A Dead-End Book Cover, a Lapis Lazuli Moment, a Sacred Sunrise
edited: Thursday, September 05, 2002
By Rolf Gompertz
Posted: Thursday, September 05, 2002
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Faced with a book cover crisis, I discovered once again the remarkable way in which the creative process works when we turn to it and trust it.
A creative dead end can produce wonders.
That was proved to me once again in a most dramatic way. It involved the cover design of my new book, a provocative biblical novel, titled, “Abraham, The Dreamer / An Erotic and Sacred Love Story.”
I had submitted my thoughts for the cover design to the publisher (iUniverse.com). I explained that the story is about a love triangle, involving Abraham, his wife Sarah, and her handmaid, Hagar, “the other woman.” I suggested that the cover capture that relationship.
Of course, there’s much more to the story, and I filled in the details at some length. After all, this is not a contemporary novel in a contemporary setting. We are talking about life 4000 years ago, with its many gods and goddesses, its child sacrifices and erotic Sacred Marriage Rites. Abraham’s wife, Sarah, could very well have been, what I portray her to be, a high priestess serving Inanna, the great goddess of Love and War. We have Abraham, who turned against his society to follow a new and different God. What made him do that, I wondered, as I tried to recreate his life and tell his story. Furthermore, what made him transfer his love from Sarah to Hagar?
I tried to give the designer a sense of the individuals and of the story that lay hidden in the laconic biblical account.
When the cover design came back to me I knew I was in trouble. The artwork suggested a knightly romance set in England during the Middle Ages. But the story is about Sumer, Canaan and Egypt, and nomadic, biblical characters who lived some three thousand years before the Middle Ages. How could the designers have been so far off the mark? I learned, what I had not known before, that the design department was not set up to provide original artwork. The designers could only work with existing stock art and clip art. Though plentiful, this art could not produce the “look” that I was looking for.
I was now faced with two problems. First, a deadline. I had about two weeks to come up with an idea that could be made to work. Otherwise, the book would be canceled and I would have to start with it all over again as a “new” project.
Second, I didn’t know if I could come up with a satisfactory, workable cover idea. I considered hiring an outside graphic artist. A quick check indicated that there would not be enough time for this and that it would be costly, if not prohibitive.
So I did what was only proper under such circumstances: I freaked out! Or, to be perfectly honest, I freaked out — some more! I was desperate. I knew I had to stop thinking about the original cover concept. I had to stop my circular thinking, or, to put it another way, I had to start thinking outside the box. In short, I had to think creatively.
The creative process itself is elusive. It works in a most mysterious way. It usually consists of stating the problem, defining it and turning it over to your mind to think about and solve. I have often found that the answer, the solution comes to me when the mind is relaxed and at rest. Invariably, I wake up at two or three in the morning. At first I’m annoyed. I wonder why I woke up. Then I lie quietly. Presently, I become conscious of some answer or solution to a “problem” floating into view.
The first thought that came this way was “lapis lazuli.” I had used lapis lazuli jewelry in the book on several significant occasions. The gold-speckled, deep-blue gemstone was highly prized in those times. In the book, it is presented as a gift to Sarah, the high priestess, during the Sacred Marriage Rite. Elsewhere, I have Abraham giving Hagar a lapis lazuli necklace and matching earrings upon consummating their love. A lapis lazuli-colored scarf also figures meaningfully in the story.
“Yes,” I thought to myself. “That’s it! That’s my cover. A lapis lazuli necklace and earrings and a lapis lazuli scarf. A perfect metaphor for the full story.”
I was elated, exhilarated. I loved the simplicity of the idea, the richness of the deep-blue color, the poetic symbolism.
But there was only one problem: I could not locate images of the scarf and jewelry. I even had trouble locating an image of a lapis lazuli gemstone. Though I still had a couple of days left to find the right image, I now feared that my book would be canceled since I had nothing for the cover.
I paced nervously through the house that evening, going back and forth between bedroom and study. I paused before my nature pictures which cover the walls, photographs that I had taken of sunrises and sunsets, lakes and oceans, trees, flowers and clouds. I don’t know why I turned to these images -- perhaps to relax me, to comfort me, to inspire me, which they have always done. Suddenly, my eyes fixed on a blazing red sunrise, with a white cloud spiraling into the sky, hovering over a dark lake.
Whenever I looked at that spectacular image, in the past, it always left me awed and breathless. This time, however, the sunrise addressed me in a new way — its blazing colors spoke to me of erotic passions, its cloud spiraling upwards spoke to me of the sacred and the heavenly, of dreams and dreamers, the fiery pillar emerging out of the darkness spoke to me of the immanent and transcendent God, the great Mystery, the awesome Mystery, the holy Mystery, the loving Mystery in which we move and live and have our being.
Yes, this was the cover! This was my cover! It had emerged from the wondrous mystery of the creative process. It reminded me, once more, to stay loose, remain flexible and trust that process, that Mystery, in all its creative variations.