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Under the cover: Judgment Day & Other White Lies by Mike Hilbig.

Under the cover of Judgment Day & Other White Lies guest post by Mike Hilbig

Shortly after my short story collection Judgment Day & Other White Lies was picked up by Madville Publishing, I read “Under the Cover – Mistakes by the Lake” on Madville’s blog where author Brian Petkash describes his process of coming to the stunning book cover design for his debut short story collection Mistakes by the Lake, a collection that is coincidentally my favorite book I’ve read from the Madville catalog. Since my own short story collection is, like Petkash’s, a linked collection with several shared themes, I reached out to Kim Davis, press director for Madville, and asked if it would be possible to have a local artist and graphic designer I knew design the cover for me.

Kim informed me, in fact, that it is the intention of Madville to offer author’s more creative control in the publication process, that she believes collaboration makes for better titles. Especially on an element like the cover design, she thinks writers can offer much help in selecting pointed images that direct readers’ eyes to books they will enjoy reading.

Collaborating with Crowcrumbs

In my own case, I knew right away I wanted to ask Crowcrumbs to design the cover. She is an old friend of mine and local artist in Houston, TX who studied design at the University of Houston and does compelling illustrations and graphic design. I also have always sensed a lot of similarity between her work and my own in terms of its thematic nature. In particular, two images spoke to me and told me she would be the best person to ask. 

You see, my collection is centered around retellings of Greco-Roman and Christian myths that challenge foundational truths in American society like patriarchy, capitalism, and in particular, white supremacy. The above images jumped off the page to me as ones that were both blasphemous and reverent at the same time, images that could reflect my own technique of using meta-narratives that both reify and problematize traditional culture. Additionally, two of the more prominent stories in the collection in terms of their imagery are the opening alternative telling of Genesis “Para(Fa)ble of the Stoned Ape,” where violent sex-crazed stoned monkeys create western civilization by hallucinating and then telling stories of their hallucinations, and also, “‘Per-C and ‘Dusa: A Narrative Representation of a Graphic Epic’ by Angela Ames, PhD,” which is an ekphrastic retelling of the Perseus and Medusa myth in the form of a fake scholarly article. Therefore, the monkey and the mysterious woman adorned in religious imagery felt like they could be synthesized in some form that would make for a great cover to Judgment Day & Other White Lies.

Not to mention, most of the collection takes place in Houston, TX, where Crowcrumbs and I both live. In fact, one of Crowcrumbs’ most sought after images is her sketch of the famous rock music club Fitzgerald’s (RIP) which was once home to many of our favorite local punk bands over the years (buy a print of the below image here!). I figured between the ominous religious imagery, the evolutionary and creationist themes, and her photorealistic interpretations of local landmarks that we would surely find a cover design that was perfect for the book (and I believe the one we eventually came to is, in fact, perfect). 

One of Crowcrumbs’ most sought after images is her sketch of the famous rock music club Fitzgerald’s (RIP) which was once home to many of our favorite local punk bands over the years (buy a print of the below image here!)

Setting out with a few images I picked out of Crowcrumbs’ catalog to give her direction on what kind of design I would like, we discussed the possibility of synthesizing local haunts, religious imagery, and also some imagery from the stories themselves. We also discussed doing a black-and-white color scheme that would align with the discussions on racial identity that are interspersed throughout the collection. Crowcrumbs went to work sketching some rough images that we might use on the cover. 

Orestes attacked by the crowd, white on black.
First, we talked about using an image from the story “Fury, Or a Matricide in Sound,” which is a retelling of the Oresteia that involves the heavy metal musician Orestes helping his mother commit suicide to escape from her questionably terminal illness. The image at left comes from later in the night after he has left his mother to die when he stands in judgment of the crowd, who we discussed having a religious component, perhaps like a group of monks. Here, one of those members is stage diving into the waiting arms of that judgment.
'Dusa cover
We also discussed just doing a direct image from the “Per-C and ‘Dusa” story, one where Per-C paints the decapitated Gorgon head in the sky above the First City Tower in Houston, TX in a graffiti type style. 
Fractal Monkey
Then, there was the fractal monkey mind explosion, which again, references “Para(Fa)ble of the Stoned Ape” and also introduces one of the recurrent themes in the collection, the idea that narrative is a fractal process grown out of control where we establish the parameters and influence of time and space on our own psyches by simultaneously imagining ourselves in the contexts of the characters we love and hate in stories, the genres those stories belong to, the tradition those genres emerge from, and the place of those traditions within the process of narrative altogether, finding meaning by noticing self-affine structures that contain symmetry across scales.
Vase cover
Finally, we discussed a Greek style ancient vase with elements from each story spilling out of it, showing the neoclassical mode of critique this collection looks to subvert.
While Crowcrumbs’ initial sketches all had elements that I wanted on the cover, none of them had fully struck me as encompassing the thematic quality of the full-breadth of the collection. So, we discussed perhaps synthesizing some of those cover designs and having a monkey come out of a vase that maybe had a medusa head in the artwork. She sent me back one more initial sketch of that idea. 
She also explained to me that drafting is her first and true love as an artist. She also uses this skill most frequently, since she has been the primary illustrator for George Covington’s biweekly opinion column in the Big Bend Sentinel, a paper covering the region of West Texas where Crowcrumbs used to live and work as a librarian. Her illustrations in the Big Bend Sentinel include similar aesthetics to mine too, like this illustration of a Gorgon head she did for a Covington column about the nefarious nature of Amazon’s Alexa.

She also told me she liked the process because while “it relates to the text, it is also not necessarily true to life, something that makes it both an interpretation and its own creation, and I get to use my other skills at my day job too where I focus on user experience of software design. It forces me to consider the audience and what they will imagine as they read the words and process my artwork.”

Judgement Day And Other White Lies--preliminary cover
The British spelling of the title aside, this was the sketch that finally spoke to me. I gave her the okay to precede bringing that image to completion for the cover design, which ended up being far more detailed and elaborate. Later, when asking Crowcrumbs about her process, she explained to me, “I start on paper, since it is more gestural, it gives me space to play around and is less committal. It can get messy, basically. Then, once I find an image I like, I take a photo and drop it into ProCreate, which is the poor man’s Photoshop. I use the stylus feature there to redraw the image, I add color and definition. Finally, I transfer it to Photoshop, which I use a limited version of to add the finishing touches, since it allows more layering of the design features than does ProCreate.”
Crowcrumbs emphasized that she used a similar, albeit more lengthy process, for coming to a book cover design for Judgment Day & Other White Lies. She read a manuscript copy of the book I sent her and really tried to process not just what images came from the book itself but how those images might be combined in a way so as to evoke a similar theme. This was why, in the end, that even though I asked for a mostly black-and-white cover with perhaps a little color around the edges that she decided for a full-color cover design. 
“I just didn’t think the black-and-white version,” Crowcrumbs explained, “or the later version I made, where the monkey was a traditional brown, were fully hitting on the surrealism I encountered in the book. Your stories pop off the page by flaunting expectations, and I wanted a color scheme that did the same. This was why I went with a traditional orange for the vase and used it on the monkey too while using the more surreal greens and blues and starry sky elements in the background.”

I was thrilled with it when she sent me the initial proof and believed this was where she really came through in taking ownership of the image, as I told her she had free rein to do, since she was the artist and I was the writer. I trusted her skill and trusted her as a person, us being friends for years and all (and in the same online book club together to protect our sanity during the pandemic). 

I just love how the image is both threatening and playful, evocative in the color scheme, and how with the presence of Greek history, a revolver, an egg timer, and a wild monkey, that it creates a true sense of urgency, along with mystery, something that I hope this collection does in terms of engaging white people in their own interest in dismantling white supremacy.

So that’s the story of how the book cover came into being. If you like the cover design, please consider commissioning Crowcrumbs for your own artistic needs. Again, this cover perfectly captures my literary aesthetic in a visual form. Also, you can purchase copies of her prints, as well as t-shirts and stickers with her artwork on it here. Lastly, for those of you local to Texas, be on the lookout for combined readings and art show collabs between Crowcrumbs and me to promote the book release, and to promote Crowcrumbs as the incredible artist and designer that she is.

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Blue Moon Novel Competition Winners

A bright full moon in a jar

Join us in congratulating the winners for our Blue Moon Novel Competition!

First Prize:

Provenance is by Sue Mell. https://www.suemellwrites.com/

Second Prize:

Gravity Hill is by Susanne Davis.http://susannedavis.com/

Third Prize:

The Cyclone Release is by Bruce Overby. http://www.bruceoverby.com/


And don’t forget we still have two competitions open for submissions. Read about them at https://madvillepublishing.com/submit

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The state of the publishing industry–2021

The state of the publishing industry in 2021

Curious to hear a comprehensive analysis of the state of the publishing industry, I attended a ZOOM webinar this week put on by Ingram entitled: How has Covid-19 impacted the Book Industry? There was a lot of optimism. Here are the key points I took away from the meeting:

  • Book sales are up right across the spectrum by 6%, and a whopping 29% for Q1 2021 over Q1 2020 in the US. Global book sales reflect similar upticks. Basically, we’ve seen the market grow five years-worth in a year, with books finishing in the top five in retail sales.
  • The categories that saw the greatest increases are, 1) Juvenile fiction, 2) Fiction, and 3) Juvenile nonfiction.
  • Also of note, buys are interested in new formats, as well as titles that dealt with the state of the world today.
  • They report that the way orders come in changed dramatically due to the lack of face-to-face events. However Ingram’s ability to fill customer orders through drop shipping met a need, and eased issues with shipping in general. (On a global level, think Brexit. UK to EU shipping was particularly interesting, but thanks to Ingram’s multiple manufacturing plants throughout Europe, they were able to sidestep this border-crossing problem.)
  •  Digital sales rose 17%, and with the biggest rise in academic sales which were up 120%. There was also heavy interest form Libraries.
  • Audiobooks have taken off, not just through ACX (Audible), but across platforms. Here again there was spike in the demand for Children’s titles.
  • Don’t write off the print marked, however, because it also grew in 2020.
  • Microtrends spotlighted included African American titles and civil discourse, for example. So, as a publisher, we do need to have our finger on the pulse, and consider bring books to market faster.
  • Social Media usage is on the rise, with the average user spending 2 ½ hours per day online, and buying things they discover there, and there was a 50% increase in book-related searches on Google and Amazon. And of people surveyed 40-60% of consumers report they expect to continue this new shopping behavior post-COVID
  • Even brick-and-mortar sales are starting to return to pre-pandemic levels.
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Find us at #AWP21

#AWP21 Conference & Bookfair March 3-7, 2021
#AWP21 is virtual this year, and since we want to see you, we put together this guide to help you can find us.

How to find Madville Publishing if you are attending #AWP21:

Once you have logged into the #AWP21 Conference & Bookfair, you should see the Lobby: (This point is a little confusing because the conference is actually taking place on a website that is different from the usual AWP website. We expect they’ll sort that out and make it very clear for you when you log in, but if they don’t, https://awp21.pathable.co this is the URL for the Conference. You’re going to have to do some trial and error to figure out where to actually log in.)Bookfair, Bookshop, and EventsClick the Bookfair icon, then search for “Madville” in the search window at top right.
In combination with our good friends at Kestrel, we will be hosting a

RECEPTION & READING

Thursday, March 4, from 6:30-7:45
(central standard time)

Join Madville Publishing and Kestrel, a Journal of Literature and Art, in a virtual reception. Bring your favorite drink and share the screen with recent contributors and authors.

Readers will be: Rick Campbell, Jeff Gundy, Cynthia Hogue, Marlene Olin, Keith Stahl, Wondra Chang, Jessica Temple, Lee Zacharias, Bonnie Jo Campbell, and Kim Addonizio.

To join the event: From the “Lobby,” click the EVENTS icon and search for Madville in the top right search window. The meeting will take place over Zoom.

To enter the Zoom meeting, click “Join Meeting” in this session page at the event’s start time. Should you need keyboard navigation of Zoom, please explore the keyboard shortcuts prior to the meeting. AWP’s Accessibility Guide for using Zoom can be found in the Files section of this event session. A URL to live-captions will be provided prior to the meeting start time.
Of course you’ll find us at the virtual bookfair

The Interactive Bookfair will be open throughout the conference. However, the schedule has been organized so that special hours have been set aside when nothing else is going on so attendees can focus on the bookfair. Those special times are: 

Thursday, March 4, 2:30-4 p.m. CST
Friday, March 5, 2:30-4 p.m. CST
Saturday, March 6, 2:30-5 p.m. CST 

 
Author Meet & GreetsThursday:
     Wondra Chang at 10-11 CST
     Jessica Temple at 1-2 CST
Friday:
     Lee Zacharias  at 12-1 CST
Saturday:
     Bonnie Jo Campbell at 12-1 CST.
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2 New Calls for Submissions

Madville's cow mascot, Beula Fay. She's a black and white Guernsey cow wearing a of giant yellow sunglasses.

We are launching two brand new calls for submissions at #AWP21

Click either of the posters, below, to be taken to the webpage for that competition. We won’t be accepting any submissions until March 4.
Arthur Smith Poetry Prize poster. Contest for a full-length poetry collection to be judged by Jesse Graves. Image shows a pen spilling a black ink background onto a page on which appear the submission guidelines.
Click poster to see larger image.
Muddy Backroads: Stories from off the beaten path - call for submissions flyer
Click image for larger version.

Both the Arthur Smith Poetry Prize and the Muddy Backroads: Stories From Off the Beaten Path submittable pages will become active on March 4, 2021… First day of #AWP21.