function without them.

I load my groceries into the back of the car and then duck into the driver's side. You know, this might  make a cute little blog post, all the moments I kept thinking I could use my phone and couldn’t. I'll make a note of it. I grab my shopping list and turn it over, rifle around in the glove compartment for a pen. This one doesn't work. This one doesn't work. Fine, I'll just grab my phone and send myself a quick email reminder for later.


Friday, January 19, 2024

a moment in the day: soup

It's Thursday, just the end of the work day, and I clock myself out in my little upstairs work room. Wasn't sure I'd make it through without the power going out again. Just as I click to clock, another gust of wind buffets the side of the house and I hold my breath again. 

Last Saturday at the start of the polar vortex, we lost power along with, what did they say, a hundred and sixty thousand people in Portland? We were out for about six hours but loads of folks were out for days, some still out even now, and the thaw we were told we'd start to get has brought us this ice storm and this wind instead. You start to think you'll never be able to trust your lights and your heater again.

I switch my work computer out for my home computer, make sure it's still charged up to 100%, plug my phone into its own charger but take my old defunct phone with me downstairs as a ready flashlight. Immediately I go to the thermos of soup on the counter and start unscrewing the top.

I pour the soup into a pot and start it reheating.

It's not really soup. It's mostly broth, something I threw together on Saturday night after the power came back on, figuring I'd prepare in case the power went out again that night. And it's not really a thermos. It's a metal water bottle, insulated yes, but this thing doesn't hold the heat too long. When you first fill it, the bottle is so hot you can't touch it, but the contents cool to lukewarm within three hours. I know because I've been reheating it and letting it cool, reheating it and letting it cool ever since.

Now the lights flicker. They've been flickering all day.

Funny how much magical thinking you do in times like these. When I started making the broth on Saturday, I expected the lights to snap off again any minute, but there was something in the back of my mind that said that because I was getting prepared, the electricity would hold and I wouldn't need it. Like the more prepared you are, abracadabra, the less you'll need to be prepared. Add to that preparedness the candles still waiting all over the house and the YouTube videos I watched that claim you can cook something using nothing but tea candles and a muffin tin. 

My broth is simmering, and I shut the stove off, take the pot over to the cutting board, and lift it over the insulated bottle. It's heavy in my hand as I slowly pour. With each inch of hot liquid down into the bottle, I feel an inch better about maybe making it through this night with the power on in the house.

No, I'm not going to drink it. Are you kidding? This stuff has been sitting out on the counter unrefrigerated for five days. It's not for consuming anymore. It's my jinx broth. Here just for magical thinking. 

If I dump it, the power will go out. If I leave it and fail to reheat it, the power will go out. 

I finish pouring. Hold the bottle with a dishtowel and screw the top back on. Put it back over on the counter. Have to stay on top of things. Have to stay prepared. And we'll be alright. Right?

Monday, January 8, 2024

Book Cover: Imagine a Door

The story of the book cover design project for the upcoming Forest Avenue Press book Imagine a Door ended up being more about words than design.

In a way, Imagine a Door is a very different book for Forest Avenue Press—and in a way, we're actually going back to our roots. Forest Avenue publishes mostly novels, and the occasional memoir. Imagine a Door, on the other hand, is a book for writers. Part how-to, part inspiration for living one's best creative life. And we did do one book that had hints of both of these themes, Brave on the Page, our very first publication, back in 2012 when we produced the books on the Espresso Book Machine in the Purple Room of Powell's City of Books.

As I said before, the story of this project was more about words than design. I.e., what words were going to go on this cover? The first title Laura gave me was In Progress. It's the phrase writers see in their Submittable queue when they've submitted a piece and are waiting to hear what an agent or publisher thinks. It's also the phrase writers use when they're deep in the writing and editing process of a book or story; that piece is a work in progress

But in the wider sense, we're all works in progress, which goes back to the wider theme of Laura's book, the human side that I think sets it apart from a lot of the writing books out there on the market.

The early concepting for the graphic was a lot of Laura and me emailing back and forth, shooting out ideas. discussing what might help sell the book, what concepts might have been already done too much. Laura:

"I like the concept of IN PROGRESS as a cover—something happening, not static. Whether that’s a sentence being written or a visual cue that something is happening, I don’t know. So many covers have the crossouts like things are being edited out as part of the process of the cover, and I feel like that’s been overused. 

"Likewise, I’ve thought composition book, paper torn out of a spiral notebook, notebook with spiral, etc. have all been done and re-done. Same with crumpled paper. So maybe there’s a phrase or an image from the work itself that will leap to mind as a cover option."

Then Laura saw a non-writing book that really struck something for her and shared it with me. She wondered if we might similarly let the focus be on the words with a simple element or elements adding a flourish.

Not only did the elegant style resonate but the rain, itself, in this sample. I thought about the struggle that writers go through with work and rejection and how the goal of a book is often like an impossible dream. I pictured a central small image of a book with a rainbow growing out of it, signaling the good at the end of that struggle. And instead of rain, I pictured pages raining down. 

I started by building my book using lines and shapes in Illustrator.

Then pages falling from the sky and collecting in stacks. The stacks were, of course, more involved to make than the pages.

I sent Laura a trio of (very similar) samples.

And at the same time, somehow completely forgetting about the raindrops in the Seattle book example, I created some mock-ups with raindrops as well.

Laura was happy with what I'd come up with: "They hit the cheerful tone I hope to have, and they’re vibrant and joyful, like in looking at them you know you’ll feel better if you read what’s inside."

Vibrant and joyful. I loved that that's what she saw. Because not only was it the right tone to convey for the book, but everything Laura touches, including her novel Singing Lessons for the Stylish Canary and this new project, is vibrant and joyful.

The rainbow made her think, what about trying a sun coming up out of the book instead, for the version with the pages tumbling down. "With rays like a child would draw, but cooler. Bands/triangles of yellow becoming part of the background." 

After she suggested this to me in an email, Laura headed off to go visit a friend who had new baby chicks. She followed that up with the roller derby. All the while, she was sending messages about her thoughts about the cover and its imagery.

"After I wrote about the sun with triangle rays I realized that might look religious. Not what I meant! But maybe a sweet sun with lines for rays might still work." 


"I do think I like the rainbow better, and I like the tiny bit of lots of color in there."


"Just thought of a flower growing out of the book—bright green stem and bright petals."

and almost immediately

"Just to add onto that flower idea, what about a bunch of flowers springing out of the center of the book, like a magician's bouquet? Illustrated with simple lines. There could be yellow and red flowers against the blue on the pages cover."

Laura's snippets of thought throughout that day felt like that same thing again: vibrant and joyful.

I liked her idea a lot. Creation. Growth. I set to work and had more samples waiting for her when she got home.

She chose the one with the five flowers. She liked that so much that we ended up turning that blooming book into an icon for her then new Substack The Bright Side.

That was back in April of last year. Since then, the focus of the cover turned to words. Proposed changes to the title, long discussions about the perfect subtitle. Also during this long time, Laura was working on future upcoming Forest Avenue Press releases, so progress on In Progress started and stopped, stopped and started.

First she decided to add a word to the title. She was considering Work in Process (which she thought had probably been done), Manuscript in Progress, and her favorite, Pages in Progress. I grabbed that last one and played with a couple samples.

As you can see, changes in words caused a need for changes in the pages fluttering down.

Then at the end of May, she asked me what I thought of the title Imagine a Door. "From a design standpoint, I feel like the papers framing the title will conjure the shape of a door, and we won't need to add a literal door. There could be a key or a keyhole or something if we felt like it needed something literal," she said. "The subtitle would be something like: A writer's guide to loving the work, ignoring the hubbub, and building a sustainable creative practice."

I wanted to wait until l completely sure of the title before I did any more tinkering with cover design. Laura ran the idea by some others, she and I continued working on other upcoming Forest Avenue titles, and it wasn't until August that we settled in to work on this again. By then Imagine a Door was set in stone, although the subtitle was not, and discussion on that continued for quite a while.

Continued, in fact, all the way up until the end of November when we finally settled on what will work best. I think it's fitting that the cover design process for a book about words and writing was so focused on words themselves. (And I pop this final cover in (sans stand-in blurb, so just use your imagination) knowing full well that sometimes subtitles get altered yet again at the very last minute because it is the priority of a press to change its mind.)

When prepping for this post, I couldn't remember if there were more interim titles, so I emailed Laura. She had this to say:

"I had, like, a million titles for this project. The in progress and pages in progress were only the latest iterations of me panicking about what to call it! Finding IMAGINE A DOOR happened after the original cover, right? I think I needed you to see the book in your head, to create a visual for it, in order for me to land on the right title. To believe in its existence."

Imagine a Door will be out in 2025. It will have a foreword by Beth Kephart, author of, among many other things, the Forest Avenue title Wife | Daughter | Self. More information on Forest Avenue Press is here. And here's a taste.


Some books fly into being in a matter of months or a few years. Others—like my debut novel—take more than a decade. There’s no “correct” timeline, regardless of what writing coaches and your author friends say; if you decide on a self-imposed deadline, and that helps you focus, great. 

But manuscripts take the time they take. In the early drafting of Imagine a Door, I gave my neighbor Chrysia daily updates during our dog walks. More accurately, I offered stagnation reports. I couldn’t seem to get past the first ten thousand words. I kept adding and subtracting, refining and rethinking and erasing and rewriting.

Ten thousand became kind of a joke between Chrysia and me. 

Sometimes I had 10,071 words.

Sometimes 10,842. 

After paddling around that word count mark, surging over then dipping under, I decided to slice my draft into separate Word documents. I couldn’t count words at the press of a button anymore! A more organic narrative began to emerge once I stopped trying to measure my progress.