Friday, June 6, 2014

An Interview, an ARC Giveaway, and a Cover Reveal: RED BUTTERFLY by A.L. Sonnichsen

I'm thrilled to welcome Laurent Linn, art director at Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers, to the blog for a very special interview. Longtime readers probably know that I've been friends with A.L. Sonnichsen for almost four and a half years (though I usually call her Amy), so I've had a front-row seat for RED BUTTERFLY's metamorphosis. Now that Amy's made it to her first cover reveal, I thought it would be cool to hear a bit from the designer.

(I'm also giving away one of Amy's ARCs, so after you check out the interview, definitely check out the giveaway at the bottom of this post!)

KV: In our initial e-mail exchange, you mentioned that RED BUTTERFLY was a special project for you. What do you love about it?

LL: When a manuscript comes to me to read for pondering the cover and interior designs, I only have time to read them outside of the office. I read RED BUTTERFLY on a plane trip and the poor people around me must have wondered what was wrong with me. I was crying an laughing and gasping...the story and characters really impacted me. It was clearly a rare work and I've never read anything like it. Filled with the hopes and heartaches of growing up, finding where you truly belong, and who to trust. I was so solidly in the main character's shoes that I felt every emotion with her, and saw our own American culture through her eyes, which was truly enlightening. So I wanted to be sure it had a special and striking design, to do justice to the story and writing. To really stand out.

KV: Tell us a bit about that initial design meeting. Did you have a clear vision for this cover, or did it develop as you went?

LL: Because it's prose written in a poetic form, I immediately wanted the cover to be lyrical and hint at the poetic feel of the text. But I also knew we had to show Kara, the main character, since it truly is such a personal story. And hinting at the unique Chinese elements of the story were important. Being a middle-grade book, I wanted it to also appeal to all readers, too, so not look too sophisticated or inaccessible to readers of all types of genres. A tricky task! So, while there were clear directions I wanted to include in the cover imagery and design, it did develop as I explored ideas. But the key was finding the perfect illustrator do collaborate with.

KV: It seems like YA covers typically make use of photographs while their MG counterparts are more often illustrated. Why is that, and why did you decide to go with an illustrated cover in RED BUTTERFLY's case?

LL: Why YA often uses photography and middle-grade illustration is a hard subject to cover in a few sentences(!) But there was never a question that this book should be anything other than illustrated. The lyricism of the text and the subtle emotions and discoveries in the story could be conveyed best in art. I wanted the cover to have textures and depth. Also, I did want to show Kara, but in a way that suggests what she looks like rather than show a specific person, as a photo would do. So, while an illustration of her face does give us a specific image of her, if done in a loose illustrated style it could leave more to the reader's imagination to visualize her as they see her.

KV: Sounds like I need to have you back sometime to give us the inside scoop on YA versus MG covers! But that's beside the point...

Who did the cover art, and why did you pick him or her?

LL: With special books, I love giving an illustrator freedom to imagine concepts first without any art direction. They get the manuscript, read it, and are free to come up with ideas of their own first. When possible, I don't like to "handcuff" illustrators by giving them specific art directions right away. It can get in the way of creativity. I want to hire a great artist for their unique vision and inspiration. So I knew it had to be someone who could do that as well as have the appropriate style. And I knew right away who that would be: Amy June Bates.

Amy is an extremely talented artist, but also a storyteller in her art and concepts. She brings subtle emotions and power to her art. Also, while she's American, she's lived in Japan so has a passion, respect, and understanding of Asian art and techniques. I wanted to hint at Chinese calligraphy textures on the cover, (which Amy did so beautifully in Kara's hair). As soon as she read the manuscript, Amy called me filled with emotion and excitement about the book--she was affected as much as I was by the story and writing. This book has become a passion for her as well!

KV: Once you got the initial sketches back, how did things progress from there?

LL: Amy drew a few wonderful concepts, but the one that stood out was what did eventually become the jacket art. Kara in the window, looking out at the world. Her face and pose and the environment changed as we went, but the main imagery stayed the same. Amy got it right away!

We did try the idea of having a subtle pattern of Chinese words and symbols on the outside wall (to show more about her outer world) and a pattern of text from Pride and Prejudice (which figures into Kara's story) on the inside wall. But it muddled the image and took away from focusing on Kara. After refining the sketch, Amy created her painting and I designed the title type. I wanted the lettering to reflect the Chinese brushwork I mentioned, and have movement and a lyrical quality.

KV: Talk to us about the color palette. The striking reds and yellows are especially appropriate for this story. Was that intentional?

LL: Yes, it was. In the book there is powerful symbolism with a red butterfly so we knew we wanted to have the type in red and Kara wearing red, so it's visually clear she is the red butterfly. And, in a practical way, I also wanted it to be clear the book isn't actually about a red butterfly. We initially thought of perhaps showing a butterfly flying or resting on the bamboo pole, but realized that could be deceiving. And the yellow, as you say, is appropriate to the story, but is also accurate to what a Chinese apartment building could look like in reality. And those golds and yellows are the perfect colors to surround Kara to be sure she is the focus and also set off the title nicely.

KV: Last but certainly not least, I'm handing the mike over to you. Any final thoughts about RED BUTTERFLY or its cover?

LL: To me, much of the power of the cover comes from the fact that we, the reader, and Kara are both looking through a window. We're about to look in and see her world, just as she's looking out into ours. Also, the dark interior, with the wonderfully symbolic birdcage (which is in the text) tell us so much about her inner world and emotions. While the outside world is bright and the wind in her hair hints at motion and energy.

And I want to share something quite remarkable. Initially there weren't any plans for interior art, just the cover. But when I read it I envisioned spare, small art spots here and there to enrich the book as a whole and complement the text. All agreed so I asked Amy if she would also create some small black and white pieces for the interior, about thirty illustrations in all. Well, Amy got so swept away and inspired that she created over seventy of them! And not only that, she created her own newsprint of Chinese characters, each word meaning some aspect of the book. She then used this newsprint to create collages, along with text pages from Pride and Prejudice, and inked the art on the collages using a Chinese brush line and style. They are glorious. And you'll just have to get the book to see for yourself!

I will see for myself as soon as Amy's book comes out! You can bet I'll be one of the first to buy RED BUTTERFLY come February. But YOU don't have to wait, since Amy has graciously offered to send an ARC to one random winner. To enter, just tell me in the comments that you'd like to win. Contest is open to US and Canadian residents and closes in two weeks, on Thursday, June 19, at 11:59 p.m. EDT (or 8:59 p.m. PDT). I'll select the winner the next day.

Oh, and perhaps you'd like to see the cover? :) Here it is!

20 comments:

Tara Dairman said...

It's SO beautiful! Congratulations, Amy, and great interview, Krista! I'd love to enter to win the arc.

Temre Beltz said...

Such a fascinating interview and glimpse into the intricacies of cover design. The cover is stunning! I would love to be entered to win the arc - I have been wanting to read this story since I first saw the announcement when it sold :) Thank you!

Kristin Rae said...

Wow, I absolutely loved this interview. So interesting to learn a bit about what goes into great cover design! Would love a chance to win the ARC--can't wait to read!

S.K. Falls said...

Gorgeous! I loved seeing behind the scenes. It's so rare authors get a glimpse into that (incredibly important) part of the process. Thanks to Amy and Krista!

Catherine Denton said...

Wow, I love how much thought goes into the cover. I would love to be entered for the ARC! Love Amy and look forward to reading this verse novel!!

Mary said...

Wow! Thanks for the terrific interview! I found it a really inspiring peek into the publishing world. And thanks for sharing the lovely cover. I would love to win the ARC! Can't wait to read it. Congrats Amy! Amy Author and Amy Artist!

Jenilyn Collings said...

What a gorgeous cover, and what a fascinating insight into cover design! Very cool. I would love to win an ARC of this. :)

Karen Clayton said...

Very lovely. And do I always enjoy a glimpse into how the creative mind works - artists, writers, whatever. I learn so much from your posts and your interviews. Thanks.

Leandra Wallace said...

It's truly a fabulous cover! Congrats to Amy, I'm sure she's over the moon with it. (I would be!) =) And thanks to you and her for the opportunity to win an ARC!

Esther V said...

YAY!!! I'm so excited... and I'd LOVE to win a copy!

Nora Lester Murad, Palestine said...

Really exceptionally gorgeous. I'd love to win the arc, but even if I don't, I'll look forward to reading this book.

Sharon K. Mayhew said...

So excited for Amy!!!!!!

MaDonna said...

This is a great interview. Would love to win the arc, please enter me. Thanks!

Heather said...

It's so much fun to read about what went into this cover design - and it really is a gorgeous cover. I'd love to read the ARC. Thanks for posting this interesting interview!

Dawn Simon said...

Gorgeous cover, and I loved the interview! So interesting to hear about the thoughtful decisions and true passion that went into the art. Yes, please enter me for the ARC. Thank you!

Spring Paul said...

I'd love an ARC! :-)

Annmarie Worthington said...

I'd LOVE this.

Pen-Up Girl said...

This sounds like am amazing book! I'd love e to enter to win the ARC! Thank you!

Becky Gabehart-Croft said...

What a nice opportunity. Thank you.

Krista Van Dolzer said...

The contest is now closed. Thank you for entering. I'll announce the winner tomorrow!