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Reader Mail: Dreadful Cover Stories (& More!)

Friday’s item on the novelist who rejected his book cover drew a response from another beleaguered St. Martin’s author, historical maritime mystery writer Joan Druett. On her website, she’s launching a light-hearted contest to see who can identify the greatest number of technical errors in the painting that’ll appear on the dust jacket of her next novel, Deadly Shoals, which we’ve reproduced below. (She includes relevant passages from the manuscript to give readers a hint about what to look for.)


We also received a letter from Ysabeau Wilce, who told us about Tumbling After, a novel by our mutual acquaintance, Paul Witcover. “He ended up with the exact same cover issues that James Bernard Frost is facing now,” says Wilce. “Tumbling After was a psychological thriller about a young boy’s mental breakdown… Still, due to the [science-fiction/fantasy] elements in the novel, the publisher put a pulpy SF/F cover on it, and threw it into the SF/F section where it died—because it wasn’t an SF/F novel!”

tumbling-after.jpgWhen I asked Witcover for his thoughts on the matter, he allowed that although some readers might see the book as not-SF, but noted, “To my mind it’s definitely got a strong and integral SF component—just not the kind of SF that is communicated by the cover.” That’s why he was concerned when the novel was first published: “I felt that my cover was going to repel the people who never read SF but would really get into my book,” he explained, “and it was going to make SF readers who bought my book on the basis of the cover feel, once they started reading, that they had been misled into thinking they were getting a more traditional SF novel.” He adds that his publishers initially rejected those worries, only to act as if they’d independently recognized the problem when it came time to design the trade paperback, which wound up “merely obscuring the worst sfnal aspects of the cover,” Witcover concludes—”much improving it in the process, I admit.” (Now that I’ve seen them both, I concur!)

Meanwhile, in response to last week’s item about memoirist Kody Scott being sought by the LAPD, one reader was struck by a comment from Wanda Coleman about how often criminals who turn into authors slip back into their former pursuits. Writer Frank Coffey cites the example of Frank Earl Andrews, whose literary efforts led to a career in editing, including his own imprint at paperback house Zebra Books (now a division of Kensington) in the 1970s. In one of his collections, Prose and Cons, Andrews published a story by Manson Family member Leslie Van Houten; the two were briefly engaged, and Andrews eventually landed a book contract for a collection of their correspondence. “Despite these successes, he ended up back in prison for manslaughter,” Coffey recalls. “For those of us who knew him it was a sad and, in retrospect, seemingly inevitable fall.”

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