It's my pleasure to host author Ashley Hope Perez on my blog today. She's appeared on the blog several times over the past few years with guest posts and interviews, and I've shared my reviews of her young adult novels What Can't Wait and The Knife and the Butterfly. She's back again discussing the the cover art of her new novel Out of Darkness and sharing an excerpt.
Out of Darkness Book Description:
New London, Texas. 1937. Naomi Vargas and Wash Fuller know about the lines in East Texas as well as anyone. They know the signs that mark them.
They know the people who enforce them.
But sometimes the attraction between two people is so powerful it breaks through even the most entrenched color lines. And the consequences can be explosive.
Ashley Hope Pérez takes the facts of the 1937 New London school explosion—the worst school disaster in American history— as a backdrop for a riveting novel about segregation, love, family, and the forces that destroy people.
Why and How Cover Art Matters
When we first got married, my husband and I got into a fight over book covers. While cleaning, he decided to remove all the dust jackets on the hardback books we own.
“Why would you do that to our books?” I asked the minute I walked in the door.
He shrugged. “They just look better this way, don’t you think?”
No, I did not think so. I spent the rest of the day fuming while I put the dust jackets back on, carefully restoring the cover art that, in some cases, had initially attracted me to the books.
We might all aspire to follow the old adage, “Don’t judge a book by its cover,” but anyone who’s set foot inside a bookstore or library knows that we do it all the time. There’s a reason why books displayed with their cover art out get picked up more than their companions sitting on the shelf with only their spines showing.
I’ve been lucky to have beautiful covers on all three of my novels. I wasn’t part of the selection process for my debut novel, What Can’t Wait, but the result was fantastic. For The Knife and the Butterfly and Out of Darkness, I got to weigh in on drafts of cover art by Laura Otto Rinne. In both cases, there were many fascinating possibilities. As Laura puts it, both books “provide so many intriguing motifs and imagery that I found it very easy to concept compelling cover ideas.” (Laura was kind enough to share her thoughts about her design work via email.) Back in 2012, I talked about the process of selecting and refining a design for The Knife and the Butterfly here.
So how did the cover art for Out of Darkness come about? In an email to me, Laura described some of the images she had in mind after reading Out of Darkness:
Many things came to me: a single shoe in a pile of rubble, the smoke and fire of the explosion and the ruins of the school, the historical connection of the town to this real event, the landscape of the Texas oil field and, paradoxically, Wash and Naomi’s river oasis and oak tree refuge.
Given these possibilities, some of the cover drafts played up the historical dimension of the novel by incorporating a black and white photograph from the 1937 school explosion. Others incorporated images that highlighted the setting in the East Texas oil field. Another concept for the cover had a clean, bright look similar to the cover of Margaret Wiley’s Four Secrets, although with an oak leaf silhouette that alludes to the importance of the tree where Naomi and Wash meet in secret.
These cover ideas were wonderful, but in Laura’s estimation, and mine as well, this was “ultimately Naomi’s story,” and the cover needed to reflect that. Laura describes Out of Darkness as “the story of Naomi’s displacement in a community where she can neither be black nor white, of her struggle to not lose herself and her origins, and of the violence she confronts as she becomes a woman.” For Out of Darkness, then, we all agreed that the cover needed to underscore Naomi’s centrality in the story.
Book covers that feature a close up of a girl’s face or a swirly image of her body have had a long run in YA, but it’s less common to see an image of a girl’s back. In the case of the top contender for the Out of Darkness cover—the one we ultimately chose—the focus is not so much on Naomi’s body as on her long braid. Here’s what Laura had to say about the image of the braid:
The striking description of her long, dark braid kept coming back to me. [The braid] connects her longing for the child she once was and the allure of sexuality and love that she begins to experience. I wanted Naomi's braid to jump off of the cover—I wanted it to break the darkness of her story and make her feel immediate and alive.
The cover of Out of Darkness is stunning, but more important than its beauty is the fact that it so fully captures the feel of the story. The sepia-toned background hints at the historical setting; the braid marks Naomi’s centrality, and the flame-colored letters hint at the explosion and, more broadly, at the possibility of destruction and suffering. Speaking of destruction, fire, and smoke, here’s what Elizabeth Wein said about the cover: “ I looked at that braid and thought it was SMOKE. I thought it was a plume of black smoke rising.” Together, these elements of Laura’s design for Out of Darkness do a fine job of setting readers up with the right set of expectations for what they will find between the covers.
To finish, here’s an excerpt from Out of Darkness that shows one of the ways that Naomi’s braid is important to the story.
For Naomi, to touch her braid was to remember her mother. The code was simple: when her mother had a braid, she belonged to Naomi. When Estella fixed her hair in swirls and curls and combs, she belonged to her dancing and to the men she danced with (and, later, to Henry) and she did not come home for hours and hours and the bed Naomi shared with her was wide and lonely. On this particular evening, Naomi was six; her father was dead; she and Estella still lived in the back bedroom of the nice house Abuelito and Abuelita owned before the stock market crash.
“Like this?” Estella asked, spinning to show the curls pinned in swirls over the nape of her neck. Her mother’s yellow dress rode up around her slim brown legs as she moved.
Naomi shrugged and traced the pattern of the lace coverlet on the bed. Snowflake, snowflake, flower. Snowflake, snowflake, flower. She was the snowflake, pointy and awkward. Her mother was the flower.
“Well?” Estella reached out a slender finger and lifted Naomi’s chin.
“I like it best in una trenza,” Naomi mumbled.
“A braid! But why is that?” Estella studied her. “Don’t you like Mami to be elegant?”
Naomi shook her head. Tears began to fall onto the lace.
“Do you want me to stay in tonight?” Estella unpinned her hair and let it fall over Naomi’s face. “Here, you braid it for me.”
Later, they draped the ends of their braids over their mouths like mustaches and pretended to be mariachi singers.
That was one of the good memories. The bad ones were edged with silence and blood. Estella’s eyes gone glassy, her face gray. And between the good and the bad there were others, moments colored not so much by fear or danger but by tiny heartbreaks, thimblefuls of betrayal. Estella was a woman, not a saint.
But at least Naomi had her braid.
To read another excerpt and have a chance to win a copy of Out of Darkness, check out the next blog tour stop at Forever YA http://foreveryoungadult.com/ on 8/21.
In addition to Out of Darkness (September 2015), Ashley Hope Pérez is the author of two other YA novels: What Can’t Wait and The Knife and the Butterfly. Out of Darkness has earned starred reviews from Kirkus and School Library Journal, and both What Can’t Wait and The Knife and the Butterfly appear on ALA reading lists. Ashley is currently a visiting assistant professor of comparative studies at The Ohio State University and teaches topics from global youth narratives to Latin American and Latina/o fiction. She lives in Ohio with her husband, Arnulfo, and their sons, Liam Miguel and Ethan Andrés. Visit her online at http://www.ashleyperez.com/.
Out of Darkness Blog Tour Schedule:
8/10: review - Finding Wonderland (http://writingya.blogspot.com/)
8/12: interview and giveaway - YA Outside the Lines (http://yaoutsidethelines.blogspot.com/)
8/17: guest post on cover art - Actin’ Up With Books (http://actinupwithbooks.blogspot.com/)
8/21: excerpt and giveaway - Forever Young Adult http://foreveryoungadult.com/)
8/28: review - Forever Young Adult http://foreveryoungadult.com/)
8/26: the why behind a historical topic - Sarah Laurence blog (http://blog.sarahlaurence.com/)
8/31: guest post (“Words that Wake Us”) - Diversity in YA (http://diversityinya.tumblr.com/)