The Perfect Cover Image

In my last post, I gave you a taste of how I go after “the perfect cover.”  I promised another post about the cover for Widow Boy–my first novel to meet the public–because  there was a lot more to it:

The designer had used a stock photo of a contemporary young women wearing a cowboy hat and aiming an antique rifle as one of two images on the cover.  The other was a stock photo of the hills near Cripple Creek, where the story is set.  All but the image of the woman worked really well–her image had “issues.”

We added sleeves to her shirt via Photoshop and tried to make the hat look battered. I still wasn’t sure, so I’d asked my son who’d read the story what he thought.  The first thing he noticed was that we had the wrong gun.  She was holding a flintlock–older than what my protagonist would have in 1893.  I was actually pleased to hear that–it meant we couldn’t use the image that I knew didn’t work.

My son is a competent amateur photographer.  He has a beautiful wife.  Bless them both. He suggested we create the photo we needed and volunteered himself as the photographer  and his wife as the model.  Yes!

Then I realized that was only a start at the solution. To create the right image, we needed the right props.    The right gun, of course, but the right clothing.  Her hat is a big deal in the story but it’s not a spiffy new one.  Plus we needed men’s clothing that could have been worn then. I found a convincing shirt and jacket at Goodwill.   The hat took a lot more work.  I finally found something to start with at St. Vincent de Paul.

But although it was used, it was not used enough.  So my first step was to get rid of the shaping Dorfman Pacific had put into it. I was living in an area that had a lot of new construction with glacial till as native soil.  Till has a lot of good-sized stones.  I put three about the size of softballs inside the hat, spritzed it with tap water and  hung it in the garage using woodworking clamps for a week. Much better.

Widow Boy hat resize 2

 But it was still too clean.  Back to the dirt pile. To my surprise, dirt didn’t stick.  I ended up walking around the neighborhood, rubbing it in every patch of grit I saw in the street.  (The neighbors already knew I was a little different…)

That left the really big challenge–the gun.  I was hoping I could rent a realistic fake one from the local costume shop.  Nope.  (But they did want to know when the story came out since a set of grandparents had met and married in Cripple Creek.)

My next option was a friend who’s an avid hunter and a retired Army officer.  If I was going to have my loved ones working with a real gun, I wanted to be sure it was not loaded.  And Rich is that kind of guy.  He has plenty of guns, too, but not the antique one I needed.  He did, however, volunteer to ask his son, who inherited his maternal grandfather’s hunting rifle.  Bless them both, they let me use that gun.  (We won’t go into the details of doing the handoff in the parking lot of a local restaurant….)

Then came a little wrinkle.  My son and daughter-in-law have a rule–no guns in the house if they are not secured.  They didn’t have a way to secure it, and I sure didn’t.  But the shot needed to be outside, so we solved that by having them take it out of my car when they were ready to do the shoot and putting it right back there when they were done.

All systems go, I headed up to their house.  (Of note, the gun owner lives an hour drive south of me and my son’s house is an hour drive north of me.  All the driving was worth it to get the right cover image.  I really am fussy about my covers.)  

My son knew what kind of light he needed and urged his wife–who was an overworked VP at a mutual fund company at the time–to get home on time.  Of course that didn’t happen.  So they had about ten minutes to get the right shot.  That was plenty since I wasn’t on the sidelines pushing for unnecessary particulars.  (My job was to watch my preschool granddaughters inside.)

Turns out it was a good thing they only had a little time, too.  The gun was a lot heavier than we realized, and it was hard on my daughter-in-law to hold it up because of a shoulder injury I didn’t know about.

When my son showed me the photo he liked best later that night, I was ecstatic. That woman looks the part and seemed more than willing to shoot.  (A bad day in corporate America can be pretty convincing.)