A book by its cover

The Devil's Garden cover art
The Devil's Garden cover art

Go ahead, judge The Devil's Garden:

I am head over heels over this cover designed by Frauke at www.crocodesigns.com.  I already knew Carina had a knack for getting their covers right. It was actually one of the reasons I put them at the top of my list when submitting my novella, because speaking for myself, I do judge a book by its cover. When I'm browsing for something to read, the cover has to grab me or I won't even stop to see the title, let alone the copy.

I think this is even more important for ebooks than for traditionally published books. As a website design manager by day, I'm very aware of how people scan webpages and of what attracts the eye. A website can have terrific content, but if it's poorly organized, cluttered, or just badly designed, nothing past that first glimpse your visitor has will matter, and any imagery you do use has to mean something or it becomes invisible.

I'm willing to wager that The Devil's Garden will not be invisible.

But it isn't just a pretty picture. To be perfectly honest, when I saw my cover, I cried. It was so important to me that the tone be right and that Ume be portrayed as the beautiful, strong, and alluring woman of color she is. I couldn't have imagined a cover as perfect as this one.

(All right, so the eyes are violet; I considered requesting they be changed to amber to match the character, but the contrast with the orange and gold tones looks so striking that I decided to let it go. Do you think I'm making a mistake? Let me know in the comments. I would hate for it to be perceived as "whitewashing," but considering one of the photos I sent for inspiration was of Indian actress Aishwarya Rai who has grey-blue eyes, I didn't think it was.)

While writing the story, before I had visions of Bollywood beauties, the image I had in my head of Ume was that of Gwen Araujo, to whom the novella is dedicated, and that's still the face I see when I think of Ume (and Cillian). If Gwen could see the cover, I hope she'd be pleased.

It occurs to me, however, that "judging a book by its cover" is at the heart of what this story is about, and at the heart of the brutal murder that prompted me to write about this heroine. Gwen was judged—first as a beauty, a woman, an object of desire; then for what didn't show on the cover: that she was born male.

In my own way, I too am objectifying Gwen. Did her story touch me so deeply only because of what I see when I look at her picture? Do people care more about what happened to Gwen than to other victims of trans-hatred simply because she was what we deem beautiful? I hope that isn't so. But I can't deny that I judge people by what's on the outside. I can't deny that Gwen's eyes haunt me, just as the eyes on the cover of The Devil's Garden do. I can only ponder whether I'm perpetuating the very ugliness I'm trying to bring to light. But maybe in the light, the fear and hatred of that which is different—and of that which is willingly feminine—will lose their power.

So thank you, Gwen for all that you were inside and out, and for continuing to touch my heart and make me think.

And thank you, Frauke and Carina for doing such a wonderful job of bringing the hazy images in my head to life.