When it comes to cover art, I tend to draw a blank. HAWTHORNE was no exception. By the time I finish writing a story, my characters exist in the emotions and events they bring to the page. That's not something that's easy for me to explain. You see, it's not about "brown hair and blue eyes" … it's a about expression and heart. Before I careen onto a road of utter schmuck-dom, however, I'll backtrack somewhat to say one thing about HAWTHORNE: I knew it was about the house.
I had this haunting, epic image in mind, but floating offshore of my conscious thought this blurry picture was as useless to me as it was to poor Elaina, who had the task of creating my cover. Fortunately for me, however, Elaina had read the story. Less fortunate for her, my lack of concrete ideas meant she was on her own for this one. But that didn't stop me from dying to know what she'd come up with—even more so when I had a glimpse of a couple potential houses for the cover. As such, I obsessed a little.
And as it turns out, I obsessed just enough. I was at the pool with my kids, armed with my not-so-internet-friendly cell phone, when my obsession led me to check my email … just in case. (Both a lifeguard and my mother-in-law were on duty, plus my two youngest wore life jackets. No children were endangered in the feeding of this obsession). And naturally, there—in all of its postage-stamp sized glory—waited my cover.
PERFECT. It was perfect! All I wanted to do was go home and see it, but I didn't figure it would go over well to drag the kids out of the pool so I could check my e-mail. (Darn parental guilt!) Finally the time passed—hours that felt slower than labor, I swear—and I was able to pull it up on my computer. My first impression stuck: it was perfect!
When I think about it, the reason it fits so well goes back to what I said in the opening paragraph. It's about a feeling—the heart of the story you can't quite put into words. And when it comes to HAWTHORNE, Elaina captured that essence in a way that's hard to define. I think anyone who has read the story can vouch for that!
After a terrifying encounter with the unexplained, it took ten years and the news of her grandmother’s passing for Emma Grace Hawthorne to return to her childhood home. She sought peace in saying a proper goodbye, but what she found was an old love, a sordid family history, and a wrong only she could right.
Living in the shadow of Hawthorne Manor, Noah Garrett never forgot about Emma Grace. In a house full of secrets, his search for missing documents revealed a truth that could cost him everything. What he found gave Emma the freedom to walk away from the mansion, her heart free and clear, but at what price to Noah?
The hand-painted sign hadn't changed in years. In the thick, damp air filling the Louisiana landscape, the wood display remain inexplicably unaffected. There it sat—every meticulously scripted letter as crisp and clean as the stark white walls of the manor it lauded, oblivious to the passage of time.
Emma Hawthorne tensed in the seat of the Mustang convertible, staring at her past with ice sluicing her spine Anywhere else, the view would have been gorgeous. The drive, lined on both sides with live oak laden with Spanish moss, was the South personified. At the end, Hawthorne Manor held court. Pristine, proud, the boastful antebellum home beamed, lording over its acreage.
But it harbored the unspeakable. No amount of time could erase what happened to her on the other side of the expanse of green lawn. Nothing could change what she'd seen there. Some might say she was crazy—that she'd imagined or invented the whole ordeal—but her scars were all the proof she needed. Whether the shadows lurking behind the façade of the picturesque plantation were real or born of an overactive imagination, there was no way she was going back into that house.
Especially not for a dead woman.
Sparing a glance in the rearview, Emma steeled herself against a trembling in her hands that threatened to overtake her body. She released a pent-up breath, her heart settling into a less acrobatic rhythm at the thought of leaving. She didn't have to stay here.
Let the South win this one. She was going home.
A split second after she decided to go, something caught her eye. She blinked, trying to see through the swaying canopy of leaves and moss, certain a figure stood atop the widow's walk straddling the roofline of the house. But no one—
Something brushed the car, rocking it. Swallowing panic, Emma tried to tear her focus from Hawthorne Manor, but fear kept her from looking anywhere else. Time and distance hadn't done her any favors; she was a fool for coming anywhere near this place, much less with the ragtop down.
The car rocked harder. The something refused to be ignored.
Fighting the grip of panic tightening her throat—fighting the ghosts of her past—Emma forced herself to look away from the house, toward the intrusion over her left shoulder.
The first thing she saw was an aged set of gnarled fingers resting on the door, blue automotive paint showing through an ugly translucence.
The second was the face—withered, centurion, and expressionless. Haunting.
It couldn't be her.
Noah Garrett tore down the drive, slapping through a muggy afternoon haze comprised of mosquitoes and humidity. He couldn't know that scream, but he felt the connection the moment the sound of her fear pierced the thick air.
The one reason he allowed himself to stagnate on the old plantation, long after life and reason moved on without him. Long after she had.
A blue Mustang sat at the end of the driveway. He wondered if it could be hers—even as he knew it impossible—but she was nowhere in sight.
He slowed to a trot. The sprint left him drenched with sweat and not entirely disappointed his imagination had gotten away from him. His dream of one more chance to see Emma Grace had never included himself as a dripping mess. He wiped the moisture from his brow, fast concluding the car must belong to a tourist. They often parked at the end of the drive and took pictures of the condescending mansion most thought beautiful. He assumed the intrusion seemed small to their frequent guests, but the constant ding of the hidden bell announcing a visitor could drive a man to the edge.
As if losing Emma Grace hadn't already accomplished that.
Noah closed in on the convertible, giving the nearby grounds a cursory look. The lawn was meticulous, the beds overflowing with sprays of purple garden phlox which trailed around the bend in the road and disappeared. A riot of white and rust-red irises backed the smaller purple flowers, their leaves deep green and glossy. Overhead, Spanish moss swayed only occasionally atop a maze of live oak, more likely a result of a passing swarm of insects than an actual air current. The land was still. If there were tourists snapping photos of the historic plantation—or doing anything else—he didn't see them. But someone had been there, the seemingly familiar scream so real.
Wasn't it always?
Resigned to another night alone with his memories, Noah pivoted.
And found himself nose to nose with Emma Grace.
Astounded, he opened his mouth, then closed it. He wanted to reach for her, but his arms refused the notion; they hung uselessly by his sides, the effort futile. His mouth wasn't much on cooperation, either. Finally, he found his tongue. "Em—"
Her expression cut him off. Green eyes wide, skin pale, her small frame shaking, she spoke. "I saw her, Noah. She's back." The words, nearly soundless, seemed to catch in the thick air. Lingering. Threatening.
And ripping the heart from his chest.
All the proceeds for Sarah's short story, Hawthorne, go to benefit the victims of the Japan earthquake.
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