Tia Williams is having a moment. The author’s 2016 book The Perfect Find just debuted on Netflix with Gabrielle Union in the lead role and 2021’s Seven Days in June will soon be turned into a television show. But today is all about her upcoming project, A Love Song for Ricki Wilde (Grand Central Publishing).
Set in Harlem, it tells the magical story of Ricki and Ezra’s time-hopping union. It doesn’t hit bookshelves until February 2024, but Williams gave ESSENCE an exclusive look at the radiant cover.
Designed by Sarah Congdon, the cover went through several iterations before the team landed on the final version. “Tia beautifully weaves so many elements together and my initial instinct was to show all of that on the cover,” says Congdon. But when the team found Adrian McDonald’s photograph online, they knew it was perfect. “He has an entire portfolio of beautifully captured photos featuring darker skinned models. The lighting of the original unedited photo provided a great base for the color treatment we applied, which was inspired by famous jazz vinyl covers from Blue Note Records.”
Williams was instantly sold. “Sarah really nailed that aspirational, dreamy Black love aesthetic. The simple, but striking, image of this beautiful Black couple—paired with the title—tells the story,” she says. We couldn’t wait to learn more about what brought this cover, and book, to life. Here, we talk to Williams about taking on new challenges, the delights of photography, and the unexpected upsides of not being able to sleep.
Where did the idea for A Love Song for Ricki Wilde come from?
It came to me out of nowhere, fully formed, in the middle of an insomnia moment! Small details evolved, but I initially had these core elements: a handsome pianist with a secret, a free-spirited florist who flees her family for Harlem, destined lovers, and the brownstone where it all goes down. The story also flirts with some mystical elements, which is new for me.
Why did you choose Harlem as the setting?
I’ve lived in Brooklyn my entire adult life, and all my novels have been set there. I wanted a new challenge. Modern Harlem has such a cool, chic vibe, but I’m also a huge Harlem Renaissance head. I love the fashion, literature, it girls and boys, all that 1920s glamour. I knew I wanted to weave in the Renaissance, somehow. So, I came up with a Jazz Age-era scandal that has modern-day consequences for Ricki and Ezra.
What do you love most about the cover?
I love the sensuality. They both look impassioned, like they’re lost in love. The luminous, icy sheen on their skin is a nod to winter, which is important for a novel that takes place in February and is infused with hints of leap year magic. And the way the photograph is lit makes their brown skin absolutely glow.
Do the character images on the cover look like what you imagined as you wrote?
When I’m writing, I’m so specific about my characters’ appearance; their style, the kind of clothes they wear, their hair—everything but their faces. So, I wasn’t sure what Ricki and Ezra looked like. But when I saw the photo, I literally yelped. It was them. Period.
Did working the photo reveal any new information to you about the characters?
Honestly? I realized that Ricki and Ezra have flawless complexions, and I was dying to know their skincare regimens.
Lately, lots of books use illustration and abstract art for their covers. Why did you go with photography?
I’m a fan of the illustrated and abstract covers, and readers love them. But because of my magazine background, I’ve always responded more to photography and real people. That said, I like for facial features to be at least partially obscured, so readers can make their own decisions about the characters’ appearance.
What can we expect from this book when it drops in February?
Expect to swoon! It’s a love story about two passionate artists lured to Harlem, who soon find out that their lives are mysteriously, irreversibly linked. Along the way, readers will encounter a glamorous 90-something widow, a nosy former child star, an unhinged showgirl, and a trio of the shadiest socialite sisters ever.
What might your faithful readers be surprised by when they pick up this book?
It has all the sexiness, fun dialogue, and epic romance that I love so much! But this time, there’s a touch of magic: leap-year vibes, a voodoo curse, fated lovers. I hope faithful readers love it!