“He was going to be hanged on Tuesday.” Okay, that’s apropos of nothing, but I’m not usually good at opening lines, and this was one of my better efforts. The gentleman about to be hanged is Andrew Kane, the gamblin’ man hero of the only Western novella I ever wrote.
That novella, “Mad, Bad, and Dangerous to Know,” has been paired with my very first Regency romance, The Diabolical Baron, in an NAL trade paperback edition called Dangerous to Know, just hitting the stores now. The fun part is that it has a totally gorgeous cover. I mean, we’re not supposed to judge a book by its cover, but what can I say? The guy on the cover of DTK is hot. Sophisticated readers choose by author, of course. Buying a book because of a cover hunk is beneath us. Or should be. <g>
I think the illustrator was the same one who did the terrific cover for Jo’s compendium, Three Heroes. (Her volume is two novels and a novella, the results of what Jo unofficially called “The Year of Three Georges.” <g>)
To be honest, I haven’t figured out if my DTK hunk is supposed to be Richard, the ex-army captain hero of The Diabolical Baron. Or Jason, the Diabolical Baron himself, and also a hero. Or Andrew Kane, the Victorian gambler who left his civilized English home to find adventure and danger in the Wild West. The hunk’s costume looks sort of Regency, but the zippered fly on his breeches isn’t exactly period.
But I’ve been in this business too long to worry too much about the details (though I remember my first editor saying plaintively that for the amount the illustrators were paid, they could jolly well afford to buy a costume book. She might not have phrased it that politely. <g>) These days, I tend to pragmatically judge a cover by the standards of “Does it look good? Will it attract attention? Did the illustrator understand human anatomy?”
That last question is the designer in me. I studied figure drawing in art school (not that I was very good at it), and I can spot when an arm is so long or so short that it qualifies as deformation. And then there’s the famous example of the three armed heroine on the cover of Castles in the Air, an early Christina Dodd book. That book was on the shelves before anyone noticed. In fairness, each of the heroine’s arms looks perfectly normal. There are just too many of them. <g> (Here’s a link to a page on Christina’s site where she gives an amusing riff on the story: http://www.christinadodd.com/castles.php
But enough about covers. As an author, I’m naturally delighted when earlier work becomes available again, though I do worry about a possible disconnect between the gorgeous, modern looking cover and the content. The Diabolical Baron was my first book, with all that implies—semi-omniscient points of view and a seriously Georgette Heyerish voice. Stylistically, it’s rather diifferent from what I write now. But the book was a Rita finalist (called the Golden Choice in those days), and won my first Golden Leaf award from the New Jersey Romance Writers, so I hope that my rather contrarian plot still works on a story level. (That’s the book with the original Signet Regency cover on the right.)
In the story, a classic Regency rake hero—tall, dark, bored, and rich, the Best Catch in the Marriage Mart, accepts that it’s time to produce an heir and picks the name of a young lady at random from a prescreened lot. (He won’t accept anyone really ugly or with mad relatives.) The contrarian part comes when the shy young lady in question has ideas of her own, and the classic Regency match doesn’t work. But it’s a romance and has happy endings, and it was quite jolly to write because I didn’t know anything. (The blue cover is a reissue, done up to look more like a historical. Signet has done very nice object covers on my reissues.)
“Mad, Bad, and Dangerous to Know” was originally in a Signet anthology called Rakes and Rogues. It had a good concept but a rather bad cover. This was during the era of The Topaz Man and it had two versions of him, but the composition was weak and Steve looked distinctly green.
I can no longer remember what my story inspiration was, but I’d read that there were a lot of English adventurers kicking around the Wild West, so one thing led to another. The story is one of my better novellas, I think.
So what do you think about covers? Does a good one get you to pick the book up for closer study? Have you ever bought a book just because you loved the cover? And if you did—did you regret the purchase? <G>
POSTSCRIPT: I wrote this late last night, and totally forgot the good part–a book giveaway! The winner of a signed copy of Dangerous to Know will be drawn from the comments to this post that go up between now and midnight Sunday Pacific Time. (If anyone wonders, I use an internet random number generator to choose.)