With the manuscript for my third novel in the Garden of Allah series – Citizen Hollywood – en route to my editor, Meghan Pinson at My Two Cents Freelance Editing, it was time to turn my attention to one of my favorite parts of the publishing process: designing the cover.
As with my first two books, I went back to Dan Yeager at Nu-Image Design – at this point, I can’t imagine working with anyone else.
This time, however, I wasn’t quite so clear on what I wanted.
In Citizen Hollywood we continue to follow the fortunes of our three favorite Garden of Allah residents: MGM screenwriter Marcus Adler, Hollywood Reporter columnist Kathryn Massey, and plucky actress Gwendolyn Brick. It’s now 1939. Gone with the Wind hasn’t been released yet, but it’s in the can so Hollywood needs a fresh Big New Thing to obsess over. Orson Welles happily supplies it when he answers Hollywood’s beckoning call.
As nearly all of us probably know, his first picture was Citizen Kane whose central character of Charles Foster Kane was modeled on newspaper tycoon, William Randolph Hearst. Not that Welles would admit it at the time, but speculation that Welles might have the cojones to craft an unflattering portrait of America’s most powerful man was so rife that it ensured everyone was talking about it.
One of the most striking things about Citizen Kane is its amazing black and white cinematography. The lighting design makes the movie look like it’d been etched in glass. So I wanted the cover for Citizen Hollywood to be in black and white. But that’s all I really knew. I sent Daniel the two most famous images from Citizen Kane:
I also sent him the links to a number of books on L.A. set around this time. They were all very film noir-ish, very gangster, very James Ellroy. So I shouldn’t have been surprised when Daniel came back with this:
This is not at all what I had in mind. But I learned that sometimes when you get what you definitely don’t want, it nudges you closer to what you do want.
Instead of ignoring Welles and hoping his movie debut died a quiet death, Hearst went on the rampage. When you’ve got hundreds of newspapers–not to mention Hollywood’s leading gossip columnist, Louella Parsons–at your disposal, and you decide to go on a rampage, everybody knows about it. Consequently, a battle raged around Hollywood causing most people to fall in one of two camps.
Those on the creative side were concerned that Welles be allowed to exercise his right of free speech and make the movie he wanted to make, regardless of who he may or may not have modeled his protagonist on. The other camp was the management side of the studio system who depended on the Hearst papers to carry advertisements for their movies. To be blackballed by the Hearst group meant a huge dent in their ability to get the word out about their latest release. And if you were seen to be on the side of Welles, then you were dead to Hearst.
This was a big deal in Hollywood at the time and as it affected the whole town, I wanted the bigger picture to be reflected on the cover of Citizen Hollywood. Plus, I wanted to keep the font of the title the same as the previous two books. So Daniel and I tossed around some ideas, and this was the result.
A-HA! Now we were on to something. First off, though, I didn’t want the newspaper headline. We’d used that for The Trouble with Scarlett and I didn’t want to repeat myself. So I asked Daniel to lose the newspaper headline and move the title toward the top of the cover. I also wanted to find a different color of the font. The most striking color on Scarlett‘s cover was red and, again, I didn’t want to repeat myself. So I found a nice shade of Azure blue which I liked.
And while I liked the grainy effect he’d applied here, it was wrong for a book set amid the fight over Citizen Kane because that movie is associated with very sharply defined cinematography. So I wanted the building looming on the left (it’s the Griffith Observatory which looms over Hollywood in the same way that Xanadu looms over Citizen Kane and San Simeon looms over the Hearst legacy) to be sharply defined.
On the plus side: when designing the cover of a book, one of the most important questions to keep in mind is: “What is it going to look like when it appears on a search result on Amazon and is reduced to the size of a large postage stamp?” When I reduced this latest design to postage stamp size, the title remained clear and sharp. THUMBS UP!
But one thing bothered me. There now seemed to be a lot of black on this cover. I was fine with the bottom area but I wondered if the top area could be softened with a subtle starry night sky. It needed to be enough to give it some texture but not so much that it would detract from the cover. So I asked Daniel if he could add a starry-but-not-too-starry night sky, that would be a marvelous thing. The design he came back with was exactly what I wanted.
I am now very excited to present the cover for my next novel:
Hollywood, 1939: When Tinseltown begins to woo wunderkind Orson Welles, he stashes himself at the Chateau Marmont until he’s ready to make his splashy entrance. But gossip columnist Kathryn Massey knows he’s there.
Kathryn has been on the outs with Hollywood since her ill-fated move to Life, but now that she’s back at the Hollywood Reporter, she’s desperate to find the Next Big Thing. Scooping Welles’ secret retreat would put her back on the map, but by the time she hears rumors about his dangerous new movie, she’s fallen prey to his charms. She needs to repair her reputation, find out if Welles will take on the tycoon, and extricate herself from an affair with a man whose kisses make her melt like milk chocolate.
Hollywood writers are only as good as their last screen credit, but Marcus Adler is still scrambling for his first. His “Strange Cargo” will star Clark Gable after “Gone with the Wind” wraps, but Machiavellian studio politics mean Marcus’ name might not make it to the screen. It’s time to play No More Mr. Nice Guy. Opportunity knocks when his boss challenges the writing department to outdo “The Adventures of Robin Hood”, and Marcus is confident—until the love of his life bursts back onto the scene. How can he write another word until he knows for once and for all whether he and Ramon Navarro will be together? And to make matters worse, it seems like someone in town is trying to sabotage him.
Everyone knows if you haven’t made it in Hollywood by the time you’re thirty, it’s curtains . . . and Gwendolyn Brick is starting to panic. She’s considering moving to a naval base in the Philippines with her baby brother, but she wants to give Hollywood one last go before she gives up. When she saves Twentieth Century Fox honcho Daryl F. Zanuck from an appalling fate at a poker game that goes awry, he rewards her with a chance at a role in a movie. Gwendolyn needs to win before her ship sets sail.
When William Randolph Hearst realizes Citizen Kane is based on him, he won’t be happy—and when Hearst isn’t happy, nobody’s safe. Marcus, Kathryn, and Gwendolyn need to go for broke, and the clock is ticking.
Citizen Hollywood is the third in Martin Turnbull’s series of historical novels set during Hollywood’s golden age.