Thursday, August 24, 2017

THE HECTOR LASSITER COVERS: THE STORY BEHIND THE STORY

“I believe in the future resolution of…dream and reality, which are seemingly so contradictory, into a kind of absolute reality, a surreality.”
— André Breton

That quote by the Dark Father of Surrealism heads a chapter in my Hector Lassiter novel, TOROS & TORSOS.

“Surreality.”

Indeed.

The web increasingly abounds in calculated lies, deceptions… So-called “fake news.”

Some such canards are benign. But many are not. Some are even barreling toward Stage Four malignancy.

The Hector Lassiter series focuses on the aforementioned Mr. Lassiter, a novelist, a screenwriter, and a storyteller popularly known in his universe as, “The man who lives what he writes, and writes what he lives.”

Several years ago, as HEAD GAMES was just being released as my debut novel, I hit upon the idea of staging a photo of Mr. Lassiter’s 1920-1930s era, Key West writing desk as a promotional tool.

Using my own Thomasville “Hemingway” standing office desk, I festooned that sucker with period appropriate props: exactly the right 1873 Colt Peacemaker, a vintage portable Royale typewriter of the sort on which Hector would have pounded out novels and short stories. Pulp magazines and books by other authors of the era… There is even a certain Zippo lighter… And a vintage crime paperback I’d turned into a physical facsimile of a Hector Lassiter-penned paperback novel.

The picture was shot, then photo edited into sepia-tinted tones and distressed in some cases to look convincingly vintage. Here it is in one of its several iterations still spreading out on the web: 



Fast forward a decade or so: One is always looking for hopefully charming — or at least not in-your-face — ways of beating the promotional drum to draw attention to one’s works.

As has been stated more than once in my novels, we do it for the art, but as career writers, we simply can’t be above the money.

Nakedly put, increased book sales, reviews and pre-orders equal more Mr. Lassiter novels, or EL GAVILANS, or?

This fall will at last see the publication of HEAD GAMES:THE GRAPHIC NOVEL.


This new book is important to my and to Mr. Lassiter’s futures. It’s important that it succeeds.

So, after writing a series of novels about a career author, it struck me, particularly after many years of receiving touching and passionate verbal and written requests from readers to please produce for them, (ahem) in their entirety, Hector Lassiter penned novels, that at least a generous series of promotional images might serve as a sort of sly, visual bibliography of the prolific Lassiter oeuvre, and that it might be a welcome kick for the faithful and any newcomers.

It even struck me some of the latter might benignly even mistake Lassiter as a “real” author turned novel character, ala Orson Welles or Ernest Hemingway as the images wended their way across the web.

Biographical aside perhaps needed here:

I set out as an art student before I turned to writing.

Occasionally, I still paint and draw, and sometimes even imagery from novels in progress. (For instance, there is a HEAD GAMES-era collection of original paintings, yes.)

And for every book cover of mine save ROGUE MALES — the only one for which I had no input or control over and which, to put it charitably, very much sucks — I’ve managed extraordinary control of my English-language covers and their imagery.

That control has variously been significant to robust, and I’ve even somehow managed it across several publishers, ranging from Indies, to the big houses of NYC.

As I set about this particular, quirky artistic task, this “Great Cover Caper”—repurposing old and evocative covers of books from now long-defunct houses for long-dead authors, or, in some cases, original pulp and paperback paintings sans any cover design furniture like logos, typography or prices—at first I just went for capturing the vibe and feel of those groovy old paperback originals in a winking way.

If you’re of a certain age, you know: all those paperbacks that dominated now defunct face-out displays in American cigar stores and bookshops circa the 1950s-1980s, as well as many a pharmacy wire-rack “spinner” display.

That’s no mean feat, in and of itself, fifty or more years after the fact.


These days, fonts are frequently frantically over-thought to the edge of incoherence. Cover illustrations by talented painters are, sadly, increasingly rare.

And design? Well, it’s too often design for design’s sake.

In the good old days? Anything went so long as it grabbed, communicated in a blink, and would sell.

Those folks back-when knew how to push fiction.

For me, replicating the era of old paperback-original designs initially made for a jazzy, diverting weekend. 

Initially.

But somewhere along the way (say, weekend two), things took an unexpected but intriguing turn, one that actually brought back some of the crazy charge of writing the Lassiter books in the first place, all those years ago.

I found myself increasingly designing covers that winked at the existing ten Lassiter novels currently published by Betimes Books.

It occurred to me that these crazy fictional covers could become a sly and in some cases, even a kind of touching or bittersweet way of building on the existing novels and even subtly extending the Lassiter “canon” in a sense.

I saw the faux covers, in their hopefully sly, subversive manner, could stretch the canvas of the now-published novels, comprising their own creative statement on the flamboyant life and resulting "fictional" writings of Hector Lassiter.


As these images continue to appear, consistent with Hector’s reputation for living what he wrote, and writing what he lived, the attentive reader may begin to detect the ways in which Hector would have used his real-life adventures in the ten books carrying my by-line and see how Hector would have twisted them into the inspiration for his own novels.

Going forward, there will be a continuing series of standalone covers that may or may not speak to — or afford clues — to (as yet?) unrecorded adventures that Hector experienced and eventually forged into fiction.

But there will also be waves of series of covers tied to each of the ten novels that carry my name, some of which are a decade old now.

Each day, through Dec. 31 and perhaps even a ways into 2018, you will find new covers posted to Facebook here, to Twitter here, to Pinterest here, and to Instagram here.

A last thought on that last link to the Pinterest gallery of covers to date:

“The Lassiter Covers” are actually beginning to spread across that particular social media site as accepted and even typical examples of vintage paperback and pulp cover art and design, from back-when.

In a sense, I know I should feel uneasy about that. (Fake covers!?)

But on the other hand, and because this was meant to be a good-natured spoof in the end, and one undertaken in love for an era of popular fiction cover design long dead, I confess I’m honestly delighted to see these new-old “Hector Lassiter covers” sharing space with all the long-gone writers who would have been Hec's peers in his alternate reality—the Hammetts, Woolriches, Chandlers, Prathers and MacDonalds and McDonalds.

Call it…surreality?



(This blog entry is dedicated to critic and book collector Marvin Minkler, who asked regarding these images, the key questions of who, how and why?)


THE HECTOR LASSITER SERIES, AS PUBLISHED BY BETIMES BOOKS:


ONE TRUE SENTENCE: Paperback/eBook

FOREVER'S JUST PRETEND: Paperback/eBook

TOROS & TORSOS: Paperback/eBook

THE GREAT PRETENDER: Paperback/eBook

ROLL THE CREDITS: Paperback/eBook

THE RUNNING KIND: Paperback/eBook

HEAD GAMES: Paperback/eBook



PRINT THE LEGEND: Paperback/eBook/audio

DEATH IN THE FACE: Paperback/eBook

THREE CHORDS & THE TRUTH: Paperback/eBook




1 comment:

  1. Craig, thanks so much for this. The covers continue to remind me of how much I love the Hector Lassiter series, and they enhance the HL legend, keeping the last man standing, out there somewhere on a highway, Zippo flashing in the dark and the Bel Air tires humming.

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