Most of Mattaponi Queen, with the exception of one very short story, was written outside of workshop. When I started these stories I had just finished my first, difficult year of classroom teaching and I was very happy to be alone, working. I spent most of that summer in the Rose Reading Room of the New York Public Library, reading and writing and enjoying the quiet. I think I finished drafts of three or four stories that summer. I showed them to very few people and then tucked them away again until the next summer, when I would have more time to work.
Writing is notoriously solitary, which I don’t mind at all, but it is nice to have a chance to collaborate every once in a while. I feel lucky to have a publisher that takes feedback from writers so seriously–very early on, Graywolf Press asked lots of smart questions about the book, its audience, and how it might be presented to readers. One of the first things I did for the book, in fact, was complete a design questionnaire intended to help the book designer create a meaningful cover.
I did a lot of thinking–about colors, images, associations–and also researched artists and photographers whose work might represent the book well. Then I remembered an artist whose work I admired on a design blog: Frances Pelzman Liscio, a photographer who creates intricate and beautiful reliquaries out of bones, animals, and flowers. As a Southerner and enthusiastic outdoors-wanderer, I love relics, and even have a story in the collection that features them. Fran’s work seemed perfect. Graywolf liked the idea and generously arranged for her to create a custom reliquary for Mattaponi Queen.
The only difficult part? I live in an apartment in D.C., and the things you find on the ground around here are not exactly camera-ready. My mother, however, has lots of relics and odd collections found in and around my parents’ two-hundred-year-old house (many of them dug up by our family dog, Griffin). She packed a big fishing toolbox full of them–flower stems, beaver skulls, Civil War bullets and buckles, buttons, toothbrushes, bottles, spoons, a “diamond” ring–and we sent it to Fran, who graciously sifted through four levels of stuff. She even asked for and read a few stories that I sent her.
This is what the inside of the toolbox looked like:
A few weeks later, amazing and startling images appeared in my in-box.
A few weeks after that, I had eight covers to choose from, designed by a talented book designer. It was exceptionally hard to choose–I asked family, friends, the Walkerton postmistress–but I think the one I picked is perfect, more richly evocative of the world and characters of Mattaponi Queen than I could have ever imagined.
Want to see it? Graywolf shared it on Friday via Twitpic: http://twitpic.com/jzqmc
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