Archive for April, 2019

Cheshire Cat

Often seen at Oxford

It’s a trope – the author who meets one of his/her characters in real life. It never goes well, predictable conflict erupting over exactly who gets to control the story.  Of course it can’t actually happen because, you know, fictional people aren’t real.

But it did.

In the midst of finally getting a new Bo Bradley mystery released (that process being an abyss of technological snarls in which many hapless souls are lost forever) I decided getting some exercise might stave off the desire to abandon it all and flee to Idaho under an assumed name.  So I walked into an ordinary suburban shopping-center health club for a Silver Sneakers class, and there was a living, breathing character from, not the new Bo Bradley with which I was obsessed, but another one of my books I wasn’t even thinking about.  It was Jude!

A few years back in a magical realist phase I wrote The Paper Doll Museum.  It’s my idea of American magical realism, with all sorts of spooky/folkloric things going on.  Nearly all the characters in Paper Doll are vague, single-fragment aspects of real people I either knew or, more often, had merely heard about.  Except one.


Jude is the BFF of Paper Doll protag Taylor Blake.  Jude’s a type – salon-blonde, Givenchy eyes, acutely attuned to pop culture and prone to dramatic outfits.  Jude is a combo of Dolly Parton and Melina Mercouri with a touch of the wise-ass cocktail-waitress heroine of a thousand stories in which she shrewdly outsmarts the villain while singing “Did I Shave My Legs for This.”  In my entire life I’ve never actually known anybody like Jude.   I made her up.

But there she was – the dance instructor, blonde, flashing jewelry, sparkly outfits and Jude’s signature wistful pragmatism.  Exactly as I wrote her, every detail concise.

The French terms, déjà vu, déjà entendu, and déjà visite cover those situations in which you’re absolutely certain you’ve seen or heard something before, exactly as you’re seeing it hearing it now, except you’ve never seen or heard it before. Or in déjà visité you’re someplace you’ve never been in your life and you recognize every single detail of the landscape.

No one can explain these experiences, although many try.

I figured I’d try by going to lunch for an interview with Jude, whose name is Micki.  Micki


Jude/real-life Micki

has read Paper Doll and doesn’t identify with Jude at all.  Micki doesn’t even like Jude.  “The blonde ponytail,” she says.  “That’s about it.”  Micki thinks Jude is flaky.

I think I’m missing something.

Micki says she’s been teaching dance at that shopping center health club for 20 years. I’ve been going to movies, buying groceries and eating lunch there for longer than that, but until walking into it, I never even noticed the health club.  Eerily, the Midwestern-style diner of those many Reuben-and-fries lunches does get a cameo in Paper Doll.  So there’s a weak link between the book and the place, but that’s all.

Friends hypothesize that I obviously saw some blonde in a shiny dance outfit in the parking lot at some point and subconsciously latched onto the image when I was framing Jude.  But I know better, didn’t see any dancers in parking lots and remain curious.  Weird things fascinate me.  I keep looking for clues.  Why is this total stranger a character in a book I wrote?

The character Jude bounces between jobs and men like a sparkling pinball, secretly regretting the long-ago rejection of Luke, her classic romantic soulmate.  This is key to dance_shoes_woman_dancingJude’s character and becomes a subplot near the end of the tale.  And the symbolic icon for that plot thread is the parting gift Luke sent to Jude so long ago – one of those music boxes with a little figurine of a dancer!  (Except he’s replaced the dancer with a carved woodpecker, but, and this is so weak, there arguably was a dancer in this book somewhere.)

Still at lunch and grabbing for straws by this point, I intrusively ask Micki if by any chance she has a heartbreaking lost soulmate story she’d like me to share with the entire world.  “Not yet,” she says enigmatically, meaning, I assume, that despite three husbands the soulmate has yet to be lost.

It’s too nebulous and unclear, but I guess it will have to do.  Micki must be the real-life avatar for Jude’s dream that can only happen in fiction that fuels a multi-million dollar romantic publishing industry?   A nice, tidy analysis that explains nothing because the book isn’t a romance.  So despite my stretched-beyond-belief attempts to rationalize an experience only definable in French words (déjà vu) that mean “already seen,” I still don’t have the slightest idea what it is that I apparently already saw.

If you have a nice, cogent explanation for this sort of thing, and I’m sure somebody out there does, please let me know!


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Do you even have a favorite book cover? That will be one the image of which remains crisp and crosses your mind more often than, say, the name of your high school Latin teacher. Late in life you will spend months online trying to find that book with that cover, and may pawn your entire collection of Mary Kay coffee mugs in order to buy it.

Or is it the story you remember, the cover being irrelevant? (I mean, you know, covers change from edition to edition and who cares?)

I ask because, having finally completed a new Bo Bradley mystery, it’s time to repackage all six titles in the series with new covers that look like books in a series. The cover for the new one, Stork Boy, is done and waiting for the final manuscript edit. That cover is nicely evocative, I think. But now it’s necessary to do the previous five. And I’m stuck on the first one, Child of Silence.

There are several hundred online how-to articles addressing this topic, all stressing the monumental importance of the cover. It must, like Aristotle’s definition of tragedy, “arouse emotions” in potential readers while clearly identifying genre while appealing to a target audience with a typeface of which that audience is fond. The “emotions” to be aroused are Suspense, Intrigue or Lust, which right away aren’t actually emotions, but I get the idea while remaining unsure about my target audience.





I think my audience is basically people who like novels with long sentences, but what is their taste in typefaces? I don’t even know what my own taste in typefaces is; I just get a kick out of the names. Like “Skeleton Antique, Highway Gothic,” and “Bastard.” But the designer will know, won’t she? And Lust appearing nowhere in any of the Bo Bradley mysteries, do I go with Suspense or Intrigue? What’s the difference?



Child of Silence has had many covers already, none of them suggesting Suspense or Intrigue. The book is set in Southern California with a lot of desert stuff and has one secondary Native American character.


The original has that cool typeface but the artwork gets lost online and the cover copyright belongs to the publisher anyway, even though the book doesn’t.

The British editions of all the Bo Bradley mysteries use a model that just doesn’t look like Bo, at least to me.  She’s too coy and sexy or something.  The rock-artish images are okay, but what looks like a huge slice of lime is puzzling.


The French editions are all gorgeous but  focus exclusively on Native American images.  This is because the French just love all things “Indian” and Southwestern from watching old American movies on TV when they were kids.  But this cover features a Navaho and the book’s Native American character is Paiute.


Two German editions, the first with sort of rock-arty figures, the second with a cat. Bo has a fox terrier named Mildred. There is no cat anywhere in the book.

A Danish edition – snow-capped mountains somewhere colored pinkish-orange to look like a desert? I fail to see Suspense or Intrigue in any of these, although most might make me sufficiently curious to read the flap copy. But then almost anything will arouse my curiosity, so really, does the cover even matter as long as it’s interesting? Do you remember the cover of any book you’ve ever read?

The only book cover I will never forget!

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