HE'S JUST A DIAMOND IN THE BUFF | EW.com

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HE'S JUST A DIAMOND IN THE BUFF

ROMANCE NOVEL COVERS

It’s hard to feign passion first thing Monday morning with six strangers watching, but Steve Sandalis-a.k.a. Topaz Man-is making the effort. Once just a nice boy from Queens, Sandalis is now the brawn upstaging the bosom on the front of Penguin’s bodice-rippers. Though romance novels have long had hunks- like Fabio-on the covers, never before has a publisher marketed an entire romance line around one man, as Penguin is doing with Topaz Books. Assembled this May morning in a Manhattan studio to create the cover for Denise Domning’s Winter’s Heat are Pino, a thick-accented, one-name Italian artist with some 1,500 romance covers to his credit; an art director, responsible for making this cover look different from Pino’s 1,499 others; a photographer; a publicist; an assistant; a female model; and, for inspiration, a book of 19th-century painter J.W. Waterhouse’s prints. The inspiration is needed. Topaz Man’s unbrushed auburn tresses keep falling in his eyes. Pino is yelling, ”You looka lika a sissy!” The photographer mutters continually, ”We are not sexy today.” ”Think passion,” the publicist orders. Then there’s this semiclad blond girl, brown roots and grungy gray bra showing, snapping gum in his ear. Topaz Man gazes into the distance, looking bored. In search of the right pose, an exasperated Pino spends hours moving Topaz Man, semiclad girl, and tress-blowing fans about the room. Pino chants, ”Flowers, big petals,” a reminder that earthly matters-the thrift-shop dress, the threadbare socks, even the dirty bra-all these will disappear into the Edenic gardens surrounding the two on the final book jacket. But Pino is unable to rouse the room from its somnolent stupor-until, suddenly, Topaz Man becomes Topaz Man. Unbidden, he thrusts his head back in the throes of imagined passion; semiclad girl seizes the moment and nuzzles his neck. ”Brava! Si! Si!” Pino yells. ”Thanks, man,” Topaz Man says sweetly. It’s an impossibly high and tiny voice, complete with a Queens accent. Ah, well. Best not to judge a book by its cover boy. -Rebecca Ascher-Walsh