Five months ago, with Gods Tomorrow poised on the brink of publication, I brought my awesome photographers (Julie and Carlos of Julie V. Photography) to town to shoot some art for the cover. I made arrangements with our model, scouted locations, and put together a whole covershoot in the space of about a week.
I had some concerns, of course (it’s in my nature), but the night of the shoot everything looked perfect. We chose an office building here in town, and when we got there, Karen was already waiting. She had graciously provided her own costume, and when I saw her standing there — headset on her ear, handheld in her fingers, and revolver on her hip — I saw Katie made real. It was a thrill.
Then Julie stood her up where we thought the shot was going to be, snapped a couple test images, and then checked them on her camera. I was waiting for a breathless exclamation at what perfect cover art this was going to be.
Instead, she frowned and said, “Damn you, McDonalds!”
The dramatic mirrored walls of our background were throwing some handy product placement right in the middle of our shot, with those iconic golden arches perched neatly on Katie’s right shoulder.
So we had to improvise. Julie dragged Karen all over the building’s grounds, trying to find a clean angle that gave us the right amount of sunset light in the right places, without any inconvenient reflections in the walls.
Julie’s good at what she does. She had Carlos’s help, too, and between the two of them they found the position, the angle, everything they needed to get my perfect cover.
Unfortunately, it involved wading out into ankle-high grass freshly soaked by the building’s sprinkler system. And then, for Julie, it involved stretching out on her belly in the grass to get the right angle. By the time everything was said and done Karen’s pants were wet up to the knees, and Julie’s clothes were dripping wet…and yet both of them were in a great mood. We got the shot. That was what mattered.
That was last summer. Last month, I got the opportunity to reconvene our little group to shoot cover art for the sequel. In the meantime, Julie and Carlos have expanded their operation a little bit. They have lights now, which makes all the difference in the world.
We decided to do an indoor shoot (we ended up using the fellowship hall at our church), no longer relying on that perfect sunset glow. When Julie and I were first discussing that I could hear the satisfaction in her voice when she said, “Oh yes. That’s perfect. We’re not at the mercy of sunset or of those stupid sprinklers.”
I laughed about it, and we went on planning. Then a week later I was relaying our plans to Karen, telling her where to meet us and what to expect, and when I mentioned it was going to be an indoor shoot this time, she said, “Oh, excellent! So no sprinklers this time!”
Everyone liked the idea of us being in control of our environment. We were going to have a cover designer at the shoot with us, too, and we had grand plans to build some composite covers (instead of trying to stage dramatic scenes), that had us thinking we could get art for five novels in one night’s shoot.
It was a great idea…right until the moment we tried to put it into practice. Once again, Julie took a couple test shots, checked them on her camera, and knew right away it wasn’t going to work like we’d planned.
We improvised. We stacked tables on top of song books (and, eventually, on top of other tables). We filled a syringe with Gatorade. We hung a shotgun from the ceiling with fishing wire. We were even ready (for a second time) to do unmentionable things with duct tape.
We didn’t get cover art for five books, in the quiet luxury of our perfect control of our studio environment. Instead we worked hard for five hours straight, improvising like mad, and we got the art for one.
And you know what? We left that shoot in a great mood, too. Because we got the shot. That’s what matters. You can see it up above, and see it attached to a real book a week from today. It’s incredible.