Today, I am so excited to be hosting a guest blog from Cat Winters, author of the newly-released In the Shadow of Blackbirds — and eerie paranormal historical YA novel featuring actual archival photos from the early 20th century. Today, Cat is talking about the cover for her book. Thanks, Cat, for stopping by!
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Judging IN THE SHADOW OF BLACKBIRDS by Its Cover
by Cat Winters
My blue irises stared back at me in a defiant gaze. I had been so skeptical about genuine spirits showing up in the developed photo and had done my best to look marvelously stubborn. A pair of silver-painted aviatrix goggles hung around my neck, even though Julius and Aunt Eva had wanted them off me…
—IN THE SHADOW OF BLACKBIRDS, Chapter Two
I’m always entertained to hear people’s reactions to the IN THE SHADOW OF BLACKBIRDS cover. “Creepy” is the word that’s most often used to describe the image of a teen girl posing for a 1918-style spirit photograph. Some people experience physical reactions to the cover, such as chills. Others can’t look at it for too long. Some people don’t even see the phantom-like figure lurking behind the girl right away, and when they do, they give a shiver.
I was surprised and thrilled beyond words when I learned that Maria T. Middletom, Associate Art Director of Abrams Books, and photographer Symon Chow would be producing a photograph that’s described in my novel. In fact, when I first saw a picture from the photo shoot, only incoherent shrieks of joy left my mouth, and my husband and kids worried there was something horribly wrong with me.
Not every cover designer reads a book before designing the cover, and in many cases stock images are randomly slapped onto the fronts of books (I’ve heard some cover design horror stories from other authors). However, in the case of the IN THE SHADOW OF BLACKBIRDS cover, not only did the designer read the novel from start to finish, but she picked a scene I was personally hoping would appear on the front of the book. Plus she hired a cover model who actually looks like my protagonist, down to the blue eyes and youthful teenage face (the model was 15 at the time of the shoot, not an adult pretending to be a teen).
I love the cover, and I adore the fact that it’s sparked a great deal of interest in this book.
The downside of all book covers, even the best ones, is that they don’t always tell the full story. Some early reviewers have said they delayed in reading my novel because they thought it was just going to be about a spooky old photography trend of posing with “ghosts”—or that it would be just another teen paranormal romance. What you don’t see on the IN THE SHADOW OF BLACKBIRDS cover are indications of the 1918 Spanish influenza, a real-life, apocalypse-style pandemic that killed millions of victims around the globe, causing people to hide their faces behind gauze masks in an attempt to stay healthy. It’s an enormous piece of my novel’s story, and it directly leads to the quest for proof of the existence of spirits…like the spirit photography craze. You also don’t see the horrors of WWI, the sense of paranoia and discrimination gripping 1918 America, or the innocent love story at the heart of the novel.
Should you judge IN THE SHADOW OF BLACKBIRDS by its cover, even if it doesn’t tell the full story? If the image on the front piques your curiosity and tempts you into learning more, I’d say a resounding yes. You will indeed find scenes related to the cover inside the book, and the search for life after death is the driving force of the story. Any cover that causes people to want to know more about what’s going on inside a book is doing its job.
If you think this is simply a book about creepy old photographs, I’d urge you to crack open the spine and see what other surprises await. This is not a typical ghost story.
Everyone involved with the creation of IN THE SHADOW OF BLACKBIRDS—my designer, the photographer, my editor, the copy editors, proofreaders, and printers—paid careful, loving attention to this book. A great deal of thought, time, and creativity went into every detail. As a debut novelist taking her first big steps into the world of publication, I’m extraordinarily grateful.
About Cat Winters:
Cat Winters was born and raised in Southern California, near Disneyland, which may explain her love of haunted mansions, bygone eras, and fantasylands. She received degrees in drama and English from the University of California, Irvine, and formerly worked in publishing.
Her debut novel, In the Shadow of Blackbirds—a YA ghost tale set during the World War I era—is now available from Amulet Books/ABRAMS. She currently lives outside of Portland, Oregon.
Cat’s online haunts:
Catch Cat’s official launch party for In the Shadow of Blackbirds at Powell’s at Cedar Hills Crossing in Beaverton, Oregon on Saturday, April 6th at 4:00pm. I’ll be there!
About In the Shadow of Blackbirds:
In 1918, the world seems on the verge of apocalypse. Americans roam the streets in gauze masks to ward off the deadly Spanish influenza, and the government ships young men to the front lines of a brutal war, creating an atmosphere of fear and confusion. Sixteen-year-old Mary Shelley Black watches as desperate mourners flock to séances and spirit photographers for comfort, but she herself has never believed in ghosts. During her bleakest moment, however, she’s forced to rethink her entire way of looking at life and death, for her first love—a boy who died in battle—returns in spirit form. But what does he want from her?
Featuring haunting archival early-twentieth-century photographs, this is a tense, romantic story set in a past that is eerily like our own time.