This is the cover artwork for an anthology a friend has put together to pay off his cancer bills. Shawn Speakman is something of a wonder, and not only because he has survived two bouts with cancer. He also knows enough talented authors to pull together an anthology like this one. He has dubbed it “Unfettered” because he gave everyone free reign to write whatever they chose, but also because it represents his chance to break the bonds of debt by paying off his cancer bills. He’s opened his own publishing house to do it, called Grim Oak Press. I volunteered the logo, website artwork, and book graphics for the venture, as Shawn and I have been friends for several years now. I was only too happy to volunteer the cover art for his anthology as well.
We’ve discussed many things, and he read early drafts of a novel I have since sold to DAW Books (more on that in another post, when I have more to tell). He asked me to contribute a story of my own, and I happily agreed. Are you kidding? To share the stage with this list of giants? I’d be perfectly happy even if I’m at the back, dressed as a tree.
Shawn will be selling signed editions of this book when it’s available, so pay attention: it will have the signatures of as many of these heavy hitters as he can arrange to sign it. This is one of those rare opportunities that you don’t want to miss. Go here for more information.
In the meantime, here are some detail images, and an interview that I did for Shawn’s website.
The cover for the Unfettered anthology began months in advance, when Shawn and I first talked about his plans for the book. At the time, we didn’t know what any of the stories would be about, so Shawn suggested an upraised fist with a broken manacle. That seemed a little obvious and simplistic to me. We batted the idea around some more, and agreed that Shawn, himself, might be appropriate, since the anthology–theme, title, and content–was inspired by his (second) victory over cancer.
That’s where the idea lay until June of 2012, when it finally came time to do the painting. Since it was largely fantasy based, we agreed that Shawn ought to be in a cloak, and the notion of broken chains seemed more than appropriate. But then what? That alone might have made a good cover, but with so many authors contributing, I felt like the cover should say more. I’m on record as disliking montages as a general rule, but they have their place; the book itself was a montage, so it would work well here, provided I had enough imagery to work with.
Shawn sent me a list of stream-of-consciousness visuals derived from the stories he’d read so far, and asked his authors to send more. While there was some good symbolism, not all of it worked compositionally, and there was a fair bit of redundancy (at least three dragons, for example, including my own), so I realized that I would have to interpret loosely the ones that worked, and fill in the gaps between with other things that had the right emotional content.
And so, there is Shawn, tattered from his fight, but unbeaten, swinging his shattered chains. The knight and the Vatican derive from Shawn’s story, as does the spectral face above it. The owl, the faerie, the rose blooms, and thorny vines were also inspired by stories, and are the most literal elements. The crows and the splash of blood are things with emotional heft that filled out the movement of the piece. The ghostly, anguished face just above Shawn’s fist is thematic, and could apply to many of the tales within–it’s certainly background to a personal battle of any sort. Finally the teeth of a dead thing beneath the leaves began as a quest to fulfill one of the author’s suggested image ideas without giving away the points of a plot I hadn’t read… and finished as a glimpse beyond the veil to the things that frighten us most; the unknown, a foreshadowing of horror… or death.
It may seem overly dark for a project that is ultimately uplifting and hopeful, but it serves the stories, and ultimately that too is symbolic: it is always, as they say, darkest before the dawn. Let light be drawn out of the darkness then. Turn back the cover and read the book…