The two covers have the same basic design elements: a naked lady with a dark blonde bob and a cannabis plant on a pale background. But (to me, anyway) they couldn’t feel more different.
My hardcover is clean. So clean. Suze Orman clean. Like those old Dove ads that featured ladies that were real. So real that Dove could not risk their sexuality. They wore big panties and you were not supposed to want to fuck them. You were supposed to respect them and think them brave just for showing you that they do have bodies that don’t look like your regular billboard bodies and they were okay with these bodies. Not fuck you exactly if you didn’t like it, but rather, hey, we’re still here anyway okay? if you didn’t like it. There is a certain kind of power in this. There is a difference between the power of fuckability and the power of respectability. The former is a harder sort of currency, but disposable.
Presenting my book in that way says, see, it’s not a gray market enterprise we’re talking about here! Come, Soccer Mom, you’re gonna love this! It’s like Kate Plus Eight! But with ganja! Don’t like pot? Okay how about joy? You like joy? Oh yeah you do. How ‘bout freedom? Everybody likes freedom! Because, I mean just look at that lady. She is joyful and free and she would be wearing one of those ASK ME HOW! Buttons that Herbalife people wear if only she had a stitch to pin it to, really she would!
My publisher and I shared the desire to reach a lot of readers. Let’s sell books! Of course. I can’t imagine being the kind of self-flagellator who wants only six people to read her book, even if it is amazing that six people would take the time. It’s even nicer when they send you emails or review it on Amazon. But why not aim high (pun sincerely not intended)? My publisher is really good at the kind of book that has it’s author on the cover. It puts a human face on the story. It makes sense. It also makes sense that Blair Witch would be on the cover. I really do get it. The thing is, nobody wants to buy the middle aged woman. The middle aged woman does not sell like hotcakes. She sells like tepidcakes. When was the last time you saw tepidcakes on a menu? Hot things burn. Tepid things go down easy. Clean and tepid are widely digestible, if not highly desirable.
This is why I thought, when I presented this: “Okay guys, how about me, naked, with a pot plant.” They were going to say, “Yeah, let’s just go with the illustration.”
I was up late a lot, as the manuscript was due in five days and the accompanying sleepless nights made it all the more surreal to find myself, a week after that email exchange, totally naked with a pot plant.
The photographer, Michele Clement did a fantastic job. Especially considering I completely fucked up her really beautiful, gorgeously sketched out plan when I showed up with short blonde hair and thirty extra pounds. A difficult commodity. To top it off, she borrowed a for reals, not-fake-silk cannabis plant; no small thing, even in San Francisco. The plant I am clutching on the cover is Blackberry Kush, a strain I grew, which made it a very happy botanical family reunion for me. Michele and her kick-ass team made a photo that I cherish.
Still, the middle of the road sterility of it, despite all of our best efforts with the semi-legal plant and the nudity, gave me the sinking feeling that people who might like the book might pass it by because of the cover, and people who liked the cover were probably not going to be into the book. As Michelle Dean and I discussed over at The Awl, the book is much rawer than the cover would suggest. Even the subtitle, “How My Life After the Blair Witch Project Went to Pot” was amusing in an old-fashioned, safe, and kind of cheesy way. It was Blair Witch that made my story interesting. It was Blair Witch (and Mollie Glick) that got me a healthy advance. The downside was that isn’t what the book is about. The story isn’t a Hollywood story. It’s the story of someone who thought she was one thing, and became something else all together. It’s about the question of whether we can change and if so, how much? Are we the products of our own creation or are we born with some indelible ways of being in the world? I think we all confront those questions at one point or another. Putting the author on the cover you say, “This is MY story, MINE!” I never really saw Growgirl that way.
My paperback represents more than it presents. It is very nearly the cover I had in my mind when I was writing the book. The illustration is an anthropomorphization of a mandrake root into a woman. It comes from a medieval alchemical manual. I shortened her hair and replaced the mandrake plant with a cannabis illustration from a old botanical manual. The mandrake woman is symbol of transition and transformation. No separation between plant and animal. They start to match. They are family now. This is what I think the best parts of Growgirl are about.
The legend of the mandrake woman has a weird sort of power, which I like. Take this from Josephus, a guy writing in Jerusalem around 50 AD:
“A furrow must be dug around the root until its lower part is exposed, then a dog is tied to it after which the person tying the dog must get away. The dog then endeavours to follow him, and so easily pulls up the root, but dies suddenly instead of his master. After this the root can be handled without fear.
That’s more like it!
I don’t think Growgirl is just my story. It’s a version of a story about growing up and up and up that uses my voice and the events of my life in the telling. Everybody lives this story at some point, to varying degrees, or will. Some role got stuck to you: be it wife, father, lawyer, teacher, guy that got bitten by a shark, or girl from the Blair Witch Project. You shed it or make peace with it (or something in between) and keep on growing.
The two covers (and subtitles) are so different, that I kind of ended up with the best of both worlds. I’d love to hear which cover you prefer and why. Or perhaps you think they both suck. Let me know! Come on over to Facebook or click me up @aheatherdonahue on the twitter.