Jackson Speed and the cover illustrator

I’m not yet going to post the “reveal,” but I am going to say I CAN NOT WAIT for you to see the cover illustration for the next Jackson Speed novel.

It is glorious.

When my youngest son saw the first draft of the cover, he said, “You’re going to have to write a better book to go with that cover.”

He wasn’t kidding. It really is that good.

Several weeks ago I was trying to decide what to do about the cover for the next Speed book, and I decided to try something different from the previous covers. So I started searching the internet on a number of different freelance artist sites looking for someone who I thought would be able to create a cover for me.

I spent a few days searching various sites and looking at different artists’ work when I finally ran across some pieces by Alex McArdell. I spent a couple of days looking at some of his work. Then I came back the next day and looked at his stuff again. I waffled back and forth about whether or not I even wanted to do this.

dumbledore and the inferi

Dumbledore and the Inferi by Alex McArdell

One of his pieces in particular convinced me Alex was the right guy. He did an illustration of a scene from one of the Harry Potter books – Dumbledore and the Inferi – and being familiar with the scene (I’ve read the Harry Potter books to each of my sons), I was very impressed with it.

So after looking at Dumbledore and the Inferi a couple more times, I sent an email to Alex to see what would happen.

Alex responds to emails very quickly.

That afternoon we sent a couple of emails back and forth and by the next day I think we were both pretty comfortable that we wanted to go forward.

I told Alex everything I thought I knew I wanted for the cover illustration. Alex told me all of that was a bad idea, and then I told Alex to do what he thought was best.

Telling Alex to do what he thought best was a really, really good idea on my part.

Alex took the cover design more seriously than I did with any of the previous Jackson Speed books.

After just a few emails back and forth, him asking thoughtful questions about the book and about the characters, Alex came up with some ideas that impressed me.

I explained to him that Speed was a true rascal, a coward who looks to save his own skin however he can. I also told him that in the fourth book, Speed “fights” for both the North and the South.

I wasn’t sure how he was going to accomplish it, but Alex suggested putting Jenny Rakestraw (who makes a return appearance in the fourth book) behind Speed, pulling at his Federal coat to reveal he’s wearing a Confederate uniform beneath it.

I loved the idea!

He also thought it would go along with the ironic humor of the stories to put Speed in a heroic pose – the cowardly, traitorous Jackson Speed looking all brave and daring.


I told Alex I liked his ideas and to run with them, and then I waited.

Honestly, I expected to wait several weeks. I’m still months away from being ready to publish the book, and I told Alex not to be in any hurry on my account. But it was only three or four days later when Alex sent me the first draft.

I was blown away. I showed it to my wife and kids. My youngest son, Robert, said I would have to write a better book to go with the cover. Jean and I were both as impressed as we could be with what he’d done with Speed and Jenny, but we weren’t particularly thrilled with the background.

I threw out some suggestions for the background. I sent Alex some historical photos I thought might help. A day or two later – almost no time at all – Alex sent what was basically the finished piece. He still needed to do some sizing, but the image was nearly perfect.

It’s no secret that the fourth book takes place during the Battle of Gettysburg. One of the most recognizable features of that battlefield – at least from the first day – is the cupola of the Seminary building up on Seminary Ridge. When I saw how Alex managed to incorporate the Seminary and its cupola into the background, it was a wonderful surprise to me.

You’ll probably never have the opportunity to look at a high resolution copy of the illustration in Photoshop the way I did, but trust me when I say that every tiny detail in the background is there. You’ll never see the light coming from the windows of the Seminary, but having zoomed in and looked at it in almost microscopic detail, I’m just astounded at what Alex did.

For Jackson Speed fans, the good news is that having such a great cover is pushing me to write more frequently, so there’s a decent chance I’ll have the book finished sooner because of it.

If you’re an indie author looking for a cover illustration, I would urge you to consider getting in touch with Alex. I think you’ll find he offers reasonable prices, and based on my experience with him, I am certain you’ll be thrilled with the final product.