Kirschner Cover Art: Grace, By Howard Owen

Grace, By Howard Owen. Release Date October 2016, from The Permanent Press

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:

Telephone: 518/392-3823




About fpdorchak

Upmarket paranormal fiction author. I write gritty, Twilight Zone-like fiction. Please check out my website:! Thank you for stopping by!
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13 Responses to Kirschner Cover Art: Grace, By Howard Owen

  1. Karen Lin says:

    Sounds like Lon deserves all this praise time. Your writer friends like me are listening. I suspect he’ll hear from many of them. Ancienter-what a fun word.

    Wouldn’t it be fun / interesting / a great story if an objective test showed that Lon (like one of my college profs) is 100% color blind? Sadly my prof, seeing only black, white and grays, had the ugliest abstract art on his wall. A monkey could choose colors better. My point? What if Lon sees things in blacks and whites and so color is used purely instinctually or mystically.

    • fpdorchak says:

      Well, I don’t think he’s color blind! He does some pretty subtle work on the stuff I’ve seen! But he can confirm or deny that! I think it was a psychological mechanization. And I love it! Shows what the mind can do…even when we think we know what we’re doing….

  2. Paul says:

    Lon is quite the artist, Frank. Glad you highlighted his fine work in this post. Let’s face it, it doesn’t matter how good the words inside are if nobody picks the book up, and a well-crafted cover prompts readers to do that. Yet their work is frequently overlooked. Good post!

  3. Wendy Brydge says:

    I’ve been looking forward to your blog posts about Lon’s covers, Frank. It’s interesting, as I was reading the post and could see that you were leading up to saying that Lon reads the entire manuscript before designing the cover art, I was thinking to myself, “If I were doing a cover, I’d definitely want to read the whole thing first too.” But oddly enough, the more I thought about that as I finished the post, the more I became unsure of what actually WOULD be better.

    I definitely think that cover art is super important. I mean, someone could write the most terrible book on the planet, but as long as the cover looks cool, people are going to pick it up. Maybe not buy it, but the cover is always a potential reader’s first impression. (Which is why I actually don’t like the adage, “Don’t judge a book by its cover.” I get it, but no. The cover is and should be one method of how you judge the book.)

    A pet peeve of mine is book covers that have nothing at all to do with the story. As this is the reader’s first impression, I feel you should actually give them an image that relates to what they’ll find inside. I don’t mind if an artist gets a little interpretive and less literal about it, of course, but when I’m finished reading, I want to close the book, look at the cover, and know WHY that cover belongs on the book.

    So naturally, the more you know about the story, the better you can choose how to illustrate it. But I think it would be interesting to see what kind of cover the artist would create if all they had to go on was the little blurb you find on the back/inside cover of the book. Like the cover art, those little story teases are very important to grabbing the potential buyer’s interest. So I’d be curious to see the difference between Cover 1: Where the artist has read the entire book; and Cover 2: If the artist only has the story blurb that the reader will get. There’s definitely no right or wrong way to approach this, but you’ve got me curious about how the two would vary.

    I think I may do that as a little creative exercise for myself: Pick a book and in my head design a cover before and after reading it. Good to keep the artistic mind active and challenged!

    Anyway, good post, Frank! Look forward to seeing more of Lon’s work in the future.

    • fpdorchak says:

      Well, that would be an interesting exercise… if you do do it, do post it (enough “do’s” in there?)!

      But, sadly, I’ve heard plenty of traditional authors lament over their covers not having anything to do with their stories, or incorrectly representing their stores. And it’s not so much that covers should be exact replicas of the story inside, as they properly REPRESENT the story with images that while they may not be specifically IN the story, MIRROR the story. Since I haven’t read Mr. Owen’s novel, I can’t speak to this one, but for Voice, there is no scene in the novel of a naked girl exactly like my cover…yet the overall cover totally NAILS the story gestalt!

      Thanks, Wendy, for stopping by! Let us know about your experiment if you decide to try it!

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