Tuesday, November 1, 2016

Bodacious Book Covers

The cover of a book is like a handshake with the reader and makes a lasting first impression. Too limp and lifeless, it's ignored, and if it's painfully strong--ouch!  In other words, the cover speaks volumes before the first word is read. The title and artwork combine and create an invitation to read.

Preliminary Sketches before the title was finalized.

My experience with titles is mixed.  While I’m drafting, I use a
 working title which, so far, has never been used on the final cover.
And for nearly every project, I have long lists of possible titles
 that for one reason or another don’t measure up.  

 I loved Sketch number 5, but because it didn't represent the story as well as others, we decided against it.  

Sometimes I come up with the final title, and sometimes it's a collaboration. But often the publisher comes up with a title that fits perfectly.  The title for my new book is an example of this. I had a couple of working titles that were OK, but  when Doris Baker, of Filter Press suggested Trouble Returns for the third Ruby and Maude Adventure, I didn't hesitate to agree. 

There is a lot more suffering surrounding the choice of cover art.  I suspect Doris Baker and the artist, Jamie Stroud, are sorry they ever asked my opinion! I try hard to make mind pictures for my readers when I write, but no one visualizes the characters and setting the same way as I do.

I understand this, but I'm still like a spoiled child when it comes to the cover illustration.  I want the cover characters to look exactly the way they are in my mind.  "After all, they ARE my characters!”  I spend more time with them than I do my best friends and lay claim to the mental images created from hours of  historical research, time spent sifting through historical photos, newspaper archives, museum visits, and travel for the purpose of depicting the story as accurately as possible.

When I first see the cover sketches, I agonize over every detail and wish for an artist clone who can mind meld with me and reproduce the contents of my brain. In the end, I'm thankful no clone exists. Recently, I shared the above image for Trouble Returns with a friend, and she blurted, “I love it!”

And that has been my experience with the many readers who comment on the covers for my books and give them high praise.  The cover artists have done wonderful work. From Cathy Morrison, http://cathymorrison.blogspot.com/  cover illustrator for the book Hard Face Moon...

...to my Cousin Shannon Chandler https://www.facebook.com/scchandl/about who illustrated the cover for Insects in the Infield.

And most recently Jamie Stroud  http://jamiestroud.com/children.html  the artist for Trouble Returns and all the other Ruby and Maude Adventure covers.  Thank you, Jamie, for letting me share your thumbnail sketches, and for your vision and artwork on behalf of Ruby and Maude.


Saturday, July 23, 2016


Yesterday marked the two week anniversary of the Hayden Pass Fire.  This fire was the second one for us in the past 5 years.  In 2011, the Duckett Fire raged up the Sangre de Cristos from the south.  I could write a thesis on how we delayed moving our herd of goats down the mountains until we saw flames moving towards their mountain pasture, and how at dawn, with the help of neighbors, we tossed the kids in a trailer one by one, to transport them to safety, but that’s a story for a different day.

Duckett Fire in June of 2011

During both fires, we stayed put as our house is surrounded by open space--sub-irrigated meadows to the east, and plenty of grassland between us and the upper end of our family ranch which shares a fence with the National Forest as well as BLM acreage. 

Up near the forest, we have a rustic two room cabin. It’s not valuable in itself, but has a memorable history.  First, it used to be the bedroom of our old house, but long before that, sometime in the early 1900's, it was moved from the site of the 1882-1884 Cotopaxi Jewish Colony and spliced on to existing house to add more rooms. We lived in that house until about 1994 then dismantled it, board by board.  All except for the bedroom section that we hauled back up the forest to use as a hunter’s cabin.

Hayden Pass Fire July 2016

During the Duckett Fire, a hot shot fire team miraculously saved the cabin. I can throw a stone from the burned trees to the small clearing where the cabin sits, and  I am still amazed at how the fire crew managed to protect this structure amidst strong winds and shooting flames.  

The Hayden Pass Fires was no less intense. The fire roared in from the northwest thundering down valleys and over ridges until it crossed through the same area as  the Duckett Fire. This time all our livestock was down on the meadows surrounding our house. But looking west at the mountainside covered in smoke and flames, I held out little hope for the cabin being saved a second time.  I mourned its loss, not for the monetary value, but for the loss of a piece of history.

Recent photo taken after the Hayden Pass Fire
Along with the other fire personnel traveling through our yard to access the forest, crews came through for the specific purpose of checking on spot fires in the vicinity of the cabin. We were told the cabin was still standing.

Finally we were able to drive up to take a look, While the first fire had burned within 50 feet of the cabin to the south, the second fire had burned within shouting distance of the cabin to the west.

Cabin seen through the standing dead trees of the Duckett Fire

Chimney and hearth from original house

Seeing the cabin was like greeting a long lost friend. I’m grateful this piece of history survived, and more than grateful for the firefighter’s skill and fearlessness in protecting this humble building.

Cotopaxi Jewish Colony

More about the Cotopaxi Jewish Colony, click on the above link, visit http://cotopaxi-colony.com/ 

or visit the Cotopaxi Colony FB page.

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Mail Delivery Babies

The recent FB photo showing the cute "babies" poking their heads out of mail bags peaked my interest to learn more about this piece of mail delivery history.  A quick Google search led me to the following US Government info site: http://usgovinfo.about.com/od/consumerawareness/fl/When-it-was-Legal-to-Mail-a-Baby.htm

Sure enough, it happened in 1913, the same year the US Post Office began delivering packages. In 1914 Postal regulations changed to prohibit the mail delivery of humans, but the practice didn’t stop completely until 1915.

The first boy to be delivered by mail went only a mile to his grandmother’s house.  It cost 15 cents, but he was insured for $50.  Other children reportedly went for a dime up to 53 cents. One six year old girl traveled by mail train and reports show she was just under the 50 pound limit. The 721 mile trip from Florida to Virginia cost 15 cents.
Usually the child mail deliveries were made by a trusted family friend and there were regulations created for this “special delivery” service.  According to the US Gov site, there were “no heartbreaking cases of a baby being stamped “Return to Sender” on record.”

When I first saw these photos, my historical fiction writing mind leapt into high gear imagining what stories could be told from the child or parent’s point of view.  And “what if” question made for both intrigue and drama. What if the baby were delivered to the wrong place?  What if no one were there to receive the parcel?

Then my “mom” persona kicked in with thoughts about trust and safety. One FB friend pointed out that we have our own version of sending children today when we turn them over to airline companies for long flights across the country. We wouldn’t do that unless we had faith that they would arrive at their destinations safely, would we?

Still, a baby looking innocently out from a mail carrier’s bag pulls on the heart strings in a different way.  It opens up a vast number of questions about the history of the times and the life style of the people.  Most of the child deliveries were rural and the distance of travel less than 50 miles. Fifty miles was a lot farther in 1913 than it is today. In a mail bag, that might have been an eternity for a small child. 

However, it might also be that in those days a willingness to trust others was more prevalent. Today newscasts and other media fuel our fears and eclipse our faith in the good will of others.

The landscape and life-style of the past are gone, but we can incorporate lessons of simplicity into our daily lives. Mail bag or jet, we continue to be human. We can choose trust over fear and faith over skepticism. And we still need to rely on others.  

For the complete story about this unique piece of history read “Very Special Deliveries” by Nancy Pope, Historian and Curator of the Smithsonian National Postal Museum