As the author of books published by an Independent Micro-press, one of the greatest joys is planning my own cover and interior design elements. That would, of course, never happen with a commercial press, unless your name is Ernest Hemingway or a reasonable facsimile thereof. But the process can be fraught with danger for the author and designer. More options make for tougher decisions. Planning for the cover of The Gilded Cage started with the physical cage itself. It seemed obvious. Those gilded age mansions lining the avenues in New York are amazing to look at, yet daunting to imagine living in.
So, although there are many metaphorical cages in the book, a picture of the Warburg mansion, now the Jewish Museum on Fifth Avenue at 92nd street seemed the perfect backdrop for the cover even though the era was a little later than in the book. Both Certain Liberties and The Gilded Cage were moored in that house initially, but the final planning for the book took the better part of two years, and by the time the content and line edits were done, it somehow became obvious the original plan had lost its luster. It just didn’t say enough about the journey from the front to the back page.
Being puritanically averse to waste, I naturally saw no reason to spend time trying to reinvent the proverbial wheel. I did research on book covers connected to any form of cages and gilding through the centuries. There are even a few ancient “Gilded Cage” titles, but none of those covers were complex enough to take us deeper into the book itself. So, if we were getting rid of the house and any actual representation of a gold cage, we’d have to go the other way entirely. And what does one often find hanging on the wall in those houses? A family portrait with a huge, ornate, gilt frame around it denoting importance, wealth, and expectations.
For my part, from there it was no more than a search for the portrait, and an artist who could maneuver it the way I wanted. I envisioned a picture of a marriage that looked a little less than happy, with guests who look less than thrilled to be included, and a little flower girl carrying a violin without a bow. Who she is and why she’s there will be a mystery every reader must solve for themselves. The ornate gilt frame surrounding the marriage portrait should be an obvious enclosure encompassing the partners as well as their audience. The richness of the colors must be a little overwhelming, much like an enticing dessert one isn’t sure can be handled yet suggesting the kind of satisfaction we seldom turn away from.
My book designer, Katie Holeman, was given the assignment of the artwork as well as the balancing of the frame and print. She created a visual depiction of the complex lives and dilemmas of the characters in The Gilded Cage without giving any of it away. The following summary from Katie tells you more about the collaboration of art and author. It’s the true inside scoop, since all I did was tell her what I wanted and why. She made it come alive on the page: