Back when e-publishing was still rogue, a small e-press named Wings published Kicking Sideways. That press was wonderful. My book’s team was a delight and my editor was both tough and nurturing. Best of all, they let me work with an artist to design my cover.
Kicking Sideways is a story of a woman’s journey to self-awareness and enlightment but it’s definitely a romance. I love romances. That’s why I write ‘em.
I even love the covers of romances. I am sometimes shallow enough to buy a romance novel because of the pretty heroine or its rich colors or the depiction of the perfect fairy tale that is promised inside. The dreaded clinch? As long as the cover model isn’t Fabio, I love those, too. Here are a few of my favorites.
And this one covers a book that I’ve dragged from house to house for 30 years simply because I love the cover so much. I should probably just frame it.
So when I had the opportunity to design my very own cover, the power went to my head. I decided to rebel. No stereotypical romance cover for me! No burgeoning bosoms. No half-dressed manly man. No flowers. And absolutely no pink or purple. I wanted my book to be judged as a book, with no romance stereotype attached. I would be an activist romance writer!
The title Kicking Sideways comes from a line in Bow Thayer’s song “Blue Lightning,” which inspired this whole book. The tune is a romance novel distilled into a song, a word not wasted, an entire story told. In the lyrics, the mule is a metaphor for the narrator’s search for happiness. He travels the country, “kicking sideways” like a stubborn mule, searching, searching and getting nowhere until he finally gets hit by “blue lightning” and finds love in his beloved’s “backyard.”
The hero, Michael Sullivan (whom you may remember from Charlesgate) has always let life happen to him and he’s survived unscathed. He is able to shake off bad experiences and move on easily enough. Still, he wants something more and like the song’s narrator, makes the decision to journey across the country and ends up in Cree’s backyard.
The mule, in my book, is not Mike. Crumble, my mule, is a metaphor for Cree Cabot’s stubborn refusal to leave her own cave. Her determination to remain unscathed by life is beginning to show cracks.
So here’s the cover, my anti-stereotype-this-is-not-a-romance-romance-novel:
This time I handed the reins to Ravven, who created the covers for Charlesgate and Cake. I gave her the basics: contemporary romance, heroine a bit tortured, set near Santa Cruz. Cree surfs but is not a beach babe. The mule must stay on the cover.
I’m stubborn that way.
Ravven came back with a few options, which would have worked, but something bothered me.
Mike Sullivan is such distinct character in my mind. No cover model can compare with what’s in my head but this does not matter to readers. They will have their own images of characters.
Despite being a romance, the covers with couples didn’t quite fit the story.
While re-editing, my new editor suggested that I add magic to keep in line with my other books. Cree can go so dark in her head that a little paranormal fit the story just fine and while working this element into the tale, I realized that Kicking Sideways is Cree’s story.
Mike is mostly fully-formed, sprung from the forehead of his creator (ahem, me). He is stable and confident. He’s made mistakes and is not afraid to own up to them. When he feels something missing from his life, he’s open to change. He knows how to weather all kinds of storms.
Cree, on the other hand, is at risk. She’s a teacher, a mother-figure, a business woman, a surfer, a promoter of literacy. She wants to change the world.
And she is very, very alone.
Stuck in self-imposed darkness, she can’t let go of her past to really embrace the present.
Ravven came back with a few more choices – women with faces half-turned to the reader, women with Beyonce locks, women in flowing white dresses. The one I chose has her back to the reader and is bundled up for a cool California day, protected in her shell. And of course, there is Crumble, her mule. The cover depicts Cree at the start of the novel. Whether or not she emerges from her own prison is her decision.