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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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Valentine’s Day Special: The Autobiography of Francis N. Stein

This Valentine’s Day, we are offering The Autobiography of Francis N. Stein at a special price!

The Autobiography of Francis N. Stein: The Last Promethean

Francis N. Stein is the last descendant of Dr. Frankenstein’s wretch. I bet you didn’t know that the “monster” procreated, did you? This current generation Stein (the family shortened the name for obvious reasons) is a big hearted guy, and he really wants to do good, for all the right reasons. He’s just too trusting, and others take advantage of him, leaving him with trouble always nipping at his heels.

$12.95 for the regular edition

$15.95 for a signed copy

Set in contemporary Colorado, The Autobiography of Francis N. Stein: The Last Promethean is a hell of a story about the last imagined descendant of Dr. Frankenstein’s wretch—the spurned monster. It offers struggle and pathos, pain and absolution, deception and deliverance. Reminiscent of Neil Gaiman’s Shadow Moon from American Gods, Francis Stein is a slow thinking giant of a man who attracts attention wherever he goes. Stein seems cursed with bad luck, and trouble waits for him around every turn in spite of his good intentions.

A. Rooney, author of The Autobiography of Francis N. Stein

A. Rooney is an associate professor who teaches writing at Jindal Global University in Sonipat, India when not in Denver, Colorado. He has published a collection of stories, The Colorado Motet (Ghost Road Press) and a novella, Fall of the Rock Dove (Main Street Rag). His stories and poems have appeared in journals, magazines and websites all over the world. 


Mix Blue Velvet with a dash of True Romance, add some gothic and some noir, flavor with firebear and Pho—and enter the engaging, shifting, transforming, surreal vision of Francis, offspring of one of literature’s most famous creations . . .

Randall Watson, author of No Evil is Wide and The Geometry of Wishes


Rooney’s title character is a superb creation and, like Mary Shelley’s original, a compelling chronicler of life as a monstrous outsider, as terminally unique, “dependent on none and related to none” (to borrow Shelley’s phrase). Yet, driven by the police and other would-be destroyers high into the Colorado Rockies, Francis Stein manages to forge tenuous friendships: fragile connections with others that offer the possibility of redemption, of a second chance, of learning what it means to be genuinely human. Sharply written, with flashes of dark comedy and lyric evocations of the 21st-century American West, 
The Autobiography of Francis N. Stein gives us a beautiful monster for our time and place—as Shelley did for hers.

—Thomas H. Schmid, author of Fools of Time

The Autobiography of Francis N. Stein: The Last Promethean is a story of struggle and pathos, pain and absolution, deception and deliverance.  . . . [It] is an inherently fascinating novel about the last descendant of Dr. Frankenstein’s wretched creature, the spurned monster who ultimately turned upon his creator. [This is] An inherently riveting read from cover to cover, . . . a compelling novel that reflects the author’s genuine flair for originality and narrative driven storytelling. Doing full justice to the literary legacy of Mary Shelley’s FrankensteinThe Autobiography of Francis N. Stein: The Last Promethean is an especially and unreservedly recommended addition to community library collections and the personal reading lists of all dedicated Frankenstein fans.

—Micah Andrew, The Midwest Book Review

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George Drew Poem for Brian Petkash

Author Brian Petkash signing books at AWP 2020

To fully appreciate this poem by George Drew for Brian Petkash, you may want to read Brian Petkash’s short story collection, Mistakes by the Lake. (Our authors find inspiration in each others’ work. That’s kind of cool, we think.)


Mistakes at the Table

                                  How now, Sir John?

(Again, for Brian Petkash)
 
First: I’m sitting at the table.
 
Second: I’m sitting at the table trying to think,
              but thoughts keep flitting away,
              like butterflies on fire turning to ashes.
 
Third: The butterflies are real. Or aren’t they?
 
Fourth: I’m eating at the table, crumbs
             littering the placemat dispossessed
             of any value, clumps of empty calories.
 
Fifth: I’m watching on the table ants crisscross
          its width and length like trolley cars        
          transporting crumbs on their last ride.
 
Sixth: The ants aren’t real. Or are they?
 
Seventh: I’m leaning on the table drinking coffee,
               and when I knock it over, it spills,
               turning the tablecloth’s pink purity muddy.
 
Eighth: I’m twitching at the table as the coffee
             spreads over the tablecloth
             like floodwater over a street, a yard, a field.
 
Ninth: I’m marking at the table how a lamp’s circle
           of light shimmers like a moon,
           fading outward into shade, shade into dark.
 
Tenth: I’m still sitting at the table.
 
                                                                 ---George Drew

George Drew is the author of eight poetry collections, with Pastoral Habits: New and Selected PoemsDown & Dirty and The View From Jackass Hill, winner of the 2010 X.J. Kennedy Poetry Prize, all from Texas Review Press. His eighth, Fancy’s Orphan, appeared in 2017 with Tiger Bark Press. Drumming Armageddon is his ninth collection. Recently George won the Knightville Poetry Contest, The New Guard, his poem appearing in the 2017 edition, and two other poems as Honorable Mention in the Steve Kowit Poetry Contest, appeared in the 2018 and 2019 San Diego Poetry Anthology. He was a recipient of the Bucks County Muse Award in 2016 for contributions to the Bucks County PA literary community. Recently, one of his poems from Fancy’s Orphan appeared in Verse Daily. George’s biography will appear in Mississippi Poets: A Literary Guide, University of Mississippi Press, edited by Catherine Savage Brosman.


Mistakes by the Lake cover

Mistakes by the Lake

by Brian Petkash

Set in Cleveland, Ohio, from its earliest beginnings as a forested frontier to the urban blight of modern times, Mistakes by the Lake is a collection of ten thematically-linked stories spanning the many faces of the city’s history: A motorman navigates his 1920’s back-and-forth trolley until he snaps; A stockyards knocker encounters the Virgin Mary during the 1954 World Series; A wannabe wrestles his unruly mind along the flammable 1960’s Cuyahoga River; In a reinvention of Henry IV, a young man must either stick with his bumbling criminal crew or uncover legit ways to support his mother and transgender Gramps.

978-1-948692-32-8 paper 19.95
978-1-948692-33-5 ebook 9.99
5½x8½ , 204 pp.
Short Fiction
May 2020
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Taboos & Transgressions Call for Submissions

Call for Submissions for the Taboos and Transgressions Anthology

Call for Submissions for the Taboos and Transgressions Anthology

CALL FOR SUBMISSIONS

Fee: $9 per submission
Deadline: August 1, 2020
https://madville.wpengine.com/submit/

For this anthology, we are looking for stories about breaking taboos, about transgressions and wrongdoings–rule-breaking, whether personal or imposed by family or society. Tell us about consequences, whether terrible or uplifting.

Editors Luanne Smith, Kerry Beth Neville, and Devi Laskar want to see your characters behaving badly, for whatever reasons. Maurice Carlos Ruffin will select a winning story and a runner-up for cash prizes.