Collaboration and celebration are difficult concepts for the creative soul.
Collaboration elicits nightmares of "art by committee" and compromise and collective vision. We don't often work and play well with others.
Celebration never looks exactly as we imagine it... all of our understanding and beautiful friends gathered for a party in our honor beneath soft lighting and the champagne cork popping at a poetic moment.
We disappear into offices and studios to do the work, the hard work, the lonely, solitary work. We think the time will come for the celebration, but instead, those moments are quiet. The good news comes with silent emails that drift into our inbox like afterthoughts. And champagne gives us a headache.
"We would like to publish your manuscript." That news comes with its own complications and difficulties and stress. It comes with legalese and 40-page documents on how to promote your work in a digital age. We print. Sign. Scan. Send. And then wish for it all back.
I'll have a party just as soon as I build a website, fill up my twitter and instagram feeds and write a breathless facebook post that reaches 92 people. No, Annie Proulx is not available for a blurb at this time, and now we have to go move cows. And they don't read books.
Even awards season comes with little fanfare. It is 45 miles one-way to Olive Garden, and then we have to drive home! Easier to clink glasses of Black Velvet and go back to work.
So when does an author celebrate? For me, it is when I release the cover of a new book. That is the moment when a manuscript moves from the "work in progress" board to the wall in my office called, "I am a real author now." That is when it becomes a real book.
When I received the cover art for Rightful Place I was overjoyed. Kasey McBeath with Texas Tech University Press far exceeded my expectations for design. This is truly a
beautiful cover. I watched it slowly reveal itself on my computer screen and did a happy dance in my office.
I was equally pleased with the cover for Winter of Beauty, and I have heard many people say that they picked it up because of the design. However, after I received this photo from my friend Linda Mannix, I came to a decision. I do not want my books to be lost in the herd.
When I signed a new contract with Pen-L Publishing, I explained to Duke Pennell that I did not want a stock photo on the cover of a novel ever again. I know too many great Western artists and many of them are friends. I have seen personally how the cowboy poetry and music family embraces poets, musicians, songwriters, writers, and artists of all kinds. I wanted to share that love, give back to that community. The next step was easy.
Gail and I had gotten to know Steve and Ann Atkinson and had come to love Steve's paintings. I had come to admire Steve's work ethic, his attention to detail, and his sensitivity to subject matter. I also respect the way that he and Ann are pulling together as a team, working as a couple to make their dreams come true. Since coming to Prescott, they have asked what they can do for the community, not what the community can do for them. Besides, they have cool cats and use goats for weed control on their property. And they love to laugh. My kind of folks!
The main reason I asked Steve to work with me on this project is because of his background in graphic design. I knew that he could produce a great painting and then not have to worry about it being compromised in the design process later on. So, Steve and I made a deal--cover art, design, and author photo. I flipped him the latest draft of the manuscript and dusted off my hands. All set.
And then I got cold feet. What had I done? Not only did I not have a good vision of what I wanted, but now I had roped a friend into the deal.
The first issue we had was around the schedule. It was springtime and Gail and I were horseback almost every day, most of the time camped out, unplugged. I had told Steve a few elements I had imagined for the cover... cottonwood trees, a fiddle, a little red dog named Jake who won't be with us through another winter. Steve began to ask me other questions about things I had never considered. So while I worked cows, Steve took my ideas and ramped the vision up even further. He and Ann graciously came out to the ranch to photograph the uncooperative dog and the greening cottonwoods. Ann got with Jim Dunham and Duane Steinbrink to track down an antique fiddle at Pop's Music Store. She and Steve enlisted Lee Anderson as model and somehow found a porch. I provided Gail's greasy old hats.
The first photo collage for reference put all of my fears at ease. If this was the reference, then I knew the cover was going to be spectacular.
My fears of collaboration? Gone. The key is collaborating with the right people.
My heartfelt thanks to everyone involved, but mainly to Steve Akinson for his beautiful generosity, his beautiful heart, and his beautiful work.