Friday, July 17, 2015

Can you tell a book by its cover?

I'm delighted to reveal the new cover of Jessie, my fictional biography of Jessie Benton Fremont. Jessie was a fascinating figure who played a huge role in American history--but always behind the scenes, while her father, Senator Thomas Hart Benton, and her husband, John Charles Fremont, captured the headlines. Missouri Senator Benton was a major power in the manifest destiny movement; Fremont was an adventurer and explorer who led the Bear Flag revolt in California; he was first a successful miner and then a failed one; an officer in the Union Army, he had the audacity to announce emancipation before President Lincoln did--a major gaffe in his career. The first Republican candidate for the presidency, he lost the election; the governor of the Arizona Territory, he was once again a failure. But Jessie remained loyal, having gone from a heady household of power and a beautiful ocean-front home on the Pacific to hard times during the Civil War, abject humiliation in trying to absolve her husband, and, finally, poverty. Jessie left us a legacy in writing late in her life. Hers is a story of passionate love, loyalty--and failure. She was one strong woman.
This is the fourth of the longish fictional biographies I wrote in the '90s, and it's being reprinted by ePub Works which has created the series, Real Women of the American West, for my biographies. They sent me proposed art work for the cover--some southern belles with ruffles and laces and fluttering eyelashes that I deemed totally inappropriate. Jessie was involved in serious national matters, and I assume her demeanor reflected that. We finally settled on the portrait above, with a background that I hope looks like the mining mountains of California. Watch for the digital book in mid-to-late August.
I learned a strong lesson of the importance of covers when the first of these biographies was published. It was Libbie, the story of Elizabeth Bacon Custer, culminating in her husband's death at Little Big Horn. I wasn't sure about the cover sent me by Bantam, the original publisher, but I was young and green and thrilled to have a book coming from a big New York publisher. I didn't protest. In retrospect, there are several things wrong with that cover: Libbie stands in knee-high grass (the lush prairies of Kansas) next to a barbed wire fence--barbed wire was first introduced in Texas about two years before Custer died, so there's no way Kansas was fenced. In the background is a wooden stockade on bare brown earth--Arizona, not Kansas. And there were no stockades in the West--not enough lumber. In fact, Libbie wrote about her alarm that most western forts were simply a collection of buildings with no perimeter, no fences, nothing between her and the "savages." One friend said, "She looks like Madonna in 19th century dress" and indeed photographs show a much more demure Libbie than this one. Ah, what we do for sales. Here is the current cover of Libbie, much more suited to the real Libbie.
I've learned to be critical about covers, and I'm pleased about this one for Jessie. I hope  you like it too and want to read the book.

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