Writing Life

Why I chose Grant Searcey to do my cover art:

Well, if anyone knows his work, the answer would be: Why not?  To our mutual friends and his fans, well of course!  There are a few other reasons.

I’ve known Grant Searcey for a while.  We live in the same town, and so we bumped into each other even outside my early haunting of his first studio where he and his wife sold jewelry, he did art, and she taught yoga.  I remember one conversation at a bar of a Bourbon Street Grille, where I was editing.  I know I was frustrated, and needing a change of pace, rather than my office.  Hence manuscript, pen, and a drink rather than ripping the pages to shreds.  Our conversation was one of the first ‘outside of talks with fellow writers’ where I knew someone else “got it”.  He understood the perseverance, and the work.  That might have been the first time we talked about him doing cover art.  I couldn’t imagine that I could afford it, at the time.  I’ll admit that I’m not sure he truly rated my work as high as he does now—not because he disliked my work.  He hadn’t read it.  But because, well, he probably wasn’t sure of my passion. He didn’t know me, and he’s not one of my beta readers.

Grant earns a living doing art.  He had accolades aplenty, and worked with Disney Underground, and Star Wars art projects.  He’s been part of the business, and done some graphic art book covers, though not an actual painting for a book cover.  If you’ve been part of the writing business—even sideways as I’ve been—you learn to listen.  There’s a Studio 360 interview with Elizabeth Gilbert where she talks about, among other fabulous things (I highly recommend listening to it, it’s at about the 20 min mark)  how there are sometimes truly talented people who… go no where.  Then there are the people who surprise others.  They’re the ones with talent who also do the work.  He didn’t know that about me then.  Who else would know that about me, then?  I’d written 10 unpublished novels that were… unavailable.  I could easily just be pretending. Even I knew that my language echoed “just talking.”

Grant moved from that studio as his wife opened up a Yoga Studio, to another above an ice cream shop.  He then moved to join Canvas and Corks.  My daughter, who is a budding artist in her own right, was among the reasons we haunted many of the local art studios where she sometimes found the bravery to talk to artists—including Grant.  I bought coasters, prints, and a painting. Now Grant does a lot of business in what might be described as cute and sometimes edgy animals.  He’s done Steampunk bats for instance, as well as a steampunk heart—a version I bought for a friend.   The painting I bought for myself was a bit different..  It was part of his Day of the Dead series, and… something I could not walk away from.  I was visibly shaking at the idea of leaving without it.  It took thirty minutes for me to accept that I needed to own that piece.  The thought of leaving it behind brought me to tears.  I think it was the first real piece of art I’d bought for myself.  (I’ve bought more, since from another local artist, as well as prints by Grant from another series Riders of the Storm, which inspired scenes for another piece of fiction).

Months later, at Canvas and Corks, there was an open mic Spoken Word night. It was mainly in Grant’s space.  I came and read a few poems.  He later told me that something shifted for him with me and a few of the other story tellers and poets. From what he said, I gathered that he realized that he knew my writing dug deep.  He knew I meant it.

I actually decided to publish The Red Khémèresh after an argument with a friend.  The content doesn’t matter much, except that I’d shared my writing with someone who didn’t read fantasy.  He’d only read one in the past 30 years.  He did try. But his flippant comment, and a surprisingly lush bank account, made me think: I’m doing it.  I’d also done a substantive edit for the great Claire Ryan—her book The Melding—to keep  my  hand in.  Claire had, in gratitude updated my website.  I watched her self publish so bravely, and with a great cover.  I immediately decided to do so as well. (She later told me she’d format my novella as well.  Bonus: I get to read her work early, er… substantive edit it).


I picked a novella—something editors and agents don’t look for to work with (though a well published author I know is writing one.  Apparently they like them when an author has a name.  Go ahead and do a fantasy novella search for agents and editors willing to read them). Angered, energized, knowing the book was worth being out there:  I asked Grant if he’d do the cover.  In our first meeting he said, I believe I’m quoting it accurately, “You need something that reflects the quality of the contents between the cover.”  And I did. I knew the book was good.

The sketch, especially, at first, told me why this was a good move.  He had presented an image that didn’t define what a reader might create for themselves.  The painting, as I saw it on my birthday (the supposed due date, but I was easy about this, remember Douglas Adams, “I like deadlines.  I love the whooshing sound they make as they go by.”  There was also a sense of too much rightness in the process to worry about when!) inspired another reason why he was the right choice.  It wasn’t that it was done and perfect.  It was that I knew that everyone who read the book would get their own idea of how things looked.  Grant had a few more cues than others might—like the details from the Uzbekistan Suzzani, with its rich cultural patterns—the Tree of Life pattern the women weave, or The Running Dog, which delineates our world from the spirit world.  The one I have, a gift from my sister,  is from more of the east, where there was some Mongolian influences, which were in the novella. He saw the Inuit images, among others.  He understood the shamanistic elements, and had some from his Riders on the Storm series.

In On Writing, Stephen King talks about telepathy—a writerly telepathy—how a writer might write something. A table with a table cloth and a rabbit.  Each reader will see it, but they will see it differently.  Grant’s vision was not quite my vision—and that’s okay!  In fact, it was brilliant.  He was making some parts of what I’d written become real.  And I love it.  I’ve loved his work on this over so much, there were times I’d see a “draft” and my breath would leave my body, or bring me near to tears in joy—yes, even when it still needed some tweaking!

In some ways, to readers, as absolutely wonderful as his work is, it’s also permission to envision not only the landscape, but the characters in The Red Khémèresh on your own terms as well!.  His vision was not my vision, but it was also so very right.  There were aspects to his vision of the work that was—while different from mine—absolutely perfect.

The joy of self-publishing only came because I got to choose working with Grant.  I was able to see my work transformed visually with his skill.  I knew he respected my vision, and details that I told him of what inspired me—but for the reader, it also became a gift, not only for having a copy of his art: but for the reader to envision the work as they saw fit.  Grant has, of course, a few more tricks up his sleeve—early sketches, for instance—as well as access to information that led to the visions of the work.

Working with him was wonderful. Grant understands creativity—not just as an artist, but for me, as a writer.  He respects not only inspiration, but the hard work involved.  He listens. He understands. Even while that first painting viewing was one of, “Let’s talk about tweaks,” and I knew that there were things he wasn’t happy with as far as where it was at, and I had a few important elements to bring up—it was also one where we were both cycling high with creative energy that we could not sit down. His vision was different from mine.  His understanding of the story was different from mine. He saw elements from my source material he resonated with—even while they were not direct elements to the story—and ran with it.  I knew this and was glad.

Why did I choose Grant as my cover artist—an incredible gift on it’s own?  Because his work is brilliant, and interesting, and dynamic.  His work on the cover of The Red Khémèresh doesn’t just allow his work to be on the cover of every copy printed, but because his work is so skilled as not only draw readers to the story, but also—and this is incredible—to also allow a reader to evoke their own imagery as they read the book.

The following is an early proposed cover sketch. I love this–because it can be the horseman, Tengis, or even Engidu seeing Phayaden approaching. It’s a reverse image of the final cover.

Looking at Phayaden
“Looking at Phayaden”–I call it that.  By Grant Searcey.