Thrills & Chills: The Alchemy of Rocket Sauce and Magic Sprinkles

Easter Eggs As Such, author image

This post contains an Easter Egg, as such tidbits of advance information, ostensibly titillating, are referred to in movie trailers, these days. Or a tickler. Call it what you will, I’m not kidding, this is special because, well, I’ll just say it: herein you’ll find a very early, preliminary, advance draft of the TC2 cover. Normally I wouldn’t see anything from R.V. for another week or so and then we’d work over some tweaks but, well, shit happens. I’m not including it on the website proper, it is for your eyes only, dear readers.

Meanwhile, a funny thing, the book cover experience. I suppose some folks don’t find it anything but boring. But you read and write your way through life, all down through the years as it were, and how many book covers do you get to experience for the first time? Let alone how many demos or drafts of book covers. It goes without saying, not many. Likewise, that the book cover is not the writing. And the writing is not the story. Yet, somehow it has to all work together and on a good day, something new and worth experiencing happens. And then the dynamic changes, time passes, and things aren’t new anymore and that’s another thing entirely, not necessarily bad. And some people don’t want to know until it’s done and that’s okay, too. We don’t all get a charge out of the incomplete and the early iteration, I get it.

Otherwise, as I’ve oftentimes lamented, writing and rewriting and editing is the life of the long game, of endurance and functioning off and on within a parallel or alternative world that mostly seems determined to undermine itself in favor of daily life. A mind-blowing wooden sculpture cranked out by three mind-melded art-crafters in ten days and then they go on to the next one? Gosh.

Or Crafsman, devoting a show to riffing on his favorite G.I. Joe figure, maybe spending a couple weeks on it and it works, he communicates the zeal and the personal mythology and it’s all good and essential – we need these things, I love this stuff, so be it.

But writing? Crafting words into a manuscript into a novel, the adventure of it, as I heard a cookbook author once describe it, more like an illness than anything. It’s a retreat from real life that you seek to someday recover from. It sounds negative but resolving yourself to working within the idea of bliss-as-fulfillment (rather than pleasure or happiness), of being properly alive within the practice that sustains but seemingly (this is the experience) on such meager fair is perhaps what makes for the difference between those with writerly minds, writers who get the words down and authors. The author embraces the absurd, mostly ridiculous pretension that their words ought to be published. And on a good day, somehow read by a reader they don’t know. By the time you’re an author whatever glamor you may have imagined experiencing about being such has fled somewhere long ago during your encounter with your first lousy sentence and hackneyed plot thread.

Then comes the book cover. Namely, the lunatic idea of rendering 100,000 words or so into a single image. That has anything compelling to do with the story. I say “lunatic” yet as with all things, there is a job for everybody and I wouldn’t trade my book designer for all the tea in China. Or India. Or Japan. I get my tea, by the way, from a great place in Kyoto:

There are so many book covers. So many interpretations of what was written let alone how to communicate it. How many book covers grab you? How many manage to escape an idiosyncratic niche market and grab lots of people, even people beyond fans of the genre? Or even people who don’t normally read books?

It’s all so weird. And for me, incredibly important. Perhaps ridiculously. But there it is: one’s personal mythology in action. What we care deeply about is who we are, so be it. We indeed judge books by their covers despite how accurate and legitimate and wise the metaphor is in relation to life. In life, we ought not to judge by appearances, especially when there may be so much we don’t know about what is behind or further within appearances. Appearances can be misleading. This is the lesson. The story is what matters. The story stands the test of time or it doesn’t. The book cover at worst is a mere advertisement – it is Joycean pornographic art at its most, well, pornographic because it’s designed to get us to do something: namely, like it or be compelled enough by it to buy the book. Or at least read the book.

How does this work? I don’t know. I just know it when I see it. So that I dump a wheelbarrow full of ideation, let’s call it, upon my book designer – all the 100,000 words of content and all my dreams and visions – the affecting imagery I’ve been functioning off of all these days, weeks, months and years and now I need you to render all that intangible tangible-ness with rocket sauce and magic sprinkles. Yes, take my writing and render it into a single image that communicates… what?

The mythology. That’s the only word for it. As usual.


The latest issue of Locus arrived and I was impressed with the covers for a trilogy of books advertised full-page on the back of the magazine. Specifically, their unified nature, snappy graphics, typography and compellingly sci-fi intellectual remove that combined into a snazzy, martini-style professionalism distinguished by the color palette and each book’s subtitle.

Hmm, subtitles. I sent the image to R.V., assuring her that I understood that Time Crime, if we’re in the barroom, rather has to do with high balls – strong spirits combined with carbonated mixers, that type of thing. And that my concern was rather to do with subtitles, whether she thought they were worthy or worthless. Also, how to handle the nomenclature of the series – ought we to use Arabic or roman numerals – “Book 2,” vs. “Book II,” for example, or text: “Book Two.”

She responded in favor of subtitles and “Book 2” and, surprisingly, her first draft, as it were, of the cover. WHAT…? Thrills & chills, that’s what!

TC2 Book Cover, Early Draft, by Robin Vuchnich

This is a riff, a place to begin and a way forward. But I’d say it’s more than that. I had supplied R.V. with a lot of imagery, including (as the devoted reader will recall) my own very humble mock-up, the thumbnail synopsis and let her run with it. And she gets this right, transforming my notions, inevitably hinged not only to the manuscript but to my existing images of gripping horror, the thrill of the chase and claustrophobic entanglement into something appropriately other, in this case, seduction, which I consider perhaps a more exotic expression, nay, syncretization of all the aforementioned psychological and mythological conditions, you might say. There is a magic, too, within the alluring, dreamy hand that both cups the chin, evoking contemplation and its other aspect of not quite cradling the ball, as if everything is happening and then not quite, either. It’s a deft combination of intelligence and intuition. Conscious vs. unconscious. Future is the past. Mythology as true fiction. The wonderment of horror. The seduction of mystery and paradox. I obsess on images, but images are all that matters.

Yes, it’s more than a riff. I was prepared for a riff. And then the hard work of rendering the vision of us both, of coming to a compromise. I had a boss that liked to regard compromise, for better or worse, as the thing that happens when everybody agrees to not be happy. Alternatively, a shared vision can sometimes behave as if it isn’t; that is, it can transcend compromise and, to borrow from something Campbell wrote somewhere (I’m paraphrasing), effectively place its fingers upon the toes of the god. In more down to earth terms, I think it was Jack Black who called it “rocket sauce.” HWG calls it “magic sprinkles.” Whatever you call it, it has to be there. The lightning strike. Or just call it having good bones. Within the context of an early draft, I think, the gods be praised, we have it here.

And it helps me with the manuscript. How so? Well, as I’ve tried to communicate, with the second book in the series, things are different. That is, I know too much about the process; too much in the sense that where everything about TC1 was new and a discovery on my part, hence every step forward seemed a certain kind of victory, an overcoming of a trial whereas now I more or less understand the process of getting a first draft into publishable shape and then how to package and market it. It all transforms itself rather into expectation. It’s a different adventure.

I say “more or less” regarding my understanding of the process because of course, inevitably, much of it remains a mystery and has to, otherwise it wouldn’t be any fun, let alone worth doing. In this way, with so much editing still to be done, and different frustrations to endure, likewise different thrills – thrills and chills! – I have to exploit everything about what works so as to keep going. And as I always try to remind myself: if it feels like progress, it is. I guess I’m trying to express a wariness, a fear getting ahead of myself. But now, with the cover off to a flying start, I feel glad for it and energized by it. Hell, I need all the motivation I can get and then some if I’m going to make this happen. It strikes me that, in fact, that having the book cover in hand helps me to transform wariness and fear – feel of failure – into confidence and resolve. Also, expectation, previously a poison the only antidote for which was dogged determination and a fear of the grave, so to say, becomes anticipation and the energy of affirmation.