When I first started flying, I didn’t have a lot of confidence. The whole concept of using my hands to lift and lower the nose and maneuver the wings, while moving my feet to keep the airplane coordinated, was foreign, kind of like riding a bike without hands, on a ribbed road shoulder with an upside down wedding cake balancing on your head. Anyway, it was strange. So when the time came for my flight check ride with a Federal Aviation Examiner (FAA), I was nervous. As I waited on the ramp, my chest pulled. My throat tightened. My limbs shook and my inners knotted. I knew enough to realize that the shakes were a horrible condition to have when about to get into an airplane and attempt to hold altitude plus or minus 100 feet. I needed to find a way to calm my nerves before climbing into the cockpit. Since I really wanted to earn a private pilot’s license.
Enter the butterfly. Standing beneath the wing of my Cessna 172 training aircraft, I cycled breaths in order not to hyperventilate. Each time I sucked in and filled my lungs, I allowed my eyes to lift to the clear blue sky, and after a slow five count, I released a gigantic blast of please let me pass this test, stress-air. As the FAA examiner approached, I inhaled one last time, and as my view focused on the clear, blue sky, I noticed a tiny butterfly swoop overhead. It’s yellow wings fluttered like a pair of Geisha’s hand fans, affording the flitterbug energy to soar like a kite––light, airy, agile, seamless. Ironically, a demonstration of all the skills I required in order to pass my private pilot test. The butterfly loop-de-looped and then darted towards my face; Cut right at the last minute and shot towards the heavens like a rocket. As I watched the series of cartwheels and barrel rolls, the stomach knots loosened, my throat relaxed and every ounce of the pass-fail adrenaline drained from my fingertips. From that moment on, the tiny yellow butterfly officially known as the Cloudless Sulfur became my good luck charm.
Before subsequent flight tests, I always searched the sky for the yellow flitterbug. A good luck charm, that if appeared, guaranteed a sense of calm as I flew my check ride. The Cloudless Sulfur never let me down.
Crazy? Perhaps. Or maybe when you’re feeling unsteady, it’s easier to have faith in someone or something beyond yourself.
When I started my second career as a writer, it seemed natural that my butterfly totem needed to have a role. While brainstorming one afternoon, I decided that Tana would also have the benefit of my good luck charm.
Like in life, symbols are embedded throughout Spirit Dance—From start to finish, including the book jacket. While working with the design team, I challenged the creative minds to design a cover that represented all aspects of the story, so that if you looked at the image, you would have a pictorial synopsis. I’m a visual person and thought the cover and the rear jacket blurb would give a well-rounded impression of the storyline. If you haven’t had a chance to take a close look at the cover, let me explain the idea behind some of the symbols.
At the very bottom of the cover is an antique compass. London is stamped on the outer rim, which is relevant for a few reasons. First, it sets the stage for the story. Chapter one is in Tana’s home––a diplomatic compound in London. Second, the image is meant to represent an old maritime compass. Ships came before airplanes, and since the Brits were pioneers in maritime, again it made sense to include the London stamp. (This nod at shipping might even resurface in future stories––hint, hint.)
Draped over the antique compass image is a chunky watch; a band similar to the one worn by the legendary fighter pilot Lamar Flough, his son, Trigger, and the Pioneer School’s innovative Doctor Lindy. A symbol (wink, nod) that might hold a secret in book three of In The Eye of the Storm series. Let’s not forget the important role of compasses as it relates to geomagnetic storm travel, and finally, the Pioneer School’s obsession with sense of direction. For me, the compass was at the forefront of the story and, therefore, belonged on the cover front and center.
If you trace the compass’ directional needle to the tip, you’ll see a silhouette of, yes you guessed right, the butterfly; The yellow symbol of hope. A warning that something important and life changing was about to happen. A hold over from my own experiences piloting; the luck I relied on until figuring out my own sense of self. Similarly in Spirit Dance’s storyline, the butterfly appears to Tana on the flight ramp moments before she is about to pilot solo for the first time. But unlike my calming experience, Tana’s association with the flitterbug is completely different. (I mean what’s a story without a good twist?)
From top to center, a ribbon of light explodes and bends from the hazy butterfly pictured on the cover. This is a first glimpse at the multifaceted phenomena called the aurora borealis. Although majestic to look at, in the story, the northern lights are associated with tumultuous, electric, geomagnetic storms. So it’s no coincidence that on the cover, the aurora ribbon twists around a cocoon with the silhouette of a young girl trapped inside. This image suggests that even though from the outside Tana’s life appears perfect, it’s also a prison. Being the daughter of UN Diplomats can be exciting and have perks, but like the aurora’s destructive magnetic activity, Tana’s life of privilege comes with huge sacrifices. Like the butterfly, the cocoon has double meaning. The shell is also a metaphor for transformation. Foreshadowing that Tana’s life will dramatically change, and at some point in the story, she will have to choose whether to move forward or stay stuck.
Grazing the top of the cocoon image are wheels and airplane propeller blades. The symbol of the very thing that holds Tana hostage. The plane is a physical reminder of the deathbed promise she made to her father––to never fly again without him. We chose to blur the propeller for two reasons. First, to show Tana’s state of mind. The confusion in her head on whether or not to betray her promise. The vibration of the blades match Tana’s inner struggle. The idea that if she chooses to confront her greatest fear, the path will likely be rough. Second, to represent what propellers look like from the cockpit. The cover image is similar to the view from the windscreen when flying through heavy turbulence.
Finally, in the very background of the artwork, you see a desert landscape, the place where Tana’s conflict will be resolved, the end of her journey, the place, if she chooses, to reconcile the past. The definition of Spirit Dance is a chance to make amends, to say the unsaid, and reconcile with those who’ve passed.
That’s the story behind the cover.
More insights into Spirit Dance to come.