Almost any author will tell you that the road to book publication is arduous and long, like a marathon course that scales high mountain peaks and snakes through twisted canyons. Maybe that’s why, for so many of us, the book doesn’t feel real until we see the final cover.
My beta readers, editors, family and friends know that I wrote Run to the Light in a 10-month whirlwind of intense late nights and weekday lunches and early weekend mornings. In fact, the actual writing happened so quickly that when I completed a first draft of the final chapter, I cried a little at the kitchen table of a friend hosting me for a race in Fargo, North Dakota. As much as I wanted to watch those pages become a real book, I didn’t want the writing to end.
I can’t capture the book writing process in a single blog post, but I thought it would be fun to share the story behind the cover scheduled to hit shelves in November 2018.
I always knew that I wanted one moment from the book’s final chapter to figure into the cover. In it, I’m running alone up a tree-lined street, leading thousands of other runners in a half marathon for which I received a 30-minute head start for safety reasons.
I asked my friend and colleague, photographer Rusty Williams, to help me bring the scene to life.
Rusty scouted the area several times. He wanted to understand not only how the morning light interacted with the thick canopy of trees and the pavement, but also how much traffic we’d have to contend with as I ran up and down the road, again and again, to make sure my photographer captured the perfect shot. (My husband, John, attended the shoot to help make sure Rusty and I didn’t get hit by a car).
The scene Rusty and I reenacted that day happened on one of the most beautiful streets in my hometown, but that isn’t why I chose it.
Here’s the thing: in real life, I couldn’t actually see the tree canopy or November sky above me or the ground beneath my feet, because I was blindfolded. When I ran through that tunnel of trees without the tether that had connected me to my guide for most of 13.1 miles, I saw my sister’s life and my own with perfect clarity. After years of suffering, I finally understood I’d received a great gift, no matter how much pain came with that gift. And since that moment, nothing has been quite the same.
I was alone in the tunnel of trees. My gait felt smooth, my body weightless, my breathing effortless. I thought maybe I could run forever. I touched the only photo that existed of Taylor finishing her first race, attached to my armband. It felt both heavy and light on my arm.”
Originally, I’d envisioned the cover with a photo of me running alone beneath the trees, just as I’d done on race day, so Rusty and I focused on capturing those shots.
We spent the better part of the shoot waiting for the morning light to look just right as it soaked through the leaves and shone on the pavement.
This was our favorite from the bunch:
For the heck of it, Rusty also took a few photos of my blindfold lying in the road. We thought we might get an interesting image for the back cover or for marketing the book.
But when I shared Rusty’s work with my publisher, they preferred the blindfold concept for the front cover. They felt it was more unique and also more striking than the shot of me running, especially as a thumbnail image online.
When I saw the final result, I knew they were right.
While I didn’t have total control over the cover design (authors rarely do, except for those who self-publish), I appreciated that my publisher gave me a say in the process and allowed me to work with a photographer I know and trust. Run to the Light won’t be the last book I write, but it will almost certainly be the most personal.
This entire journey has been a blessing, from the earliest outline to the completed manuscript and finished cover art. I can’t wait to share the result with the world in November.
If you live in or near Charlotte, I hope you’ll join me at Park Road Books on Saturday, November 10, at 2 p.m., when I’ll sign copies of Run to the Light and read from the book. Subscribe to this blog for news about additional events. If you want to suggest a location, feel free to contact me.