Friday, August 7, 2015

The Dollhouse. The Crawlspace. The Cover.

This is a time for new beginnings for me, so I'd like to welcome you to my new, reinvigorated blog. I don't know how often I'll post, but I plan to write from time to time and I have a new book to talk about.  As a mystery writer, I have transitioned from my usual series to publishing my first suspense thriller, The Dollhouse in the Crawlspace. At times, it's been a difficult-yet-fascinating journey, from the first draft to creating and finishing the cover. 
The finished cover.
     To be quite honest, Dollhouse has been my White Whale, the book in my head, the book I have wanted to write for a very long time. It remained elusive because there always seemed to be another book due in my Crime of Fashion series, and much of that time I had a full-time job (besides my book writing, another full-time job as a journalist).
      I would no more start on Dollhouse than I would have to interrupt the flow and return to Lacey Smithsonian and finish another book in my series. (Never fear, I love Lacey and will be continuing that series.) Despite the delays, I could not get Dollhouse out of my mind. 

The Title Always Comes First

     When I start writing a book, I always know certain things. For instance, I can’t start writing without knowing the title or the key characters' names. And I knew The Dollhouse in the Crawlspace was the title for this new book years before I finished writing it.
The Dollhouse under construction.
 The original dollhouse came from the home of my aunt and uncle and cousins. When they moved in, they discovered a dollhouse, full of exquisite miniature furniture, left behind in their crawlspace by the previous owners. It seemed like a very strange thing to leave behind. I was a teenager at the time, and the image stayed with me. It suggested so much to me: hidden spaces, secrets, discoveries, a lost childhood. It became a key image in this story.

     Over the years I've tried other titles, softer, harder, edgier or more “thrillery,” but it's the title that stuck. When it came time for The Cover, I didn’t want anything frilly or soft, or the Addams Family dollhouse. Perhaps I could get away without a dollhouse, or with the mere suggestion of one? But no matter what I tried, this cover needed a dollhouse. In a crawlspace! Not only that, the dollhouse had to suggest a "real" house in the story.
     My cover designer for Dollhouse is the talented Robert Williams, who edits my manuscripts and masters my website. He's also my husband and partner in Lethal Black Dress Press, our publishing endeavor, and he designed the covers for The Children Didn’t See Anything and The Last Goodbye of Harris Turner. We already had a dark, creepy crawlspace in our own house, so all we needed was just the right dollhouse. No problem! Right? 
Setting up the photo shoot in our crawlspace.

     Stock photos of generic dollhouses didn't work for us; neither did a real dollhouse via eBay. Our best find on Craigslist was too big to fit in our car, which the dollhouse owner proceeded to insult. (“Is that your ONLY car?!”) Only one option left: Build the #$%!&! dollhouse ourselves! It tested our patience, our dining room table, and the very fiber of our beings for three solid weeks, leaving in its wake sawdust, hot glue glop, paint smears, and frayed nerves. 
Donning hard hat and suffering for my art.

     But that was just the beginning. Donning hard hats and our new dollhouse, and grabbing lights, cameras, dolls, and tripods, we crawled into our gloomy crawlspace to set the scene, dress and light the dollhouse, cover ourselves in cobwebs, and take hundreds of pictures in the dirt and dust. Then all Bob had to do was choose the right frame out of 998 (or so), perform some digital image magic, and match it to the right composition, fonts, and color palette to create just the right look: Cool but hot, shadowy but eye-popping, gloomy yet glowing, as if lit from within.
     All things considered, it was easy! No, not really, but we think it was worth it. 
     The Dollhouse in the Crawlspace is available as an ebook now, and will be in trade paperback by the end of August.


  1. I remember one of the comments you got on Facebook when you were describing our photoshoots in the crawlspace: "You should just change the title of the book to The Dollhouse on the Lawn..."


    1. That would have been so much simpler, indeed. But I wouldn't have had the pleasure of donning that blue hardhat that I got at an American Society of Safety Engineers (ASSE) meeting long ago.