Friday, February 12, 2021

Debs on the Cover That Wasn't

DEBORAH CROMBIE: I thought I might have a least a first draft of the cover for Kincaid/James #19 to show you today, but, alas, I fear that particular cover was not meant to be. Covers are so difficult! A cover has to convey what sort of book it is, it has to draw the reader in, and you want it to identify the author as well as the series if you are writing a series.

To compound the challenge, this book is set mostly in Bloomsbury and Soho, parts of London that have turned out to be remarkably difficult to photograph in a way that says LONDON! MYSTERY! READ THIS!

My London photographer friend did a little Bloomsbury photo shoot for me in early December--good timing for the setting of the book, but not so much for photos. London is pretty brown and drab at the beginning of December. But there was one shot of the Number 14 (Russell Square) bus that my editor and I both really liked, so we sent it to the art department. This was a close shot of the front half of the bus, with a beautiful carved pillar in the background.

What came back from the art director last week was a sequence of covers with London buses on bridges, complete with time-lapse light trails. He took the bus idea and ran with it. The 14 bus was in there, too, and while I still liked it, my agent HATED it. NO BUSES. NO TRANSPORTATION ON BOOK COVER. All caps.

So we are back to the drawing board, this time with the idea of lighted pub windows, seen from the outside. I have no idea if this will work! The good news is that they managed to get the title on the cover and it looked fabulous! (And, no, I'm not sharing it quite yet.)

In the meantime, I've been consoling myself by looking through my Portobello Market photos. Here's a snippet from the book, in which Kit goes to work at Otto's cafe in Elgin Crescent, one of the streets that bisects Portobello Road right in the center of the market. Otto's is entirely fictional, but I know exactly where it is. See the hat vendor in this photo from 2016? Otto's is just to the right. (I was sitting in the Duke of Wellington pub. Oh, the short hair! With no gray! Not to mention being IN a pub!)

You can see it better here, disguised by the graffiti and the scaffolding. Just imagine the blue awning...


Kit walked down Arundel Gardens with his hands stuffed in the pockets of his hoodie. After yesterday’s drizzle, the air was sharp with the sort of biting nip you only got on crisp, clear autumn days. If Gemma had been home she’d have told him to wear a coat, but he didn’t want to look a prat. No one at school wore a coat unless it was the apocalypse.

He was looking forward to working the lunch shift at Otto’s. The cafe was always busy on Portobello Market day, and Otto and Wes would need the extra help. Otto was paying him, too, although Kit suspected Otto knew he’d happily work for free. He loved the buzz and efficiency of a busy kitchen, and he felt comfortable there, more so than he ever did at school. People who knew what his parents did for a living tended to avoid him. He got bullied, too, for not having every social media app, but once when he’d tried to explain that his parents had seen first-hand what sort of trouble people could get into by sharing personal stuff, that git Trevor had fallen over himself laughing. Now everyone thought he was some sort of goody two-shoes, and God forbid they found out his little brother was dancing ballet.

That nerve-wracking thought took him into Elgin Crescent and he was glad to see the cheerful blue awning of the cafe front. Sandwiched between the charity shop and a bar that had changed hands half a dozen times since Kit had moved to Notting Hill, Otto’s cafĂ© was a neighborhood institution. Just beyond it, the hat stall set up on the pavement provided a blaze of color against the crowd thronging Portobello Road. The fine weather meant it would be a good day for the market, and the punters should be edging from morning coffees into early lunches.

Pushing open the cafe door, he met a blast of warmth and the smell of fresh coffee. With one glance, he checked the small dining room’s occupied tables. One woman, plastic shopping bags piled at her feet, was scrolling through her mobile, an empty coffee cup and a crumb-littered plate on the tabletop. At another two-top, a couple were perusing menus. The man set his down and looked round impatiently.

Kit frowned. The first table should have been cleared, and someone should have taken the couple’s orders. Where was everyone? Neither Otto nor Wes had appeared at the door to the kitchen. Usually, Otto’s daughters helped out on busy Saturdays, but there was no sign of the girls, either.

Kit crossed the room, nodding at the impatient man and murmuring, “Someone will be right with you,” as he passed. Pushing open the swinging door at the back of the room, he clattered down the stairs to the kitchen.

He stopped dead in the entryway, staring. Wesley Howard sat on the single kitchen stool, the palms of his hands pressed to his face. Otto stood before him, flapping his apron like a rotund chicken, his bald head gleaming with sweat under the harsh overhead lighting. The smell of hot fryer fat singed Kit’s nostrils.

“What’s happened?” he asked, his heart thumping into overdrive. “Wes, are you okay?”

Wes’s shoulders gave a convulsive heave. When he swiped his palms across his cheeks, Kit saw that his dark eyes were brimming with tears. Although a good few years older, Wesley was the first real friend Kit had made when he’d moved to London to live with his dad and Gemma. He had never seen Wes cry.

“Ah, Kit, you are here.” Otto turned to him with a look of relief. “I’m afraid Wesley has had some bad news.”

REDS and readers, what do you think about buses and book covers?  A double-decker definitely says LONDON, but not necessarily mystery. How about old buildings? Pub windows? What would draw you in?

 

 

 


79 comments:

  1. I think a double-decker bus would draw me in just as much as the pub; old buildings would probably do it, too. I think the close shot of the front half of the bus and the carved pillar sounds lovely; I’m not sure I understand why a double-decker bus in London is such an issue, especially since those double-decker buses are so closely associated with London . . . .

    Your descriptions always paint a vivid picture for me . . . I enjoyed reading this little snippet, Debs. But now I’m fretting, wondering about that bad news!

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    1. Thank you, Joan. I've gone back and looked at those covers and I do still like that one, and one other. Maybe we abandoned them too hastily at my agent's insistence...

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  2. Debs, I just love Kit and was so delighted when I saw his name start the excerpt. Of course, I love all the characters in the series, but I love reading about the kids and what they're up to. And what a slice of life from the book to leave us hanging. I do hope Wesley is okay. I can't wait to read more.

    I love pubs or the idea of pubs and pictures of pubs, so I know that a cover with an older looking pub would appeal to me. But, I also have a thing for the London buses, and I usually investigate books or puzzles or whatever with a double-decker London bus on it. So, like Joan, pub or bus would get my attention.

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    1. Kathy, I'm always so happy to write about Kit. And there is lots of family stuff going on in this book. It is really nice to be back in London with Christmas coming!

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    2. I love the family stuff - reading about Charlotte, Toby, and Kit. It makes Gemma and Duncan real people, people that I would like if I ever met them. And I would love to meet them.

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    3. Oh, yes, with Christmas coming! I am so excited about this book. Maureen, aren't they just a sweet, wonderful family!

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  3. Interesting the back and forth on the cover. I didn't a double-decker bus could have been fine for the cover. I like it better than the sounds of looking through a pub window.

    Best of luck coming up with something great.

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    1. Thanks, Mark! The art department at Morrow is very good, and I LOVE the book design they are using, so I'm sure we'll come up with something fabulous.

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  4. DEBS: I agree that a double-decker bus says London, and I remember a Hat Shop mystery from Jenn that has one on the cover, so show this to your agent!
    https://www.penguinrandomhouse.com/books/604895/buried-to-the-brim-by-jenn-mckinlay/

    I associate pubs with many places in the UK, not just London.
    Is there another historical building in Bloomsbury/Soho that readers would recognize?
    Good luck with the cover, and I enjoyed the snippet you provided us with Kit. He's growing up!

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  5. Fabulous snippet, Debs. I'm right there.

    I like the lighted pub windows, but only if they're not too welcoming. Something sinister has to lurk, too.

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    1. Edith, it's amazingly hard to find photos of pub windows without people in the way. And now they are all covered with Covid signs!

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    2. But isn't that what photoshop is for? ;^)

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  6. Love, love, love the snippet! What is breaking Wes's heart? Do I have to wait to find out like everyone else? Oh, no-o-o.

    I agree with Kathy that Kit is a wonderful character and can hardly wait to find out more about him and the rest of the crew. In the last book, you left poor Melody in a terrible state and Doug is always getting into stuff, painting, gardening, meddling! So, when does this come out?

    Lastly, covers. I like buses and pubs. Does the Portobello Market play a role? Is there something special that ties to the story which should be featured like on the fabulous cover of A Bitter Feast? Okay, I am not helpful but I'll buy the book early because...

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    1. You are always helpful, Judy! Part of the book will be set in Portobello, because of the family, and Wes and his mum, who live just off the market. But the crimes happen in Bloomsbury. Not that anyone pays that much attention to the location of the book cover. They used the London Eye on the cover of To Dwell in Darkness! No connection whatsoever to the story. I'm wondering now why I didn't get to veto that one...

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    2. Hm-m right. I probably thought the book would be about a murder near the LE and then forgot about it once I was reading the book. What is that saying about a book and its cover?

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  7. Oh dear! Bad news for Wes, but what is it? I'm right there with Kit wondering. Can't wait to read this story.

    I find the machinations over covers truly fascinating. Who'd have thought a bus on the front would cause an editor to yell in all caps? Not me. I don't know London well, but a window view in or out of a relevant room or shop or pub seems to herald intrigue of some kind, so I might vote for that as a cover feature.

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    1. Thank you, Amanda. It was my agent who hated the buses--I'm still not sure why they are such a bad thing. And of course shops and pubs are appealing, but does that make the book look too cozy? All these things go into the decision.

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    2. Maybe your agent was simply having a very bad day. I have always wondered where people get such random and arbitrary rules about writing and publishing. I've heard a bunch of them over the years--NO actors! NO musicians! NO busses! The people who profess them cling to them with great zeal, but I think they're mostly all personal preferences that have somehow been transmuted into law.

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    3. I think you hit it on the nose, Gigi. Like the one that there must be a cat on the cover of a cozy. What?

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    4. Sometimes I think publishers and/or marketing guys get too focused on the focus groups and get all tangled up in a "winning formula." While I appreciate the notion that cozy readers are looking for a particular experience when they pick up a book--not too much blood, no sex, gotta have an interesting setting--the formulaic restrictions are getting too restrictive when it comes to cozies. At least, that's what I think. When publishers start shopping ideas to authors, instead of the other way around, they suck a lot of the creativity out of process. That seems disrespectful of both the author and the reader. What's next? We can only have striped tabbies--gray or marmalade--but NO calicoes?

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  8. Great snippet, Deb.

    Buses, pub windows - it's all in the atmosphere around it, so I'm okay with either.

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  9. I'm having a hard time focusing on the questions about the cover for two reasons: 1) All the cover needs is the name Deborah Crombie and it has me; and 2) WHY IS WESLEY CRYING?!?!?

    Seriously, though, this is such a great excerpt! The friendship between Kit and Wesley has long been a favorite of mine, and it is such a treat to get this tiny visit with them. But seeing Wesley so devastated (in my mind's eye) is very difficult. Refresh my memory, please -- when is this book coming out?

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    1. Ah, it is now January '22. Because I am so SLOW. I love writing about Kit and Wesley, too, and Bryony is in there. And Erica, and I'm so happy to write about them. It's hard to get all these characters in every book, and I miss them when I'm not writing about them.

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  10. I'm with Susan! Wes crying??? Have loved Kit from the get-go--let me at those bullies!

    Covers? No transportation? Really?? Seems silly. As in, where else would you find a double-decker bus? London immediately comes to mind.

    Love this week's posts--so many good books coming our way!

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    1. It's so hard being a teenager! Toby will be bullied too, if he keeps dancing, but it will roll off him. Completely different personality than Kit. I love these boys.

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  11. My first reaction: Nooooooooo! When is it coming out ? Poor Kit, teen years are so difficult and now, his friend is distressed.
    Sorry Debs, I can’t focus on the cover , I just want to know when I can preorder this book.

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  12. Oh not fair. My inner imp then decides to guess your title.. "Fun with Kinkaid and Gemma" no? hmmm "Tom Swift and his electric double decker". no? "Kit and the Apocalyptic Overcoat" no just no. I give up.. waiting eagerly to read this with or without a cover.

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    1. I'm going with Kit and the Apocalyptic Overcoat:-)

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    2. I think the Apocalyptic Overcoat is more Toby's size . . .

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  13. I'm no help when it comes to covers - author's name is more important to me! But, you say, what if it is a new author you know nothing about then the cover is important, right. Okay. Personally I like all of the cover ideas mentioned. Not sure what the problem is with the bus or any transportation really. Maybe a sketch of a rainy sidewalk, people with umbrellas, and in the distance a very recognizable . . .something. I've never been to London so all I can think of his Big Ben. But I like pictures of the bridges too. (I said I was no help.)

    But your little tease has made me realize how much I have missed "my family" in England. Please tell me I won't have to wait too long.

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    1. Judy, the art director had put Big Ben in the three of the covers. I do not want Big Ben! And the Tower Bridge in another! No connection to the story at all. But I'm happy that I do get to weigh in on these, and that my name is BIG:-)

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  14. I love your focusing on Kit again. He's such a great kid growing into a responsible your adult and I've wondered where his post-secondary path would take him.

    Does the book take place in the fall? Lit pub windows would be good, or perhaps an iconic shot of the British Museum (grim, gray) with a splotch of color (phone box? postal box? flower boxes?). I've visited London three times in early November. It gets dark early, but otherwise, flowers are still blooming and lunch on a bench in Trafalgar Square was enjoyable. Bookstores around Russell Square? Plaques on houses where the Bloomsbury set lived?

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    1. Blue plaques!!! That's a great idea!! And yes, the book is set mid-November through December. I've thought about the British Museum, as quite a bit of stuff is set right around it, but it's quite cold looking. Hmmm.

      I'm wondering where Kit's path will take him, too. He was headed for biology/botany, but cooking may have taken over! Early days.

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    2. I keep thinking of Covent Garden market and the actor's church in November, but of course, your setting in elsewhere.

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    3. Mmmmm . . . Steve Ullathorne (the photographer friend) knows a thing or two about blue plaques, doesn't he?

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  15. Oh, my goodness, how the Crombie voice just comes right through! So interesting to read all of our excerpt this week, as you can really tell who wrote which – – don’t you think? This is so terrific!
    No transportation on covers. That’s a new one for me. Aren’t there cars on a lot of covers? Certainly there are airplanes. Now this is making me think…
    I am absolutely positive I have seen double decker buses on book covers. Now I am looking at my bookshelves.

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    1. Isn't there a little double decker on Jenn's Paris is always a good idea? I love the buses! But my cover for Necessary as Blood has a car crossing a bridge at night (why, when we had all of East London to choose from?????) so I don't want to use the headlight thing again.

      And I agree, it's such fun to hear everyone's voices--we are all so instantly recognizable!

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    2. I provided the link in my comment above there was a double-decker bus on Jenn's Hat Shop mystery, Buried to the Brim. So I think a bus on the cover is totally ok to portray a London-based mystery!

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  17. Debs, I love the excerpt and can't wait to read the book!

    As to the bus on the cover... It would read as a more whimsical, light-hearted book to me. I know for darn sure I've read a delightful womens fiction set in London that featured a double-decker bus and a flower stall on the front, so that may be shunting my thoughts in that direction. It's kind of hard to make a bus look threatening, unless you've got Keanu Reeves and Sandra Bullock on the cover as well. Oh, and the bus is flying through the air while on fire.

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    1. I'll pass those suggestions on to the art department, Julia:-)

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  18. Deborah.. ( just edited) Whatever you write is GREAT for me!!Same for Cover I have all on Kindle and rereading entire series now..
    WHY? Because my BookClub..Perquimans Page Turners in NC is going to read Book #1, A Share in Death in May and I will be leading the discussion..
    HELP!! Are there book club questions available??
    Thanks..
    Kathleen

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    1. Hi Kathleen! I love that your book club is reading the first book! I've never done book club questions for that book. It should be fun if your group is watching the new version of All Creatures Great and Small, as the book is set in Thirsk where Herriot practiced and there are lots of references to his books. Maybe we could set up a little Zoom for the group? Email me at deb at deborahcrombie dot com

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    2. Were book clubs even a thing when that one came out?

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    3. Deborah- That would be terrific! Ruth Downie just came for us Wednesday to discuss Medicus.It was thrilling.That was my presentation also. We have a good sized book club 30+ but just some of us Zoom. Michele the librarian attached the Zoom to our group with YouTube. I know a couple more of us have been reading your series. I'll email you details. yay!

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  19. The 100% most effective way to get me to read a book about London is to put the name DEBORAH CROMBIE on the cover. Busses? Mysterious figures emerging from the dark? Street light posts on a bridge? All lovely extras that add to the atmosphere. But the rest of the cover could be a complete blank--your version of the White Album--so long as it had your name and a title I hadn't read before. That's how good you are. Deal.

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  20. I like the idea for a cover that's looking into lighted pub windows, and maybe the pub has some struggling, late-blooming flowers in window boxes or pots. For people new to your books, I think that having some sort of reference conveying "this is London" is important. I am a visually-oriented person, so cover images are usually the first thing I notice about books. However, if the author is one I know, love and have read all of their books, the cover won't influence my decision to buy ~

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  21. I like the idea of pub windows! Thanks for the sneak read. It is hard to wait.

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  22. Nothing says London like a double-decker bus, so I am baffled at the "No transportation" rule. I guess there's a risk of too cute? I stayed in Bloomsbury a few times and one of the strong memories is the private, locked parks. Quaint, but at dust or in fall, maybe with that touch of threat? Often unhappy with my own covers, so what do I know? Myself as reader, all I need is your name on it.

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  23. Instead of a bus, how about a black cab? That's more threatening, I think. With a red phone box in the same picture.

    Honestly, when I think of London I think of public transportation. There is no other way to get around there for almost everyone. I guess you could also use the Tube. But what a silly restriction. My opinion.

    Debs, you big tease. That snippet is going to leave us all hanging for a YEAR. Ah, well. I know it will be worth the wait. It always is.

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    1. I like the cab idea! I suppose the buses are cheerful. On the other hand, the bright red really makes a cover pop.

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  24. Did your agent explain the ALL CAPS rejection of the iconic transportation of London? Maybe the pub window looking out at the craved pillar, over a table littered with the remains of a meal hastily abandoned? I've never been to England so I'm just guessing like a wide eyed tourist. It is hard to believe Kit is old enough to work, even part time. I definitely need to catch up. January, huh?

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    1. Alas, January. But it will be here before we know it!

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  25. I don’t understand why the author doesn’t have more of a say in what’s on the cover. Because it’s yours, Debs, I’ll read it even if ends up with a cover that resembles an old brown paper shopping bag!

    I’m more concerned about poor Wesley, one of my favorite characters! I look forward to reading the book.

    DebRo

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  26. Deborah,

    While I loved the photos or drawings on the book covers, I am sorry to say that I had a hard time reading the title of Bitter Feast because the white letters blended into the yellow background.

    Would it be possible for the book cover artist to have the title in colors that are Not too close to the background color?

    Question: Kit's parents are Duncan and Gemma, right?

    That scene is very gripping. I had a bad feeling that something happened when Kit arrived and noticed that neither Wes nor Otto nor Otto's daughters were there.

    The recurring characters are wonderful. I look forward to reading the book.

    Will the book be published in 2022?

    Diana

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  27. No busses, huh? How about a shadowy figure at dusk scurrying by one of those beautiful wrought iron fences surrounding a square? Loved the excerpt. What will Kit find out??

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  28. Cliffhanger!!! I am desperate to know what Wes has to say. Ack!

    Book covers are so important! I'm sure the final result will be brilliant. I mean when London is your backdrop, you can't go wrong!

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    1. I don't know, Jenn. I think my cover with the London Eye is pretty awful. But I'm sure this one will be great!

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    2. Deborah,

      As long as I can read the title on the book cover :)

      Diana

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  29. I really fail to see why a bus doesn’t say mystery! Too many fragments of mysteries by too many authors are in my head to name specifically in which a person is pushed or tripped down from the top deck, hit or nearly so by the bus so that foul play looks accidental, and sleuths pondering solutions as they ride. But perhaps, I’m a poor judge of covers: love Lucy’s Key West mysteries and Edith/Maggie mysteries, but the cat on the cover would discourage me from picking them up! Happy Friday all.

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  30. Deborah, love the snippet! Can hardly wait for publication! And would buy with a plain brown wrapper or a bus or whatever on the cover! Hooray for Kincaid and Gemma!

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  31. You can put anything on the cover!! I just want what is inside!!! Another wonderful book to enjoy is so worth waiting for right now!! Keep at it!! Love Portobello Road and look forward to a trip there hopefully in 2022!!!

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  32. Haven't missed one of your books yet, Deborah! Love them!

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  33. All I need on the cover is your name and the words “A Duncan Kincaid/Emma James Novel”...I’m in!

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  34. Lamps, with dark shadows? . . . but really, why the prohibition on buses? Odd indeed.

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  35. Love London, Love the double decker bused and the pubs. First visited 65 yeaes ago and have been back often. My favorite city. Use the bus on the cover. It says London and your books are simlly great. I have akk of them.

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  36. I'd be okay with the bus on the cover, but to be honest, I barely look anymore. I'm just there for more Duncan and Gemma and the gang!

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  37. Your name on the cover is what draws me in.

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  38. I would read anything with your name on it, regardless of the cover. And I am so longing for a new Deborah Crombie/Gemma/Kincaid/Kit book ... it feels an age since the last one came out.

    Do you have any idea when the new book may be published?

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