“Stunning” Novel Cover: Symbolic Representations in Post-Modern Art Forms

There are two questions I love most when it comes to talking about my debut novel. One has to do with the structure, with it’s polyvocality laid atop time jumps spanning three decades, and the other has to do with the cover. It’s a striking image. An image that conveys perfectly the post-modern fracture experienced by the main character, Ever Geimausaddle, and his resilient trek through the process of decolonization.

There are so many layers to this cover, but before I jump into the nitty gritty I’d like to take a moment to talk about the initial reaction to the image. Covers are designed to do one thing more than anything else: Grab the reader. It’s supposed to get a reader’s attention so that they’ll want to further examine the contents. My hat goes off to Christopher Moisan, who is the Creative Director at Algonquin Books. He did an amazing job creating such a wonderful design. I’ll discuss here in a moment about how each layer of the image speaks so clearly to the novel. I wanted to acknowledge first how striking the image is and how perfectly it grabs the eye.

Christopher suggested using the artist who created the image, Christin Apodaca. She had been on his radar for a while and he thought her post-modern style matched perfectly with the post-modern aspects of my brand of literary fiction. She is from El Paso, Texas and representative of Latinx communities. I’m half Mexican, with my father being from Aldama, Chihuahua, Mexico, so it was important to work with Hispanic artists from communities of color. And I can’t say enough how important it is to support women artists in a field dominated by men. Christin’s murals can be found at different locations in the city of El Paso, TX. You can also discover her art here: http://www.capodaca.com/.

Christopher took the power of Christin’s image and enhanced it with deeper symbols. The image itself is ripe with symbolic representation. In black and white alone, the dollar bill and sash sends my mind toward Kiowa and Comanche gourd dances. Those of us who engage in traditional gourd dances know that a crumpled dollar bill dropped at the feet of a dancer signifies a process of honoring. I immediately connected how the main character, Ever Geimausaddle, is trying to live with honor. With the sash coming down, I knew this honor was inextricably tied to his family and his community. Christin did a superb job of picking up on those very important symbols in the novel. I can’t even imagine the arduous task of reading someone’s novel and then coming up with a visual representation of the novel’s theme. Christin did exactly that, and she did so with the exquisite detail of her personal style, which I describe as a post-modern Salvador Dali style. And it matched perfectly with the post-modern structure of the novel.

Then we get the brilliance of Christopher Moisan at work. So how does a Creative Director go from this amazing sketch to a final product that will grab a reader’s attention? I asked for the image to be made into color and Christopher was on the same page. I let him know to make the sash half red and half navy blue. These are the colors that Kiowa and Comanche dancers wear. I asked for him to place the red on top to signify that the main character, Ever Geimausaddle, is Kiowa. If it were navy blue on top then it would signify Comanche. While Christopher couldn’t make the blue a navy blue because it would’ve printed too dark on paper and wouldn’t have looked blue at all. Moreover, it would’ve erased all of Christin’s beautiful line work. So Christopher went with a royal blue with dark line work. I understood his reasoning. It’s not only how the colors come out in a jpeg, but also how it prints on paper. Once he filled the image with color not only did the sash pop but the dollar bill as well.

Now the image was an accurate depiction of what I grew up seeing at the gourd dances. I’m a gourd dancer myself. My family (Hokeah/Tashequah) has organized gourd dances for decades on the Southern Plains of Oklahoma. We’re tied into some of the oldest Kiowa and Comanche Societies, such as the Kiowa Tia-Piah, Comanche War Scouts, and Comanche Little Ponies.

So I’ll be honest here. I gave Christopher a hard time, or maybe I was just a little picky. I hope I wasn’t too much of a pain. I wanted to get the colors right. When the ARCs printed, the image came out a little too artificial, I thought. I asked Christopher if the final book was going to do the same. He assured us that he had immediately contacted the printer and discussed the issue. I felt like a bit of a diva. I didn’t want any part of the image to come off as artificial, and Christopher was a saint. I’m extremely grateful to have this opportunity to showcase my writing. I feel very fortunate to be in this position. I hope I wasn’t too much of a nag. I felt like I kept asking for tweaks here and there. Subtle requests that may have been too often. But I’m grateful Christopher was willing to hear me out and modify at each stage.

What truly made the image resonate for me was the overall design. Christopher came back with a couple background settings. When I saw that pattern atop the orange, I immediately thought of the main character’s grandmother, Lena Stopp. Just to explain the brilliant mind of an amazing Creative Director, let me tell you how deep this image goes. Notice the grid. The subtle squares in the background behind Christin’s image. The bold orange background beneath red squared patterns, with those splashes of yellow. It’s one of Lena’s quilts! Now you’re about to say I’m giving away a spoiler. You’re asking, “Lena makes quilts in the novel?” She does, but this is divulged in the first chapter. You can read the first chapter via Buzz Books through Publishers Marketplace. So I’m not giving away any spoilers that aren’t found in the first chapter.

What makes this so special is how Christopher turned the cover into a representation of a bird. Why is that important? As you read the first chapter, you learn that Lena Stopp makes grandchild quilts. On those quilts, she places images of birds. She does so because her family belongs to the Bird Clan in the Cherokee tribe. She uses the quilts as a way to keep her family connected to each other. I got the idea from my own mother, Virgilene Hokeah. My mother makes grandchild quilts for all her grandchildren. They all have the exact same pattern, but each quilt is made of a different color scheme. It captures her grandchildren’s uniqueness and their ties to her, simultaneously. Similarly, Lena Stopp uses bird symbols to represent the Bird Clan so her grandchildren will know they are connected to the Cherokee community.

Understanding how to work with artists is an amazing talent. Christopher was able to take Christin’s sketch and read my novel and come up with a way to capture the heart of the main character, Ever Geimausaddle. There’s an important detail with Lena’s quilts that I’ll not be able to mention here. It comes in the final chapter of the novel. I’ll have to let you discover that element yourself. But I would like to say is how much thought and care went into this cover. While it certainly does its job of grabbing someone’s attention, it also speaks to a team of brilliant minds who think beyond simple surface qualities, who can see concepts behind imagery, and has the capacity to dream big and reach deep into the emotional center of a story.

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