Who is the woman on the cover?
She is a Dodge City prostitute, and her name is Timberline. More than that, no one knows. I found her photograph while doing nonfiction research on prostitution (the image appears in several books), and just felt a connection to her.
I loved her fierce expression, her defiance... and also her vulnerability. In a scene from the novel, the professor basically tells Nora what he thinks about her features, which echoes what I think. (And she responds that her jaw is like a shovel, which is partially true but doesn't diminish her looks!)
Luckily, I found the image early on, so that I had her face in mind as I wrote the novel. To me, she truly is Nora.
The photograph is in the collection of the Kansas State Historical Society, and I worked with that organization to get permission to use it. Heyday Books added spot color so she would have lipstick and a gory bloodstain.
It's odd to think that this woman posed for her photograph a hundred or more years ago, never knowing that it would wind up as an illustration in several nonfiction books, and the cover of a novel. Would Timberline approve of Woman of Ill Fame? Would she get a kick out of it? Would she be angered? If she's anything like Nora, she would undoubtedly be contacting me to get a portion of the profits.
Next reading: Sunday, March 4, 2007. Bird & Beckett's in San Francisco, 4:30 p.m., 2788 Diamond (cross street is Chenery... this is close to Glen Park BART). 415-586-3733