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Mysterious - Noir

The Curious Case of the Headless Heroine, Or the Torso Rides at Midnight

Rummaging about the internet yesterday, Gentle Reader, I came across a promo for this book:

Now, please don't misconstrue, I find the book gently intriguing. "Steampunk Romance" says the tag line and from reading the copy it looks like the female love interest would appear to be an airship captain. You well know what a deep abiding affection I have for chicks that kick ass, but (and there is always a but) I sense a trend afoot and it frightens me.

Why the headless torso front cover? Why? Did she misplace her brain? Have her knees suddenly gone off about business of their own?

There is a prevalence of this madness in paranormal romance and urban fantasy already, I object most strongly to it leaking into steampunk. I'm taking a stand here and now, Gentle Reader, this trend should not be allowed to jump the shark into another sub-genre. Leave my goggles and dirigibles alone, you, you Art Department Torso Lovers!

Where have all the heads gone? (*singing* Longtime passing.)

I remember in my first meeting with the folks from Orbit at the Denver WorldCon. (Gosh, was it only last year?). They'd already bought Soulless, and we were having a mild discussion on the subject of possible covers. (Before you draw any erroneous conclusions, Gentle Reader, it is extremely rare for a first time author to be asked to give any opinion on covers.) I had some mild ideas but mostly I just kept saying over and over "Please don't give me a torso cover, oh please." I don't know if they listened, but I didn't get one in the end. Hooray!
One of my last conversations with Charles Brown (of Locus fame) before he died, was on the subject of the bizarre prevalence of these covers. Locus was getting a surfeit of such ARC offerings, for this was at the height of the urban fantasy craze. Charles, like me, simply couldn't fathom the appeal. We hypothesized that perhaps they were made with the idea that the reader could put herself into the heroine's body, as it were, since there was no face. A reader couldn't very well put herself into the heroine's shoes - there were no shoes depicted on the cover, the body was all that was on offer. Perhaps is has something to do with the Buffy-like brawn of many of these ladies (rather than brain) since they clearly have no brains, or indeed, tops of heads.
Shall we talk about the belly buttons? Oh well, why not? Why do vampire hunters like to wear crop tops? Is it just to show off their tatoos or are they stuck in the 80s? Just curious.

Oh and then there's the whole "you may have a head, but only from the back," which really means "we're giving you an ass shot." This, in my universe, is one step removed from a bodice ripper. Instead of "look at my cleavage, look at my cleavage!" it's "look at my butt, look at my butt!"

(Note the tramp stamp brigade in the second row.)
That said, I am starting a one woman campaign for one of my covers to be a "bustle shot." Grrrrr, sexy!
But, back to the torsos. I suppose all I really have to say is: steampunk is often about the intelligence factor (Girl Genius and all that) our heroines really cannot function on torso alone. A call for action is in order now, before it's too late.

So please stop the madness! Give these poor women back their heads.
Gail's Daily Dose
Your Infusion of Cute:
New fashion inspiration Latina singer Silvina Magari

Your Tisane of Smart:
Awesome resources for snippets of Victoriana The Illustrated London News with samples online and a very useful time grid.
Your Writerly Tinctures:
obtaining Cover Blurbs

CAKE in Space: With agent.
Soulless: Soulless is SFWA's featured book!
Changeless: Awaiting copyedit. Release date currently April 2010.
Blameless Gone off to betas.

Quote of the Day:
"Writing is not a genteel profession. It's quite nasty and tough and kind of dirty."
~ Rosemary Mahoney


Hmm. Interesting.

1) It looks to me like steampunk leaking into romance, more than the other way around. Or, to put it another way, there is a distinction between Urban Fantasy and Paranormal Romance, and perhaps something similar will happen with Steampunk Fantasy and Gear-Romance, or Bustlepunk, or whatever it gets called. BTW, I believe it was you (?) who linked a while back to that extensive discussion threat about UF vs. PR? It was good reading.

2. If Buffy or Anita Blake did it, it cannot be wrong. ;-)
Yeah that was me linking the old UF v. PR debate.
Love idea of Bustlepunk. Love it.
Of course, the forthcoming Liz Maverick steampunk romance (continuing the popular Crimson City series) - CRIMSON & STEAM - has a headless guy on the cover... *g*

There has been a prevalence of them too - usually shirtless and sometimes tattooed. I thought about including them in the blog too, but things were getting out of hand as it was.
Okay, maybe I'm biased. I've never read any of McAllister's work but it seems like she goggled "steampunk", made a list of buzzwords and threw it together in a book. That is, judging by the description on her site.
Oh dear, how unfortunate. It is possible she didn't do her own site through, right? Maybe it will be good? I live in hope.
Have not thought about it but yes i have seen a lot of belly buttons and asses lately, oh and those headless bodies. Those I don't like, I want a face.
very nice post
Why thank you, it is something that has concerned me for a while now. Grist for the women studies mill, I suppose.
Personally, I'd say the "headless torso" trend you've seen in these genres is related to the general trend in advertising of presenting images of women as body parts, or with important parts cut off. Women are shown without hands or without legs, without heads or with their hands covering their mouths, or as just a pair of lips or breasts or thighs. It's disturbing in all of these contexts.
I agree it's very disturbing. Sometimes it bothers me more than others. I'll pick up a book in a shop and just start ranting about it to some poor unfortunate companion: "Why does she have no head? Why must this be?" It's the ultimate in objectification. Removal of all capacity beyond sexual organs, leaving only lower part of mouth, breasts, genitalia, and nothing else. While I'm making light of it in my blog, it does strike me as very very wrong.

Killing Us Softly

Gail, this reminds me strongly of the images of women in advertising that Jean Kilbourne has denounced in her "Killing Us Softly" series. I suspect that the *intended* reason for such covers is exactly what you said -- to allow the reader to visualize the character's face however they wish, and perhaps put themselves into the story vicariously. Subconsciously, though, I think it does reinforce the unrealistic images of feminine beauty that have been such a problem for us as a society.

U Forgot Something

The tramp stamps!! LOL

I think, and this is just me thinking LOL, the headlessness is a way to get around the cover models who don't *quite* look like the heroine.

I do find it hysterical that *hawt* covers sell esp in romance, and most romance covers have hawt dudes on 'em (taking into consideration I can only speak with any authority about erotic romance and erotica since that's what I'm published in (and I use the word *authority* VERY loosely LOL). But as a consumer I see more hawt dudes in romance.

Anyway....to get back to my point, I find it ironic that romance has hawt dudes and urban fantasy seems overrun with hawt chicks LOL

I mean, you have to admit, it IS kinda funny!!

I know I've said this but I think the unusual cover on Soulless is really what's going to make it stand out. I remember a while back a friend of mine (Sasha White) had a white cover for one of her eroticas and it really was an attention getter on the bookshelves!!!

Re: U Forgot Something

I'm hoping, for both my and Orbit's sake, that you're right!
Steamed looks more like Dragonpunk to me.

I like the cover of your book except for the odd kink in your heroine's spine, its so not a Victorian profile. The octopus on the spine however is a thing of beauty!
Others have mentioned the awkwardness of her pose, it doesn't bother me as much as the pink did. Now I've made my peace and gone on to winch to Orbit about the second cover.

I could not agree with you more about the octopus, love love so very much. I had no idea Lauren was doing that until I saw it and then I was so very delighted (there might have been sequels and perhaps a gift of chocolate to the art department). I also love the fact that it has the book number on it, right there, on the spine so you can see it easily on your bookshelf. Organization makes me happy.
and it was a *purple* octopi at that.

pls let Lauren know others appreciate a good cephlapod.
Brilliant comment!
LOL - bustle shots for the win :).
Thanks, it's going to happen, if not on one of my books than on some other author's steampunk.
Oh god but you make a valid point. I'm so fed up of women in skintight stuff...when is the last time we had a heroine in a suit, or in office clothes, or in a jogging suit?
I DO hate covers w/ the heads chopped in half. Why do that!?! Because there's not enough room for both the ass and the head on the cover? Make everything smaller!

Your cover is gorgeous! You're very lucky to have gotten that one thing out of your publisher! Plus your book is amazingly well written!
Thanks so much for the compliments. I am pleased with my cover and I feel really really lucky. I have enough friends who are authors in the SFF community to have hear all the horror stories and be very grateful to Orbit for not only taking my wishes into account but also choosing wisely.
A week late to the comment party, but it's such a "me, too!" comment. It's been buzzing around in my head that this "sexy torso shot" seems to be the new version of the romance cover "clinch" (I think that's it). I, too, have pondered that maybe it's some kind of attempt at forming some sort of new, self-insertable archetype that describes your usual sexy-but-bad-ass protag in modern fantasies. But I really want to know where their head went or why they've turned their back to me, etc.

Recently, I had a book up at my registers to try to sell, and I kept feeling a little embarrassed by the rear-shot cover. "No, no," I thought in my head, "You don't understand. It has one of those covers, but---but---it's better than that!"

And then I thought to myself, "It's so good to know that Gail's book doesn't have one of these covers. It's going to look so attractive by my register when it comes out!" It sounds like sucking up, I know, but it actually crossed my mind!
Awe. That's awesome!


When you get your "bustle shot" I do hope they go Polonaise. Viva la Fluff!

Re: bustle-back

He he he.
I have heard this on more than one occassion. And I have heard the 'it's so readers can create their own image of the MC'. But I didn't create the MC, the writer did. I want to see what THEY think. I think writers should have more say in what goes into the cover. Maybe not 100%, but a list of ideas.

I dislike the torso covers as well. Though it doesn't necessarily keep me from buying a book. I know the authors didn't choose it so I can't let it reflect on the story. No, I just shake my head at the silly marketing department.

No wonder so many people assume it's a romance I'm reading instead of an urban fantasy. It's all booty and boobies.
BTW - I haven't read Steamed yet but plan to. Katie Macalister is an EXCELLENT and HILARIOUS writer if you haven't had a chance to enjoy her work yet.

You wouldn't want to do a post on some of the recent things you've been reading? And where we can find more steampunk? I need something to hold me over til Changeless comes out!
Is she really? Well in that case I shall put it on my to read list!

I would post my reading matter, but I've been doing reviews which are not at all related to what I write. However, I do have a steampunk listing, on my web site,
Just scroll down slightly. I haven't read most of them, because (like most authors) the more I write the less time I have to read, but it's a start.
I hope you enjoy her writing as much as I do! I can't wait to read Steamed. But she also has a series with dragon shapeshifters which is so much fun. The Aisling Grey series.

And thanks for the list! I will definitely have to check it out.