This special bonus installment in our ongoing series highlighting Bill Loehfelm’s The Devil She Knows is a fascinating look into the process of a book’s jacket design. Thanks to the wonderful art team at Picador for allowing us a peek inside the machine. (Ed. note)
When Henry and I spoke about this project we agreed that Staten Island should be a focus of the cover. There is mystery that surrounds the place where I grew up, perfect ambiance for the crime genre. Henry told me that the author was also from the Island, which added a bit of extra pressure. That didn’t bother me much though because I know the place inside and out so well. Yet, to my dismay, after finishing the novel the perfect image escaped me. It needed to look like commercial fiction. It needed to say both Staten Island and crime, but not in a clichéd way. Everyone knows the Staten Island Ferry and the Verrazano Bridge, but how else can I make Staten Island fairly immediate on the cover?
As the author points out, the Island is filled with beautiful homes and well-manicured lawns. I was searching for a way to say organized crime and corruption. Visually the Island doesn’t offer any of these secrets. I thought of going in a more graphic approach. I made some stencils from a map of the Island and used spray paint to fill in the shapes. After placing them in some layouts I knew I needed another layer. I decided to focus on the heroine of the story. Obscuring her face with the spray painted outline of the island added the menace and grit that I was looking for.
Then in an effort to make the cover look more commercial, we looked to George Pelecanos’ paperback covers for inspiration—coincidentally a series I also happen to design. I felt what appealed to us about the series was its use of photography to create a unique atmosphere.
Since I couldn’t find any acceptable night photography of Staten Island I decided to shoot the photograph myself. There wasn’t much time to wander the Island looking for the perfect scene, so I set out with my camera and went to specific areas mentioned in the story. One of those places is the out-of-operation Atlantic Avenue station on the Staten Island Rapid Transit system. I had to jump a fence to gain access to a bridge that runs over the tracks and connects the north and south bound platforms—a great location for a shot. Trains bypass the station once every hour, so there were long periods of standing around in dark silence, and every so often something that I perceived to be large moved through some brush under the platform. All of this and I had to worry about being arrested for trespassing. I really hoped this shot was going to work, but it was exciting to go the extra mile for the cover anyway.
In the end we decided to focus on the villain of the story. With no time to shoot anything new, I used an existing photograph and cropped in very close to make the character as menacing as possible. And that’s when we knew we had our jacket.
Posted on Wednesday, 13 June 2012
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