Cover Stories: Blackwood by Gwenda Bond

Gwenda Bond's Blackwood is getting some high praise. For example? Scott Westerfeld says, "With whip-smart, instantly likable characters and a gothic small-town setting, Bond weaves a dark and gorgeous tapestry from America's oldest mystery." Hi. Sold. The cover is all kinds of evocative, and here's Gwenda to talk about how it came to be:

"I don’t think I ever had an idea what the cover for the novel now known as Blackwood should look like. Maybe I thought there would be trees or a ship, or a map, something suggesting a mysterious island. When I thought about it, I worried a little—how would the cover get across that this is a story that takes place now, even though the historical Lost Colony of Roanoke inspired it? Fret and fret, as we authors do about covers (because, let’s face it—they are so important; a good cover image helps crystallize the feeling of a story, pulls us in before we’ve read the book in a way no synopsis or thousand words can).

"So, yes, nervous, even though I knew Angry Robot, the parent publisher of imprint Strange Chemistry, had built a reputation for gorgeous covers. But I shouldn’t have worried.

"Because the book was with a brand-new imprint, one of its first two books, we were on a tight timetable. We started discussing the cover as soon as the book was bought. My editor Amanda Rutter came to me with a concept involving a snake on Miranda’s face, turning into an actual snake coiling around her. Miranda Blackwood’s father has a snake-shaped birthmark on his face, just another confirmation of the family’s status on the island. I loved it, since it’s very thematically resonant and also an image that would take on more meaning for readers of the book. But, as I’ve said before elsewhere, it still could have skewed Adam & Eve or heavy metal rock cover. I did get to see the official art brief that went to Steven Wood, the excellent UK illustrator/artist who did the cover. Here’s a snippet from it:

"Subject: An older teen girl’s face (seventeen or so) turned to the side so that we half see the profile. On one cheek is a snake birthmark, in a red colour. This snake becomes a real snake and wraps itself around her neck and down her unseen body. The face and the snake are the focus of the cover.

"(Note: The publisher is based in England, hence the ‘colour.’) And that went along with more description of the elements, possible colors, and some reference covers from other books. The artist created the image, and the publisher’s art director added the title and blurb elements of the design—which I think really bring the whole cover together. The first version was mostly the same, but with some key differences. The snake’s tail was on Miranda’s cheek, looking a bit more like a tattoo, and its head was on her other side (in fact if you poke around Wood’s website, you’ll find the earliest version of the cover). I still really liked that first version, but when I saw the revised artwork, with the striking snake on her cheek, I was stunned by how powerful the image became.

"I honestly couldn’t have asked for a better cover. I was stunned all over again when I saw the first final copy of the book. It’s beautifully matte, with even more depth than you see in the image on-screen. I really couldn’t be happier with how it turned out, and I so enjoyed getting to watch the process from start to finish."

Thanks, Gwenda! It's so cool to get a glimpse of the official art brief, and it so perfectly describes the lovely final result. I poked around but couldn't find the original cover. I did, however, find the image without the text, which is cool to see (right).

What do you guys think of this cover?