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Hear ye, hear ye! For those of you who thought I had dropped off the face of the planet, IN YOUR FACE!!! I actually haven’t, but things have been busy around these parts. But I’m back for the moment and I’ve got more YA covers for you to look at, of course.

Y’know, like this one!


Today’s post is pretty one-of-a-kind, by the way. Not only is it my pleasure to feature author Laura Lascarso in giving her two cents about her cover, but I’ve got photographer Laura Hanifin (yes, two Lauras!) dishing about her photography session as well. So without further ado, first up, author Laura!

TCG: Before the final title Counting Backwards came to be, your novel was If Eyes Had No Tears. Why the change? lascarso_iihnt-7357011 LL: Actually Counting Backwards had several titles, the first one being Fast Car, paying homage to the song by Tracy Chapman, which was my inspiration for this story. But my agent and editor were worried that Fast Car as a title would be misleading to readers, as if it might be about NASCAR. I agreed. The funny thing, is that after Counting Backwards, I actually wrote a story about a boy and a race car and I called it–Fast Car. Anyway, CB had so many titles! Here are a few–Map of Myself, Deep Down, If Eyes Had No Tears. Counting Backwards is by far my favorite title, though I can’t take credit for it. When Namrata told me we *finally* had a title, I did a happy dance. How involved were you in the cover design process? What was it like working with the folks over at S&S/Atheneum? lascarso_input-2661337

The Atheneum team was really awesome about asking for my ideas. I sent them a couple covers that I liked–Girl Interrupted (the movie) and Paint It Black were two–and requested something simple and stark, but still with the emotion that is part of Taylor’s character arc. They also allowed me to pick from the two models they were considering. I couldn’t be happier with the young lady we chose. Now, I can’t imagine Taylor as anyone but her.

The sterile feel of a psychiatric facility is the first thing that I think of when I look at this design. And, not gonna lie, but your MC Taylor has a pretty piercing stare going on (as well as lashes to kill for, ugh). What’s your favorite part of the cover art?

Definitely the double image and her expression. That look… It’s like one of those paintings that feels as if it’s watching you. Her stare is haunting.

I’ve noticed that YA covers are now veering away from the prom dress trope, which quite frankly I’m thrilled about. The face-on-cover cover art tends to walk a fine line between striking/visually captivating and “just another teen face on a cover.” What are some of your favorite YA covers that you believe do the face-on-cover theme the most justice? 

Wintergirls is one of my all-time favorites, not just for the face but for the art that goes with it and if you’ve ever felt the hardback jacket flap, it has this amazing texture with shiny streaks. I also liked the first Uglies cover that just showed the girl’s eye and the green leaf. I’d also like to throw Feed in there, even though it’s the back of Titus’ head. It’s still pretty awesome.

lascarso_faces-1349432 Are there any books you’ve picked up just because you were interested in their artwork? collins_hungergames-3142618 Hunger Games was a book I picked up because of the cover. When it first came out, it seemed so plain. I was like, “what is this book trying to be so minimalist and utilitarian?” I read the first couple pages and was totally hooked. Now the mockingjay emblem is one of the mostrecognizable, and I couldn’t imagine the cover any different. Also, is it just me, or does anyone else catch themselves calling mockingbirds, mockingjays? lascarso_faves-1740365

But yes, I am a judger of book covers. Beauty Queens is one that I really like–it’s so cheeky and perfect for the story. Another of my favorites is This Dark Endeavor, though I still haven’t read it–I really want to.

—- Next up, photographer Laura (Hanifin)! —-

TCG: Were you able to read Counting Backwards before doing the photo shoot? What type of art direction were you given by S&S?

LH: I did get to read some of the book before shooting and had discussed the marketing and character ideas with Michael McCartney, Senior Designer Atheneum Books for Young Readers, Margaret K. McElderry Books. At the time this was happening – we had a working title, If Eyes Had No Tears. I don’t think the book was finished. I understood that the book was basically about bullying in some form and had to do with this one girl’s Native American background and her hair- that was worn in a braid. We had a pretty specific type we were looking for – I went through 4 agencies and pulled about 18 girls’ headshots.

I sent those to Michael who passed them to the editor and they picked several girls to come in for casting. The author and editor saw Nina Marie (from Click Models) and just thought she was perfect. Cover illustration work is super dependent on the character – it gets pretty specific. I had asked Nina to come in a few times before for other projects because I really loved her look and she was just fun and I could tell she took directions really well. With this book, we finally we had a character that she matched, so that worked out well.


Rejected photos (1) – © Laura Hanifin

What was it like working with your cover model? What other types of iterations (wardrobe/hair/poses) did you have as options?

Michael McCartney was actually pretty specific with the context of what he was looking for. He is a pretty keen art director/designer and I enjoyed working with him on this project. He had several visual directions – I think there were 4 variations or ideas he had gotten approved through the editor.

We wanted to keep the palette very easy and simple- almost invisible. Nina’s makeup was very natural, her clothing white and off white. We shot on white. My personal preference for lighting and processing to tertiary color tones worked very naturally with this set. I am so pleased with the result. 


Rejected photos (2) – © Laura Hanifin

Anything particularly challenging about the shoot?

By the day of shoot – we were pretty fixed on 3 pretty basic images – the first 2 being variations of POV and portrait of the character. The most difficult being the idea of capturing the scene where the girl gets her braid cut off.


© Laura Hanifin

We worked with a really fun hair and makeup  stylist (shout to Fumiaki Nakagawa!) who I’ve worked with on several other jobs through Simon & Schuster YA.  It’s Fumi’s hand that is holding the scissors that appears on the back cover.  We took many shots of Nina with the braid before we cut it – and then we took shots of it being cut and then the after shots of her looking devastated with her hair chopped. So that one shot became several variations as well. Nina was total sport. (Highlight for possible spoiler: That hair cutting attack scene in the book- it’s an act of violence -so illustrating it in a way that is somehow visually not repellent was a challenge.) Oh and of course we used wigs!! I never shy from wigs – when used properly, they can really make a difference and save a lot of time retouching afterwards.

The front cover double image – that is all Michael McCartney’s idea and I think such an interesting solution.

I really enjoy working on YA titles and in general enjoy the character challenge for all character illustration.  Thanks very much for the interview.

Thank you both Lauras for stopping by TCG today. Hope you enjoyed the interviews! How about a giveaway, shall we? Laura and the kind folks over at S&S have provided me with an opportunity to give away a copy of Counting Backwards. (US only) Enter here!  A winner will be chosen on August 16, 2012. Want to know what other bloggers thought of Counting Backwards’ insides? Check out Jen’s review over at I Read Banned Books.

Bryan Williams