Monday, November 30, 2009

Book Covers

So here is my long anticipated book cover. I hope you like it. I must say I do like it, despite my having some thematic arguments against the Taj Mahal style windows. I think in the end, the image is quite lovely. For a long while, it had a different font, multicolored block print; and a Bollywood looking woman where the sari now is. I took HUGE issue with the Bollywood woman, and large, if not huge, issue with the mulitcolor pastel font. And Thomas Dunne did change it and I am grateful. I quite like the fonts and colors for the title and my name now. Especially my name. AND I like the lower case letters. I think they look more magical and interesting. This was the original cover:

Note the Bollywood girl, her silly, red costume jewelry, her simpering expression and her purple eyeshadow. She begged the shopper to ask, "I wonder which of these five daughters is the stupid one..."

Of late, all my angst over this subject has really made me consider what makes a compelling book cover. There are absolutely some covers that beg you to pick up the book and read it. Frankly, I don't think this one does that at all, though it is beautiful. I can't say that I would not pick up this book based on its cover, but I do think that my novel is full of mysteries and images that begged to be depicted, which weren't depicted. But that is the question: is it better to make a cover that depicts images described within, or is the magic something entirely different?

I wonder what it is that makes the perfect book cover...

Like this one for Zadie Smith's White Teeth: It is not a particularly interesting cover, though it is among my favorite books. It's another one with so many themes within that would have been great to see on the cover, but none of them is there. And I really don't remember how I came across this book. Perhaps it was just recommended to me, or perhaps it was the jacket flap description, because it couldn't have been the cover. Which in the end makes the point of not judging the book by its cover. But then...there are many books I absolutely did buy because of the cover. But I can't remember a single one. Right now, I am sitting here thinking of my all time favorite books: Gilead by Marilynne Robinson, A Confederacy of Dunces by John Kennedy Toole, The Road by Cormac McCarthy, A Prayer for Owen Meany (which has an armadillo on the cover, which totally makes sense, but is absolutely the opposite of a compelling image) by John Irving...even if I think back to my younger days (John Irving does belong to my younger days) when I would be much more likely to judge a book by its cover, I don't know which of those books I loved I bought for their covers. Isabel Allende's earlier works, Amy Tan's earlier work, Kingsolver's Poisonwood Bible. None of their covers make me gasp.

Okay, I just went in to find a picture of The Confederacy of Dunces to illustrate my point, but the covers are WONDERFUL. There are tons, and I have no idea where my copy is so I can't tell you that I didn't buy it because of its cover. I really don't remember. But here is a great cover for a great book: This book was published in 1980, 11 years after the author committed suicide, and it won the Pulitzer Prize and has been through many printings. I know I read it in high school. I imagine that back then, it would have been the cover and what was written on the back of the book that moved me.

I have noticed as I have gotten older a distinct shift in my reading from popular to more exclusively literary fiction, so one might think then that the cover would matter less. Readers of exclusively literary fiction tend to be more compelled by the jackets descriptions and the reviews, by the awards etc. Like I always buy the Booker Prize winning books and always the Pulitzers, and rarely are those marked by the complete fabulousness of their covers (except this Confederacy of Dunces maybe?--though mine was probably from the library cast off sale) but there is something magical about that glowing golden medal there on the cover. A Newberry, a National Book Award...check it out:

I don't know how people resist. So that is the next goal. To get a book cover, inspired or not, that sports one of those beautiful golden medals, and to let that medal be inspiration enough for someone to pick up the book and read it.

If you have any favorite book covers, let me know and I will post them here. I'd love your opinions on what makes a great cover.

Peace, and as always, Send the muse!!


Saturday, November 28, 2009

Blog of Lies

There's a guy named James Gurney who writes a great blog. I found it the other day in my search for great blogs to model mine after. There is no chance I can make one like his because he is an artist. He is the author/illustrator of the Dinotopia series of children's books, and he is an artist. And I think James Gurney writes a wonderful blog because he sees like an artist, so he understands instinctively what is too much and what is too little. And he fills his pages with stops and starts, places to land your eyes and rest for a while. It's a talent.

In general, I find blogs tedious, mine included. I really don't care to know everyone's every little thought, and neither do I care to share every little thought in a medium like this. I'd rather talk you to death than write you to death.

Also, being that this is such a public forum (google me and there it is) I can't just share everything, like about the certain someone in my family who has this personality that makes you want to take a 2x4 to his head every time he simpers how he doesn't want to eat too much and then loads his plate like the Himalayas, complaining all the while about how he is eating too much. Or the other dramas that are more poignant than ludicrous. How do you share those things in a forum where everyone can see everything.

And if not that, then it has to be something that can not hurt anyone. Or I could just tell you a story. Story after story after story. Perhaps you wouldn't be able to tell what is real and what was just a story.

I have been considering that. A blog of lies. A fictional blog. One that is disguised as the truth. And sometimes I would just tell the truth. And the reader would have no way of knowing one from the other. This idea holds promise. It is, perhaps, the very best foil for a novelist who has a real life that is just like anyone else's: full of the mundane rhythms of reality, and also its blood and guts and its great, shimmering glories. But I am a woman who doesn't want perfect strangers to know what she ate for dinner, because it is rarely glamorous and rarely thoughtfully prepared, and not at all worth mentioning.

But what if instead I apologized...told you that I was sorry for being away from the blog so long, but I had just been released from the hospital where I had been admitted for food poisoning. One might think it was just from my own negligence, that I poisoned myself with this habit of thoughtless preparation, with my failure to believe that the contents of the tupperware in the fridge was suspect. That indeed it had been in there for weeks and weeks, that in fact no one remembered when it had been prepared, but that I insisted it looked and smelled like perfectly good spaghetti sauce. Considering how little I like to think about food, one might think that I got food poisoning because of budget shopping, buying meat that was "a bit off."

But it wasn't that.

I got food poisoning because of a houseguest. It was my hospitality that nearly killed me. The Obamas recently held their first State Dinner, as you will recall, hosting the Indian Prime Minister and his wife. Well, my stay in the hospital was not due to iffy food preparation and handling, but rather because I am not skeptical enough by nature, and when DH suggested to me that I should think twice about inviting Kannan Chattarji and his entourage to the house for dinner in the days following the State affair, because of Chattarji's heavy dealings in the Indian Mafia, I should have taken him seriously. He is a shrewd and wary man, DH is, and I am a rather gullible and Pollyanna sort.

How could I have known that there would be a plot to kill him that would unfold at my own dinner table? How could I have known that when the madness played out, I would find myself eating from the wrong plate, falling apoplectic to the floor, and spending days near death in Reston Hospital?

In the end, I survived to tell the tale, but so did Chattarji, and so did whomever it was who tried to kill him. DH believes that it has something to do with the Real Housewives bound State Dinner crashers, Michaele and Tareq Salahi, but I do not. I prefer to think it was a plan wrought from internal conflict in the Chattarji hierarcy. One of his own, a climber caught up in a crime of ambition.

These things do happen, and they happen to regular people, just like you and me. When we let down our guard, the forces of evil enter and wreak havoc on our calm and peaceful lives. These moments are the grains that sow into stories. That time that something happened, and it seemed that it was not important, but in the end we discovered it was.

Maybe I won't have to lie to share those with you. Or maybe I will. Either way, if I do it well enough, you will never know.

Peace and, as always, send the muse!


Friday, November 20, 2009

Return to the Blogosphere

I am back. I went on a blog-hiatus of sorts, to begin my new novel in earnest; to attend my very first writer's residency; and, really, as it relates to the blog itself, I suppose I took a hiatus to think about what I wanted to share in this space.

I am not exactly sure I have come to definitive conclusions...

But I am back anyway.

I do have interesting things to report. In no particular order:

1. We have finally come to accord on the cover of my book! They went with a sort of Taj Mahal Window kind of theme, sort of stonework and Mogul windows, with things inside like: my title AS IT WAS WRITTEN; my name SUJATHA HAMPTON; a novel; and then a couple of images which I will leave till later to tell you about. We argued over these. Well, we argued over a lot of things cover related. I had very different ideas, but in the end, it's very pretty. The thing with the windows is a little funny, because the book is about Malayalees and the windows are totally Taj Mahal, which is...a different kind of Indian. But I think that Americans tend to see Indians as one way, with one kind of window, and with Bollywood looking women inside. But Malayalees have square windows and different looking women. But they know about selling books and I know about Malayalees, and in this particular case, knowing about selling books is more to the point. Like I said, in the end, it's a pretty cover and the Bollywood girl, peeking foolishly from her Mogul window with her purple sparkly eye shadow and her simpering expression, is gone. But to quote my dad, "Why did they put those windows? Didn't they read the book? It's about Malayalees." Still, it is pretty and I hope you like it. Many thanks to Karyn Marcus who fearlessly put her neck under the guillotine to make me happy.

2. I went to a writer's residency where I holed up in a little room in the Catskills and worked on my novel for three weeks. It was intensely gratifying. No interruptions, no distractions, nothing. I have never done anything like that before and all I wished was that I was in the middle or the end of my book, because if I had been, I would have finished. I was rather at a research stage and I spent a lot of time reading and thinking, which is important, yes, but...pages down makes you satisfied in a more...meaty way. I thought of a new title, I like it more, but I can't share it yet. Bad luck.

3. I donated a character in my novel to Capital Hospice where it went at live auction for $1900! I was thrilled. I know, its an odd concept to wrap your head around, but they approached me with this neat idea: would I be willing to donate a character such that someone could bid for the right to be in my new book. Basically, someone bids, and I name a character after the winner, and the money goes to support Hospice in the DC area. I thought about it and decided that, a. it's good karma, and b. even narratively, this is a good novel for it, because the story crosses international and generational lines. There is a war and I am writing about the most multinational/multiethnic/multilingual theater since perhaps the days of Ancient Rome, and so I figured even if...Ping Chou Lin bid and won, I could make it work without a problem. As it happened it is a lady named Judy Rhodes. We will see what I do with her. I did reserve the right to kill her if I needed to, and to basically do with her as I pleased. She is very nice though, so I might want to keep her around.

4. I have enlisted the help of a movie making friend of mine, Dennis Hare, who enlisted the help of his friend Pamela Schott, to create a book trailer for AS IT WAS WRITTEN. More on that later, but it is a very interesting prospect and I look forward to seeing what Dennis puts together.

5. My cousin-in-law, Alice offered to develop a website for me. She is an immensely talented Mistress of Many Trades, and she came to me a few months ago offering much assistance with marketing ideas and strategies. I know nothing about these things and I am so grateful to her for her help. She is planning on using my book jacket as a backdrop and working everything out on there. It is exciting to consider building a website, because frankly it is hard to believe that I actually have need of one. Once it's built, it will be But its not there yet, so stay tuned.

So, I have reentered the blogosphere and hopefully I can keep you entertained with cool things happening as I gear up for the February release of my novel, AS IT WAS WRITTEN, and as I go through the agonizing and exhilirating process of writing a new novel, yet unmamed, which will feature the lovely Judy Rhodes who is so delightful a lady as to make herself hard to kill.

As always,

Send the muse!