The Great Cover

When I was writing A Maiden’s Honor, I had grand visions for my cover. It was a simple design. My main character, Sarah, would be standing by the railing on the Zafirah looking out onto the horizon, or perhaps at the city of Algiers, wearing only her blue paru (a short Polynesian skirt). All you would see of Sarah was her long flowing burgundy hair hanging loosely down her back and her bare arms and shoulders with the tattoos on her arms. Her head would be turned to the side and tilted slightly downward with a white flower tucked behind her ear. That’s it. My small publisher informed me that my idea was beyond his budget, and I would need to pay someone to design this cover, which was beyond my budget. So I moved on to Plan B.

Earlier this summer, I took pictures of my rose of Sharon flowers with one of my black pearl earrings and the anchor in the center of the flower. I was just messing around and having fun. I got some cool pictures from it. The idea came to me to use this design for the cover, except I wanted a Polynesian flower. The problem was, I can’t get Tahitian gardenias in New England. Ebay to the rescue. I also wanted in incorporate Sarah’s Scottish ancestry. Picking up a piece of the Campbell tartan seemed to be a logical choice. I live in New Hampshire. Vermont, Boston, the beach are only an hour away from me. One of my favorite stores in Vermont is Scotland By the Yard. I planned to take a leisure drive up there to pick up a piece of fabric. Sadly, I discovered on the web that the owners retired and closed their store for good. Once again I hopped on the internet and searched and searched for a Scottish store in New England. There were none to be found, but I did find a store in Canada that sells sample swatches of every tartan ever made for $5.00 each. Beauty, or so I thought. The flower arrived the following week, but the tartan sample hadn’t even shipped. I contacted the shop and asked what was taking so long, and they informed me that everything in their store, including samples fabrics, come directly from Scotland. It would be several weeks before I would receive them. @#*$. I jumped on eBay again and found a scarf with the Campbell tartan, or at least it was close enough. The cloth turned out to be much darker than the Campbell tartan swatch. In fact, it was the Blackwatch tartan, which wasn’t the Campbell tartan at all. I figured most people aren’t going to know what the Campbell tartan looks like, so I bought it. I also bought a black pearl pendant. All arrived around the same time.
My Rose of Sharon project.

Who knew this idea would become my cover.
My thought was to take a picture of the white flower with the pearl and the anchor on the tartan. I didn’t like the way it looked. I talked my ideas over with a friend, and she suggested taking having the flower sit on the tartan as it floated in the water. I thought it was a brilliant idea. I was tempted to take a picture of the flower, pearl, tartan, etc. and then Photoshop it on some water. The results looked Photoshopped and unprofessional. The only logical answer was to take a trip to the beach. Then this challenge became how to capture this image without either having the tartan sink or float out to sea.

I’m married to an engineer. My husband suggested attaching the fabric to some wire mesh. I sewed some Kelly green ribbon onto the fabric. I also looped some invisible string on the corner of the tartan. (That proved to be one of my smarter ideas.) So far my plan was working. I also sewed the pearl and the anchor to the flower. (That was a good thing too. The hot glue wasn’t strong enough hold the pearl and anchor on the flower.) Then the question became how to keep the tartan from sinking or floating out to sea. The answer: Hook wire coat hangers over the wire mesh. That way I could secure my tartan contraption in the sand. The only other thing I needed was a pair of rubber boots to keep me dry. After a trip to DSW, I had everything I needed for this photo shoot: the flower, the pearl, the anchor, the tartan, the wire mesh, the coat hangers, boots and other warm clothing, my husband’s good camera and my tablet – just in case I needed a spare camera.

I was off early the next morning to Salisbury Beach in Salisbury, MA. It was the one day in the week that wasn’t expecting stormy weather. I felt invigorated when I reached the beach. I knew it was going to be a fun day, or so I thought. What I envisioned and reality proved to be two different things. It was cold and overcast. Thankfully I was dressed for it.
Beach pictures
I set up my photo shoot on the beach. I set up my props and attempted to take pictures with my husband’s camera. Either the camera hates me, or I’m really technically challenged. Either way, I couldn’t get the camera to work properly. I was very grateful that I brought my tablet. It worked like a champ. After taking lots of beach pictures, I turned my attention to the water. It was VERY choppy. Undaunted, I waded into the water with my props. I dug the wire mesh-coat hanger contraption into the sand. I quickly discovered that I should have cut the coat hangers because they were too long and I didn’t have the patience or the tools to hammer the wires into the sand. After attaching the invisible wire to by boot, I was finally ready to take some pictures. I quickly discovered that my creative measures were no match for the choppy waves. The mesh did not stay anchored in the sand. My tartan ebbed and flowed with the waves as I attempted to take pictures. I managed to snap a few, but none of them were usable for my cover. My time in the surf most consisted of chasing the tartan and praying that the waves didn’t take my props out to sea. Needless to say, that I was grateful that I had sewn the pearl and the anchor to the flower and anchor the tartan to my boot, else I would have lost all of them if I hadn’t done so. Disheartened and soaking wet, I returned to the beach.
Definitely not!
A woman walking on the beach stopped to chat. She said that she had been watching me for the past hour and asked what I was doing. I told her my grand plans. She laughed and informed me that I should have come yesterday when the waves were calmer. I knew then that I wasn’t going to get my cover picture today. Even though my mission wasn't successful, I learned a lot from that photo shoot: cut the coat hanger wires shorter, and  find another way to secure the tartan to the wire mesh. Those were easy changes.

I drove up to Ogunquit, Maine a few days later. The Ogunquit beach is one of my favorite beaches in New England. The best part was that it has a title pool. Though it was a little chilly, I couldn’t have picked a more beautiful day to visit Maine. I took lots of pictures that day – in and out of the water, and I had fun doing it. Sadly, I discovered that I still didn’t have the perfect picture for my cover. There was one big problem with the pictures I took. The Blackwatch tartan looked exactly that in the water – black. One would have to look really close to see that it was a tartan. I was about to give up on my friend’s idea of floating the tartan in water when my tartan samples arrived – one month later. They were much lighter than that Blackwatch tartan.
I love the way the lights hits the tartan.  Still not cover worthy.. A portion of this cloth serves as the header background for this website.
That one wasn’t bad. See what I mean about the tartan being too dark. BTW, the driftwood came from my front yard.
Once again I trudged up to Ogunquit to take more pictures. It went ok, but nothing stellar came out of it. I got so much water in my boots that they sloshed as I walked to my car!
This was taken with the lighter tartan. Better, but not perfect.
I went to a different part of the Ogunquit beach. I had to climb down some massive boulders and slosh through some smelly seaweed to take these pictures. I got some cool pictures, but it still wasn’t what I was looking for.
My friend, Mary Ann came to my rescue. She is a professional photographer and has designed several album covers for her son’s band. She also knows Paintshop Pro very well. The best part is that she had lots of ideas for me. After tinkering with my ideas, she came up with the current design. I also did one more photo shoot, but this time it was at a lake about five minutes from my home. Taking pictures at the lake was so much easier than taking them in the ocean. The water was calm, and I didn’t have to chase after my props. The best part – I stayed dry. Alas, nothing usable came from my photoshoot I didn’t mind because I was warming up to the idea of using my friend’s idea.
Lake pictures. Very calm waters. I don’t think I could have gotten away with the leaves in the pictures.
My friend also suggested doing a picture in an image in the center of my pearl. I thought it was a really cool idea. I took many pictures of my flower, hoping to capture a perfect backdrop for my mini picture. I ran into some challenges, - too many trees filled the center, the sky wasn’t blue enough. I finally went back to the lake because there is a wide open parking lot. I went there three different times that day. The first two batches from my photoshoots were ok, but nothing spectacular. Then I decided to go back just before the sun set. There was plenty of blue skies, and the sun was just dipping below the surface. I took ten or twenty pictures, and guess what? I nailed it! Capturing the sunset in the middle of my pearl was a bonus.

This is one of many pictures that I took as I attempted to capture the backdrop for the center of the pearl.  If you look closely, you can see trees surrounding a little speck of sky.
So this is the flower from my final photo shoot. I took many pictures of my flower against the blue background. For some reason, the last pictures make my flower look blue. So, I switched to yellow. The flower and the pearl looked great, but separating the flower from the yellow background proved to be a pain in the backside. I spent many, many hours smoothing out the edges.  Love the sunset in the center of the pearl!
This is the image of the center of the pearl. Not bad for a teeny, tiny picture.
Almost two months later, my cover started to take form. I also bought the Paintshop Pro software and began tinkering with the design. My publisher’s cover designer added his own ideas. Viola, I have a cover.

Even though I was caught off guard with having to design my own cover, it turned out to be a fun project. I echo Thomas Edison’s sentiments about inventing the lightbulb: I did not fail. I just found a dozen ways my cover design didn’t work. Thanks to the help of my friends, Ron and Mary Ann, we came up with a lovely cover. I even got everything that I wanted, including a teeny tiny picture of Sarah standing by the railing of the Zafirah. (Thank you, Mary Ann, for the suggestion.)

Hope you enjoy my odyssey tale and my photos.


PS. Me again. There is more to the story.  After my story's modest beginning, I began to take a hard look at my story and cover, especially the cover. For as much as I liked the one I designed. I decided that it didn't present a good depiction of what my story was about. About this time, I got to know a lot of authors on Facebook. Let me tell you, they are a wealth of information. One author friend recommended her cover designer because she specializes in historical fiction covers. I checked out her website and fell in love with her covers. The best part was her prices were reasonable. She came up with a stunning design.  I'm so glad I did it! So here are the before and after covers. 

                                              Before                                                                                                           After (Isn't it gorgeous?)

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