Flaming June

I just published Twenty Questions as an electronic book and here’s the cover.


It’s taken from a painting called Flaming June by Frederic Leighton, 1895, currently housed in Arte de Ponce in Ponce, Puerto Rico. I’m not sure that the tone is right. The novel is foreboding, but the picture I’ve chosen is dreamy and romantic. Can I choose a cover primarily because I love it? My character’s name is June, like the woman in the painting, and in the book (written without the painting in mind!) this painting is mentioned to June.

When she said her name, he had said, ‘Flaming June, like the painting.’
She knew the painting he meant. It was a woman lying back in an orange dress, with golden hair spread out on a pillow. She did look like the woman in the painting. She had always secretly thought so.

Did you notice the plants in the upper right portion of the painting? They are the poisonous oleander. The oleander symbolizes

  • the mother
  • caution, the need to beware
  •  the close relationship between sleep and death.

Each of those things is central to the story. I recently read an article in Salon claiming that people actually get more pleasure out of a book or movie if they know the ending, but I don’t believe that, and I am not going to say why each of these symbols in relevant.

Here is the first cover:

Readers are usually surprised to hear that authors, unless they are famous and powerful, don’t choose their covers. I like this cover although it makes the book look like a mystery, which it isn’t. It has a mystery in it, but it doesn’t follow a mystery format. A newspaper wrote an article about me and the caption said, “Mystery writer,” which was a surprise.

I like the green and pink colors. I like the hydrangeas. I like the fact that they are an Oregon flower and the book is set in Oregon. Often covers are chosen with no attention to this kind of detail. Once when I complained about the fact that one of my book covers had no relationship to the book, an editor told me, “Writers are always so picky about that stuff!” Readers, she said, never notice. But it’s not true. Readers do notice.

An oleander.

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2 thoughts on “Flaming June

  1. I think the cover with the painting is TOTALLY cool! I love that piece of background info about June. She is such an interesting character.

  2. Thanks, Anne Marie. I’ve always loved that painting.
    Do you think June was crazy? (for the record: I don’t but it was creepy when she put on the dead woman’s clothes)
    Also I think we don’t give enough recognition to the often fluid nature of being crazy. Doris Lessing says — oh I am always quoting her!– that often a breakdown is just preparation for integrating at a higher level. I think June was having a breakdown.
    I love the bit about the oleanders in the painting. Did you read White Oleander? The protagonist of my new book, unpublished, is a foster child but mostly she is an adult in the story. Someone told me that maybe Janet Fitch is the foster child writer, but I don’t see why there can’t be two.

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