authorthoughts: tanita s. davis & mare’s war

If you didn’t get a chance to read the Cover Love post yesterday, you missed me gushing about the bold and iconic paperback cover for Mare’s War. Today, the lovely Tanita S. Davis weighs in about the cover’s design, and adds a few other Authorthoughts of her own.

TCG: How much anticipation did you have towards the design of your cover? Did you ever have any ideas about what you thought Mare’s War’s cover should look like? Did you provide any concept input to Erin Clarke and Kate Gartner?

TD: For Mare’s War, I was just excited to be done with the last revisions of the book – I hadn’t thought too much about the cover! When I did get around to thinking of it, I figured that there would need to be some kind of WWII focus – maybe sepia tones, some actual Library of Congress snapshots in the background with a more modern foreground – maybe road signs or a map with the title in an interesting font. (Yes, we can see that I am NOT a graphic designer.)

TCG: This is my first Authorthoughts interview for a paperback cover of a novel, so first things first — how did you react to the original hardback cover? And later, how did you feel about the paperback cover?

TD: I was able to see the concept stages with the paperback cover, but the hardback was simply presented with a “ta-dah!”

I liked the original hardback cover. I am a fan of Jody Hewgill’s illustrations (and can I just squeal that Margo Lanagan’s Tender Morsels and Sylvia Louise Engdahl’s The Far Side of Evil were also drawn by Ms. Hewgill? Seriously. Exalted. Company.) and I thought the hardback was really neat. The paperback cover blew me away – so, SO different, such an entirely new vibe! I was shocked.

TCG: I’m pretty sure the first time I heard of this novel was when I saw the cover on The Story Siren’s blog. It sat in a group of a few other YA novels, and two other covers that actually caught my eye as well (Notes from the Dog by Gary Paulsen and Ostrich Boys by Keith Gray). And while I’ve been bombarded by various Girls’ Faces on Covers here lately, there’s something particularly striking about Mare’s War, and I easily separated it from the other two covers. It’s Mare’s stance. It’s the silhouette profile. It’s the title itself. It’s the fact that I don’t recall seeing anything quite like it in the YA realm.

How does this imagery relate to Mare’s story? What’s your favorite part about the cover?

TD: This imagery is symbolism rather than fact – while Mare does indeed splurge on lipstick at one point in the novel, at no time does she put it on whilst wearing her helmet! The novel is in large part about a search for identity for Mare and her cohorts in the 6888th Postal Battalion. They want to be women – feminine and strong, as well as American women, and African American women, while at the same time serving their country – thus you get lipstick, brown skin, and a helmet.

Now, I have to say, I love the lipstick. Technically, it’s the wrong color for an African American woman of that time period. While many women in the 50’s wore the iconic Tangee lipstick, which appeared orange-ish, but changed colors by lip temperature, my grandmother, who lived during that time, wore something called Blue Flame, which was so dark red it bordered on black. But – that wouldn’t have looked nearly as arresting with a dark silhouette, would it? And you know there were some women who were darker who wore the Tangee anyway. So, I love that bright color, it just pops out of the color, and makes a statement all its own.

TCG: As an author, what do you think is the most important message that a cover should relay? Should a cover be succinct to the novel’s message? Allude to something? Or should it just catch someone’s attention, no matter what it looks like?

TD: Book covers are so tricky – I have to say I’ve read too many novels wherein the hero or heroine is described as curly-haired and brown-eyed, and the cover has a straight-haired blonde on it – which just annoys my soul. (Don’t even get me started on novels wherein the character is pudgy or supposed to have acne or something – do we ever see that? I believe not. Apparently, readers can’t handle reality?) There has to be SOME kind of relevance to the story with the cover, to my mind! But, I think symbolism and hints of the plot are okay – everyone will come away with something different from a novel, and there’s no way a cover can capture everyone’s two cents, so if it’s attention-grabbing and doesn’t actively opposed what the author stated, it could be perfectly reasonable.

TCG: What are some of your favorite YA covers — and why?

TD: There are so many – too many! I’ll offer three: First, the 2003 U.S. cover of Australian author James Moloney’s Black Taxi is just fabulous. It’s a mystery with a lot of fast-paced action and tension, and the driver with her head out of the window, the movement of the stripes in the background, as well as the silhouette cut-out of the passenger in the back of the taxi give such a feeling of mystery and mood. Its stylish digital artwork was designed by Greg Paprocki, who is just amazing.

Next, I also really love the UK paperback covers of Malcolm Rose’s mystery series Traces. They remind me of neon lights on a black background, and there are clues to the mystery offered tantalizingly on the cover. Finally, I also like the UK version of Australian author Trudi Canavan’s Black Magician trilogy. (What is it with me and Australia today?)

These are stark white covers with a single photographed individual on them, swathed in robes, simply holding a staff – but the movement of the robe gives such movement — a sort of swish! feeling – as if they’ve just turned and glowered at you threateningly through their face-obscuring hood. All that is exposed of them is their hands… which brings up questions! – Is the robed figure a girl? A boy? What’s this about? This series is part mystery, part Hero’s Journey tale – and entirely absorbing. Another excellent series with a vastly different, but just as striking set of covers.

TCG: Are there any trends in YA cover art that you’ve seen lately that you’ve noticed and loved? Or, have you noticed an evolution in YA cover design in the past few years?

TD: Well, now that we’ve gotten away from the Headless Girl trend I’m good. I’m not a huge fan of straight-on, face-front photographs of females on YA novel covers – and that – females and fancy clothes – seems to be the current trend. But, at least the females have heads, and not just torsos! We’ve definitely moved away from artistic renderings on YA jacket covers – for some reason, photography seems to be the sole YA trend, whereas illustrators are for middle grade and chapter books now. I don’t know why that is – I guess readers are trying so hard to see themselves in books that they feel good about a book with an attractive photograph of a person on it. I hope that we don’t lose illustrators, and that innovative book designers keep combining both the illustrated vibe with photographic and digital tricks – or else all books will continue to have a very strong resemblance to one another!

TCG: Anything else you’d like to share about cover design as a whole or in relation to Mare’s War?

TD: I have to laugh at how much random knowledge I now have about WWII – because of researching for the book. When Kate first bounced the cover off of Erin, who passed it to me, I immediately said, “Oops, helmet’s wrong. That’s a Pacific theater helmet, not a European theater helmet.” And then I wondered how the heck I knew that!! Random stuff in my head! I’ll be much better at Jeopardy! now.

Thank you so much for your insight, Tanita! I loved your thoughts on illustrations in cover design, the Headless Girl trend and now I’ve got new artists to stalk! Speaking of artists, be sure to stick around for tomorrow’s post, where I’ll be featuring Mare’s War’s cover designer, Kate Gartner of Random House.

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8 thoughts on “authorthoughts: tanita s. davis & mare’s war

  1. Fabulous book. The paperback cover is stunning but I really liked the hardback as well.

    “I have to say I’ve read too many novels wherein the hero or heroine is described as curly-haired and brown-eyed, and the cover has a straight-haired blonde on it – which just annoys my soul.”

    Me too! Fun to see some of Tanita’s favourite covers here.

  2. I can’t wait to read Mare’s War. Thanks for sharing Tanita’s insights. Also, I love the Trudi Canavan UK covers! I wish we had them in the US.

  3. It’s so evident that Tanita put so much THOUGHT into Mare’s War! I loved reading her mini-tangents about Tangee lipstick and different military helmets; tidbits of information like that can seem so minor, but are so revealing of an author. I like her already 🙂 Now I just need to read Mare’s War!!!

  4. Fabulous book! And very interesting interview about the covers. I liked the hardback very much, but have to say the paperback knocks me out–in a good way. Very striking!

  5. Loved the story, liked the hard cover, Love the paper cover. The deep richness of her skin with color accenting her lips, the set of her eyes, introduce who she is and where she’s from. In my unscientific poll asking three teenage girls which book would they pick up-each choose the soft cover design. Waiting impatiently for your next book!

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