Masked Priest Bearing Holy Hand Sanitizer (Novel Update #4)

As I shared in the last novel update, Jordan Henderson painted (back in February) a cover for the forthcoming Much Ado About Corona novel. I’m sure you haven’t forgotten the image. It was that finely rendered, and shockingly horrific, human skull gagged by a red face mask.

Alas, I am writing a dystopian love story, not a dystopian horror novel. Before putting paint brush to canvas, Jordan had promised that, upon seeing the final painting, if I didn’t think it was suitable for the cover we’d try another one.

On a side note: Jordan has since sold the painting, titled Safe and Sanitized, and offers copies as high-quality prints, greeting cards, and even T-shirts. Andrew Brennan, a reader from Toronto (currently enjoying asylum in Texas), sent in this photo:

Andrew even bought one for his wife. How romantic!

“The cuffed wrists and the sterility of a bleached, masked skull,” wrote Andrew in an email, “encapsulate perfectly what lockdowns and endless mask mandates are truly all about.”

Sadly, it wasn’t what the novel is all about. So, Jordan and I headed back the (literal) drawing board.

Jordan was keen to try another still life (or was it a still death?). Fearing that he might present me next with a dismembered hand chained to a hand sanitizer, I wrote him in an email:

Novel covers using still life (rather than characters or scenes from the story) are common among “literary” works. Much Ado About Corona is clearly not a literary novel. (And, quite frankly, I feel a lot of literary novels are like modern art. I’ve no clue what they are saying.)

Much Ado About Corona is classic storytelling. You don’t need to decode each line. It’s not a poem packaged as a novel. While it certainly contains several wallops of metaphor and moments of poetic prose, it’s not a literary work by the current expectations of readers. I think a literary cover will only disappoint “literary” readers (while repelling the “genre” readers).

Putting aside skeletal props, Jordan and I continued to brainstorm and sketch ideas for the cover. We aimed for an image that summed up the main theme and elements of the story without being cluttered. Not easy! At one point, we were ready to give up.

Then, one cold winter day, while waiting for my son in the foyer of his piano teacher’s home studio, an image appeared in my mind. I sketched it in my notebook and typed up an email to Jordan upon returning home:

How about this: Foreground, close up, Stef and Vince’s hands (and wrists) holding each other. Over the V shape (like from the chapter “V is for Vincent”) of the interlocking hands, in the distance, you can see Constable MacKenzie in a black OPP uniform, black winter hat, black mask, approaching, possibly snow falling in the distance. That would cover everything: The mask and cop would represent the dystopian genre of fear. And the hand holding, the oppositional love genre.

The next morning, Jordan (who is a bit of a night owl and three time zones behind me) had this charcoal sketch waiting in my inbox:

On the left, he explained, is the “bad” priest from the novel (there’s a “good” one, too); on the right is a nurse—both armed with hand sanitizers.

I wasn’t too keen about the additional figures. And the squirt bottles weren’t working for me. But everything else I liked. I suggested keeping just the one cop (Constable Justin T. MacKenzie, the “villain” of the story) and the two hand-holding protagonists (Vince and Stefanie). Jordan responded with:

My only criticism here is that [such a concept] represents two against one which lessens the intimidation factor of Constable Mackenzie as he is outnumbered. Obviously that doesn’t really matter, police are armed and they have the full force and brutality of the state behind them—which makes them plenty intimidating in any number. But still, it doesn’t register to be quite as intimidating at first glance. 

We came to the compromise that he would initially render a painting with just the one cop. After scanning and saving that first rendition, he would then try adding other figures.

Next post, I’ll share with you what he sent me and the renditions that followed.

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