Don’t Judge a Book By Its Cover

Don’t judge a book by its cover.

We’ve had that drilled into us—at least my generation did, and, to a large extent, we believed it—I believed and I still do. At least as far as people go. And dogs—you ever meet a dog who looks mean and you want to step back but then he approaches you gently and licks your hand?

Anyway, never judge a book by its cover, unless of course, it is a book. I’ve been thinking about covers a lot lately. It started when we released Vampire Rising, my allegorical Vampire novella. It pays homage to Bram Stoker’s Dracula while reinventing the Vampire genre. In the story I tell there were certain elements that helped tell the story—mockingbirds who appear wherever Vampires gather, the iron gates that demarcates the separation between the Vampire state and the human world. And the story is described in grays and purples. So I wanted to include all of those elements that in the cover.

The Original Cover
When my publisher notified me that they would be re-releasing the Boughs of Evergreen holiday anthology, which contains my short story, “The Christmas Present,” I jumped at the chance to change the cover.  As I said, I’ve been thinking a lot about covers. With Vampire Rising, I deliberately choose not to have a man on the cover—I felt there were too many m/m romances with buff shirtless guys on the cover.

Thinking about the new cover for “The Christmas Present,” I realized what troubled me most about all the men on the covers of gay books was the fact that they are almost always white. Once I realized that, I set out on a mission to find a black guy to put on the cover. The scene below is taken from “The Christmas Present” and is what the cover is based on:

The new cover
He erupted out of this seething, boiling cauldron of salt and water, cloaked in moonlight and sea foam like an ermine cape. He stepped out of the rioting sea with the easy sinuous grace of an eel. About Aidan’s age, he was handsome, with broad shoulders and a narrow waist. His body, well-muscled and solid, seemed to vibrate with suppressed energy, seemed to contain all the fury of the sea, tightly reined. His beryl eyes, which seemed to hold all the colors of dawn, searched the beach, found Aidan standing stock still, his long flaxen hair plastered to his skull and shoulders by the sea spray.

Then came Black & Ugly: A Tale of Men & Wheelbarrows” which is a stand-alone story but also features Mama Black Widow, the old Obeah woman who appears in “The Christmas Present.” Because Ugly tells the story of a dark skinned young man who is taught he is ugly because he is dark, I knew it had to have a dark skinned black man on the cover. Deb and I discussed the title—it was originally much more innocuous—I suggested another title and Deb took it a step further and made it bold and in-your-face while also telling a story. I knew this cover was going to be special as we worked through several covers iterations. Still I was blown away by the strength and power of the final cover the designer delivered.

If someone wants to judge this book by its cover, I am good with that.


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