book covers, The Strange Case of the Barrington Hills Vampire

Cover Evolution of Vampire

We always begin with my horrible, ugly sketches. It’s sad how many hours I spend on them. I wanted to play with reflections. The Vampire, of course, leaves no reflection. In a nod to the author/reader agreement barring supernatural explanations, I decided to do it anyway. But I cannot draw a reflection (I tried), so the first sketch didn’t have a face. The detectives were to be investigating the footprints — I’m big on the cover revealing the impossible element, and Vampire is a no-footprints mystery.

The vampire hand has always caught my imagination–spindly fingers that are too long above the knuckle, rendering the hand useless for anything except caressing skulls. There’s a great moment in Bram Stoker’s Dracula (1992) when Dracula holds the locket with Mina’s picture. He can’t wield it with his fingers, so he must place it flat on his palm and let the chain dangle off his hand. All the while, his fingers form this kind of venus flytrap closing in. Even with the tenderest of feeling, Dracula threatens death.

I talked with my cover designer (Matt) about the hands for a long time. He patiently listened to my ramblings.

How much of the vampire to reveal? I thought the reflection might make it more subtle, but I wanted Matt to have a basic idea of the look, so I gave him Nosferatu.

We agreed on a vampire reflection, and he went to work.

His strategy was to fix the dimensions, finish the outside images, and spend most of his time chipping away at the hand. His biggest worry was the reflection. What he had so far was a sad-clown nosferatu. Let’s make him deadly.

For the detectives, we agreed not to show their faces. The reader should be providing those, not us. Matt opted for a Paddington-Bear look. I insisted on a magnifying glass, which he was completely against. He was shocked when he saw how well it worked. (Note — some facebook commenters thought they were 2 children, so maybe it doesn’t work as well as I think.)

Here came the most important part of the process. Matt hated the reflection. I dug it. During one meeting, I suggested going full gore with sharper teeth, a vicious leer, and blood (as if that would actually make the image creepier). He calmly reminded me how important the hand had been to me at the outset. He kept saying, less face and let me work on the hand. He was right.

It was apparent, this was the way to go. No teeth. No blood. The hand and the eyes did all the heavy lifting. We now had the tagline and bottom title to figure out. The idea of having a template is appealing. All the books match on the shelf. But I changed our usual style for two reasons. First, my name needed to be bigger. I think it’s natural to hide your name when you get started, but the fact is I slaved away a long time on this thing. It’s mine and my name should be at least readable. Second, the amazon description mentions this is an impossible-crime murder mystery, so it doesn’t need to go on the book. My books, regrettably, are not in shops, so there’s no point in including that information. The end result was this:

It’s sharp, mysterious, and hella pleasing to the eye. I always plug Matt, and I’ll never stop. He is insanely talented. If anyone needs cover work done, I can hook you up. You can see Matt’s other work here.

Part 2 of the cover was the mapback. For a drawing like this, I wanted to go with a different style, so I contacted my friend Jeanjoel Spatafora who is an artist in St Louis. I provided him a hideous sketch.

I sent him the back cover from Ramble House’s Rim of the Pit, not as inspiration, but to show him how far he could go away from realism. He came back with this beauty.

Jeanjoel sells artwork and jewelry. You can check out his work here.

Now it was up to Matt to come up with the design. He suggested including Jeanjoel’s floor plans from inside the book. I asked what it would look like.

It’s my best cover by far. I love being able to tell talented people to do things, and then take credit for their work.

Occasionally, I’ve thought of getting some books translated. The cost would be too great now, but I fantasize about working with Matt on a Japanese-market cover of Goodnight Irene. I’m thinking of the look (colors, lighting) as Blade Runner meets The Maltese Falcon. It would be epic. Someday.

8 thoughts on “Cover Evolution of Vampire”

  1. I’m in awe of how much time, care, and attention was put into your third project. So many self-published books out there are hastily thrown online not only with a crappy cover but a terribly crafted book to boot. To hear from one who cares about the content of the mystery and the cover presented to the public motivates me to put that much focus on my own writing, and to improve further and further in crafting a mystery story. Love your blog and wish you the best with your career and future books.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. I agree with Brian; the evolution of the cover is fascinating. With investing so much of your time to create this book, it must be pleasing to see it available to readers.

    After enjoying your first two books (GNI and TONM), I ordered this one and now look forward to its delivery.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I agree with the other two comments. The cover’s evolution process is really fascinating, it shows how much work is behind it. I think this is one of the best cover I had seen in the last years. It’s really grim and I think the artist has done an incredible job with colours and persoectives. The idea of blurring the details of the vampire face is great, because it makes the anxiety emerge in a more subtle way. The “not-seen” makes you shiver more than explicit creepy elements. A nice job! I’m still waiting for my copy, which has to arrive tomorrow. I’ll let you know.

    Liked by 1 person

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