Today I am so pleased to welcome Jay Bell to Joyfully Jay. Jay has come to talk to us about the re-release of Kamikaze Boys. He has also brought along a great giveaway. Please join me in giving him a big welcome!
Judge This Book by its Cover
“Never judge a book by its cover” is useless advice. It’s up there with telling someone not to snack before bed. We know what’s right, but goddamn it, we’re human and we’re going to do so anyway. We all judge books by their covers. We might be willing to look past them for an author we love or if the reviews are strong enough, but for the most part, we glance at the art for a few fleeting seconds before casting instant judgement. Image then if you were an author who didn’t like one of your own covers. And your husband was the man who created it.
That’s him on the left, and before you decide I’m a complete bastard for criticizing someone so adorable, please know that I expend a lot of breath praising my husband’s art. I love the big lug and all the amazing things his hands can do, art included. You could even say that I owe my entire career to him. He’s the one who came up with the cover for Something Like Summer, which was eye-catching enough to encourage people to take a chance on an unknown author. In a way, that book is to blame for the ugly cover that would soon follow, because for the first time ever, I actually had an audience! I was writing from the heart, sharing stories of gay love that reflected my own experiences, and by some miracle people wanted more. Happy to comply, I wrote Kamikaze Boys, all while very aware of the subtle but well-meaning pressure from my readers. That’s when I made my first mistake.
I set the publication date without giving my poor husband, Andreas, much time to come up with a cover. He has a demanding career of his own. I’m not cruel enough to make him work evenings. I think he only had a weekend to complete it, two at the most, and to make things worse, he had just switched over to a new drawing technology. For my earlier covers he would sketch on paper, scan that into the computer, and then complete the art using a mouse. That boggles the mind now. These days it’s possible to draw directly on a screen, or at the very least, a tablet connected to the computer. Andreas had just gotten his first such tablet and was still getting a feel for it. He managed to complete the cover anyway and we delivered the files to the press with minutes to spare. The end result?
It’s not the worst thing in the world. I love all the pink. The gayest of colors! Why don’t people use that more, especially in this genre? The art itself has an interesting texture but uh… The guy on the right? That’s Connor. He’s supposed to be beefy and more than a little intimidating in appearance. Instead he has a pencil-neck and straw for hair. The guy on the left, David, is the sensitive type. I do get that impression, so good job there, honey. I like how they both have a hand on the bat, connecting them, because this is a story of two guys versus the world, and they’ll do whatever it takes to defend their love. I even think the wacky title is cool, how it overlaps in some areas and causes transparencies in others. Weird but interesting. The rolling highways are my favorite part. I still love the back cover, maybe because that’s my husband’s personal style. I can still remember him drawing it in the passenger seat next to me as we cruised the backroads of Kansas, years before I would write this book.
So the cover wasn’t ideal, but it wasn’t a disaster either. People still bought the story and said nice things. The book even won a Lambda Literary Award, which helped me put my misgivings out of mind. Although part of me always wanted to go back and give Andreas another crack at it, without any time constraints. That opportunity came seven years later. I wanted to produce an audiobook version of Kamikaze Boys, and when I looked beyond the cover to the interior… well, I found plenty to criticize about my own art. I had learned a lot since then and was embarrassed with what I saw. My man felt the same about his contribution, so we decided to polish things up. I re-wrote the book. Not from scratch, but there are very few sentences that haven’t been touched somehow. It was satisfying to dive back in and finally realize my original vision with the added benefit of experience. I threw in some extra content too. A few rounds of editing later and the interior was new and improved. That only left the cover.
I always take Andreas out for dinner and drinks when discussing potential covers. It’s the least I can do for making him work extra hours. We decided that the cover needed to communicate the premise in the blink of an eye. Body language can tell most of a story, when done right. We narrowed the options down to Connor shielding David from some outside threat. I could see exactly what I wanted in my mind. After scouring the internet, I could only find one image that matched my vision. And this was it:
Yeah… That doesn’t exactly communicate intimacy and high stakes like I hoped it would. I needed to give Andreas more to go on, so I suggested that we stage a photo. I know all too well the feeling of being bullied and wanting to hide behind someone else. My husband is wonderfully protective of me, so we fell in our roles naturally enough.
That’s much closer! We don’t look like the characters in the book though, and I was hoping for something a little more abstract. There’s nothing wrong with utilizing photographic references, but simply painting over a photo can often look cheap. Andreas has too much professional pride to do that anyway, so he broke out the charcoals and before long came up with this:
Sweet! The composition was promising. David being comfortable enough to grab on to Connor that like speak volumes of their intimacy. You can feel his concern. Is he clinging to Connor out of fear or pulling him away from danger? A little of both, I’d imagine. I was also happy that we decided to stick with pink as the dominate color, since it would help sell the delightfully gay nature of their relationship. Next we scanned the art into the computer and refined. And refined and refined. That can be a tedious process, but there weren’t any time constraints, and I’m very pleased with the final result:
Art is subjective, so some people will like it, some will not, but I feel it tells the story well. Two guys versus the world who are very much in love. What resonates with me especially is that it actually looks like my husband’s art. This is his style. He has more than one, but the previous cover doesn’t resemble any of the art in his archives. That was a one-off experiment using new and unfamiliar technology with no time for refinement. Now when I look at the cover, I see my man. Not just his art, which I’ve always adored, but his own proportions that he gave to Connor. I’ve grabbed on to that body for nearly twenty years now, so when I look at the new cover, it fills me with warmth and a sense of security. I hope the journey that David and Connor go through together brings that same emotion to others. Kamikaze Boys has always been a story close to my heart, drawing in parts from my own past. Now it finally has a cover that feels equally as personal. Everyone will judge it, which is fine. I welcome them to. I’ve always felt nothing but pride for the love and support my husband shows me, one cover at a time.
I’m obviously a very lucky boy to have a guy like Andreas in my life. I’d like to spread some of that good fortune around, so I’m also giving away a paperback copy of Kamikaze Boys so you can check out the cover in person. If you prefer eBooks, that’s fine too. The winner can choose whatever format suits them most. Enter by leaving a comment below. Let me hear your New Year’s resolution!
If the world is against you, don’t give up. Find yourself a kindred spirit. Then you can start fighting back.
They say Connor, the one with the crazy eyes and creepy scar, tried to kill his old man. Lately he’s been seen hanging out with David, the gay guy who always eats lunch alone. They make an odd pair, the loser and the psychopath, and bad things happen to people who mess with them. Not that Connor and David are looking for trouble. Even when taking on the world, they seem more interested in each other than fighting.
Kamikaze Boys is a story about breaking the chains that bind you and using them to beat down anyone that gets in your way. Better yet, it’s about holding hands with the guy you love while doing so.
Jay Bell led a quiet life in Kansas until the day he met a handsome foreign exchange student who swept him off his feet and carried him all the way to Germany. Much to their delight, marriage awaited them when they got there. While living so distant from friends and family, Jay began writing in an effort to reconcile the mixture of devotion and alienation he felt. This resulted in a Lambda Literary Award and a film option for his best-selling novel Something Like Summer. Jay and his family have since relocated to Chicago where their adventures continue, as do those of the characters in their emotionally driven Something Like… series. Jay pens the stories and his husband provides the cover art, making them books about love, forged by love.
Jay has brought a copy of Kamikaze Boys (paperback or ebook) to give away to one lucky reader. Just leave a comment at the end of the post to enter. The contest ends on Saturday, January 4th at 11:59 pm ET.
- By entering the giveaway, you’re confirming that you are at least 18 years old.
- Winners will be selected by random number. No purchase necessary to win. The number of eligible entries received determines the odds of winning.
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- Void where prohibited by law.