Literary Hub is pleased to reveal the cover for Elizabeth Crook’s The Madstone, forthcoming from Little Brown in November 2023.
Here’s a little more about The Madstone, from the publisher:
A pregnant mother and her son—on the run from her violent husband—flee across Texas, encountering desperados, fortune, buried treasure, a cursed necklace, and, improbably, love. With echoes of Lonesome Dove and News of the World, Elizabeth Crook has given us a riveting novel full of action, peril, and heart. Texas, 1868. A stranded stagecoach passenger persuades a young man – nineteen-year-old Benjamin Shreve – to help him track down the coach and the mysterious fortune he left aboard it. Soon, Benjamin is drawn into a drama whose scope he could never have imagined. Calling to mind Larry McMurtry’s American epics, The Madstone is full of eccentric action, unrelenting peril, and droll humor. But its greatest, most unexpected, and most original asset is its big heart.
And here’s the cover, designed by Gregg Kulick:
Kulick writes: “I had fallen in love with Elizabeth’s writing while working on the cover for her previous novel, The Which Way Tree, so I was absolutely thrilled when The Madstone came across my desk. We wanted an image that not only felt big and sweeping but also suggested a journey. Finding the right landscape was tough since this story starts off in such a specific region, the Hill Country in Texas. I found the original photo of the road going through pecan trees, but it wasn’t quite right because the sky was bright, sunny, and serene, whereas the novel is filled with quite a bit of peril. I was also having trouble getting the right figures, and Elizabeth offered to take some photos as inspiration to show me what clothes they should be wearing. The figures in her photos were absolutely perfect and fit right into the landscape, so I had to use them! Then there was the question of the sky, which needed to show a sense of menace and foreboding but not make the novel look like it was a thriller. Elizabeth mentioned that there is a specific type of clouds, called mammatus, that sometimes accompany storms down there, and they worked perfectly in the layout! Sometimes collaborations with authors can go wrong, but this to me is a great example of how it can go right. It was truly an honor to have a small part in a book that I love so much.“
Elizabeth Crook describes what it was like using her family as inspiration for the cover:
Three figures on horseback—a woman, a man, and a child—all heading resolutely into a storm; nothing could be more fitting as a cover illustration for this book.
How did this come about? I knew how hard it would be to authentically portray characters of the 1860s by plucking images off the web, so I offered to dress up my relatives and provide photos to Gregg Kulick.
We met at my brother’s place in Dripping Springs, twenty-five miles west of Austin. My niece, Amy, her son, Trip, and my nephew-in-law, Joe. I brought along a blue dress from my closet for the character of Nell, an oversized linen jacket for the character of Benjamin, and a bunch of old hats. Amy dressed Trip as Young Tot (although Gregg would later need to electronically muddy his shirt).
Amy and Joe and Trip mounted up on Dollar and Rock, and my niece Christine spent the afternoon snapping photos of the riders against a blank barn wall. Gregg then skillfully lifted these figures and placed them on the road in his dazzling landscape, backlit by the glow of those threatening clouds.
I adore that the actual figures are those of family, and it’s thrilling to see them ride into the story this way.”
And Crook’s editor, Ben George, told Lit Hub: “After working with Elizabeth Crook on The Which Way Tree, it was a joy to be reunited for this novel. When I had it in on submission, my Little, Brown colleagues laughed when I said I couldn’t be friends with them if they didn’t love this book, but I meant it. Although many surprising things occur in The Madstone, the novel is simple and old-fashioned in the best sense. It’s an adventure tale in which the narrator, Benjamin Shreve, attempts to convey to safety, across the state of Texas, a pregnant young mother, Nell, and her four-year-old son, Tot. Nell and Tot are fleeing desperadoes bent on revenge. To say why these outlaws want revenge would be to spoil the novel. But every single page is entertaining—with delightful touches like a cursed necklace and the eponymous madstone. (If you don’t know what a madstone is, you’ll have fun finding out in the novel.) Ultimately, it’s a story about a kindhearted person putting everything on the line to do something good and noble for someone else in a mean and tough old world. In this case, that literally means saving someone’s life—and possibly falling in love while doing so. Not even Annie Proulx or the ghost of Charles Portis could outdo The Madstone.”
The Madstone by Elizabeth Crook is out from Little Brown in November 2023.