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Actually, The Lemon is Quite Pleased

There’s a story I tell aboutgods in Alabama whenever people ask me how much input we writers have into our book covers. gods was my first novel, and my then editor, Caryn, called me and said, “So the cover meeting is tomorrow. I wanted to get your input…”

I did not realize this was a COURTESY CALL. And of COURSE I had dreamed and waited and imagined this day for what felt like a hundred years, so of COURSE I knew exactly what the cover should look like, world without end, amen.

I kept her on the phone for half an hour, describing the thing in painstaking detail. Short version: “Close up on black dirt where thick green kudzu vines are growing. In between the leaves, half buried, something shines…a bottle, or maybe keys, some broken glass, a BONE! WHAT ABOUT A BONE—too gory? Okay, what about…” etc etc embarrassing etc.

A couple of weeks later, my publisher sent me the mock up of the cover gods in Alabama has to this day. I stared at it—the bright sky, the barren fields, the convertible speeding down a road, the girl’s hands in tense fists on the wheel, shoulders braced…WOW.


I called Caryn and told her so, and added “I didn’t realize you were just being nice—next time, get the professionals to do the cover and show me later. They have their jobs FOR A REASON and just going straight to them will save them the trouble of ignoring my my ramblings.”

Her: Oh no they did not ignore you. They used your idea. Look, in the rearview mirror. That’s kudzu.

I always say that’s a metaphor for how much input an author actually has into their cover. A spot on the front that is less than the size of a dime. To be fair, if you HATE a cover, you have veto power and stuff like that, but an entire department full of highly educated and accomplished graphic artists doesn’t generally fly down to your city and sit at your feet waiting to have covers explained to them by a person who deals with black words on a white page and can barely work the camera function on her blackberry.

That said, before I started writing A GROWN-UP KIND OF PRETTY, I feel in love with an image on Cig Harvey’s site. She is the artist who did the shoot for the Backseat Saints hardback cover. She. Is. Amazing. Go look at her galleries. I click around all over to stare at her work on a regular basis, but Eyes Like Disappointed Lemons and Thoughts Like Five Fingers Spread are the collections I return to most often. The boy in the bug shirt. The man with the chicken. The bared back of the girl on the red sofa, the woman holding an orange on a string, The girl in the grass with her hair in a fan and a raspberry—-I remember these images in dreams and waking moments.

There was one picture – a close-up on the bosom and waist and arms and hips of a girl in an apple green dress—- that caught me and held me. It was like an echo in my head even when I wasn’t looking at it. The girl has her belt cinched tight and there is an apple tucked into it. As I prepped to write the book, I kept being drawn back to stare at that picture: the fresh, innocent color, the girl’s new-budded breasts straining against the cloth, her skirt spreading open into a fan like a sweet invitation. That apple in the belt is missing a slice—it has been cut recently, and the exposed fruit is JUST beginning to brown.

As I told Cig Harvey in a rabid fangrrrrl letter—-“The more I looked at it and the more I wrote, the more I knew it was a picture of the thematic core of my book: awakening and burgeoning sexuality and the air touching that white flesh, decay coming even on this day at the pinnacle of spring. It was the thing I was trying to write in a picture form.”
Every time I got stuck in the MS, I went and stared at that picture until I unstuck.

I was less than halfway through when I showed that picture to my editor. “That’s the cover.” I said. “I know we don’t get to pick our covers, but I am telling you – that’s the book—that is the whole book in an image.”

She loved the picture, too. And she took the idea and the image to marketing and everyone in house and THEY loved it. Because how could you NOT? And finally, when the book was done, and people started to read it and see the connections between the image and the book were strong (and how could they not be, considering I wrote the book in between bouts of staring at it….), they went to Cig Harvey. AND SHE LET THEM LICENSE IT BECAUSE SHE IS AWESOME.

SO! Now we have a cover. Want to see it? RUN GO LOOK RUN GO LOOK! Whatcha think?! (The whole original image with no text is in Eyes Like Disappointed Lemons, and I wish I could wallpaper a room with it.)

36 comments to Actually, The Lemon is Quite Pleased

  • Dani

    My heart really just skipped a few beats. So excited to have that cover to stare at but January ’12 is so far away 🙁 Can’t wait for the preoder! PS: I just ordered my second copy of gods since I loaned out my first one and it never came back to me… everyone loves some Joshilyn Jackson! (This is my own version of a rabid fangrrrrl comment to you!)

  • Dani

    And that should most definitely say ‘can’t wait for the pre-order’. I’m not really sure what a preoder is, and I don’t think I want to know.

  • LOVE the cover. LOVE IT!!! Of course, I love ALL of the covers of your books. . .they are all haunting in a way but lovely at the same time. This one ranks right up there with Back Seats Saints.

  • Michelle-who-is-Shelley

    SO GORGEOUS! But I am with Dani — my happiness over the cover was dispelled by “coming January 2012” .
    That’s sooooo far away!!!!

  • So, so pretty! 😀 She’s a very talented photographer, and I love how well you saw and interpreted the photo, too.

  • It is a great cover – as are all the covers of your books! But I’m with the others – January 2012?! Really? Ugh. 🙁

  • I never thought of myself as a visual person. If you looked around my house you certainly wouldn’t think I cared. But I’m drawn to visual metaphor, too, and though I haven’t read the book, this seems perfect for your book. It’s certainly beautiful, intriguing, and it raised gooseflesh on my arms. So there.

    And woot for Cig Harvey being all generous like that. Awesome!

  • Can. Not. Wait. It is my favorite cover, so far. I love it. 🙂 Now that I am working at Reed’s Gumtree Bookstore, I can hand-sell it like crazy.

  • Jennifer in NC

    BEAUTIFUL COVER!!!! And I’m not at all biased because green is my favorite color.
    What an amazing photographer. Ya’ll make a great team. That cover DEMANDS that you pick up this book and discover the story of the girl in the green dress. **sigh** I can’t believe I have to wait an entire year to find out about her!!

  • Judy in California

    It is indeed the PERFECT choice! I’ll be counting down the months…

  • Aimee

    Oh wow — I remember you linking to Cig Harvey before. How exciting! I LOVE the cover, and can’t wait for the book!

  • liz

    It’s gorgeous. The balance between the cut fruit and the girl is just amazing.

  • Julie in Austin

    WOW! I love it! I have to look at your covers online only, since I always buy your (most excellent) audiobooks, but this one looks intriguing, and I enjoyed your verbal description of the picture and how it made you feel. Fantastic news that you got the license! Congratulations, and I can’t wait to hear your next book! I hope you do the reading yourself – you’re a great reader/actress!

  • Kimberly HdM

    Amazing image! Congratulations on making yourself heard and understood in such a wonderful way.

  • Bridget

    But wait…now I can’t ask you about the book cover at the launch next year! Will you be linking to an excerpt at a later date?

  • Debra

    Pretty pretty cover… but I have to wait a whole year to get to read it? Not FAIR!! How could you tease like that?

  • Oh, I so cannot WAIT to read it! What a great cover!

  • Janie

    I love it!! Now that we have a cover and a juicy author backstory of why it’s the perfect cover…I don’t think I can stand the wait!! No doubt it will be worth it though!!!

  • Erika

    I own a copy of “gods in Alabama” and I’ve read it at least a dozen times. And even spent a fair amount of time pondering the cover… and this is the first time I’ve notice the kudzu in the rearview mirror… perhaps I’m not as perceptive as I thought!
    The new cover looks incredible and I’m going to have to join in on the chorus of, “but we have to wait almost a whole year?!”

  • JenniferG

    OMG! The cover is wonderful and beautiful and a little mysterious. What a great story of how it inspired you – you should include that story in the book somewhere when it is published. Cig Harvey is awesome!

  • Oh, it’s fantastic!!!

  • Jill W.

    I lurve that photo and it really does make a great cover. Cant wait (and wait and wait) to read it!

  • JennyM

    ARRRGGH! Too awesome.

  • D

    Love it…I do see a theme with the pretty dresses on the front cover

  • Les in AZ

    Its really really beautiful 🙂 I can’t wait to read it!

  • I LOVE IT!!! I can’t believe we have to wait so long, sad face. Also, wow talented photographer. thanks! now I have all this inspiration to stare at!

  • Michelle M.


  • Way to share the good news/bad news … JANUARY?!!! Awesome cover. But JANUARY?!!!

  • Helene

    I have alurked reading your wonderfully amusing blog for quite a while and have decided it is high time I purchased your books by way of thanks for the giggles and to see for myself what kind of story you weave.
    I may even have ended up here originally from googling something about WOW *secretshameface* ^_^

  • Les in AZ

    I have always wanted to know how the book covers are done – now I know 🙂 Thanks!

  • Romona

    Looks Fabulous!!! Joshilyn, hope you will be doing the audio reading for this book also – you do such an amazing job!