How a Dragon Dawned by Deborah O'Neill Cordes
I've been invited by author M. J. Schiller to describe how the cover of my recently released novel, Dragon Dawn, Book One of the Dinosaurian Time Travel Series, was created. As you may have discerned from my title, Dragon Dawn is a sci-fi adventure, and the cover needed to evoke that – and give a hint of the time twisting incarnations of my heroine, whose "soul" exists in two bodies, in two separate times and universes. Not only is she Dawn, a human female astronaut from our near future, but she is also Dawann-dracon, a highly evolved dinosaurian, who exists in a parallel universe where non-avian dinosaurs did not go extinct on Earth. Imagine the difficulty of creating a cover which gives potential readers a sense of this transformation? As I pondered how to do this, on Ms. Schiller's advice I hired one of the best cover artists around, the talented Steven Novak. But, before Steven could go to work, he had to know something about my story.
Here's the book blurb I sent him for Dragon Dawn:
Time snakes between alternate universes. Ever watchful, an alien intelligence survives on Mars, waiting to be found by spacefarers from Earth. The alien’s ultimate goal is to send human astronauts back in time, where they will alter the past and thwart the extinction of the dinosaurs. A race of intelligent dinosaurs, resembling the alien’s extinct species, subsequently evolves to rule the world. But a human female astronaut, through a strange twist of fate, survives the change in the space-time continuum. After finding herself in a dinosaurian body, she must race against time – and the formidable alien – to restore the universe to its rightful course.
Now that Steven knew the basic plot of Dragon Dawn, I felt he needed visuals that would give him a hint of what I'd envisioned for the cover. But first, let me backtrack and tell you what I didn't want. No hokey sci-fi painting. No photos of models in a cliché romantic clutch. You see, in addition to the time travel and science fiction elements of my tale, there's a romance between Human Dawn and her astronaut-commander, Gus Granberg. However, I didn't want a cover depicting Dawn and Gus holding each other. I also didn't want anything reminiscent of many science fiction, "time travel back to the Cretaceous" novels, like depictions of astronauts in spacesuits standing on Mars, or of dinosaurs roaring and stomping through the Cretaceous jungle, or any strange combination of the two. This old sci-fi cover serves as a reminder of what I wanted to avoid:
Source: "Stories of the Stars – Aldebaran," Fantastic Adventures back cover, December 1945; Artist Frank R. Paul.
So, I knew what wouldn't work for me. With Steven Novak hired and ready to work on my cover, I needed to get cracking. What did I want for Dragon Dawn?
I took a long shower, which always helps me to think, and while scrubbing my hair I envisioned an eye, but not a human one; it was reptilian, with a vertically slit pupil. Bingo! I raced through the rest of my shower, toweled off and threw on a robe, and headed straight for my computer. A Google search provided me with a host of reptilian eyes, but most, while eerily beautiful to zoologists and reptile lovers, might be deemed creepy by the general public. For a sampling, please click on the following link:
As you have seen, those eyes just wouldn't do justice for my dinosaurian heroine, who I've described as one of the most beautiful creatures in the Solar System. I gave Google another shot, as I did have her kind descending from the most intelligent species of dinosaur found on Cretaceous Earth, called Troodon. Here's a model of a troodontid, without the feathers it is now purported to have possessed, and with the vertically slit pupil.
Source: Wikipedia Commons.
Once again, it looked rather strange and creepy. I continued to research and found a model of the very thing I was writing about – a hypothetical dinosauroid, a creature that might have evolved to intelligence had a comet or asteroid not hit the Earth 66 million years ago, causing the dinosaurian extinction. The idea for the dinosauroid was first postulated by paleontologist Dale Russell in the 1980s, and this museum display model of his "thought experiment" is surrounded by depictions of her ancestors, the troodontids, whose bodies have been updated with feathers, which they are now thought to have possessed:
Source: Wikipedia Commons; Photographer Jim Linwood.
This model of Dr. Russell's dinosauroid is not in the least bit beautiful, is she? I returned to my manuscript of Dragon Dawn, to reevaluate what I had written about the appearance of Dawann-dracon. Here's the excerpt, as Dawann looks at herself in a mirror and ponders the echoes of another universe:
Tasha. Earth. Harry. NASA. Kris.
Sometimes, at the oddest moments, the unintelligible words of a strange language filled the head of Dawann-dracon. Some words were even pronounced with a blunt “s” rather than a proper hiss. Never in her life had she heard anyone utter such sounds.
Puzzled, she looked around her bed-nest chamber, then into her hand mirror, and studied her reflection. A lovely face, pale green with finely wrought features, stared back. Feathery black lashes framed her green eyes, while long feathers cascaded off her head, black with a rainbow sheen. She had been told she was the fairest saurian in the Solar System, yet she found herself out of sorts, for the image in the mirror brought no satisfaction. Waves of uncertainty coursed through her.
Tasha. Earth. Harry. NASA. Kris.
What is happening to me? she thought. Why do I seem to remember the words of a foreign tongue? Or is it merely gibberish? Am I losing my mind to madness?
Was it possible to create an image of a dinosaurian who would dazzle everyone in the Solar System? By now, I was having my doubts. She couldn't look like the museum model, or possess spine-chilling eyes. And then I realized I had faith in Steven Novak's artistic abilities, having seen his work on many other book covers. I wrote to him, sent him some visuals, and asked that he create a beautiful face for my dinosaurian. To my delight, he got back to me that very day. My gorgeous green dragon lady was born, with not a creepy vibe to be found. You can even see her "morphing" from Human Dawn into Dragon Dawn, if you let your gaze rove from left to right. In my estimation, Steven hit the proverbial home run with this cover.
And the ball flew straight out and far away, to the stars!
Thank you, ladies and gentlemen. I'd love to hear what you think of Dragon Dawn's cover. And a big virtual hug to M. J. Schiller, for hosting me on her blog (and for telling me about Steven Novak). XXXOOO
Deborah’s bio and website links:
Deborah O’Neill Cordes is an award-winning
Deborah’s website: http://deborahoneillcordes.com/
Morgan O'Neill website: http://www.morganoneill.com/
Buy link: Buy It On Amazon