Got it Covered?

BLISS_200x300Guest post by Spencer Dryden, author of Bliss

Hello my name is Spencer Dryden. I am a first time author of a novella titled “Bliss” from Breathless Press. It is a story of a woman’s struggle with sexual shame. The story takes place in the mythical town of Bliss, New Hampshire. My main character,  Christina McArdle is outwardly very successful, but is struggling with demons of past and present that threaten the loss of all she loves. Although there is a central love story, it’s more suspense than romance.  I am very excited about the launch and thrilled to be featured here today. Since I am a new author, I thought I would try to offer some first hand experience with the publishing process.

“Bliss” is my first trip down the publishing gauntlet. Like a first baby, there are delights and surprises. Within a week of signing the contract, I received an e-mail from someone introducing herself as a cover artist for Breathless Press, the publisher of my soon to be mega hit. (Right) She attached a form for me to complete to help her begin designing a cover. The cover art agreement was full of can’s and cant’s that didn’t register.

Whoa! Never gave cover art a moment’s thought. Warning! Where ever you are in your story development, whether you plan on self publishing or going the traditional route, think about cover art—a lot. Marketing research says it’s very important in the buying decision, especially for the impulse buy.

I’m not enough of a marketing guy to know if  the cover sells an e-book the way it sells print books. I’m a first time, unknown author. I want anything and everything working in  my favor. I want a cover that entices a reader to the first page of my story, then, hopefully, my opening can set the hook. Hopefully. But what does that cover look like for my story “Bliss”? Not a clue.

I began a frantic search, comparing story synopsis to cover art. I came to the conclusion that many published authors were as artistically vacant or as clueless as I was. IMO there is often very little connection between cover and story. I didn’t have any appreciation for why that might be. In my naive mind, I wanted a cover that would burn an image on a reader’s brain, rendering them unable to rest until they opened the cover —AFTER purchasing the book. Dream on.

I do not suffer alone. Given it’s ultimate impact on the trade and the art, the (arguably) most “important” novel of the second half of the twentieth century was introduced by the most innocuous cover in the history of publishing. It wasn’t until it was into numerous printings and the term Catch-22 had become part of the cultural literacy, that the cover was redesigned.

Desktop publishing, especially the graphics applications have dramatically altered the landscape of book covers. Stunning visual creations can be crafted at a fraction of the cost of traditional cover art. But the technology is ahead of the art or at least the connection between cover artist and author.

I came up with some ideas that I thought were critical to convey with the cover, completed my form and awaited the masterpiece. Then came the big surprise, which was the key to the disconnect between story and cover. Stock photos. Turns out that unless you are a megastar writer, publishing for the gargantuan press, your cover image will be drawn from the pot of publically available stock images rather than individually photographed to specification.

For “Bliss”, a story rife with oppressive religious themes, I wanted a woman kneeling in a traditional penitent’s gown of coarse material. She had to appear curvaceous beneath the simple gown but vulnerable —blindfolded, hands folded in prayer, or both. The image is evoked on the first page of the prelude, where I set the dark undertone of the story. Unfortunately the artist couldn’t deliver anything that wasn’t into BDSM, where I didn’t want to go. I slumped into despair.

Virginia Miller at Breathless Press did a wonderful job of getting as close as possible with the limited resources of a small publisher. The woman on the cover of “Bliss” is standing and not kneeling but she is curvaceous, yet not slutty. The part of her face we see projects vulnerability. She is set out from a background of dark foreboding tones. The image is in stark contrast to the title “Bliss”.

The take-away is this cover art thing is subject to limitations of material and time. They only allow a few ‘tries’ then you take what they give you. Think about it

Does it work? You tell me, but I wanted to jump through the computer and kiss Virginia Miller.

You can reach me through my website

On twitter: @SpencerDryden


Christina McArdle must cast out the demons of her past and present or lose the love of her life.

In the prosperous community of Bliss, New Hampshire, in 1995, Christina McArdle is living a feminist dream. In short order she has become the first female partner of the venerable, male dominated CPA firm of Driscol, Ryan, Jensen and Palmer. The honor followed by her selection as the first female member of the prestigious Maplewood Country Club.

But Christina fears that her career success has come at a terrible price. Her husband, Ben, has lost sexual interest in her. Unable to ignite his passion for her and desperate for understanding of her own inhibitions, Christina turns to Dr. Rachel Morrisey, a sex therapist, who helps her uncover dark secrets from her past. Christina’s path to recovery is blocked by a misogynistic pastor who traps her and many other women of her church in a shame bind that serves his purulent interests.

Her path to freedom requires Christina to break bonds from past and present or lose the thing she loves most in life—the love of husband and family.


Dr. Rachel Morissey touched Christina’s arm gently and handed her another tissue.

“Mrs. McArdle, I’m a sex therapist and not a family doctor. I find that I need to speak about sex bluntly in order to get through people’s resistance.” She searched Christina’s eyes to see if she was tracking. It had been a hard first session. Taking the first steps in breaking down resistance, confronting demons, bringing up painful personal memories always brought tears.

“Sexuality is a hard discussion topic for couples. I don’t mean to diminish your pain, but so far it’s like so many others. When you’re young, sex may be clumsy, but quantity is a quality all its own. So is time. Now you’re thirty-five, a working professional mother of young twins, with an at-home husband. You’re both living in a different world from your parents, and there are a lot of demands on your time that sap sexual energy. In this phase of life, you have to be much more intentional about sex.” Dr. Morissey paused again, waiting for Christina to process. “Lying in bed in the dark, waiting for your husband to initiate sex, isn’t a good strategy for fostering intimacy.”

Christina wiped away another nagging tear.

“But there’s something else I need to explore,” said Dr. Morissey. “I am wondering if you were ever raped or sexually abused?”

“Why? Is that important?” asked Christina.

“Very. It often creates problems with intimacy years later. You seem almost fearful of sex.”

Christina hung her head. “I was nearly raped once,” she whispered.

“So you were assaulted.”

“I guess.”

“Mrs. McArdle, I’m sensing a lot of guilt here. Physical contact without your permission is assault. It’s another person’s crime, not yours. You said nearly raped. What happened?”

Christina shuddered as she recalled the forbidden memory. “We had a boy in our neighborhood that was a bully to the boys and terror to the girls. Nobody would do anything about him. Our parents told us to stay away. But he would hide out and grab girls, rip their clothes off, and grope them. It happened to many of my friends.”

“How old were you then?”

“Eighth grade.”

“Did he actually do forceful penetration on any of his victims?”

“You sound like the police now.”

“It’s an important distinction, especially with a minor perpetrator.”

“No. He didn’t.”

“What happened with you?”

“I was taking a shortcut home across the athletic fields one evening. No one was around. He jumped out from between the outbuildings, threw me down to the ground, and jumped on top of me. I tried to fight, but he had his hand on my throat.”

Christina unconsciously reached for her throat and pulled on her necklace.

“Sometimes I can still feel him squeezing my throat,” she said through closed eyes. “I couldn’t breathe. I tried to scream but couldn’t. He was pressing down on me with his crotch between my legs.”

“Were his pants on?”

“Yes, but he was humping me like some kind of animal.”

Christina gasped as if she were going to scream. “Finally, he leaned down and put his cheek next to mine. I was hysterical with fear, that’s why I did it.”

“Did what?”

“I bit off a big chunk of his ear.”

Christina rolled forward, put her head between her knees, and sobbed.

“Now we’re getting somewhere. What happened after that?”

Christina rose up, brushing away tears with a clenched fist. “He ran away screaming and told his parents that I had attacked him.” She had to stop to catch her breath. “The police came to our house and asked me a lot of questions. Nothing happened to him. I got suspended from school. Can you believe it?” The rage faded to sorrow. Christina wept softly again. “I got so much grief for that, Dr. Morissey. Did I do right? I was just so scared and desperate.”

 Bio: Some men are born great, others strive for greatness; still others have greatness thrust upon them. Spencer Dryden is none of these men. In fact, he is so unimpressive, he leaves no footprints on newly fallen snow. He was trained in fiction writing on the job with the many sales reports he produced for his managers, winning the coveted “keep your job contest” three years running. His expense reports are still considered masterpieces of forgery by the bankruptcy trustee of his former employer. He lives an unremarkable life in a suburb of a northern city. His friends and family would drop dead in horror if they knew of his secret life as a writer of erotica. He hates the family cat but still loves to pet his wife.