Marsha Canham's Blog

September 16, 2010

Forty F**king Flowers

Filed under: Uncategorized — marshacanham @ 7:19 pm

I can’t resist. I have to tell the tale again because I’m sure there must be some authors or readers who haven’t heard it.  Not many, granted, but some.

It happened back when I was writing for Dell and had just handed in the manuscript for Under a Desert Moon.   I had been fairly  lucky up to that point with covers.  I loved the cover for The Wind and the Sea, absolutely loved it (and the original artwork for that is languishing in a warehouse somewhere collecting dust. grrr.) I also lucked out with Through A Dark Mist, which was my first stepback.  Back in those days when authors were treated like royalty, we got beautiful inside artwork by Pino, and Kane;  foiled titles, a chance to edit the cover copy; some of us were even asked our input for the cover itself.  With a title like Under the Desert Moon, I sort of figured it would be a no-brainer.  A desert and a moon on the outside,  splendid artwork on the inside.  (I had been shown sketches of the artwork, so I knew it was going to be splendid *s*)

So imagine my shock and horror when the envelope was couriered up with the first cover proofs, hot off the press, and this THING fell out…a cover that looked like a bad photograph of twelve bright pink cactus flowers complete with spikey needle things exploding all over,  the title emblazoned in sickly tourquoise with bronze accents here and there.  I actually dropped it and stood back to see if it moved.  It was…ugly.  Just plain…ugly.  I alternated between anger and horror as I called the editor, who answered the phone all cheerful and happy, assuming I had called to tell her how ecstatic I was about the cover.

I told her the only way I could be more ecstatic was if there had been a dead bloated fly impaled on one of the spikey things.

Oh no!  she said.

Oh yes, I said.

I haven’t seen it yet, she confessed.

You really should look at it then, and call me back.  By then I should have stopped stabbing it.

When she called back she tried to tell me it wasn’t as bad as I had made it out to be, but you could tell by the way her voice quivered that she was either lying or still believed in Santa Claus.  She had checked with the schedule and the book was due to go to print within the month, so she wasn’t even sure there was anything she could do about it, but…as I reminded her…because I was one of the clever ones who managed to get that little clause into my contract about “cover approval”  she should maybe try real hard to see if anything could be done to fix it.

Almost a month to day after, another plain brown envelope arrived in the mail.  I had already been forwarned that it was, indeed, too late to redo the whole presentation, but the editor thought the art dept had done an admirable job of fixing some of my biggest complaints…the  photo-art of huge exploding flowers, the spikey things, the wretched color of the title and name.

Again, this …thing…fell out of the envelope and yes, the ugly photo-art *realism* shot was gone.  The spikey things were gone.  But in their place were forty…I counted them…forty artists’ renditions of dark red cactus flowers front and back.  Forty of them.  With lingering shades of the tourquoise *highlighting* the dropcap letters.

This time, when I called the editor, I was actually laughing.  I said, okay, point made and taken.  I’ll know better than to complain the next time because I’ve gone from twelve bright pink blossoms…to FORTY F**KING FLOWERS!!!!!!!!!!!  I didn’t think they could make the cover uglier…but by God, they managed!

Several years later, when there was a conference in New York, a group of us were invited to tour the Dell offices and visit the various departments.  I remember Virginia Henley was in my little group, and we had been friends for years, having both started at Dell the same time.  So it was she was standing beside me as we got introduced to the head of the art department, who smiled and shook Virginia’s hand, and accepted her flattery over the wonderful covers he gave her, and flattered her back by saying what wonderful books she wrote.  Fiddle dee dee.  I was introduced next and he actually blinked and took a step back.  Then he grabbed my hand and shook it so hard, he nearly crushed all the fingers, but it was because he was laughing so hard.  He took me into his office and pulled a file out of a cabinet and showed me the writing on the top sheet:  UNDER NO CIRCUMSTANCES, NO F**KING FLOWERS!!!!!!

Apparently my reaction had  left an impression. *sweet smile*

Some years later, when Dell decided to reissue the book, the new editor handling it looked at the old cover in horror and said:  no wonder it didn’t do well.  I loved Marjorie Braman from that day forth LOL, especially when she ordered up a new cover…

Imagine that.  It was a Western, so a moon and a horse!!!! Duh!  It sold more copies in the first month than it had the first year with the forty f**king flowers!

It was also Marjorie Braman who was convinced to  reissue The Pride of Lions and The Blood of Roses, two books which had been lost in the shuffle of company bankruptcies several years before.  I owe a lot to Marjorie.  She was a great editor, with a great sense of humor;  she listened to what an author had to say and if we could defend the way we wrote something a certain way, then she left it.  So if she is out there… *a big wave and a big hug*

*sly grin*  one other little story about Marjorie.  Bless her heart, she inherited me from another editor who knew the way I worked…that I didn’t hand in outlines or give detailed synopsisesssss.  For contracts, all I had to do was say I was going to write three books and that was it.  Never wrote an outline then, have never written or worked from one since.  Anyway…Marjorie came on board and her first call to me, after polite introductions etc etc, was to say, gee, I can’t seem to find the outline of your next book, so I don’t know what you’re writing.  You’re due for a payment for this second book in the contract, but without an outline, I can’t issue the check.  I said, I’m writing a medieval, The Last Arrow, third book in the Robin Hood series.  Oh.  Well can you send me the outline, I need an outline before I can release the payment.  I said:  I don’t work from outlines, I’ve never sent in an outline.  She said, well you work for me now and I need an outline before I can authorize payment.  So send me something, anything.  I said:  sure.

So I got out a blank sheet of paper, traced around an old paperback to make it look like the picture of a book, added the title: The Last Arrow, folded the sheet and mailed with a note:  here’s the outline of the next book, as requested.

Got my payment in the mail about a week later, when she stopped laughing. *G*



  1. Marsha,

    I laughed so hard, nearly fell out of my chair! After gathering myself together, I realized just how much I miss your writing; have all the books, read at least three times over, and am craving some more… as I’m sure everyone else is as well 🙂 I hope that your creative mind is stirring so we can laugh, love, and be merry along with your success.

    Comment by Lisa Suhr — September 16, 2010 @ 10:41 pm | Reply

  2. Wait, what? There’s no Santa Claus??

    Comment by Dan M. — September 24, 2010 @ 12:46 am | Reply

    • There must be a Santa Claus if this is the Dan M from a bazillion years ago *g*

      Comment by marshacanham — September 24, 2010 @ 3:35 am | Reply

      • Whew, I feel better now. I was so worried. 😉

        Comment by Dan M. — September 26, 2010 @ 6:57 am

      • So how the heck are you? Still writing? Still keeping in touch with anyone from the Novelists site? Is that site even still there?

        Comment by marshacanham — October 1, 2010 @ 12:35 pm

  3. OMG Shawn & I laughed hysterically at this story!! You Rock!

    Comment by Sydella — October 1, 2010 @ 6:15 am | Reply

  4. Marsha,

    It was great having you on GoodReads today. Love your books and I must say that I also fell out of my chair laughing over this blog article. Thanks!

    Comment by lkcbooks — May 1, 2011 @ 9:13 pm | Reply

  5. […] won’t go into the Forty F**king Flowers cover here, you can read about in one of my own past blogs, but it was definitely a low point in covers for me and one of the main reasons why I love, love, […]

    Pingback by Kelly McClymer's Blog » Wisdom from Bestseller Marsha Canham: Readers Do Judge a Book By Its Cover — July 26, 2011 @ 12:10 pm | Reply

  6. Great story. I’m having lots of fun exploring your blog. It’s great to rediscover an author you haven’t read for a long time. (Thanks Twitter). Your posts are just as good as your books. 🙂

    Comment by Sheri Hart — March 2, 2012 @ 8:55 pm | Reply

    • LOL Thank you Sheri. I usually get in a frisky mood now and then and reminisce about the good old bad days. *s*

      Comment by marshacanham — March 2, 2012 @ 9:29 pm | Reply

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