The cover for the Reedsmith of Zendar proved a little more challenging. Like Revenge, the title had changed. For years the novel languished in a drawer. (everyone says that). It was actually on a shelf, but that is unimportant. It was callled, Tempered by Fear, a title I always liked, but as I reworked the story, it became clear that it was Andar’s story and that this common reedsmith should be on the cover. More than that, the cover should reflect details from the novel and be a significant event that readers could identify. Therefore it had to be him, in his smith shop, creating.
The cover had to be dark, moody, dramatic, to reflect the moment. It had to be any man. It had to allow the reader to complete the visual with his or her own facial details, hence the shadowed face.
Knowing next to nothing about photography and lighting effects, I started in the basement, with one light clamped on a board, suspended from a stepping ladder. I set the timer on my $89.00 camera and started running back and forth adjusting where I had to stand and changing light bulb color and sizes. This proved unworkable (duh!) as you can see from the first effort. I needed a model. Right. You think I’m going to find someone who is going to strip down and spend hours standing there while I try to figure this out? Not likely- I live in Binbrook – not LA .
Okay, we need a mannequin. Ah, my brother just happened to have one. (Don’t ask why) Only trouble was it was a girl. No problem. We’ll just try to ignore the breasts. It was also only half a mannequin. We’ll put it on a stool. Last but not least, it had been used for Halloween; you know, kind of like the Walking Dead. So, to the dollar store and buy some flesh tone paint. (didn’t go looking for it – just happened to be there and, ta da, I saw it.) Two coats of paint, a wig to stop the light from bouncing off her head, and we had a flesh colored torso that would do exactly what I told her. I could now concentrate on lighting and photography, so I moved to the garage where the logs of the garage would be the wall of the smith shop.
I had always envisioned Andar lit up from the glowing reed coals the hearth, so now I needed a hearth. Two sono tubes later, cut up, painted with spray paint, screwed and roped togeather, and we had a hearth. I had a section of 8 x 8 pine left over from building the log house thirty years ago (I keep everything) which I used as the striking plate. A 40 watt flood light inside and we were set. I don’t know how I got yellow and red out of one red bulb but I thought the effect turned out fantastic! I A pale overhead light – taped to a stick – clamped to a step ladder lit up the mannequin too much (see above) so I had to experiment with making filters to subdue the light. I wanted Andar’s face to be in shadows, for dramatic effect, but also to let each reader create their own version of his appearance.
Reeds in the background, again supplied by my brother (he saves far more stuff than I do) were a dozen broom handles, mottled with spray paint. More subtle light had to be added just behind the hearth to light these up yet not enough to affect the rest of the shot. It turned out to be one of the most difficult lighting aspects – to get it just right.
If you buy or win a print copy of Reedsmith, hanging reed torches – like the one on the back cover, were made from cutting narrow strips of a log, creating a hanging framework and experimenting with various size chunks of those prefab, burning logs that you can use in the fireplace. Unfortunately, by this time I was getting close to the right combination of lighting and when I tried using the torches they were just too bright, no matter how small a chunk I used. But I think one of them did work out really nicely on the back cover.
Andar needed a hammer which was made with a piece of dowel and a left over 4 x 4. He had to be fashioning a sword blade out of one of the reeds. I used a piece of 1 x 2 and my hand planer did the trick. There was a knot hole in the blade and some nail holes in the handle, but careful positioning and they were invisible. Ah, Hollywood trickery. Some paint and voila! In the story, as the sword begins to gradually change color at the tip, it begins to vibrate. Luckily (accidentally) it showed as such in the cover shot.
Andar needed some gauntlets, a pendant, a smith’s apron and a wound. The gauntlets I had made years ago for a school play, my wife volunteered the pendant, and the wound was a little makeup. Unfortunately, the lighting became the most important element and so the details of the hearth (coloring), the wound and the smith’s apron really don’t show. The pendant is visible if you know what to look for, which hopefully will be the case after having read the novel.
We borrowed my daughter-in-law’s camera and I bought a tripod. We waited until dark so that the only lighting was mine and my patient wife tried to coach the shots. Now I know why photographers take a zillion pictures – hoping for that one great shot. I guess it also depends on what you are working with. After looking at each as she took them, she finally said, and I quote, “Well, honey, I think that’s about as good as you are going to get.”
I worked with a cover designer, Tatiana Villa, who was an absolute gem. I am sure she could have bailed, given my desire to create a great cover with what I had to work with, but she kept listening and adjusting until we had what I felt was the best. She cropped and shaded, enriched the colors to the sword which didn’t show very well int he dark lighting and came up with the great font. I love how she used the torch on the back and blended the front and back cover together. And there you have it.
If you haven’t guessed, I really enjoyed the whole experience. It was a challenge, a new learning experience and just a lot of laughs and fun. It has certainly personalized the book for me – for better or worse!