I took a bold turn with the jacket art on my latest novel, All the Stars in the Heavens. For the first time in my career, there is no woman on the cover.
If you’re a man, you can stop reading this Soapbox right now, as you’ve never heard of me. You’ll think you have. You’ll think you’ve seen my name on a pair of your wife’s shoes, or on the side of a cruise ship, or listed as a lunch special at Valbella’s, but you’d be wrong. I write novels about women, except for one: Rococo, about a man, a New Jersey decorator. But even that book had a woman on the cover.
All the Stars in the Heavens takes place during the golden age of Hollywood, around an imagined story about Loretta Young; Clark Gable; Alda, a young woman with a secret who is preparing to become a nun but is cast out of her convent; and the scenic artist she meets on the set of The Call of the Wild. It’s a big, lush historical novel. Everyone involved in producing the book saw a woman on the cover—that is, until we didn’t.
There’s a scene in the book with the writer Anita Loos and Louis B. Mayer’s secretary, Ida Koverman. Koverman is one of my favorite Hollywood characters because she was the brains of MGM and not many people know about her. She is said to have discovered many of the players of the day, pushed the best scripts in front of Mayer, and cast some of the best movies of the golden age.
Loos, a well-respected, brilliant screenwriter who began as a scenarist in the silent era, was a petite gamine who was hilarious, hardworking, and chic. She wore the latest styles, had bobbed hair, and epitomized youth. When she wrote Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, most people thought she was in her 20s, but she was over 40. Loos pulled this trick for years, staying on top of her game, employed in a town where she saw talent abandoned and potential forsaken on a daily basis, vowing it would never happen to her. She played youthful, even wearing ribbons in her hair—jeune fille ribbons, she called them.
On the cover of All the Stars is a red grosgrain ribbon. It’s Loos’s ribbon. Ageless, fabulous Loos—she tricked the very people who would have cast her aside like an old shoe if they knew the truth.
The midnight blue on the cover represents the India ink used to write letters, a theme in the novel. Gregg Kulick, the book’s designer, also thought about klieg lights, Hollywood premieres, and typewriter ribbons saturated in midnight blue ink.
The stars on the cover aren’t particularly celestial. They look like pastina, the Italian pasta that every Italian baby grows up on (me included). These small stelline represent Alda, the Italian-born novice who becomes Loretta Young’s lifelong secretary, and who navigates Loretta’s real-life secret (her relationship with the married Clark Gable) as well as her own.
Jonathan Burnham, my editor and publisher, had the idea to pull a quote from the novel for the back of the jacket. He chose the sentences, pulling a visual image of a train rolling up the coastline from Los Angeles to Washington state, where Loretta’s life would change the way her feelings changed for her costar. So instead of a woman on the cover, we have her thoughts, her point of view.
I was thrilled to read that while e-books are flourishing, so are hardcover sales. It turns out that we like holding books. How lucky that Burnham and I can sit around and talk about the quality of the elements that go into a finished book with the same reverence we both have for handmade shoes. We revere luscious paper, soothing typeface, lacy deckle edges, and endpapers that are cut clean like Scalamandre wallpaper. Cheap glue, crap paper, and loose binding are out. Book jackets are back! Hallelujah! Jacket art has to pack a wallop on the shelf, but also when reduced to a square, online on a link. No matter the venue, the cover has to pop.
The moment the finished book arrives is sweet. When I opened All the Stars, Gregg had painted a gold ribbon inside the flap in the front and back. This small detail throws light on the page as you read, illuminating the beauty of the words. He hadn’t told me about it. It was a surprise—I wasn’t expecting it, and it was thrilling, just like a good book.
Adriana Trigiani is the author of 15 New York Times bestsellers, including The Shoemaker’s Wife (Harper, 2012); she is also the writer and director of the film Big Stone Gap (2015), based on her debut novel.