For this project, we needed to incorporate several key elements. We had a series title, and there are five books in the series. So we needed a family of covers, not just one cover. The series title, TABOU, is incomplete without the mysterious mirror reflection of currency symbols, £$F€£, used throughout the series as section dividers. I can’t explain the meaning of this, or else I’d be ruining the climax of Book Five, Valerie. So trust me: the title and the series of currency symbols are inseparable. We also had to incorporate the tree of life, with its nine withered branches representing the nine dynastic families of TABOU, and with its entangled root system. And finally, we wanted to express the eroticism and good taste that sets TABOU apart from contemporary trends in literary fiction.
Our process at the beginning of each new project is to talk things through over a coffee. Sometimes Andrea will record our conversation, but at this stage in our collaboration, we can pretty much read one another’s aesthetic. I leave her to work freely and come up with a concept.
As you can see from the Facebook page, Andrea’s first prototype was a family of covers that evokes the South Pacific imagery where Sylvie Russet grew up on Hiva Oa, near Tahiti. Dominated by the tree, the covers were whimsical, blocky, colorful and fun—but not edgy. We agreed we wanted to go for something deeper, bolder, starker and more profound, more beautiful.
To me, an art history major in college, nothing is more beautiful than the human body. I started looking for nude photographs that would hint at the mysteries of TABOU, showing the variety of sexual experience (and more critically, the powerful union of sex and love) that is central to my theme.
Meanwhile, Andrea had a breakthrough. She noticed that our tree of life contained elements in the root system which, if lifted out of context, resembled beautiful, flowing tattoos. By overlaying the root system on the nudes, we began to get some really extraordinary imagery that still evoked the South Pacific. We knew we had what we wanted, stylistically. What remained was layout.
Andrea drives this part of the iterative process, which usually goes very fast. It’s a back-and-forth exchange where we home in on color, typeface and layout until we feel that we’ve reached the full expression of our concept. Very soon we’d built a unified family of covers. Et voilà.
We were both completely shocked when the iBookstore judged the cover of Book One too “explicit” and asked for a redesign—or else they would refuse to sell the book. I wasn’t happy, but agreed to the redesign. I love the aesthetics of Apple devices, and I myself am totally “Macked-out.” But the idea of censorship by Apple still sticks in my craw.
Since before the Renaissance, the highest measure of artistic greatness (in painting, sculpture and modern media) has always been depicting the nude–the magnificent form and structure of the human body. I disagree profoundly with the conventional American notion that expressing nudity, especially artistic nudity, is “obscene,” when expressing graphic violence is not. Censorship is not just a problem for authors. It limits filmmakers as well, as I know from my work as a screenwriter and film producer, driving the marketplace through the Hollywood rating system, which determines what movies our children can see—or cannot see.
I shouldn’t have been surprised when the iBookstore rejected the cover of Book Two. But I am still disappointed. As with Book One, I have redesigned the cover of Jocelyn for iPad readers. You can see the original artwork on my Facebook page.
About the Author:
Suzanne Stroh is a screenwriter and film producer, author of published case studies on family business. She grew up in Michigan where her family brewed Stroh’s beer for five generations. She studied art history at Wellesley College and Newnham College, Cambridge then worked in the New York art world before turning to writing. A mountaineer and field medic, she lives with her family in the Virginia countryside. TABOU is her first novel.
Jocelyn Russet and Patience Herrick. Two powerful, British-born American lesbians, fiery heiresses of different generations. Both coming of age at the same time. Are they destined for one another—or starcrossed? Follow their ten-year Odyssey in a sexy romp through the rollicking 1980s and 1990s. Discover how their fate turns on secret histories that bind the Russet and Herrick dynasties in business, politics and espionage. Meet an international cast of supporting characters who must all choose between love and duty in book one of the TABOU quintet.