Sunday, November 7, 2010

Meredith Sue Willis: On Choosing a Book Cover Image for OUT OF THE MOUNTAINS

Mural, Gauley Bridge
Photo copyright by Kevin Scanlon, all rights reserved

Book cover design choices fascinate me. Those cover illustrations are what make browsing in a bookstore so pleasurable – they lure us to pick up a particular book for a closer look, flip it over to read the back cover, open it up to read the inside jacket flap. At least that’s how I browse. Only after I’ve examined the front cover image, the back cover, and the inside flap do I open the book to the first page to read the first sentence. If that opening sentence pleases me, I may even reread it with the entire first paragraph. If I’m not hooked by then, the book goes back on the shelf.

I was already familiar with the cover image for the new short story collection, OUT OF THE MOUNTAINS, by Meredith Sue Willis. I happened to be with Kevin Scanlon in the town of Gauley Bridge, West Virginia, the day he photographed the mural at the center of town. When I learned one of those images was chosen as the cover for the book, I was already hooked. But I want you to be hooked, too, because this is a beautiful collection of stories. So, I’ll open the book for you to the first story, “Triangulation,” so that you can be hooked on that first sentence and paragraph:

“There is a process in navigation by which you locate an unknown point by forming a triangle between it—where you are standing now, for example—and two known points. From time to time, we use great events in history in this way. That was the year I got married and also the year of the great blackout. Where were you when the president was shot? When the towers fell?”

This week’s guest post is by Meredith Sue Willis. Thanks MSW!
~ Dory

IN THIS LIGHT blogger Dory Adams asked me how I chose the particular photograph we used for the cover of my second collection of Appalachian stories, Out of the Mountains, from Ohio University Press. The photo is by Dory’s husband Kevin Scanlon, and I had seen his work earlier on the internet, and used several of his images of West Virginia trains and cars and landscapes in Issue 16 (Fall 2008) of The Hamilton Stone Review. The combination of trees and hills and steel and cars and mist and old frame buildings moved me intensely: it’s the Appalachia and West Virginia that I knew growing up – mine tipples and coal cars on high trestles and always in the background the green humpy hills. So I think what I wanted for the cover of my book was actually a whole slew of Kevin’s images. One that I especially liked had a little girl on a bike and some houses and a train passing way overhead, but the folks at Ohio University Press were concerned about the legalities of images of children, and, as I said, it wasn’t any single image I was stuck on, but just the sensibility of his work.

Now here’s the funny part: I don’t really remember choosing the image of the car in front of the Gauley Bridge mural that was ultimately used. It is an image with the slightest touch of an edge, that is, the question of what is real and what is super-realism– are we looking at a real car or a painting of a car? And of course, in actual fact, we’re looking at a piece of glossy printed cardboard, not a car of all, when we look at the book, or some pixels on a CRT or LCD screen if we’re looking online.

The head of publicity at Ohio University Press says that she’s the one who made the final pick, which she cleared with me, of course. And as I said, it was one of many images that moved me, so I was fine with it.

What pleases me about it is both the edge and the insistence on the art of the photograph as well as the art of the mural. I’m generally a realistic writer, but what’s the point of literature if it isn’t artful? So the art and the calling attention to art worked for me, but so did the old car, and its implications of coming and going, and the mural as a tourist attraction.

And, really, I just adore Kevin’s photos.

Meredith Sue Willis will appear at the Kentucky Book Fair November 13th, 2010 at the Frankfort Convention Center, 405 Mero Street, Frankfort, KY. Hours are 9:00 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Admission is free.

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