A Tale of Two Covers (or Three, Really)

When it looked like The Geography of Pluto was going out-of-print last December, I panicked. Was that it for this little book that I had given so much of my life to? Even though it continued to steadily sell copies every year, they weren’t the numbers my first publisher felt warranted an additional print run.

Thankfully, I was able to get the rights back and sell them to Véhicule Press, the publisher of my second novel. A new edition of Pluto will now be coming out at the same time The Family Way hits bookstores in April 2021. This means we’ll be saying goodbye to the original cover (so hold on to it, if you have it), as my new publisher uses something that better complements the titles in its catalogue.

This is a bittersweet moment for me, because as much as I adore the new image, I have a strong connection to the original one.

Back in early 2013, when I had a contract and knew that Pluto would be published in the spring of 2014, I looked forward to the moment when I would finally find out what would be on the cover. After working on the book for almost 14 years, it felt impossible for me to imagine one central image that would represent the world I had created (below is something I attempted to mock up). When I closed my eyes, I really had no idea what it would look like. Would they use a pixilated image of Pluto? Or would that be too literal? It would probably be too dark, if they did. It might even make the novel look like an astronomy book.

An example of what I felt the cover might look like.

I was happy to be left out of the process. And to be honest, I was excited to see what a professional might come up with on their own. How would an artist working in another media interpret my work for readers? I remember the excitement I felt the day the email came in with the JPEG attached. “Here it is. Your cover.” I opened the file and gasped…

… It was wrong. Just, so very wrong.

I’d love to show you the image here, but I can’t. It’s not mine to show (and I also don’t want it out there in the world). I’ll describe it, instead. It was a sepia-toned image of the lower mouth and upper torso of a topless, skinny adolescent boy looking over his shoulder in wanton desire. The title was small, blood-red and in a font reminiscent of a vampire novel. It looked more like a homoerotic thriller than a book about first love and the relationship between a gay man and his mother.

Writers don’t always get a say in what goes on the cover of their books, but I knew I had to push back. I had worked so hard on this story, only for it to get what I felt was the short shrift. I politely expressed that I had an extreme reaction to the proposed cover. And even though the marketing department may have thought it great, I disagreed. I didn’t want Pluto to be victim to the clichés of gay fiction. I saw my novel as a book for multiple audiences, one that mothers might read to better understand their gay sons. And I didn’t see this kind of book on my mother’s nightstand.

Thankfully, my publisher understood my concerns and we set off to find something new. This time, I was invited to be involved. I was asked what I saw for the cover and suddenly I found myself in the same place I had been for the past 14 years—unsure what should go on the cover. Montreal? It’s a book about Montreal, maybe something about the city?

I spent hours searching Instagram, trying to get inspired, when I came across the account of Vincent Fortier, a Montreal photographer. Among his many stunning photos of the city was one of a winding metal staircase set against a pink/purple sky. This! I thought. Something like this! There was a light and energy to the image that seemed to capture my character Will’s state of mind. This was the back staircase he climbs to Max’s apartment. The open and endless sky was a nod to the heavens. The vibrant colour heralding the approach of night and signalling a moment of transformation. Thankfully, my publisher liked the image too, and so I wrote Vincent to ask him if we could use it. He responded right away and said yes.

Original cover of The Geography of Pluto.

Vincent didn’t know this at the time, but he had saved me from an impossible situation. I don’t know what I would have done if I had to settle for an image that I felt such strong revulsion for. I would have been proud of the book but embarrassed of its cover, feeling the need to apologize every time I spoke about it. His generosity spared me of that and I will be forever grateful. I’m happy to say we’ve also become great friends since (he’s an excellent writer too, with a debut novel just out).

However, with a new edition comes a new dress. And a few weeks ago, an email found its way into my inbox with a similar note. “Here it is. Your cover.” I gasped this time too.

I loved it immediately.

The new edition of The Geography of Pluto.

Pluto’s new cover was designed by David Drummond of Salamander Hill Design Studio (he also designed the cover for The Family Way). I’m impressed at how he had interpreted it based on the brief. Its orange/brown colour and ruler lines reminds me of high school texts books. And the criss-crossing squares overlapping with the orbital rings (with Pluto sitting right there) representing the boxes Will feels trapped in. The image is of Montreal too, in winter, with two of the prominent landmarks featured in the book—the Sir George-Étienne Cartier Monument and the cross on the mountain—present. He pretty much nailed it.

I like that Pluto now has two disparate looks and a second life which will hopefully flourish alongside the publication of my next book. I’ll keep both covers proudly on display in my library—one that reminds me of all the hopes and anxieties of being a first-time author, the other a wish for longevity and new audiences.

Now let’s see if we can just get someone to translate it into French and give it yet another life.