After reading Cullen Murphy’s delicious Cartoon Country, My Father and His Friends in the Golden Age of Make-Believe, I was once again in the good company of “Prince Valiant” and “Calvin and Hobbes.” One cartoon I do not want to forget is that of Calvin trying to convince a skeptical Hobbes that his flimsy report will be a winner. Calvin’s secret weapon is what no teacher can resist: a clear plastic binder cover.
Oh, how I would have longed for such a simple solution to my cover dilemma for Far from Home. Sure that I had a designer eye, I notified my awesome FUZE editor Molly Best Tinsley that I would be sending sample covers. I looked at photos of roads leading away into the distance, of a cross far away in a meadow. I experimented with symbols for God, for flight, for adventure, and for redemption. What resulted was a product which I was sure, like Calvin and his plastic cover, no one browsing Powell’s or Barnes & Noble, could resist.
I sent it first to a writer friend, sure of her accolades. She was quick to respond. “Toni, this cover has every possible cliche: bird, spire, sun. I would immediately summarize the plot: ‘Errant Woman Returns to the Faith.’ I would never buy this book.”
I read her email and laughed so hard my stomach hurt. I still chuckle each time I think of that response. My friend possesses the gifts an aspiring writer needs: humor, honesty, and wisdom—a Hobbes to my Calvin. Crossing that cover off my list, I looked critically at my other etchings and admitted I was out of my depth.
Enter Ray Rhamey from “Flogging the Quill.” He works with FUZE authors and is a designer, teacher, and author. With utmost patience, he sent me numerous designs of woodland paths, an open window, a door and garden gate ajar. None of these seemed to fit the memoir.
When he asked, “What do you envision as the central theme of the book?” I thought immediately of my childhood and of the Lindberg’s Heilege Schutzengel painting that had hung above my bed.
Ray liked the theme of youthful adventurers but thought the image too childlike. What he did send were five more designs of “on the move,” but it was the woman stepping across river stones that caught my attention. Ray, creative man, shaped the title to mirror the reflection, and he extended the rocks into a wrap-around affect from front to back.
Calvin wanted his teachers to say “Wow!” That is the factor which generous, noted authors Shirley Abbott and Kim Stafford lent. Their words of praise not only complete the cover story, but begin the tale contained inside.
The book jacket is more than Calvin’s plastic cover. What I am hoping for is not to fool a reader, but to offer an invitation. Pick up the book, hold it in your hand. Like Abbott and Stafford, move beyond the jacket’s limited tale and travel undercover into where a new story, mysterious and slippery as river stones, awaits.