Book Covers

Book covers are hard. We all know they are important, but for me and my two memoirs they were very personal. Both books found their covers in quite different ways.

SHORN: TOYS TO MEN was my first book. The book is a rather dark memoir about my battle with undiagnosed and untreated mental illness. I wanted a cover that conveyed the seriousness of the topic, but wasn’t off-putting. I wrestled with all kinds of ideas, but landed on a photo that had been take of me for fun by a friend years earlier. We had no idea when we took the photo that it would be the cover of a book. In fact, I had no idea I would ever be a published author when the picture was taken. 

My photographer friend, Oscar Val Verde, got a new camera and he wanted to play around with it. We were at my office and wig studio backstage at Intiman Theatre when we thought it would be fun to drape me in wigs. I lied down on the floor and we took a box of old wigs and surrounded my face with them and he stood over me to take the picture. He took several shots in that series. My publisher at Coffeetown Press loved the photo and it went to their graphic artist, Sabrina Sun, for titles and we were done. Oscar did my author headshot photo for the book with that same new camera.

For my second book, ONE GAY AMERICAN, it was a much harder adventure. I wanted something that hinted “gay weddings” but didn’t want to have to fuss with getting copyright permission; in other words I couldn’t go out and buy anything in a store and use it’s image on the cover. No commercial cake tops or brides and grooms. I also wanted the cover to somehow covey “gay American”.

My friend and boss years ago, Julia Collins, made me a gay pride rainbow cake for my birthday. I LOVED that cake and had a lot of fun pictures of me with the cake. I decided maybe we could use the cake and photoshop something from those pictures. Maybe a rainbow gay pride wedding cake?

My friend Samantha Malay and I were discussing the idea of a cake cover and she suggested covering the rainbow flag cake with an American flag. Boom! It clicked!  I hired Julia Collins to make a second rainbow cake (with an American Flag fondant)  which ended up weighing over twenty pounds. I then hired a prop artist at Seattle Children's Theater named Amanda Gallagher Quinn (who was very pregnant at the time) to hand sculpt me a single groom for the massive gay pride, American Flag wedding cake photo shoot.

Coffeetown Press’s staff photographer, Nancy Johnson, invited me over to her photography studio (her dining room table) and we just played with the cake and the groom for a few hours. We put that groom all over the place and she shot pictures while I held different colored table cloths behind the cake. I bet we took about eighty shots to get the cover.

The tricky part of the whole event was that I wanted to make a video book trailer for ONE GAY AMERICAN that featured the cutting on the cake. That meant the cake went back and forth across Seattle for the cover photo shoot in one part of town to the trailer video shoot in another part of town. Very challenging day.

Take a look at the epic video trailer and the epic cake at:

This is the original picture of the first gay pride birthday cake that inspired the cover.

Dennis Milam Bensie grew up in Robinson, Illinois where his interest in the arts began in high school participating in various community theatre productions. Bensie’s first book,  Shorn: Toys to Men was nominated for the Stonewall Book Award, sponsored by the American Library Association. It was also a pick in the International gay magazine The Advocate as “One of the Best Overlooked Books of 2011″. The author’s short stories have been published by Bay Laurel, Everyday Fiction, and This Zine Will Change Your Lifeand he has also been a feature contributor for The Good Men Project. One Gay Americanis his second book with Coffeetown Press and it was chosen as a finalist in the Next Generation Indie Book Awards and the Indie Excellence Book Awards. He was a presenter at the 2013 Saints and Sinners Literary Festival in New Orleans. Dennis lives in Seattle with his three dogs.

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