The Final Touches

The last few weeks have left me worn and tired. I have been working tirelessly on perfecting the cover of The Unfettered Child while also working with my editor to perfect the manuscript.

What more could be done with the cover, you ask? Actually, so much more. In fact, I found something new to fix almost every time I looked at it. It’s been a while since I did part four of this series, so let’s back up to then:

The cover first uploaded to Amazon.

As you can see, I had Samara standing in the corner, looking kind of vague, her feet shrouded in shadow (okay, a gradient really), and striking a tree in the distance with a magical lightning bolt. Something nagged at me when I presented this cover, from the beginning. I couldn’t put my finger on it right away.

Then a comment on Twitter shined a spotlight on the issue. The comment was: “Dude spent 8 years at magic school just to burn down a tree. That’s dedication to a grudge there…”

It was a funny comment, but it raised the question, “Why is she attacking a tree? Also, why should the tree be focused on at all?” So I jumped back into the file and started making adjustments. First, I wanted to focus more on Samara. I came up with this:

Samara centered in the image.

I still had issues with the above image. Something seemed off. One, she was still attacking the tree, which didn’t set well with me. I decided to enlist some help.

I went on over to Reedsy.com and signed up for an account. I already knew the website had tons of resources for authors, so I decided to look there first. However, I also knew that I didn’t have a lot of funds for this, and I do know a thing or two about Photoshop.

So I made a bid on Reedsy to five artists who looked appealing to me and might be willing to help with my request, which was a unique one indeed. Two of the cover artists flat out rejected it due to being too busy, and the rest sent me quotes.

My first quote was basically, “Yeah, your cover sucks. Let me do it over from scratch for lots of money.” The second quote was much more diplomatic, but essentially the same.

Then along came Gwen (@UponADayDreamer), who offered to be an “art coach.” I have to admit, I had no idea what that would entail, but I decided to plunge in and see what happened. At the very least, I might learn a thing or two.

The first thing she asked for was composition thumbnails. I said to myself, “What the hell is a composition thumbnail?” Instead of sounding dumb by asking her, I asked my friend Google instead. Google rarely lets me down, and didn’t this time either. So, in short order, I did this thing.

For those of you who also have no idea what a composition thumbnail is, I won’t make you ask Google. Basically, you’re blobbing your figures with grayscale to help determine where the light sources are, which will in turn help you figure out appropriate shading.

Composition Thumbnails. The last frame is a joke, of course.

I made the last five of these thumbnails to see what a lighter sky and a darker ground would look like. Also, I tried re-positioning the figure, having the tree, and not having the tree.

More thumbnails

These two were with the dark sky. I decided I like the larger figure and the darker sky out of these, so we moved on.

She then asked for more thumbnails with more details drawn in. This was the point at which I had to raise my hands in supplication. I told her, “I can do photo manipulation, but I’m no artist. I can’t draw details.” So she told me to grayscale the work and make thumbnails like that. This time, she wanted me to change a few things.

First, she said, “Your story takes place on a tundra. Oak trees do not grow on the tundra. You need to replace it with a pine or birch tree.” Fair enough. Then, she said, “You need to make it larger to show scale better. But also try some different things. Have her strike a different type of object, maybe a person, also try to just have absorbing the lightning from the sky, leaving the tree alone, and also absorbing the lightning with no tree.”

So I sent her these thumbnails next:

More details in the composition thumbnails.

As you can see, in the top left corner, she’s absorbing lightning and the tree is left alone. In the top right, the tree is gone but she’s still absorbing the lightning. In the bottom left, she’s shooting a camp fire. Last, she’s attacking the tree.

I personally liked the tree gone and her absorbing the lightning, so we went with that.

Next, I sent her the image I was going to use for the full cover (which I don’t have a color image of anymore):

Full cover with first “absorbing the lightning” image.

She told me that she didn’t like the two bolts coming down, so I removed one, and it did look better. I sent that to her, and she suggested I put one bolt on the back part of the cover, striking in the distance. So I sent her this:

You’ll also note that I removed the solid black on the bottom on these last two images, and just had Samara’s shadow there. The dark shadow behind her was there for a reason. I didn’t photograph my daughter’s feet in that picture and I was trying to cover up their absence.

I actually have a ton of images showing the multitude of changes we went through. It was a back-and-forth game for weeks. Each time, we would improve the image a little more. We adjusted the lighting and shadows, added the grass, and finally, she convinced me to plunge in and try to draw the feet in. I did, with excellent results. The final image was truly a masterpiece, the best art I have ever done.

The Unfettered Child without title

After we finally finished the image, we moved on to the text, but we were dangerously close to running out of time, and I couldn’t afford to tack on any more hours to keep going. However, in the last two emails she sent, we managed to fix the text for a beautiful end result.

We lowered the U in “Unfettered” and the C in “Child,” centered the title, and brought it lower. Next, we had the lightning shoot through the D of my last name, which was a really nice effect. Last, I added a tagline, and the final product is just amazing. Check it out here:

The final cover
The final mockup

What do you think?

~Michael C. Sahd

The Unfettered Child Releases

The Unfettered Child Mockup

Today’s the big day. The Unfettered Child released, and it is momentous. My nerves are on end as my wife and I sit and watch the day’s activities online. So far, Amazon has yet to release the paperback to the public, which is kind of an important factor and the most nerve-wracking situation. Hopefully, it will be up by the time I publish this post. The ebook had 13 preorders, and those went out first thing this morning.

Amazon may, unfortunately, take up to three days for the paperback to actually be available. In the meantime, we are waiting before we send out the brunt of the ads.

One of my ARC reviewers dropped their review on Amazon, marking the first one on the site. Also, 100 readers won the ebook on Goodreads last night, and I hope they will also drop some (preferably good) reviews.

We also found this jewel of a review on a blog: http://pagesforthoughts.blogspot.com/2019/08/the-unfettered-child-by-micahel-c-sahd.html?m=1 As far as I can tell, it has not shown up anywhere else yet.

Incidentally, we put Assassin Marked on Amazon promotion for free today through September 1, and it is blowing up. Hitting #1 in all three categories that it’s in, and sitting at #34 in the free Kindle store last I checked.

While we wait, we’ve been catching up on other things. I’ve been writing answers for some author interviews, I’m working on this blog post as we speak, and we’re getting out more advertisements on social media, as well as marking ad date releases for the calendar.

My business card

I almost forgot to mention that I am hosting a launch party at our local comic shop this weekend starting at 7 p.m. I ordered business cards, some bookmarks, and a t-shirt for me to wear, and there will be cake! The details are here: https://www.facebook.com/events/486097878841426/

I can’t wait to see what you guys think of the new book. Please let me know.

Signing off,

~Michael C. Sahd

In Honor of Toni Morrison

To celebrate the life of the esteemed author Toni Morrison, I’m reposting my review of Beloved. This book ranks as one of my all time favorite reads.

BelovedBeloved by Toni Morrison
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

When I enrolled into my contemporary literature class, I couldn’t fathom what kinds of novels my instructor planed to toss at us. I remember staring at the reading list with more than a little trepidation, and when my eyes glanced over Toni Morrison’s Beloved, I groaned. The red background with the flowing gold script screamed romance to me. When it came time to read the book, I settled in with an open mind, but still trembled from the thought of sappy narration. Within the first few lines I discovered my fears were unfounded. Never judge a book by its cover!

Beloved tells us a hauntingly beautiful ghost story, brought forth by the desperate actions of an escaped slave woman, Sethe. Some may wonder whether Sethe’s actions are perhaps the wisest; regardless, her actions come back to haunt her, literally. Readers may find Toni’s writing style difficult. She packs the pages full of dreams, flashbacks, and memories that take the reader back and forth through time (think Faulkner or Virginia Woolf), and I found myself confused, having to reread the text sometimes to decipher the meaning behind the words. Regardless the excellent story makes up for this confusion. I highly suggest reading it.

On a side note: The movie failed to encompass the grittiness and emotion of which the book so brilliantly displayed.

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When I start pecking at my keyboard, I generally have a good idea of what I’m writing about. Not that I claim to be a scholar like Tolkien, but I have the internet at my fingertips and a library down the road. Meaning, I do my research.

The reason I bring this up stems from a comment I received regarding Samara’s age in The Unfettered Child. The commentator suggested that I make her 14 or 15 to better fit with the story.

I can appreciate someone not wanting to read about an 8-year-old child, but Samara’s age is perfect for my story. Here’s why:

Age and Culture

Children fishing

Historically (especially in primitive societies like Samara’s), adulthood was attained at the onset of puberty and was expected by then. In many cases, this meant around the age of 10 or 11 years old. To put it quite plainly, a 14-year-old Samara would have been several years into adulthood, probably married, and may have had a child or two of her own. Much too old for the story I intend to tell. Click here for more information; or here for additional information.

This doesn’t answer the full spectrum of the comment either.

Maturity

Image from Imgflip

I know that here in America and in most first-world countries, we spoil children (and ourselves) with the modern conveniences provided to us, and thank God for that. I’m really glad that my children have the opportunity to grow up free from the hardships that the nomads might consider normal.

However, even in our country, some children suffer. Hardship slinks its way even into the best the world has to offer. What happens when children experience hardship? They mature . . . quickly.

Before I even get into the maturity of children that experience hardships or live it on a regular basis, I want to point out that even my spoiled rotten children regularly display maturity and critical thinking. My 10 year old has had a vocabulary that could put many adults to shame, and has for two years now. He also mingles with our adult friends, preferring their company to that of children his own age, and they in turn treat him as a peer.

But back to hardships. Samara’s story, short of the fantastical side of it, echoes parts of my own. I was a year younger than Samara when my mother passed away. My father was 57 at the time and had little in the way of help. As the oldest of my siblings, I had to grow up quickly and learn the importance of responsibility.

Me working when I was younger. No, I joke. A child labor picture from Pixabay.

Plenty of documentation exists concerning the way of life for children in tribal societies. These children are well on their way to adulthood long before some of us begin high school.

So no. An older Samara would be out of place in my story, and historians and sticklers for accuracy would poke holes in the story had I made her older just for the comfort of those who cringe at the idea of children experiencing such hardship.

Do you have trouble with reading stories involving young children in terrible situations? Let me know your thoughts.

That’s all I have for now.

~Michael C. Sahd

Fight Club
Fight ClubFight Club by Chuck Palahniuk
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Chuck Palahniuk is weird. No skirting around that, he just is. But I really like his style. When I first rated this book, I gave it a 4-star rating, but I’m returning to write a review, and I decided to augment that with an additional star.

The unnamed protagonist suffering from insomnia seeks refuge by joining many support groups by impersonating a seriously ill person of that assembly. When he meets Tyler Durden, we eventually discover that our protagonist has been slowly slipping into madness throughout the book.

Palahniuk’s big reveal at the end would have surprised me had I not seen the movie first. Still, I feel that Palahniuk’s ability to shock his readers executes perfectly in Fight Club.

Looking for something different to read? Give this book a chance. Seen the movie? Great! It was a good movie, but the book is better (even if it doesn’t have Brad Pitt).

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The Magician

He held the fate of two worlds in his hands . . . Once, he was an orphan called Pug, apprenticed to a sorcerer of the enchanted land of Midkemia. Then he was captured and enslaved by the Tsurani, a strange, warlike race of invaders from another world.

There, in the exotic empire of Kelewan, he earned a new name– “Milamber.” He learned to tame the unnimagined powers that lay within him. And he took his place in an ancient struggle against an evil enemy older than time itself.

My thoughts on Goodreads:

Magician (The Riftwar Saga, #1-2)Magician by Raymond E. Feist
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The fact that I knew nothing about this story when I first started reading this book left me with a more favorable impression of it.

This book started as a typical fantasy trope: A young boy (Pug), is stuck in a mundane life, but training as a wizard. The book features elves and dwarves and orcs and conflict and blah . . . Same story I’ve heard and read (and played in Dungeons and Dragons) a thousand times. However, I kept reading at a friend’s behest . . . ***spoiler, but not really because it’s in the blurb*** . . .

Then the invasion from another planet happens. I remember sitting up in my seat, exclaiming “What the h***!” (my agent demands that I quell my public expletives). Anyway, from that point on, I found myself hooked to Pug’s adventures and read the entire series. Had I even read the blurb , this book would not have had the impact on me that it did. I liked the book, but the surprise I experienced made the story memorable. Hence, I give this book four stars and highly recommend you read it.

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The Beginnings

In my upcoming novel, The Unfettered Child, I don’t spend a whole lot of time detailing the world they live in. The main characters, Samara and Orin, live on a vast, flat expanse their people call the Hunting Grounds. They are aware of other lands, but their knowledge is limited.

Here, I will satisfy the thirst some have for elaborate worlds. Come sip on the tea that is Aaruda.

Image by かねのり 三浦 from Pixabay

The picture of the Mongolian plains above should give you a good idea of what the Hunting Grounds looks like, especially in regards to the area where Samara’s unfortunate tale begins.

Like so many other fictional worlds, Aaruda is modeled after Earth. Why not? We know it, we’re familiar with it. Unlike so many other fictional worlds, Aaruda’s overlying culture is steeped with Arabic flavoring. It’s not a unique flavoring, but rarely do we taste fiction that isn’t based on Europe.

Much of the known land in Aaruda is under the sway of the Havallan Empire (think of the Ottoman Empire). Havalla extends from the desert in all directions; from the southern border of the Hunting Grounds to the deep and dangerous jungles of the south and from the western coast to the Ogre Ranges in the east. Many thousands of miles encompass the Havallan Empire, which would be the equivalent of an empire that expands all across Europe and as far south as the northern half of Africa.

Al-Azhar mosque from Wikipedia

Temples like the one above are scattered throughout the Havallan Empire, with depictions of the Sun and the Moon.

Symbol of Najima’uwe’Alqamar min Samawi
Nenets reindeer sledge

Samara’s culture is a mix of what I know about the Apache Native Americans, Mongolian nomads, and what I learned of the Nenet people in Siberia.

Later in the story, a new culture is introduced akin to the Danes, (we all love Vikings), although these people live mainly in the mountains.

Of the fantasy races, I have introduced elves and ogres. I may add more to the world later, but for now, those are the only fantasy races represented in the book. Learn more about these in The Unfettered Child.

If you’re a writer, is your world similar to Earth or did you diverge and attempt something alien? If you’re not a writer, what kind of worlds do you like in the fantasy books you read?

That’s all for now. Thank you for reading.

~Michael C. Sahd

Man branding a cow.
I don’t mean what cowboys do to their cows!

I’ve been thinking a lot about this subject. I keep reading at different places that, as an author, I must create a brand. I have never quite understood what this means. After doing some research, I think I discovered a possible explanation.

I may be wrong, but it sounds like making my work into a series or writing about a world that I created to write my stories in.

Why would I want to do this? I know it helps generate sales, because readers get attached to your world and your characters, but I’m not really into writing about the same characters in one series indefinitely like so many authors do.

Book collection with series.
Book 1, book 2, book 3, book 4, book 5, book 6, . . .

I have so many ideas, and many are not in the same genre. I have a comedy in mind, several horror stories, and a steam punk adventure. Let’s not forget my current publication, Assassin Marked, a science fiction crime novel, and my soon-to-be-released dark fantasy, The Unfettered Child.

As I pondered this, I turned to one of my favorite authors, Stephen King. Everyone knows him as a horror writer, but he isn’t really. He has written many different genres, although I don’t know that he has written any space operas (he could have, but I don’t know of any).

It’s Stephen King Time

I know at this point in his career Stephen King’s brand is his name. I know I’ve picked up many of his novels just because of his name. However, if we really think about it, Stephen King does have his own world he writes in. It’s earth, but it’s this strange and twisted sort of earth with many different realities within it.

Anyone who has read his novels knows that a good majority of them, if not all, are tied together in some way or another. He has a recurring villain, bits and pieces of The Stand show up in The Gunslinger, as does a creature like the one in It. His towns in Maine show up time and time again, with incidents being mentioned by this character or that.

One of my favorite novels, Insomnia, ties in to It and others (I can’t think of the titles right now).

Anyway, I started to think. I have this world that Samara and Orin’s story takes place in (my protagonists in The Unfettered Child). I have these characters, and other characters too. Abdhul Havelle, Sigmia, Illtud, Nikolai, Zayra, and let’s not forget Priestess Samara, who saved baby Samara’s life. These characters could have adventures of their own.

My editor also pointed out that I could have my other stories tie into the world somehow, although I have no desire to tie The DuFonte Chronicles to my world, as those stories come from our very own Earth in some terrible version of the future.

Maybe I’ve missed the meaning of “branding.” What do you guys think?

~Michael C. Sahd

Art and Photoshop

During my previous three Making of a Cover posts, I told of my adventures during the week leading up to the photo shoot. Designing the cover in Photoshop had actually started weeks before that. I had so many projects going in the design of this book! Before I had my model, I had created various working covers to choose from, along with a number of text fonts to try out. Layouts, backgrounds, foregrounds, ideas upon ideas. Well, just look at them all: https://www.facebook.com/pg/MichaelCSahd/photos/?tab=album&album_id=671475539957154

Here’s an example of my first shared cover.
One I made from silhouettes

I really disliked these covers, but they were improving as I went along. The typography was another mess, and like with many of my other ideas, I turned to social media to request help deciding what to pick.

Using social media to help me decide what looks better turned out to be a very smart move, not only because my followers let me know their thoughts on the designs, but also for another reason that I will discuss in a bit.

Now came the fun part. I had my pictures from the photo shoot, and I needed to make a cover. Unfortunately, the pictures at the park didn’t sit right with me. The environment in the cold mountains of Aaruda are not the same as the humid briar lands of central Texas (Aaruda is what I named the world that Samara lives on, but it’s not really mentioned in the story. The inhabitants don’t often use the word for their planet, but I will definitely say more about it later. Maybe in another blog post, maybe in another book).

Pre Book Cover

Before I could start making the cover, I had to rifle through over 200 images to find something I liked and wanted to use. The image above is the one I finally settled on.

Then I had to get a background I was okay with using. For this, I turned to Pixabay, where I found this neat photo of a tree being struck by lightning.

Next, I had to remove the figure from the background. This is not an easy task. Any Photoshop user can tell you, hair and fur are a pain to separate from a background, even a green one. This gave me such a headache. This process is so difficult that my first two attempts were very shoddy.

my first attempt.

Take a close look at the hair and the fur. I’m sorry, but it’s terrible. She’s got some weird spiky thing happening at the edges. What happened is, in an attempt to get rid of the green screen, I had to desaturate the green in the image around the edges, making them appear dark. Hence the reason for the darkness at the tips of the fur.

I really, really disliked this and turned to Youtube to figure out a method to fix it better. What I found was instructions on how to paint hair back into the picture. So I recut out the model and got to work repainting the hair after the cut. I was very satisfied with this, and almost called it good:

Look how much cleaner that is.

However, before I washed my hands of it, I returned to social media to get opinions on my work, and let me tell you that I’m so glad I did. Three artists from the #artistsoftwitter community came to my rescue.

These artists (@ZenFuryBuddha, @GDNaturedVLLN, and @SaraGSpaceNerd) provided me with numerous tips on how to improve this picture even further. GDNatured even went so far as to do a quick example for me:

Compliments of @GDNaturedVLLN

I did like GD’s image, and I may have used it if the resolution were a little higher, but I jumped back into Photoshop and Youtube and started back to work on the cover.

Finally, I had something I was completely satisfied with:

Book cover mockup.
The final cover

I would love to hear some feedback. What do you think of the final cover? Does it pull you in? Would you grab this book off the shelf if you saw it in the store? Let me know in the comments below.

Thank you.

~Michael C. Sahd

Neverwhere (London Below, #1)Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I like the writing, and I like the story. Neil Gaiman has a lot to offer when you get lost in this adventure. It’s strange, witty, and fascinating. The only thing I have an issue with is the characters, even the main one. There’s something just a little unbelievable about them, and not so much the fantasy element, but how they react to the trials in the story. That said, how much belief can one expect when thrown into some Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland & Other Stories type of bizarre.

As the main character, Richard is fine. He is well written. I personally think he’s a twit, but that’s simply because we have different personalities. Door, as a character is fun, but inconsistent. When we first meet her, I like the mystery and weirdness about her, but as we get further into the story, she loses some of her luster. I feel that many of the characters lose something toward the end, except Richard who seems to grow. Since the characters lose their shine, so does my rating lose a star. If I could, it would only be half a star. The book is still very enjoyable.

Definitely read this book. These days, I find that I can’t finish a book if it doesn’t pull me in. I simply don’t have the time. This book, with it’s strangeness, pulled me in, and I scavenged the time to read it. So I’m certain you’ll like it.

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