Wednesday, April 5, 2017

Can’t These Guys Afford Clothes? Or, Cover Art in Historical Fiction

This all started a long long time ago, but still in this galaxy. It was actually in 2009, about a year after I’d started writing the story which would eventually become Traitor Knight. I was telling a friend, a woman who worked with my wife, about it. And her reaction was, “Make sure your hero is pictured on the cover with no shirt on.”

It rather seems like a reversal of the traditional “bodice-ripper”. Instead of beautiful girl on the cover, whose clothes are being strategically removed by the hero, we now find a guy in a definite state of dishabille, with a lusty maiden gazing longingly at him. Ah, the times, they are a ‘changing. I’m not sure what this change is indicative of, except possibly a universal truth—that gals like a bit of skin as much as us guys.

We laughed about it, but then I got to thinking. And researching. And sure enough, I discovered a large percentage of the covers of historical fiction novels (romance, fantasy, pirates, etc.) feature a buffed hero, sans shirt, usually clutching some comely maiden to his manly chest.

I was running the public library’s used book sales at the time, and as the books would come in, I started noticing. Because a lot of what was donated fell into the historical fiction category. And the majority of it featured these shirtless heroes. It became a running joke: “Oh, here’s another poor chap who can’t even afford to buy himself a shirt.”

Although admittedly none of the guys on those covers really looked as if they felt lacking. Not a one was shivering, which might be attributed to the panting damsels or debutantes  draped artistically over their shoulders, who generally  appear to be doing a pretty good job of keeping them warm.
It must be also be pointed out that, contrary to what history actually tells us, there’s not a man to be found on any of those covers with an ounce of fat on his body. They all must spend hours at the gym, a few more at a tanning salon, and the rest of their day at the hair stylist. While most of the girls look as if they’ve either just been ravished (or are about to do a bit of judicious ravishing of their own), their brawny tawny heroes are chiseled and combed to within an inch of their lives.  

Much to my friend’s chagrin, my hero appeared on the cover of Traitor Knight with his shirt on. Granted, he did get a haircut for the occasion, and he is pretty chiseled, but he sports neither a bare chest nor a lusty lass. He’s written me several strongly worded letters about this oversight, and I’m getting worried he’s going to send his next missive via dragon…

Keith W. Willis is a semi-professional word-wrangler with a fondness for flannel shirts. He thus is resigned to never appearing on a book cover. He lives in the upper Hudson Valley region of NY, where he's certain the sounds attributed to Captain Hudson's crew bowling are really just the dragons grumbling. Keith is fortunate to have a wonderful and loving wife who not only puts up with his writing but generally encourages it. When it doesn't get the way of their cut-throat Scrabble games, that is.

Keith is the author of the award-winning fantasy/romance Traitor Knight (Champagne Books). His newest work, Desperate Knight, which contains 50% more dragon, and no shirtless heroes, will be released in Summer 2017.