Wednesday, January 22, 2014

The Evolution of a Story and a Cover

Original art, copyright Chris Howard, 2014

This is the cover for my upcoming YA release, FUTURE TENSE.When I started writing this story in 2009, it began with a single phrase that bounced around my brain before I fell asleep one evening: run away.

From that one thought, a story took shape.

Who was running?
A young teen in foster care.

Why was he running? What was he running from?
Some guilt from his past. Something connected to his being in foster care in the first place.

Why was he in foster care?
His parents died in a fire when he was 6.

How is that related to his current circumstances?
He foresaw the fire that killed his parents, but didn't understand at the time. His precog abilities have dogged him throughout his life, bringing glimpses of dangerous futures for the people around him that he has always been powerless to prevent. The story starts when he begins to see visions of a girl from his school that show him responsible for harming her.

Once I had that - the character's history and present conflict - it was time to build the world of Matt Garrison, including the people and places that surrounded him.

Fast forward a little over 4 years, past more than a half-dozen revisions and multiple rounds of edits, and I was ready to send this book out into the world.

It needed a cover.

I am not an artist.

But I know one in real life. :)

His name is Chris Howard, and I am fortunate to have met him years ago in a Boston area writing workshop, where in addition to discovering his incredible writing style, I also found out what a creative and skilled artist he is. I asked him if he would take on a cover commission for FUTURE TENSE and he agreed.

Because I had absolutely NO IDEA what I wanted for the cover, I sent him my 'cover blurb' along with physical descriptions of the major characters, as well as some of the specific tarot cards that were crucial to the story.

In the ten years since his parents died in a fire he predicted but couldn't prevent, seventeen year old Matt Garrison is trying to stay out of trouble, biding his time until he ages out of foster care. All he wants is for the world to leave him alone so he won't be tortured by seeing someone's future he's powerless to change anyway. But his plans for keeping himself aloof fail when he interrupts a vicious attack on Amara Guzman, a girl he recognizes from his school. Despite his best attempts to push her away, he can't ignore the connection they've formed. That's when glimpses of her dangerous future start to invade the present a future he fears he is responsible for. Now Matt has something to lose again . . . and something to fight for.

Main characters:
Matt Garrison
6'2", well built, (advanced brown belt in karate)
Caucasian, short dark hair, blue eyes

Amara Guzman
5'3", slender
Hispanic, medium length dark hair in ringlets, brown eyes

Foster family:
The Powells are an older, middle aged African-American couple, both greying. Mr. P was in the army and has the grizzled look of former vets. Mrs. P has a neat afro.

Trina is their granddaughter, 9 years old, but petite for her age. Traumatized as a young child, and possibly on the autism spectrum, she communicates through her drawings.

Lola is a mixed-race foster kid, also 9

Jack is a 6 y.o. African-American foster child with closely shaved hair.

Bruno Jones
6'4" football player build, African-American teen

Chico Alvarez
Slender, 5'10", Hispanic teen

The final important character is Amara's grandmother, Abuela Rosa, an elderly, mostly blind and tiny Hispanic woman who lives in a nursing home and teaches Matt to read the tarot as a way to harness his pre-cog abilities.

Setting: post-industrial inner city. Think Detroit, or some of the old MA industrial towns on the decline. The tarot features heavily in the plot, with several cards recurring thematically:

The major theme of the story is about learning to trust and that trust is worth the risk.
I assured him I didn't expect him to paint a huge cast of characters on the cover, but wanted to give him a flavor of the story and its environment.

The cover took a few iterations, with my suggestions amounting to minor tweaks. (The first version didn't have Matt wearing a hoodie, and that's actually a thematic element throughout the story. I asked Chris to include the Tower card prominently.) It was astonishing to me that even the first version he sent me captured the emotion of the story so perfectly. There is no scene that looks like this in the book, but rather, each of the elements of the cover echoes the themes that recur.

I loved watching this take shape and life and marvel at the skills of a visual artist. I tell stories with words. I can't draw or paint. Not only am I a terrible photographer, but I don't tend to notice visual details in my environment. (I get lost a lot. Thank goodness for my GPS.) So I am grateful to know someone like Chris, who not only has the artistic skills I lack, but comes to his art with a firm grasp on storytelling and so can use his art to enhance the meaning of a story.

FUTURE TENSE is in its final stages of its publication process. Stay tuned for its release date in early February. It will be available as a trade paperback as well as in all eBook formats.

If you are a book blogger/reviewer, and would like a complementary advanced copy, please contact me, either through the blog or via email:


  1. The cover looks fantastic! It's one of those covers that immediately draws the eye (in addition to fitting the characters based on your description).

    It's funny how the seed of a story can start anywhere. Best of luck with your release!

    1. Thank you. I'm really pleased with how this story came out and the art is just perfect.

  2. The cover art is spot on, and I love the title for how you described the story. I would be excited to pick this up!

    1. Thanks! I can't wait to see this one in the world.