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  • kmickelwait

Under Cover

My new memoir, The Ghost Marriage, is coming out this week, and I’m getting so many compliments on the cover, I thought I’d share the story behind it. Unlike some publishers, SheWrites Press is wonderful in the way it fully collaborates with the authors on the design of their covers.

SheWrites asked me to send screen shots of other book covers I liked. We went through several rounds of designs exploring different concepts, but nothing felt timeless enough that I’d want to see it in years to come (an author can always dream that her book will remain in print indefinitely, right?).

At about this time, I was at a party—this was the month before COVID reached our shores—and a friend asked about the memoir I was working on. I told him the title, The Ghost Marriage, and the general plot, how I had continued to communicate with my ex-husband after his death.

“There’s an artist you need to check out,” the friend said, and pulled up on his phone the website of artist Anne Seims. Before me unspooled the most extraordinary paintings of women from various periods of history, their faces and hands solid but their dresses transparent and ghostlike.

I picked one that particularly spoke to me because her dress looked like a wedding dress, the lace rising off it in a pattern of roses and thorns. With her red lips and startling blue eyes, the woman looked like she had something important to say. I sent the image to Julie Metz— SheWrites’ graphic designer who is also a memoirist herself—and she loved the painting, too.

But when we featured the full image on the page, the woman’s compelling face made it seem as if The Ghost Marriage were her own story. I worried that potential readers would assume the book was historical fiction, not memoir. Julie then cropped the painting so that you can see the enigmatic smile but the focus is more on the ghostlike lace. I instantly knew this was my cover.

Seims graciously allowed us to use the cropped image. Originally from Berlin, Germany, she’s a Seattle-based artist who regularly shows around the country. The painting I chose was from an earlier series that Seims created for a group show of German artists at the Goethe Institute in San Francisco, interpreting the stories by the Brothers Grimm. The painting I chose for my cover is titled “Dornröschen,” which is German for “Sleeping Beauty.”

In the original fairy tale—written by 17th-century French author Charles Perrault (who also wrote “Cinderella” and “Little Red Riding Hood”)—a thorny, impenetrable hedge grows up around the castle to protect Sleeping Beauty's slumber, and many princes lose their lives when they try to cross the thicket. To me, the roses and thorns that rise from the lace in Seims’ painting represent the good and bad aspects of my own marriage, which was what made the image feel so right to me.

“I think deep inside of us lives a longing to experience a sense of falling in love, a visceral experience without words,” Seims says. “For that to happen, this place needs to be free of irony and conceptual humor. I’m looking in my work to find the point in which we feel a certain ache—the ache caused by the knowledge that life is full of light and dark, sacred and profane, beauty and ugliness, life and death.”

Seims has since moved on to a new series called Feral, inspired by the #metoo movement, that features a common theme of tattoos. I wish I could write another book just to use one of them on another cover. You can check out all of Seims’ work here.

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