top of page
  • Writer's pictureNotes From The Frontier

A Tribute to My Great Book Designer

Updated: Jan 20

Christine Kettner has designed some of the world's most popular books. It seemed fate brought us together to work on my debut novel, Blood to Rubies

I've been blessed with many miracles in my journey to publish my life's work, historical debut novel, Blood to Rubies. Meeting the great book designer, Christine Kettner, and getting the chance to work with her is one of them.

Many of you know that I battled kidney failure for decades. Two years ago, I was diagnosed with end-stage kidney failure, put on the kidney donation list, and went through a harrowing gauntlet to find a donor. Finally, my husband and I got the news that he qualified to be my kidney donor. Miracle #1 . That very same day, I also found my wonderful publisher. Miracle #2 .

Miracle #3 happened shortly thereafter when my publisher introduced me to my assigned book designer, Christine Kettner. Fate seemed to have brought us together. Christine and I had never met until she began working on my debut novel, Blood to Rubies. Both of us had grown up admiring Chief Joseph. Christine would become one of America's best book designers at the nation's leading publishing houses.

But it would not be until late in her career that she would work on a project that would arc back to her youth: Blood to Rubies, about Chief Joseph. She told my publisher she was destined to work on my book because her BFA project in art school had been a handmade book about Chief Joseph she'd created decades before! She had studied under the instruction of the great Art Director, Bea Feitler, Senior Art Director for Rolling Stone Magazine and in addition, had started Ms. Magazine with Gloria Steinhem. As you can see, her amazing images powerfully tell the story of Chief Joseph.

Blood to Rubies is different from other historical fiction books in that it includes 70 archival images as headers of each chapter. Many images were taken in the 1800s by famous frontier photographers. So Blood to Rubies involved far more design work than other novels.

I believe Christine was destined to work on my book. Truly, I cannot imagine a better designer for Blood to Rubies. She threw herself into my book project with as much passion as I myself had written it! Her sensitivity to the image treatments and the period in which they were taken was meticulous and simply magnificent in nuance.

The cover design was first. As with all her work, she went far beyond the call of duty, designing six different covers from which I and my publisher could choose. They were all wonderful! But one in particular jumped out. It did not reference Chief Joseph, but instead my book's heroine, Sorrel Lanning, the young and fierce Irish immigrant woman who homesteads with her Irish adopted father, Seamus. The cover featured an intense closeup of her "piercing blue eyes," which I referenced in the first chapter of the book. Below her arresting eyes is the title in a beautiful and unique type font. And below the title are wild horses running across a plains. A brilliant cover! Even from ten paces, her eyes stand out in a sea of book covers in a bookstore.

Once the cover was selected, it set the tone for the rest of the book and its internal pages. Christine threw herself into the design with the resolve of a great artist. I would get emails from her from all hours of the day and night, delivering such beautiful pages, it gave me shivers. I came to anticipate her messages with relish and so much excitement! The book I had worked on for nearly 30 years, through many hardships, was finally coming together before my eyes. And in such glorious pages, I could not believe my eyes!

As with all her work, Christine delivered so much more than was asked and created a book design that was beautifully elegant. Each chapter opens with an archival image. She wanted to showcase each photograph in a Victorian-style marquee that was appropriate to each image. If you have read Blood to Rubies, you know that it includes a wide variety of images from very gritty and graphic photographs to very luscious ones. In each case, she selected the perfect marquee.

In addition to the photograph treatments, Christine created chapter opening pages that are a visual delight for readers. The title treatments echo the wonderful cover type font. And she added a stunning decorative letter to begin the text. The entire effect is the graphic equivalent of a grand Victorian theater stage opening its velvet curtains ceremoniously, promising an upcoming story that will entice. (Hopefully, my words live up to her elegant introductions!😉) Here are some sample pages of opening chapter pages in Blood to Rubies:

The old saying, "You can't judge a book by its cover," may certainly hold true in much of life. But, perhaps, in the case of my novel, Blood to Rubies can be judged by the cover. It is in part due to Christine's exquisite talent that Blood to Rubies has garnered so much success very early in its publishing career. Since it was published on September 19, just three months ago, it has become a bestseller on Amazon in all three formats (hardcover, softcover and E-book), reaching an incredible #11, right below the classic, Pulitzer Prize winning Lonesome Dove!

Blood to Rubies has already garnered numerous awards, including BOOK OF THE YEAR (American Writing Awards) and BEST DEBUT, BEST LITERARY, BEST WESTERN & BEST MULTICULTURAL in other literary award contests. In addition, Blood to Rubies has also been short listed for the prestigious Laramie Literary Award and long listed for the Somerset Literary Award. Both contests are still pending, as well as other awards announcements that will come in 2024.

As a debut author, I have been extremely fortunate to be given some wonderful reviews by giants in literature. Here's just a sampling. My front cover blurb from New York Times #1 bestselling William Kent Krueger is the best cover blurb on the planet:

I am so grateful to Christine Kettner for the truly extraordinary and exemplary design she imbued my debut novel. Her work not only helped my book become a critically acclaimed bestseller very early in its publishing life, she gave me the gift of working with one of the most gifted designers in the book industry. And the process was simply magical.

There was one more "miracle" (some may call it a coincidence, but I know better!) that occurred during my design journey with Christine. She has had a very long and illustrious career working at the three largest publishing companies in the world, at each for at least a decade. And she's worked on many huge titles. Perhaps the biggest is the Narnia Chronicles (Harper Collins, US Editions). That series, the blockbuster precursor to the Harry Potter series, has sold more than 130 million copies globally to date. Christine did the original cover. Her unicorn with the tip of its horn dripping blood, took the publishing world by storm. The rest, as they say, is history!

When Christine told me she had designed the original Narnia cover, I got chills down my spine. Above my desk in my study, I had framed a little cafe napkin with a unicorn on it. I had collected it from a bistro in Barcelona, while visiting our journalist daughter, who lives there. This was during a time when my kidney disease was deteriorating very quickly and the Sword of Damocles hung so low over me, I thought I would not live long enough to see my book published. I framed that little napkin as a gesture of hope and it hangs in my study. It says, : "NOTHING IS IMPOSSIBLE!"

It is true. I can attest. Miracles DO happen!

Originally posted January 10, 2024 on and Facebook.

Read more about my novel and my writing journey at my author page at

Read more the famous photographers--both 1800s frontier photographers and contemporary photographers--and their images in Blood to Rubies at


160 views0 comments


Deborah Hufford

Author, Notes from the Frontier

Deborah Hufford is an award-winning author and magazine editor with a passion for history. Her popular blog with 100,000+ readers has led to an upcoming novel! Growing up as an Iowa farmgirl, rodeo queen and voracious reader, her love of land, lore and literature fired her writing muse. With a Bachelor's in English and Master's in Journalism from the University of Iowa, she taught students of Iowa's Writer's Workshop, then at Northwestern University, Marquette and Mount Mary. Her extensive publishing career began at Better Homes & Gardens, includes credits in New York Times Magazine, New York Times, Connoisseur, many other titles, and serving as publisher of The Writer's Handbook


Deeply devoted to social justice, especially for veterans, women, and Native Americans, she has served on boards and donated her fundraising skills to Chief Joseph Foundation, Missing & Murdered Indigenous Women (MMIW), Homeless Veterans Initiative, Humane Society, and other nonprofits.  


Deborah's soon-to-be released historical novel, BLOOD TO RUBIES weaves indigenous and pioneer history, strong women and clashing worlds into a sweeping saga praised by NYT bestselling authors as "crushing," "rhapsodic," "gritty," and "sensuous." Purchase BLOOD TO RUBIES online beginning June 9. Connect with Deborah on, Facebook, and Instagram.

  • Deborah Hufford on Facebook
  • Deborah Hufford on Instagram
  • Deborah Hufford's Official Website
deborah hufford.webp
bottom of page