Approximately eighteen years ago, I walked into the Royal Street gallery of Fredrick Guess, and fell in love with this painting. It features an unusual view of the St. Louis Cathedral, one of the oldest cathedrals in the United States and a widely recognized landmark of New Orleans. The Chartres Street view that Guess painted, with the cathedral and square in the near distance, was the view that I once had as I walked home each evening. For a wonderful time, I lived in the Pontalba Apartments, adjacent to Jackson Square, where the cathedral is located in the heart of the French Quarter. When I first saw the painting, it stirred fond memories of those days.
As soon as I received the go-ahead from Bob, I purchased it, and I still love it. Guess fabulously captured New Orleans-centric details in the painting: drifting shadows cast by old, leaning buildings, a green umbrella on a balcony, flickering light in Bevolo gas lanterns, puddles of moisture on the worn street, the distinctive cupola of The Cabildo (a Louisiana State Museum adjacent to the cathedral), and the magnificent steeples of the St. Louis Cathedral. Here are close-up details:
Flash forward eighteen years, to this past February, when I had completed my first solid draft of Concierge. In Concierge, Black Raven returns to New Orleans. Andi Hutchenson, the heroine, lives on Royal Street, various scenes take place on Esplanade Avenue, and other scenes take place on the narrow, one-way streets in the Faubourg Marigny. I thoroughly enjoyed writing a story involving an area with which I was so familiar. It was good to be home again!
I wanted the cover art to symbolize the setting and, more specifically, the streets. The design team at Deborah Richardson Editorial and Marketing Services (DRE&MS) produced the covers of Deceived, Shadows, and Jigsaw, so they’re familiar with what I like. Kelsey Richardson is the DRE&MS cover artist; Deborah Richardson collaborates between the author and Kelsey. When Debbie and I discussed possible cover elements for Concierge, one idea was to use a painting, as Andi is an artist who paints street scenes en plein air. For me, there was only one possible painting to use, and I already owned it –the Saint Louis Cathedral, by Frederick Guess.
I returned to Royal Street, where Guess still paints his glorious paintings and discussed with him my plan to use the painting on a book cover. Part of the charm of New Orleans is the graciousness of the people who live here, and Guess, with his warm smile and wonderful personality, epitomizes that graciousness. You can find him in the French Quarter, at M Contemporary Gallery, 906 Royal Street, or you can contact him and see a sampling of his paintings on his website, Fredrick Guess Studio.
After Debbie and Kelsey decided to use the painting, there was the issue of what other elements to use. In 2016, Kelsey did a wonderful layering of elements for Jigsaw’s cover, using puzzle pieces, computer code, a map, and a photo. I love the finished cover of Jigsaw, both on the eBook version and on the paper version.
Kelsey used a fleur de lis to create a similar layering effect for the cover of Concierge. If you’ve visited New Orleans, you’ve seen fleur de lis on wrought iron gates and fences. It is even the logo of our professional football team, the New Orleans Saints. While the Fleur de Lis is ubiquitous in New Orleans, usage of it predates the city. Merriam-Webster defines “fleur-de-lis,” as a noun with an origin in “Middle English flourdelis, from Anglo-French flur de lis, literally, lily flower.” The dictionary states that “fleur-de-lis” was first used in the 14th century, and means: (1) an “iris” and (2) “a conventionalized iris in artistic design and heraldry.” I think the fleur de lis that Kelsey chose, a design with sharp, dagger-like points, put a nice edginess, with a New Orleans-style touch, on the cover. I took these photos of fleur de lis on a recent walk in the Garden District:
Finally, Kelsey used a map to create another layer. Though I’m getting to this element last, I think the way Kelsey used the map is as important as the painting and the fleur de lis to the finished product. The map’s details give the cover the sort of patina that permeates everything in the French Quarter, particularly where Kelsey layered the map over the painting. I love the way street names and other landmarks are visible, such as Bourbon, N. Peters, and Royal Street (where Andi lives). If you look closely, you’ll also see Jackson Square and the St. Louis Cathedral.
Other decisions went into the cover design, such as placement of the words, font sizing, and background colors, etc. I don’t pretend to understand the mechanics of how Kelsey does what she does, but I love her finished product. I also know that Debbie and Kelsey deserve awards for patience, as each tweak prompts endless commentary from me.
The manuscript is in the final editing phase as I write this, and the release date is quickly approaching. I’m looking forward to finally having Concierge, A Black Raven Novel, in my hands, so that I can see the cover in real life.
If you do read Concierge one day (and I hope you do!) I hope that you enjoy it. I love to hear from readers, so please let me know what you think of the cover and the story. You can reach me in the comment section of this blog, using this contact form, or on Facebook.
Take care, and happy reading –
p.s. I love playing tourist in my hometown, and on recent visits to the French Quarter, I snapped these photographs (1) from Jackson Square, a frontal view of the St. Louis Cathedral (my sister is in that photo, with her son and his girlfriend :)) and (2) from a balcony, looking down Chartres Street, towards the cathedral and the square.