I am super excited to reveal the cover for my new urban-fantasy comedy adventure Alexis vs. the Afterlife!
I can’t say enough good things about the cover’s designer, the amazing and talented Flo Minowa. She truly captured the spirit of this book and its scrappy metalhead protagonist. Today I’ll be talking to her about her process, her inspirations, and her own book.
But before I reveal the cover, like a celebrity promoting a movie on a late-night talk show, let me set up the clip. Here’s the back-cover blurb for Alexis vs. the Afterlife.
Alexis McRiott is a foul-mouthed guitar goddess with a passion for hair-metal and groupies of the fairer sex. You’d never recognize this strung-out Hollywood dirtbag as the squeaky-clean kid wizard she used to play on TV.
And that suits her just fine.
But when Alexis is killed in a freak accident, her sitcom past comes back to haunt her. On her first day as a ghost she destroys a rampaging poltergeist using a hex from her old show that, for some reason, actually works.
Impressed by her powers, a deceased medieval prince tries to recruit Alexis in his crusade against otherworldly evil, but she refuses to be his clichéd “chosen one” magical heroine. That is, until she meets his sister-in-arms—a smokin’ hot Chinese railroad worker duty-bound to protect the living from supernatural threats.
Pursued by soul-collecting reapers, this motley crew must stop a paranormal apocalypse that Alexis might have been kinda, sorta, completely responsible for unleashing. But can two dead lesbians and a seven-hundred-year-old tween save the world with sitcom magic?
They don’t stand a ghost of a chance.
And now, drumroll please, here’s the cover!
Isn’t that the coolest?! I love how it hits the tropes of an urban-fantasy cover while still looking fresh and original. It’s a girl in front of a glowy thing, but that glowy thing is a monster about to eat her face off. And she seems none too concerned about it.
The amount of detail Flo put into this image is absurd.
In the book, I describe Alexis’s guitar like this:
It’s an abused old Strat-type thing I stole from a yard sale when I was a kid. A previous owner slathered it in crappy yellow house paint which I’ve spent the past decade covering with stickers—bands I like, banana labels, poison warnings I picked off bathroom cleansers. One night, after a deep and introspective heart-to-heart with a bottle of Baileys, I thought it would be a good idea to scratch my name into it with a screwdriver. You know, so nobody would steal it. Deep black gouges in the wood now scream “ALEXIS.”
My inspiration for the sticker-covered guitar came from my favorite real-life rock dude, Timb.
Timb’s guitar was the aesthetic I had in my head, but I never actually showed it to Flo. She still got it 100% right. She’s like a creepy mind reader!
Keep in mind, on most ebook displays, Alexis’s guitar will only be a few pixels wide. On the paperback cover it’ll be less than two square inches. A few colored shapes with squiggles in them would have gotten the job done. But Flo designed LIKE 30 ORIGINAL BAND LOGOS BECAUSE SHE IS INSANE IN THE BEST POSSIBLE WAY.
It would be a crime to hide this attention to detail, so here it is in all its full-res glory.
And if you think her interpretation of the guitar is impressive, her interpretation of Alexis’s tattoos will BLOW YOUR MIND.
In the book, I offer this incredibly detailed description of my heroine’s ink:
And I’d long since traded that purple leather jacket for a few regrettable tattoos.
That’s it. That’s all I said about the tattoos. To be perfectly honest I didn’t even know what they looked like. Flo didn’t ask. She read the book and drew her own conclusions. Literally drew them, all over Alexis’s arms. And they’re perfect.
I love how they capture the things Alexis loves as well as the things she loves to hate. My favorite one is the tiny “Ctrl Z.” It’s so subtle, but it speaks volumes about how much regret Alexis keeps bottled up. And “regrettable” was literally the only descriptive word I gave Flo to work with.
As an admitted control freak, I was surprised how little back-and-forth was necessary to get our visions to line up. When Flo submitted her first character sketch for my feedback, I basically said, “Yes! That! But with Taylor Dayne’s hair.”
In addition to the front-cover illustration, Flo did all of the layout and graphic design, including the title treatment. The novel prominently features a spooky old spell book, and she took the inspiration for the back cover from that. And then added slime, because of course slime.
As you can probably tell, I couldn’t be happier with Flo’s work. But she’s more than a great artist, she’s a fascinating person. I mean, seriously. See if you can get to the end of this interview and not want to go get a beer with her.
Your old pal, Marcus:
Hey, Flo. You’ve said you like to draw characters from literature and pop-culture. What kinds of characters inspire you?
I think I’ve always possessed a pretty unbridled and expansive imagination, which enabled me to easily immerse myself in the worlds of novels and films (Sometimes too much, so that I struggled to extract myself from them. *pained laughter*).
Every now and then I come across a character or individual that strikes a chord so deeply within me that, despite the difference of the worlds we inhabit (fictional or real), I feel such a human connection, one which broadens my perspective and breadth of emotion. Even after their stories conclude, I feel I carry away a souvenir of them along my own journey.
Harry Potter (of course), Elizabeth Bennet, Mark Watney, Tamsin Willoughby, and Amélie Poulain are some that are near and dear to my heart. But then again there are those wild, mind-boggling personalities like “The Dude” Lebowski, Colonel Hans Landa, and now, Alexis McRiott, who I have nothing in common with but I find absolutely enthralling and carry along with me just the same, not unlike those spontaneous not-well-thought-out tattoos that Alexis got permanently stuck with! 😉
Could you describe your process of working with an author to create a shared vision for their book cover?
Reading the book is, without question, the most important part for me. The whole reason I chose this career was that I loved the process of trying to devise as accurately as possible the image of a character’s features based off of literary descriptions and the character’s behavior—this is the part of my work that really gives me thrills.
That aside, I like to work closely with authors and know as much as possible about their vision and intent for their story. As a writer myself, I understand that authors invest so much of themselves, as well as their time, research, and emotions into their projects and I sincerely want to create something that does justice to all of that effort.
In order to get into the same mindset, I’ve tried a variety of methods. Often I ask authors to send me photos or artwork that inspired them in the process of creating specific characters, or I’ve asked others to send me music that they listened to while writing certain scenes (since for me personally music plays a huge role in my writing).
For every book cover I have to do a lot of background research to understand styles, genres and even history in order to fully capture the vision that the author has in mind. It’s quite fun, really, and every book cover broadens my own knowledge and interest—so thank you, authors!
What software and tools do you use for your illustrations?
After being a devout Photoshop and Wacom Intuos Tablet user for over a decade, I took a leap of faith a couple years ago and purchased the 12.9-inch iPad Pro and Apple Pencil and downloaded the Procreate app.
It was a great move and I have never felt more comfortable with any other digital drawing interface, and I’m also very pleased that Procreate continues to develop its software in direct response to user feedback.
Most of my drawing process happens on Procreate, and then I transfer over to the desktop Photoshop CC for adjusting layouts.
You’ve done a lot of travelling and lived in different parts of the world. Where are some of your favorite places? How have your experiences in different cultures influenced your work?
My home now is Budapest, Hungary, and I couldn’t be happier since this is without a doubt one of the most beautiful cities in the world in my book. I’ve just turned 30 this year and I’ve been to 61 countries, five of which I’ve had temporary or permanent residence in.
Growing up in Tokyo but attending the American School for 15 years since kindergarten shaped me into a pretty standard model of third-culture kid, where I felt like I didn’t entirely fit into any country. Eventually I was able to shift from the black-and-white mentality (in which I’m only seeing what one culture has more of or lacks in comparison to the other) and see national and ethnicity identity in terms of the spectrum it really is.
This was crucial for me to be able to empathize and find value (beauty, goodness, and benefit) in any culture, and as an artist it certainly broadened my appreciation for diversity in creative expression and aesthetics.
You have written and illustrated a book of your own. It looks super cool! Could you tell me about that project?
Thanks! Spatiality: Word/Image Juxtapositions was a year-long Capstone project that I created for my undergraduate senior year at Soka University of America. It is an amalgam of creative writing, illustration and photography, exploring the subjective and often emotional or poetic ways in which we experience various forms of spaces, be it physical, geographical, or conceptual.
The overarching theme of locality is very much related to what I talked about in the previous question. This project was an opportunity for me to experiment with the ways I’ve always found myself reflected in spaces, and also introspect on what that says about my own social and cultural constitution.
What are your favorite kinds of books to read? And what kinds of books are you interested in creating covers for?
Oh wow, what a tough question! I’m open to all kinds of genres and I’ve found personal favorites among autobiographies, science-fiction, period novels and even horticultural essays!
I guess I’m a lover of fantasies and I really enjoy drawing for young-adult fiction, but I’m always seeking new challenges. I had a lot of fun with Alexis vs. the Afterlife, as you can probably tell, and I don’t know if I’ll ever get tired of drawing monster slime and gritty teen girls! Keep them coming, Marcus!
If you keep drawing ’em, I’ll keep writing ’em!
You can learn more about Flo (and hire her yourself!) at her website, FloMinowa.com.
Alexis vs. the Afterlife is currently available for pre-order at Amazon.com. Hit the button to get yours!