The Horrifyingly Compelling Sulfur Pools of Yellowstone, and Another Cover Draft

Yellowstone National Park, which straddles the borders of Idaho and Montana but is mostly in Wyoming, is famously on top of an underground “supervolcano.” The volcanism in the area leads to the phenomenon that Yellowstone might be most famous for, namely Old Faithful geyser and many smaller and less faithful geysers.

Yellowstone also boasts these surreal-looking mineral pools. The edges are white, crusty mineral deposits similar to Tolkien’s descriptions of Mordor. The colors within the water come from heat-loving bacteria. Different microbes thrive at different temperatures, and they are responsible for the range of reds, oranges, and yellows before the water becomes clear and hence blue.

These pools are dangerous. They look appealing, but the heat will quickly kill any human or dog foolish enough to jump into one. There have been tragic cases at the park. Some people have survived their burns and others haven’t. To make matters worse, the ground around the pools can be fragile although it appears solid. The park has put up boardwalks studded with signs imploring people to stay on the paths and keep control of their children. Even the bison sometimes break through.

The landscape around these pools is not particularly beautiful, but it is interesting, even alien. I happen to have at least one pleasant association with the Mammoth Hot Springs area of Yellowstone. It was there that my now-husband first blurted out that he loved me.

However, in my book The Strange Land, my characters’ encounter with these pools did not go so well.

The strange land of the title is not Yellowstone National Park. It is another volcanic region, the area now known as Kamchatka. Kamchatka also has sulfurous pools. Behold:

For my second draft for a cover of The Strange Land, I thought about featuring one of these pools, with the volcano in the background:

I’m not sure how I feel about this cover painting. For one thing, there’s a lot going on in it. I’m not sure it has enough focus. For another, it’s kind of hard to believe. The colorful pool, the colorful vegetation, the white mineral deposits: all of them are well attested, but they look kind of … made up? I’m not even sure it would be clear what the pool is, to a viewer who wasn’t already familiar with Yellowstone.

I’m thinking perhaps I need to re-do this picture with a darker sky and with slightly more muted colors in the pool. You know, tone it down from real life to make it more believable.

For reference, the previous cover draft for the same book was this:

18 thoughts on “The Horrifyingly Compelling Sulfur Pools of Yellowstone, and Another Cover Draft

  1. Jen,

    I agree with your assessment of your cover. It’s hard to tell what the pool part of it is. And to me it looks like the figure has something to throw in the pool, possibly herself.

    One additional comment about both of your covers. Are you allowing for a tag line, a short quote or promo comment?

    Consider it. Lots of paperback have them.



    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi Tom,
      Thanks for confirming my suspicion.

      And, it is creepy how accurately you read her state of mind. However, the object she is holding is a baby.

      Quote or promo? Sure, I will gladly put one on the cover if I can get someone to call my book a “heartbreaking work of staggering genius” or an “international bestseller.” That might have to wait for the second edition, actually.

      Of course, the back will have a hook and perhaps a tag line. I’m still not sure whether I’ll be able to format all this stuff myself. Will probably have to hire someone.


      Liked by 1 person

  2. Jen,
    My editor took tag line from one of my Beta readers. Now that I know what to say I can definitely put it in my review if you like. Not sure I like ‘staggering genius.’ Sounds like you might be on drugs or something.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Heh, I was just kidding. Some other author gave his book the title “A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius,” which I thought was so clever.

      I didn’t know we were meant to use blurbs from beta readers. I thought they were supposed to be from authors or other people who are at least moderately well-known.


  3. ahester1

    I agree with you. It’s hard to see what the pool is, and it seems to bright and cheerful. Also the character is too dark for the surrounding light. Though her posture is good, it seems to give too much away.
    I still prefer the first cover you made for The Strange Land. It looks foreboding and epic without giving much away. The light on the character matches the surrounding light really well. Also there is a lot more depth.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks for the feedback! I am planning to re-do both covers. I’ll show them here eventually, though their progress might be delayed by formatting work on The Long Guest.

      I am surprised you say her posture gives a lot away. I thought I had picked a pose that, to the uninitiated, would just look tense and curious. But I guess my knowledge of what happens in the story may have leaked in.

      I do see what you mean with the depth problem as well.

      Thanks again.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. A great way to put more key words for search engines in your tag line. I think I failed doing this in my recent novel although it did explain the novel a little more.
    Atmospheric photo ~ I can’t have been at Yellowstone long enough last year to explore the sulphur pools ~ they certainly lead the imagination dramatically!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Do you mean because I had two topics in my post title? I guess so. Readers have been so great about commenting on cover drafts, I wanted to be sure they didn’t miss it.

      They are very atmospheric. Hope you get a chance again.


  5. Benjamin Ledford

    Oh Jen, I really like this cover!

    My reasons:
    1. The land looks more “strange” and so it hints at what might be going on with the title. In the first cover, the word “strange” is kind of hollow – I don’t know what it’s supposed to imply. For me, rather than making it more intriguing, that just makes it less interesting.
    2. It has more suggestive content – the woman and the child (I thought it was obvious that it was a child) and the volcano start to give me more of the flavor of a story. Her pose is also great. Like you said, tension, intrigue. I can almost hear her thinking “What is this strange land?”
    3. It really echoes and complements the cover of The Long Guest without copying it. I can see the cohesion of the series here.

    1. I agree, toning down the colors might help, but I think it’s pretty great as is.
    2. I like the contrast of the dark silhouette of the woman and child. I think that’s what creates your focal point, and the other interest keeps the eye moving around the image.
    3. Maybe the pool would read more clearly if it had some reflection in it? Maybe, as part of adjusting the color scheme, you give the sky above it some distinctive color or clouds that can be reflected in the pool, with maybe just a single bright color fading around the edge?

    Good work! This makes me excited.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Well. The plot thickens thicker! How can I keep the features you like, while addressing the problems that have been raised? Intriguing!

      Thanks for all your detailed feedback. This is indeed the strange land referenced in the title.


  6. Apologies. Sounds an interesting title to capture attention ~ a tag line as well as adding to the title helps for search engines for readers to stumble on your book if you use key words in it ~ your sales can be affected. Good luck with your book Jennifer.

    Liked by 1 person

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