Inaccurate, But True

Snow-Jan-2014That ½ inch of snow on the left represented major disruption yesterday, because this is the Deep South and we simply don’t know how to cope with cold weather. Or rather, cold weather that makes snow. For a lot of schools and businesses in the area, this represents a snow day. That’s right, schools were closed. Businesses went short-staffed. We’ll pause a moment for the readers above the 38th Parallel North to stop laughing.

All done? Great. So here’s how cold it was this morning—I had to wear gloves. Any idea how long it’s been since I’ve worn gloves other than for DIY or yardwork? Years. Lots of them. It was 19° Farenheit this morning. I swear I saw an MDOT snowplow on the road this morning. I didn’t even know we had a snowplow. The only time it’s been colder was one morning back when I was in Junior High when it got down to 10°F. I know, because I was living on a dairy farm at the time and had to get up at 4Am for the morning milking and that’s what the thermometers were saying. We’ll pause yet again….

It would be accurate to say that, up to a point, “cold” is a relative concept. I think it’s cold. People in Alaska or Siberia would probably think it’s cute that I think that. Yet here we are, both right, though anyone else reading might be wondering if there’s a point to this. There kind of is. Relating to accuracy.

I received the finished artwork for To Break the Demon Gate yesterday. I was told that there was still time to make changes, if I wanted. I didn’t want. I pronounced it gorgeous and effective and all the things I expect from a good cover and endpaper. Again, I would show it to you if I could, but that will have to wait until it’s a finished cover. Suffice to say that I was very pleased. It’s atmospheric. It’s dramatic. It’s lush and colorful. One thing it isn’t, is completely accurate.

There’s a motto by my picture in my old High School yearbook: “I don’t mind lying, but I hate inaccuracy.” I was a bit miffed at the time because I was no liar, but in time I got the point. And now I sort of am a liar, in that I tell stories about things that never happened, so maybe it was prophetic. But the “hate inaccuracy” part was dead on. I used to work out math problems to extra precision just because I didn’t like rounding, for one example. So why didn’t I get bent out of shape about the inaccuracies in the artwork?

Because it is not the job of a cover to be absolutely faithful to what’s between those covers. It is the cover’s job to intrigue the reader unfamiliar with that writer’s work just enough to give the book a chance. I’ve had this discussion with other writers, and if we don’t always agree on where the line is crossed, we do agree that at a certain point inaccuracy does become a problem. What about an historical set in the Italian Renaissance portrayed with characters right out of Lord of the Rings? What about female POC protagonists portrayed as white men? I’m not saying inaccuracy is never a problem. Sometimes it damn well is. But it’s not a problem as often as you might think.

The cliché is that you can’t judge a book by its cover, and that’s right. Books with great covers sometimes suck rocks. Books with plain unassuming covers are sometimes brilliant. But, presented side by side to people unfamiliar with the bylines, which of the two do you think is more likely to be read in the first place? People judge books by their covers all the time. At least long enough to give the words a chance, which as the author is all I ask. As a reader I’ve done it myself, and I’m willing to bet you have too.

As for the inaccuracy in the cover for To Break the Demon Gate? Same as the one for the endpaper illustration of the mysterious Lady Snow—the clothing styles are about six hundred years off. That’s it. The scenes illustrated, on the other hand, are perfectly accurate.

Works for me.

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