BLISS HOUSE: A Cover Story

Is it just me, or is the cover of BLISS HOUSE just breathtaking? The novel won’t be released until June 15th of next year, but this image feels so incredibly right that I feel comfortable with it already.

It’s a good thing I don’t have to create my own book covers. Between my traditionally published novels and anthologies, my work has been blessed with some gorgeous artwork, done by people with imagination and strong artistic voices. (I don’t yet know the name of the designer who did the BLISS HOUSE cover, but when I do I’ll fill it in right *here*.)¬†When I commissioned covers for the re-issues of ISABELLA MOON and CALLING MR. LONELY HEARTS, and my last novel, DEVIL’S OVEN, I turned to JT Lindroos and John Hornor Jacobs, respectively. Designers who know what they’re doing and do it really, really well.

If I had to put together my own covers, I would drown in a sea of confusion. The connection between the images in my head and what comes out of my fingertips is weirdly literal when it comes to pictures. My composition skills are good (I can take and edit a decent photograph), and I am a passable copyist. But when it comes to creating an original work, something is…missing. The tools of a fine or graphic artist are meat cleavers and mallets in my hands.

If I had attempted to create the cover for BLISS HOUSE, my goal would’ve been to come up with a perfect match to the image of the house I saw in my head. “Perfect” is a deadly word. And the thing that makes it doubly dangerous is the notion that such a thing could even exist. A book cover needs to convey the mood of an entire book in a single glance. It needs to speak to you of its spirit.

When I was dreaming of Bliss House, I spent hours–probably days–looking at images of Victorian-era houses. It was no chore. If I hadn’t been so completely drawn into writing, there’s a good chance I would’ve studied architecture until I went blind from poring over paintings and photographs, or bankrupted myself traipsing around the world staring at buildings. Every style is born of whim, intention, or accident. Every style is anchored in history and reflects the passions of its architects and/or patrons. I needed a style of house that was grand and elegant, and just a bit on the showy side. New money. Mysterious and complex. A house you can’t quite pin down. Even though it’s in Virginia, I wasn’t looking for the broad, gracious, vaguely classical lines of an antebellum plantation house. I needed a house that would not melt into its landscape, but announce its rather forceful personality–even in a state of disrepair 130 years after its first brick was laid.

I was wary of making Bliss House a Second Empire house because Second Empire is the classic silhouette of a 19th and 20th century haunted house. (You can read an excellent description of Second Empire architecture here.)

It’s the style of the Addams family house:

And informs our ideas about other fictional haunted houses, like Hill House:

But the style is everything that Bliss House embodies.

I like that the designer of BLISS HOUSE’s cover chose to soften the house’s profile. It’s a dream-filled sort of house, and not entirely evil–at least to my mind. One of the secrets of Bliss House is that it can let a person see things that he or she wants to see, if it so chooses.

Like the Tardis, Bliss House is way, way bigger on the inside.

Books are brilliant that way. Sure, we can read things into the art we observe. Make assumptions and observations. But the appearance of an image is not going to differ greatly from viewer to viewer. Interpretation, yes. Appearance, no. Words have an expansive quality. They explode into constantly changing images in our heads. A reader might pick out details and draw an image–and there are writers who are quite precise about what they want you to see–but no two readers will come up with identical pictures of what they’ve just read. It’s the give-and-take between reader and writer that makes a book such a magical thing. A book without a reader is an incomplete object.

I can’t wait for you to make BLISS HOUSE complete.


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