Today I’m excited to reveal the cover for Julie E. Czerneda’s upcoming fantasy novel A Play of Shadow! I’m also thrilled that both the author and cover artist Matt Stawicki are sharing some insight into the process of creating the art for it. A Play of Shadow, the second book in the Night’s Edge series, will be released in November 2014—and there’s an opportunity to enter to win the first book in the series, A Turn of Light, at the end of this post!

I hope you enjoy seeing the cover and reading about its development as much as I did!

A Play of Shadow
(click to enlarge)

Thank you, Kristen and Fantasy Book Café, for hosting the cover reveal of my new book! – Julie Czerneda (And for letting us talk about it too.)

You Start with Turtles…

Ah, cover art. The artist sits down–in a comfy chair–reads the whole book–loving it while absorbing all the detail necessary for visual art–then voila! springs from that chair, brush or equivalent in hand, to produce the finished illustration–satisfying everyone involved–before moving on to the next book. In, say, a week.

Julie: “What do you think, Matt? Have I caught the essence?” (Because voila! here he is in person!)

Matt: “I wish! But, that’s not exactly the way it goes. Usually I’m given either the manuscript or an abridged version of it. As I read the information I take notes or highlight areas that I think may be good for a cover scene. From there I usually start doing small very loose sketches. After that I refine the sketches I like, once I’ve chosen a direction or several directions that will be presented to the client.”

There goes my image of the artist-as-relaxing while I suffer. Kidding aside, folks, unless you’re both author and artist–and there are those amazing people out there–and have time to do both–again, even amazing people cannot do it all–cover art involves a high degree of professional collaboration and working to everyone’s deadlines. Some covers (whistles innocently) need to be done before the book’s finished, to be included in catalogues etc. Then there are those pesky “details.” We writer-types rely on the imagination of readers for many of those. Sometimes, too much.

Julie: “Matt? What do you find is usually under-described by an author?”

Matt: “That really depends on the author. Some have a real knack for describing the environment or even emotion or relationships. Others write in a very character-driven manner, where every detail of the characters themselves is described.”

Take note, new writers. Best to do both! Generally speaking, the author’s role is to write the book. Unless the artist is like Matt, who does read quite a bit, the editor, or art director, will pick out the scene (or a few for the artist to choose from) that best suits the house style as well as marketing needs. Trust me, you don’t want your light-hearted romantic fantasy with a horror cover. From then on, it’s between the publisher and artist. As Matt mentioned, there’ll be one or more sketches for comment, revision, and ultimate approval, followed by the final work of art. When does the author come in again?

Opens package, or file. Sits back. Cries, “Oh, my final art! Shiny!!!” (Hopefully.)

Over the years I’ve become more involved than most authors in my cover art, a trust and privilege I owe to my editor and publisher, Sheila Gilbert of DAW Books. Knowing the time frame for production of my books, I propose a scene (or a few) for the cover first of all. Sheila decides which would be best, then I write a couple of descriptive paragraphs for that moment in the story along with a few pages of character and setting detail. Where I can, I add photo references. Off goes the package to the artist.

Until this book.When I say the cover of A Play of Shadow started with a turtle? It did. I knew mad and magical turtles would be a feature in the sequel, as house toads are in A Turn of Light. (Matt, your toad on the cover of the first book is amazing–complete with pointy teeth!) What sort of turtle? I’d read of the work of Dr. Abigail (Abby) Dominy with terrapins and was enchanted to learn they have markings visible only in UV light. In the Night’s Edge series, what you see depends on when you look. Sunset reveals the magical. Perfect!

So there’d be turtles. I sent Matt, with her kind permission, Abby’s reference material.

Julie: “I admit to curiosity, Matt. What was your first reaction to ‘turtles?’”

Matt: “Turtles you say, huh? Actually, I have to say that after the toads in ‘Turn of Light’ I wasn’t really all that surprised. Julie, you have a wonderful way of incorporating a whimsical quality into these magical worlds that I really like. It kind of reminds me of Alice in Wonderland a little bit.”

Julie, blushing. “Thank you!”

Of course, turtles alone, however delightful, wouldn’t be enough. Fortunately, I had a setting in mind, one in which turtles fit nicely. San Antonio’s Riverwalk was my inspiration.

San Antonio’s Riverwalk
CREDIT: Roger Czerneda Photography
(click to enlarge)

References for that were easy. We’d been there! My other half, Roger, had a wealth of gorgeous photos and I sent a selection of those to Matt, who nailed everything about this astonishing place, plus mimrol, magic, and lighting. Though there was that clamour at the very last minute for little red eyeballs.

Julie: “Sorry about the eyeballs, Matt.”

Matt: “Eyeballs happen. The San Antonio Riverwalk was an great environment as a point of reference for this piece. I have family in Texas and have been there many times as a kid and loved it! This was a great opportunity to finally get to bring it to life in a fantasy painting!”

Julie: “Whew! I mean, I didn’t know that, I’m so pleased!”

Last and most importantly, characters. While there are as many cover styles as there are books, Play had to have the main characters as well as turtles and setting. Preferably at a fraught and interesting moment. Oh, but that was easy. What do turtles most resemble? Stepping stones! How better to trap the unwary visitor? Matt, I love how you captured Bannan and Jenn just as realization dawns. (There were three versions at the sketch stage; this was our favourite.) Also, see the three people on the bridge? Big moment indeed. The scene almost wrote itself from the visual.

A Play of Shadow Sketches
CREDIT: Matthew Stawicki
(click to enlarge)

But the very best thing about this cover? The clothes! As for Turn, clothing was part of the world-building, and I’d already decided on the sensibilities of the Naalish. I sent Matt my notes, including a photo of the purse Bannan would carry. The result blew me away!

To the point where I did something I’ve never done before.

When it came time to write my description of the clothing within the story, I asked Matt if he’d proofread it for me, which he did, most helpfully.

Julie: “Was that a first for you too, Matt?”

Matt: “It was a first. Usually I don’t have as much direct contact with the author at all. As Julie mentioned, DAW is a great company to work for because they let their artists and authors have quite a bit of leeway and contact during the process.”

The result you see here and will read there. People sometimes complain covers don’t match what’s in the book. I promise you, there couldn’t be a closer match than this. For me, the entire process was fun, inspiring, and pure delight. I want to thank Matt–and Sheila, who was very involved throughout–for the result.

And my turtles.

You can enjoy more of Matt’s amazing work at and begin reading A Play of Shadow starting tomorrow at!

Since 1997, Canadian author/editor Julie E. Czerneda has poured her love of biology into SF novels published by DAW Books NY. Her latest work is the fantasy A Turn of Light, set in the valley of Marrowdell, itself based in large part on early pioneer settlements. There are house toads as well as dragons, and not all is what it seems. Coming fall 2014: Species Imperative, the 10th anniversary omnibus edition of her acclaimed SF trilogy, and A Play of Shadow, sequel to Turn and next in what is now the“Night’s Edge” series. Julie’s currently hard at work on the concluding trilogy to her Clan Chronicles series (Reunification), between breaks to canoe into the wild. Visit for more.

I have one copy of the first book in the Night’s Edge series, A Turn of Light, to give away to one resident of the US or Canada!

A Turn of Light by Julie E. Czerneda

About A Turn of Light:

The village of Marrowdell is an isolated pioneer community, but it is also the place where two worlds overlap, and at the turn of light–sunset–the world of magic known as the Verge can briefly be seen.

Jenn Nalynn belongs to both Verge and Marrowdell, but even she doesn’t know how special she is–or that her invisible friend Wisp is actually a dragon sent to guard her… and keep her from leaving the valley. But Jenn longs to see the world, and thinking that a husband will help her reach this goal, she decides to create one using spells. Of course, everything goes awry, and suddenly her “invisible friend” has been transformed into a man. But he is not the only newcomer to Marrowdell, and far from the most dangerous of those who are suddenly finding their way to the valley…

Read Chapter One

Giveaway Rules: To be entered in the giveaway, fill out the form below OR send an email to kristen AT fantasybookcafe DOT com with the subject “A Turn of Light Giveaway.” One entry per person and one winner will be randomly selected. Those from the US or Canada are eligible to win this giveaway. The giveaway will be open until the end of the day on Wednesday, June 25. The winner has 24 hours to respond once contacted via email, and if I don’t hear from them by then a new winner will be chosen (who will also have 24 hours to respond until someone gets back to me with a place to send the book).

Please note email addresses will only be used for the purpose of contacting the winner. Once the giveaway is over all the emails will be deleted.

Good luck!

Update: Now that the giveaway is over, the form has been removed.