Christina Dodd and the Infamous Three-Armed Cover
Every writer faces a moment in her career when she realizes that a good part of success has nothing to do with skill or planning, and everything to do with pure, dumb luck. For me, that moment arrived at a party at the Romance Writers of America conference in St. Louis in 1993, when a colleague came to me and asked, “Did you know the heroine on the cover of your newest release has three arms?”
That’s not a question one hears everyday. It’s along the lines of, “Catch the piano!” — a remark so bizarre most normal people would never imagine speaking those words in a single sentence. Certainly I’d never thought to hear that my heroine possessed an extra limb. I’d had a 12×18 of the cover on my desk for months, and I hadn’t noticed anything except that my name was spelled correctly. But my colleague seemed so sure and, worse, so amused, that I rushed to the conference bookstore and checked the cover.
Yes. It was true. CASTLES IN THE AIR featured a heroine with one too many appendages. The hero held one of her hands, she leaned on another hand, and the one tucked into her skirts seemed so unnecessary, so superfluous … so much like a great big bonus to my career I could scarcely believe I was that lucky.
What do you do when your cover artist has a bad day, forgets to erase that extra hand, and no one in the art department spots the mistake before your book goes to press?
You use it. Ruthlessly.
Mind you, I didn’t immediately realize what a boon I’d received. I tottered over to my editor and told her the good news, and caught a glimpse of the expression that must have been contorting my own face — a cross between deer caught in the headlights and shrieking amusement. Or was that hysteria?
It rapidly became clear that the news about my cover had flown through the conference. Everyone knew … and if they didn’t, I found myself telling them. “Hi,” I’d say, “I’m Christina Dodd. I write novels, thus fulfilling a lifelong dream and making my mother proud.”
“My cover features a three-armed woman.”
“Oh, you’re the one!”
I’m slow, but trainable. From that point forward, I became The Author of the Three-Armed Woman Book. Never mind that I’d had nothing to do with the art; I embraced that three-armed woman (ha!) as my own. I gave speeches to business and leisure groups, and the high point was always The Showing of the Arms. My bookmarks and brochures for my future books contained a list of titles and the question, “Which of Christina Dodd’s book covers features a heroine with three arms?” At any booksigning, I requested that the bookseller order CASTLES IN THE AIR and I used it to open conversations and sell books — to everyone. I sold that book to literary snobs, to men, to other authors. I listened to all the witticisms, and I laughed dutifully. “Does he have another woman hiding under there?” “I bet she’s great in bed!” And, of course, the big question, “How could this have happened?”
Considering the number of genre titles that are published every year, it’s not that amazing that my three-armed woman made it to publication. What’s amazing is that more paperback covers don’t feature appalling mistakes inside and out.
All good things must come to an end, and one day a bookseller told me CASTLES IN THE AIR was gone. I’d sold out the whole print run, one book at a time. First editions are hard to find, but CASTLES IN THE AIR is still in print — with a different cover — and may I point out it’s a great story. In fact, the first line happens to be, “She had all her teeth.” Total serendipity, I promise you. I wrote the novel long before the art department created the cover.
I still have people who walk up to me, grinning, to inform me they own a copy (I ended up with only four — where’s the justice in that?) I’ve seen the book packaged in shrink-wrap at a used book store and go for amazing prices on Ebay. The infamous CASTLES IN THE AIR cover will live forever on my website. Please note that my current Virtue Falls thriller, BECAUSE I’M WATCHING, features a hand print … but no hand. And yes, this was featured on CBS Sunday Morning.
Oh, and we’ve got a new cover goof now…
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