by Stephanie Lucianovic
True to writerly form, I agonized for days and weeks over what to write for this post.
I asked my Twitter.
I asked my cats.
I asked my kids.
Inspiration did not strike.
Then today my oldest son asked permission to read my book while he ate his lunch. It’s the first book I ever wrote. And it’s about death.
Nope, not that one.
This is a book that only recently reappeared in my life when my mom sent it with a bunch of other stuff from my bedroom in Minneapolis.
I had totally forgotten that I wrote it when I took a bookmaking class at the Minneapolis Institute of Art in 1985.
I had therefore totally forgotten that I wrote a story about a murderous doll who killed everyone in the story. When I was 12.
Given my mother’s love for all things dark and creepy, it’s not all that surprising that I wrote dark and creepy story as a kid. In fact, writing a story about a killer doll that I clearly ripped off from an old Twilight Zone episode is not even close to the craziest way my childhood as an amateur author intersects with my adulthood as a professional author.
But we’ll get to that.
If you follow me on Twitter or read my cover reveal interview with Mr. Schu, you will be familiar with my banging on about how much I adore the Edward Gorey-inspired font used in The End of Something Wonderful. I bang on about that font because along with her collection of Charles Addams books, my dark and creepy mother also has every Edward Gorey book ever written.
And this is where a strange story gets even stranger, Irene Vandervoort — who designed The End of Something Wonderful and is therefore responsible for the font used in it — has NEVER MET ME.
Dun dun DUN!
It’s totally true. Irene and I haven’t ever spoken or emailed or anything. She didn’t know about my dark and creepy childhood, full of Ouija boards, seances, voodoo dolls, and Edward Gorey books, and she certainly didn’t know I authored the 1985 thriller Family Deaths of 1984 (or Neptune).
And yet somehow she knew.
I think this is the true brilliance of illustrators, art directors, and book designers. They take a text and make these amazing decisions and choices that delicately pull elements out of the story — elements that possibly even the writer didn’t know or remember were there or could be pulled out.
Take the endpapers for The End of Something Wonderful:
Reader, I literally burst into happy, hysterical tears when I saw those endpapers.
They are the endpapers I didn’t know I wanted.
They are the endpapers I didn’t know the book needed to finely highlight all that is darkly funny and yet emotionally affecting about the text and illustrations.
Those endpapers are the icing on the funereal cake.
The choice of a font or the design of endpapers are subtle, almost invisible forces that add so much to the overall feeling a reader will end up gleaning from that book. As a reader, you should look for them, notice them, think about how and why they were chosen. Because they were chosen for a reason and they were chosen to make the book even better than it was when it started out as an embryonic Word document on someone’s laptop.
So here is my advice to text-only picture book authors: if you like the way your book looks — and not just the illustrations but all of it — ask your editor for the name and social media handles of whoever designed it.
Then thank them.
Give them shout outs when you talk about the book.
Tag them when others say great things about the book so they can see it too.
Because they are working from a source a genius that I, mere word pusher, cannot comprehend and therefore stand in complete awe of.
They are also the people who will create an Edward Gorey-ish font because somehow they divined that when you were 12 years old you wrote a book about a murderous doll and that you “dedecated” that book to Edward Gorey.
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We are a group of writers and illustrators who have debut books (actual debuts , debuts as author-illustrators, or debuts with medium/large publishers) forthcoming in 2019. Thank you for joining us on our exciting journey!