Covers Covered by Carol

The Long, Long Cover Journey From Judy Cuevas To Judith Ivory

February 8, 2000

For those of you who don’t already know, the romance novelist Judith Ivory began her literary journey with her real name of Judy Cuevas. Two publishers and nine years later, she switched to Avon and, at Avon’s behest, also underwent a name change to Judith Ivory. She has “gone the distance,” as the saying goes, as a writer. However, her covers have lagged behind her the whole way, whether she was with Zebra, Jove/Berkley or Avon. I don’t think it would have taken twelve years for her to be discovered by the readers now flocking to her newest release, The Proposition, had her covers kept pace with her writing skill.

We’re going to look at Cuevas/Ivory’s entire backlist in examining her career. This is the first time we’ve examined a single author in this column but doing a case study allows us an in depth look at the cover problem by following just one author’s experiences for twelve years.

Starlit Surrender was her first novel, published by Zebra in 1988. It is set in the late 1700s, unlike her better-known novels set after the 1850s. It also has a rather standard English Aristocrat, womanizing hero with the traditional innocent heroine. The two of them do go back and forth from England to France, which repeats in many Cuevas/Ivory novels because of her interest in both cultures. I found myself laughing at times as I read this book because whenever the story line began to sag, the author seriously wounded the hero with a pistol or a sword. I lost count of how many injuries Adrien Hunt sustained but he needed more lives than a cat. Actually, I could reel off the names of many romance authors who have never moved beyond this basic setup for their entire career. Thankfully, Cuevas did not become one of their already high number. I will call her Cuevas for her novels written under that name and switch to Ivory for those pseudonymed novels.

Turning to the cover of Starlit Surrender, it embodies everything that most of us have come to hate on romance novels. The leads are kneeling in tons of flowers in a field while butterflies swirl around them. She is falling out of her dress and he is falling out of his shirt. Instead of the dreaded hologram heart we now see on Zebra books, there is a big turquoise one, which is equally annoying. Can I say anything good about this cover? Well, the two models are attractive enough and the color palette used was good, the colors going together very well. But that’s about it.

There is no art credit given to the cover artist, which is the case with every Cuevas/Ivory cover. For an author, it’s a really bad sign when there is never an art credit in the book. It tells us that no one is going out of his/her way to find a top talent for advancing her career by using an artist whose painting talent is equal to her writing talent. I wonder if any romance author has ever made this the basis of a publishing house switch: who she was guaranteed as far as her cover artists. It sure would be a deal breaking/making point for me in the negotiating process were I a romance author switching publishers, if I had some clout at long last.

In 1991, Jove published Judy Cuevas’s Black Silk. This was a big leap ahead in her writing. First, Cuevas moved into a period that she took to like the proverbial duck to water! This was 1858, the Victorian age. The remainder of her books would range from here into the very early 1900s and the Edwardian era. I was already feeling burned out in the French Revolution through the Regency periods so it was a delight for me to switch to a different age.

Cuevas’ hero is an English earl, but he is much more developed than her first hero. Graham Wessitt may strike readers more as a rebellious boy than a widowed father. Setting off a cavalcade of fireworks for an impromptu entertainment, for example, is all in a night’s work for Graham. His mistress, another man’s wife, attends his freewheeling house parties, and sometimes the mistress’s husband is among the mix of people. However, Graham is not an evil man and he’s even hard to dislike. Rather, he is just Exhibit A of how many men in the English aristocracy led their lives.

The heroine, Submit Channing-Downes, is the young widow of Graham’s former guardian, who was a powerful, elderly marquess. The two men did not get along and a lot of Graham’s outrageous behavior stems from his bitterness towards his guardian. Submit has been drawn into a huge legal battle in the English court system with a friend of Graham’s, the bastard son of the late marquess, over considerable items and moneys in the estate. The title itself appears to hang in limbo.

As I became engrossed in this novel, I thought, “Wow! Is this different! Here’s an author taking some risks with some characters that are far from perfect yet utterly believable. Plus there is an intricate plot which Cuevas is fully able to pull together.” Cuevas was also not shooting or impaling Graham at every turn like she was poor Adrien Hunt. She discovered better plotting devices between just her first and second books.

The cover was a leap ahead too. It is not a fabulous cover but after you’ve seen all of the Cuevas/Ivory covers, you’ll realize that this front cover is one of her best ones. First, the woman is wearing a black silk dress, which actually fits with the title of the book and the fact that she is newly widowed. He’s undone the back of her dress and the gown ripples around her nicely. They are an attractive couple but their hairstyles are too modern. They are surrounded by bright orange and blue swirls of color, which I thought, were abstract shapes and then noticed that they were flowers: free-floating, huge flowers! As a design and color scheme they work quite well even though it is a bit absurd. I would have continued using these colors and the design, along with an inset of the faces, onto the spine and back but, instead, the spine and back were left a plain white, which doesn’t go with the darker, intense front cover. As a cover flat, a bookseller might have wondered why it wasn’t finished by the artist and accordingly limited the number of copies ordered. Looking at the plain white spine alone would not likely attract the book-buying consumer.

Cuevas’s third novel, Bliss, was published in 1995 by Jove and absolutely knocked me out. In one leap, Cuevas/Ivory’s book was sitting right by Laura Kinsale’s best books on my keeper shelves. With this novel, Cuevas gave her imagination free rein and let it lead the way to one of the top ten most imaginative romance novels of the ’90s or any other decade. Set in 1903, we are able to see the dawning of modern conveniences. The heroine, Hannah Van Evan, drives a car around the French countryside, for one. An American, Hannah has let herself be ruined by a man back home to avoid being tempted into living a very easy, yet all too dreary life in Florida. Her nickname becomes Miss Seven Minutes of Heaven and she is forced abroad to her great delight. There she finds work with a battle-ax auctioneer in an old chateau in the French countryside. This woman trains her in objects d’art and antiquities, which gives her skills that will attract Christie’s and Sotheby’s auction houses.

With a heroine like this, are we going to see her married off to yet another English earl? Not on your life! The hero is Frenchman Nardi de Saint Vallier, once his country’s most promising sculptor. Nardi, however, could not deal with criticism of his artwork and turned to inhaling ether as both an intoxicant and an escape from the pressures of the art world. His brother, a Parisian lawyer, imprisons him in the family’s crumbling chateau. Nardi is told he must marry an heiress whose merchant father wants to align his fortune with their old, aristocratic French family in exchange for returning their estates to their former glory. If Nardi does not agree, his brother will institutionalize him for his ether addiction. Nardi and Hannah meet at the chateau. Cuevas also uses letters and diaries of the main characters very cleverly.

And what was the cover for this masterpiece? Six butterflies of varied colors on a plain white background on the front, spine and back. This novel had so much raw imagery in it for a cover artist to use that I was stunned by his or her total lack of imagination. How about using one of Nardi’s sculptures? He sculpts Hannah as part of the story, for one. Can’t you see the two of them in this crumbling chateau producing this sculpture together? Or how about Nardi, the mad artist in pursuit of his ether, with Hannah trying to stop him?

I’m sure there are butterflies in the French countryside, but big deal. I’ve also got them here in Ohio! On the positive side, it is simple, clean and an artful and colorful scattering of butterflies. The problem is that it wholly misleads the reader about what she will discover inside this book. I would expect a sweet, simple love story, perhaps a bit on the dull side, with this cover.

Cuevas wrote one sequel as Cuevas and has written none as Ivory. The sequel, Dance, is set right after Bliss in 1903. This was also her last book as Judy Cuevas, published in 1996 by Jove. The hero is Sebastian de Saint Vallier, the brother who imprisoned Nardi in Bliss. He is a French lawyer and cosmopolitan man about town, married, with grown children. He has kept a mistress from time to time, which is common enough for a man in his position. He has stayed close friends with the merchant whose daughter did not marry his brother, and the two men are alike in their grand, commercial view of life.

Although I was prepared to dislike Sebastian, a number of things happen early in the story, which made him intrigue me. His wife commits suicide and this is a jarring, life altering event for any spouse to go through. Then he meets Marie Du Gard, his merchant friend’s daughter, only to discover that she has become one of the early makers of silent movies, recently returned from America. She can improvise from virtually thin air, writing the movies, dragging people into them, and filming them anywhere she can find available light. Her father is so incensed by her bohemian lifestyle that he disinherits Marie and makes Sebastian his heir instead, feeling Sebastian should have been his child, not Marie.

Everyone is thrown together when Marie moves into that same crumbling French chateau owned by Sebastian’s family. She accompanies a famous American artist who leases it for the summer along with his two other female companions. Marie drafts all of them into the movie she starts filming around the chateau and in the French countryside. Sebastian shows up at the chateau to check things out and all hell breaks loose.

And for this equally groundbreaking romance novel, what do we get as a cover? Sea shells. Nine brown-beige seashells scattered over a salmon pink background on the front, spine and back of the cover. The colors go well together, assuming that there are tons of women who like salmon pink as a color, which I tend to doubt. If it were Anne Morrow Lindbergh’s Gift From The Sea, it might work even with the salmon pink. However, it certainly does not bring to mind the story line of this romance.

Instead, we could have been shown Marie shooting a silent movie in and around a chateau in the French countryside at the turn of the century, which would have been a fabulous image. One also wonders what the title Dance is doing next to these shells. Do seashells dance? Of course not. Nor were they the subjects of her silent movies. Marie premieres her movie in a Parisian theater, which would have made a wonderful image as well. Once again, Cuevas, who has a blast furnace of an imagination, was paired with the most tepid of cover artists.


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