By V. Jolene Miller
I grew up in the ‘80s. I remember the Atari game, chasing lightning bugs, TV dinners, getting up to change the channel, reading the Trixie Belden series (any other Trixie fans out there?), and the book covers I made out of brown paper sacks for my junior high textbooks.
Did you ever make those? Anyone who made their own book covers knew it was imperative to also have a 6-in-1 retractable ballpoint pen for drawing and doodling on the cover. Those were the days. You could literally Algebra or Earth Science behind your decorated brown paper book cover. Whether they’re used to protect the book, disguise the book, are used as a bookmark, or as a way to disguise the content of what you’re reading, book covers are masks.
They even act as a mask for the author. Wait. What?
Ever stop and think about what lives behind the cover of a book? Beyond the cover image, the title, and the categorization of the book (novel, memoir, travelogue, etc.). What exactly is between the covers? What butts up against the inner side of the spine that faces outward on the bookshelf for all the world to see? And, I don’t just mean the letters that form words and sentences and paragraphs.
As a reader who is also a writer, I find myself thinking about the people behind the cover. Not only the characters, who are amazing in their own right, but the authors too.
We all have ideas about what the writer’s life looks like. Even I imagine a picturesque scene of an author behind her desk with the perfect beverage in the perfect mug as she types feverishly away at the perfect, bestselling novel before heading down to the bank to cash her perfect (and hefty) royalty checks. Surely, I’m the only writer with imposter syndrome. I’m the only writer who can’t think of basic words, or the one who paints her characters into a corner so tight she can’t help them find their way out so the story just stops dead in its tracks as every other writer is effortlessly producing stories…Say it isn’t so!
The truth is, some of those books you read are written by authors whose real lives are hidden behind the gorgeous covers of their books.
Glenda Thompson, author of Broken Toys, used to be an emergency medical technician.
Imagine the traumatic scenes she’s experienced. Tara Wine-Queen, author of Tenderness and Troubling Times, wrote “The Baby Losers Club” after experiencing a near miscarriage.
Tami Lund, author of Into the Light, book 1 of The Lightbearer series, lost her son to suicide almost five years ago.
Michele Mathews, author of Be Strong and Pinky Swear, was estranged from her daughter and is working toward rebuilding their relationship.
They say that for a writer to do their job well she has to do two things. First, a good writer has to chase their characters up trees and then throw rocks at them. This is at the heart of a solid book. You create a character, give the character a goal, and then spend 300 pages creating obstacles for the character to run through in order to achieve said goal. Second, a good writer has to weave a tale so great that she causes her readers to emote. And, if we’re not moved when we write the story, we can guarantee you won’t be moved when you read it.
Yet, how does a writer delve into a storyline when she’s experiencing hardship or pain?
Glenda Thompson faces the gritty, raw episodes of our broken world. She writes about pain in a way that lets readers believe there’s hope and good in the world to balance the bad. Be careful where you step when reading her book, there are rattlesnakes everywhere.
Tara Wine-Queen and Michele Mathews explore more common life events in such a manner that anyone can pick up their books and relate to the characters. Tissues might be necessary.
Tami Lund writes contemporary and paranormal romance. Based on the covers, love and lust are in the air.
It’s similar to the way readers escape life with a saucy story, a clever character, or a romantic comedy. Writers pick up their pens, outline the draft and get to know the setting. They dream up characters so real, it’s as if they’re close friends.
Behind the cover is where we go, readers and writers alike, to get away from it all or to see it from another point of view.
Reading on the Run
About the Columnist
I live in remote Alaska where I work 40+ hours a week at my day job, write novels, and own a pop-up book shop. In my spare time, I chase after grandbabies and go running with my giant puppy, Omar. Always, I carry a book in my purse. I never know when I’ll get a few minutes to indulge in a good read. Fifteen minutes before dawn, at lunch, bundled up in my car by the river, or right before falling into bed. Reading is my resting place. Binge reading on the run because everything else can wait.
[cm_page_title title=”Continue Reading” subtitle=” Shelf Unbound”]
Article originally Published in the April / May 2021 Issue: Cover Stories.