The first cover I saw was gorgeous, but I knew immediately it was not right for my book. And that certainty made my heart sink, because this is my very first book and this was the first and most important step in the design process and right out of the gate, I was going to have to be the bad guy.
My book is called Her Beautiful Brain. It’s a memoir about my mom and her younger-onset Alzheimer’s disease and how it changed our lives: hers, mine, everyone’s in my big, loving extended family. It’s a sandwich generation story, about raising young children while my mother started to crumble: first slowly, then very fast. It’s a late-20th-century story, about a miner’s daughter from Butte, Montana who weathered divorces and widowhood, went back to college and back to work, raised six children and was the strongest woman I ever knew.
It is not about a woman who ever had much time or inclination to knit. So when I saw that first elegant cover design, which showed a black silhouette of a woman’s head, in profile, with a bright pink ball of yarn inside it, one long strand of yarn unraveling out of her head and down the center of the frame, I thought: no. I don’t want a ball of yarn anywhere near this cover. Too literal? Maybe so. But I also didn’t like the notion of Alzheimer’s disease as an unraveling, because let me tell you, it is not. A brain affected by Alzheimer’s disease is not quietly unspooling, it is suffocating. It is choking on plaques and tangles. It is a mess. It is not pretty or elegant and it’s definitely not hot pink.
But for some reason, I did not express ANY of that. I simply said, “I don’t think it’s right.” I told myself I wanted to respect the designer’s creativity, not try to micro-manage or direct her, but why on earth wasn’t I more blunt about my aversion to yarn? Because sure enough, the next round of designs featured two yarn-centric covers: one, a big ball of yarn unraveling and the other, a knitted hat. I loved the layout and the font, but the yarn: I just couldn’t. Wouldn’t. I felt like a stubborn kindergartener.
There was an alternate, featuring a photo of my mom. But when I showed it to one of my sisters, she felt strongly about not having our mother’s picture on the cover of a book, and I felt strongly that her feelings were very important to me.
Ach! What to do? Who knew choosing a cover could be so hard?!
Then my husband thought of the idea of a clumpy ball of electrical wires, instead of yarn. We looked online and found the image that seemed just right. Just like what Alzheimer’s is: a maze of disconnected, tangled, malfunctioning, blocked, clipped neurons.
And that is the image you’ll see on the cover of my book, when it is published later this year by She Writes Press. I like to think my mom would have approved. That she would have said: Yes, that is what my brain feels like. Please try to describe that in your book, because I want people to know what it’s like. I want them to understand, when they meet someone with Alzheimer’s at the store or on the street.
Her brain really was beautiful, a long time ago; and that’s why it was so important to get this image of what happened to it right. I am so grateful to designer Patti Capaldi for her patience, because it’s the cover we should have. The cover we do have. One big decision down, many more to come between now and September!
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