So a decent amount of reader feedback has come back for the three cover designs proposed for my novel, Billy Maddox Takes His Shot, and two cover designs ran almost neck and neck: #2 and #3. Thirteen readers thought Cover #2 was the strongest choice while 12 readers preferred Cover #3. Four readers also weighed in as advocates for #1 with some compelling arguments for why that cover was the strongest. Let’s break down the feedback to determine how to move forward with the final book cover design.
This is a big moment for me.
Within the next few days, I’m going to launch Billy Maddox Takes His Shot, a novel about a Border Patrol agent in Arizona that I began back in 2003.
Novels aren’t supposed to take this long to write. My excitement is mixed with disappointment that the project took this long. But it’s just what happened.
And I can’t tell if I’m at fault or not. At least once during this 13-year journey, I honestly could have said “I’m finished” and moved on to my next novel. But I didn’t. I stuck with the book. I’ll get to that shortly.
A few weeks shy of my sixteenth birthday, I watched someone fall off a cliff. He plummeted several hundred feet to his death. The header image above shows the Hudson Highlands near Cornwall-on-Hudson, NY, the town where I was raised. You’ll notice the beauty of it. Images like these help promote the Hudson Valley as a wonderful place to visit or live.
For me, though, the part of this image that I always focus on (not quite visible here thanks to the blog post title I slapped on top if it) is the sheer face of the cliffs since it was from one such face that I watched the man fall.
I might say that tragedy planted the seeds for my future as a writer. I’m sure that segue sounds crude given the gravity of what I experienced (watching someone die) and the conclusion I drew from it (that I became a writer). And you wouldn’t be entirely wrong.
But it is a sad fact that much of what drives great literary writing is the intensity of emotion that comes from truly horrific events.
The mid-1990s saw a surge in illegal migrant traffic from Mexico to the United States in part due to a struggling Mexican economy exacerbated by a devalued peso in 1994. On the American side of the border, the result was a series of Border Patrol initiatives conducted along the Southwestern border–including Operation Safeguard in Arizona–intended to tamp down on the flow of illegal aliens through well-populated towns and cities.
These busy areas were attractive to would-be border crossers since it was easy to blend into the local, largely Latino population. As hundreds of new agents descended into metropolitan areas along the border as a result of these new initiatives, however, the only alternative became to cross through remote, dangerous territory such as Arizona’s Sonoran Desert.
The Immigration & Naturalization Service hoped such terrain would discourage mostly Mexican aliens from trying to cross illegally. That hope, however, quickly turned to illusion.
As detailed in my last post, Border Patrol agents use sign cutting to track anyone crossing the international border including migrants seeking job opportunities in the United States or drug smugglers moving their narcotics across Arizona’s Sonoran Desert in the Southwest.
Sign cutting was not devised by American border enforcement. The history of sign cutting dates to a period long before modern civilization, when humans had little in the way of protection from the natural elements. In addition to shelter and fire, food represented the most basic need. Hunter-gatherers would track creatures such as mammoth and elephants for long periods of time.
If there is something Border Patrol agents know, it is a process for tracking border crossers called “sign cutting”. One definition of sign (not mine) is “physical evidence of disturbance by the passing of people, animals or objects.” Sign is one of the most important resources Border Patrol agents utilize to figure out that desert-crossing immigrants or drug smugglers have passed by. And agents had better be good at it. It is their jobs to track and interdict individuals who have crossed into the United States.
Consider the following example from Billy Maddox Takes His Shot.