Dancing in Heaven—a sister’s memoir is the story of the death and life of my disabled sister Annie. I tell it in a modified collage style. Several years ago when I was taking a fiction writing class we read a short story written as a collage and I fell in the love with the style. Nothing is chronological, but vignettes gradually add up to tell the whole story.
This is the way our brains work, I think. We don’t think chronologically. We think by association. We see something, hear something, smell something and our brain pushes forward an association.
Dancing in Heaven is a modified version of collage. I wrote each chapter (except the first and last two) with two parts. The first part tells the story of Annie’s death in a chronological fashion, almost like a journal. The second part of each chapter flips to a vignette, or essay that explains something about Annie’s life.
When I first started thinking about a cover design, I wanted the image of an empty wheelchair on the front because Annie, like many other disabled people, was almost synonymous with her wheelchair. She was never seen out of her bed without it. I mention an empty wheelchair twice in Dancing in Heaven. The first time is an image in my mind when I begin to fear the seriousness of her illness, the second time is the actual object in the house. I felt the empty wheelchair was a powerful communicative image.
When my son Matthew drew an empty wheelchair for my daughter Anna to use on the cover, I thought it looked too empty. So I asked him to add a little stuffed animal.
Anna had the idea she had seen online to create a textured background for the cover by layering photographs. She had seen it done with hundreds of butterfly images that just turned into a beautiful abstract texture.
Something amazing happened when she tried this with a few family photos. A photo of Annie as an infant jumps out, and then if you look closer, you can see me as a child standing on the right side and my mother leaning over to feed Annie in the upper left corner. It causes the viewer to look closer and look into the many layers. Annie’s story has a lot of layers. I loved it.
Anna has been struggling to “color” the wheelchair image to make it fit in with her design. I suggested we simply drop it. I’m showing you both designs today: the unfinished one with the wheelchair image and the one without.
I hope you’ll let me know what you think.