Canada Reads 2014 Contenders Who will win the battle of the books?

Editor Suzette Mayr and designer Ruth Linka on The Bone Cage

Editor's note: We wanted to dive a little deeper into how Angie Abodu's The Bone Cage came together, and its editor, Suzette Mayr, and its designer, Ruth Linka, were kind enough to talk about how they helped shape Angie's manuscript into the Canada Reads contender it is today! See our Q&A with each of them below!

 

The Bone Cage cover 

Suzette Mayr, The Bone Cage editor

Q: What do you do and how did you come to work on The Bone Cage?

A: I am a novelist, and work as an associate professor in the department of English at the University of Calgary, where I teach creative writing and contemporary Canadian literature. I also volunteered on the editorial board of NeWest Press for several years, which is how I came to edit Angie's manuscript. I was asked to edit her book since it was a first fiction, and I was given the responsibility of editing books of fiction for NeWest's Nunatak first fiction series along with Tom Wharton.

Q: Do you remember when you first read the manuscript for The Bone Cage? What was your first reaction?

A: At first I thought, I'm not going to understand or relate to this book because I'm not an athlete. But I remember being struck almost immediately by the swimming scenes involving Sadie, one of the main characters. I'm scared of water and I'm a rotten swimmer, but those scenes were just remarkable -- I was in the water with Sadie swimming and training like hell. I could smell the chlorine, and Sadie's muscles were sore, my muscles were sore. I was physically exhausted in a really good way after reading those scenes. Angie really nailed Sadie from the very beginning.

Q: Did the manuscript undergo any major changes from submission to publication?

A: Nothing major was changed. The work we did together was mostly cosmetic in terms of cleaning up the language here and there, and we identified and trimmed off a few superfluous details. I remember there were a few too many eyebrows, as in "he raised his eyebrow," "she raised her eyebrow," and the Digger wrestling scenes went through a couple of rewrites just to get the physicality down -- they needed to be as sharp and absorbing and sensual as the Sadie swimming scenes. Overall, though, there was no substantial change.

 

Ruth Linka, The Bone Cage designer

Q: How did you come to design the cover for The Bone Cage?

A: I used to be the general manager at NeWest Press and the book design was part of what I did while there.

Q: How did you come to the final cover? Can you walk us through the process of coming up with it?

A: Basically we knew that we wanted the cover to communicate some of the themes: swimming, wrestling, sweat, hard work, but also the joy/high that athletes experience. We talked about including both wrestling and swimming on the cover but it ended up seeming like too much. And each sport has such a different feel to it. So, we decided that swimming was visually more what we wanted to show. It's more evocative of strength, more graceful and beautiful so easier on the eyes for a cover.

We knew we wanted to show a woman, in a strong, athletic pose (i.e., no bikini models smiling coyly at the camera).

I think many people are draw to water images. I think blue is a nice colour for a cover. And I think an action shot is always more powerful than a still one, especially for a book where action and movement are a part of the story.

Q: What do you think the cover says about the book?

A: That the swimmer on the cover is strong and beautiful, and that this book is also about strong beautiful people. People whos rbeauty isn't just physical but about perseverance, about supporting each other, having goals and reaching for them. The woman is reaching forward and moving forward in the picture and the story is about the characters moving forward in their lives, regardless of the challenges they face. I think it communicates bravery.

Q: The Bone Cage was published in 2007, and the story takes place shortly before the 2000 Olympics. Do you think the cover stands the test of time?

A: I think the image is modern and also timeless. The athletic suit isn't going out of style, there's nothing to date the image. As well, the type treatment was done with the contemporary story in mind -- spare and with space, also strong in its appearance, not frilly. The combined effect of image, type and title words is hopeful, strong, austere (as in the harsh realities of training) and yet still beautiful.

Q: Two sports are front and centre in this novel, yet only one, swimming, makes the cover. How does your chosen image convey the wrestling-centric side of the book?

A: In the end it doesn't. I explained a bit above why that is. My feeling is that a cover does not need to communicate all things about a book. It can communicate a tone, a mood, and prepare the reader for the feeling of the book. The reader should be captured by this, by the visuals, but not necessarily told all the themes, issues or content of the story. For fiction we want to entice the reader to pick up the book, and then we tell them more on the back cover.

We were also happy to find an image that would wrap around onto the back cover so that there is a cohesive feel to the whole book, and people are drawn to pick it up and turn it over to see the other half of the woman's body.

Q: What about being a book designer might surprise readers?

A: It's a very collaborative process, with the author, the editorial people and even sometimes sales people and booksellers. We want the book to represent the story and the author as best we can, but we also want to make it right for the market. It's a balancing act but unlike a negotiation (where a successful negotiation is when no one leaves happy) I'd say a successful cover is when as many people are happy with what it says -- including readers.

 

Thank you, Suzette and Ruth, for taking the time to talk to us!

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