The Evolution of an Image: On Co-Creation with One’s Spouse

Note: due to the nature of some of the early versions of the cover image contained in this post, reader discretion is advised.

Slash of Crimson’s publication date nears. The cover is finished. But getting to this point was a more involved process than I expected.

When Rymfire first accepted the manuscript, I wondered what their method was for acquiring cover art. Being a small press, they often worked with both new writers and new artists. It became quickly clear to me that it could be a fair amount of work to find the right fit for any given project. I asked editor Armand Rosamilia if he would be open to my getting involved in the selection process. He said he was so long as the work was high quality and matched Rymfire’s brand.

And so the search began—I turned first to a New York artist who had given me a business card on the subway. It showed a painting of a subway car, mostly blacks and grays, with tentacles slithering out of its windows. They were poised to seize an unsuspecting elementary school student and drag the body into the one spot of color, the creature’s red mouth. The sinister threat combined with a macabre sense of humor attracted me and I contacted him. He was interested, however, he had already moved from one tier of the art world to the next, going from home studio to Brooklyn gallery shows. His price had therefore increased to something that, if it couldn’t buy you an Andy Warhol print, it would at least qualify as a decent down payment on one.

Next I tried an old friend from Portland, the city where the novella takes place. He was willing to do it and sent me an amazing painting. However, though a beautiful work in its own right, it was very abstract and wasn’t quite the hard rock style that matched Rymfire’s brand, publishers of books like Heavy Metal Horror and Extreme Undead.

And so I was beginning to feel like Goldilocks (albeit a black bearded manson-jesusish sort of Goldilocks). Nothing was quite right. I began to brood and stew around the house, until I finally went to an artist who happened to be quite close by—my wife Sarah—and asked if she would be interested in working up an image herself.

Now someone might wonder why I didn’t go to Sarah in the first place. Wouldn’t that be convenient, an artist in the family who would always be willing to co-create? Except that Sarah and I had never worked together on anything. Indeed, though not expressly stated, we tended keep our art very separate during our lives together. While we had definitely shared our work with each other from the time we met, and generally liked each other’s work, giving each other room to do our own work was a boundary we didn’t want to blur.

Sarah’s artistic background consisted of art school in Virgina and then Queens College in New York City. She had already lived in New York as an artist for over ten years when we first met. While her themes did at times include the macabre, her work usually employed video as its media and focused on gallery-oriented post-modernism. I guess the analogy in writing would be what’s popularly considered the distinction between ‘genre fiction’ and ‘literary fiction’.

On the other hand, I knew she knew how to draw, and so figured why not just hit her up and see if she’d make an exception to our usual practice:

“Honey, I was wondering if you could draw a creepy naked woman who just crawled out of the ocean for my book cover?”

“I suppose I could take a shot.”

“That’d be great, remember it’s a horror/dark sci-fi novel, so think along the lines of The Exorcist meets Aliens.”

“Um, what?”

“Right, maybe think along the lines of something like Japanese cartoons.”

“You mean the porno ones?”


“All right, I’ll take a shot.”

Now aside from the thematic considerations we have our all encompassing and most profoundly important consideration, that is, the schedule of our family life. Many writers have talked about this, from Virginia Woolf to Stephen King. I don’t want to do that entire essay here, but suffice it to say that what we normally do is take turns doing activities with the kids so that the other person can have some personal time. This of course has to be done outside of a full time work schedule, and with the added consideration that one of our daughters is not yet in school and still requires constant care.

Therefore the fair division of time and tasks is critical to harmonious domestic life. Again without going to far into these issues, most of the time I try very hard to make a full contribution and not do my personal work at the expense of my family. How successful I am is not for me to say, though I haven’t been thrown out yet. What changed, however, when the cover art came into play, was that I would simply have to give up some of my writing time to give Sarah time to work on the cover. I would also have to take the kids more often to give her extra time on top of that to work on it. And I did this as well as I could, and out of all the factors of ‘what it is like to work with a spouse on an art project’, I would say that in our case, this is the most important. Working with my spouse on an art project consists mostly of pushing swings, doing dishes, driving kids around and helping them when they don’t quite make it to the bathroom in time…

But even with those obstacles accounted for, there were still important aesthetic considerations. What kind of image would she use? We started by reading some passages from the book. She agreed the inciting incident, the opening scene where the kayaker is rescued by the woman who emerges from the waves, was what she wanted to draw.

She went with a good mix of eeriness and allure and thus her first rendering looked like this:

Of course I liked it, but also knew, as confirmed by editor Armand, that bare nipples could be objectionable on a lot of the websites where the book would be for sale. Neither I nor Armand had anything against nipples personally, but we knew it just wasn’t conventional in genre fiction to put them on a book cover.

Me: “I’m sorry, I think we’re going to have to cover the nipples.”

Sarah: “What’s wrong with nipples?”

Me: “They’re naked. I mean it has nudity, so mainstream booksellers won’t show the image on their websites.”

Sarah: “But I thought you guys were bad-ass heavy metal dudes.”

Me: “Um, maybe, but the booksellers are pretty important.”

Sarah: “You know, in art school there were naked people all over the place, it was no big deal.”

Me: “I know, but genre fiction usually goes with the scantily clad and well-armed.”

Sarah: “Like guns?”

Me: “Yeah, like guns, like guns okay, nipples not okay. I actually like guns and nipples, but that’s just how it goes…”

Sarah: “Okay, I’ll cover the nipples.”

Thus the next version:

“What do you think?”

“I love it but there’s still half a nipple.”

“You can barely see it.”

“Right, we have to just not have the nipples, like even though the novella itself is rated R, the cover just has to be PG-13.”

“You know, in Europe they had bare breasts all over the magazines, everybody seemed okay with that. And when I was taking figure drawing I discovered porno mags had some of the best photos of the human body. I often used to sketch from those, like the big butt ones were the best for that.”

“Yeah, I guess this gal’s not even fully human, more on the skeletony side…”

“Yeah, I think Grandma’s Hollywood actress mags have better models for that. But I’ll have to go with a composite, photos and a live model.”

“As long as you like the image in the end. My suggestions are just suggestions. I want this to be a work of art you would stand behind.”

“Of course. I wouldn’t do it otherwise.”

There ensued more discussion, mostly about color and light, but as much as I tried to lay my back-seat-driving sort of opinions on her work, we deferred to her sense in the end, since she is experienced and I trusted it would come out best that way.

And thus, the final version:

Now, in what manner Rymfire will design the final cover is yet to be determined. As stated by the editor, there are considerations to publishing standards for the layout of the text and the title, etc. There will be some cropping and sizing involved and possible touch up in Photoshop.

In the end however, I am truly indebted to Sarah for coming up with such a gorgeous cover that captures the spirit of the novella. Perhaps it may even inspire someone to buy a paperback version of the book and acquire something that is interesting to look at, as well as interesting to read.

Has anybody else ever worked with his or her spouse on a project? I’d be curious to hear how it went!


Cover Art Completed

In anticipation of the release of the Slash of Crimson, I will be writing a post about what it was like to work with my wife on the book’s cover art. Rymfire recently approved the image, and so that post on our collaboration and the evolution of the image will go up by the end of the week.

For anyone who has not read the original post on Slash of Crimson’s publication announcement it can be found here:

Thanks and check in when the post goes up!


Review of Wrath James White’s The Resurrectionist

Wrath James White’s The Resurrectionist occupies a unique niche in the horror genre that combines 1990’s Tarantino over-the-topness and early 2000’s J-Horror emotional mercilessness. It shows an appreciation for the craziest and most violent of slasher films, yet brings with it a desire to mingle such tropes with subtler, philosophical themes. I compare it to movies specifically because the prose style possesses an even more cinematic style than other novels in a genre already known for letting words imitate the camera lens.

White’s hook is the story’s premise itself: what would happen if a serial killer were able to resurrect his victims? He would kill them more than once, naturally. So begins killer Dale McCarthy’s rampage as he sets up shop across the street from the novel’s protagonists, Sarah and Josh Lincoln. At the outset of the story, they are a young relatively happy couple making their way in the tough post-market crash Las Vegas economy. Their own world comes crashing down around them as well, however, when Dale starts killing and raping them every night then resurrecting them before morning.

While the plot may seem like a setup for a gratuitous bloodbath, White adds a subtle edge to the narrative that moves it between the aforementioned Tarantino style killer-kitsch and the constant sense of vengeful revelation of the J-Horror subgenre. He draws a picture of a killer whose habit imitates a stark sort of addiction. Unlike an art-swallowing bodybuilder like Thomas Harris’s Francis Dollarhyde, he gives us a skinny, sweaty suburbanite with the tritest of aesthetic tastes. For Dale McCarthy is no reader of Blake or fetishist who conducts his fantasies to the sounds of Beethoven (as Burgess’s Alex in A Clockwork Orange). No, Dale unleashes his torment on the denizens of pre-fab housing from his own pre-fab lair within the same community, preoccupied only by his pock-marked face, skinny limbs and cheerleadery taste in women.

The strong presence of Las Vegas as a supremely decadent desert city comes through in the novel almost as if it were one of the characters. There is an almost nauseous, funhouse feel to the violence here. The forces at work in the killer’s mind, the forces at work in the victims’ minds as they arm themselves with state-of-the art weaponry and surveillance, and the forces at work in the economy as the housing prices plummet in the development where most of the crimes take place, all carry a kind of up-and-down rollercoaster feel. It is a setting with frightening moods swings.

Though I read a few reviews that seemed concerned with the depth of the characters’ personalities, I think it is an error not to call them complex. To my mind Sarah, Josh and Dale come across as characters very contemporary in their concerns. From protagonist Sarah’s thesis on human sexuality to Dale’s computer-nerd-serial-killer persona, there is a sense that these 21st Century identities are all unapologetically their own. Such attitudes are combined with detailed descriptions of stab-wounds, bullet wounds and dismemberment, as well as intimate thoughts on sex and religion. Thus, though at first glance these characters who delve into the existence of God or peruse porn sites may begin their musings with stock arguments like, ‘How can God create someone so evil?’, the juxtaposition of these motifs, the intermingling of God, sex, and violence builds its quickening rhythm until we find ourselves witnessing a frighteningly accurate description of a large portion of pop-culture’s subconscious. Not pulling punches when it comes to these issues, White portrays a bold and beautiful couple who both benefits from and is trapped by this culture. Their sharp minds and popular good looks may have given them a sense of success and joy, only to be turned around and become the reason they are horrifically tormented.

White comes at all issues concerning body, mind and spirit with a kind of arid honesty. It is here I see the similarity to J-Horror, for The Resurrectionist, like The Ring and The Grudge, does not romanticize the vengeful victim. Though it may not be Dale’s fault he has become what he had become, we do not find ourselves rooting for this kicked around outsider. At best, he is one to be put out of his misery, at worst, he calls into question our popular intellectual culture’s assumptions about jealousy and fairness.

Whatever assessment the reader makes of the killer along the way, it will mutate once more after a surprising and paradoxical climax wherein the sense of helplessness and eternal irony is only increased. However one absorbs this final assault, it’s a sure bet this author’s ideas and fresh storytelling style will be worth revisiting.

Musings on Past, Present and Future (not necessarily in that order)

Hey folks—I know I’ve been absent for a while, but would like to mention that I will be posting a review of Wrath James White’s The Resurrectionist later this week, so please drop in for that.

In the meantime, though we’re a little behind schedule still on the final revisions for Slash of Crimson, publisher Armand Rosamilia has the final manuscript and with just a little more tweaking, it should be ready. Release date forthcoming.

Also my wife Sarah is still wrapping up the cover. Still very excited, thanks everyone for your patience.

In the meantime, check out this little Amazon review for the Rymfire Erotica anthology. Apparently someone was pleasantly surprised:


Heave oars for the starlit abyss!