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Saturday, February 20, 2010

Cover Stories: Ballads of Suburbia by Stephanie Kuehnert

Stephanie Kuehnert's here to share the Cover Story behind her latest release, Ballads of Suburbia!

balladsfinal.jpg
"Unlike with my first book, I Wanna Be Your Joey Ramone, I never had any real cover ideas while I was writing Ballads of Suburbia. I Wanna Be Your Joey Ramone was just a book I could sum up more easily, both in words and in images. It has a certain punk spirit that I could pin down; there were pictures of rock stars that inspired me and I passed those along as cover inspiration, though none of them stuck. Ballads is moody and dark and unsettling. When people ask me to tell them about it I always end up stalling. I was able to come up with visuals for the book trailer much more easily than a cover image because the trailer gave me a lot more room to capture the tone of the book. I guess that's sort of the visual equivalent of stalling and stuttering out long-winded explanations.

"Anyway, the only thing I really wanted for the cover was ransom-note-style lettering because the notebook that the characters write in in the book has that kind of lettering on the cover. I passed this idea along to my editor and also directly to the woman designing the cover. I was lucky enough to have the same designer as I had for IWBYJR. I knew this pretty early on, which is probably the other reason I didn't think about cover design as much. I trusted Anna. IWBYJR had the perfect cover. She is a genius. I hope she designs every book cover I do.

"My editor never showed me any of the designs until they had one they were basically set on. This is what happened with IWBYJR too. I didn't see rejected covers until I found them on Anna's Flickr (oh, Google alerts), which is how I came to correspond with Anna in the first place because I had to thank her for her brilliant design. [See Stephanie's Cover story for IWBYJR here.]

"When my editor sent me the IWBYJR cover, it was love at first sight. This time, it wasn't. You see Ballads of Suburbia is set in a real place, in a park I spent much of high school hanging out in, Scoville Park -- which doesn't look like the park on the cover at all. When I imagined the setting of Ballads, I saw cigarette butts in dead grass. I saw kids sitting in a circle on a hill. I didn't see a playground, especially not that playground on the cover because the tiny playground in the corner of Scoville Park didn't have a creepy, acid-trippy looking duck in it.

"I took a deep breath and reminded myself that they would never put the real Scoville Park on the cover. It wasn't eye-catching. The duck was eye-catching. My editor and everyone at MTV Books loved the duck. I studied the cover image and focused on what I did love. The font -- that had been done exactly as I'd hoped. The eerie color of the street lamps in the sky -- that suited the mood of the book to a tee. I showed the cover to my best friend even though I wasn't really supposed to show anyone yet. She'd been at the real Scoville Park with me, if she could approve of this not-really-our-park park, I could too. She adored the duck. It made her feel unsettled, like Things Were Not Quite Right, like Danger and Bad Things would happen. And that was the sense I wanted people to get from the book after all, that the suburbs are not perfect. So eventually the duck won me over. It became as perfect a symbol of the book as the boots on the cover of I Wanna Be Your Joey Ramone.

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Thumbnail image for balladsfinal.jpg


"There was just one thing left that bothered me about the cover: the playground seemed to lack a teenage element. So I asked my editor if something could be added in -- beer cans or bottles, cigarette butts, graffiti. She said they could try it, but warned me it might look too photoshopped. The comp with the beer cans definitely did look photoshopped, but the graffiti was perfect. It's a very small touch, if you compare them side by side (above), but it is exactly the touch I felt it needed. With that and the idea that I would put pictures of the real Scoville Park on my website, I was completely pleased with the cover.

"Once again, I saw the rejected covers after the fact. I saw the first when blogger described it and since her description didn't match the duck cover I'd seen *at all*, I asked to be pointed to where she'd seen it. It turned out to be a Simon & Schuster catalog that they had to throw together before they had a final cover. That cover was another picture of feet, a girl wearing Converse style shoes and pants sitting on a bench this time. I kinda liked it, but also felt it looked like IWBYJR's ugly kid sister. My fiance said if I had another book with feet on the cover people might think I had a fetish and my editor told me that she'd never shown it to me because she'd absolutely hated that cover.

Ballads odd type.jpg
"A couple more rejected covers eventually appeared on the designer's Flickr page. One was the same as the final cover but with different font for the title (left). Not nearly as cool since I do love my font. Another was this image of a girl and guy.
balladscouple.jpg
I like the suburban street they are on, that is pretty perfect for the book, but the girl only kind of looks like my image of Kara and the guy doesn't look like any of the guys in the book at all. That's why people on covers can be so challenging IMHO.

"So ultimately the duck wins out. I've gotta say, I can't imagine any other cover at this point!"

I am really into the creepy duck. What do you guys think?