‘Life in a Haunted House’ – The Story Behind the Cover(s)

Norman Prentiss’ new novel, Life in a Haunted House, debuts May 15 at Amazon as an eBook (with a trade paperback soon to follow). To celebrate the book’s launch, he decided to do an interview with the book’s cover artist, Lynne Hansen. In addition to having Lynne create covers for some of his own books, Norman is also the editor of Cemetery Dance’s eBook line, and he frequently hires Lynne to create covers for Cemetery Dance ebooks.

Norman Prentiss: As I’m working to promote my new novel, Life in a Haunted House, I keep getting glowing compliments about the cover. Not just the cover for the actual book, but also the themed covers for the three (soon to be four!) tie-in stories I’ve written to supplement the main novel. So it seemed to make sense to do a joint interview with my amazing cover artist (and friend), Lynne Hansen.

Lynne Hansen: I’m excited to get to talk about art!

NP: How did you get into the cover art business?

LH: My husband Jeff Strand’s novel Wolf Hunt was a month from release by Leisure when they crashed and burned. All the press had been done for the book and it was ready to go, so I offered to do a book cover for it. (I’m a marketing gal, and I used Photoshop regularly.) People contacted him because they liked his cover, and the referrals just kept coming. I love creating book cover art. It’s telling a story in a single frame.

NP: After the great job you did creating the cover for my first novel, Odd Adventures with your Other Father, you were my obvious choice to do the work for Life in a Haunted House. But there were some new challenges with this assignment, since I had a marketing plan to introduce a series of tie-in stories, which would all need unique covers—but they also needed to fit together in an interesting way.

LH: What inspired you to take on such a creative project?

NP: I had the title, the general concept, and the opening paragraphs ready for quite a while. I remember talking with Douglas Clegg about the story at Necon about five or six years ago. I was working on finishing Other Father at the time, and Doug told me I should work on this one instead: he got me really excited about the different story possibilities. But Other Father had my full attention, and there were issues with Haunted House that I still needed to work on, so that book got put on the back burner.

LH: Sometimes work needs to simmer, you know?

NP: Yes! I think the time away helped give some extra depth to the project. After Other Father was finished, I started Life in a Haunted House in earnest. One of the main things I wanted was for this to be a love letter to the classic and low-budget horror movies I grew up on. Part of that love was inspired by movie magazines like Famous Monsters: in my pre-VCR and DVD days, a lot of times you couldn’t always see the movies you wanted to see, and the magazine descriptions and pictures were your closest contact.

As I referenced the films of my protagonist’s favorite director, Bud “Budget” Preston, I ended up summarizing their plots the way those magazines did. Or, the same way a young fan like me used to summarize them to friends.

Those two ideas—magazines, and movie summaries—got me thinking… Sometimes a magazine would actually do a comic book adaptation, or a mini “novelization” of a film in prose. Wouldn’t it be cool if some of those novelizations existed for Bud Preston’s films? And if they had magazine-style covers to match?

LH: I loved the idea of covers inspired by Famous Monsters of Filmland. I looked at hundreds as reference. So many colors and shapes and styles!

NP: The vibe you came up with for the Monster Project covers is perfect! I sent you information about the four movies I wanted to work with, all referenced within the novel: The Dungeon of Count Verlock, The Lake Monster, The Space Visitor, and The Twisted Face. I still hadn’t written the stories yet. I mean, ahem, I still hadn’t edited them yet…since the tie-in stories are presented as rediscovered or lost magazine stories.

So, in an unusual reversal, for the tie-in stories I actually had the covers before I had the stories. This was a very cool experience—and I have to say, your covers actually inspired me as I wrote. I was blown away when you first showed them to me. I still am.

LH: Because you were still working on the stories, I had great creative latitude for the magazine covers. I was able to think about them as a set, and create accordingly.

I actually worked on all four of the tie-in story covers at the same time. I wanted them to have contrasting yet complimentary color palates, and each show a little bit more of the style of those classic covers. Big close-ups of characters, mid-shots, action shots—I wanted to show the whole range.

NP: They’re all great. It was a fun challenge to “find” stories that would live up to your covers!

Actually, I have three of them available now. I’m still putting final touches on the story for The Twisted Face.

Once you had all four tie-in covers, we still needed one for the actual novel. What do you remember about that part of the process?

LH: I went through lots of different incarnations of the cover for the novel. Trying to come up with an image that felt like it was part of the same universe as the magazine covers was key. When we decided we wanted it to have the same magazine-style feel, that really helped me along.

NP: I remember the first version you sent me didn’t yet have the magazine-style theme. It was a fantastic cover, and I could see all the work you’d put into it, making the components fit (you used elements from each of the three tie-in covers). But it didn’t quite fit the vibe of the novel.

LH: I still love that cover! It had all four of the characters from the magazine covers hanging out backstage—Count Orlock in sunglasses, the Man with the Twisted Face sitting at a table, the alien from The Space Visitor in a housecoat, the Lake Monster actor with a mask under his arm.

I’m going to make a print of it one day. I want all five hanging up in my house.

NP: Or maybe it could end up inside a limited edition someday, with the four-tie in stories and covers as bonus material. Hmmm…

I felt bad asking you to “go back to the drawing board”! How often does that happen when you’re designing covers, and what do you do about it?

LH: I’m always happy to do whatever it takes to make a client happy. If that means starting from scratch again, that’s what I do. That rarely happens, though. I try to ask enough questions up front, read some if not all of the novel, and hopefully get the right feel for what the author is looking for. The Life in a Haunted House series was a unique design challenge, though. You had a very clear vision for how you wanted the covers to reflect on the book and the stories. I appreciated that.

NP: Thank you! It really helps to have a cover artist willing to collaborate like this…though sometimes I worried I must be your most difficult customer!

LH: I have some clients who send me a 10-word description of the book and that’s all I get. I send them their cover and that’s all they want from me. I have other folks I need to guide along through the process by teaching them how book covers function as marketing tools. I like doing that, too. But I love collaboration. It’s why I’m also a filmmaker. Making movies brings together so many disparate talents, and the whole becomes more than the sum of the parts. It’s like that with a good cover collaboration, as well.

NP: I was gonna ask about that! Tell me more about how your work as a cover artist supplements your other work, as a writer and more recently as a filmmaker. I loved your recent, multi-award winning short film, Chompand know you’re currently working on a feature-length adaptation of a Jeff Strand novella, Cold Dead Hands.

LH: Thanks! Art and film are both visual mediums. You have to be concise in your storytelling. And there’s the collaborative aspect of both that I love. For the feature film adaptation of Jeff’s Cold Dead Hands, the collaboration was basically that Jeff wrote the book and I wrote the screenplay. Jeff said, “The book is mine. The movie is yours. Have at it.” In June we’ll have been married 20 years, due in great part to the fact that we respect and admire each other’s creative process.

NP: You guys make a great couple!

Back to the covers…I’m biased, but honestly think you’ve done some of your best work for my books—but I have a lot of other favorites, including some of the covers you’ve done for Cemetery Dance ebooks. Which are some of your favorites?

LH: I love all the covers I get to create for Cemetery Dance! There’s such a range in story and style that I’m always getting to tackle a new challenge. Lisa Morton’s Malediction is a favorite because I love ghosts, Peter Atkins’ The Return of Boy Justice because I got to create a cover inspired by the pulps and comics, and James Cooper’s Head Space, because it let me create something with an Alan Clark feel to it. There are others I’d mention, too, but CD hasn’t announced those books yet!

For other publishers, my other favorite covers include the ones I designed for Haunted Forest Tour by James Moore and Jeff Strand, and Everything Has Teeth, also by Jeff Strand.

NP: If authors or publishers are interested in having you work on their book covers, how do they get in touch with you? And how can Cemetery Dance Online readers learn more about your films?

LH: My portfolio is available online at LynneHansenDesign.com, which is also where they’ll find details on how I work with clients and my contact info. My film website is LynneHansen.com.

And where can people buy your books?

NP: I’ve got quite a few books from Cemetery Dance, both limited editions, and eBooks, including Invisible Fences (which is currently free from some eBook retailers). My first full-length novel, Odd Adventures with Your Other Father, is discounted to 99 cents throughout May, at Amazon US and Canada. I’m also providing free fiction via my newsletter—sign up at normanprentiss.com/-and am running a flash fiction blog that offers free content every day, “Excerpts from The Apocalypse-a-Day Desk Calendar,” at this link: normanprentiss.com/category/apocalypse-a-day/

And of course, Life in a Haunted House  launches today, May 15, at Amazon, discounted to 99 cents for the next week or so. Three of the tie-in stories also debut May 15: The Dungeon of Count Verlock, The Lake Monster, and The Space Visitor99 cents each at Amazon (though regular CD Online readers might be able to find these stories elsewhere on the site, while they’re still posted!).

Thanks for talking with me, Lynne, and I’m sure I’ll be contacting you soon about more cover designs!

Lynne Hansen is an artist and filmmaker who loves telling stories through her craft. She’s created covers for publishers and authors across the globe. For more information, visit LynneHansenDesign.com.

Norman Prentiss is the two-time Bram Stoker Award-winning author of Invisible Fences, Odd Adventures with your Other Father, Life in a Haunted House, and The Halloween Children (written with Brian James Freeman).

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