Dixie’s Daughters almost never happened

Confederacy Daughters Unveil Monument
Members of the UDC gathered at the Confederate monument in Arlington National Cemetery, located in Jackson Circle. ca. 1913, Courtesy of Getty Images

I want to share a story about my 2003 book Dixie’s Daughters: The United Daughters of the Confederacy and the Preservation of Confederate Culture (University Press of Florida), which will be issued as a revised edition with a scheduled publication date of January 2019.  Woot!

When I drafted the new preface, I thought it would be interesting to provide a little background on the publishing history of Dixie’s Daughters. My justification for including it was that I wanted all of you out there who have struggled to get something published or may end up in that struggle, particularly graduate students and junior scholars who follow my work on Twitter and elsewhere, to know that you aren’t alone.

The struggle is real!!

My own road was such a bumpy one, I despaired that it might never happen.  On the advice of my editor, however, what follows will not be in the revised edition.  Nonetheless, I want to share it with you, in case it is of some comfort or inspiration.

So, for your amusement and edification, here it is:

“It may come as a surprise that Dixie’s Daughters was almost never published. Despite the fact that no less than twelve university presses expressed interest in publishing my dissertation, it was rough going. Three different university presses received the manuscript at various points in time. The editor at the first press I sent the manuscript to never sent it out to readers. Perhaps it served as a very robust coaster for whatever was in his coffee cup. A second more prestigious press did due diligence and I received readers’ reports. One of them supported publication, while the other demurred, citing scholarship that I should engage. The only problem was that said scholarship had yet to be published and remained a work-in-progress. A third regional press took it in for a proposed series that never materialized. After revisions, this press sat on the manuscript for an entire year, only to box it up and mail it to me with the note that it was no longer of interest. At my wit’s end, I reached out to Marjorie Spruill who suggested I work with Meredith Babb at the University Press of Florida. Meredith laid out the process for getting the book published, so I took the boxed up manuscript that had been returned to me and mailed it to her. Unchanged. Within two months I had the readers’ reports and a book contract and, it turned out, a new tenure-track job with the University of North Carolina at Charlotte.”

And the rest, as the saying goes, is history.

 

Book Covers, Design Choices, and the Author?

Note: This post primarily applies to university presses, since this is where I’ve published.

The design of a book cover should convey the essence of what’s inside and intrigue potential readers (read: buyers).  As an author, I’m interested in how a designer visualizes the title and the ideas I’ve expressed in a book I’ve written or edited.  This can be both exciting (“The designer got it!”) or worrisome (“Whoa, that’s really off the mark!”).   It’s a process that I didn’t pay much attention to with my first book, and one I am far more invested in at this point in my career.

Dixie's DaughtersConsider the design of Dixie’s Daughters: The United Daughters of the Confederacy and the Preservation of Confederate Culture, published in 2003.   I didn’t have any quibbles with the font and the designer tried to incorporate some element of Confederate symbolism in the reddish bar below the photograph by adding stars.  Stars and bar, anyone?  There’s also a Confederate gray, one might say.

The photograph, one I found, is from a girls’ school in Texas where the students wore Confederate-inspired uniforms and are all standing at attention with rifles cast over their left shoulders, as though they were members of the CSA.  This conveyed a theme in my book, which is that it was women who took on the cause of Confederate memory and, in a sense, they were soldiers in the Lost Cause.

The only issue I had with the cover was that the initial gray color in the title muted my name and it couldn’t be seen.  This was upsetting, since it was my first book. It has since been corrected.

My second book Dreaming of Dixie: How the South Was Created in American Popular Culture came out in 2011.  A lot had changed since 2003. I was a more mature scholar and while I was open to the designer’s interpretation, it turned out that I needed to weigh in on this decision.

Because there were hundreds of songs written about the South by Tin Pan Alley lyricists, there was an equally large number of sheet music designs from which to draw from.  The art of Tin Pan Alley “Dixie songs” were, as you might expect, rich in color and design.  Like a book cover, the sheet music art was intended to convey the story told by the song, so the designer had plenty to draw from.

Some of the covers, however, should come with a warning: “Beware of racist caricatures!”  It should be implicit, really, but for some reason the initial design for this book actually drew from one of those racist covers.  That was when I said “hold up!”  The designer clearly misunderstood the implicit message.

Dreaming of DixieThe revised design got it right, because this was a book about how the South had been romanticized in American popular culture prior to the advent of television.  Here’s Miss Southern Belle strumming her banjo, sitting on some oversized cotton bolls and gazing out on a bucolic southern landscape.  Even the clouds look like cotton.  The art work is adapted from the sheet music for the song “The Whole World Comes From Dixie (When They Play That Dixie Tune).” No problems with seeing my name here.

My latest book, which presumes there’ll be another out in the ether, is Goat Castle: A True Story of Murder, Race, and the Gothic South.  It comes out in October, but I’ve already got a jacket design, because marketing! (Speaking of marketing. . . reviewers, book bloggers, librarians, and other avid readers can now request to see the galleys on NetGalley.)

It’s a true crime story that drew on my skills as a historian, but it is written to be accessible to a broader audience.  Set in Depression-era Natchez, Mississippi, it offers insight into the decline of the Old South and southern families, but also about the Jim Crow South and the racial justice that sent an innocent woman named Emily Burns to one of the most notorious prisons in the region at the time, the Mississippi State Penitentiary, better known as Parchman.

This book is very personal to me and so I really wanted the cover to reflect something of the southern gothic drama that unfolded that year, which resulted in national headlines. I also wanted to recognize Emily Burns, who family members called “Sister,” since she was the other victim in this crime.  She had to be on the cover. It had taken me five years to find a photograph of her and, more to the point, up until now, community memory had virtually erased her from the story.

First take on the design? No Emily.  “It didn’t work. It was confusing. Looks like she was the one murdered,” I was told.  “We can put her on the back cover.”  No, no, no.  This perpetuates her place in the story as being in the background.  No.  I also worried about the font of the title, so I pushed back.  Next take: New font, Emily, and two of the other principals in the case.  Much better.  Then I gave consideration to the original font design, because I was wrong. It was right on the money, because the font had been adapted from a ticket to Goat Castle (also known as “Glenwood”)  in the 1930s. You’ll have to buy the book to learn why there were tickets to Goat Castle.

Goat Castle

The final take on the design pushed all of the buttons–southern gothic, image of Goat Castle, the two white principals Dick Dana and Octavia Dockery, but Emily “Sister” Burns was there, too.  There was also the font that drew from the ticket.  Success!

Goat Castle

I’m not suggesting that an author be involved in design.  In my case, I’m a historian and so just as I wouldn’t want a designer to correct me about history, it works the same in reverse. At the same time, the book represents you and your work, so when the situation merits your involvement, I believe that you can and should have a honest conversation with your press.  Be willing to compromise, however, because your press is responsible for marketing your book.

Feel free to share your own experiences in the comment section below.

The author and her dog

The author and her dog
Karen L. Cox and her dog, Phoebe
Me and my best girl, Phoebe. 2015

We are pack animals. Authors and dogs. Dogs and authors. It doesn’t begin or end with memoirs like My Dog Skip or Marley and Me.  My Facebook and Instagram feeds are filled with photos of the dogs owned by my fellow writers, mostly historians because they’re my tribe, and I regularly post photos of my dog companion, Phoebe.

Phoebe. Pheebs. Pb. Sweet Pheebs. My gray girl. My boo who I often greet with “Hey, woo.” This is what happens to dog people. They invent language and terms of endearment to communicate with their four-legged companions.

Dog and cat
Even the cat loves Phoebe. 2016

Phoebe is pushing fourteen.  She’s been with me since June 2003. I mentally prepared for her arrival for weeks, knowing that it was a great responsibility.  I met her at the county animal shelter where they had given her the name “Ash,” because of her coloring.  It really is gray and not black.  They had also listed her as a chow mix, maybe because she was a chunky and fluffy ball of fur. But as she grew, and grew, it became clear that she is more of a lab mix than anything else.

Dog
Phoebe, 12 weeks. 2003

I brought her home and thought about her name. She was a gassy puppy. I teasingly referred to her as “fart blossom.” That became FB for short. And in trying to pronounce “FB” it became Phoebe. Despite this slightly embarassing beginning to her name, Phoebe, more than anything else, connotes sweetness.

babybellyphoebejuly-august20032
With Phoebe, July 2003.

She grew fast and her legs got long and she has always been able to make wonky shapes with them. In her youth, she greeted people by jumping on them–not the best manners–and now that she’s an older lady, she can’t jump, so she makes a high-pitched yelp when guests come to our house as a way of saying “pay attention to me first.”

My career would not have been the same without her.  She has given me a work/life balance. And as much as I’ve invested in her wellness over time, she has matched it with unconditional love, companionship, and contributed to my own well-being.  More recently, she has been the only being that has made the monasticism of writing my most recent book bearable.   Whether it was a sigh, a yawn, or a nudge to stop the tap, tap, tapping on my computer–she reminded me that I was not alone and breaks for fresh air and a walk are healthy.

Always a lady
Always the lady. Phoebe in 2007.

So, it may come as no surprise to many of my fellow authors who often dedicate their books to their human companions that I decided, this time around, to dedicate my book to the companion most tried and true, Phoebe.  This will not make a difference in her life, because hers is one of routine–feeding, walking, and the search for the next good scratching of her hind end.

But it means the world to me. It’s an acknowledgement of her steadfastness and the unbounded joy she’s given.  It’s also been an honor to have her by my side for so many years.  We should all be so lucky.

Phoebe, December 2016. Photo credit: Logan Cyrus
Phoebe, December 2016. Photo credit: Logan Cyrus