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The Coldest War Cover Art That Never Was

February 29, 2012 at 10:28 am

OK.  So, this is a little weird. 

Back in November, when I was attending the World Fantasy Convention in San Diego, I spent some time hanging out with folks from Tor's art department.   We got to talking about cover art, and I mentioned how pleased I've been with their efforts on my behalf.  (Yes, I can be an obsequious little toad on occasion.  But in this case I was being sincere.  I really do love the work they've done on the Milkweed books, both the old cover and the new work.)

And then somebody asked me if I had seen the cover that John Jude Palencar painted for my second novel. 

To which I said, "Um, no," because as we all know, JJP did not do the cover art for my second novel.

At which point the conversation fell silent for a moment.  I won't call it an awkward silence.  "Pregnant," perhaps?

"Oh," was the response.  "Maybe I shouldn't have mentioned it."

But, you know, at this point I was rather curious.  So I inquired further.  Turns out that Mr. Palencar had actually read the manuscript for The Coldest War, and created a painting based on it, before the decision to change the marketing strategy for my books was finalized.   So he had already sent cover art for The Coldest War to Tor when the decision to change cover styles happened.  So the art department had this unused John Jude Palencar painting just sitting around for months and months.

What happened next?  And what does this mystery painting look like?

Go ahead and read about it here, and check out the artwork here.

So, in essence, Tor commissioned an anthology of stories written by top-flight writers inspired by a Palencar painting that was, itself, inspired by my book.  (But to be absolutely clear, it's not an anthology of stories set in the Milkweed universe.)

Tor commissioned the painting, and they weren't using it for anything else, so it's a great idea.  And the image is their own to use, after all.   But I admit to feeling a little strangely about this.  I'm not for one nanosecond implying that I belong in the anthology—I would never claim I belong in an anthology populated by the likes of Gene Wolfe and Michael Swanwick. And as I pointed out, this is an anthology of stories inspired by a painting that was itself inspired by the book—in other words, it's NOT an anthology of stories set in the Milkweed universe.

On the other hand, I'm sorry that there's absolutely no mention of The Coldest War anywhere in that post about's Palencar Project.   If there's a reason for it, I'm not certain what it is.  I feel OK posting about this because at no point was I asked to keep the association secret.  And now that the painting is online, as this comment makes clear, people familiar with my books are already making the connection without any prompting from me.

Oh, Coldest War, you loveable troublemaker.  You're just full of endless surprises, aren't you?

Update:  Turns out that somebody at Tor had specifically requested that the post reference my book.  Don't know why it doesn't, but it's nice to know somebody there also thought this was an oversight.  Now I don't feel quite so crazy.


February 29, 2012 at 11:30 am
I have this wyrd(fated?) mix of awe and melancholy from this story, Ian. On one hand (maybe the left), the fact that a world you created inspired artist who inspired other artists is what we all hope for as artists!!! On the right hand (going with the metaphor), I think there should be some credit handed out(see what I did there..?) to those who deserve it. There is no question that it is a continuation from the first book cover. You deserve a nod. Not that it means much but... **me nodding**
Ian February 29, 2012 at 12:24 pm
I do see what you did there. Well done! (See what I did there? :-) Yeah, it's a strange thing. It's a very cool project, but I wouldn't mind if a fraction of the attention it draws could also reflect upon the originating work. Nah, that's crazy talk.
Steve Halter February 29, 2012 at 12:38 pm
Yeah, to elaborate on my post, quite literally the first thing that entered my mind when I saw the Tor post was "Huh, that really feels like the first cover of Bitter Seeds." That thought was even prior to recalling that Palencar had painted the first cover. It really is a beautiful painting and does capture some of the feel from The Coldest War. The themantic linkage is wonderful. Now I'm really curious at what the short stories contain--haven't read the first one yet. So, props on inspiration!
Ian February 29, 2012 at 12:50 pm
Steve, that's hilarious. I'm impressed that you drew the connection so quickly! Props to you for an awesome visual memory. Some day I'll post the ORIGINAL concept art for the cover of TCW-- a sketch I included when I submitted the original manuscript, way back when.
Susan Loyal March 1, 2012 at 11:01 am
Oddly, I read the article first and then popped by here. My internal dialogue went something like this: "Oh. Palencar. That looks strangely like Gretel. Gives me the cold chills. Appropriate for Gretel. Off-putting, though. Really glad they changed the art work for Milkweed. Haven't read IT's blog in a while . . ." Honestly, I don't think cover art that makes you want to back away slowly without making her turn around (even if that's appropriate to the character) is likely to drive sales. (The skirt she's wearing seems odd for the period, too.) In my experience, corporations never admit making mistakes, and contemporary practice extends that to never admitting that minds/opinions/courses of action were ever changed. This frequently results in behavior that would be Very Bad Manners if the corporation were a person. Personification of large legal entities only goes so far, I'm afraid. In short, we have always been at war with . . . what was the name of that political entity? Wasn't it different yesterday? Nah. I'd love to see the original concept art sketch.
Ian March 1, 2012 at 11:59 am
Hi, Susan! Thanks for stopping by. That's a really interesting interpretation, of both the painting and the story around its repurposing. I think you're probably right. I personally don't attribute malice to any of this... I'm just sorry that they felt it wasn't worth trying to cross-promote one of their own books. But I'm *always* happy to see love for JJP's artwork, which I adore. And I've always thought that the worst thing Gretel could do, if I were stuck in a room with her, would be to acknowledge my presence. Because that would imply I figured into her plans.
Susan Loyal March 1, 2012 at 12:13 pm
I'm hoping for direct promotion of The Coldest War on nearer the release date. Gretel saying "hello" and smiling at me has crept into my nightmares once or twice. Kudos for managing to write so much about her without her ever Noticing you. (That would make an interesting short story, though.) She's right up there with Caitlin R. Kiernan's Hounds of Cain as Scariest Fictional Entity, for me. All the best.
Ian March 1, 2012 at 12:44 pm
(Promotion like that would be awesome. But it's a big world and there are a lot of books out there every month... I don't feel anybody is obligated to pump my books for me, or owes me. Still, that doesn't mean I'm above looking for cross-promotion opportunities...) Gretel saying "hello" and smiling at me has crept into my nightmares once or twice. Wow... that is an incredible compliment. I'm speechless. Thank you. I mean, I guess it's weird to thank somebody for her nightmares, but... That's pretty much the best compliment a writer could hope to receive. (Not that I hope to torment people in their sleep.) This is the second time somebody has told me about a nightmare involving Gretel. I never in a million years would have anticipated such a thing. There are at least two more Gretel short stories I'd like to write. (I might tackle them after finishing the first draft of Something More.) I hope to someday have a trilogy of short stories: "What Doctor Gottlieb Saw," "What Doctor Ivanovich Saw," etc.
Bradley Beaulieu March 1, 2012 at 1:06 pm
Quite an interesting path your books have taken, Ian. And it's not even over! You have another book's worth to go. Here's hoping the rest goes smoothly and that the books get the attention they deserve.
Susan Loyal March 1, 2012 at 1:07 pm
Awesome. I look forward to the stories.
Ian March 1, 2012 at 2:08 pm
Thanks, Brad. It's been interesting, that's for certain. And thanks, Susan. I hope I get around to writing them before long...
Sara G. March 8, 2012 at 6:40 pm
It's very interesting to have a chance to see what might have been. And this time, no Nazi insignia to seep poison into your walls. I'll bet you have some crafty fans out there who will be fashioning their own dust jackets for their copies of TCW, now that this image is available to them.
Ian March 9, 2012 at 12:25 pm
That's true -- this painting is surely less of a poltergeist magnet than its predecessor. (Though, poltergeist activity in my house remains low. Relatively.)
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