Tuesday, April 27, 2010

And the Wolfy Swag Winners are

Thanks to everyone who participated in the "Who's your Favorite Werewolf" contest in honor of the release of Judith Grave's debut YA, Under My Skin! Lots of werewolf love going out to Shiver's Sam, with some mention of a couple of old favorites like Buffy's Oz and Michael J Fox as Teen Wolf from the classic and kitschy (who doesn't love some good kitsch?) movie of the same name. And my pal Beth gave a great shout out to the uber cool not quite a wolf but definitely a shape shifter Sam Merlotte, from True Blood. Gotta love that dog boy, don't ya, Beth?

Anyway, tossed the contestants in the magic sorting, um, contest hat. Shook it up real good. And the winners are:

Jessica Kennedy - for her choice and explanation of Derek from Kelly Armstrong's The Reckoning series. Jess - you win the UMS choker set! Whoot! Or rather - howl!

Caitlin - for her choice (a popular one) of Sam from Shiver by my fellow ABLA girl, Maggie Steifavater. Caitlin thinks Sam is sweet and she loves the way he interacts with Grace. Well, me too, Caitlin. Interacts is such a good general term for all the angsty werewolf nookie, drama and trauma going on in Shiver. Caitlin wins the set of UMS character cards! Wahoo!!

Speaking of which, boy oh boy! Do you know that people have been asking to buy my obviously coveted ARC of Linger?! Crazy stuff going on out there. And they say people aren't reading. Obviously, they are wrong.

But back to the winners: Jessica and Caitlin - please email me at and let me know where Judith should mail your prizes! Who knows, she may throw in some extra swaggy goodness while she's at it. Did you hear that, Judith?

Congrats! Thanks for playing.
Coming soon - my review of JT Dutton's fabulous upcoming Stranded. And possibly an interview. Gotta see if she has the time to let me chat her up.

Til next time...

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Welcome Judith Graves and Under My Skin

Today I'm welcoming Class of 2k10 co-prez, Judith Graves, whose YA paranormal, Under My Skin, has just released from Leap Books! Judith and her cohort in crime Kitty have been my mentees (is that even a word?) this year. (Oh, yeah, cause 7 1/2 months of a book on a shelf makes me a freakin' expert!) But I digress. And once I un-digress, make sure to read to the bottom because we're doing a VERY COOL giveaway in honor of UMS!! Check. it. out below!

First, a little about the book - and check out the simply gorgeous cover!

All her parents wanted was for Eryn to live a normal life... Redgrave had its share of monsters before Eryn moved to town. Mauled pets, missing children. The Delacroix family is taking the blame, but Eryn knows the truth. Something stalks the night. Wade, the police chief's son and Redgrave High's resident hottie, warns her the Delacroix are dangerous. But then so is Eryn--in fact, she's lethal. But she can't help falling for one of the Delacroix boys, dark, brooding--human Alec. And then her world falls apart. A normal life? Now that's the real fairytale.

Here's what I found out when I picked at Judith's quite fertile and creative brain!

1. Welcome Judith! First, a little about you. How did you get here? I'm always curious about debut author journeys. Some highlights and basics of yours?

I started off as a rather nerdy (yet cool!) kid playing her guitar in the hallway by her locker when she should have been in physics class. I joined a few bands, recorded a few indie CDs. Went to college, got hitched, played in said bands – toured around Alberta, worked full time – but always….I wrote. Short stories, flash fiction, lyrics, poetry, and eventually novels.

I lucked out and landed a contract with a small press for my first book, Under My Skin (UMS), but it had to go through some major edits. There came a time when writing fiction, working full time, and performing as a musician brought me to the breaking point. I might have seemed pretty together on the outside, but inside I was a trainwreck, a run-away mining cart from The Temple of Doom. Since I needed my day job to help my hubby feed and house our three fur kids (it’s all about our two labs and our blond bombshell tabby!) – I had to choose between writing and music.

Since I made that decision (and it was a heartbreaker – I LOVED being a part of a five-piece band), I have two more books in the works, I’ve joined the Class of 2k10 and will be touring NYC with them in May during Book Expo America, I’ve been booked for writer workshops and conferences, and will be touring schools and libraries across Alberta – possibly Canada in 2011.

Wow. I just shake my head at all the opportunities that have opened up. It’s like a dream. Follow your passion, people!

2. Why werewolves? And wolven - what exactly are they - and is there a difference? Tell us about the alternative world you've created for Under My Skin.

UMS is an exploration of different mythological creatures vying over one small town on the edge of civilization. The beasties in UMS are fairly traditional and follow the usual lore. Where things get interesting is in the mixing of humans and paranorms – or paranorms with other creatures of magic, etc. Most of the main characters in UMS are mixed bloods trying to deal with the limitations and abilities of their dual natures. Throw in a battle for the town and the humans in it – and there’s loads of conflict, romantic tension, and dark humour to be had.

That being said, in UMS, werewolves are soulless beasts at the mercy of their master (they are created not born), while wolven are wolves with the ability to shapeshift into human form (they are born not created). Eryn, the main character in UMS, is half human / half wolven.

3. Having read your first couple of chapters, I'm really liking feisty Eryn McCain. Can you tell us a little about how you came up with her as a character? Is she influenced by any other characters that came before her? And a fun question - If I rifled through her purse, what would I probably find?

Eryn arrived on the set pretty much as is. Her dry humour and sarcasm, her sass, her inner turmoil. I wanted a female lead who was strong, yet vulnerable – a girl who could take care of herself, but one who hoped that someday she would have others in her life to help shoulder her burdens.

Eryn doesn’t have purse – that’s too girly. But she does carry a backpack to keep up appearances – it’s filled with schoolbooks she never opens and a smattering of makeup – just the essentials. All Eryn needs is her silver athame tucked away in its leather shoulder holster and she’s ready to rock and roll.

4. Why fantasy? What do you like about writing the genre? Is this the only genre you write?

I love paranormal fiction, both adult and YA. As a library technician in an elementary school, I’ve even found some amazing gothic-ish picture books and MG novels to adore. I am fascinated by the mysterious, the supernatural, the unexplained.

All of those elements can still be found in contemporary fiction – the magic is more internal – the bond between family, friends, and the odd experiences we go through in this crazy life. That’s why I also write edgy YA contemporary fiction and hope those stories will soon find homes.

5. Loved your book trailer! Can you give us any hints about the Eryn/Alec romance?

Thanks! Madison at M2 Productions created it for me. All her trailers are marvy.

There’s actually a love triangle in UMS. Eryn is attracted to Alec, a human hunter, but is also drawn to Wade, a vampire with magical abilities. They represent her duality. The light and the dark….but there are shades of gray in all the characters. Falling in love is not always an easy breezy thing.

6. Writerly influences?

Ray Bradbury, John Wyndham, Margaret Atwood, Robertson Davies, L. M. Montgomery….and sooooo many more.

7. Chocolate or peanut butter?

Oh…I usually ask a similar question – crunchy or smooth PB? (I’m smooth, BTW) But this question can only be answered like this…BOTH! ;)

8. Buffy or Edward? Who'd win that smackdown?

Lol….oh, Buffy would kick Eddy’s sparkly ass. (Not that there’s anything wrong with sparkly).

9. Where do you write? Can you describe a typical writing session for us?

What my writing day looks like: wake up at 5:30am, get coffee, take dogs out, write until 6:30, go to work, write on lunch break (jot ideas down in notebook always by my desk. Toilet paper also works.), get home, burn supper, revise stuff I wrote that morning. Go to bed at precisely 9:07pm. REPEAT.

10. Advice to those who'd like to have their own book on a shelf some day?

Writing is an emotional outlet, yes. Writing involves some kind of inspiration, yes. But if you want to get published, you have to push through times of emotional upheaval and can’t wait around for inspiration to strike. You make it happen – every day at your laptop or writer’s den.

You must be sooo excited! Cheers to Under My Skin! And okay, I agree - chocolate AND peanut butter. (have you ever put a dollop of peanut butter on top of chocolate pudding?) And yes - Buffy would indeed kick Edward's sparkly ass. Just sayin...

Thanks Joy – I can’t wait to read Haunted and see how Anne and Ethan’s romance develops….cause they get together, right? Right?!

AND NOW!!! The giveaway!! Judith has graciously donated some swag related to the novel: a choker set AND a set of character cards, both of which are pictured here. Thus we will have TWO winners. So here's the contest and let's get wolfy and creative about those answers!

Other than Twilight's Jacob Black (yes, I'm taking him out of the running; it's just too easy and too obvious. And it's my contest so stop griping!), who's your favorite pop culture werewolf and why? (tv, movies, songs, comic books... everything's game but you know who) Post your answers on my blog between now and Monday night 4/26 and I'll put you in the contest hat. Remember there will be two winners, one for the choker set, the other for the character cards!

Til next time...

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

And now the TLA pictures

If you ask, you receive! And so I did - pictures from TLA. Thanks to Tanya Adams at Follett for sending along the first one of me signing a few extra books for them and to Stephanie Pellegrin for the second one!

Me at the Follett Booth - right before they gave me the three chocolate bars
Me and Steph Pellegrin... and what's that book called again?

Tomorrow, I'll be interviewing Judith Graves about her debut, Under My Skin, so drop by the old blog to find out how things are going for her. Hint: Terrific!!
In future weeks I'll be revving up my hosting skills - hope to be telling you about Janet Fox's Faithful and Jen Dutton's latest - Stranded. And more after that, to be announced as I set them up. Definitely in the mood to pay it forward for awhile. And so I will.
Til next time...

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Texas Librarians Rock: My trip to TLA

If you read this blog, you know that the good and bad of my world have quite collided lately ( ie - book 2 contract/thyroid cancer and surgery) So I really wasn't sure if I'd make TLA this year. (for the uninitiated - Texas Library Association conference) A number of weeks ago, my wonderful little team at Sourcebooks had arranged for me to sign Dreaming Anastasia at the Follett booth. The Follett folks have a huge booth, know all you wonderful librarians intimately and just put on a great show at conventions. I was thrilled! As I also comment regularly, when you're still lower on the author food chain, having someone tell you that they'll pop for your hotel room AND set up a signing where, it turns out, you get free dark chocolate bars when you're done, is a grand enticement. Of course, like everything else in my world lately, it pretty much arrived in tandem with the cancer diagnosis.

But here's the good news. I was able to go. Over 100 people lined up to snag numbers so they could get a book and say hi and have me sign. I ran out of bookmarks. I met people from all over Texas. Got to hang some with some of the other Texas authors I've come to know and love - my bestest pal Janet Fox - whose debut, Faithful, is coming out from Puffin very very soon!!; the always sweet and brilliant Varian Johnson; the indomitable Cynthia and Greg Leitich Smith; Kathy Whitehead (who makes great analogies about cows, just ask her) Bettina Restrepo and Dottie Enderle. Got to meet some new folks like Jay Asher (okay, I think we'd bumped elbows at some previous time but not really met) - who really has this crazy rock star following I can only dream about; and Jandy Nelson and Bethany Hegedus and many others. I watched a crazy herd of folks thunder in at 9 AM so they could get the coveted tickets to Suzanne Collins' signing later in the morning. Seriously - it was like the running of the bulls. But for good cause. If I hadn't already been seated at the Follett booth preparing to sign, I'd have joined them!

Got to bond some with dear husband who rearranged a lot to drive with me to San Antonio and even ran out to McDonald's Friday morning and brought back an Egg McMuffin and coffee because I was running late since I honestly move a little slower these days!

And I got to hang with the truly fabulous and kind Kay Mitchell from Sourcebooks who among other things, helps pick up my slack now that Publicist Paul has more YA authors than just yours truly. (that's what happens when you do such a great job Paul - they give you more to do!)

Mostly, I got to talk books with people who love them. Librarians put my book and all books into readers' hands and without them, I don't know where we'd be. No one seemed to notice that I still couldn't turn to the left without wincing. I wore one of my growing collection of trendy scarves to cover Mr. Scary Scar until it fades a bit. And before I left, I managed to snag an ARC of Maggie Stiefvater's Linger - which let me tell you is absolutely everything I hoped it would be! Werewolf nookie; werewolf angst... you're gonna love it.

Okay, so I forgot to take out my camera and have someone take pictures. But trust me on this - I was having a blast. And if I met you, I was delighted to talk Dreaming Anastasia and Haunted with you.

Upcoming on this blog - an interview with Class of 2k10 co-president, Judith Graves, whose debut paranormal, Under My Skin, is out NOW!!

Til next time...

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Presenting the HAUNTED cover: Interview with Cathleen Elliott Part 3

Well, this is it! Our last installment of my interview with girl genius cover artist Cathleen Elliott. Thank you Cathleen, for taking time to answer all my questions, share your work secrets and super secret raw images. And thanks to all my peeps at Sourcebooks for finding and hiring Cathleen to create the Dreaming Anastasia and Haunted covers! I could drag this out, but I won't. Without further ado, here's the rest of what Cathleen said. And at the end - don't cheat by scrolling down early!! -- you get to see my new love - the HAUNTED cover. It's totally dreamy. I am in huge cover love. Hope you are, too. Let me know what you think!!

5. As you know, I adore my Dreaming Anastasia cover and I’m in awe of the upcoming Haunted cover as well. Can you “lift the veil” a little on the DA cover? Tell us where the images came from?

I searched long and hard for just the right girl, in just the right dress, doing just the right thing, at the right age. Sometimes that’s no simple task. When photo shoots are not possible, I search and search. Then, I make lots of edits trying to create what I see in my head. The cover actually has 3 found images. The girl in the foreground, the guy in the background and a picture of a lit match I found.

Here are the raw images that were used to create the dreaming Anastasia cover:

© Jon Feingersh ©Mordolff © Elisa Lazo de Valdez
( Joy's note: Here I must interject - the real Ethan is quite the real life hottie, eh? Whoa!)
When it came time to design Haunted, I got lucky!!! I saw that the same photographer had a really relevant image of the same girl for me to use again! The girl in the lavender dress! I was very happy to keep Anne as the same girl!

This design was so gratifying to me. It was one of those covers I literally sat back and teared up. Not to sound cheesy, but it’s what happens when my gut tells me “I got it right”. I always have to submit 3 designs. I sat back and thought, “How will I do more?” “This IS it”. I don’t always get that feeling, but when I do I pray the publisher will agree with me!!

Here are the raw images that were used to create the Haunted cover:,, © Elisa Lazo de Valdez © Zena Holloway


The titling is treated the same as Dreaming Anastasia to create a uniform look to the series. I wanted this cover to feel “under water”. The woman in the back is supposed to be the “Sea Nymph” whispering, singing, or luring Anne. Anne is again being carried into another world. This time she is floating, being captured and tangled up by the Sea Nymph’s tale... (or her hair as it literally seems)

I feel like the two covers go well together. In a series I try to make the covers look very related. At the same time they can’t be so similar that the reader feels like it’s going to be the same story! Here the elements relate Anne in the foreground and the Nymph is now the mystical figure in the background. The hair takes the place of the smoke. I feel like I always have to be creative and strategic. Which are not always skills that go together! It’s two parts of my brain working at once. Neither hindering the other.

6. What about fonts and spacing? Explain how they fit into your whole artistic process.

I was heavily trained in typography as most designers are. I find type to be a balancing act of function and a support to the main theme. I tend to be a little safe, erring on the side of legibility rather than concept. However, I admire those designers that really push it and manage to preserve it’s functionality!

7. Where do you work? Any special routine? Music? Coffee? Magic art fairies?

I work at home in my office. I worked in an office in NYC for many years, but I quit my job as an Art Director to stay home and raise my kids. I like working at home. It keeps me from obsessing too much about being a “Mom” or being a “Designer”. My kids like to watch me work and love to go to the store and pick up the cover they saw on my computer screen. Unfortunately, Since my days are so busy with a 2 and 4 year old, I’m known for waking up at 2am and working through the night until 7am when my kids wake. I have no family near me and no hired help. My husband works long hours in the city, but he’s great at taking the kids on the weekend and allowing me some work-time! It can be a little brutal, but I love what I do and this way of working won’t be forever. I consider Claire (almost 5) and Cole (almost 3) my little inspirational fairies. They are THE most important things to me in life. At the end of my life I prefer to hear “You are the best Mom” from my children than to ever hear “You are the best designer.” If I can manage both, great! It doesn’t mean I don’t put 110% into my work, it means I put everything into being a Mom also. When I have to choose, “Mom” wins. I imagine I’ll look back in a few years and not know how I did it through 2 pregnancies and rasing toddlers. I do hope it affords me keeping my career! My biggest inspirations are life based NOT design based. So, I live life and keep designing. And yes, music is absolutely necessary!

8. When you’re not working/designing what else do you do? What should we know about Cathleen Elliott?

I paint, I knit, I cook and do Yoga. Food is something I love to share. Cooking is right up there with making books. I like to see smiles on people’s faces. Despite all my work, my family enjoys a home-made meal almost every night! My daughter and I also bake together regularly. I’ve done yoga for 12 years, because it keeps me centered. I need to be able to “hear myself” if that makes sense. Yoga reminds me to listen to what’s going on in the inside and keeps me from getting swept away with all that goes on “outside!”. It reminds me that I care deeply about being a good person. What good is my work if no one likes me or wants to work with me? It is also, very much like design for me. It requires visualization, constant micro-adjustments (physical) and extreme internal focus. Like in Yoga class, I don’t “look around” at what everyone else is doing or put pressure on myself to “be” anywhere. I like to be “me” and I strive to be “present” in every moment.

9. For those aspiring artists out there, any advice?

I would say, work hard and never lose faith in yourself. I truly believe determination is 95% of ability. I would also say “never be satisfied”. In my opinion, when I’m satisfied, there is nothing left to do! This world, for me, is about evolving and enjoying the ride along the way. Not necessarily having to be “somewhere” or trying be “someone else”. Don’t get caught up in that. Just do your job! Don’t ever think you’re better than anyone else. It’s a useless and invalid emotion in my opinion. It will keep you from learning lessons in the most unexpected places! Design is a competitive, hard, career. It is demanding and I truly believe you have to love it or you will never survive! So love it! Try not to get negative or weighed down by people and their opinions, what other people
are doing, or about limitations of the project. Enjoy it! Always make the best of it and you’ll be amazed at how few problems and limitations there really are! See it all as a opportunity. Be happy with wherever it takes you! Otherwise, why do it? You’ll be set up for failure if you predetermine outcomes. Or you’ll get bogged down and stifled by road blocks. Always be respectful of your clients and colleagues. Always! Always react to criticism with a genuinely open mind. Only defend/stick up for yourself and your ideas when absolutely necessary! These things will serve you well! I believe bad attitudes and bad behavior will show up in your work, no matter how you try to hide it. A positive state of mind is key!

10. Anything else about cover design or about you and your business or life story that you’d like my readers to know?

I remember being told in an interview when I was 26 that I should quit design. I remember being shocked, trying to hold back tears and failing. The guy said “I feel like I should save the design world from one more bad designer”. He told me “If you ever get anywhere, it’s because you have a nice smile. Not because you can design.” Looking him right in the eye, trying to stay strong... I cried, right there. I walked home through NYC feeling completely demolished and humiliated. How would I ever work again? I was crushed. I got home and thought I would never feel happy. No sooner did the tears stop when I sat up with a new determination! I have never looked to anyone to validate or make me! So, why would I allow anyone to break me!! From that day, I have moved forward. Through amazing ups and extremely challenging downs. Most importantly, I sure am proud! I didn’t give a man, who knew nothing about me, the power to stop me from doing what I love. I am known as a person that is almost “too nice.” But I’ll tell you, now, when it comes to standing up for myself, or defending my honest hard work, I’ll be fair and I’ll demand “fairness.” I’ll stand strong and tall for myself when needed. I’m never mean, but I won’t give people the power to take things from me, unfairly.

So, that was my biggest lesson. In this world some people will love and praise me. Some people will judge and misunderstand me. Not only can I not control that, but it’s all those amazingly different opinions that make the world go round! Even the ones that don’t support me. So be it! In a career that depends on so much outside approval, I have learned that when it comes to me, what I choose to do, and my deepest intentions, it is all about what my heart tells me. That’s the voice I trust. That’s the voice that drives me and my work and keeps me moving forward, doing my best.

Thank you so much, for asking me to share my thoughts. It’s a true pleasure to work on your books! I hope this has been informative.
Cathleen - you are total awesomness!! I get teared up each time I read about how you didn't give up. And isn't it amazing that the HAUNTED cover came about so perfectly? I'd say it was all meant to be.
So speak up, readers! Let Cathleen know how much you adore her work!!
Til next time...

Monday, April 12, 2010

Cathleen Elliott Interview part 2: The Dreaming Anastasia Cover story

Today Cathleen lets us see the covers that didn't make the cut and explains her thought process behind each one. I seriously had NO IDEA about how this works. I had, however, seen a couple of these, but not all of them. So here we go:

Here are some variations I presented for Dreaming Anastasia. It helps illustrate the strategy of what I hand in and sheds light on how a final cover is selected. In this comp you can see my attempts at turning a dark story into a bright whimsical cover. Now, even though this is a colorful solution for a dark tale, it could hit the target with the marketer, who may not want a dark cover. Understandably, they tend to want things that “pop” off the shelf and catch your eye. It also at the same time stays true to the story, as the nesting doll plays an important role as a protective force for Anastasia. It also alludes to the tragedy as all the other Romanovs fell in the execution except Anastasia. Some believe due to some form of magic. This is represented by the smallest doll still in the center and protected, while all the others tumble around her. This cover was a metaphorical solution for me.
Here is my literal cover for the story showing Baba Yaga’s hut in the woods, with the fire that burns as Anastasia sits next to the burning fireplace holding her protective nesting doll. Anne is described as being very thin. I also chose this girl for her skirt that looks like a tutu, since she is a dancer. The girl has curly hair like Anastasia is described having. Is it Anne or is it Anastasia? In the story, the lines between the two girls is blurred. Anne starts to feel what Anastasia feels and feels compelled to save her. The dark elements are represented by the trees and hut. While the type takes a somewhat romantic bend. So, here I tried to show many parts of the story
literally. Note: this cover is made up of 5 photographs. The girl, the doll, the cabin, the tree and sky are part of the same image, and the flame (which is actually a picture of a lit match).

I created this one in case the marketers wanted to position this book as a romance. I gave it a general “dreamy feeling” and the butterfly represents the nature that is described in many scenes. Note: This is a low-resolution sketch. The woman is actually patched together. The neck and face are one image, while the hand, butterfly and dress are another.
This one was a response to the darkness and mystery in the story. Baba Yaga’s dark hands reach out and grab things. Or her mouth opens so wide she swallows you! Ohhhhh scary... The roses were a hint at the romance, but still treated in a vintage way. “A novel” in italic over her mouth is meant to suggest whispers from Anastasia from the past, or at least that’s what I was thinking when I placed it there. I felt like this was Anastasia looking through the smoky widows from the cabin where Baba Yaga held her captive.

In this one I focused on the fantasy. The forest became a set of graphically drawn branches that I hoped would be spot varnished on the final cover. The shadow however would be printed on the boy’s face in the background. Again this type is romantic. I drew extra flourishes coming out of the type to integrate it with the drawn “forest”. There is a mystery to how Anne is treated. Her look suggests she is “going somewhere” or “has something to do.” Ethan in the background with ice blue eyes, suggests his interest in her and his supernatural aspect. Considering he is at least a hundred years old! I felt this one had darkness, mystery, romance and spoke to the story being a fantasy.

This is the cover they went with. It has an obvious bend toward fantasy. Also, the girl in the selected design has a modern look but has on a dress that looks vintage. The Romanovs were concerned with wearing too flashy of clothes. So, I thought this dress was perfect for the period and also was true to the story. It has a romantic and historical feel. The smoke in the background is from the lit match idea I used in the hut earlier. Now that I was working on this design I chose to just use the smoke from the flame not the actual flame. I thought it made sense, looking like she had passed out and was starting to dream. Smoke being the symbolic reference of her traveling to the woods. Hinting at something mystical or magical happening. Ethan is changed to a photo of a different guy, but his ice blue eye remains the same suggestion of him being a supernatural being. I like this one a lot because Anne looks very pensive and dreamy. She was also known to pass out and wake in the woods. The stone slab was the perfect reference to the woods. The last cover I handed in as the “selected” design.

All that said, I have to mention that in my design education I was taught that everything is put on the page for a reason. I was taught to remove anything that was meaningless. Now, when someone looks at a cover I have done, they shouldn’t necessarily be aware of my every thought. It should just speak to them. Even if they don’t know why.

When I hand in work, I try not to ever call the Art Director and explain myself. I feel like if the design doesn’t speak without me talking, then it has failed! Let’s face it, this needs to sit on a shelf without me. I can’t stand in Barnes and Noble and give a long winded explanation to everyone who picks it up!!! As an Art Director, I didn’t allow designers to speak to me about their work until I was able to look at it myself. Alone, and not aware of their thought process. I wasn’t trying to be mean! I was just trying not to be colored by their words. Designs need to speak and I needed a clear view.

Wow Cathleen! Like I said, I had no idea of the artist's thought process. What is most amazing and humbling to me is that Cathleen has to really "get" my work in order to do the covers. How thrilling is that?? Trust me, very thrilling indeed!
Tomorrow we will get to see what you've all been waiting for - the real Ethan and then..... the HAUNTED cover. Whoot!!
Stay tuned.
Til next time...

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Interview with cover artist Cathleen Elliott, part 1

This is Cathleen Elliott - aka girl genius - aka the creator of the Dreaming Anastasia cover - aka the creator of the soon to be revealed Haunted cover. Trust me when I say, this woman rocks!
Cathleen took time out of her busy artist/designer/baker/sculptor/every other creative endeavor known schedule to let me interview her about her creative process. It's beyond fascinating. During the next few days, we'll get to see how she thinks, works, and creates. She pulls back the veil on how she takes her image of a novel and works it into a cover and how she uses raw images and changes them into what we'll eventually see on a book. Very cool. She even shows us the REAL Ethan - who let me say is just as hot as the cover Ethan and the fictional Ethan and the Ethan that was in my head when I wrote. I can hardly wait for you to see!
So let's begin with a few questions and answers today. And then tomorrow - pictures.
1. So, Cathleen, tell us about you. What is your art background? How did you get into the business of cover design? Was it a typical journey?

I have a Fine Art degree (BFA) with an emphasis in Graphic Design from, a very small school in Ohio - Ohio University. I actually don’t think there is a standard path for book designers. My training was intense, but it was in all forms of print design. It was the summer I spent at school taking extra classes in paper making, print making, book binding and letter press that really opened my eyes to books. I combined the skills of the four classes and started making my own little books. Hand bound and printed. Paper made by me, type set by me (letterpress), die cuts and embossing by hand etc. I was in love, and I swore I’d never use a computer!! Ha. In fact, I had so little money that I hand painted most of my projects. Color prints were expensive! When I interviewed for my first job one guy commented on my “hand skills” and said “Wow, you could have gotten
a job 30 years ago.” I guess that was a compliment?

2. Do you do other types of art?

I love oil painting and drawing. I have done stained glass, photography, print making, pottery and I enjoy Sculpture in all mediums. I’ll try anything and I do anything I can to keep my hands busy. I cook, I sew, I knit, I fix things constantly around the house...

3. When you’re creating a cover for a book, what exactly is your process? Do you read the entire book? Part of the book?

Typically, I start by reading as much of the book as I can. One trick is to read the beginning, middle and end. I read as much as I need to - This can vary from project to project, depending on the subject matter and time constraints. I am also a good skimmer.

Does the publisher give you certain parameters?

I am given a design brief. It lists basic information, the trim size of the book, cover text and a blurb about the story (usually from the Amazon description, or the back cover copy) It also lists the competing books.

What exactly are you looking for?

When I am reading I am looking for the author’s tone. I try to get in their head and get a sense of what they think of the book. Then I imagine myself as someone from the audience picking the cover up off the shelf. What are the things that attract this demographic? What is the mood of the potential reader? What books sit next to this book and why does someone pick this one up? I try and find a “moment” or a visual in the story I can leap from. Something that triggers me. Most times I wind up creating a general sense of many moments in the story that speak to me. My desired outcome, which can be extremely tricky, is: -
- To have the author say “That’s what I pictured”.
- To have the publisher or Barnes and Noble representative say “That cover will sell”.
-To have the end reader, who is blind to all of the above, just look at the cover and feel like it depicts a world that they want to escape into. I like to say “there are a lot of voices in my head as I work and I have to listen to them all equally.” The publisher is my client, but I sincerely hope I deliver for everyone involved. The best way to sum it up: when I work I am not thinking it’s my job to make a pretty picture. I am not motivated by self interest or just impressing my fellow designers (although that would be nice bonus).

4. Exactly how do you create covers anyway? Do you use stock photos? Take actual photos with models? Draw or paint? At what stage do you show your ideas to the publishing house?

After I’m done reading and looking over my brief, I start to research. That is sometimes the longest part of my process. Research includes learning about the audience, what they wear, what they like, what they read. It includes sifting through hundreds of photos and illustrations online. I use stock photos mainly for budget and time constraints. The images that appear on book covers are usually the product of very careful shoots from skilled photographers. Ideally, we would all love to hire a photographer, the model and direct the shoot. So that our images are exactly what we envision. Often, we find ourselves with the seemingly daunting task of finding “The right girl, at the right age, in the right dress, the right lighting and time period.” It can be challenging. So, that’s why a lot of manipulation happens. Changing hair color, dresses, coloration or switching out backgrounds. It’s funny, I can grumble in my head as I work, thinking “Oh, I’ll never find it.” Then at the same time, I love it. I find that huge limitation of needing to use “what’s out there” can lead to some very creative solutions!

I start every job sketching my ideas on paper. I also return to paper if I get stuck on the computer. Once I have moved the computer most of the “painting” and “drawing” happens in Photoshop and Illustrator. When I’m designing I have to keep in mind that meeting room and what they are going to say about what I have done! I REALLY want to help my Art Director get a quick approval! So, I have to be organic, creative and remember my responsibility to get an approved cover. Sometimes, I get an approval on the first round. That always feels good. On average though, a selected direction comes out of the first round and is then tweaked or revised for 2-3 rounds. I also like to try and hand projects in a little early if I can. That always helps to hit deadlines. The turnaround for projects can be anywhere from 2 days to 2 weeks. I would say that 1 week is my average time line for the first round of designs. I am always asked to give 3 unique ideas, but I usually hand in more like 5. Or 3 unique, with some variations. I like to give as many distinct options as I can, in order to show different moods of the book.

Friday, April 2, 2010

Cancer Sucks and other Debut Author Adventures

So way back in January, I was getting ready to do the Montgomery County Teen Book Festival. I was really really excited because this was a huge event and I was going to be appearing with the likes of Melissa Marr and Cassandra Clare and Sara Zarr. Big doings! Plus I was secretly working like mad to finish up Haunted, the Dreaming Anastasia sequel because although we were still negotiating the contract (a process that was, for many reasons * cough, money, cough* very slow going), the book had already been launched in house at Sourcebooks, had a tentative cover and a lot of buzz and so it was only sporting that I write the damn thing. This was the real thing, baby. No longer just the possible fluke of a debut novel that somehow snuck through the system. Nope. Editor Dan and Publicist Paul kept whispering sales figures in my ears. The Sourcebooks folks were quite happy. I’d blown my modest expectations out of the water, the ball park, the room… pick a metaphor and insert one of your choice. The little trade paperback that they’d taken a chance on had somehow gained readership, resonated with readers… you get the picture. I had done it. Me. I was crazy with happiness at what the universe had tossed my way.

And then, a few days before the festival, I went for my annual physical. Now mind you, I’m feeling fine. My energy level has been legend, my adrenaline is zipping along, I’m the picture of health. Okay, I’d been abusing caffeine mightily and I had a love affair with Mr. Pinot Grigio now and then, but I exercised. I ate more or less healthy stuff. I took my vitamins. I made sure that my hairdresser kept me looking presentable.

“There’s something on your neck,” my doctor says. He reaches out and pokes around. Gets a serious look on his face. Pokes more. “I think – and don’t panic – but there’s a nodule in your neck and it’s big. I think it’s thyroid cancer. You’ll need to go for an ultrasound. Maybe a biopsy. I’m also going to make some contacts for you at MD Anderson, the cancer hospital.”

That’s pretty much the way he said it. He was kind and gentle, but firm. I, of course, was freaking out. It was the ultimate ‘Cossacks are coming – people pay for having too much fun – hey girlie, you got your book but hey that’s it – remember how you were mean to your mother when you were a teenager, well this is your payback’ kind of moment. I was not convinced I was going to immediately keel over. But I was convinced it was bad. If only because deep down, I was sure that it was. So bad, in fact, that I did something totally out of character. I began telling people. Not everyone, obviously. But the people closest to me. My normal behavior was to keep crap like this a secret until there’s really something to tell. But I never did. I started blabbing. Which was my other internal clue that I probably did have cancer. Looking back now, I’m happy I made that choice. Okay, maybe the ‘Oh my God, I’m going to die before we get this damn contract finished’ phone call to my agent might have gone better. But you live and learn.

If you look carefully at pictures from the Montgomery County Teen Book Festival, you can see that I’m either wearing a scarf or my neck looks just slightly bruised from the biopsy. Pictures from the next week, at the Austin SCBWI conference have me looking like a deer in the headlights. I’d driven there with my husband after getting the biopsy results and my MD Anderson appointments. By the time I made it to Houston SCBWI, I’d been through three days of other testing. I knew what I had: papillary thyroid cancer. And what I was doing about it: surgery on March 24th, to remove the nodule, the thyroid, and the affected lymph nodes. I knew the prognosis: pretty good if we did the surgery and followed up with radioactive iodine. The surgeon called with all this news while we were beginning Act I of Julius Caesar. Mackenzie in my sixth period took over directing the reading while I went into the hall to talk on my cell phone. (another fun thing – having to answer your cell phone at will in an environment where cells are a no no)

We had also finally finished the contract and I’d been able to do things: announce Haunted because it was now official on Publisher’s Marketplace and tell my editor and publicist. (Yes, this is what happens when contract negotiations linger during a cancer diagnosis. You have morbid conversations with your agent all ending with ‘but if I tell them, what will happen to the sub rights?’ So then, when your poor unsuspecting editor calls you at work on your cell phone and says, “Hey Joy, you get to come to the super special Sourcebooks dinner at the Century Association while you’re in New York for the Sourcebooks Fire release party” you get to respond by saying, “Hey Dan. By the way, bud. I’ve got cancer.” You do this while in the teacher’s lounge eating your Lean Cuisine and the ensuing babbling on his end gets so emotional that you have to move to the hallway where it’s quieter, until the bell rings and then 2,000 students converge while you’re still mumbling, “Oh Dan. It’ll be fine. I’m sorry. Next time I get cancer God forbid, I’ll tell you right away. And by the way, how’s the baby?”)

And so it continued. I went to New York. A girlfriend came with me so I could have extra fun and try to forget about the cancer surgery the next week. Her long –ailing father died in the middle of our first night and she had to leave the next morning. I walked through Central Park and snapped pictures of the Dakota and ate a hamburger at the Shake Shack and tried not to take it all as a sign. I went to the Sourcebooks Fire Party. And the after party. Met tons of amazing people. And tried to find an emotional balance about the elephant in the corner called cancer. New York’s a great place for that. You can go to the top of Rockefeller Center and walk all over the Flatiron district and Mid Town and the Upper West Side, and meet your former agent for drinks at the Algonquin and friends for dinner later and feel almost normal. Almost.

Somehow, the Tuesday night before surgery, I finished the 80k draft of Haunted. I told myself that I would be able to proof and revise in a couple of weeks as planned. My deadline wasn’t until April 15th. I tried not to refer to that day as the Ides of April. (interestingly my endocrinologist yesterday referred to day I begin my radioactivity process as the Ides of June) I learned that cancer freaks people out. Some of my friends and family have been better able to handle it than others. Hey, some days I’ve been better able to handle it than others. Eventually, I told my students. They acted like sixteen year olds. Concerned, but still sixteen. A few minutes later, everyone got overly chatty and I had to quiet them down. I inadvertently made a girl cry by wise-cracking, “Well, gee. If I had any illusions that telling you I was knocking on death’s door would alter your behavior, that was blown to heck.” Okay, I’m still me. And that’s a good thing.

As I write this, it’s Friday, April 2nd. Surgery was over a week ago. I’m home recovering and gaining strength and mobility in my neck. During a six hour surgery, my brilliant and amazing surgeon removed all the bad stuff. Some of it wasn’t as bad as they’d suspected. Some of it was. He’s given me a legendary neck scar and a firm appreciation for people who graduate in the top of the class. I can mostly type now without wanting to cry and have even kicked the vicodin. I’m obediently downing my thyroid med and my calcium. I have a ball cap that says ‘Cancer Sucks.’ In June I will go radioactive. Thyroid cells eat iodine and any remaining floating microscopic bad boys will get burned out. I will also be a danger to others for a couple of days, so I’ll get to hang out upstairs and pee in my own toilet and flush twice. But it’s better than the alternative. I’ve learned how annoyingly type A I am as reflected in the following absolutely true conversation. Me: Do you know that when you get a mug out of the cabinet to make me tea, you take a very long time to close the cabinet?” Husband: Seriously? Are you kidding? Shut up so I can empty your neck drain.” And fun stuff like that.

Neighbors have brought food and people have sent flowers and cards and many of all faiths and stripes have sent up thoughts and prayers and possibly a pagan chant or two on my behalf. Somehow, it seems I still get to sit down today and do the work I love. I am a believer in miracles. And in the power of the tribe – in the largest sense of the term – to stick by you and help you and bring you out of the dark.

If you’re reading this and you didn’t know, well, hey, what was I supposed to do? Send up a blimp? I’m telling you now. The elephant is kicked out of the room to go back and eat hay or whatever it is that elephants do.

As for me, I’m off to do my neck rehab exercises and watch Rachel Ray. Because hey, if you’re going get to stay home, you might as well watch some day time tv.

Til next time…