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No joke…day 4 of “Bad Idea Week” is a TREAT. Damon Suede…1400+ words…giving us the entire story behind the amazing cover. I’m buying a lottery ticket this week…that’s how freaking lucky I feel!
I doubt it will come as a shock to everyone to know that I’m a control freak about my covers. I research my books so obsessively, of course I’m going to do the same for the artwork that brands my work as it scampers out into the world (My cover spec sheet for Hot Head was 12 pages long!). I think fans are getting bored with the interchangeable covers anyways, and we’ve finally sloughed off the hideous Poser nonsense and crappy matting of not-so-long-ago. I always want to push those margins and boundaries if I can. I have a background in design from my salad days, and though I’m not involved in that world anymore, I’m meticulous about design details and ruthless about assembling the research and components to facilitate the art department’s job. My rule is: if I’m gonna be a pain in the ass, it’s my job to lube the process as much as possible.
About a month into the writing of this book, I realized that its title was Bad Idea and. So much of the Trip and Silas love story was driven by notions and assumptions that got out of control with startling results. In keeping with my other titles Bad Idea was a septuple pun (my boyfriend counted the iterations for me!). Still it was very hard to encapsulate the romance in an easy image. Unlike a firefighter or cowboy romance… a story about hot nerds falling in love just doesn’t have the same kind of instant recognizable appeal. This book wasn’t particularly trope-y… and yet it was undeniably a romance with wide-market appeal. So I needed the cover to do a lot of heavy lifting for me.
Right off the bat, I knew that the cover would have a horned lightbulb as a major design element. Likewise, I knew it needed to feature an illustration juxtaposed against a photographic element. Last year, I had a phenomenal conversation with the lovely Connie Bailey at Dreamspinner about the power of eyes on covers. She pointed out that all those headless torsos, aside from being a little generic, also didn’t let the eyes connect to readers. Since so much of Silas and Trip’s relationship was bound up in art and appearances and fetish voyeurism, I wanted eyes to feature heavily. From there it was a hop-skip-and-a-trip to the top of our hero’s noggin with that bulb floating above like a snarky “Eureka!”
From there I had two challenges. My boyfriend knows a bazillion comic book illustrators. Rey Arzeno had donethe spectacular painting for Horn Gate, and was all set to do the rest of the series. Though the books were related, I didn’t want people to confuse the two. We have another artist friend named Bill Walko who tends to be more mod/graphic in style which felt like a good fit for the sleek contemporary vibe of Bad Idea. I had mocked up a horned bulb as a tiny easter egg on the cover of Horn Gate, but that was rough and ungraceful.
After we worked out a plan of attack, I sat down with Bill and a couple hundred reference images to describe what I was looking for…
…I believe my exact words were, “I want it to look crooked, slick, and wicked… Imagine it as the mascot for a brand of kinky cereal.” After a bunch of back and forth and hundreds of more references. Bill came back with this final design.
Fontwise, I’d already found a paired set of Roman fonts that Paul Richmond and I liked a lot as a branded visual component for both intertwined series, with one font cousin to be used for the paranormal Scratch books and a related, but more sleek mutation for the contemporary Itch books, of which Bad Idea was the first.
Now I just needed my Trip… or specifically a suitably twinkish, untraditional looker with an arched eyebrow who could stand in for Trip. Stock photography is the bane of romance novelists’ existence. We need it, our publishers use it, but mostly it’s repetitive and hideous. The only way to get beyond the same five Croatian models is to go out and scout models and photographers to track down the one shot that convey the proper vibe. Because I knew exactly the wicked/snarky/evil expression I was looking for, I assembled a swatch of expression references so that Trip’s eyes would mimic the bad idea bulb over his head, emphasizing their connection and the themes of the book…
…and spent two days digging through every photographers backlog and stock sites I could access. Almost by accident I found the exactly right model with the perfect expression. My response to him was so visceral I shouted out loud and my boyfriend thought I’d stabbed myself with a pen. We tweaked the lightbulb so that its arched eyebrow was opposite the model’s, echoing it while providing visual tension.
Next stop was kicking my bulb design and my model over to the inestimable Paul Richmond at Dreamspinner.I knew from working together on the Horn Gate that Paul (somehow) didn’t find all my input annoying and had a freaky talent for taking lilies and gilding the hell out of them to the betterment of all. I was super worried about people thinking that Bad Idea was paranormal because of all the red and those horns on the bulb, so it was critical that we convey a pop culture stylishness. He took all of my notes, all of my references, all of my fussy, design-queen insanity and just whipped those egg whites into homoerotic meringue, baby!
Paul took Bill’s kickass bulb design and brought it to life, painting it (and the fonting) with obsessive care that made it sizzle on the page. He ran with my idea of pop art for the background and devised that übercool mutating red-dot pattern which managed to look modern and comic-bookish without adding literal panels and thought bubbles. He then started doing all the beautiful detail work that makes his designs stand out. He assembled several drafts that emphasized the wit and the heat of the book…and put up with all my fussing and putzing with gamma and saturation levels until we zeroed in on the final cover for Bad Idea. At my behest, he retilted those dots and retweaked the filters at the micron level. I actually sent him notes that asked him to shift things by pixels and degrees and angles for maximum impact. Yes, really. In repainting my model’s eyes to Trip’s whiskey brown, Paul did five different version of the irises AND the reflection on the eyeball to make sure the gaze popped but didn’t look supernatural (again, due to my anxiety that it would telegraph urban fantasy to casual browsers).
Paul was a fucking saint. And holy bajoley did he make something exceptional for me
My boyfriend and I are so obsessed with this artwork that it’s the background wallpaper for all our computers. Not even out of egomaniacal self-involvement, but just because looking at it makes us so happy. The next thing we’ve done with this artwork is taken the horned bulb design and re-rendered it for brass pins, that are bring molded and cast even as I type this. When I suggested the horned bulb pins to Elizabeth North, her immediate response was, “Do it! Everyone needs to have bad ideas!” Those little lovelies should be done in time for Bent-Con and then I’ll have them for cons going forward.
The best part of the entire process came when we did the cover reveal and people went thermonuclear over the artwork. I knew that I loved it, that my boyfriend loved it, but I wasn’t prepared for the reaction from readers and marketing folks. Mass-market media outlets, reviewers who’d never even picked up a gay romance got totally sucked in by that cover which Paul made provocative without being smutty or formulaic. I’ve already had two readers tell me they’re getting the horned bulb tattooed because they love it so much. And THAT makes me feel like we got it right.
We have a long way to go as a niche within romance and like it or not, everyone judges books by the covers. I’m most excited about the possibility of our cover art being allowed to break new ground on behalf of LGBT romance. My gratitude to Bill Walko, Paul Richmond, Elizabeth North and the entire Dreamspinner team cannot be overstated. They took my demented, raw materials and crafted something exceptional. And the journey from my original crazy idea to the final Bad Idea is one for which I’m deeply grateful.
Damon Suede grew up out-n-proud deep in the anus of right-wing America, and escaped as soon as it was legal. Having lived all over, he’s earned his crust as a model, a messenger, a promoter, a programmer, a sculptor, a singer, a stripper, a bookkeeper, a bartender, a techie, a teacher, a director… but writing has ever been his bread and butter.
Though new to gay romance, Damon has been a full-time writer for print, stage, and screen for two decades. He has won some awards, but counts his blessings more often: his amazing friends, his demented family, his beautiful husband, his loyal fans, and his silly, stern, seductive Muse who keeps whispering in his ear, year after year. Get in touch with him at DamonSuede.com.
Enter to win a paperback copy of “Bad Idea” signed by DAMON SUEDE himself AND the e-book version (your format of choice) as well! LEAVE A COMMENT in each day’s post during “Bad Idea Week”. Every day you comment is another chance to win! GOOD LUCK! (winner will be selected at random and announced Monday, October 28th)