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From Designing to Writing: Interview with Erin Bowman

Writers get inspiration from everywhere, and in many cases the day-to-day jobs that keep paychecks coming can spark a new idea, help hone a process, or bring true characters into a writer's life. Friend of the blog Erin Bowman worked as a professional designer for years before she took up writing. And today, as she celebrates the release of her debut novel, Taken (hooray!), we asked Erin how her former life as a designer helped her on the publishing journey.

Before you were a writer, you were a designer. Have you always had a strong visual connection to books and stories?
Yes. Oh gosh, yes. My mom used to read aloud to me when I was younger. (She did this when I couldn’t read for myself, and then even once I could, she continued the ritual—usually with books a step or two above my current reading level.) When I listened to her, worlds would literally appear in mind. Like watercolor paint bleeding over paper.

This phenomenon is my favorite part about stories; the way your imagination can run absolutely wild with black and white words. I still have not seen a movie that surpasses my mind’s creation of its written counterpart. Not even Harry Potter. And that is the magic of books.

Did your work as a designer influence how you wrote/write?
Here’s the thing: all artists are creating. It doesn’t matter if you are a writer, musician, painter, filmmaker, photographer, or so on; you’re still trying to take something from your mind and capture it in the physical world. Regardless of the end product, that process is both painstakingly tedious and immensely rewarding.

Over my years as a designer, I learned that my first attempt—even if it poured out of me in a flash of inspired brilliance--was never, ever be the best it could be. To get a design to match the vision in my head took hours and hours of dedication and persistence. And revision was always a part of the process, as was critique. I used to have to pull up my designs so my Creative Director (and the other designers) could stand around my computer and give me feedback. I’d explain what I was shooting for, and then they’d dive right in, pointing out what they loved and what wasn’t working. These designers were my critique partners. They pointed out flaws, and then I figured out how to fix them.

I’d always written on the side, but when I decided I wanted to pursue writing seriously, I treated it just like a design project. I applied the same process and philosophy. I worked hard, sought out feedback, and worked some more. In my opinion, art is (and always be) a labor of love.

Do you think there's much creative crossover between the two---visuals and words?
Both visual and written arts have the same end user: a person. Whether it’s a website or a book or a painting or a photograph, art needs to have emotion. It needs to make people feel something. Even when I worked on websites—which function less as art and more as a digital representation of a brand—I still always designed with emotion in mind. Was the site’s personality hip and edgy, or modest and clean? How could I reflect that in color scheme and graphic style? People talk about a book needing to have a distinct voice. I think good art—visual, written, or otherwise—strives for the same thing.

Often, main characters in YA books are very visually talented people, like artists. Have you read any YA that has characters who reflect your own creative teen years?
I love this question! Hmm, let’s see.

There’s Lennie Walker in The Sky is Everywhere. I was a huge poetry scribbler in high school and college, much like Lennie, who wrote her prose on any scrap of paper she could find.

Bev in The Disenchantments! I started playing guitar when I was about thirteen—acoustic though, unlike Bev. I wrote countless songs and played at various open-mic nights throughout high school, but I never started a band. ;)

Harper Scott and Jake Tolan in Saving June. I still share their infatuation with music and carefully crafted playlists. But in high school I was particularly obsessed with pulling together the perfect mixes. One for every life event, be it a road trip, Saturday mornings, basketball practice, rainy days, you name it.

And then there’s a girl in one of my own manuscripts (a WIP). She shares a hobby I had in high school: cutting up magazines and making collages with the snippet swatches of color.

Also, obviously your cover is gorgeous. How much input did you have?
Thank you! I still haven’t tired of looking at that gradient of color! Before HarperTeen started work on the cover, my editor asked me if I was envisioning anything in particular. I wasn’t. I only knew how I wanted it to feel: mysterious, ominous, eerie. I sent my editor a short list of book covers that I loved and thought captured those moods well, and Harper went to work!

What was it like trusting your book to another designer, who might have had a different vision?
It was a little scary to let go of the reins, but I acknowledged that the HarperTeen designers were the experts. I’m a web designer, not a print designer. This was their specialty.

Erin Fitzsimmons was the designer behind Taken’s cover. I never would have thought to try what she came up with. The reflective surfaces and play on perspective. The tree and the birds and the K lifting from the title. I love it all. She incorporated so many subtle nods to the story (she read before designing), and all with the underlying moods of mystery and suspense I originally requested. I couldn’t be happier.

As a designer what book covers (besides your own) have really grabbed your attention recently?
Oh, man. I just saw a friend’s cover (not yet revealed) that might be my favorite cover in years, but I obviously can’t say anything about that yet.

In terms of recent books, I think the simplicity and illustration style of Rainbow Rowell’s Eleanor& Park is pitch-perfect, and I also really love Kiersten White’s cover for The Chaos of Stars. (I’m such a big fan of abstract, type-heavy covers. I’m hoping this is the new YA cover trend.) I’ve pinned some of my favorite covers to this pinterest board for anyone interested in seeing more.

Oooh that's awesome, Erin! Thanks so much for answering our questions, and we hope you have an amazing release day -- Taken is available everywhere today!
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  1. I love artistic book covers. They draw my eyes and feed my imagination, even before holding the book in my hands, opening the cover, and reading the synopsis. If the cover coincides with the storyline, I'm more apt to purchase/ borrow the book; and then, allow the cover to nourish my visualization of the characters and setting. The cover of TAKEN is encouraging and mysterious- I want to read it! Congratulations on your debut.

  2. This cover is amazing! The way that the colors bleed together combined with the tree roots is almost haunting. When it comes to covers, it's so important to get it right. The right cover can literally make or break your books ability to sell. This cover definitely hit the "make" it column.

  3. The cover is amazing but the summary is not enough for me to decide. I'll wait to read some review. I hope you enjoy reading it!


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