Eye-Catching Book Covers

I saw this article in my Twitter #Discover feed nestled between an article about some busy-body Americans who fear that the Austrian tradition of the Krampus (link to a video of the annual Krampuslauf in Graz, Austria in case you are unfamiliar with Austrian traditions) is going to corrupt the children–because. . .the Devil, that’s why–and some anecdotal tweets about the best books of 2013. Between all this chaos of moral uproar and best of lists, I found Flavorwire’s “Best Book Covers of 2013“, which made me wonder if this year was really not that great of a year for book covers. Or maybe I just disagree with them on what the criteria are for a good book cover. Although, I’m not going to outright say that because I directly linked to them and I think that they have a right to an opinion, just as anyone else does. Also, I haven’t seen all the book covers of 2013, so maybe I can’t really say that this year was just not a good year for book covers. (But I kind of said it anyway, so oh well.)

But Flavorwire’s article has inspired me to write my own list of good book covers–as in, the book covers that would make me actually pick up a book and read the plot description or the first page. So this–Nikki’s list of Good Book Covers through the Ages (classic reprints and alternate covers also included)–now exists.

1.) No Saints or Angels, by Ivan Klima (English edition)

Image

Why this is a good cover:

There is something hauntingly beautiful about the angle at which the photo of this already hauntingly beautiful angel was taken. It’s also a great representation of Czech culture, with a little bit of irony thrown in (with some help from the title). But Klima’s (I don’t have a Czech keyboard, so I apologize for the misplaced accent) books usually have some interesting cover images. I don’t know if it is because I just like the Czechs’ visual preferences, or if perhaps the theme of the book itself makes these kind of cover image choices an option.

Another good book cover belongs to Klima’s Waiting for the Dark Waiting for the Light:

Image

The nude woman with a fit body aside, I think the photograph offers not only a lovely setting (old fashioned windows thrown open and that broad sill), but also the photographer has made good lighting and coloring choices and the pose of the model evokes really strong emotions in the viewer, considering it is a book cover. The model seems deep in thought and as though she is waiting for something–like she’s tormented by something, but also perhaps that she is anxious and on the look-out for something or someone that she expects to come. If the cover photo/image itself can make me speculate about what is going on in it, then I’m going to pick up the book. I expect the book to be an explanation of what is going on in the cover, or the cover somehow relating to the theme(s) of the book.

2.)Voluntary Madness: My Year Lost and Found in the Looney Bin, by Norah Vincent

Image

I picked this book up to read because I was writing a research paper on the differences between the various options we have for people with mental illness in the United States (spoiler alert: the best options are financially out of reach for a majority of people with mental illness). After going about 5 years since I’ve read this book, I still recall loving the cover. Even if the subject of the book was not relevant to a project I was doing or I didn’t have to read it for whatever reason, I still would have picked this book up and read it from cover to cover. I guess I like this cover because it is relevant–again–to the content of the book. It isn’t just a colorful gimmick intended to catch a book store browser’s eyes. It gives a visual point-of-reference to the settings explored within the book.

3.) The Bell Jar, by Sylvia Plath (Multiple editions)

2000 Harper Perennial Classics Modern Edition:

Image

2005 Harper Perennial Classics Modern Edition (I own this version):

Image

1971 Harper & Row Edition:

Image

While writing this, I’m recalling that I have a bit of a flare for the dramatics in my daily life, so of course these covers are going to be on my list. Why do these images visually appeal to me though? I guess the same could be observed about the lighting choices and the way that the 1971 edition photo was developed (I’m not a photographer and my friends who are well-versed in old-school photographic technique also only speak German. . .so I lack the proper terminology to describe this.) I guess I also like the choice of props and subjects represented within the photos. I like the distance expressed by the models in all the photos. It appears as though they seem to be hiding, or someplace distant that one must work hard to get to. Plath’s narration in the novel seems emotionally distant at times with a bit of insight thrown in every so often, but told in a way that you really must work and think over the words to get the full implication behind them (just my interpretation, feel free to disagree).

4.) A Great and Terrible Beauty and The Sweet Far Thing, by Libba Bray

Image

Image

After I had graduated high school, I started reading solely literary fiction and the classics that I did not read in high school (with some adult fantasy and horror thrown in for good measure). If it weren’t for the cover image of the first book in this series (A Great and Terrible Beauty) I wouldn’t have read it, because it’s teen fiction. But I am a huge fan of this series now, even after stumbling upon it when I no longer considered myself a YA reader. The reasons why this cover is good are pretty obvious. The attention to historical detail and the pretty laces and corset are visually appealing. I’m not sure how relevant this is to the underlying theme of the series, but it gives a somewhat shallow point of reference to a piece of the wardrobe worn by some girls and women of that time period.

5.) Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, by Jane Austen and Seth Grahame-Smith

Image

I suppose that without such a concept, such a book cover would never come into existence. But this is just a very unique cover image. I’m not sure how creative it is, but you can tell that an artist put a lot of work into it. It’s just gorgeous, creepy, and so explanatory at the same time.

In conclusion, perhaps what makes a good book cover is ultimately subjective and not something that can be organized into a tight, marketing formula. Yes, colors definitely affect a person’s attitude toward a book. But, if the book deals with a somber or solemn plot/theme, perhaps yellow and red would not be appropriate for the book. Furthermore, what makes a good book cover completely depends upon the audience the author is writing for. Many of my selections were intended to appeal to a more solemn, less excitable audience. I don’t think it would be appropriate for The Bell Jar to have the same color scheme as any of the cover editions of Naked Lunch, for example, because both novels are written in completely different tones. Many of the book covers I see often do not reflect upon the actual tone of the book, and so this confusion created by a cover that doesn’t relate to the story or capture the tone of the narrator very well leaves me with a bad taste in my mouth. I can think of some really great books that were written in a somber, slow tone, but featured colors that inspire excitement and anxiousness in the viewer (like my edition of Love in the Asylum, ordered online because I was interested in the theme and the story, featuring a very red cover). Also, many bibliophiles just gravitate toward visually stunning covers. To them (and to me), everything about the book (the writing within it, the cover, the inside of the jacket, and the font and layout of the pages) is a part of a work of art.

Advertisements

The Summer of Frustration: My Summer of Striving to Write Realistic Mental Illness, Professional first Translation Projects, and Getting Myself Interested in my own writing again

I feel like I’m stuck in a rut when it comes to my writing. I have to admit that I haven’t been able to move the plot line of Mind Terrorist forward because I just feel iffy about the scene I’m currently writing. In it, Lenore has wandered away from a bar and her friends and gotten herself lost in Prague. She gets picked up by the police in the city park and tries to evade arrest by running. (For those of you just passing by, I should mention that Lenore is no ordinary special flower. She’s just had a mental breakdown and is trekking through Europe intending to kill the man she believes is controlling her thoughts. Her friends know this and this is why the police were called.) I’m hesitant about finishing this scene, because afterwards I’m unsure where the story is going. I can’t decide if I want her to spend a night in jail or spend the night with her friends (who have become more pushy and less patient with her). It’s too early in the book for her to land in the hospital. I don’t want this to be a hospital novel, because I feel like the niche market for books about people struggling with mental illness is overpopulated by narrators in mental institutions and psych wards–I mean, that’s the most obvious place you’d look when you want to find people who are mentally ill. But the reality of the situation (and I’m more interested in my book being realistic and believable) is that the police would probably take her to the hospital, and the hospital would try to find a way to keep her since she is such an extreme danger to herself and others.

I’ve kind of switched gears this summer because of the frustration I’m having with the plot of Mind Terrorist. I’m finishing a translation project I started for a friend. My friend asked me to translate a few German language interviews with two bands we really like to English so that she could read the interview. I’m fortunate to be in contact with one of the interviewees, so if I have any uncertainties about his intended meaning of a statement or if I have trouble interpreting the mood of the conversation (the first and third parts are a round table discussion between three people), I can just run the question by him. Of course, I don’t want to irritate him–he is busy–but I am striving to translate it so that the original meaning and message of the articles are not lost. (That happens sometimes with more experienced translators, and since this is my first major translation project, I know I’m not a seasoned professional yet and I don’t want to mess it up!)

The other project I’ve switched gears to is a long-running fantasy project that I have no immediate plans to publish, but that I work on between major projects or when I’m feeling demotivated about my current project. This summer, I intend to hammer out one of the major details of my fantasy world: the fashion. Luckily, I found a doll designing template on http://www.dolldivine.com for the Showtime series, “The Tudors” that features gowns and clothing visually similar to what I envisioned for my fantasy series. Also, the template is not so strict that I have to make things exactly in the way that designers of that time period would have done them, it allows me to take various clothing details from the period and mix and match them into the kind of outfit I was envisioning. I feel like I’m wasting a lot of time doing this, but the clothing worn by my characters is a lot of the times important to the central plot. (For example, one of my female characters helps free another from the dungeons by switching clothes with her.) However, I need to minimize the amount of time I’m spending on Doll Divine making dolls, because I found myself spending the entire afternoon yesterday just making duplicate outfits for one of my characters for a certain part of the book when she is probably going to be in her nightgown about 70% of the time. I think my next mini-maintenance project for my fantasy novel will be sorting out my world’s religious practices and customs, because I’m finding this is another hole in my world that I can’t visualize through what I’ve already written.

So where do you think I should go with Mind Terrorist? I’d love to hear opinions from people in the comments, especially if they have any experience dealing with severely mentally ill people. My problem is that I don’t want the story to suddenly become unrealistic, but I also don’t want it to turn into a hospital novel. Confining Lenore to a hospital would halt the action of the story dead in its tracks.  But again, telling a realistic story is also very important to me!

The Kind of Dilemma that can only Arise from being Scatter-brained and unable to make a Decision

There’s a quote from Virginia Woolf that describes me very strongly:

It is worth mentioning, for future reference, that the creative power which bubbles so pleasantly in beginning a new book quiets down after a time, and one goes on more steadily. Doubts creep in. Then one becomes resigned. Determination not to give in, and the sense of an impending shape keep one at it more than anything.” (from her diary on May 11th, 1920)

I’m in the doubt stage currently. I feel like if I could just get over my doubt of my current project and finish part II that I would go on writing parts III and IV smoothly and then the editing process could begin and I would finally have SOMETHING to show to publishers (that isn’t a teenager’s first attempt at figuring out how to construct a novel). But the more time I spend not focusing on my piece, the more my mind wanders and I begin to contemplate new projects. Also, I’m kind of risking damning myself anytime I attempt to write a short story. Thus far, half of my short story attempts in the past two years surpassed 12k words and could go even longer to form a novel. So I had to put the project on hold in favor of my current two projects.

This is what my workload looks like (concerning novels and compilations, I won’t even list the unfinished short stories sitting on/around/in my desk at the moment):

Mind Terrorist

Main Character/inspiration: Lenore, a voice of a character in my head who happened to be the loudest when it came time to write a short story for my Short Story writing course last spring.

Plot Synopsis: Lenore is an American expat living in Austria who is having a very serious breakdown. She is convinced that a specific man has found a way into her mind and found a way to control her thoughts and sexual desires and that he is seeing all of her thoughts. The problem is that she does not know who it is, and is suspicious of any man she comes across because even if they found a way to placate her and convince her that they are not the ones inside her mind, that this could just be another mind trick. Lenore, needing a holiday, is invited to spend the weekend partying with two musician friends in Prague and she accepts. But during the train ride through Austria to Prague, she realizes that perhaps it could be her friends who have been reaching into her thoughts.

Themes: Coping with sexual assault/rape, alcoholism, mental illness, mental illness and sexual trauma, travel, Central European culture and history

Status: I shopped this around in its original form as a short story. It was considered for 3 months to be printed by an American literary magazine, but in the end they declined it because they felt that the word count was too long to be a short story, and that the story needed to continue. When I turned it in to my teacher, she said basically the same thing. . .so here I am trying to finish this novel.

But doubt creeped in and I started a new project while I was dealing with writer’s block:

Short Story Compilation (“The Sea Monster’s Bride” and other Stories)

I found myself writing a lot about love and mental illness in the last six months, and aside from my novel, I’m beginning to move past this fixation. However, mental illness and love are and probably will always be recurring themes in my writing for personal reasons. This particular short story compilation has a focus on love within institutional settings between someone who society has deemed to be mentally ill and someone who isn’t but may be missing some important things. I would like to release it on smashwords, but I’d like to first get some of the stories published in literary magazines and therefore attract publicity and more public interest for the short story compilation in the first place.

Now, within this project I started writing a short story which takes place in a Victorian workhouse, and then later an asylum. The narrator has a romantic relationship with Satan (or she thinks she does) and this is why she is in an asylum. I’ve realized after rewriting it that this story could not be told in its entirety in just a short story, and that since she is in her late teens and I have the opportunity, I’d like to send her to a haunted finishing school in Scotland and extend her narrative into a book series. This is my Darling series, which I posted about earlier this week. Now, I have three projects going because I am still missing a short story since I’ve had to pull Darling from the compilation. Mind Terrorist only has 15,000 words, and I want it to at least have 30k. But these are just the projects I’ve started fairly recently.

During my time on Mibba two years ago, I completed an internet fantasy serial story. My readers on Mibba really liked it and I have been asked to expand each weekly section into a full chapter. I’ve been doing that since 2011, and have ended up splitting the book in half so that now there are two books–both from different points-of-view. The story line is done. The rough draft is written. I am just editing this now and going back and rewriting some passages so that they connect more smoothly and there are less plotholes. I even have an idea for the sequel to each of the points-of-view, a book that combines both by making one of my narrators have a bigger part in the life of the character who shall be narrating. But it’s a fantasy project: imaginary world, intricate religious and cultural beliefs, and a political system, and all. My senior year of college is not a good time to embark on such an endeavor. Though, I will admit that when I’m frustrated with Lenore and writing short stories and queries to literary magazines, I find myself editing my fantasy novel, designing costumes for my main characters, and even writing new scenes. This is a particularly bad habit for me, because it’s taking away from me time that I would be spending working on my projects that I’d like to get done before the end of 2014, when I’ve told myself that this fantasy novel could not reasonably be finished at least until 2016 if I put all my free time into it, and should just focus on one thing at a time.

But no, I don’t listen to myself. I’m too scatter-brained to listen to myself. There are too many voices inside of my mind for me to listen to, and as a result I’m having trouble picking which one I’m going to listen to when it comes to my writing projects.

 

Marionette

She lies on the wood floor, bent in on herself and broken like a porcelain doll a child had carelessly dropped. He stands over her, barking orders, commanding her to stand up, to come to him. She doesn’t hear him. He’s gone too far this time. She’s retreated to a world of her own, a safe place where it’s dark and no one can hurt her because it is so dark that no one can find her. Maybe in the darkness and the silence, she’ll finally be able to think and to realize why she continues to return to him.

Continue my story in the comments, if you wish. . .