Cover Me

categories: Cocktail Hour


The other day I got the cover for my new book, The Tarball Chronicles.  Here it is–over there.  I hope you like it.  I do.  I’m actually very pleased.  I think those of you who followed last summer’s posts from the Gulf will agree that it gets across some of the sheer strangeness of the experience, of the tragic aspect of the BP spill but the black humor, too.  At least I think it does.  If you don’t agree, please don’t write me about it.  I’m too fragile at the moment.  Somewhat close to cracking up in fact…..

There is this anxious time in the life of a writer (um, when isn’t an anxious time?), when you are done with a book but before it comes out.  You await the Day of Judgment, fearing, not so much being consigned to hell–hell at least is active and participatory–as nothingness.   Here is Ed Abbey, for instance, describing his book, The Monkey Wrench Gang, and the quiet reaction he imagined:  “Another drop down the well of oblivion.”   (Of course, Abbey’s worries proved wrong and any writer would like to have their book attain the level of non-oblivion that Monkey Wrench did.)

There is very little that is solid to grasp to during this phantasmagoric time, the time in-between being done with a book and it being done with you. And then they send you your cover.  They used to send it to you in the actual mail but now, as if to add to the airiness of the time, they send it through the ether as a link.  Though you, if you are like me, try to make it immediately corporeal by printing it out.   Then you hold it, pick it up, look at it from all directions, tack it to your bulletin board, tape it to your computer.  You look at it more closely than anyone else ever will, and you look at it more often than all the rest of the people who ever will see it combined.  You love it.  You hate it.  Despite the old saying, you judge your book completely by it.  One day it’s a talisman, the next it’s tea leaves.  This is what a bestseller looks like, you say in one mood.  This thing will surely flop you say in another.  I love it!  I hate it!  I love it (said more firmly).

But enough with that, Gessner.  Pull your mind together.  Regulate yourself (as Samuel Johnson would say).

One thing I do know.  No matter how my relationship with the above pelican in the HAZMAT suit develops, it will never achieve the intensity of romance that I had with my first cover.  In those days, pre-internet, I think the first time I saw the fully realized cover of my first book was when the book itself arrived in the mail.  There are a lot of cynical things I’ll say about writing if properly nudged and lubricated.  But that moment was beyond cynicism.  It was incredible.  I always tell young writers that, whatever other demons might beset our writing tribe, and however incorporeal so many aspects of that life might feel, there is nothing like that purely physical moment of holding your first book in your hand.  Fuck Kindles.  Give me the heft of a finished book.  I can’t remember what I did when I opened the package that finally had a book with my name on it (I was 36 at the time) but it surely  involved a jig.  And a yawp or two.

As it turned out that first cover would also be the one I’ve had the most input in so far.  They used a photo a friend of mine had taken while we were roaming the Cape Cod beaches one fall.  I think my friend did a great job, which is particularly impressive considering the psilocybin pulsing through his bloodstream at the moment he snapped the picture.

I love my Hazmatted pelican, and I wish it well in the world.   But there can only be one first love.  I hope every writer reading this has had, or will have, the experience of looking down at a book with your own name on it.  It makes all the madness worth it.


P.S. Sorry Kindle users, especially Kindle users who are viewing Bill and Dave’s.  I got carried away.  We still love you.




  1. Peter Peteet writes:

    Cracking up’s o.k.-perhaps even the highest form of flattery for humor -of the black sort especially.The cover’s cracking good,here’s a Georgia crackers crack at “covering you”.
    Tar baby’s monocle
    Is very old
    Tar baby’s monocle
    Rimed with gold
    But if tar baby’s monocle you wish to hold
    Snatch it only when it’s very cold.
    For if you grab it in the heat,
    Right there where tar and gold meet,
    The bond will hold and the tar will come.
    Stickier by far than any gum,
    It will first show on your hand,
    Where without a thought you tried to clean that band.
    From there the tar will quickly flow
    As heat and haste thin it you know
    Till tar will be most everywhere
    And La brea’s pits stink up the air
    Dinosaur’s smirk says
    It’s only fair.

  2. Bethany writes:

    Just remember that when wearing a hazmat suit in the Alabama sun one must take a 40 minute break every twenty minutes. I’m still not sure how that works out with the whole time/space continuum thing. Regardless, wonderful cover!

  3. An Alewife writes:


    When did you become the lower case david gessner?

    Was that a considered decision?

    • dave writes:

      In the other book the same press is putting out, My Green Manifesto, I’m upper case. So maybe I fell from favor between one book and the next.

      I have gotten some suggestions, mostly from the Orion people, to legally change my name to just Gessner. But I don’t like the ring of Bill and Gessner’s Cocktail Hour.

  4. Amysue writes:

    Despite my deep and abiding love for my tech and especially my iPad and Kindles and similar devices….I will be purchasing the book in dead tree form so that I can read it in my new kayak while in the meander through various Cape waterways this summer.

    Paine’s Creek swallowed it’s parking lot for good by the way..not sure if you heard.

  5. john lane writes:

    Ok, Dave, damn you. You win the cover competition for 2011. This one is better than ABANDONED QUARRY and better than MY PADDLE TO THE SEA!

  6. John Jack writes:

    Hi, Dave, and Bill. Just stopping by to let you-all know I’m still following the Cocktail Hour, albeit from a waterwagon’s quiet remove.

    A cover on par with Hunter Thompson’s Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. I’m struck on first impression by the metalic quality of the hazmat suit counterposed by my perceived notions of pelican’s fragility. Fireproof-like, futuristic, reminiscient of my creative vision of Ray Bradbury’s Farenheit 451‘s firemen bookburner’s outfits. I guess my imagined expectations of The Tarball Chronicles storyline conflates those two novels into a Roman à clef journey into the savage failing of the fossil fuel progress trap addiction.

    The Deepwater Horizon tragedy on its surface is a noteworthy bookend complete natural plot structure, perfectly packaged and well-orchestrated by circumstances, a current event story reliant upon high-concept premises universally accessible to reporting news media entities and news watchers alike. It had an unequivocal beginning, middle, and ending. For all intents and purposes, the story’s over, except the occasional progress reports about fallout legacies.

    But it’s not over ’till it’s over, the larger picture, like the Cold War, is yet to be revealed. Many narrative installments recount the dramas of the Cold War. But the end, per se, didn’t come until the fall of the Iron Curtain. Here twenty years on, the underlying personal meaning of the Cold War has yet to come to fruition. What does it personally, universally mean? I ask as one who did duck and cover drills at the Little Flower kindergarten in Key West during the Cuban Missile Crisis.

    I’m imagining The Tarball Chronicles in some subtle ways seek the personal particular universal meaning of fossil fuel dependence. “”For myself, I always write about Dublin, because if I can get to the heart of Dublin I can get to the heart of all the cities of the world. In the particular is contained the universal.” Joyce on Ulysses.

    Anyway, it’s official. I’ve been accepted into the freebooters’ graduate creative writing program. Classes begin in August.

    • Dave writes:

      Big Congrats! And it’s good to see your name back in the comments. It just wasn’t the same without you…..

  7. Katie Fallon writes:

    Hi David – I love the cover! It’s creepy and awesome, funny, sad, and a little scary. Nicely done.

    I join you in The Anxious Time…

  8. tim writes:

    I love that cover, Dave.

    I also love your description of the space between finishing and finding one’s book on the shelves, a place I’m in myself. This will be my very first book. I am a little older than 36, but I hope to do a jig myself upon actually hold it in my hand. Hopefully my wife and kids won’t record and post evidence of my jig to facebook, should I do a jig of joy.

    If they do, I’ll post it to my book’s blog and call it a book trailer.

    • dave writes:

      This is a very nice and interesting comment. It makes me think, in fact, that comments like these, and readers like you, are the whole point of this Bill and Dave’s thing.

  9. Bill writes:

    I love the cover, David, as I’ve said. It’s got humor and horror in equal measure, and yet a really composed elegance. Kudos to the design team at Milkweed! And Congratulations to you as you enter another period of terror and misery. I generally hate my books when they come out, and only learn to love them gradually….

  10. Paul Davidson writes:

    That cover is amazing.

  11. George de Gramont writes:

    Wonderful Cover. The excitement is building. cannot wait to read the book.George.