A Tale of Two Covers: What Scares Me, And What Doesn’t

I do not, typically, stalk myself.

I am not, usually, Googling myself.

But it has been known to happen.

Though less and less.

Curiously, new things do pop up.

Yesterday, seeking a jpeg book cover image of my newest SCARY TALES book, Good Night, Zombie, I came across this . . .

I learned that it was the Australian cover — or possibly the British cover? — to the book. Let’s look at the American version for reference . . .

Obviously, they’ve taken the circle logo and made it drippy, like paint splatter. From a design standpoint, I understand that. The strength of the circle is also its design flaw. It is abrupt, awkward, intrusive. The circle does not at all “work” with the other elements. Quite the opposite. The artist, the spectacular Iacopo Bruno, has to illustrate around the logo. It’s an obstacle and it prevents a lot of illustrative possibilities. Which, again, is its strength as a design element — the in-your-faceness of it. Blam, it’s right there. Try to not see it.

Green is the perfect color here, by the way. And the fourth book, Nightmareland, has to be red. It’s in the text. I was at a book fair in Chappaqua on Saturday and had the wonderful opportunity — as an author who normally sits in a windowless room — to watch young readers look at and choose between books #1 and #2 in the series (or, hey, pick up Bystander or Six Innings or slide past to the next table). They look at the yellow Home, Sweet Horror and the purple-ish, I Scream, You Scream. And it’s simply true that boys are turned off by certain colors. Or, okay, have decided preferences. The color to I Scream is something that some boys have to overcome, and the creepy dragon and freaky guy help.

The Australian cover also has an interesting tagline: “Scare Yourself Silly.”

I like it, I think, because in a subtle way they are signaling that maybe this isn’t the “deep gore” some adults might fear. It’s scary, for sure, in that heart-quickening way — anticipatory, suspenseful — but the reader will survive.

OTOH, what does the reader want?

The reader wants to be scared.

(Though perhaps not terrified. Everything is a matter of degrees, personal preferences.)

I’ve heard some parents say, “Will this give her nightmares? I don’t want her to have nightmares.”

And I always silently think: Well, good luck with that.

We all have nightmares. I had a dream last night that two frail, pink-eyed, white rabbits were in my house and my cats were on the slaughter. It was a mess. I woke up. Life goes on. Maybe you had a nightmare about a missing Blackberry. And your kid is worried about the ropes course in P.E.

Nightmares are going to happen, with or without SCARY TALES. The wind in the trees. The lightning. The thunder.

I’ve visited schools and talked about bullying. Talked about, recently, the suicide of Rebecca Ann Sedwick, a 12-year-old girl I think about every single day. I’ve done this at grades 5-up. She haunts me, that girl. I’ll tell children about my oldest son’s experience with cancer. About how he was really sick for a long time. I’ve written about teenagers who drive cars into trees. And I’ve been asked to not discuss ghosts (not that I do, much, and only passingly). I’ve been asked — in two schools, same district — to not talk about SCARY TALES at all. (I declined that invitation, btw.) Because they are scared, too. Afraid of the parent who might complain, the headache they might endure, the freedoms they might have to defend.

I am sympathetic to a point. But personally, just being me here, I find real life to be a whole lot scarier than any story I can make up about ghosts or zombies or androids or freaky snowmen. You just close the book, put it away. Process it . . . however. Real life is something altogether different.

Also: I’m just trying to write the most entertaining stories possible. Lively, fast-paced, suspenseful, surprising, fun. Scary? Sure. But it’s not only that, or merely that.

At the same time, I heard from a librarian yesterday about how the students can’t wait to get their hands on these stories. About what a huge hit they are in the school. It’s such an interesting world, and a curious experience to find myself in the middle of it. Nobody ever complained about Jigsaw Jones or Hiccups for Elephant.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *