The Animal Cover Dilemma

The Animal Cover Dilemma

Ever since the conception of Animal, I’ve had a vision of the cover. Nothing but the hero’s face, half of it in animal form. The title. My name. Nothing else.

Even though I haven’t finished the book, I find sometimes having a cover helps me get to “the end.”

          After outlining my idea for my cover artist, he sent me a cover with exactly what I asked for. Except I thought the guy he’d used was all wrong. Too young, too slight, too metrosexual looking. The book’s hero is a lumberjack type. Solid and strong. I need the cover to reflect that.

          I see a couple more cover ideas with different models that still don’t work. I’ve found a cover model I think will work, but he isn’t used.

          We move to a different idea because mine isn’t working. First there’s a tiger stalking a man in a forest. Great cover but the book is set in North Carolina. Next up the tiger becomes a black panther and a different figure. Nope. Try it with a couple (because it is a romance). But the couple is just standing there. I go on the stock photo sites and find the perfect couple about to kiss backlit by a campfire. A few more tweaks, taking the top of one cover and the bottom of another. A definite…maybe.

I take the possibilities to my writers group where only two other female writers are present. Their opinions? They like the original cover the best. When I ask on Facebook and Twitter? That is the preferred cover. Except…I don’t like it.

Cover artist consents to trying the look with the guy I really like who is more solid-looking. Now I’m torn. His face doesn’t seem to work as well as I hoped it would once half of him is an animal.

Enter my 30-something daughter with her opinion. She does not like “my” guy. He’s too ethnic-looking for one thing. She likes the first cover because, “He’s hot.” If she were scanning books in Amazon, she would stop at that cover and at least read the blurb. Considering she is not in my reader demographic, which seems to consist of mostly females over age 50, I have to lend weight to her opinion. She insists that cover could broaden the appeal of my books to younger readers.

In order to compare apples to apples, I ask the cover artist to arrange the two “my guy” covers along with the original using the same color and placement of title and my name, so I can decide.

You see how the proportions change and how the model looks more substantial in the second cover, right?

He says he’ll have to rebuild the original cover because I had such an aversion to it, he deleted it. Now I feel bad.

But when he sends me the covers as requested, including the reworked original, the proportions have changed. He’s moved the figure closer so he fills more of the available cover space. This makes him look more substantial and less “fragile” than he did before. It’s a small change, but now? It works.

I dread the email to my cover artist to tell him I’m going with this cover after I made him do 12 possible covers. Maybe he’s used to it by now. Because this wasn’t the first time.

Animal and The Curse of Threes

Below is the back story for my work in progress entitled Animal. Although I may never use this in the final version of the book, I had to know where it all started.

The Curse

Emerald Akira MacCallum woke early, Colin Lancaster’s parting words still ringing in her head.

Twenty years ago, at the age of sixteen she’d allowed Colin to seduce her, only to learn of his engagement and subsequent marriage into a refined, wealthy family well after the fact.

That he’d continued to visit her in her Granny’s shack, at the end of a long, twisted mud track in this secluded area of the Appalachians, fueled her belief that one day he’d realize she and only she was his true love.

He continued to charm her with each visit, showering her with trinkets, proving his devotion by taking her to bed each time, leaving her sated and sore.

She glimpsed his wife, Wynda, from time to time on her rare visits to the village. A pale wisp of a woman, hardly a match for a man like the hale and hearty, and lusty, Colin. If Wynda was aware of his liaison with Emerald, who grew to hold the position of the most revered granny woman in the area, she gave no indication. Emerald held her head high, in any case, not one to be cowed by such a weak rival.

Colin had even had the nerve to call on her, begging her to aid his wife in the throes of birthing their fourth child. Known for her healing powers and potions, as well as her skill in midwifery, Emerald at first demurred, but eventually gave in to his pleas to save his unborn child. As much as she hated Wynda, in same measure Emerald loved Colin and found it impossible to deny him anything.

She arrived to find the babe turned the wrong way, Wynda exhausted and weak from hours of unproductive labor, the unborn child in distress. She issued orders to be carried out by a stream of nervous servants. Colin kept out of the way, watching from the corner, wringing his hands in helplessness while she worked to save the child.

An hour later, his son’s outraged cries rang out at the same time Wynda drew her last breath. Emerald wrapped the babe and handed it to Colin, who cradled it close, while tears ran rampant from his eyes as he gazed at the still form of his wife. Her parents, his parents, his children, soon crowded the room pushing Emerald aside.

She left knowing she would see him soon. Knowing he couldn’t stay away.

In vain she waited for the words she longed to hear. That after the year-long mourning period, he would marry her.

But instead, what he said to her yesterday was, “I’m leaving.” Moving south to North Carolina, to marry the daughter of a successful tobacco plantation owner. A daughter already pregnant with his child. Colin was to help run the family business.

Emerald became very still. And her voice when it came, was not her own. “You will pay, Colin, in ways you never imagined. I curse you and your male progeny for the animals you are and the ways you make women suffer. You, in your animal form will witness their pain and take it on as your own. You will suffer as you make the women you touch suffer. Your sons and their sons will find true love, but they’ll never be able to enjoy it. As soon as they find it it will be snatched away. They will know only pain.”

“My dear, Em,” Colin said, patronizing her for the last time, running the tip of his finger under chin. “I have so enjoyed our time together.” He bent to kiss her frozen lips.

It was only after he left that she remembered the news she had not shared. That she herself was with child. His child.

She’d honed her healing skills at the knee of her mother and her grandmother. revered granny women both. Emerald had willingly taken her place in line, generously helping the mountain people with their injuries, illnesses, births, and deaths. Studying the local herbs, learning of their healing qualities.

But more and more, her treatment at Colin’s hand had led her to the darker side of her study. The tinctures and potions created in ill will. To cause harm. The casting of spells and curses. She’d experimented a little. Harmlessly, so she’d thought. Until Wynda drew her last breath and Emerald learned the truth of the power she possessed.

Emerald’s grandmother had hoarded many of the old texts, handed down from generations of her Scottish ancestors long before any had settled in these mountains. She’d forbidden her granddaughter access to the ancient writings in the old language which were difficult to decipher

Once up and dressed, she moved with deliberate purpose, gathering the things she needed, assembling bowls and tools, referring to the handwritten texts, silently rehearsing the words she’d speak tonight when the moon was dark, and all was prepared.

But Emerald had persisted in secret, shielding her growing knowledge from the too perceptive eyes of her mother and grandmother. Until they were gone, and she didn’t have to hide any longer.

Emerald chopped wood and laid it in readiness for a fire beneath the black cauldron behind the shack. She spent time in the woods replenishing her supply of Jimsonweed and Horsenettle, Elderberry, Comfrey and Holy Basil. She’d learned that many of the plants used for healing, in the right combinations with the poisonous ones, could also create devastating, even deadly effects. With the correct proportions, with certain…additives, along with the exacting incantations, what Emerald had in mind for those males with Colin’s lineage would be payment enough for his duplicity. His betrayal. Her curse would turn them into the animals they truly were. They would know suffering even greater than hers. And they would die filled with regret.

Next to the leaves, seeds, stems, and flowers she’d gathered, Emerald set a small round sealed jar. In it were strips of cloth she’d taken from Colin’s clothes over the years, hair he’d left on her pillow or in her bed, his seed which she’d wiped away as it spilled out of her while he snored in contentment.

Even the date suited The Curse of Threes.

March 3, 1913.

As darkness fell, the time became right, the fire burned bright. The dark side of the moon showed no light.

She added the bits and pieces she’d collected for the brew, the words she’d memorized falling easily from her lips, murmurings no one else would understand. The cold wind blew down the mountain at her back as a wisp of smoke rose from the cauldron, twisting and turning, gray in the blackness of the night, winding its way down the mountain trail toward the village.

Her voice grew louder as she called to the ancients, to the powers that came before her, to aid her in her quest for justice. The words grew in strength as she felt her own strength grow, the life inside her feeding from it, growing strong and invincible.

She continued to stir until the contents of the pot were no more, the last of the smoke trailed away down the mountain, the fire reduced to glowing embers. She ground the carved end of the thick casting stick into the ashes in the bottom of the pot, creating the mark, sealing the curse.

Emerald lifted her hands high and howled at the invisible moon.

©2021 Barbara Meyers

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