Today’s Post Is Brought to You By the Letters…

WJ 200x313The story of THE WICKED AND THE JUST’s cover begins with V and ends with F.

The original design of the cover was very similar to the final version with one major difference: the castle.  The original castle was small, pointy and situated in a forest.

My first thought was Who in their right mind would put a castle in the forest?  That’s a security breach waiting to happen.

I asked my editor whether we could change the castle a little.  Couldn’t we use a picture of the real one, the one that’s featured in the book?

Caernarvon

I was told that the art department couldn’t find a picture of the real castle that was in good enough shape to use.  All the available images were woodcuts or line drawings, and in them the castle was tumbledown.  It didn’t look new, like it would have in 1293.

Frankly, I was puzzled.  The castle featured in W/J is Caernarfon Castle.  It’s a UNESCO World Heritage site.  It’s one of the best-preserved medieval structures in Britain.  It was built to last, and it has.

CaernarfonThat’s when it hit me.  In W/J, the castle’s name is spelled Caernarvon – the medieval English spelling, not the modern Welsh spelling of Caernarfon.  The art department was looking for Caernarvon-with-a-v.  No wonder all they found were relics from the ancient past.

Caernarvon-with-a-v was built as an English town intended for settlement by English people to benefit the English Crown.  Caernarfon-with-an-f represents the kind of social progress that had to come from many generations of coexistence and changing circumstance.  It is not the place built by the English Crown in the thirteenth century.

Once I told the art department to look for Caernarfon-with-an-f, they found what they needed right away.  The very fact that I had to cuts to the heart of W/J – an intersection of language and occupation and unequal power, and the work that can only be done by time.

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About J. Anderson Coats

J. Anderson Coats writes historical fiction for young adults chockful of name-calling and petty violence. THE WICKED AND THE JUST (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2012) is about teenagers behaving badly in thirteenth-century Wales.

15 thoughts on “Today’s Post Is Brought to You By the Letters…

  1. hannahkarena says:

    Glad you got your way! Too often authors are completely unhappy with their book’s covers.

    • J. Anderson Coats says:

      Covers must be hard – the author sometimes expects one thing and what they get is totally different. I’m just glad I was able to have a good, productive conversation and be happy with the outcome.

      • hannahkarena says:

        That is fabulous! As someone who works in publishing, your publisher must think you’re pretty special if they’re willing to have you weigh in on the cover and make changes based upon what you said. I’m happy for you!

      • J. Anderson Coats says:

        I love my publisher so much. They’ve been awesome every step of the way.

  2. Faith Hough says:

    That is a great story! I love the cover and the story…and the tension of language and misunderstanding was so well-crafted.

    • J. Anderson Coats says:

      It’s an honest mistake. I’m just such a big geek that it didn’t occur to me that someone else might not know.

  3. Mike Jung says:

    AWESOME. That is all.

  4. This is so fascinating! And I love your cover, so I’m glad it all worked out!

  5. I’m no linguistic scholar, but I seem to remember from my meanderings in college that there’s a linguistic connection between “v” and “f” — which is why “Darth Vader” means “Dark Father” in some language like Dutch (pater = vader = father). Is that what happened in Welsh/English?

    • J. Anderson Coats says:

      In Welsh, the letter “f” makes a “v” sound. So phonetically, you’d say “Caernarfon” a lot like you’d say “Caernarvon”. There’s been some structure of some kind on that site since the Roman era, and in other times the place-name was written “Caer yn Arfon” – a fortified structure in the cantref of Arfon. So when the English built there, they took the name and said/wrote/understood it in a way that made sense to them.

  6. Jennifer McGowan says:

    This gives me chills–so cool that you were able to figure out the problem, and I *love* your cover. Hooray!

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