Monday, January 28, 2019

Speak Truth to Fire

Last year author Matthew Candelaria emailed me to ask if I'd be interested in creating a cover for his self-published novel, SPEAK TRUTH TO FIRE. He described it as "a dark urban fantasy set in the United States during the 1920s," where a private detective and a witch use magic to fight evil demons that have been summoned by the Ku Klux Klan.

Um, yes.

Yes I would be interested in that.

Matthew said that he'd like the cover to be inspired by vintage pulp covers, but with a female character working as a team with the hero. He wanted the two of them in period clothing, ready to fight a serpent made of flame, one with a gun, the other casting magic. He sent me some pulp covers for inspiration, which sent me down a rabbit hole on Pinterest.

These were some of the more tame covers I found! Thanks to this project, for a while my Pinterest feed was a strange mixture of vegetarian recipes, Scandinavian interior design, and pulpy mid-century softcore porn.

In other words, my job is amazing.

I studied the covers and came up with a list of common traits:
  1. Solid, graphic backgrounds
  2. Bold colors
  3. Dynamic poses
I started sketching some ideas that would incorporate these elements, and got my husband to help out with photo references.

Here are the roughs I sent to Matthew:

Matthew chose the first rough, but asked me to work in a burning cross from which the fire serpent is being summoned. It took me a while to figure out how to work in the cross in a way that felt natural and still left space for the title text. Everything I tried just seemed too in-your-face, like, WOAH THAT'S A BURNING CROSS! In the end I liked having the cross as a graphic shape in the background rather than being a literal cross in the scene.

I love the crimson red that ended up in the background. It's kind of a bloody, menacing color that I don't usually get to use for children's covers!

Matthew OK'd the rough and from there I went to final. While painting, I studied the pulp covers and tried to imitate the brushy, painterly texture and avoid too much digital polish.

The heroine's coat is based on a design from the 1920's that Matthew sent me as reference. I absolutely love the art deco piping along the sleeves. I would buy that coat - especially for $14.98! What a steal!

We went back and forth on whether or not to give the heroine a cloche hat.

Matthew decided against it, which I think was probably the right call, but part of me still really likes that hat.

Here it is with the title text (which I also designed!) and some weathered paperback texturing, just for fun.

I'm super happy with how this cover turned out, and I enjoyed reading SPEAK TRUTH TO FIRE very much. It's a fun urban fantasy with an impressive amount of authentic historical details. My favorite character was the WWI pilot who is continually haunted by a ghost plane!

Thanks for reading!

1 comment:

  1. Quite the project! You're unlikely to find that anywhere else. Always please to hear self publishing success stories.

    This is a great object lesson in how to cultivate references and for what to look for when trying to operate in a style unlike your own.

    Thanks for sharing!


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