Care to help me decide on a cover my upcoming novel?

Here are 11 draft designs around five images. and here’s your chance to tell me if I’m on the right track. Note that these rough specs, and any final cover will need to be tweaked. Before I get into that, though, let me know how these strike you. Please take a look (clicking on a cover will open these in a slideshow format, if you wish).

After that, simply put your reactions and thoughts in the comments below. Thanks!

  • Which one most strongly grabs your attention?
  • Which image do you like the best?
  • Do you have any thoughts in regard to where the title and author go on the cover?
  • Considering that this will be an ebook, which cover do you think is most effective in thumbnail size?
  • Should I start over? If so, any pointers?

Once a final choice comes into view, I’ll report back with your insights. Maybe even with more questions needing your help. Just what makes an effective book cover, anyway?



With Christmas break, they were soon pulled apart. Call me, write me, we’ll be back together in no time. In an unbearably long anticipation.

In the next-door apartment, a sadist beat the tar out of a wailing baby: “Louder, you miserable bastard, I want to hear it hurt!” Like dropping a cat down the sewer. In those days, you didn’t call the police or social workers.

Some things shift for the better. In Aunt Berthanna’s hallway, purple vase hoarded who knew what mementos.

Ah! Home! A refrigerator filled with plastic. The disordering of her “DORN!” or worse yet, “DORN LUCAS!” yelled up that stairwell had conditioned him to cringe even when someone cried out his surname “MACKENZIE! DORN MACKENZIE!” in a cranky mothers’ tone. If it’s so almighty important, let her come to him. She demanded he interrupt his schoolwork, the term papers and final exams due immediately on his return to campus, dash downstairs, listen to her complaint, then run to the basement for a can of string beans or to the attic for an empty hat box. He saw how she’d rather watch soap operas than her own life or chat away precious hours with self-defeating apologies, while ignoring answers square before herself. He and his contemporaries were determined not to become like their parents. Never!

Fortunately, there was mail, for this was a time when long-distance phoning was prohibitively expensive for anything but the shortest conversations. The kid and Pepper’s imaginations took flight, unhindered by vocal tone, twitches, or embarrassing pauses. Sometimes they even achieved acrobatics of phrasing and mental doodling normal speech foreclosed. Had they been able to keep our relationship at this epistolary level, all might have remained, well, nearly divine. Of course, most people require their saints to come with flesh attached. The kid missed his Pepper and her endless supply of kisses. Nothing was more real than that.


For more from my THIRD RAIL collection, click here.


Interstate highways were killing the railroads. Hollywood was overtaking Manhattan as the center of international influence. Maybe, he thought, the nation was in a race of obsolescence. The big action was taking place at the fringes of the continent – San Francisco and Greenwich Village – rather than in the center: Iowa and Indiana had become back country as much as Montana and Wyoming. Maybe more.

He drove north along the bluffs. Turned in, parked the car, and climbed to a spot towering over a dam and barge locks in the Mississippi. Already, deep cold had frozen the surface. As he gazed down, a large black bird with a white head and white tail stretched a massive wingspan and soared below him, drifting out over water kept open by heavy current. Teak-wick! The kid had never before seen an American bald eagle. Teak-wick! All power before him! Teak-wick! Behind him were mysterious earthen mounds, the burial remains of Adena or Hopewell natives who lived at this site a millennium or two earlier. He peeled a strip of shaggy bark from a sycamore trunk and turned to traipse back to the car.

Today, with a computer, the image would be manipulated with ease. Not so, in his darkroom isolation. He could ask if one form of perfection is superior to another. Any answer would have a hollow ring.

In town, anticipating Christmas, the Salvation Army kettles kept ringing.

At home, he kept picking up the phone to hear only buzzing.


For more from my THIRD RAIL collection, click here.