It's no secret that it's tough to get published these days. More importantly, for those of us traditionally published, it's tough to stay published. And so many of us are becoming what are now called "hybrid" authors: publishing both traditionally with a publisher, big or small, and self-publishing. The Crispin Guest series, though critically acclaimed and nominated multitple times for industry mystery awards, won't continue with St. Martin's Press, the original publisher. But while I dabble in writing other genres and my agent shops them around, and before we look for the next publisher for the rest of the Crispin series, I didn't want a year to pass without a new Crispin Guest novel. So I dusted off an old manuscript, spruced it up, got it professionally edited, and will release it this July as a "prequel." Called CUP OF BLOOD, it's another Crispin mystery with murder and a religious relic, but it's also the story of how Jack Tucker came into Crispin's life.
With all the formatting of the book, all the prep to send out review copies, it was never far from my mind about the cover. Covers are important to the perception of the book and its contents and I've always loved the covers St. Martin's provided for the Crispin novels. Wanting to get something like them meant doing a new photoshoot with a new model (those St. Martin's covers don't belong to me. They belong to the publisher.) I drew on my almost twenty years of expertise as a graphic designer and art director (what I used to do for a living before becoming a novelist) and the experitse of my wonderful and patient husband who also happens to be a commercial photographer, and got to work.
The costume was secured by professional medieval garment specialists, Historic Enterprises. I procured a nice fourteenth century cotehardie in Crispin's signature crimson color, a leather hood and shoulder cape was made, and belt, shoes, and scrip were all ordered. I took one of my favorite daggers from my collection as well as my own cloak (yeah, I got a cloak. And a bunch of medieval weapons. Any questions?) and we set to work.
Our model, Chris, works with Craig, and he had the hair and height we needed. He's a young thing, though, 27 where Crispin is a hard 30 when the series begins. Chris also has a baby face, but this is what photoshop is for. We'll gaunt up his cheeks and maybe give him a wrinkle or two in post production.
As Craig preps the studio, I get the costume ready for the arrival of our model.
With over thirty years of photography experience, Craig moves easily through his studio, adjusting lights and getting the set prepared.
Even though I'm considerably shorter than our model, I stand in for him while Craig lights the set.
And then Chris arrives and gets into costume. Chris is a graphic designer and videographer, and he was a good sport coming in on a Saturday to do this for me. And yes, that's his real hair.
Photographing photography never looks good. You must realize that when it's shot, there are heavy shadows in the pictures that you can't see when I snap these shots, and a London street will be inserted into the background as I work on the cover design. Sometimes, only a portion of the figure will be used, not the full length. And more shadowing will be added, his hair darkened, his face made more hungry. So this Captain Morgan stance just helps the figure to open up, to show him off to best advantage, while the fan dramatically blows his hair.
I haven't seen Craig work in some time, and I am quite frankly impressed (of course, I'm always impressed by him and his many, many skills, including building sets and shooting food, a most touchy subject to master). He moves seamlessly from fixing a light here, creating a shadow there, always watching, adjusting, tempering. He clearly loves his work.
The card (below), leaning against the small ladder behind the fan, reflects light back to the subject, in this case, the sword Chris is holding, giving it just enough definition.
Even though I already know what the cover will look like since I mocked it up well before the shoot, we are doing lots of other poses in case I must publish the rest of the series myself. You never know and it's always wise to be prepared.
Craig has a lot of personal items in the studio to give it his own flavor. Looking down at us from the prop storage space high above, is the Duke himself. Not Lancaster, but John Wayne.
Another set choice with Chris/Crispin leaning on a table with his dagger at the ready.
Chris checks himself on the computer screen. Yes, it's all done digitally today.
Chris looks completely differnt when he's not in character. And blind as a bat without his glasses.
And then one last shot of my version of the Holy Grail--the cup of blood in the title--and we are ready to wrap.
Craig makes some last minute adjustments (using a different camera this time). To the right is the bottle of "holy wine"...from Trader Joe's.
And that's a wrap! Craig will do some fancy photoshopping from the final images, and then I work my magic, and we call it a cover. That cover reveal will be in about a week or so.
A big thank you to Chris and to ICG in Norco, CA, the place Craig works.
I wanted a chance to show you how it was done and the final product. Below is the work of Craig (far more savvy on photoshop than I am, but I did get in my own chops) and then the final cover. We really changed Chris' face (he has such a baby face!), got rid of the mustache, strengthened the chin, etc.