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Monday, August 19, 2013

THE EVOLUTION OF A BOOK COVER

The title of a novel is a major consideration.  It is the author’s first opportunity to create some interest. For the new book, I was somewhat limited by wishing the title to start with a gerund beginning with the letter C—as with the three Jake Diamond novels—Catching Water in a Net, Clutching at Straws and Counting to Infinity. On top of that—it’s a good idea to have the title say something about the book. Chasing Charlie Chan worked both ways.  Given the title is critical, so should be the manner in which it is presented on the book jacket—the cover being an equally essential piece of the presentation—the invitation to look inside.  Jason Smith—who created the title artwork and hand painted the front and back cover images—allowed me into his world—staying open to my thoughts and ideas—working closely with me to come up with a design that would truly represent what lay in wait within.
There were two considerations when approaching the front cover. Down & Out Books, the artist and the author all agreed to work on a concept that brought to mind the noir private eye novels of the forties and fifties—Chandler’s Philip Marlowe and Spillane’s Mike Hammer—albeit without the damsel in distress. (Sorry, no scantily clad babes aboard.)  I believe if you don’t grab the reader in Chapter One you have lost half the battle— therefore Jason and I decided on using an image which captured a moment in those first pages.  Here is an early rendition.

It was Jason Smith’s idea to use a badge—a small representation of the main protagonist which could be used in subsequent books and add to the dime store novel feel. Here is an early version of the Jimmy Pigeon badge.
The book is a work of fiction.  Any resemblances to people alive or dead are coincidental and not intended by the author.  That being said, we came to thinking out the back cover and the images that would best represent the story within the story.  Here is Jason’s early work—original paintings of characters coincidentally called ‘Bugsy’ Siegel and Virginia Hill (alright, there is a dame) from forties photographs—and a 1947 newspaper article.

 
Putting the front and back covers together was the next step—here is an early version of both with spine—including the Jimmy Pigeon badge.  The author name font was also changed and finalized at this point.
The back cover needed more pop—and the Las Vegas strip in the late forties was just the ticket.  Jason beautifully incorporated the image—pushing the lady to the top left—and changing the book description to a more classic style font.
The next installment was very cool—particularly in the form Jason sent it—giving me a glimpse into the way he worked—the shape of his palette.  And we were so close.
So close.  How about repeating the Jimmy Pigeon cameo on the spine?  Let’s make the D&O logo more prominent.  The result represents a long, rewarding collaboration of two artists from different mediums.  A writer striving to create a work of fiction worth reading—and a painter who got it and beautifully gift wrapped it.  The complete package.  Done.  Now we can only hope the fine art will inspire curiosity—and the reader will not be disappointed with the pages between the covers.
 
For more on Jason Smith please visit: http://jsmithillustration.com/
 

 

 
 

Saturday, August 3, 2013

RESURRECTING JIMMY PIGEON

 

         
           "Mr. Diamond, I came here to talk about my husband."
             "Of course you did, Evelyn," I said. I think my voice may have cracked. "Have you thought about going to the police?"
         "Finding my husband is already of interest to the Los Angeles Police Department, Mr. Diamond. I was hoping you could help me locate him before they do."
         "Why are the police interested in locating your husband?" I plowed on.
         "They suspect he killed his business partner."
         "And why would they think that?"
         "My husband's gun was found beside the body."
         "Did he do it?"
         "I don't believe so."
         "But the murder weapon was found at the scene, and it belonged to your husband. Any theories about that?"
         "My husband kept the gun in his office. The victim was killed in the office adjacent to his. The police have little else to go on."
         "And?"
         "They seem unwillingly to grant that almost anyone could have taken the weapon and killed my husband's associate."
         There you go, it could have been anyone. That should convince a jury.
         "If your husband is innocent, why is he dodging the authorities?"
         "I don't know. Perhaps he feels no one will believe him, he's always lacked persuasive ability. That is why I need to find him. Before he gets himself hurt. Someone suggested you could help."
          Why me.
         "Why me?" I asked, "There are plenty of very competent investigators in Los Angeles. I could highly recommend a good friend of mine down there. Jimmy Pigeon."
         "I came to you, Mr. Diamond, because my husband's business partner was Jimmy Pigeon."
         I managed to delay my reaction long enough to get the rough details from Evelyn Harding and then quickly sent her on her way; assuring her I would stay in touch. She was barely through the door before the surprise and shock of Jimmy Pigeon's death hit me like a sucker punch. I opened the top desk drawer and pulled out the ashtray and the bottle. This time it was the bottle of bourbon.
 
So ends the first chapter of Catching Water in a Net, the first novel in the Jake Diamond mystery series, where Jake discovers, from a total stranger, that his friend and mentor, the man who brought him into the PI business, is dead. And the book, winner of the St. Martin’s Press/Private Eye Writers of America Award for Best First Private Eye Novel, becomes Jake Diamond’s quest to find Jimmy Pigeon’s killer.
 

 
Throughout the first book, and again and again in the subsequent novels Clutching at Straws and Counting to Infinity, Jake refers to Jimmy Pigeon; recalling lessons learned from Jimmy, and often posing the question, when an investigation hits a dead end, ‘What would Jimmy do?’
 Recently at ThrillerFest in New York, an international crime fiction writers/crime fiction fans convention, I sat on a panel entitled: Why Did You Kill Off My Favorite Character? 
          Speaking for myself; killing off a character who the writer, and hopefully the reader, has come to care about, is never an easy decision.  And for me, it is never premeditated.  There comes a time in a story when something has to happen to raise the stakes, and sometimes a sacrifice is required.  And I am as surprised as the reader when a good guy or good gal is killed.  And I often hear from readers of their disappointment; fortunately I have never been confronted with a reader like Annie Wilkes in Stephen King’s Misery.  But what about a character who is killed off before you even begin, who you never really meet, who you only learn about from fond reminiscence?  A character obviously very important to the main protagonist of your series.  As his name kept popping up, I wondered more and more often, who was Jimmy Pigeon?


        And here is the fun part; I could find answers to my nagging questions about Jimmy Pigeon by simply turning back the clock.  Suddenly I was writing a prequel to the Jake Diamond series, which finds Jimmy alive and at work as a Private Investigator in Santa Monica in 1994.  And the result is a novel called Chasing Charlie Chan, published by Down & Out Books in trade paperback and eBook in September 2013.
        I have no illusions of grandeur, but being able, as a writer, to bring a character back from the grave, is pretty nifty.  It was a great exercise for me, and I can only hope it will resonate with those Jake Diamond fans who have at times also wondered about Jimmy Pigeon, the man who said, among other things: When it comes to private investigation, nine times out of ten the client is your worst enemy.