First Girl: That Glorious Cover! (for Scattered Thoughts and Rogue Words blog)

I love talking about the cover for my book, because it is exactly how I pictured it. With minimal back and forth and few specifics from me, artist Aaron Anderson (contracted by Dreamspinner Press), hit it out of the park. The image is dark and haunting- a frail female form borne up through murky water in a shaft of iridescent light. It encapsulates the essence of the book in the way every writer surely hopes their cover will.

Water is as much a central character of First Girl as my heroine, Gabi Lowell. Water’s scarcity shapes everything about Gabi’s existence, from her environment to what she eats and drinks to the politics that govern her world. The fear of the distant, unseen ocean permeates the psyche of her community, and her unfathomable connection with it (and the creatures therein) is what ultimately lures her out of her frightened complacency and into the unlikely role of hero. In this passage from the first part of the book, we witness Gabi in her room, her sanctuary, and get a first glimpse of this defining relationship with water:

“Go put on something dry while I put out your pills with some tea and cake. It’s already thirty minutes past time.” Gram’s hair stood out in white shocks from her head, adding drama to the urgency in her voice. When it came to the pills, every minute mattered. Taken as a powder mixed into formula when Gabi was a baby, then swallowed whole with water when she was old enough to manage pills, the medicine was a fact of Gabi’s life. The pills, her father explained, were the only things keeping Gabi’s lungs working. Missing a dose or taking one too late could cause her entire respiratory system to shut down, like sealing a whale’s blowhole shut and holding it deep underwater.

 Gabi took her first relaxed inhale since leaving the house that morning and released it on a sigh as she entered her room and shut the door behind her. The walls were painted in blended shades of blue and green, an impressionistic rendering of seaweed-swirled water. Her books, hundreds of them, were crammed into bookcases and milk crates and stacked into wobbly towers that deterred anyone but Gabi from entering for fear of triggering an avalanche. She was not a hoarder, Gabi insisted when her father and brother ribbed her for her trove of books. She was simply starved for information. Sometimes she thought she would rather have words than air.

As she peeled off her dripping socks and leggings, Gabi’s gaze wandered to the carefully marked books on cetacean biology piled within easy reach of her bed. She had been eating, sleeping, and breathing whales in preparation for her presentation that day, certain that if she just knew her subject matter well enough, the words would flow effortlessly out of her. She was wrong.

Whales were a peculiar fascination for a girl who was afraid of water. The mere thought of being close to more than a bucketful of the stuff was enough to make Gabi shake, a phobia her father didn’t discourage. Recreational swimming had been forbidden since before Gabi was born anyhow. Water resources were scarce and every available drop that fell or condensed was immediately sequestered for purification and municipal use. Anyone who violated these practices risked heavy fines and even imprisonment. Immersion in water was illegal. All bathing was done from a small ration delivered in measured containers three times weekly around Alder, just as it was in every other branch of the Unitas fellowship. Precipitation in the form of rain or snow was collected and transported to a treatment facility wherever possible.

There was no real need to deter residents from collecting their own water stores. Thanks to years of unchecked emissions and nuclear meltdowns during The Great Strain, which attacked technologies as well as life forms, no one dared use or ingest water before trained professionals treated it. Though she gobbled up any small morsel of information she could about the mysteries of marine biology, Gabi couldn’t imagine actually seeing the ocean, watching it swell and threaten to consume her. But something drew her back to her books time and again and compelled her to recreate her own dry land version of the sea in her tiny bedroom.”

I wish I had a clear, writerly explanation for how Water showed up as a principle character in my book, but I don’t. I’m just grateful for a cover that shows Gabi in her true element and rising up, as all good heroes must.