This is the cover of "The Other Side of Fear," a novella about the XK9s. Cover art is copyright 2020 by Lucy A. Synk.
(Cover Artwork © 2020 by Lucy A. Synk)

Creating a cover with Lucy

Lucy painted the first Wizards’ Worlds cover. She corresponded with Andre Norton several times while the author was living. (artwork © by Lucy A. Synk)

I sort of wandered sideways into creating a cover with Lucy A. Synk. Lucy’s a wonderful fantasy and media-portrait artist whose work I discovered at science fiction convention art shows in the 1980s. She also painted professional illustrations and book covers back in the day.

She and I were friendly acquaintances when she lived in the Kansas City area. But ironically our friendship really took off after she moved away. We discovered how much fun it was to talk with each other on the phone, and the rest is history.

Although she and I haven’t lived in the same town in decades, today I count her as one of my dearest friends. We travel to places “partway between” to meet for the occasional face-to-face gabfest, and we’ve shared many adventures over the years.

Lucy’s been there since the beginning of the XK9s

In Lucy's color drawing "Doggie-Back Rides," XK9 Rex gives his partner's 3-year-old niece a ride on his back.
Lucy created “Doggie-Back Rides,” featuring Rex with Charlie’s niece Lacey, mostly for fun.
(artwork © 2018 by Lucy A. Synk)

Naturally, she reads drafts of my writing projects in their developmental stages. She offered insights and unflagging encouragement throughout the many, many, many, many early drafts of What’s Bred in the Bone (that’s why her name is on the dedication page).

But she had by then moved into other realms with her artwork, and expressed no interest in illustrating my stories, other than the occasional, small whimsical drawing. Ever creating a cover with Lucy seemed out of the question.

Until one day it wasn’t, anymore. I started in my role as Art Director for Weird Sisters Publishing, Lucy’s job situation changed, and I finished the manuscript of my soon-to-be-released novella The Other Side of Fear.

The novella depicts events that happened before the action in What’s Bred in the Bone, when the XK9s and their future partners met on the planet Chayko. The story’s action follows Shady’s eventual partner, Pamela Gómez, and her personal evolution. Lucy had been reading each draft, advising me on the development of the story . . . and cooking up visual ideas.

A creative collaboration

My favorite way to work with a cover artist is to have them read the manuscript, consider the story and how to visually express it, then tell me how they’d like to approach it.

I generally have my own ideas, but the artist knows his or her own vision and capabilities best. The folks I’ve worked with so far also understand the “postage-stamp poster” nature of a book cover. Creating a cover with Lucy or any other artist becomes a creative collaboration.

In this case, Lucy had a very clear idea. There are two pivotal scenes in the story that happen near a bonfire at night. She wanted to use the dramatic lighting at these important moments to create a dynamic cover.

Lucy's pencil rough of the bonfire scene.
Here’s Lucy’s first sketch of the “bonfire scene.” (artwork © 2019 by Lucy A. Synk)
This is the black-and-white tonal study for the bonfire scene.
With the concept approved, Lucy moved to the tonal study. (artwork © 2019 by Lucy A. Synk)
This is the first color rough of the bonfire scene.
Next she created the first color rough of the most important part of the scene. (artwork © 2019 by Lucy A. Synk).

What does an “ashasata” look like?

Most of the action in The Other Side of Fear takes place on Planet Chayko, under the watchful eyes of the XK9 Project’s trainers and officials. Chayko is an exo-Terrestrial planet that humans were allowed to colonize because repeated meteor bombardments had reduced the native life-forms to pre-sapient levels. But it still has a breathable atmosphere, a similar mass (thus, gravity), a G-type star, and many other Earth-like aspects that allow humans to flourish there.

The humans installed a shield to repel the meteor-strikes, then settled in. They brought Earth plants and animals, but never completely terraformed the planet. Instead, it’s a patchwork of native, more “primordial” organisms alongside the imports from Earth.

Lucy, with her decade of work in natural history illustrations, has been having a wonderful time advising me and co-conspiring with me about how native Chaykoan life-forms look. One general type of organism that is mentioned repeatedly in The Other Side of Fear is the ashasatas. They are brachiated life-forms that fill a niche similar to Earth’s trees.

But what do they look like? The bonfire scenes take place in a rustic setting at the edge of an ashasata forest. We could’ve blurred the details back into the shadows and “faked it,” but Lucy wanted to explore the idea. Ashasatas, she suggested, would look more like the earlier treelike plants on earth. She led me on a journey through the paleobotany of conifers, to the Chilean Monkey Puzzle Tree (yes, this is how nerds have fun).

Monkey puzzle trees at night. Perfect for our bonfire! Creating a cover with Lucy.
Monkey Puzzle Trees (Araucaria) at night, lit from below–living fossils that provided a perfect model for our Ashasatas at the bonfire. Note: they are the Chilean national tree (Lucy found this photo somewhere. I haven’t been able to locate the source).

Pulling it all together

Once we figured out what ashasatas look like, Lucy was able to finish the cover painting in the correct proportions. Here’s a look at the painting without the words all over it.

Here’s the finished painting, before I put in all the typography. Lucy can tell you who every person in the background crowd is. (artwork © 2020 by Lucy A. Synk)

She ultimately reduced the size of the crowd behind Shady. For those of you who’ve read What’s Bred in the Bone, can you guess which of them are Dr. Ordovich, Dr. Imre the Breeding Coordinator, and Chief Klein?

Other characters whom you’ll meet in The Other Side of Fear are Randy the Education Director and other partner-candidates. Lucy can tell you who everyone is.

I hope you’ve enjoyed this look at the process of creating a cover with Lucy A. Synk. We’ve discussed a lot of other ideas and projects, so look for more artwork from her in the future!

Weird Sisters Publishing released The Other Side of Fear in wide distribution on March 31, 2020. If you’d like a FREE e-copy, you can get one if you subscribe to Jan’s monthly newsletter!

IMAGE CREDITS: Many thanks to Lucy A. Synk for all of these images.