Yes, I just made that word up. I needed it, so it had to be. Therein lies the reason for all creation–the puppet master writing life as she trips through it. It’s so much easier to recognize the stage, after you’ve already seen the play.
My first book, The Tramp, will be released tomorrow. While I’m anxious about the reception of my story, I’m buoyed by the reaction to my art. I mined a treasure trove of discarded paintings to create the book covers for all three of my books coming out this year, and the reaction to my visual work through this new book launch experience was an unexpected thrill. Years ago, I had chalked up my soul-searching, technique-perfecting hours with a paintbrush to wasted time. Paintings collect dust in my closets like the world’s most expensive Hoover (if you’re confused by this seemingly passive state of dust collection, imagine the monthly price of a Master’s certificate from Parson’s School of Design), but it seems there is life in them yet!
See them shine, their neglect blazing with graphic design recovery and life-preseving prose!
If you’re interested in the technical part of turning a painting into a book cover, take a look at my earlier post about making the cover for The Tramp HERE.
But how did this magical thing really happen, i.e. the need to produce a book cover was already satisfied years before said book was even written? Why was that painting so perfect for a book that didn’t even exist yet? Because the soul that found the form also found the words. One moves forward and the other moves backward, but they both arrive in the center.
Here’s the first stage of the painting that became The Tramp’s book cover:
This is a watercolor painting on paper, made by basically dripping paint randomly onto saturated watercolor paper, then smashing that onto a dry piece of Bristol board. The result is an abstract mess. Next, I used acrylic paint to isolate areas of interest and create the beginning of foreground/background, as they made sense to me visually. Why did I see this as a landscape? Why did I need it to be that? Who knows, but I’m guessing it has something to do with the part of myself that a psychologist would have a field day with.
Then, I started doodling with an ink pen, having fun and rocking out to my favorite painting playlist. Why did I find a crumbling brick house hung with spider webs and odd little musical instruments fit for faeries, next to a bed-like structure? Why did I attempt to beautify the strangeness with half-hearted foil leaf? Again, psychologist wet dream.
I framed this painting on velvet, with little pearly pins, inside a shadow box (often used to collect and preserve important memorabilia) and hung it in a prominent place in my living room.
Since I saw this painting every day while I was writing, did the ideas that created it leach onto my book subconsciously? It’s possible, but when I’m writing the real world fades pretty dramatically for me. No, I think the symbiosis was of a different nature.
When I first started writing The Tramp, I worked backwards. I started with the climactic scene at the end, then built Shirley County and invented it’s inhabitants to make that scene happen. Sort of like the first stage of the painting, the climactic scene was given to me randomly. I didn’t even make it up, my husband did. “Hey, what about this for a good story?”
SPOILER ALERT! Here’s the climactic scene:
John flexed his knuckles and rubbed his temples, tried to clear his head. He looked around at the countryside. It was as beautiful as Candy promised when she cajoled him into walking farther along the river. Yet, the cliffs were rising steadily higher, turning the sky into a line of unearthly blue. The sides of the cliffs squeezed against them like a vice inching closed. A harvest moon illuminated the rocky layers of sandstone and limestone, casting eerie, stark shadows. The coarse clumps of granite jutting out of the canyon walls formed bizarre faces and anthropomorphic figures that seemed to watch their passage. The gutter between the two mountain ridges was becoming so tight that John could feel cold spray from the river on the other side of the tracks, to his right, and the road to their left had become a single dirt lane. Surely, they would come to the junction, where the road climbed into the mountains and the train headed through a tunnel, where the river turned and hurtled down a waterfall. They’d be forced to turn back then. How long since we’ve even seen a car pass? It was almost ten o’clock. He groaned with irritation when he read at his cell phone’s warning, “Out Of Service Area.”
“You okay, John?” Candy called back to him.
“I think it’s time to turn back.” His voice was swallowed by the sudden blare of a train whistle, echoing out of the ravine ahead.
“Hold on a minute…” He waved her over to shelter against the rock wall on the other side of the dirt road, as far away from the train tracks as possible. A headlight streamed around a stony corner, and John could see that the rest of their group was still walking along the tracks, heedless of the approaching train. “You guys, get out of the way,” he yelled, but they couldn’t have heard him. He sat down on an outcrop and leaned his back against the stone, aware that he’d just have to wait it out.
When he looked up, he saw his friends running alongside the train.
They were intent on matching its speed.
My god, what are they thinking?
John watched helplessly as Tyler leapt, making contact with an opened boxcar. He turned to haul a female form in a slinky dress up after him.
John stepped into the road. “What are you doing?”
Candy raised her hands to John in question, then clapped them over her ears in pain; the train whistle sounded again, rebounding off of stone and water all around them. Metal screeched against metal. John jabbed his finger past her, pointing towards their foolish companions a few hundred yards down the tracks. She spun around in a daze and Sam shot an arm out to steady her.
John watched in horror, as Antonio sprang for the boxcar next. His foot slipped in the gravel, and he hung on with one hand for several seconds, before he lost his grip. He spun once or twice before something large and solid made impact—the next boxcar. His body was thrown backwards, and his legs crumpled under him as he fell to the earth.
And what does that scene have to do with a crumbling shack and weird little musical instruments next to a bed? Absolutely nothing! Yet, somehow those same characters appeared within the story, not as afterthoughts but as major, guiding principals. The Shack (sometimes referred to as The Palace by a certain amorous couple) will be crime scene number one by the end of the four-book series. Music (although I can’t even strum a guitar) is also a major player, rivaling my favorite art form, painting.
And so, somehow the monster that created one found the other. Or vice versa. Painting and prose unite to be…
Like how I sprang that on you? Oh, yes. The Tramp has a musical soundtrack, because the monster has a partner! Go and throw my heart into the fire, then sift through ashes on your knees…
Listen to the theme song for The Tramp by Her Last Boyfriend, “Bound Hearts”: