Sometimes people ask me about the cover for my third novel The War Bug. They say things like, “Biff…there’s a giant ant on the cover. I signed the book out of the Freddie Beach Library so that I could read about ants in space.”
I know where this is going, so I try to fake things like a heart attack, memory loss, mistaken identity…but nothing works. I’m there. The person who read the book is there and the issue looms in the air over us.
“Biff, there’s no ant in the book. Nowhere. No ant. I wanted a giant ant and all you gave me was some stupid computer virus.”
What can I say? What can I do? Nothing…except maybe scream and bang my head against the nearest wall. Sometimes that works, sometimes not. Sometimes I have to throw the nearest heavy object at my persecutor.
But it’s true. There’s a giant ant on the cover but no ant in the book, not even a small one that looks like a person milling about an airport as you’re taking off. And for the record, there are no June bugs, lady bugs, bees or dust mites in the book.
Here’s the cover…
I guess…when you think ‘war bug’ the first thing that comes to mind is a walloping big army ant. That was obviously the first thing the graphic artist thought. But the War Bug isn’t a giant ant; it’s a computer virus that ignites a war between online city states 200 years in the future. This is not a book about ants in space.
It puzzled me that the book sold only one and a half copies but I received hundreds of complaints from readers who wanted to read about the adventures of a giant space ant. How do you respond to the disillusionment of ant lovers? How do you address their grief? Some said they would never read my books again. Some said they would never read anyone’s books again. Some made death threats if I didn’t re-write the book and include at least one big-ass ant.
But I had a better idea.
I was invited by the notorious J. Richard Jacobs to contribute stories for the first Twisted Tails anthology. I wrote four…one of them about a graphic artist who receives a work order to produce cover art for a book about a war bug. He glances quickly at the text for the back cover and produces his life’s masterpiece: a beautifully rendered giant termite sort of floating on a mystery plane of existence somewhere in space.
There’s something compelling, almost hypnotic, about the termite that dives deep into the artist’s being. He starts reading the actual book and realizes that the War Bug is actually a computer virus, but he keeps this to himself and passes the work on. Since no one actually reads the book with the exception of the editor who never sees the cover, the book is published with a giant termite staring down the most adventurous and daring of readers.
And the book goes on to become a world-wide bestseller because the cover art is somehow magical. No one ever reads the book. Not even the alcoholic author who lives in a cave with the ghost of his former feral cat. For talking points, people read the blurb on the back cover, which is bland enough that no one realizes the truth. The book wins oodles of global awards for cover design. It even wins literary awards based on the blurb and the termite.
In the end, the graphic artist stares at the original artwork and…
OK…so this isn’t exactly what he saw but…
Nobody ever heard from him again.