Grace, By Howard Owen. Release Date October 2016, from The Permanent Press
Together with Lon Kirschner—who did my cover art for ERO and Voice—I’m launching a new series of posts that will discuss Lon’s cover art. I first ran into his efforts with The Grievers, a novel by Marc Schuster. Marc’s cover just grabbed me. Long story short, Marc put me in touch with Lon and I’d loved his work so much I’d commissioned him to do two of my covers. So, I thought, hey, why not highlight and discuss some of his work? So this marks the first in series of posts that will do just that. These may be bi-monthly…it may be quarterly…or it just may be whenever Lon and I can get-together to githerdone….
Today’s initial post is for Grace, by Howard Owen, which has an October 2016 release from The Permanent Press.
Originally, I was going to start out with another cover (but don’t worry, I’ll still get to it, and one of them is again another Howard Owen cover!), but as I reviewed the images Lon had sent, this one just jumped out at me. Continually. Maybe it was the key…maybe it was the desiccated wood grain behind it…maybe it was just having come off of Voice and the 1880s house I used as its setting…but it was probably all of it. When I looked at this cover over and over it was like I could actually feel that key…the rough, grainy wood. I have a key very similar to the one in the image from the Lake Clear, NY house I grew up in (that abovementioned late 1880s house served as the setting in Voice and ERO), and the wood in the image reminds me of the barn we had behind our house. How many times I’d run my hand over the barn’s weathered boards…caught a splinter or two…sandpapered it…painted it. Threw snowballs and rocks at it.
In short, it brought up all kinds of ancient memories. Memories that are getting ancienter and ancienter the older and older I get.
And isn’t that the point with cover art—or any artwork, for that matter? To illicit some kind of visceral experience? To trigger…a feeling? Any feeling?
To make us think?
Every time I look to this cover it slams me back to that barn. It’s darkened interior. It’s weathered and worn exterior. When I look at that key it takes me back to that house…to its original condition when we moved into it in the mid-to-late sixties before my dad gutted and reworked it’s interior. I am transported to that place and time…a displaced 1880s in my present time’s mind. I think I have wood splinters in my soul….skeleton keys in my heart. I had a great childhood there. Loved where I grew up. Think about it often. I incorporate so much of it into my work…and didn’t quite realize to what degree until I started publishing my novels over the past couple years….
But, that’s what Lon’s cover for Grace did and does to me.
Where it brought me—for good or ill—and whether or not my story has anything to do with Howard’s story behind that artwork…I don’t know—but, does it matter? If I saw this book on a shelf I’d pick it up and thumb through its pages and drink in its cover (in fact, I know I’d rub my hand over its cover, expecting to feel the wood grain, the metal key…).
Lon and I e-mailed back and forth a little about some of this, and here’s some of his responses:
“I had to smile when I read this [FPD: as in picking this cover as the first to discuss]. Grace is probably my favorite cover of the group and coincidentally, the easiest one to design. The manuscript had that Aha moment when I knew exactly what the cover would look like, it was one of those covers that ‘designed itself’ (referring back to my post on The Permanent Press blog).”
To this Lon also added about how the covers in this series of books:
“…organically morphed into a basically black and white design. When I did the first, I didn’t know it was going to be a series so that first cover is color and a bit more in the scary horror genre.”
The funny thing is Grace is not black and white…though Lon thinks of it as if it is!
Another funny thing is that I actually picked up on the above before Lon answered my question (i.e., that I figured he saw the cover as “black and white” even though it wasn’t; I mean, he could have said, “Yeah, I didn’t mean to write that, but…,” but he didn’t):
Me: Lon…but Grace is not black and white.
Lon: You are correct, Grace is in color but for me it functions as black and white. A dark background with a bright highlight. When I think of this cover, in my mind’s eye it is black and white. Maybe this is subliminal. You do raise an interesting point. I designed the cover and even I think of it as black and white. I guess we can persuade our mind to think of things very differently than what they are in reality. It brings to mind the story of police interviewing eyewitnesses to a crime. While all of the witnesses saw the same event, their stories and recollections can be very different. I didn’t even think twice when I referred to it as black and white.
Interesting isn’t it?
His reasoning is kinda “cousin” to my thoughts in the cover image itself. Our minds both went into tangential directions around the same cover….
And that’s a major point of cover art: to make you pick up a book. Purists (like me) will also say the point of cover art is to also give you something relating to the story, something to “hold” onto about the story within…[most traditional] publishers: they just want to get you to buy the damned thing.
Lon also went on to say that:
“Howard, who is usually fairly reserved, made a point of contacting me to tell me how much he loved the cover and thought it was spot on…has written me the most sincere and warm email about it.”
That—from my experience—is rare! We’re talkin’ tartare rare!
Most authors seem to take issue with their covers. Complain that many publishers “slap” on a cover with little to no thought incorporated. At least in the traditional publishing world. Usually a cover artist at a Big Five would get a brief description of what the book is about, maybe an outline, then they’d have to come up with something. Lon…is a different breed….and The Permanent Press is a different breed of publisher that allows Lon this “luxury”: Lon actually reads all of the manuscripts for the covers he does!
From Martin Shepard’s (head of The Permanent Press) June 17, 2015 blog post, Martin tells how he met Lon. Lon is not an employee of The Permanent Press, but is a “consulting creative director/designer.” This is how Martin remembers meeting Lon (and I do have Martin Shepard’s permission to use the following):
“Back in 1989, I received a flyer from Lon Kirschner and was mesmerized by his book cover designs. As I’ve said in a previous blog, I had my own art background. My beloved father, Mac Shepard, was an artist whose subway sketches are always featured on our catalog covers, while I was an art major at the High School of Music & Art in Manhattan during the late forties and early fifties. I was dazzled by his work, and Lon’s been designing covers for us for over 25 years. What a joy it is to both work with him and see what he comes up with. Any publisher, large or small, looking for a master cover designer would do well to get in touch with him by email.”
And that’s how I feel about Lon’s work: I am mesmerized…dazzled by it!
I am in awe of his work…which is why I’m highlighting him in my blogs. It all started with The Grievers, and it continues today (he did all my bookmarks and Voice book signing posters). In fact Lon told me that my review of The Grievers was the first time his cover art had ever been mentioned in a book review. I found that so hard to believe!
And if you haven’t yet read it, read The Grievers! It’s hilarious and had me laughing out loud so damned hard my mouth hurt. C’mon, Marc, write more funny stuff!
As I get to know Lon more and more through our correspondence these past couple of years, I am coming to find out what an absolutely terrific guy he is. We no longer just talk about writing and cover art or bookmarks and posters; our conversations have morphed into topics such as lawn mowing, trips, and movies. The man always tries to “do right” by his clients, and he’s so easy to work with. And, good God, is he talented. Maybe one day we will finally meet!
But for now, we trade e-mail, anecdotes—
And really cool covers!
Lon Kirschner may be contacted at: