Acclaimed visual artist and author Kris Waldherr traffics in art and words, which is why the cover for her debut novel The Lost History of Dreams is just as packed with meaning as it is visually stunning. Everything--from the cover’s cryptic eye miniature and shadowy visage to its delicate lavender typeface--harkens back to Waldherr’s own evaluation of the novel itself: “The Lost History of Dreams is a novel built on images. Daguerreotypes of the dead and photographs of the living. Watercolor paintings of migrating birds. Eye miniatures created by secret lovers. Stained glass and forbidden dreams,” Waldherr said.
A gothic tale in the tradition of novels like Wuthering Heights and The Thirteenth Tale, The Lost History of Dreams follows the character Robert Highstead, a historian turned post-mortem photographer, as he uncovers the sodden truth of a celebrated dead poet’s life and faces the truth of his own living demons. Upon receiving the brief for the novel’s cover, designer Jarrod Taylor, a designer, illustrator, and art director for Twelve Books, began pulling together elements that would ultimately convey the novel’s gothic, romantic essence. “I was contacted by Cherlynne Li, one of the art directors at Simon and Schuster, to work on this cover and once I heard the description was thrilled to take it on,” Taylor said. “She told me that they wanted something kind of eerie and Victorian looking to match the feel of the book. Once I started reading it myself I knew what she meant and there was a lot of inspiration to pull from inside. One of the ideas I landed on was an otherworldly representation of the woman in the book. I showed an early version of the final cover along with a bunch of other ideas that hit the ‘spooky Victorian’ target (like foggy manors and death photos), but this one was the frontrunner from the beginning.”
Taylor was especially drawn to the motif of the eye miniature, which are Georgian miniatures (typically worn as jewelry) depicting the eyes of a loved one, child, or spouse. The miniature is a significant plot point in The Lost History of Dreams, so Taylor kept the motif subtle, yet bright and evident, on the novel’s cover. Then, the design process became--as it so often does--a matter of details. “Once everyone was happy with the idea it was just a matter of refining everything a bit more to get it over the finish line. A lot of the tweaking came in the form of photoshop work turning the woman's outfit from late-19th century to more mid-19th century, this was done by filling her skirt out a bit more and cutting her sleeves down,” Taylor said. “This sort of cover isn't something I get a chance to do much so it was a good change of pace,” designer Taylor said. “Plus now I know what crinolines are!” The result? A cover that invites intrigue and promises romance. A cover of which an illustrator and Spine Book Covers We Love! panelist like Waldherr can be proud. A cover that begs readers to settle down for the story inside. “The cover evokes another inspiration for my novel, a David Foster Wallace quote that serves as its epigraph: ‘Every love story is a ghost story.’” Waldherr said. “It's also mysterious and represents the mid-Victorian historical period of my novel. I couldn’t be more thrilled with it!"
Be on the lookout for The Lost History of Dreams from Touchstone Books in April 2019. It’s as stunning on your bookshelf as it is haunting on the page.
Mary Ryan Karnes is a freelance writer and a Master's candidate in fiction at the University of Southern Mississippi.