August 6, 2010


In the 1950’s I loved a television program called “Candid Camera,” moderated by Alan Funt. The premise was to put people in whacky situations to see how they behaved. One of my favorite skits involved a talking mail box. When a person opened the letter slot, a microphone inside would ask questions like, “Did you remember to put a stamp on the envelope? Have you provided a return address?”

Inevitably, people would recheck their envelopes before they stopped to wonder who was talking and from where. New Yorkers, I discovered, were particularly blasé, and I formed an impression of the city without ever having been there.

My most startling revelation came from a gag which involved the actress/writer, Fannie Flagg. In the first skit, she was dressed in shabby clothes. Her hair was wrapped in curlers and she wore thick glasses. She was asked to stand on the pavement beside a car with a flat tire and ask passersby for help. The response was what might be expected from busy people in a big city. They hurried past as if they hadn’t seen or heard her. Later, she changed her outfit into something chic. With a glamorous hairdo, fresh makeup and the thick glasses removed, she made the request again. The responses this time were usually positive. 

The program left an impression on me. Fair or not, I learned that appearance is important. That old adage about a book and its cover is a cliché because it’s true.

I was reminded of this on Tuesday during a lively TV discussion about my books.Having nothing to do with the content, the interviewer asked how I felt about Gothic Spring’s jacketdesign. I was taken aback.

I admit some of my candid friends have been negative about the drawing of a girl stretched out with a flower in her hand. They say the picture misleads the reader because the book is more substantial than the cover suggests. Frankly, I’m not clear on what’s so off-putting about the design but if it fails, I blame myself. When the publisher asked me to suggest something, having no experience in such matters, I spit out the first idea that came into my head. I regret having been so cavalier. That ill-conceived judgment has probably cost me sales.

By contrast, people respond favorably to Heart Land, a coverI didn’t choose. Pictures of children, like those of puppies or kittens, are hard to spoil.

Why I treated Gothic Spring with so little thought, I don’t know. Certainly, I’m no different from anyone else. I started Carola Dunne’s Daisy Dalrymple mysteries because I fell in love with the artist’s design.

To readers who hate the cover of Gothic Spring, I apologize. Let’s say I had a senior moment.

To writers who read this blog, benefit from my mistake. 

To everyone in between, I hope I’ve made amends by reminding them how best to fix a flat tire.