Michaeline: Writing to a Cover

A beautiful young woman is given advice from a cowled old woman as a volcano spouts a tangle of green, weird bodies. 1930s.

Margaret Brundage’s covers from Weird Tales almost always featured women. Here’s one cover that might pass the Bechdel test. (Image via Wikimedia Commons)

Take this with a grain of salt, but let me tell you a story about covers. In the science fiction and fantasy genre, the publishers seem to be quite generous with extra pages to tell the story behind the story – perhaps it’s a factor of being a geek. We want to see how the sausage is made. So, in many SFF novels, the author gets a few pages to talk about process, or memories about the publishing world, or other things.

In one of these books, an author talked about the Golden Age of SFF magazines, and mentioned that not only did publishers find cover artists to illustrate stories, but sometimes they would commission a work from an artist, and find a writer to narrate the art.

I think a lot of us can relate – all of us here at Eight Ladies have used the collage method for deepening a story and finding more connections. I have tons of storage dedicated to image files that help me understand what I’m “seeing” in my story.

But this is one step further – writing to a picture.

There’s an interesting anecdote on Wikipedia (here) about the pulp fiction artist, Margaret Brundage. Her covers were so popular among readers of Weird Tales that apparently Seabury Quinn would write scenes that would suit her style of illustration. There must have been some sort of creative chemistry at work; I find it impossible to believe it was only a strategy to make sure his short story became the cover story of the month. At any rate, many of Quinn’s short stories made the cover and were illustrated by Brundage. (Here are some of Quinn’s cover story covers.)

A group of friends around a piano; one girl pines for her lost boyfriend while the others admire her for being so brave.

The path to true love was so strewn with bozos in these old romance stories. (Image via Wikimedia Commons)

The romance genre has also had a long and illustrious (hee-hee) history with art. I remember reading my mother’s old romance comics when I was staying at Grandma’s – it really was my first introduction to romance. The images used to be so ubiquitous that they showed up in mainstream art, as well. You can’t google “Roy Lichtenstein” without seeing the influence of romance art on his work.

Busty brunette in heels and spurs shooting at unseen enemy with lots of cowboys in the background.

Now here’s a story waiting to be told! For a lot of reasons, it’d be better to set it in a fantasy/science fiction setting, or possibly switch the historical setting. Or it could be the farmer and the cowman, ala Oklahoma. And it could be ANY girl with a gun, not just a busty brunette. Of course, we’d support our fellow artists and commission a new piece of art for the new story, right? LOL. (Image via Wikimedia Commons)

The cross-fertilization between the arts fascinates me. Romance and fashion are a natural pairing; many writers use playlists, and many musicians also work in the visual arts. In general, I think we here tend to think of the story first, and then the art, but what would happen if we reversed the process? I think it could be an interesting exercise in creativity.

6 thoughts on “Michaeline: Writing to a Cover

  1. Poor heartbroken April and her admirers have not aged well, but I LOVE the Gun Witch of Hoodoo Range! She brewed a Colt gun caldron and baited it with a slashed green mask, all while perfectly accessorized. Check out those heels! With spurs! And the manicure! I’d have a go at writing something about Senorita Scorpion 😉

    For short pieces I think any kind of story starter can be fun. Am currently pondering the scandalous family secret from Elizabeth’s Story Time post yesterday 🙂

    • I spent a lovely couple of hours today looking at pulp magazine covers, and it’s not just the cover stories. The other featured stories are often from bizarro land as well! Such a lot of imagination!

      I’m trying to figure out where the creativity is these days. Maybe on the Archives of Our Own and other free writing platforms? The thing is, in the 20th century, the publishers would curate the stories so there were certain standards. A lot of the fiction sites these days are just slush piles; self-curated by fans and members, so a four-star out of five rating could mean a good story, or it could mean a “buzzy” story that just hits a meme. There certainly is a lot of imagination out there, though!

      And yes, I love Elizabeth’s writing sprints! Such great stuff, especially this month, and I really need to make the time to do it. (Here are Friday’s words and inspiration, if any readers would like to go back and try them! https://eightladieswriting.com/2018/10/19/elizabeth-friday-story-time-and-sprints-39/)

  2. Only tangentially related, but back in my adolescent-poetry-days, I used to use images from artsy-greeting-cards as inspiration. I have a whole notebook full of cards and the poems they inspired.

    Those covers above are great, and I’m feeling that my life is sadly lacking by having never encountered “Young Romance” magazine. 😀

    • (-: I think they may have some romance comics digitized somewhere. Jenny would probably know.

      When I was an adolescent, we went to summer camp in the Big City, which had a fabulous card and stationery store called Avant Card. They had those artsy greeting cards, too! Roy Lichtenstein, and also black-and-white pictures of young children kissing and exchanging roses (often hand colored red). I loved that place!

    • I feel like those were the days — people could make a living writing, and creating art. Maybe I’m looking at it through a rosy filter. People still make a living writing and creating art, but it all seems so much slicker now. (-: Except for self-publishing. Self-publishing is a grab-bag from amazing to amateur.

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